A Flying, Fetching, Helping-Hand Omnicopter

Wouldn’t it be nice if you had a flying machine that could maneuver in any direction while rotating around any axis while maintaining both thrust and torque? Attach a robot arm and the machine could position itself anywhere and move objects around as needed. [Dario Brescianini] and [Raffaello D’Andrea] of the Institute for Dynamic Systems and Control at ETH Zurich, have come up with their Omnicopter that does just that using eight rotors in configurations that give it six degrees of freedom. Oh, and it plays fetch, as shown in the first video below.

Omnicopter propeller orientations
Omnicopter propeller orientations

Each propeller is reversible to provide thrust in either direction. Also on the vehicle itself is a PX4FMU Pixhawk flight computer, eight motors and motor controllers, a four-cell 1800 mAh LiPo battery, and communication radios. Radio communication is necessary because the calculations for the position and outer attitude are done on a desktop computer, which then sends the desired force and angular rates to the vehicle. The desktop computer knows the vehicle’s position and orientation because they fly it in the Flying Machine Arena, a large room at ETH Zurich with an infrared motion-capture system.

The result is a bit eerie to watch as if gravity doesn’t apply to the Omnicopter. The flying machine can be just plain playful, as you can see in the first video below where it plays fetch by using an attached net to catch a ball. When returning the ball, it actually rotates the net to dump the ball into the thrower’s hand. But you can see that in the video.

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Procedurally Generating Random Medieval Cities

With procedural content generation, you build data algorithmically rather than manually — think Minecraft worlds, replete with all the terrains and mobs you’d expect, but distributed differently for every seed. A lot of games use algorithms similarly to generate appropriate treasure and monsters based on the level of the character.

Game developer [Oleg Dolya] built a random city generator that creates excellently tangled maps. You select what size you want, and the application does the rest, filling in each ward with random buildings. The software also determines the purpose of each ward, so the slum doesn’t have a bunch of huge mansions, but instead sports a tangle of tiny huts. [Oleg] shows a little of how the application works, using polygons created with the guard towers serving as vertices. You can learn more about the project on Reddit.

As new as this project is, it’s limited. All the maps feature a walled community, each has one castle within a bailey, and none of the cities includes a river or ocean port. [Oleg] designed it to make cool-looking maps, not necessarily accurate or historically realistic ones. That said, he’s already tweaked the code to reduce the number of triangular buildings. Next up, he wants to generate shanty towns outside the city walls.

Head-Up Display Augments Bionic Turtle’s Reality

There’s a harsh truth underlying all robotic research: compared to evolution, we suck at making things move. Nature has a couple billion years of practice making things that can slide, hop, fly, swim and run, so why not leverage those platforms? That’s the idea behind this turtle with a navigation robot strapped to its back.

This reminds us somewhat of an alternative universe sci-fi story by S.M. Stirling called The Sky People.  In the story, Venus is teeming with dinosaurs that Terran colonists use as beasts of burden with brain implants that stimulate pleasure centers to control them. While the team led by [Phill Seung-Lee] at the Korean Advanced Institute of Science and Technology isn’t likely to get as much work from the red-eared slider turtle as the colonists in the story got from their bionic dinosaurs, there’s still plenty to learn from a setup like this. Using what amounts to a head-up display for the turtle in the form of a strip of LEDs, along with a food dispenser for positive reinforcement, the bionic terrapin is trained to associate food with the flashing LEDs. The LEDs are then used as cues as the turtle navigates between waypoints in a tank. Sadly, the full article is behind a paywall, but the video below gives you a taste of the gripping action.

Looking for something between amphibian and fictional dinosaurs to play mind games with? Why not make your best friend bionic? Continue reading “Head-Up Display Augments Bionic Turtle’s Reality”

Go Portable with GameCube Advance SP

Off the hop, we love portable consoles. To be clear, we don’t just mean handhelds like the 3DS, or RetroPie builds, but when a maker takes a home console from generations past and hacks a childhood fantasy into reality — that’s amore. So, it’s only natural that [Bill Paxton]’s GameCube re-imagined as a Game Boy Advance SP has us enthralled.

Originally inspired by an early 2000’s imagined mockup of a ‘next-gen’ Game Boy Advance, [Paxton] first tried to wedge a Wii disk drive into this build. Finding it a bit too unwieldy, he opted for running games off of SD cards using a WASP Fusion board instead. Integrating the controller buttons into the 3D printed case took several revisions. Looking at the precise modeling needed to include the L and R shoulder buttons, that is no small feat.

Sadly, this GameCube SP doesn’t have an on-board battery, so you can’t go walking about with Windwaker. It does, however, include a 15 pin mini-din VGA-style port to copy game saves to the internal memory card, a switching headphone jack, amp, and speakers. Check it out after the break!

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OpenSTF Dock Ready to Farm Clicks

Deep in the heart of a Chinese click farm — and probably used by the company your company hired to build an ‘app’ — is a magical device. Call it a Beowulf Cluster of Phones. Call it the farm. By any name, it’s a whole bunch of smartphones, smart watches, tablets, and other Smart Things all controlled remotely. This is OpenSTF, or a Smartphone Test Farm. You can build your own, but as with anything requiring a whole lot of cables and devices, if you don’t plan it well, it’s going to look like crap.

[Paul] needed an OpenSTF device lab, and found the perfect product to repurpose into a great looking enclosure. This device was the Griffin MultiDock 2, a charging station for smartphones and tablets ostensibly designed for classrooms. There really isn’t a lot going on inside this $500 phone charger, with a few modifications this enclosure can become an awesome phone farm.

This charging station is not meant to be used this way. On the outside, there are ten USB ports for ten different devices. Inside, there are three four-port USB hubs providing ten ports. ADB simply doesn’t work with this setup, so [Paul] had to completely replace the USB brains of this device. With new USB hubs, an Intel Compute Stick, and Sugru, [Paul] got OpenSTF up and running. While this would have been a fantastic waste of money had [Paul] bought this phone charging dock at full retail price, he didn’t. He apparently picked this up at a reasonable price, giving him a great looking phone farm that works just like he wanted.

Radio Controlled Pacemakers Are Easily Hacked

Doctors use RF signals to adjust pacemakers so that instead of slicing a patient open, they can change the pacemakers parameters which in turn avoids unnecessary surgery. A study on security weaknesses of pacemakers (highlights) or full Report (PDF) has found that pacemakers from the main manufacturers contain security vulnerabilities that make it possible for the devices to be adjusted by anyone with a programmer and proximity. Of course, it shouldn’t be possible for anyone other than medical professionals to acquire a pacemaker programmer. The authors bought their examples on eBay.

They discovered over 8,000 known vulnerabilities in third-party libraries across four different pacemaker programmers from four manufacturers.  This highlights an industry-wide problem when it comes to security. None of the pacemaker programmers required passwords, and none of the pacemakers authenticated with the programmers. Some home pacemaker monitoring systems even included USB connections in which opens up the possibilities of introducing malware through an infected pendrive.

The programmers’ firmware update procedures were also flawed, with hard-coded credentials being very common. This allows an attacker to setup their own authentication server and upload their own firmware to the home monitoring kit. Due to the nature of the hack, the researchers are not disclosing to the public which manufacturers or devices are at fault and have redacted some information until these medical device companies can get their house in order and fix these problems.

This article only scratches the surface for an in-depth look read the full report. Let’s just hope that these medical companies take action as soon as possible and resolve these issue’s as soon as possible. This is not the first time pacemakers have been shown to be flawed.

Hackaday Prize Entry: MakerNet

One of the biggest trends in whatever market ‘Maker’ stuff belongs to is the Legofication of electronics. Building electronics is hard, if you haven’t noticed. Anything that turns transmission lines, current loops, and RF wizardry into something a five-year-old can use has obvious applications to education. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Jeremy Gilbert] is building a fast, intuitive, modular way to explore electronics. It’s easier to use than the 100-in-1 Radio Shack spring clip kits, and you can actually make useful projects with this system.

MakerNet is [Jeremy]’s solution to the problem of complicated electronics, Arduinos connected to breadboards with DuPont cables, and apparently, to actual electronic Lego sets. The core of this system is built around the Atmel SAM D21 microcontroller, an ARM Cortex-M0+ chip that has more than enough processing power for anything deserving of the ‘maker’ label. This mainboard connects to devices through what is basically an I2C bus. Each module in the system has an in and out header. A small SAM D11 (available for $1 USD) on each module handles all the communications.

Right now, [Jeremy] is experimenting with a dozen or so modules including a captouch board, an LED matrix, OLED display, rotary encoders, and lots of blinky LEDs. It’s just a prototype, but that’s exactly what we’re looking for at this stage of the Hackaday Prize. After looking at the video [Jeremy] produced (below), there’s a lot of promise here.

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