Fighter Jet’s Gyro Stays Upright Before It Self-Destructs

Aviation instruments are highly interesting pieces of engineering, and it is quite satisfying to watch the often over-engineered mechanisms behind them. If you are into that sort of thing it is worthwhile to check out [Erik Baigar]’s video where he explains the working principle of the attitude indicator from a Tornado jet.

The attitude indicator or artificial horizon of an airplane is one of the most important instruments, especially during poor sight. The ADI42-124 used in the Tornado jet is completely standalone and only needs a DC power supply which is why [Erik Baigar] can show it off while standing on his balcony. At the heart of this instrument is a gyroscope which consists of a spinning disc attached to a gimbal mount. Due to the conservation of angular momentum, the spin axis will always keep its orientation when the instrument is rotated. However, mechanical gyroscopes tend to drift over time and therefore include a mechanism to keep the spin axis upright with respect to the direction of gravity. The ADI42-124 uses an entirely mechanical mechanism for this based on free swiveling weights. Forget everything we said earlier about overengineering as [Erik Baigar] also uncovers a fatal design flaw which leads to the instrument’s self-destruction as shown in the picture here. Unfortunately, this will render most of the units you can buy on eBay useless.

Be sure to check out [Erik Baigar]’s webpage which is nerd paradise for vintage computer and avionics fans or watch another gyroscope teardown.

Video after the break.

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Teardown: Nabaztag

In 2020 there is nothing novel or exciting about an online device. Even the most capable models are designed to be unobrusive pucks and smart speakers; their function lies in what they do rather than in how they look. In 2005, an Internet connected device was a rare curiosity, a daring symbol of a new age: the “Internet of Things”!

Our fridges were going to suggest recipes based upon their contents, and very few people had yet thought of the implications of an always-on connected appliance harvesting your data on behalf of a global corporation. Into this arena stepped the Nabaztag (from the Armenian for “rabbit”), an information appliance in the form of a stylised French plastic rabbit that could deliver voice alerts, and indicate status alerts by flashing lights and moving its ears.

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Teardown: Generation NEX

Today if you wanted a little gadget to sit on your shelf and let you play classic games from the early console era, you’d likely reach for the Raspberry Pi. With slick emulator front-ends like RetroPie and DIY kits available on Amazon, you don’t even need to be a technical wizard or veteran penguin wrangler to set it up. If you can follow an online tutorial, you can easily cram the last few decades of gaming into a cheap and convenient package.

But things were a bit different back in 2005. There weren’t a lot of options for playing old games on the big screen, and what was out there tended to be less than ideal. You could hack an original Xbox or gut an old laptop to make an emulation box that could comfortably blend in with your DVD player, but that wasn’t exactly in everyone’s wheelhouse. Besides, what if you had the original cartridges and just wanted to play them on a slightly more modern system?

I’m willing to bet whoever wrote this owns a katana.

Enter Messiah, and their Generation NEX console. As you might have gathered from their ever-so-humble name, Messiah claimed their re-imagined version of the Nintendo Entertainment System would “Bring Gaming Back to Life” by playing the original cartridges with enhanced audio and visual clarity. It also featured integrated support for wireless controllers, which at the time was only just becoming the standard on contemporary consoles. According to the manufacturer, the Generation NEX used custom hardware based on the “NES algorithm” that offered nearly 100% game compatibility.

Unfortunately, the system was a complete bomb. Despite Messiah’s claims, the Generation NEX ended up being yet another “NES-on-a-chip” (NOAC) clone, and a pretty poor one at that. Reviewers at the time reported compatibility issues with many popular titles, despite the fact that they were listed as working on Messiah’s website. The touted audio and video improvements were nowhere to be found, and in fact many users claimed the original NES looked and sounded better in side-by-side comparisons.

It didn’t matter how slick the console looked or how convenient the wireless controllers were; if the games themselves didn’t play well, the system was doomed. Predictably the company folded not long after, leaving owners stuck with the over-priced and under-performing consoles. Realistically, most of them ended up in landfills. Today we’ll take a look inside a relatively rare survivor and see just what nostalgic gamers got for their money in 2005.

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Teardown: VTech Whiz Kid Luggable Computer

Back in the early 1980s, hotshot business types on the go would have used what were referred to at the time as portable computers from companies like Osborne or Kaypro. Due to the technical limitations of the era these so-called “luggables” were only slightly smaller and lighter than contemporary desktop computers, but they had integrated displays and keyboards so they were a bit easier to move around. A few years later the first generation of laptops would hit the market, and the portables predictably fell out of favor. Today they’re relatively rare collectors items; a largely forgotten first step in the steady march towards true mobile computing.

Which makes the 1984 edition of VTech’s “Whiz Kid” educational computer an especially unique specimen. The company’s later entries into the series of popular electronic toys would adopt (with some variations) the standard laptop form factor, but this version has the distinction of being what might be the most authentic luggable computer ever made for children. When this toy was being designed it would have been a reflection of the cutting edge in computer technology, but today, it’s a fascinating reminder that the latest-and-greatest doesn’t always stick around for very long.

The classic luggable hallmarks are all here. The flip down keyboard, the small and strangely offset display, there’s even lugs on the side to attach an included strap so the youngster can sling it over their shoulder. On the other hand, the fact that it’s just a toy allowed for some advantages over the real thing: it can actually run on battery power, and is quite lightweight relative to its size.

When we last took a peek inside one of VTech’s offerings, we found a surprisingly powerful Z80 machine that was more than deserving of its PreComputer moniker. But that BASIC-compatible design hailed from the late 80s, and was specifically marketed as a trainer for the next generation of computer owners. Will the 1984 Whiz Kid prove to have a similar relationship to its adult counterparts, or does the resemblance only go skin deep? Let’s find out.

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Odd Crosley Radios From The 1920s

You may sometimes see the Crosley name today on cheap record players, but from what we can tell that company isn’t connected with the Crosley Radio company that was a powerhouse in the field from 1921 to 1956. [Uniservo] looks at two of the very early entries from Crosley: the model VIII and the XJ. You can see the video of both radios, below.

The company started by making car parts but grew rapidly and entered the radio business very successfully in 1921. We can only imagine what a non-technical person thought of these radios with all the knobs and switches, for some it must have been very intimidating.

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The Rusty Nail Award For Worst WiFi Antenna

In general, you get what you pay for, and if what you pay for is a dollar-store WiFi antenna that claims to provide 12 dBi of signal gain, you shouldn’t be surprised when a rusty nail performs better than it.

The panel antenna that caught [Andrew McNeil]’s eye in a shop in Rome is a marvel of marketing genius. He says what caught his eye was the Windows Vista compatibility label, a ploy that really dates this gem. So too does the utterly irrelevant indication that it’s USB compatible when it’s designed to plug into an SMA jack on a WiFi adapter. [Andrew]’s teardown was uninspiring, revealing just a PCB with some apparently random traces to serve as the elements of a dipole. We found it amusing that the PCB silkscreen labels the thru-holes as H1 to H6, which is a great way to make an uncrowded board seem a bit more important.

The test results were no more impressive than the teardown. A network analyzer scan revealed that the antenna isn’t tuned for the 2.4-GHz WiFi band at all, and practical tests with the antenna connected to an adapter were unable to sniff out any local hotspots. And just to hammer home the point of how bad this antenna is, [Andrew] cobbled together a simple antenna from an SMA connector and a rusty nail, which handily outperformed the panel antenna.

We’ve seen plenty of [Andrew McNeil]’s WiFi antenna videos before, like his umbrella and tin can dish. We like the sanity he brings to the often wild claims of WiFi enthusiasts and detractors alike, especially when he showed that WiFi doesn’t kill houseplants. We can’t help but wonder what he thinks about the current 5G silliness.

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Teardown Of Oddball Night Vision Shows Off Retro-futuristic Vibe

Night vision aficionado [Nicholas C] shared an interesting teardown of a Norwegian SIMRAD GN1 night vision device, and posted plenty of pictures, along with all kinds of background information about their construction, use, and mounting. [Nicholas] had been looking for a night vision device of this design for some time, and his delight in finding one is matched only by the number of pictures and detail he goes into when opening it up.

The GN1 rocks an irresistible retro-futuristic look.

What makes the SIMRAD GN1 an oddball is the fact that it doesn’t look very much like other, better known American night vision devices. Those tend to have more in common with binoculars than with the GN1’s “handheld camera” form factor. The GN1 has two eyepieces in the back and a single objective lens on the front, which is off-center and high up. The result is a seriously retrofuturistic look, which [Nicholas] can’t help but play to when showing off some photos.

[Nicholas] talks a lot about the build and tears it completely down to show off the internal optical layout necessary to pipe incoming light through the image intensifier and bend it around to both eyes. As is typical for military hardware like this, it has rugged design and every part has its function. (A tip: [Nicholas] sometimes refers to “blems”. A blem is short for blemish and refers to minor spots on optics that lead to visual imperfections without affecting function. Blemished optics and intensifier tubes are cheaper to obtain and more common on the secondary market.)

In wrapping up, [Nicholas] talks a bit about how a device like this is compatible with using sights on a firearm. In short, it’s difficult at best because there’s a clunky thing in between one’s eyeballs and the firearm’s sights, but it’s made somewhat easier by the fact that the GN1 can be mounted upside down without affecting how it works.

Night vision in general is pretty cool stuff and of course DIY projects abound, like the OpenScope project which leverages digital cameras and 3D printing, as well as doing it the high-voltage image intensifier tube way.