Assemble Your (Virtual) Robotic Underground Exploration Team

It’s amazing how many things have managed to move online in recent weeks, many with a beneficial side effect of eliminating travel making them more accessible to everyone around the world. Though some events had a virtual track before it was cool, among them the DARPA Subterranean Challenge (SubT) robotics competition. Recent additions to their “Hello World” tutorials (with promise of more to come) have continued to lower the barrier of entry for aspiring roboticists.

We all love watching physical robots explore the real world, which is why SubT’s “Systems Track” gets most of the attention. But such participation is necessarily restricted to people who have the resources to build and transport bulky hardware to the competition site, which is just a tiny subset of all the brilliant minds who can contribute. Hence the “Virtual Track” which is accessible to anyone with a computer that meets requirements. (64-bit Ubuntu 18 with NVIDIA GPU) The tutorials help get us up and running on SubT’s virtual testbed which continues to evolve. With every round, the organizers work to bring the virtual and physical worlds closer together. During the recent Urban Circuit, they made high resolution scans of both the competition course as well as participating robots.

There’s a lot of other traffic on various SubT code repositories. Motivated by Bitbucket sunsetting their Mercurial support, SubT is moving from Bitbucket to GitHub and picking up some housecleaning along the way. Together with the newly added tutorials, this is a great time to dive in and see if you want to assemble a team (both of human collaborators and virtual robots) to join in the next round of virtual SubT. But if you prefer to stay an observer of the physical world, enjoy this writeup with many fun details on systems track robots.

A Twisted Tale Of Woven Wires

A little over a year ago, we ran a contest that challenged readers to leave the comfort of their PCBs and breadboards. We wanted to see circuits built in three dimensions, with extra points awarded for creativity and artistic flair. Truth be told there was initially some concern that the “Circuit Sculpture” contest was a bit too abstract for the Hackaday community, but the overwhelming number of absolutely gorgeous entries certainly put those doubts to rest.

In a recent video, [Michael Aichlmayr] walks viewers through the creation of his mesmerizing entry Wonderlandscape, which ended up taking honorable mention in the Circuit Sculpture contest for Best Metalworks. Though this is much more than just a simple walk-through of a project. Sure you’ll see how brass bar stock was artfully twisted and wrapped to create a metallic winterscape that looks like it could have come from Bob Ross’s hitherto unknown cyberpunk period, but that’s only half the story.

The brass bar was twisted by hand with pliers.

In the video, [Michael] recalls how he discovered the burgeoning electronic sculpture community, and points to a few exceptional examples that got him hooked on finding the beauty that’s usually hidden inside of a plastic enclosure. Eventually he heard about the Circuit Sculpture contest, and decided it was the perfect opportunity to build something of his own. That’s right, Wonderlandscape is his very first attempt at turning electronics into art.

But the best may be yet to come. [Michael] explains that, due to the time constraints of the contest, he had to use metal stock purchased from the crafts store. But his ultimate goal is actually to melt down salvaged brass and bronze components and make his own wire and rods. We can’t wait to see what he’ll be able to accomplish when he starts working with his own custom made metal, and are eagerly awaiting the future video that he says will go over the techniques he’s been working on.

This story is a great reminder of how stepping out of your comfort zone once and awhile can be a good thing. Entering the contest with no previous experience was a risk to be sure, but [Michael] came out the other side more experienced and with a few new friends in the community. So why not enter our latest contest and see where it takes you?

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New Contest: Making Tech At Home

Put that parts bin to good use and build something! That’s the gist of the Making Tech at Home contest where your inner pack rat can shine by building from the parts you have on hand.

So what are you supposed to build? We’re not particular, we just want it to be cool. Grab everyone’s attention with an awesome project, and then win our hearts with the story of where you found the components.

Daniel Domínguez’s Parts Bin Self Portrait is an excellent example

An excellent example is the Parts Bin Self Portrait seen here that was a runner-up in the Circuit Sculpture contest. [Daniel Domínguez] talks about cutting out his silhouette from a scrap of prototyping board, pulling dev boards out of the parts box, and finding a ceiling fan on the side of the road which ended up donating the wire from the windings of its motor.

Your story is what’s important here. You can build a sleek and beautiful bit of gear that doesn’t look hacky at all — tell us about what the finished project does, but we also need to hear what parts you had on hand, where they came from, and what led you to use them. There is an element of satisfaction when that broken thermostat that you’ve been squirreling way for ten years, or the accidentally ordered reel of 0402 resistors, ends up getting used. Dust off that electronics hoard and get building!

Prizes Sent Out Throughout the Contest

This contest runs until July 28th, but you won’t have to wait that long to score some loot. Thirty entries will win a grab bag of stuff from Digi-Key and we’ll pick a few projects every week as we work toward that number. Help us decide what to send in those grab bags by voting for the gear you like the most.

Once the contest wraps up, three top winners will receive a mega grab bag stuffed with $500 worth of components. You know… to add to your parts bin for all those future builds.

If you’re anything like us, people deliver their broken stuff to you because they’ve heard you build things out of broken electronics. You feel torn about keeping old hardware around, but feel guilty about sending it to the landfill. When you order parts you get multiples just so you have them on hand for the next project. You were made for this competition, and no matter who the prizes go to, we want a look inside your parts bin.

A Jaw-Dropping Demo In Only 256 Bytes

“Revision” is probably the Olympics of the demoscene. The world’s best tiny graphics coders assemble, show off their works, and learn new tricks to pack as much awesome into as few bytes as possible or make unheard-of effects on limited hardware. And of course, there’s a competition. Winning this year’s 256-byte (byte!) competition, and then taking the overall crowd favorite award, was [HellMood]’s Memories.

If you watch it in the live-stream from Revision, you’ll hear the crowd going (virtually) wild, and the announcer losing his grip and gasping for words. It’s that amazing. Not only are more effects put into 28 bytes than we thought possible, but there’s a full generative MIDI score to go with it. What?!?

But almost as amazing is [HellMood]’s generous writeup of how he pulled it off. If you’re at all interested in demos, minimal graphics effects, or just plain old sweet hacks, you have your weekend’s reading laid out for you. [HellMood] has all of his references and influences linked in as well. You’re about to go down a very deep rabbit hole.

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New Contest Puts PSoC Boards In The Hands Of 50 Entries

Today marks the beginning of the PSoC IoT design contest. Show us your idea for an interesting Internet-connected thing and we’ll send you a dev kit to actually build it.

With the help of Cypress, Digi-Key, and AWS IoT we’ll be sending out your choice of  PSoC 6 WiFi-BT Pioneer kit or Prototyping Kit to up to 50 entries just for publishing a great idea of something to build with them. As you guessed from the name, these provide WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, but they’re also bristling with seven programmable analog blocks the PSoC is known for, and a hundred GPIO. They have prototyping add-ons like a 2.4″ screen for user interface, audio, IMU, capacitive touch, and a heap of other goodies.

You have until May 26th to post a project page on Hackaday.io outlining your idea — don’t forget to use that “Submit project to” button to enter it in the contest. Tells us all about the IoT project you want to build and which PSoC 6 board you plan to use. If your idea is picked, we’ll send you the dev board and you’ll have until August to actually build your idea. Grand Prize will receive a $500 prepaid Visa card, two runners up will each receive a $250 card.

Full details are available on the contest page. We know you’ve always wanted to give your fish a Twitter account, to have a dashboard that shows up-to-the minute stats on how much Boo Berry Cereal you have left, a beacon to give you push alerts when the laundry needs to make its way into the dryer, or perhaps you plan to build a new wave of Internet-connect pagers. Whatever it is, from a silly idea to a truly life-improving build, if it’s begging to spread its data far and wide, it’s a perfect idea for this contest.

Contest Winners: Machine Learning On All Kinds Of Gadgets

With nearly sixty exciting entries, the Train All the Things contest, presented in partnership with Digi-Key, has drawn to a close and today we are happy to share news of the winning projects. The challenge at hand was to show off a project using some type of Machine Learning and there were plenty of takes on this theme displayed.

Perhaps the most impressive project is the Intelligent Bat Detector by [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] which claims the “ML on the Edge” award. His project, seen above, seeks not only to detect the presence of bats through the sounds they make during echolocation, but to identify the type of bat as well. Having been through a number of iterations, the bat detector, based on Nvidia Jetson Nano and a Raspberry Pi, can classify several types of bats, and a set of house keys (for a “control”). It’s also been impeccably documented and serves as a great example of how to get into machine learning.

The Soldering LIghtsaber takes the “ML Blinky” award for using machine learning in the microcontroller realm. This clever use of the concept seeks one thing: destroying the wait times for your soldering iron to heat up. It takes time to make temperature readings while the iron heats up, if you can do away with this step it speeds things up greatly. By sampling results of different voltages and heating times, machine learning establishes its own guidelines for how to pour electricity into the heating element without checking for feedback, and coming out the other side at the perfect temperature.

Rounding up our final two winners, the AI Powered Bull**** Detector claims the “ML on the Gateway” award, and
Hacking Wearables for Mental Health and More which won in the “ML on the Cloud” category.

The idea behind our illuminated poop emoji project is to detect human speech and make a judgement on whether the comment is valid, or BS. It does this by leveraging a learning set of comments that have previously been identified as BS and making an association with the currently uttered words.

Wearables for mental health is a wonderful project that was previously recognized in the 2018 Hackaday Prize. Economies of scale have made these wearables quite affordable as a way to add a sensor suite to behavior analysis. But of course you need a way to process all of the sensor data, a perfect task for a cloud-based machine learning application.

All four winners received a $100 gift code to Tindie. Don’t forget to check out all of the other interesting projects that were entered in this contest!

DARPA Challenge Autonomous Robot Teams To Navigate Unfinished Nuclear Power Plant

Robots might be finding their footing above ground, but today’s autonomous robots have a difficult time operating underground. DARPA wanted to give the state of the art a push forward, so they are running a Subterranean (SubT) Challenge which just wrapped up its latest round. A great review of this Urban Circuit competition (and some of the teams participating in it) has been published by IEEE Spectrum. This is the second of three underground problem subdomains presented to the participants, six months apart, preparing them for the final event which will combine all three types.

If you missed the livestream or prefer edited highlight videos, they’re all part of DARPAtv’s Subterranean Challenge playlist. Today it starts with a compilation of Urban Circuit highlights and continues to other videos. Including team profiles, video walkthrough of competition courses, actual competition footage, edited recap videos, and the awards ceremony. Half of the playlist are video from the Tunnels Circuit six months ago, so we can compare to see how teams performed and what they’ve learned along the way. Many more lessons were learned in the just-completed Urban Circuit and teams will spend the next six months improving their robots. By then we’ll have the Caves Circuit competition with teams ready to learn new lessons about operating robots underground.

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