Watch Conway’s Game Of Life Flutter Across A Flip-Dot Display

Like many of us, [John Whittington] was saddened with the news that John Horton Conway passed away a little earlier this year, and in honor of his work, he added the Game of Life to a flip-dot display that he has been working on. The physicality of an electromechanical display seems particularly fitting for cellular automata.

Like what you see? If you’re curious about what makes it all tick, the display shown is an Alfa-Zeta XY5 28×14 but [John] is currently working on building them into a much larger 256 x 56 display. GitHub hosts the flip-dot simulator and driver software [John] is using, and the Game of Life functions are here.

If you’re new to the Game of Life and are not really sure what you’re looking at, [Elliot Williams] tells you all you need to know in his writeup celebrating its profound impact and lasting legacy. Watch the flip-dot display in action in the video embedded below.

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Easy, Secure HTTPS With An ESP8266

Security has always been an issue with IoT devices. Off the shelf devices often have terrible security while DIY solutions can be complicated, needing recompilation every time a website’s fingerprint changes. [Johannes] wrote in to let us know he’s been working on a way to make HTTPS requests easier to do on ESP devices.

The normal ways to do HTTPS with an ESP8266 is to either use Fingerprints, or to use client.setInsecure(). Fingerprints require the user to know exactly which pages the ESP will connect to and extract the Fingerprints from each of those websites. Since the fingerprints change yearly, this means the fingerprint will have to be re-extracted and the code recompiled each time a fingerprint changes. The use of client.setInsecure() is, obviously, insecure. This may not be an issue for your project, but it might be for others.

[Johannes’] solution is to extract the trusted root certificates and store them in PROGMEM. This allows access to any web page, but the root certificates do expire as well. As opposed to the fingerprints, though, they expire after 20 years, rather than every year, so the program can run for a long time before needing recompilation. This solution also doesn’t require any manual steps – the build process runs a script that grabs the certificates and stores them as files that can be uploaded to the SPIFFS to be used during HTTPS requests.

He’s come up with a fairly straightforward way to have your IoT device connect to whichever web page you want, without having to recompile every once in a while. Hopefully, this will lead to better security for your IoT devices. Take a look at his previous work in this area.

Custom Packet Sniffer Is A Great Way To Learn CAN

Whilst swapping out the stereo in his car for a more modern Android based solution, [Aaron] noticed that it only utilised a single CAN differential pair to communicate with the car as opposed to a whole bundle of wires employing analogue signalling. This is no surprise, as modern cars invariably use the CAN bus to establish communication between various peripherals and sensors.

In a series of videos, [Aaron] details how he used this opportunity to explore some of the nitty-gritty of CAN communication. In Part 1 he designs a cheap, custom CAN bus sniffer using an Arduino, a MCP2515 CAN controller and a CAN bus driver IC, demonstrating how this relatively simple hardware arrangement could be used along with open source software to decode some real CAN bus traffic. Part 2 of his series revolves around duping his Android stereo into various operational modes by sending the correct CAN packets.

These videos are a great way to learn some of the basic considerations associated with the various abstraction layers typically attributed to CAN. Once you’ve covered these, you can do some pretty interesting stuff, such as these dubious devices pulling a man-in-the-middle attack on your odometer! In the meantime, we would love to see a Part 3 on CAN hardware message filtering and masks [Aaron]!

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The Open Source Mars Rover, One Year Later

As the name implies, here at Hackaday we strive to bring you interesting projects every single day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a project only gets one day to grace these storied pages. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re always happy to revisit a project and find out how far it’s evolved since we last crossed paths with it, especially when the creators themselves reach out to give us an update.

Which is exactly what happened when [Jakob Krantz] recently wrote in to get us up to speed on this incredible open source rover project. We first saw this 3D printed Curiosity inspired robot a little less than a year ago, and at that point it was essentially just a big box with the distinctive NASA rocker-bogie suspension bolted on. Now it not only looks a lot closer to the Martian rovers that inspired it, but it’s also learned a number of new tricks that really take this project to the next level.

The articulated head and grabber arm don’t just help sell the Curiosity look, they’re actually functional. [Jakob] notes that he doesn’t have kinematics integrated yet, so moving the arm around is more for show than practical application, but in the future it should be able to reach out and grab objects. With the new cameras in the head, he’ll even be able to get a first person view of what he’s picking up.

Last year [Jakob] was using a standard RC transmitter to drive the rover around, but he’s since put together a custom controller that’s truly a thing of beauty. It uses an ESP32 and LoRa module to communicate with matching hardware inside the rover, as well as a smartphone clipped onto the top that’s displaying telemetry and video over WiFi. The controller is actually its own separate project, so even if you aren’t in the market for a scaled down Mars rover, its controller could come in handy for your next robotics project.

Presumably the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) on the back of the rover is just pretend….but with this guy, we’re not so sure. Give him another year, and who knows.

An Off-The-Grid Instant Messaging Plattform

Having an open-source communication device that is independent of any network and works without fees sounds like a hacker’s dream come true. Well, this is exactly what [bobricius]’ is aiming at with his Armawatch and Armachat devices.

Recently, [bobricius] built a LoRa based instant messaging device named Armachat. The gadget is controlled by a SAMD21 MCU with native USB and includes a QWERTY keyboard and an LCD display. Communication is based on an RFM95 LoRa transceiver which can reach a range of up to 2 km under ideal conditions. [bobricius] is a wiz when it comes to PCB design and one thing that makes his projects look so good is how he often uses PCBs as enclosures.

Armachat came in two form factors a large desktop and a smaller pocket version. The new Armawatch is another downsized version that perfectly fits on your arm by using a smaller display and keyboard. [bobricius] also did a lot of work on the firmware which now features a message delivery confirmation and the possibility to automatically resend undelivered messages. Future improvements will include message encryption, a store-and-forward function, and GPS position parsing. [bobricius] is also working on completing his portfolio of communicators with a credit-card-sized version.

LoRa is the go-to technology for off-the-grid communication devices and there are already other ongoing projects for using it to construct a mesh network.

Review: Calculator Kit Is Just A Few Hacks From Greatness

While most people are satisfied with a calculator application on their smartphone these days, there’s still something to be said for the old fashioned desk calculator. Maybe it’s the fact the batteries last long enough that you can’t remember the last time you changed them, or the feel of physical buttons under your fingers. It could even be the fact that it keeps your expensive smartphone from needing to sit out on the workbench. Whatever the reason, it’s not uncommon to see a real-life calculator (or two) wherever solder smoke tends to congregate.

Which is precisely the idea behind this DIY calculator kit. Available from the usual overseas retailers for about $15 USD, it has some hobbyist-oriented features such as the ability to decode resistor color bands, convert hexadecimal numbers, and calculate resistor values for driving LEDs. If you’re going to keep a knock-around calculator on your bench, why not build the thing yourself?

Given the dual nature of this product, a DIY electronics kit and a functional desk calculator for electronic hobbyists, it seems only appropriate to review both aspects of it individually. Which is good, since there may be more to this product than just the sum of its parts.

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AVR Multi-Tool Learns The Latest Tricks

Like many of us who fiddle with microcontrollers, [Mike] and [Brian] often found themselves using an ISP programmer and a USB-to-serial adapter. But when they started working on the latest generation of ATtiny chips, they found themselves in need of a Unified Program, and Debug Interface (UPDI) programmer as well. So they decided to wrap all three functions into one handy open hardware gadget.

They call their creation the AVR General Purpose Programmer, or AVRgpp for short. It runs on an ATmega328P with a Pro Mini bootloader, which means that the programmer itself is fully compatible with the Arduino IDE. USB-to-serial capability is provided by a CH330N, and a MC14053 digital switch IC is used to select between talking to the AVRgpp’s onboard MCU or the target device.

A 128 x 32 I2C OLED and two push buttons are used to select the device’s current mode, and there’s a physical switch to select between 5 V or 3.3 V power for the target. There’s also a ST662 12 V regulator, as UPDI targets occasionally need a high voltage pulse to switch into programming mode. Everything is packaged up in a pocket-sized laser cut enclosure that you can easily toss in your bag.

[Mike] and [Brian] say they are considering putting the AVRgpp into small scale production if there’s enough interest, so let them know if you’d like to get one without having to build it yourself.