Coaster Controlled HTPC

RFID

These days, HTPCs are becoming more and more common, however controlling the content elegantly can be a painfully annoying problem. Roteno Labs have come up with a wonderful solution they call the RFiDJ. Similar to the RFID phone we covered earlier, they used a set of picture frame coasters and mounted descriptive pictures as well as unique RFID tags in each one. When a coaster is placed in the sensor area the server begins streaming that particular selection, including local news, This Week in Tech podcast, and other specific albums. Roteno Labs even managed to include a “shuffle” tag which would play content randomly out of a library. The end result is very well put together, excellently documented, and there is even a working video after the break.

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Get Hands-On at Supercon: Workshop Tickets Now Available

Build something cool and pick up new skills from the workshops at the Hackaday Superconference. Last week we announced all of the talks you’ll find at Supercon, and starting today you can reserve your spot at one of the workshops.

You must have a Superconference ticket in order to purchase a workshop ticket; buy one right now if you haven’t already. You can get mechanical with Haptics and Animatronics, take your product design from schematic to PCB and enclosure, brush up your embedded development on several choices of platform, make cell towers do your bidding, or dump way too many volts into a block of wood.

Space in these workshops is limited so make sure to sign up before all the seats are taken. The base price for workshops is $10 (basically a “skin in the game” price to encourage those who register to show up). Any tickets priced above that base is meant to cover the material expense of the workshop. Here’s what we have planned:

Embedded Programming with Black Magic and the Lights On

Piotr Esden-Tempski

Sunday Afternoon

Embedded systems programming has earned a bad reputation of being difficult to master. Especially in the open-source world, most people associate it with cut and pasted code that is difficult to debug. The usual tools we have to debug embedded systems are a blinking LED and, if we are lucky, printf statements through a serial port. In this self guided workshop we will show you how easy it can be to have full insight into your microcontroller using fully open source tools that are on par with expensive proprietary closed-source solutions.

Fun with High Voltage

Will Caruana

Sunday Morning

This workshop is about making Lichtenberg figures. A Lichtenberg figure is a piece of art though the multiplication of a few thousands of volts to burn wood. We will cover the science behind this art form as well as the safety and lastly we will be getting hands on experience in being able to using high voltage transformers to make these burnings into wood and make coasters you can take home.

Designing Electronic Textures

Noah Feehan

Sunday Afternoon

Participants will learn the physics behind electrovibration, and then get to play/design for it using a new open-source board called WEFT. After the workshop, you’ll know how to deploy electrovibration in your projects, and understand the feeling of different waveforms.

End to End Product Design with Eagle and Fusion 360

Matt Berggren

Saturday Morning

In this session, we’ll take you end to end, from building a new schematic, simulating a circuit using EAGLE’s built-in SPICE simulator, laying out a PCB, generating mfg files and include some tips & tricks for milling boards and making stencils. We’ll also take you thru the link between electronics and mechanics using Fusion360. Alongside EAGLE we’ll build an enclosure and generate the mfg outputs for your mechanical design (CAM, 3D prints, etc). We’ll look at library management across electronics and mechanics and bidirectional synchronization between both of these domains. This is more than an intro, as Matt’s always good for some essential, oft-missed background and tips with EAGLE you might never have known otherwise.

AVR® MCU Effortless Design Workshop: Prototyping with Sensors and BLE

Bob Martin, Senior Staff Engineer

Sunday Morning

This hands-on training session will walk you through how to develop an embedded sensor node prototype with Bluetooth® Low Energy (BLE) connectivity. You will speed through configuration of the AVR microcontroller, sensor interface and communications interface setup by using Atmel Start, a graphical programming interface. This tool will generate libraries with simple APIs so you can spend time working on your solution instead of messing with registers or communication protocols.

Rapid Prototyping and Linux Kernel Development with the PocketBeagle® Platform

Robert Nelson

Saturday Afternoon

The newly introduced PocketBeagle® is an ultra-tiny-yet-complete Linux-enabled, community-supported, open-source USB-key-fob computer. By leveraging the Octavo SIP, the PocketBeagle offers complete BeagleBoard functionality and includes 512MB DDR3 RAM, 1-GHz ARM Cortex-A8 CPU, 2x 200-MHz PRUs, ARM Cortex-M3, 3D accelerator, power/battery management and EEPROM. The board offers lots of GPIOs, on board peripherals and various expansion capabilities via multiple headers and the Mikroelektronika click board interface. During this course you will learn about pin configuration, how to create a Linux distribution, reconfiguring io on the fly and how to leverage expansion modules. Attendees will leave with their very own PocketBeagle and a couple other surprises as well.

Cellular Connectivity for Your Next Hardware Project

Ben Strahan and Chris Gammell

Saturday Afternoon

Your project shouldn’t be constrained by the range of a WiFi signal. This workshop will show you how to connect to cellular towers via a serial link, get connected into the cloud and reliably start transmitting data. This workshop is suitable for people just getting started in the firmware ecosystem up through advanced firmware engineers. Advanced members of the workshop will have the opportunity to hack their conference badge to connect to cell towers. Sign up for this workshop to add another connection method to your hardware development toolbox.

An Introduction to Animatronics with Laser Cut Tentacle Mechanisms

Joshua Vasquez

Saturday Morning

Animatronics are way cool, but the hacker community rarely ventures farther than a few hobby servos and “dem-blinkin’ LEDs.” In this workshop, I’ll get you cozy with tentacle mechanisms that you can build with just a laser cutter and a few hand tools. There are three big takeaways from this workshop. We’ll build up a two-stage controller reusable in other projects, muscle up our vocabulary of off-the-shelf parts for cable mechanisms, and discover a few laser-cut design techniques.

Superconference workshops tend to sell out extremely quickly. Don’t wait to get your ticket.

The Illuminated Waterways of the United States

A recent convert to the ways of the laser cutter, redditor [i-made-a-thing] was in want of a project and — stumbling on some waterways maps on Etsy — launched into fabricating an illuminated map of all the waterways in the United States.

The map itself was laser-cut out of 1/4 inch plywood at his local makerspace. Thing is, smaller rivers and tributaries were too narrow at the scale [i-made-a-thing] wanted, so he ended up spending several hours in Photoshop preparing the image so larger rivers would be laser-cut — and not break off– while the rest would be etched onto the surface. After testing the process by making a few coasters, he was ready to get started on the real deal.

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And the Grandfather of the Year Award Goes to…

Hacker dads often have great plans for all the fun projects they’ll build for their kids. Reality often intrudes, though, creating opportunities for hacker grandfathers who might have more time and resources to tackle the truly epic kid hacks. Take, for instance, [rwreagan] and the quarter-scale model railroad he built for his granddaughter.

Taking inspiration from a 1965 issue of Popular Mechanics, grandpa hit this one out of the park. Attention to detail and craftsmanship are evident from the cowcatcher to the rear coupler of this 4-2-0 steam engine replica, and everywhere along the 275 feet of wooden track — that’s almost a quarter-mile at scale. The locomotive runs on composite wood and metal flanged wheels powered by pair of 350-watt motors and some 12-volt batteries; alas, no steam. The loco winds around [rwreagan]’s yard through a right-of-way cut into the woods and into a custom-built engine house that’ll make a great playhouse. And there are even Arduino-controlled crossbucks at the grade crossing he uses for his tractor on lawn mowing days.

The only question here is: will his granddaughter have as much fun using it as he had building it? We’ll guess yes because it looks like a blast all around. Other awesome dad builds we’ve covered include this backyard roller coaster and a rocketship treehouse.

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Robotsota, Fighting Geese, and Machine Speak at World Create Day

A few weekends ago, we kicked the Hackaday Prize into gear with World Create Day. This was a celebration of building stuff, and served as a get together for master builders to figure out what they’re going to build this year. We had an amazing turnout all around the globe, and a splendid time was had by all. Continue reading “Robotsota, Fighting Geese, and Machine Speak at World Create Day”

The Princess and the HDD: Poor Design Choices

You’ll all remember my grand adventure in acquiring a photocopier. Well, it’s been a rollercoaster, I tell ya. While I still haven’t found a modification worthy enough to attempt, I have become increasingly frustrated. From time to time, I like to invite my friends and family over for dinner, and conversation naturally turns to things like the art on the walls, the fish in the aquarium, or perhaps the photocopier in the living room. Now, I dearly love to share my passions with others, so it’s pretty darned disappointing when I go to fire off a few copies only to have the machine fail to boot! It was time to tackle this problem once and for all.

When powered up, the photocopier would sit at a “Please Wait…” screen for a very long time, before eventually coughing up an error code — SC990 — and an instruction to call for service. A bunch of other messages would flash up as well; Address Book Data Error, Hard Drive Data Error, and so on. In the end I realized they all centered around data storage.

Pictured: the author, in his happy place, at peace with the copier.

Now, I’d already tried diving into the service menu once before, and selected the option to format the hard drive. That had led to the problem disappearing for a short period, but now it was back. No amount of mashing away at the keypad would work this time. The format commands simply returned “Failed” every time. What to do next? You guessed it, it was time for a teardown!

Thankfully, photocopiers are designed for easy servicing — someone’s paying for all those service calls. A few screws and large panels were simply popping off with ease; completely the opposite of working on cars. Spotting the hard drive was easy, it looked like some sort of laptop IDE unit. With only SATA laptops around the house to salvage parts from, I wasn’t able to come up with something to swap in.

A bit of research (and reading the label) taught me that the drive was a Toshiba MK2023GAS/HDD2187. Replacements were available on eBay, but if I waited two weeks I’d probably be wrist deep in some other abandoned equipment. It had to be sorted on the night. In the words of [AvE], if you can’t fix it… well, you know how it goes. I yanked the drive and, lo and behold – the copier booted straight up! Just to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating, I churned out a few copies, and other than the continued jamming on all-black pages, everything was fine. Literally all it took to get the copier to boot was to remove the ailing drive. Suffice to say, I was kind of dumbfounded.

The hard drive a.k.a. the villain of the piece.

I’m happy to chalk up the win, but I have to draw issue with Ricoh’s design here. The copier is clearly capable of operating perfectly well without a hard drive. It will give up its document server and address book abilities, but it will still make copies and print without a problem.

Yet, when the copier’s drive fails, the unit fails completely and refuses to work. This necessitates a service call for the average user to get anything at all happening again — causing much lost work and productivity. A better design in my eyes would have the copier notify users of the lost functionality due to the failed drive and the need to call service, but let them copy! Any IT administrator will know the value of a bodged work around that keeps the company limping along for the day versus having a room of forty agitated workers with nothing to do. It’s a shame Ricoh chose to have the photocopier shut down completely rather than valiantly fight on.

Feel free to chime in with your own stories of minor failures that caused total shutdowns in the comments. Video below the break.

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That Time I Spent $20 For 25 .STL Files

Last weekend I ran out of filament for my 3D printer midway through a print. Yes, it’s evidence of poor planning, but I’ve done this a few times and I can always run over to Lowe’s or Home Depot or Staples and grab an overpriced spool of crappy filament to tide me over until the good, cheap filament arrives via UPS.

The Staples in my neck of the woods was one of the few stores in the country to host a, ‘premium, in-store experience’ featuring MakerBot printers. Until a few months ago, this was a great place to pick up a spool of filament that could get you through the next few hours of printing. The filament cost about three times what I would usually pay, but it was still good quality filament and they usually had the color I needed.

This partnership between MakerBot and Staples fell through a few months ago, the inventory was apparently shipped back to Brooklyn, and now Robo3D has taken MakerBot’s space at the endcap in Staples. Last weekend, I picked up a 1kg spool of red PLA for $40. What I found next to this filament left me shocked, confused, and insatiably curious. I walked out of that store with a spool of filament and a USB thumb drive loaded up with twenty-five STL files. This, apparently, is the future of 3D printing.

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