Robot Controller More Fun Than An Actual Wii-U


Okay, that’s probably not fair since we never gave the Wii-U a try at all. But doesn’t this seem like a much better idea for controlling a robot than playing a gaming console?

The photo above is a bit deceiving because the unit actually has quite a bit of depth. Despite that, the cleanliness of the build is very impressive. [Alec Waters] started off with a backup monitor meant for automotive use (we’d estimate 7″). There’s a radio receiver, two analog joysticks where your thumbs line up when holding the controller, and an Arduino to pull it all together. If you haven’t figured it out already, this displays the wireless video from the robot he’s controlling. He’s also include an auxiliary port which lets you bypass the radio receiver and plug in a video feed directly.

Still convinced you need Nintendo’s consumer controller with a built-in screen. Yes, that can be hacked to work with all your projects. But seriously, this is way more fun.

Pimp My Keyboard: Automatic Lift Kit And More


Wondering what the heck a lift kit is? You know those low-riding cars that bounce? That’s the idea with this hack. [Justblair] added automatic height adjustment to his Cherry G80, and hid a few other extras while he was at it. Since there’s a fair amount of room inside the case of this model he was able to hide everything and keep just a single cord to run it all.

Certainly what catches your eye is the keyboard’s ability to rise to a typing height automatically. This is accomplished with a few servo motors and some 3D printed replacement feet. There were some hiccups along the way with under-powered servos, but bulking up to some HXT 900 9G models provide more power than is currently necessary. The automatic feature is thanks to a capacitive sensor built with a wire that loops the perimeter of the keyboard.

Of course to monitor the sensor and drive the servos you need some kind of brain. For that [Justblair] went with an ATmega32U4 breakout board. Since he had to patch into USB for power anyway he added a USB hub and routed one of the ports out the left side of the keyboard as a convenient way to connect other peripherals. There was even room to include an RFID reader which he uses to unlock his sessions (similar to the desk install from earlier this year). There’s still a lot of potential left in that hardware. To make future improvements easier the hack includes an IDC socket as an auxiliary port.

[Justblair] did a great job of sharing his work. His post links to a Github repo for the code and a Thingiverse project for the 3D printed legs. And it wouldn’t be complete without the demo video which is found below.

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Aux-in On A 30 Year Old Boombox


[Michael] just sent us this nice example of some good ol’ fashioned radio hacking.

He originally received the radio from his grandmother, and while he doesn’t listen to the radio much, he felt he couldn’t just let it go to waste. So like any good hacker he cracked open the case and took a look inside.

The beauty with radios from the 80’s is the simplicity of it all. They typically have single layer PCBs and nice big components which makes it so much easier to tinker with.

He used a bench power supply to bypass the main transformer for safety’s sake, and began probing the various points. The cassettes audio output was the easiest to find, but unfortunately it required the play button to be activated. Not wanting to lose functionality (or have an annoying rattling cassette mechanism), he continued probing and eventually found similar wires coming from the radio part of the PCB. Upon further probing he discovered he could trick the radio band button so that the radio would be off, but the output could still be used. After that it was just a matter of wiring, soldering, and adding an auxiliary plug to the case.

We’ve covered lots of auxiliary port hacks in the past, but this one is a great example of saving old technology from the dump.

[Thanks Michael!]

You Can Use A Crappy Mixer As A Neat Synthesizer

[Simon the Magpie] found himself in possession of a Behringer mixer that turned up in someone’s garbage. They’re not always the most well-regarded mixers, but [Simon] saw an opportunity to do something a bit different with it. He decided to show us all how you can use a mixer as a synthesizer.

[Simon] actually picked up the “no-input” technique from [Andreij Rublev] and decided to try it out on his own equipment. The basic idea is to use feedback through the mixer to generate tones. To create a feedback loop, connect an auxiliary output on the mixer to one of the mixer’s input channels. The gain on the channel is then increased on the channel to create a great deal of feedback. The mixer’s output is then gently turned up, along with the volume on the channel that has formed the feedback loop. If you’ve hooked things up correctly, you should have some kind of tone feedbacking through the mixer. Want to change the pitch? Easy – just use the mixer’s EQ pots!

It’s pretty easy to get some wild spacey sounds going. Get creative and you can make some crunchy sounds or weird repeating tones if you play with the mixer’s built in effects. Plus, the benefit of a mixer is that it has multiple channels. You can create more feedback loops using the additional channels if you have enough auxiliary sends for the job. Stack them up or weave them together and you can get some wild modulation going.

Who needs a modular synth when you can do all this with a four channel mixer and some cables? Video after the break.

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Radio Apocalypse: Hardening AM Radio Against Disasters

If you’ve been car shopping lately, or even if you’ve just been paying attention to the news, you’ll probably be at least somewhat familiar with the kerfuffle over AM radio. The idea is that in these days of podcasts and streaming music, plain-old amplitude modulated radio is becoming increasingly irrelevant as a medium of mass communication, to the point that automakers are dropping support for it from their infotainment systems.

The threat of federal legislation seems to have tapped the brakes on the anti-AM bandwagon, at least for now. One can debate the pros and cons, but the most interesting tidbit to fall out of this whole thing is one of the strongest arguments for keeping the ability to receive AM in cars: emergency communications. It turns out that about 75 stations, most of them in the AM band, cover about 90% of the US population. This makes AM such a vital tool during times of emergency that the federal government has embarked on a serious program to ensure its survivability in the face of disaster.

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NASA’s Voyager Space Probe’s Reserve Power, And The Intricacies Of RTG-Based Power Systems

Launched in 1977, the Voyager 1 and 2 space probes have been operating non-stop for over 45 years, making their way from Earth to our solar system’s outer planets and beyond. Courtesy of the radioisotope thermoelectric generators (RTGs) which provided 470 W at launch, they are able to function in the darkness of Deep Space as well as they did within the confines of our Sun-lit solar system. Yet as nothing in the Universe is really infinite, so too do these RTGs wear out over time, both from natural decay of their radioactive source and from the degradation of the thermocouples.

Despite this gradual drop in power, NASA recently announced that Voyager 2 has a hitherto seemingly unknown source of reserve power that will postpone the shutdown of more science instruments for a few more years. The change essentially bypasses a voltage regulator circuit and associated backup power system, freeing up the power consumed by this for the scientific instruments which would otherwise have begun to shut down years sooner.

While this is good news in itself, it’s also noteworthy because the Voyager’s 45+ year old Multi-Hundred Watt (MHW) RTGs are the predecessor to the RTGs that are still powering the New Horizons probe after 17 years, and the Mars Science Laboratory (Curiosity) for over 10 years, showing the value of RTGs in long-term exploration missions.

Although the basic principle behind an RTG is quite simple, their design has changed significantly since the US put a SNAP-3 RTG on the Transit 4B satellite in 1961.

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All About USB-C: High-Speed Interfaces

One amazing thing about USB-C is its high-speed capabilities. The pinout gives you four high-speed differential pairs and a few more lower-speed pairs, which let you pump giant amounts of data through a connector smaller than a cent coin. Not all devices take advantage of this capability, and they’re not required to – USB-C is designed to be accessible for every portable device under the sun. When you have a device with high-speed needs exposed through USB-C, however, it’s glorious just how much USB-C can give you, and how well it can work.

The ability to get a high-speed interface out of USB-C is called an Alternate Mode, “altmode” for short. The three altmodes you can encounter nowadays are USB3, DisplayPort and Thunderbolt, there’s a few that have faded into obscurity like HDMI and VirtualLink, and some are up and coming like USB4. Most altmodes require digital USB-C communication, using a certain kind of messages over the PD channel. That said, not all of them do – the USB3 is the simplest one. Let’s go through what makes an altmode tick. Continue reading “All About USB-C: High-Speed Interfaces”