Ask Hackaday: How Do You Keep The 3D Printer From Becoming EWaste

One thing we sometimes forget in our community is that many of the tecniques and machines that we take for granted are still something close to black magic for many outsiders. Here’s a tip: leave a 3D printer running next time you take a group of visitors round a hackerspace, and watch their reaction as a Benchy slowly emerges from the moving extruder. To us it’s part of the scenery, but to them it’s impossibly futuristic and their minds are blown.

Just because something says it's a Prusa i3, doesn't mean it is a Prusa i3.
Just because something says it’s a Prusa i3, doesn’t mean it is a Prusa i3.

Nearly 15 years after the dawn of the RepRap project we have seen a huge advancement in the capabilities of affordable 3D printers, and now a relatively low three-figure sum will secure a machine from China that will churn out prints whose quality would amaze those early builders. We’ve reached the point in our community at which many people are on their third or fourth printer, and this has brought with it an unexpected side-effect. Where once a hackerspace might have had a single highly prized 3D printer, now it’s not unusual to find a pile of surplus older printers on a shelf. My hackerspaces both have several, and it’s a sight I’ve frequently seen on my travels around others. Perhaps it’s a sign of a technology maturing when it becomes ewaste, and thus it seems affordable 3D printing has matured. Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: How Do You Keep The 3D Printer From Becoming EWaste”

Ask Hackaday: Drone Swarms Replace Fireworks; Where Are The Hackers?

Your mom always warned you that those fireworks could put an eye out. However, the hottest new thing in fireworks displays is not pyrotechnic at all. Instead, a swarm of coordinated drones take to the sky with different lighting effects. This makes some pretty amazing shows possible, granting full control of direction, color, and luminosity of each light source in a mid-air display. It also has the side benefit of being safer — could this be the beginning of the end for fireworks accident videos blazing their way across social media platforms?

For an idea of what’s possible with drone swarm displays, check out the amazing pictures found on this site (machine translation) that show off the 3D effects quite well. Note that although it appears the camera is moving during many of these, the swam itself could be rotated relative to a stationary viewer for a similar effect.

 

What I couldn’t find was much going on here in the hobby space. Granted, in the United States, restrictive drone laws might hamper your ability to do things like this. But it seems that in a purely technical terms this wouldn’t be super hard to do — at least for simple designs. Besides, there must be some way to do this in US airspace since drone performances have been at the Super Bowl, Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Folsom, CA.

So if the regulations were sorted, what would it take to build a swarm of your own performing drones?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Drone Swarms Replace Fireworks; Where Are The Hackers?”

Ask Hackaday: Is Anyone Sad Phone VR Is Dead?

It’s official: smartphone-based VR is dead. The two big players in this space were Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus, which is owned by Facebook) and Google Daydream. Both have called it quits, with Google omitting support from their newer phones and Oculus confirming that the Gear VR has reached the end of its road. Things aren’t entirely shut down quite yet, but when it does it will sure leave a lot of empty headsets laying around. These things exist in the millions, but did anyone really use phone-based VR? Are any of you sad to see it go?

Google Cardboard, lowering cost and barrier to entry about as low as it could go.

In case you’re unfamiliar with phone-based VR, this is how it works: the user drops their smartphone into a headset, puts it on their head, and optionally uses a wireless controller to interact with things. The smartphone takes care of tracking motion and displaying 3D content while the headset itself takes care of the optics and holds everything in front of the user’s eyeballs. On the low end was Google Cardboard and on the higher end was Daydream and Gear VR. It works, and is both cheap and portable, so what happened?

In short, phone-based VR had constraints that limited just how far it could go when it came to delivering a VR experience, and these constraints kept it from being viable in the long run. Here are some of the reasons smartphone-based VR hit the end of the road: Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Is Anyone Sad Phone VR Is Dead?”

Ask Hackaday: What’s The Perfect Hacker Smart Watch?

Since Dick Tracy all the way back in ’46, smart watches have captured the public imagination. After several false starts, the technology has gone through a renaissance in the last 10 years or so. For the average consumer, there’s been a proliferation of hardware in the marketplace, with scores of different models to choose from. For the hackers, however, pickings are a little more slim. So what is the best smart watch for the tinkerers among us? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What’s The Perfect Hacker Smart Watch?”

Ask Hackaday: Does Your Car Need An Internet Killswitch?

Back in the good old days of carburetors and distributors, the game was all about busting door locks and hotwiring the ignition to boost a car. Technology rose up to combat this, you may remember the immobilizer systems that added a chip to the ignition key without which the vehicle could not be started. But alongside antitheft security advances, modern vehicles gained an array of electronic controls covering everything from the entertainment system to steering and brakes. Combine this with Bluetooth, WiFi, and cellular connectivity — it’s unlikely you can purchase a vehicle today without at least one of these built in — and the attack surface has grown far beyond the physical bounds of bumpers and crumple zones surrounding the driver.

Cyberattackers can now compromise vehicles from the comfort of their own homes. This can range from the mundane, like reading location data from the navigation system to more nefarious exploits capable of putting motorists at risk. It raises the question — what can be done to protect these vehicles from unscrupulous types? How can we give the user ultimate control over who has access to the data network that snakes throughout their vehicle? One possible solution I’m looking at today is the addition of internet killswitches.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Does Your Car Need An Internet Killswitch?”

Ask Hackaday: What Good Is A Robot Dog?

It is said that Benjamin Franklin, while watching the first manned flight of a hot air balloon by the Montgolfier brothers in Paris in 1783, responded when questioned as to the practical value of such a thing, “Of what practical use is a new-born baby?” Dr. Franklin certainly had a knack for getting to the heart of an issue.

Much the same can be said for Spot, the extremely videogenic dog-like robot that Boston Dynamics has been teasing for years. It appears that the wait for a production version of the robot is at least partially over, and that Spot (once known as Spot Mini) will soon be available for purchase by “select partners” who “have a compelling use case or a development team that [Boston Dynamics] believe can do something really interesting with the robot,” according to VP of business development Michael Perry.

The qualification of potential purchasers will certainly limit the pool of early adopters, as will the price tag, which is said to be as much as a new car – and a nice one. So it’s not likely that one will show up in a YouTube teardown video soon, so until the day that Dave Jones manages to find one in his magic Australian dumpster, we’ll have to entertain ourselves by trying to answer a simple question: Of what practical use is a robotic dog?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What Good Is A Robot Dog?”

Ask Hackaday: At What Point Is Hand Pick And Place Too Much Work?

Just a section from a render of the board in question. It's a daunting task for anyone facing it with a set of tweezers or a vacuum pencil.
Just a section from a render of the board in question. It’s a daunting task for anyone facing it with a set of tweezers or a vacuum pencil.

A friend of ours here at Hackaday has an audacious design in the works that we hope will one day become a prototype that we can feature here. That day may be a little while coming though, because it has somewhere close to a thousand of the smaller SMD components in multiple repeated blocks on a modestly sized board, and his quote from a Chinese board house for assembly is eye-watering. He lacks a pick-and-place machine of his own, and unsurprisingly the idea of doing the job by hand is a little daunting.

We can certainly feel his pain, for in the past we’ve been there. The job described in the linked article had a similar number of components with much more variety and on a much larger board, but still took two experienced engineers all day and into the night to populate. The solder paste had started to spread by the end, morphing from clearly defined blocks to an indistinct mush often covering more than one pad. Our eyes meanwhile were somewhat fatigued by the experience, and it’s not something any sane person would wish to repeat.

Mulling over our friend’s board and comparing it with the experience related above, are we on the edge of what is possible with hand pick-and-place, or should we be working at the next level? Board assembly is a finely judged matter of economics at a commercial level, but when at a one-off personal construction level the option of paying for assembly just isn’t there, is there a practical limit to the scale of the task? Where do you, our readers, draw the line? We’d love to hear your views.

Meanwhile our friend’s audacious project is still shrouded in a bit of secrecy, but we’ll continue to encourage him to show it to the world. It’s not often that you look at a circuit diagram and think “I wish I’d thought of that!”, but from what we’ve seen this fits the category. If he pulls it off then we’ll bring you the result.

PCB image, Andrew Magill (CC BY 2.0).