This Week In Security: DEF CON, Intel Leaks, Snapdragon, And A Robot Possessed

Last weekend, DEF CON held their “SAFE MODE” conference: instead of meeting at a physical venue, the entire conference was held online. All the presentations are available on the official DEF CON YouTube channel. We’ll cover a few of the presentations here, and watch out for other articles on HaD with details on the other talks that we found interesting.
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Robotic Arm Sports Industrial Design, 3D-Printed Cycloidal Gears

[Petar Crnjak]’s Faze4 is a open source robotic arm with 3D printable parts, inspired in part by the design of industrial robot arms. In particular, [Petar] aimed to hide wiring and cables inside the arm as much as possible, and the results look great! Just watch it move in the video below.

Cycloidal gearboxes have been showing up in robotic arm projects more and more, and Faze4 makes good use of them. Why cycloidal gears? They are readily 3D printed and offer low backlash, which makes them attractive for robotic applications. There’s no need to design cycloidal gears from scratch, either. [Petar] found this cycloidal gear generator in OnShape extremely useful when designing Faze4.

The project’s GitHub repository has all the design files, as well as some video demonstrations and a link to assembly documentation for anyone who would like to make their own. Watch Faze4 go through some test movements in the video embedded below.

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Moving Fridge Magnets Make For Unique Clock

We see a ton of clock projects around these parts, and being hackers, we love to feature them all. But every once in a while we stumble upon a great new way to display the time that really gets our attention and requires a closer look, such as this moving fridge magnet clock.

The fridge magnets [Craig Colvin] built this unique clock around are the colorful plastic kinds that have adorned the lower regions of refrigerators in toddler-filled households for ages. Instead of residing on a fridge, [Craig] laminated a sheet of white acrylic to a thin sheet of steel, to give the magnets something to hold onto. Moving the numbers is the job of a CoreXY-style mechanism. The belt-driven Cartesian movement maneuvers a head to to the right location to pick up a number; a servo in the head moves two powerful magnets into position under the number. The head then moves the number to the right spot, releases its magnets, and the number stays put on the board. You can see it in action in the video after the break.

While we love this as it is, it brings to mind some great mods. One can imagine the addition of letters to make a legit word clock, or to just add a calendar display. We’d also love to see these magnets in their natural habitat by building this into the door of a working fridge.

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PIC32 DMA Is A Weird Machine

Direct memory access (DMA) systems in computers are more powerful than you might think, and [Bruce Land] and [Joseph Primmer] have done some clever hacking to take full advantage of this on the PIC32 microcontrollers. This is a cool proof-of-concept hack — you can do general computing in the DMA subsystem without using the CPU at all if you don’t mind taking your time — but they also include two useful examples: a direct digital synthesis machine and a random number generator. Both of these run using exactly 0% CPU time.

How do they do it? DMA is a mechanism for shuttling data around in memory or between hardware peripherals without involving the CPU. Say you want to take a large block of memory containing music, and spit it out slowly to an I2S audio converter. A DMA subsystem could be configured to take an interrupt from the sound chip, pass it a chunk of data, increment the data pointer, and wait for the next interrupt.

The gimmick, which goes back at least to [Rushanan] and [Checkoway]’s “Run DMA” paper, is that you can modify the memory source and destination addresses of one DMA service from another DMA service, and that some registers automatically perform mathematical operations on whatever data is put into them. Combine these together, and you’ve got transport-triggered programming.

(An awesome side-note: our own [Al Williams] developed a one-instruction transport-triggered CPU way back in the day: the One Instruction Wonder.)

What is this good for? Writing simple helper applications that run independent of the CPU on a PIC32 microcontroller. [Land] and [Primmer]’s direct-digital synthesis example is a great one. But there are a lot of cases where you simply want to take in some new data and pre-process it a little bit before it enters the main program flow. While creating weird machines in the DMA engine might be a slower way to get it done, it keeps the CPU free for doing other stuff. We’re sure you’ll come up with something.

Automatic Cat Weighing Machine Knows Which Pet It Is Feeding

Have you ever tried to weigh a cat? For that matter, have you ever tried to get a cat to do anything they don’t want to do? The wilful independence of our feline companions is a large part of what endears them to us, and must have done ever since the ancient Egyptians first had a hybrid wildcat that became domesticated

No wonder it’s so hard to care for multiple cats with different dietary needs. But the mere act of weighing the cats just might be the key to automating their diets while giving them the choice of when they want to eat. It’s a task that [Psy0rz] has cracked with the Meowton, a weighing machine/feeder combo designed to regulate the diets of his various moggies.

Cat scale uses a load sensor under each corner of the platform

The multi-faceted system involving a scale to weight the cat, a food hopper with dispenser, and a scale for the food bowl. The cat has to stand on the scale to eat, and the dispenser doles out some food when it detects this. It identifies each cat by weight, and controls the quantity dispensed accordingly to spread that cat’s allotted diet over the course of the day.

Behind it all is an ESP32, which delivers the stats to a web interface and makes them available for import to a database. He’s identified a flaw in the system, that two cats of the same weight could cause misidentification. To that end he has an RFID reader under way, but it’s still a work in progress. There is even a live stream of the unit in action.

We’re suckers for cats here, and while the various Hackaday Cats provide plenty of companionship and entertainment we’re always up for more. Over the years we’ve featured plenty of cat feeders, but only one cat elevator.

Tensile Testing Machine Takes 3D Printed Parts To The Breaking Point

If you’re serious about engineering the things you build, you need to know the limits of the materials you’re working with. One important way to characterize materials is to test the tensile strength — how much force it takes to pull a sample to the breaking point. Thankfully, with the right hardware, this is easy to measure and  [CrazyBlackStone] has built a rig to do just that.

Built on a frame of aluminium extrusion, a set of 3D printed parts to hold everything in place. To apply the load, a stepper motor is used to slowly turn a leadscrew, pulling on the article under test. Tensile forces are measured with a load cell hooked up to an Arduino, which reports the data back to a PC over its USB serial connection.

It’s a straightforward way to build your first tensile tester, and would be perfect for testing 3D printed parts for strength. The STEP files (13.4 MB direct download) for this project are available, but [CrazyBlackStone] recommends waiting for version two which will be published this fall on Thingiverse although we didn’t find a link to that user profile.

Now we’ll be able to measure tensile strength, but the stiffness of parts is also important. You might consider building a rig to test that as well. Video after the break.

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Gaze Inside The Valve Index VR Headset In Detailed Teardown

Valve’s unique multilayer lenses are far thinner than one might expect.

Want to see what exactly is inside the $500 (headset only price) Valve Index VR headset that was released last summer? Take a look at this teardown by [Ilja Zegars]. Not only does [Ilja] pull the device apart, but he identifies each IC and takes care to point out some of the more unique hardware aspects like the fancy diffuser on the displays, and the unique multilayered lenses (which are much thinner than one might expect.)

[Ilja] is no stranger to headset hardware design, and in addition to all the eye candy of high-res photographs, provides some insightful commentary to help make sense of them. The “tracking webs” pulled from the headset are an interesting bit, each is a long run of flexible PCB that connects four tracking sensors for each side of the head-mounted display back to the main PCB. These sensors are basically IR photodiodes, and detect the regular laser sweeps emitted by the base stations of Valve’s lighthouse tracking technology. [Ilja] also gives us a good look at the rod and spring mechanisms seen above that adjust distance between the two screens.

Want more? [Ilja] also has a gallery of high-resolution images available for those you who fancy a closer look. Also, if you missed it, we covered an examination of the Index’s optical design as part of everything you probably didn’t know about field of view in head-mounted displays.

[via Twitter]