Supercon 2022: Andy Geppert Is Bringing Core Memory Back

Many Hackaday readers will be familiar with the term “core memory”, likely thanks to its close association with the Apollo Guidance Computer. But knowing that the technology existed at one point and actually understanding how it worked is another thing entirely. It’s a bit like electronic equivalent to the butter churn — you’ve heard of it, you could probably even identify an image of one — but should somebody hand you one and ask you to operate it, the result probably won’t be too appetizing.

That’s where Andy Geppert comes in. He’s turned his own personal interest into magnetic core memory into a quest to introduce this fascinating technology to a whole new generation thanks to some modern enhancements through his Core64 project. By mating the antiquated storage technology with a modern microcontroller and LEDs, it’s transformed into an interactive visual experience. Against all odds, he’s managed to turned a technology that helped put boots on the Moon half a century ago into a gadget that fascinates both young and old.

In this talk at the 2022 Hackaday Supercon, Andy first talks the audience through the basics of magnetic core memory as it was originally implemented. From there, he explains the chain of events that lead to the development of the Core64 project, and talks a bit about where he hopes it can go in the future.

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Supercon 2022: Aedan Cullen Is Creating An AR System To Beat The Big Boys

There’s something very tantalizing about an augmented reality (AR) overlay that can provide information in daily life without having to glance at a smartphone display, even if it’s just for that sci-fi vibe. Creating a system that is both practical and useful is however far from easy, which is where Aedan Cullen‘s attempt at creating what he terms a ‘practical augmented reality device’.

In terms of requirements, this device would need to have a visual resolution comparable to that of a smartphone (50 pixels/degree) and with a comparable field of view (20 degrees diagonal). User input would need to be as versatile as a touchscreen, but ‘faster’, along with a battery life of at least 8 hours, and all of this in a package weighing less than 50 grams.

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Supercon 2022: Chris Combs Reveals His Art-World Compatibility Layer

[Chris Combs] is a full time artist who loves using technology to create unique art projects and has been building blinky artwork since about a decade now. In his 2022 Supercon talk “Art-World Compatibility Layer: How to Hang and Sell Your Blinky Goodness as Art” (Slides, PDF), [Chris] takes us behind the scenes and shows us how to turn our blinky doodads in to coveted art works. There is a big difference between a project that just works, and a work of art, and it’s the attention to small details that differentiates the two.

Just like the field of engineering and technology, the art world has its own jargon and requires knowledge of essential skills that make it intimidating to newcomers. It’s not very easy to define what makes an artwork “art” or even “Art”, and sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish if you are looking at a child’s scrawls or a master’s brushstrokes. But there are a few distinguishing requirements that a piece of artwork, particularly one revolving around the use of technology, must meet.

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Supercon 2022: Irak Mayer Builds Self-Sustainable Outdoor IoT Devices

[Irak Mayer] has been exploring IoT applications for use with remote monitoring of irrigation control systems. As you would expect, the biggest challenges for moving data from the middle of a field to the home or office are with connectivity and power. Obviously, the further away from urbanization you get, the sparser both these aspects become, and the greater the challenge.

[Irak] solves his connectivity problem by assuming there is some WiFi network within range, building a system around the Blues Wireless WiFi note card. Substituting their cellular card would be an option for applications out of WiFi range, but presumably without changing too much on the system and software side of things. Leveraging the Adafruit FeatherWing INA219, which is a bidirectional current sensor with an I2C interface, for both the power generation and system consumption measurements. For control, [Irak] is using an Adafruit ESP32 board, but says little more about the hardware. On the software side, [Irak] is using the Blues Wireless NoteHub for the initial connection, which then routes the collected data onto the Adafruit IoT platform for collation purposes. The final part of the hardware is a LiPo battery which is on standby to soak up any excess power available from the energy harvesting. This is monitored by an LC709203f battery fuel gauge.

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Supercon 2022: Alec Vercruysse Can See Through Murky Water

Detecting objects underwater isn’t an easy challenge, especially when things get murky and dark. Radio waves don’t propagate well, so most techniques rely on sound. Sonar is itself farily simple, simply send out a ping and listen for an echo, and that will tell you how far something is. Imaging underwater is significantly harder, because you would additionally need to know where each echo is coming from.

To answer the question of whether it is possible to put together an ultrasonic 3D imager that would cheaply enable anyone to image objects underwater, [Alec Vercruysse] and fellow team members at the Harvey Mudd College set out to create a system that does exactly that. You can read the presentation slides (PDF) or check out the entire project in the GitHub repository.

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Supercon 2022: Michael Whiteley Saves The Badge

Michael Whiteley (aka [compukidmike]) is a badgelife celebrity. Together, he and his wife Katie make up MK Factor. They have created some of the most popular electronic conference badges. Of course, even experts make mistakes and run into challenges when they dare to push the envelope of technology and delivery schedules. In his Supercon 2022 talk, There’s No Rev 2: When Badgelife Goes Wrong, Mike shares details from some of his worst badge snafus and also how he managed to gracefully pull them back from the edge of disaster.

Living the Badgelife

Attendees at the world’s largest hacker convention, DEF CON in Las Vegas, had already become accustomed to receiving and wearing very cool and novel admission tokens, more properly known as badges. Then in 2006, at DEF CON 14, everything changed. Designed by Joe Grand, the first electronic DEF CON badge was a circuit board featuring a tiny PIC microcontroller, two LEDs, and a single pushbutton. Badgelife was born.

DEF CON 30 Humans Sampling Board

Mike begins his war stories with one about the DEF CON 30 badge. This was a herculean project with 25,000 badges being produced on a short timeline in the ever-changing chaos of a semiconductor supply-chain meltdown. Even though many regard it as one of the best DEF CON badges ever made, the DC30 badge posed a number of challenges to its creators. Microcontrollers were in short supply during 2021 and 2022 forcing the badge team to keep an eye on component vendor supplies in order to snipe chips as soon as they appeared in stock. The DC30 badge was actually redesigned repeatedly as different microcontrollers fluctuated in and out of supply. Continue reading “Supercon 2022: Michael Whiteley Saves The Badge”

Supercon 2022: Selling Your Company And Not Your Soul

Haddington Dynamics is a particular company. After winning the 2018 Hackaday Prize with an open-source robotic arm, we’ve covered their micro-factories and suction cup end-effectors for making face shields during 2020. They’ve been laser-focused on their mission of creating a fantastic robot arm at a small price tag with open-source software and design. So how does a company with such a hacker ethos get bought by a much larger company, and why? They came to SuperCon 2022 to share their story┬áin a panel discussion.

Haddington Dynamics started with two clever inventions: optical encoders that used analog values instead of digital values and an FPGA that allowed them to poll those encoders and respond rapidly. This allowed them to use cheaper motors and rely on the incredibly sensitive encoders to position them. After the Hackaday prize, they open-sourced the HD version of the robot and released the HDI version. But in 2020, they were bought by a group called Ocado. As to why the somewhat practical but not exciting answer is that they needed money. Employees needed to be paid, and they needed capital to keep the doors open.

So this leads to the next tricky question, how do you sell your company without changing it? The fine folks at Haddington Dynamics point out in their panel discussion that a company is a collection of people. The soul of that company is the collective soul of those people coming together. A company being bought can be akin to stopping working for yourself and going to work for someone else. Working alone, you have values and principles that you can easily stick to. But once you start working for someone else, they will value different things, and while the people that make up the company might not change, the company’s decisions might become unrecognizable.

As the panel points out, looking for a buyer with the same values is critical. Ocado was a great fit as their economic interests and culture matched Haddington’s. However, it’s not all roses, as Ocadao tends to be a very closed-source group. However, Haddington Dynamics still supports its open-source initiatives. It’s a fascinating look into a company’s life cycle and how they navigate the waters of open-source, funding, acquisitions, innovation, and invention. Despite the fairytale-like nature of inventing a revolutionary robot arm in your garage and winning many awards, it turns out there is quite a lot that happens after the happily ever after.

We look forward to seeing more of Haddington Dynamics and where they go next. Video after the break.

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