Soft Rotating Pneumatic Actuators

When we think of pneumatic actuators, we typically consider the standard varieties of pneumatic cylinder, capable of linear motion. These can be referred to as “hard” actuators, made of rigid components and capable of great accuracy and force delivery. However, “soft” actuators have their own complementary abilities – such as being able to handle more delicate tasks and being less likely to injure human operators when used in collaborative operations. The Whitesides Research Group at Harvard University has undertaken significant research in this field, and released a paper covering a novel type of soft pneumatic actuator.

The actuator consists of a series of soft, flexible sealed chambers which surround a wooden dowel in the center. By applying vacuum to these various chambers, the dowel in the center can be pulled into up to eight different positions. It’s a unique concept, and one we can imagine could have applications in various material processing scenarios.

The actuator was built by moulding elastomers around 3D printed components, so this is a build that could theoretically be tackled by the DIYer. The paper goes into great detail to quantify the performance of the actuator, and workshops several potential applications. Testing is done on a fluid delivery and stirring system, and a tethered robotic walker was built. The team uses the term cVAMS – cyclical vacuum actuated machine – to describe the actuator technology.

The world of soft robotics is a hot bed of development, and we look forward to further work in this field. It’s not just Harvard, either – we’ve seen interesting work from Yale and from the Hackaday community too!


How To Stay Grounded When You Have Zero Potential

Ground is an interesting topic when it comes to engineering. Either it’s the reference level for a digital circuit (not necessarily at zero volts, either), or it’s the return path for current, or it’s the metal chassis, which shouldn’t be the return path for current or else something’s terribly broken. Erika Earl’s talk at this year’s Hackaday Superconference is all about ground.

The first type of ground to talk about is the ground in your outlets and walls. The AC safety ground is the third pin on your plug that should be attached to the chassis of your washer/dryer on one end, and somehow connected to the neutral wire somewhere near your breaker box. The theory of this being if a conductor touches the chassis of a lamp or appliance, all the current will go along that ground bus saving you from electrocution. It should also trip the circuit breaker.

But really we’re rarely dealing with mains power around here. When it comes to electronic design, we’re mostly dealing with analog grounds and digital grounds in circuits. Sometimes these are the same, sometimes they’re not, but they’re both usually referenced to 0 Volts, Add in some considerations for EMC, and ground loops, and you have an astonishing amount of knowledge wrapped up in having zero potential.

If you want to know about what ground actually is, this isn’t a talk to miss. Erika has tons of experience chasing down grounds as an audio engineer, and her career highlights including the director of hardware engineering at Slate Digital and the Senior Technical Engineer at LA’s legendary Village Recording Studios. There’s a lot of experience here, and if you want to where to find your ground, Erika is the person to ask.

My Oscilloscope Uses Fire

If you want to visualize sound waves, you reach for your oscilloscope, right? That wasn’t an option in 1905 so physicist [Heinrich Rubens] came up with another way involving flames. [Luke Guigliano] and [Will Peterson] built one of these tubes — known as a Rubens’ tube — and will show you how you can, too. You can see a video of their results, below. Just in case a flame oscilloscope isn’t enough to attract your interest, they are driving the thing with a theremin for extra nerd points.

The guys show a short flame run and one with tall flames. The results are surprising, especially with the short flames. Of course, the time base is the length of the tube, so that limits your measurements. The tube has many gas jets along the length and with a sound source, the height of the flames correspond to the air pressure from the sound inside the tube.

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Warnings On Steroids – Static Code Analysis Tools

A little while back, we were talking about utilizing compiler warnings as first step to make our C code less error-prone and increase its general stability and quality. We know now that the C compiler itself can help us here, but we also saw that there’s a limit to it. While it warns us about the most obvious mistakes and suspicious code constructs, it will leave us hanging when things get a bit more complex.

But once again, that doesn’t mean compiler warnings are useless, we simply need to see them for what they are: a first step. So today we are going to take the next step, and have a look at some other common static code analysis tools that can give us more insight about our code.

You may think that voluntarily choosing C as primary language in this day and age might seem nostalgic or anachronistic, but preach and oxidate all you want: C won’t be going anywhere. So let’s make use of the tools we have available that help us write better code, and to defy the pitfalls C is infamous for. And the general concept of static code analysis is universal. After all, many times a bug or other issue isn’t necessarily caused by the language, but rather some general flaw in the code’s logic.

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A Pi Cluster to Hang in Your Stocking with Care

It’s that time of year again, with the holidays fast approaching friends and family will be hounding you about what trinkets and shiny baubles they can pretend to surprise you with. Unfortunately there’s no person harder to shop for than the maker or hacker: if we want it, we’ve probably already built the thing. Or at least gotten it out of somebody else’s trash.

But if they absolutely, positively, simply have to buy you something that’s commercially made, then you could do worse than pointing them to this very slick Raspberry Pi cluster backplane from [miniNodes]. With the ability to support up to five of the often overlooked Pi Compute Modules, this little device will let you bring a punchy little ARM cluster online without having to build something from scratch.

The Compute Module is perfectly suited for clustering applications like this due to its much smaller size compared to the full-size Raspberry Pi, but we don’t see it get used that often because it needs to be jacked into an appropriate SODIMM connector. This makes it effectively useless for prototyping and quickly thrown together hacks (I.E. everything most people use the Pi for), and really only suitable for finished products and industrial applications. It’s really the line in the sand between playing around with the Pi and putting it to real work.

[miniNodes] calls their handy little device the Carrier Board, and beyond the obvious five SODIMM slots for the Pis to live in, there’s also an integrated gigabit switch with an uplink port to get them all connected to the network. The board powers all of the nodes through a single barrel connector on the side opposite the Ethernet jack, leaving behind the masses of spider’s web of USB cables we usually see with Pi clusters.

The board doesn’t come cheap at $259 USD, plus the five Pi Compute Modules which will set you back another $150. But for the ticket price you’ll have a 20 core ARM cluster with 5 GB of RAM and 20 GB of flash storage in a 200 x 100 millimeter (8 x 4 inch) footprint, with an energy consumption of under 20 watts when running at wide open throttle. This could be an excellent choice for mobile applications, or if you just want to experiment with parallel processing on a desktop-sized device.

Amazon is ready for the coming ARM server revolution, are you? Between products like this and the many DIY ARM clusters we’ve seen over the years, it looks like we’re going to be dragging the plucky architecture kicking and screaming into the world of high performance computing.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip.]

Toast Printer Prints Tasty Images And Weather Forecasts

Electrical Engineering degrees usually focus on teaching you useful things, like how to make electronic devices that actually work and that won’t kill you. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t have some fun on the way. Which is what Cornell students [Michael Xiao] and [Katie Bradford] decided to do with T.O.A.S.T: The Original Artistic Solution for Toast. In case the name didn’t give it away, this is a toast printer. The user supplies an image and a bit of bread, and the T.O.A.S.T prints the image onto the toast. Alternatively, the printer can show you the weather by printing a forecast onto your daily bread.

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FPGA Hack Becomes An Atari Game Genie

The Game Genie is a classic of the early 90s video game scene. It’s how you would have beaten the Ninja Turtles game, and it’s why the connector in your NES doesn’t work as it should. They never made a Game Genie for the Atari 2600, though, because by the time the Game Genie was released, the Atari was languishing on the bottom shelves of Toys R Us. Now though, we have FPGAs and development tools. We can build our own. That’s exactly what [Andy] did, and his Game Genie for the 2600 works as well as any commercial product you’d find for this beleaguered console.

To understand how to build a Game Genie for an Atari, you first have to understand how a Game Genie works. The hacks for a Game Genie work by replacing a single byte in the ROM of a game. If your lives are stored at memory location 0xDEAD for example, you would just change that byte from 3 (the default) to 255 (because that’s infinite, or something). Combine this with 6-letter and 8-letter codes that denote which byte to change and what to change it to, and you have a Game Genie.

This build began by setting up a DE0 Nano FPGA development board to connect to an Atari 2600 cartridge. Yes, there are voltage level differences, but this can be handled with a few pin assignments. Then, it’s just a matter of writing Verilog to pass all the data from one set of address and data pins to another set of address and data pins. The FPGA becomes a man-in-the-middle attack, if you will.

With the FPGA serving as a pass-through for the connections on the cartridge, it’s a simple matter to hard-code cheats into the device. For the example, [Andy] found the code for a game, figured out where the color of the fireballs were defined as red, and changed the color to blue. It worked, and all was right with the world. The work was then continued to create a user interface to enter three cheat codes, and finally wrapped up in a 3D printed enclosure. Sure, the Atari Game Genie works with ribbon cables, but it wouldn’t be that much more work to create a similar project with Lock-On™ technology. You can check out the entire build video below, or get the info over on Element14

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