Servo Claw Game Puts Your Muscles To The Test

As fun as claw games are, the jaws are always disappointingly weak, and you usually end up with bupkis. What if the jaws were completely within your  control? That’s the idea behind [Upside Down Labs]’ muscle-controlled servo claw game.

While electromyography (EMG) is great for identifying neuro-muscular abnormalities and allows for amazing prosthetic limbs to work, it can also be used for fun. As you’ll see in the video after the break, accurate block-stacking (and possible candy-grabbing) depends on teamwork and tensed muscles.

Though the user provides the muscle, the brains behind this operation is an Arduino Uno with a Muscle BioAmp shield stacked on top, which [Upside Down Labs] also created. This shield makes it ridiculously easy to connect EMG sensors and other I²C devices like screens and, well, servo claws. From there, it’s really just a matter of printing the claw, connecting it to a 9g servo, and using an accompanying kit to prepare the skin and connect the muscles to the Arduino. Be sure to check it out in tense block-stacking action after the break.

If you want to listen in on your muscles, look no further than the BioAmp EMG Pill.

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Android: Coming Soon To A RISC-V Processor Near You

In the roughly decade and a half since the Android mobile operating system appeared on the scene it has been primarily sold on devices with an ARM core at their heart, but along the way it has also appeared for other architectures. If you had a MIPS Android phone you may have been in the minority, but Intel phones enjoyed some popularity, and the up-and-coming new kid in the world of Android is RISC-V. For anyone interested in this last architecture it’s worth looking at the Google Open Source blog, in which they’ve published an overview of the current status of the project.

In short, it’s full steam ahead — as the development environment and emulation is in place for RISC-V Android. It’s certain we’ll start seeing RISC-V phones on the market soon, but perhaps that’s not the part which should interest readers the most. Over the last decade we have seen an explosion of inexpensive ARM single board computers, and though some of them such as the Raspberry Pi owe their heritage to set-top-box SoCs, it’s fair to say that a strong driver for this trend has been the proliferation of powerful mobile chips. A take-up of RISC-V driven by Android would mean a similar explosion of powerful SoCs with those  cores, leading we hope to much more accessible and powerful RISC-V computing. Sadly we expect them to still come with proprietary peripherals leading to plenty of closed source blobs, but we can’t have everything.

If you’d like to read more about the whole blob situation and RISC-V, we’ve got you covered.

DOOM On IPhone OS, On Android

So you want to play some games from the early days of 32-bit iPhone OS that no longer run on recent OS versions? [Hikari-no-yume] wrote a sweet high-level emulator, touchHLE, to do so on modern iOS phones. But maybe you don’t have an iPhone? [Ciciplusplus] has your back. He ported the iPhone OS emulator, written in Rust, to Android, and then ported a version of DOOM that runs on iPhone OS to go with it.

[Ciciplusplus] also made a video (embedded below) where he documented the trials and tribulations of porting Rust code to the Android platform – an intensely Java environment. It doesn’t sound like it was at all trivial. Of course, this couldn’t have been accomplished without [Hikari-no-yume]’s original work on touchHLE, which was made essentially to fulfill [Hikari-no-yume]’s long-time obsession with the game Super Monkey Ball.

So for now, touchHLE can boast the ability to run a few old 32-bit games on Android and desktop operating systems. What other games from the first years of gaming on smart phones (and iPods) do you need to see ported? Get involved in the project if you’ve got an itch you need scratched.

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Probably The Most Over-Specified Calculator To Ever Be Manufactured

It’s possible quite a few of our older readers will remember the period from the 1960s into the ’70s when an electronic calculator was the cutting edge of consumer-grade digital technology. By the 1980s though, they were old hat and could be bought for only a few dollars, a situation that remains to this day. But does that mean calculator development dead?

Perhaps not, as [Li Zexi] writes for CNX Software, when he reviews a simple non-scientific calculator that packs an Alwinner A50 tablet SoC and the Android operating system. As shipped they lack the Android launcher, so they aren’t designed to run much more than the calculator app. Of course that won’t stop somebody who knows their way around Google’s mobile operating system for very long — at the end of the review, there’s some shots of the gadget running Minecraft and playing streaming video.

These devices can be had for not a lot on the Chinese second-hand electronics market, and after an extensive teardown he comes to the conclusion that besides their novelty they’re an older specification so not really worth buying.

But it does beg the question as to why such a product was put into production when the same task could have been performed using very cheap microcontroller. Further, having done so they make it a non-scientific machine, not even bestowing it with anything that could possibly justify the hardware. Is there a use case he, and us, have missed? We’d love to know.

We cover a lot of calculator stories here at Hackaday. Sometimes they’re classic machines, but more often they’re modern takes on an old idea.


The TAK Ecosystem: Military Coordination Goes Open Source

In recent years you’ve probably seen a couple of photos of tablets and smartphones strapped to the armor of soldiers, especially US Special Forces. The primary app loaded on most of those devices is ATAK or Android Tactical Assault Kit. It allows the soldier to view and share geospatial information, like friendly and enemy positions, danger areas, casualties, etc. As a way of working with geospatial information, its civilian applications became apparent, such as firefighting and law-enforcement, so CivTAK/ATAK-Civ was created and open sourced in 2020. Since ATAK-Civ was intended for those not carrying military-issued weapons, the acronym magically become the Android Team Awareness Kit. This caught the attention of the open source community, so today we’ll dive into the growing TAK ecosystem, its quirks, and potential use cases.

Tracking firefighting aircraft in 3D space using ADS-B (Credit: The TAK Syndicate)

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The modem in question plugged into a black powerbank.

Hackable $20 Modem Combines LTE And Pi Zero W2 Power

[extrowerk] tells us about a new hacker-friendly device – a $20 LTE modem stick with a quadcore CPU and WiFi, capable of running fully-featured Linux distributions. This discovery hinges on a mountain of work by a Chinese hacker [HandsomeYingYan], who’s figured out this stick runs Android, hacked its bootloader, tweaked a Linux kernel for it and created a Debian distribution for the stick – calling this the OpenStick project. [extrowerk]’s writeup translates the [HandsomeYingYan]’s tutorial for us and makes a few more useful notes. With this writeup in hand, we have unlocked a whole new SBC to use in our projects – at a surprisingly low price!

At times when even the simplest Pi Zero is unobtainium (yet again!), this is a wonderful find. For a bit over the price of a Zero 2W, you get a computer with a similar CPU (4-core 1GHz A53-based Qualcomm MSM8916), same amount of RAM, 4GB storage, WiFi – and an LTE modem. You can stick this one into a powerbank or a wallwart and run it at a remote location, make it into a home automation hub, or perhaps, process some CPU-intensive tasks in a small footprint. You can even get them with a microSD slot for extra storage – or perhaps, even extra GPIOs? You’re not getting a soldering-friendly GPIO header, but it has a few LEDs and, apparently, a UART header, so it’s not all bad. As [extrowerk] points out, this is basically a mobile phone in a stick form factor, but without the display and the battery.

The modem with its cover taken off, showing the chips on its board.Now, there’s caveats. [extrowerk] points out that you should buy the modem with the appropriate LTE bands for your country – and that’s not the only thing to watch out for. A friend of ours recently obtained a visually identical modem; when we got news of this hack, she disassembled it for us – finding out that it was equipped with a far more limited CPU, the MDM9600. That is an LTE modem chip, and its functions are limited to performing USB 4G stick duty with some basic WiFi features. Judging by a popular mobile device reverse-engineering forum’s investigations (Russian, translated), looks like the earlier versions of this modem came with the way more limited MDM9600 SoC, not able to run Linux like the stick we’re interested in does. If you like this modem and understandably want to procure a few, see if you can make sure you’ll get MSM8916 and not the MDM9600.

Days of using WiFi routers to power our robots are long gone since the advent of Raspberry Pi, but we still remember them fondly, and we’re glad to see a router stick with the Pi Zero 2W oomph. We’ve been hacking at such sticks for over half a decade now, most of them OpenWRT-based, some as small as an SD card reader. Now, when SBCs are hard to procure, this could be a perfect fit for one of your next projects.

Update: in the comments below, people have found a few links where you should be able to get one of these modems with the right CPU. Also, [Joe] has started investigating the onboard components!

Tablet ina 3D printed stand, showing timetables on its screen

Revive Your Old E-Ink Tablet For Timetable Helper Duty

In our drawers, there’s gonna be quite a few old devices that we’ve forgotten about, and perhaps we ought to make them work for us instead. [Jonatron] found a Nook Simple Touch in his drawer – with its E-ink screen, wireless connectivity and a workable Android version, this e-reader from 2011 has the guts for always-on display duty. Sadly, the soft touch covering on the back disintegrated into a sticky mess, as soft touch does, the LiIon battery has gone flat, and the software support’s lackluster. Both of these are likely to happen for a lot of tablets, which is why we’re happy [Jonatron] has shared his story about this e-reader’s revival.

The tablet in question with back cover removed, battery wires connected to a USB cable for powerThe soft touch layer on the back didn’t go away with help of alcohol, but by sheer luck, an acetone bottle was nearby, and an acetone scrub helped get rid of the unpleasant stickiness. The tablet’s charging circuitry turned out to be unsophisticated – the tablet wouldn’t boot from MicroUSB input, and [Jonathan] wired up 5 volts from a USB cable straight into the battery input. Mind you, this might not be advised, as Lithium-Ion battery range is from 3 volts to 4.2 volts and a regulator would be called for, but [Jonatron] says it’s been working just fine.

Usually, you could just put a webserver on your local network and serve a page with useful information, adding code to refresh the page periodically – but the Nook’s browser didn’t support automatic refreshes. Not to be stopped, [Jonatron] wrote an app for the Nook’s Android install instead; rooting was required but went seamlessly. The Android install is old, and Android Studio for it is no longer downloadable, so he used an older development toolkit somehow still available online. There’s still a small Python-written webserver running on a spare Pi, conditioning the data for the app to fetch. Following best hacker traditions, both the app and the server are open-sourced! With help of a 3D printed stand, this tablet now displays train departure schedules – perfect application for an old e-reader like this.

Got a Nook Simple Touch in a drawer? Now you know you can easily convert it into a hackable E-ink display! We’ve seen numerous tablet restorations before, replacing charger ICs and eMMC drives, turning them into videophones to chat with our relatives and smart home controllers, and there’s even repair databases to help you in your revival efforts. We’ve been getting quite a few projects like these in our last Hackaday Prize installment, Hack It Back, and we hope to see more such rebuilds for our Wildcard round!