Researchers Build Neural Networks With Actual Neurons

Neural networks have become a hot topic over the last decade, put to work on jobs from recognizing image content to generating text and even playing video games. However, these artificial neural networks are essentially just piles of maths inside a computer, and while they are capable of great things, the technology hasn’t yet shown the capability to produce genuine intelligence.

Cortical Labs, based down in Melbourne, Australia, has a different approach. Rather than rely solely on silicon, their work involves growing real biological neurons on electrode arrays, allowing them to be interfaced with digital systems. Their latest work has shown promise that these real biological neural networks can be made to learn, according to a pre-print paper that is yet to go through peer review.
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This Week In Security: Y2K22, Accidentally Blocking 911, And Bug Alert

If you had the misfortune of running a Microsoft Exchange server this past week, then you don’t need me to tell you about the Y2K22 problem. To catch rest of us up, when Exchange tried to download the first malware definitions update of 2022, the version number of the new definitions triggered a crash in the malware detection engine. The date is represented as the string 2201010001, where the first two digits represent the year. This string gets converted to a signed long integer, which maxes out at 2,147,483,647. The integer overflows, and the result is undefined behavior, crashing the engine. The server fails safe, not processing any messages without a working malware engine, which means that no e-mail gets through. Happy new year!
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Quantum Atomic Interferometer For Precision Motion Sensing

The current state of the art of embedded motion sensing is based around micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) devices. These miracles of microfabrication use tiny silicon structures, configured to detect acceleration and rotational velocity in three dimensions. Accumulate these accelerations and rotations, and you’ve got a device that can find its orientation and track movement without any external waypoints. This is the basis of the technique of dead reckoning.

Why do we care about dead reckoning anyway? Surely GPS and related positioning systems are good enough? Above ground GPS is usually good enough, but underwater and underground this simply won’t work. Even heading indoors has a dramatic effect on the GPS signal strength, so yes, we need another way for some applications.

Right now, the current state of the art in portable sensors are MEMS devices, and you can get them for the cost of a hamburger. But if you want the ultimate in accuracy, you’ll want a quantum atomic interferometer. What that is, and how it will be possible to make one small enough to be useful, is half of the story. But first, let’s talk MEMS.

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Hearing The Unhearable

My wife was watching a crime drama, and one of the plot twists involved a witness’ hearing aid malfunctioning so that he could hear electromagnetic waves around him. It’s not so implausible, if you think about it. Many hearing aids have a t-coil, which is essentially an inductor that’s designed to couple with the speaker in a telephone. If that went haywire, maybe you could hear all the changing magnetic fields around you, and if you could escape the constant hum of the mains power line, it might even be interesting.

So of course, she turns to me and says “we need to make one!” It shouldn’t be hard at all — a big inductor and an amplifier should do the trick. In fact, it’ll probably be easy enough that it’ll make a good introduction-to-electronics project for my son. But there are also enough unknowns here that it’ll be interesting. How big a coil? How close? How sensitive? What about that mains frequency bit? Ferrite core or not?

None of this is rocket science, for sure, but it will probably be full of kludges, discoveries, and straight-up exploration. In short, the perfect weekend project. And in the end, it’ll expose something that’s normally invisible, and that’s where the fun lies.

This must be the same urge that drove Faraday and Marconi, Volta and Maxwell. There’s something amazing about directly sensing, seeing, hearing, and understanding some of the stuff that’s outside of our limited hearing and eyesight, and yet is all around us. I can write down the equations that describe it — I learned them in school after all — but there’s no substitute for poking around in your own home. Who knows, maybe in a few more weekends we’ll build ourselves an all-band receiver.

What’s your favorite super power?

The Story Behind Ohm’s Law

Do you ever wonder how much of what we do you could figure out from scratch? Tying your shoe might seem simple now, but kids have trouble mastering the skill, and dreaming it up for the first time is even harder. The same holds true for a lot of technology we use every day. Would you think up the computer mouse or even the computer if they didn’t already exist? Surely, though, one of the simplest and most useful math equations that is fundamental to electronics — Ohm’s law — would be easy to figure out, right? It is often the first thing you learn about electronics, but figuring it out that first time turned out to be quite difficult.

The fellow who discovered the relationship was Georg Ohm, a high school math and physics teacher from Köln. What you might not know is that the first time he published it, he got it wrong. But, lucky for us, he figured out his mistake and was able to correct it.

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How To Get Into Lost Wax Casting (with A Dash Of 3D Printing)

I’ve always thought that there are three things you can do with metal: cut it, bend it, and join it. Sure, I knew you could melt it, but that was always something that happened in big foundries- you design something and ship it off to be cast in some large angular building churning out smoke. After all, melting most metals is hard. Silver melts at 1,763 °F. Copper at 1,983 °F. Not only do you need to create an environment that can hit those temperatures, but you need to build it from materials that can withstand them.

Turns out, melting metal is not so bad. Surprisingly, I’ve found that the hardest part of the process for an engineer like myself at least, is creating the pattern to be replicated in metal. That part is pure art, but thankfully I learned that we can use technology to cheat a bit.

When I decided to take up casting earlier this year, I knew pretty much nothing about it. Before we dive into the details here, let’s go through a quick rundown to save you the first day I spent researching the process. At it’s core, here are the steps involved in lost wax, or investment, casting:

  1. Make a pattern: a wax or plastic replica of the part you’d like to create in metal
  2. Make a mold: pour plaster around the pattern, then burn out the wax to leave a hollow cavity
  3. Pour the metal: melt some metal and pour it into the cavity

I had been kicking around the idea of trying this since last fall, but didn’t really know where to begin. There seemed to be a lot of equipment involved, and I’m no sculptor, so I knew that making patterns would be a challenge. I had heard that you could 3D-print wax patterns instead of carving them by hand, but the best machine for the job is an SLA printer which is prohibitively expensive, or so I thought. Continue reading “How To Get Into Lost Wax Casting (with A Dash Of 3D Printing)”

Dad Scores Big With DIY Indoor Hockey Game

We suppose it’s a bit early to call it just yet, but we definitely have a solid contender for Father of the Year. [DIY_Maxwell] made a light-up hockey game for his young son that looks like fun for all ages. Whenever the puck is hit with the accompanying DIY hockey stick (or anything else), it lights up and produces different sounds based on its acceleration.

Inside the printed puck is an Arduino Nano running an MPU6050 accelerometer, a 12-NeoPixel ring, and a piezo buzzer. [DIY_Maxell] reused a power bank charging circuit to charge up the small LiPo battery.

The original circuit used a pair of coin cells, but the Arduino was randomly freezing up, probably because of the LEDs’ current draw. Be sure to check out the video after the break, which begins with a little stop motion and features a solder stand in the shape of a 3D printer.

Got a house full of carpet or breakables? You could always build an air hockey table instead.

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