The 1859 Carrington Event

Like many Victorian gentlemen of means, Richard Carrington did not need to sully himself with labor; instead, he turned his energies to the study of natural philosophy. It was the field of astronomy to which Carrington would apply himself, but unlike other gentlemen of similar inclination, he began his studies not as the sun set, but as it rose. Our star held great interest for Carrington, and what he saw on its face the morning of September 1, 1859, would astonish him. On that morning, as he sketched an unusual cluster of sunspots, the area erupted in a bright flash as an unfathomable amount of energy stored in the twisted ropes of the Sun’s magnetic field was released, propelling billions of tons of star-stuff on a collision course with Earth.

Carrington had witnessed a solar flare, and the consequent coronal mass ejection that would hit Earth just 17 hours later would result in a geomagnetic storm of such strength that it would be worldwide news the next day, and would bear his name into the future. The Carrington Event of 1859 was a glimpse of what our star is capable of under the right circumstances, the implications of which are sobering indeed given the web of delicate connections we’ve woven around and above the planet.

Continue reading “The 1859 Carrington Event”

New Part Day: Small, Cheap, and Good LIDAR Modules

Fully autonomous cars might never pan out, but in the meantime we’re getting some really cool hardware designed for robotic taxicab prototypes. This is the Livox Mid-40 Lidar, a LIDAR module you can put on your car or drone. The best part? It only costs $600 USD.

The Livox Mid-40 and Mid-100 are two modules released by Livox, and the specs are impressive: the Mid-40 is able to scan 100,000 points per second at a detection range of 90 m with objects of 10% reflectivity. The Mid-40 sensor weighs 710 grams and comes in a package that is only 88 mm x 69 mm x 76 mm. The Mid-100 is basically the guts of three Mid-40 sensors stuffed into a larger enclosure, capable of 300,000 points per second, with a FOV of 98.4° by 38.4°.

The use case for these sensors is autonomous cars, (large) drones, search and rescue, and high-precision mapping. These units are a bit too large for a skateboard-sized DIY Robot Car, but a single Livox Mid-40 sensor, pointed downward on a reasonably sized drone could perform aerial mapping

There is one downside to the Livox Mid sensors — while you can buy them direct from the DJI web site, they’re not in production. These sensors are only, ‘Mass-Production ready’. This might be just Livox testing the market before ramping up production, a thinly-veiled press release, or something else entirely. That said, you can now buy a relatively cheap LIDAR module that’s actually really good.

Hackaday Superconference: 3D Printing For Electronics

For her day job, Amie D Dansby works as a software simulation developer, creating simulations for video games. In her free time, she’s implanting the key to her Tesla in her arm, building cordwood jewelry and cosplay swords, and seeking out other adventures in electronics and 3D printing. Amie has made a name for herself in the 3D printing community, and she is surrounded by fans when she attends the RepRap meetups and Maker Faires.

She was also popular at this year’s Hackaday Superconference, where she gave a talk on the integration of 3D printing and electronics. Amie’s work concentrates on props and cosplay, which is a skill unto itself, and you only need to look at some of the old Mythbusters, the documentary footage from ILM, or even model makers to realize this is an arcane art that takes a lot of skill. Lucky for us, Amie was there to show us the tricks she’s picked up over the years to make building a one-off piece easier than you could imagine.

Continue reading “Hackaday Superconference: 3D Printing For Electronics”

Anatomy Of A Cloned Piece Of Hardware

What would you think if you saw a bootleg of a product you design, manufacture, and sell pop up on eBay? For those of us who don’t make our livelihood this way, we might secretly hope our blinkenlight project ends up being so awesome that clones on AliExpress or TaoBao end up selling in the thousands . But of course anyone selling electronics as their business is going to be upset and wonder how this happened? It’s easy to fall into the trap of automatically assigning blame; if the legit boards were made in China would you assume that’s where the design was snagged to produce the bootlegs? There’s a saying about assumptions that applies to this tale.

Dave Curran from Tynemouth Software had one of his products cloned, and since he has been good enough to share all the details with us we’ve been able to take a look at the evidence. Dave’s detective work is top notch. What he found was surprising, his overseas manufacturer was blameless, and the bootleg board came from an entirely different source. Continue reading “Anatomy Of A Cloned Piece Of Hardware”

Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat

Matt Bradshaw is a musician, maker, and programmer with a degree in physics and a love for making new musical instruments. You may remember his PolyMod modular digital synthesizer from the 2018 Hackaday Prize, where it made the semifinals of the Musical Instrument Challenge. PolyMod is a customizable, modular synthesizer that uses digital rather than analog circuitry. That seemingly simple change results in a powerful ability to create polyphonic patches, something that traditional analog modular synths have a hard time with.

Please join us for this Hack Chat, in which we’ll cover:

  • The hardware behind the PolyMod, and the design decisions that led Matt to an all-digital synth
  • The pros and cons of making music digitally
  • Where the PolyMod has gone since winning the Musical Instrument Challenge semifinals

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Open Source Synthesizers Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, January 23, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about. And don’t forget to check out the Modular Synth Discussion, a very active chat that digs into the guts of all sorts of modular synthesizers.

Alexa, Remind Me Of The First Time Your Product Category Failed

For the last few years, the Last Great Hope™ of the consumer electronics industry has been voice assistants. Alexas and Echos and Google Homes and Facebook Portals are all the rage. Over one hundred million Alexa devices have been sold, an impressive feat given that there are only about 120 Million households in the United States, and a similar number in Europe. Look to your left, look to your right, one of you lives in a house with an Internet connected voice assistant.

2018 saw a huge explosion of Internet connected voice assistants, in sometimes bizarre form factors. There’s a voice controlled microwave, which is great if you’ve ever wanted to defrost a chicken through the Internet. You can get hardware for developing your own voice assistant device. 2019 will be even bigger. Facebook is heavily advertising the Facebook Portal. If you haven’t yet deleted your Facebook account, you can put the Facebook Portal on your kitchen counter and make video calls with your family and friends through Facebook Messenger. With the Google Home Hub and a Nest doorbell camera, you too can be just like Stu Pickles from Rugrats.

This is not the first time the world has been enamored with Internet-connected assistants. This is not the first time the consumer electronics industry put all their hope into one product category. This has happened before, and all those devices failed spectacularly. These were the Internet appliances released between 1999 and 2001: the last great hurrah of the dot-com boom. They were dumb then, and they’re dumb now.

Continue reading “Alexa, Remind Me Of The First Time Your Product Category Failed”

Hackaday Links: January 20, 2019

Let’s say you’re an infosec company, and you want some free press. How would you do that? The answer is Fortnite. Yes, this is how you hack Fortnite. This is how to hack Fortnite. The phrase ‘how to hack Fortnite’ is a very popular search term, and simply by including that phrase into the opening paragraph of this post guarantees more views. This is how you SEO.

Lasers kill cameras. Someone at CES visited the AEye booth, snapped a picture of an autonomous car at AEye’s booth, and the LIDAR killed the sensor. Every subsequent picture had a purple spot in the same place. While we know lasers can kill camera sensors, and this is a great example of that, this does open the door to a few questions: if autonomous cars have LIDAR and are covered in cameras, what’s going to happen to the cameras in an autonomous car driving beside another autonomous car? Has anyone ever seen more than one Cruise or Waymo car in the same place at the same time? As an aside, AEye’s company website’s URL is aeye.ai, nearly beating penisland.net (they sell pens on Pen Island) as the worst company URL ever.

This is something I’ve been saying for years, but now there’s finally a study backing me up. Lego is a viable investment strategy. An economist at Russia’s Higher School of Economics published a study, collecting the initial sale price of Lego sets from 1987 to 2015. These were then compared to sales of full sets on the secondary market. Returns were anywhere between 10 and 20% per year, which is crazy. Smaller sets (up to about 100 pieces) had higher returns than larger sets. This goes against my previous belief that a Hogwarts Castle, Saturn V, and UCS Falcon-heavy portfolio would outperform a portfolio made of cheap Lego sets. However, this observation could be tied to the fact that smaller sets included minifig-only packaging, and we all know the Lego minifig market is a completely different ball of wax. The Darth Revan minifig, sold as an exclusive for $3.99 just a few years ago, now fetches $35 on Bricklink. Further study is needed, specifically to separate the minifig market from the complete set market, but the evidence is coming in: Lego is a viable investment strategy, even when you include the 1-2% yearly cost of storing the sets.

Relativity Space got a launchpad. Relativity Space is an aerospace startup that’s building a rocket capable of lobbing my car into Low Earth Orbit with a methalox engine. They’re doing it with 3D printing. [Bryce Salmi], one of the hardware engineers at Relativity Space, recently gave a talk at the Hackaday Superconference about printing an entire rocket. The design is ambitious, but if there’s one device that’s perfectly suited for 3D printing, it’s a rocket engine. There are a lot of nonmachinable tubes going everywhere in those things.