Hackaday Links: May 14, 2017

Maker Faire Bay Area is next weekend, and you know what that means: we’re having a meetup on Saturday night. If you’re in the area, it’s highly recommended you attend. It’s a blinky bring-a-hack with booze. You can’t beat it. I heard the OPShark is showing up. All hail the OPShark. You’re gonna want to RSVP if you’re going k thx.

It only took twelve years, but [ladyada] finally got herself on the cover of Make.

Nvidia has the Jetson, an extremely powerful single board computer + GPU meant for machine learning, imagifying, and robotics applications. If you want to do fancy ML stuff with low power devices, I’d highly recommend you check the Jetson out. Of course, the Jetson is only the brains of any Machine Learning robot; you also need some muscle. To that end, Nvidia released the Isaac robotic simulator. It’s a simulator for standard bits of hardware like quadcopters, hovercrafts (?), robotic arms, and yes, selfie drones. What does this mean? Standardized hardware means someone is going to produce 3rd party hardware, and that’s awesome.

This is just an observation, but fidget spinners are just now hitting the mainstream. We didn’t know what they were for a year ago, and we don’t know now.

A Hebocon is a shitty robot battle. DorkbotPDX just had their first Hebocon and the results were… just about as shitty as you would expect. Since this is a shitty robot battle, a MakerBot made an appearance. This robot, SpitterBot, was designed to blow extruded filament all over its opponent. Did the MakerBot win? Yes, SpitterBot won the ‘Poorest Quality’ award.

Supplyframe, Hackaday’s parent company, hosts monthly-ish electronic get-togethers in the San Fransisco office. The focus of these meetups is to find someone cool who built something awesome and get them to talk about it. The March meetup featured [Pete Bevelacqua] who built a Vector Network Analyzer from scratch. The video is worth a watch.

Hackaday Prize Entry: WiFi Game Boy Cartridge

[DaveDarko] has entered a unique project into this years Hackaday Prize a WiFi Game Boy Cartridge. If you are active over at Hackaday.io I’m sure you’ll have run across Dave at some point or other, maybe we need to start charging him rent.

The aim of this project is to create a WiFi enabled Game Boy cartridge using an ESP32 which would then enable the user to do a number of different things. For example, it could be used as a portable war driving device. You could drive around scanning local WiFi networks all from the comfort of a classic Game Boy bringing back fond memories of your childhood.

This WiFi Game Boy cartridge may even be capable of some extremely light web browsing or be used as a unique controller for all your Internet connected things. Either way this project looks promising, We look forward to seeing how this progresses in the coming months.

Car Security Experts Dump All Their Research and Vulnerabilities Online

[Charlie Miller] and [Chris Valasek] Have just released all their research including (but not limited to) how they hacked a Jeep Cherokee after the newest firmware updates which were rolled out in response to their Hacking of a Cherokee in 2015.

FCA, the Corp that owns Jeep had to recall 1.5 million Cherokee’s to deal with the 2015 hack, issuing them all a patch. However the patch wasn’t all that great it actually gave [Charlie] and [Chris] even more control of the car than they had in the first place once exploited. The papers they have released are a goldmine for anyone interesting in hacking or even just messing around with cars via the CAN bus. It goes on to chronicle multiple hacks, from changing the speedometer to remotely controlling a car through CAN message injection. And this release isn’t limited to Jeep. The research covers a massive amount of topics on a number of different cars and models so if you want to do play around with your car this is the car hacking bible you have been waiting for.

Jeep are not too happy about the whole situation. The dump includes a lot of background for vehicles by multiple manufactureres. But the 2015 hack was prominent and has step by step instructions. Their statement on the matter is below.

Under no circumstances does FCA condone or believe it’s appropriate to disclose ‘how-to information’ that would potentially encourage, or help enable hackers to gain unauthorized and unlawful access to vehicle systems.

We anticipate seeing an increasing number of security related releases and buzz as summer approaches. It is, after all, Network Security Theatre season.

The Modern Retrocomputer: An Arduino Driven 6845 CRT Controller

[MmmmFloorPie] revived an old project to create the retro mashup of a 6845 CRT controller and a modern Arduino Uno. When it comes to chips, the Motorola 6845 is the great granddaddy of Cathode Ray Tube (CRT) interfaces. It was used in the IBM Monochrome display adapter, the Hercules graphics controller, CGA, Apple II terminal cards, and a host of other microcomputer and terminal systems.

Way back in 1989, [MmmmFloorPie] was a senior in college. His capstone project was a 68000 based computer which could record and playback audio, as well as display waveforms on a CRT. The CRT in question was ordered from a classified add in Popular Science magazine. It was a bare tube, so the heavy cardboard box it shipped in was repurposed as a case.

Fast forward to today, and  [MmmmFloorPie] wanted to power up his old project. The 68000 board was dead, and he wasn’t up to debugging the hundreds of point to point soldered connections. The CRT interface was a separate board including the 6845 and 32 KByte of RAM. It would only take a bit of hacking to bring that up. But what would replace the microprocessor?

Continue reading “The Modern Retrocomputer: An Arduino Driven 6845 CRT Controller”

Patents on MP3 Format Due to Expire

MP3 took off in the late 90s as the digital music format. It then proceeded to slaughter the CD, and launch the file sharing revolution as well. It’s a proud format that has roots stretching all the way back to the early 1980s, when the possibility of sending music over ISDN lines was first considered. Now the patents on it are beginning to expire and its licencing program has been terminated.

The MP3 standard was the property of Fraunhofer IIS, and the original licencing model was intended such that encoders would be expensive, and decoders relatively inexpensive. This would allow people to buy software to listen to MP3s cheaply, but the creation of MP3s would be expensive, and thus handled by studios and music labels. This all changed when a high-quality MP3 encoder was leaked to the public, and suddenly it became possible to readily convert your CDs at home into the MP3 format.

One hangover of this ownership of the MP3 standard was that when you installed certain FOSS software, such as Audacity or a Linux distro, you would find that you had to go and do some legwork to find an MP3 codec. That was because it wasn’t worth the legal trouble for the FOSS authors to arrange a workaround, and trading in proprietary software is the antithesis to everything they stand for.

However, now that more of the relevant patents are expiring, you can now expect MP3 support to be baked into more software. It may be more than a little late, with more advanced audio formats beginning to take over, but it’s great to know that Fedora, for one, is starting to include MP3 support with their releases.

If you’d like to read more about the history of the MP3, check out this great article from NPR. Fraunhofer have their own great history site, too. If all this talk of advanced audio formats has gotten you excited, check out this MP3 decoder written for the ESP8266.

[Thanks to Tim Trzepacz for the tip!]

VR and Back Again: An XRobots Tale

Our friend [James Bruton] from XRobots has engaged in another bit of mixed-reality magic by showing how one can seamlessly step from the virtual world into the real world, and back again. Begone, green screens and cumbersome lighting!

Now, most of what you’re seeing is really happening in post-production — for now — but the test footage is the precursor for a more integrated system down the road. As it works now, a GoPro is attached to the front of a HTC Vive headset, allowing [Bruton] to record in both realities at the same time. In the VR test area he has set up is a portal to a virtual green room — only a little smaller than a wardrobe — allowing him to superimpose the GoPro footage over everything he looks at through that doorway, as well as everything surrounding him when he steps through. Unfortunately, [Bruton] is not able to see where he’s going if he is to wear the headset, so he’s forced to hold it in one hand and move about the mixed-reality space. Again, this is temporary.

In action — well, it gets a little surreal when he starts tossing digital blocks through the gateway ‘into’ the real world.

Continue reading “VR and Back Again: An XRobots Tale”

Better Car Audio With Guitar Effects

Automotive sound is a huge deal; for many people, it’s the place to listen to music. Back in the 80s, you were lucky to get anything more than two door speakers in the front of the car. Fast forward to today, and you can expect a 10-speaker system in an up-spec’d family sedan.

[Josh] has a car, and wanted to improve the sound. In particular, the aim was to improve the sense of space felt when listening. A car is a relatively small space, and the driver sits in close proximity to the front speakers, so it’s difficult to get a good soundstage.

[Josh]’s approach was to create a “surround” effect for the car stereo, by feeding a left/right difference signal to the rear speakers. This was achieved by the use of a series of op-amps that buffer and then generate a mono signal that represents the difference between the left and right channel. For optimum results, [Josh] wanted to delay the signal being sent to the rear speakers, with a longer delay making the soundstage feel bigger, as if reflections are coming from farther away in a bigger room. To do this, [Josh] simply hooked up the signal to a Boss DD-3 Digital Delay guitar pedal – an off-the-shelf solution to an otherwise sticky problem. The DD-3 gives [Josh] a variable delay time with reasonably high fidelity, so it’s a perfect way to get the project done quickly.

The final piece of the puzzle is a filter. The difference signal doesn’t actually sound all that pleasant to the ears by itself, especially when it comes to transient high-pitched sounds like cymbals, so a lowpass filter is implemented to cut these higher frequencies down.

[Josh] made everything adjustable, from the filter to the delay, so it’s simple to dial things in until they’re just right, rather than relying on calculation or guesswork. The general idea is to feed the difference signal into the rear speakers at a low enough volume and with a subtle delay so that it adds to a general feeling of being in a larger room with the sound coming from all around, as opposed to listening to very loud point sources of audio.

It’s a cool project that we imagine would be very satisfying to dial in and enjoy on the road. What’s more, it’s a fairly straightforward build if you want to experiment with it yourself on your own car. Perhaps your problem is that you need an auxiliary input to your head unit, though – in that case, check out this Subaru project.