AI Creates Your Spreadsheets, Sometimes

We’ve been interested in looking at how AI can process things other than silly images. That’s why the “Free AI Bot that Generates the Excel Formula for Any Problem” caught our eye. Based on GPT-3, it supposedly transforms your problem description into a formula suitable for Excel or Google Sheets.

Our first prompt didn’t work out very well. But that was sort of our fault. When they say “Excel formula” they mean that quite literally. So trying to describe the actual result you want in terms of columns or rows seems to be beyond it. Not realizing that, we asked:

If the sum of column H is greater than 50, multiply column A by 0.33

And got:

=IF(SUM(H:H)>50,A*0.33,0)

A Better Try

Which is close, but not really how anyone even mildly proficient with Excel would interpret that request. But that’s not fair. It really needs to be a y=f(x) sort of problem, we suppose.

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Stentrodes: A Way To Insert Brain Electrodes Without Invasive Surgery

When we think of brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) that use electrodes, we usually think of Utah arrays that are placed directly on the brain during open brain surgery, or with thin electrodes spliced into the exposed brain as postulated by Neuralink. While Utah arrays and kin as a practical concept date back to the 1980s, a more recent concept called Stentrodes – for stent-electrode array – seeks to do away with the need for invasive brain surgery.

As the name suggests, this approach uses stents that are inserted via the blood vessels, where they are expanded and thus firmly placed inside a blood vessel inside the brain. Since each of these stents also features an electrode array, these can be used to record neural activity in nearby neural clusters, as well as induce activity through electrical stimulation.

Due to the fact that stents are already commonly used by themselves in the brain’s blood vessels, and the relatively benign nature of these electrode arrays, human trials have already been approved in 2018 by an ethics committee in Australia. Despite lingering concerns about the achievable resolution and performance of this approach, it may offer hope to millions of people suffering from paralysis and other conditions.

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The Hackaday Summer Camp Survival Guide

It’s a feature of summer for us, the round of hacker camps in which members of our community gather in fields and spend a few days relaxing and doing what we do best. This summer I’ll have been to four of them by September, one of which was unexpected because a last-minute ticket came my way. For Hackaday they’re a chance to connect with our readers and maybe see come of the coolest stuff in person.

If you consult the wiki for your hacker camp of choice then you’ll usually find a page of tips about what to bring. Starting with a tent and a sleeping bag and probably going on to sunscreen, a hat, and maybe how to avoid dehydration. I’d probably add spare toilet paper and disinfectant spray in case the toilets are nightmarish. All very practical stuff, but expressed in a dry list format that doesn’t really tell you what to expect. A hacker camp can be overwhelming if you’ve not been to one before, so how do you get the best out of it? Here are a few tips based on our experience. Continue reading “The Hackaday Summer Camp Survival Guide”

Maximum Power Point Tracking: Optimizing Solar Panels

When looking at integrating a photovoltaic solar panel into a project, the naive assumption would be that you simply point the panel into the general direction of where the Sun is, and out comes gobs of clean DC power, ready to be used for charging a battery. To a certain extent this assumption is correct, but feeding a solar panel’s output into something like a regular old PWM buck or boost regulator is unlikely to get you anywhere close to the panel’s full specifications.

The keywords here are ‘maximum power point’ (MPP), which refers to the optimal point on the solar panel’s I-V curve. This is a property that’s important not only with photovoltaics, but also with wind turbines and other highly variable power sources. The tracking of this maximum power point is what is generally referred to as ‘MPPT‘, but within this one acronym many different algorithms are covered, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. In this article we’ll take a look at what these MPPT algorithms are, and when you would want to pick a particular one.

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Toyota’s Cartridge Helps Make Hydrogen Portable

Hydrogen has long been touted as the solution to cleaning up road transport. When used in fuel cells, the only emissions from its use are water, and it eliminates the slow recharging problem of battery-electric vehicles. It’s also been put forth as a replacement for everything from natural gas supplies to laptop batteries.

Toyota has been pushing hard for hydrogen technology, and has worked to develop vehicles and infrastructure to this end. The company’s latest efforts involve a toteable hydrogen cartridge – letting you take hydrogen power on the go!

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Where Pollution Hits The Road: The Growing Environmental Hazard Of Rubber Tires

As ubiquitous as rubber tires are due to the many practical benefits they offer to cars, trucks, and other conveyances, they do come with a limited lifespan. Over time, the part of the tire that contacts the road surface wears away, until a tire replacement is necessitated. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the material that wears away does not magically vanish, but ends up in the environment.

Because of the materials used to create tires, this worn away material is counted as a microplastic, which is a known environmental pollutant. In addition, more recently it’s been found that one additive commonly found in tires, called 6PPD, is highly toxic to certain species of fish and other marine life.

There are also indications that these fine bits of worn-off tire contribute to PM2.5 particulate matter. This size of particulates is fine enough to penetrate deep into the lungs of humans and other animals, where they can cause health issues and exacerbate COPD and similar conditions. These discoveries raise a lot of questions about our use of tires, along with the question of whether electric vehicles stand to make this issue even worse.

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The Surprisingly Manual Process Of Building Automotive Wire Harnesses

Even from the very earliest days of the automobile age, cars and trucks have been hybrids of mechanical and electrical design. For every piston sliding up and down in a cylinder, there’s a spark plug that needs to be fired at just the right time to make the engine work, and stepping on the brake pedal had better cause the brake lights to come on at the same time hydraulic pressure pinches the wheel rotors between the brake pads.

Without electrical connections, a useful motor vehicle is a practical impossibility. Even long before electricity started becoming the fuel of choice for vehicles, the wires that connect the computers, sensors, actuators, and indicators needed to run a vehicle’s systems were getting more and more complicated by the year. After the engine and the frame, a car’s wiring and electronics are its third most expensive component, and it’s estimated that by 2030, fully half of the average vehicle’s cost will be locked in its electrical system, up from 30% in 2010.

Making sure all those signals get where they’re going, and doing so in a safe and reliable way is the job of a vehicle’s wire harnesses, the bundles of wires that seemingly occupy every possible area of a modern car. The design and manufacturing of wire harnesses is a complex process that relies on specialized software, a degree of automation, and a surprising amount of people-power.

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