Ask Hackaday: What If You Did Have A Room Temperature Superconductor?

The news doesn’t go long without some kind of superconductor announcement these days. Unfortunately, these come in several categories: materials that require warmer temperatures than previous materials but still require cryogenic cooling, materials that require very high pressures, or materials that, on closer examination, aren’t really superconductors. But it is clear the holy grail is a superconducting material that works at reasonable temperatures in ambient temperature. Most people call that a room-temperature superconductor, but the reality is you really want an “ordinary temperature and pressure superconductor,” but that’s a mouthful.

In the Hackaday bunker, we’ve been kicking around what we will do when the day comes that someone nails it. It isn’t like we have a bunch of unfinished projects that we need superconductors to complete. Other than making it easier to float magnets, what are we going to do with a room-temperature superconductor? Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What If You Did Have A Room Temperature Superconductor?”

Car Driving Simulators For Students, Or: When Simulators Make Sense

There are many benefits to learning to fly an airplane, drive a racing car, or operate some complex piece of machinery. Ideally, you’d do so in a perfectly safe environment, even when the instructor decides to flip on a number of disaster options and you find your method of transportation careening towards the ground, or the refinery column you’re monitoring indicating that it’s mere seconds away from going critical and wiping out itself and half the refinery with it.

Still, we send inexperienced drivers in cars onto the roads each day as they either work towards getting their driving license, or have passed their driving exam and are working towards gaining experience. It is this inexperience with dangerous situations and tendency to underestimate them which is among the primary factors why new teenage drivers are much more likely to end up in crashes, with the 16-19 age group having a fatal crash nearly three times as high as drivers aged 20 and up.

After an initial surge in car driving simulators being used for students during the 1950s and 1960s, it now appears that we might see them return in a modern format.

Continue reading “Car Driving Simulators For Students, Or: When Simulators Make Sense”

Our Home Automation Contest Starts Now!

Your home is your castle, and what’s better than a fully automatic castle? Nothing! That’s why we’re inviting you to submit your sweetest home automation hacks for a chance to win one of three $150 DigiKey gift certificates. The contest starts now and runs until April 16th.

Home buttons project, simple home automation display
[Matej]’s Home Buttons gets the job done in open-source style.
We love to play around with home automation setups and have seen our fair share, ranging from the simple “turn some lights on” to full-blown cyber-brains that learn your habits and adapt to them. Where is your project on this continuum?

Whether you’re focused on making your life easier, saving energy, gathering up all the data about your usage patterns, or simply stringing some random functions together and calling it a “system,” we’d like to see it. Nothing is too big or too small if it makes your home life easier.

Home is where the home automation is!

To enter, head over to Hackaday IO and start documenting your project there. We are, of course, interested in learning from what you’ve done, so the better the docs, the better your chances of winning. And if you need some inspiration, check out these honorable mention categories.

Honorable Mention Categories

Thanks again to DigiKey for sponsoring this with three gift certificates!

Measuring Trees Via Satellite Actually Takes A Great Deal Of Field Work

Figuring out what the Earth’s climate is going to do at any given point is a difficult task. To know how it will react to given events, you need to know what you’re working with. This requires an accurate model of everything from ocean currents to atmospheric heat absorption and the chemical and literal behavior of everything from cattle to humans to trees.

In the latter regard, scientists need to know how many trees we have to properly model the climate. This is key, as trees play a major role in the carbon cycle by turning carbon dioxide into oxygen plus wood. But how do you count trees at a continental scale? You’ll probably want to get yourself a nice satellite to do the job.

Continue reading “Measuring Trees Via Satellite Actually Takes A Great Deal Of Field Work”

Slime Mold-Powered Smart Watches See Humans Fall In Love With The Goo

Humans are very good at anthropomorphising things. That is, giving them human characteristics, like ourselves. We do it with animals—see just about any cartoon—and we even do it with our own planet—see Mother Nature. But we often extend that courtesy even further, giving names to our cars and putting faces on our computers as well.

A recent study has borne this out in amusing fashion. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that human attitudes towards a device can change if they are required to take actions to look after it. Enter the slime mold smartwatch, and a gooey, heartwarming story of love and care between human and machine, mediated by mold.

Continue reading “Slime Mold-Powered Smart Watches See Humans Fall In Love With The Goo”

PC AT mainboard with both 16-bit ISA and 32-bit PCI slots. (Credit: htomari, Flickr)

How Intel Gave Us The PCI Bus While Burying VESA’s VL-Bus

Gigabyte GA486IM mainboard from 1994 with ISA, VLB and PCI slots. (Credit: Rjluna2, Wikimedia)
Gigabyte GA486IM mainboard from 1994 with ISA, VLB and PCI slots. (Credit: Rjluna2, Wikimedia)

The early days of home computing were quite a jungle of different standards and convoluted solutions to make one piece of hardware work on as many different platforms as possible. IBM’s PC was an unexpected shift here, as with its expansion card-based system (retroactively called the ISA bus) it inspired a new evolution in computers. Of course, by the early 1990s the ISA bus couldn’t keep up with hardware demands, and a successor was needed. Many expected this to be VESA’s VLB, but as [Ernie Smith] regales us in a recent article in Tedium, Intel came out of left field with its PCI standard after initially backing VLB.

IBM, of course, wanted to see its own proprietary MCA standard used, while VLB was an open standard. One big issue with VLB is that it isn’t a new bus as such, but rather an additional slot tacked onto the existing ISA bus, as it was then called. While the reasoning for PCI was sound, with it being a compact, 32-bit (also 64-bit) design with plug and play and more complex but also more powerful PCI controller, its announcement came right before VLB was supposed to be announced.

Although there was some worry that having both VLB and PCI in the market competing would be bad, ultimately few mainboards ended up supporting VLB, and VLB quietly vanished. Later on PCI was extended into the Accelerated Graphics Port (AGP) that enabled the GPU revolution of the late 90s and still coexists with its PCIe successor. We covered making your own ISA and PCI cards a while ago, which shows that although PCI is more complex than ISA, it’s still well within the reach of today’s hobbyist, unlike PCIe which ramps up the hardware requirements.

Top image: PC AT mainboard with both 16-bit ISA and 32-bit PCI slots. (Credit: htomari, Flickr)

Electrical Steel: The Material At The Heart Of The Grid

When thoughts turn to the modernization and decarbonization of our transportation infrastructure, one imagines it to be dominated by exotic materials. EV motors and wind turbine generators need magnets made with rare earth metals (which turn out to be not all that rare), batteries for cars and grid storage need lithium and cobalt, and of course an abundance of extremely pure silicon is needed to provide the computational power that makes everything work. Throw in healthy pinches of graphene, carbon fiber composites and ceramics, and minerals like molybdenum, and the recipe starts looking pretty exotic.

As necessary as they are, all these exotic materials are worthless without a foundation of more familiar materials, ones that humans have been extracting and exploiting for eons. Mine all the neodymium you want, but without materials like copper for motor and generator windings, your EV is going nowhere and wind turbines are just big lawn ornaments. But just as important is iron, specifically as the alloy steel, which not only forms the structural elements of nearly everything mechanical but also appears in the stators and rotors of motors and generators, as well as the cores of the giant transformers that the electrical grid is built from.

Not just any steel will do for electrical use, though; special formulations, collectively known as electrical steel, are needed to build these electromagnetic devices. Electrical steel is simple in concept but complex in detail, and has become absolutely vital to the functioning of modern society. So it pays to take a look at what electrical steel is and how it works, and why we’re going nowhere without it.

Continue reading “Electrical Steel: The Material At The Heart Of The Grid”