Hackaday Links: June 7, 2020

For many of us who were in college at the time, the 1989 release of Will Wright’s classic SimCity sounded the death knell of our GPAs. Being able to create virtual worlds and then smite them with a tornado or a kaiju attack was the stuff of a procrastinator’s dreams. We always liked the industrial side of the game best, and took great pains in laying out the factory zones, power plants, and seaports. Those of a similar bent will be happy to know that Maxis, the studio behind the game, had a business simulations division, and one of their products was a complete refinery simulator the studio built for Chevron called, unsurprisingly, SimRefinery. The game, which bears a striking resemblance to SimCity, has been recovered and is now available for download, which means endless procrastination by playing virtual petrochemical engineer is only a mouse click away.

Speaking of time wasters, we stumbled upon another simulation this week that sucked away a couple of hours of productivity. As RTL-SDR.com reports, YouTuber called Information Zulu has a 24/7 live stream showing arrivals and departures at Los Angeles International Airport. That may sound boring, but the cameras used to watch the runways are virtual, and the planes are animated based on ADS-B data being scooped up by an RTL-SDR dongle. We pinged Information Zulu and asked for a rundown of the gear behind the system, but never heard back. If we do, we’ll post a full article on what we learned, because the level of detail is amazing. The arriving and departing planes sport the correct livery for the airline, the current weather conditions are shown, taxiing is shown in real time, and there’s even an audio feed from air traffic control.

If you’re looking to gain back a little of the productivity lost to the last two items, Digi-Key might be able to help with their new PCB Builder service. All you have to do is upload your gerbers and select your materials, and they’ll give you options for a bunch of different quick-turn fabrication houses. Looks mighty convenient.

Steve Mould dropped a video this week about vibration analysis. That might not sound very exciting, but the fascinating bit is how companies are now using motion amplification video techniques to show how and where industrial equipment is moving, even if those motions are too subtle to be seen by the naked eye. It’s frankly terrifying to see how pipes flex and tanks expand and contract, and how pumps and motors move relative to each other. The technique used is similar to the way a person’s pulse can be detected on a video by the subtle color change as blood rushes into capillaries. We’d love to see someone tackle a homebrew version of this so we can all see what’s going on around us.

And finally, we want to remind everyone that the Hackaday Prize is back, and that you should get your entries going. What’s new this year is the Dream Team challenges, where four worthy non-profits organizations will each assemble a three-person team to work on a specific pain-point in their process. The application deadline has been extended to June 9, and there are two $3,000 microgrants, one in June and one in July, for each team member. So look through the design briefs and see if your skills match their needs.

High Tech Drone Scarecrows Can Make Airports Safer

If you pay attention to airplane news — or you watched the film Sully — you know planes have problems with birds. Sully was about US Airways flight 1549 which struck a flock of geese and ditched in the Hudson river.  Engineers at Caltech say that was the inspiration for them to develop a control algorithm that enables a single drone scarecrow to herd flocks of birds away from airports.

Airports have tried a lot of things to discourage birds ranging from trained falcons to manually-piloted drones. Apparently, herding birds is harder than you would think. If you fly the drone too far from a flock, it will ignore the threat. If you get too close, the flock will scatter making it both threaten a larger area and harder to control.

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London Gatwick Airport Closes Runway In Alleged Drone Strike

London is one of those cities with an identity problem when it comes to airports. There is no one London airport, instead a group of airports serve the city at various distances from it. London Gatwick is the second largest of these, and sits with its single runway in the Sussex countryside about 30 miles south of the city.

If you follow British news sources, you may have heard a little about Gatwick in the last couple of days. Its runway was closed for two short periods and a selection of flights were diverted, because of what is being reported as a drone sighting. This is an extremely serious matter, responsible multirotor owners will be painfully aware of the distance and altitude regulations surrounding flights near airports.

An oft-shared drone identification guide for airline pilots, of uncertain provenance.
An oft-shared drone identification guide for airline pilots, of uncertain provenance (phantompilots.com).

If you are familiar with the way that drone stories are reported by the mass media, you will probably not need to click on the link above to the BBC reporting to find out its tone. There is significant concern within the multirotor community that it presents a very one-sided view, and takes at face value the assertion that the sighting was a drone, when in fact there is no proof at all of that being the case. For those of us who have seen many such stories come and go it is difficult not to agree with the drone pilots, there is at best some lazy reporting in the air, and at worst some outright journalistic irresponsibility.

As Hackaday readers, you are used to writers with an in-depth knowledge of the subjects upon which they write. We don’t know all possible facets of technology and we occasionally get things wrong, but we all have very strong backgrounds in the tech, hacker, and maker industries and communities we write about. We have engineering education, we’ve worked in a wide variety of technology industries, we build our own stuff for fun, and we’ve founded and run hackspaces.

By comparison the journalists whose work you will read in the mainstream media are generalists. They will have a specific educational background and a particular set of interests, but in their work they cover whatever stories tumble off the endless conveyor belt of events. Thus when a drone story appears, they find themselves out of their normal comfort zone of politics or local news, and can not rely on their experience to inform their coverage of it. The responsible journalistic approach is to do a little research and ask the pertinent questions asking for concrete proof of drone involvement. We’re still waiting for that to happen in these allege drone encounters.

Multirotor building and flying is a significant feature of our community, and anything that brings the attention of law enforcement to the kind of work we do should be a worry to us all. Multirotors are not the only things covered by Hackaday that could be misrepresented in the same way. We’ve visited this topic before, take a look at our analysis of a series of air proximity reports blamed on drones. Some of them, you couldn’t make up.

Gatwick airport image: Andre Wadman [GFDL 1.2].

Newsstand Shotgun Hack Poised To Further Ruin Air Travel

The people who go nuts over 3D printed guns are going to have a field day with this one. It’s a shotgun and ammo built entirely from items you can purchase after passing through airport security. Now look, obviously the type of folks who read Hackaday understand that security in any form is something of an illusion. House keys don’t keep people from breaking into your home. Encryption doesn’t keep the government from looking over your shoulder. And no level of security screening can eliminate every possible hazard. So let’s just enjoy this one for the fine act of hacking that it is.

[Evan Booth] put his mind to work on the items you can buy at the stores inside of an airport terminal. Above you can see the diagram of all the parts. The break action accepts a Red Bull can that acts as the cartridge for the shotgun (our calculations put this at just under 0.25 Gauge). The bottom of the can contains water separated from Lithium metal (from cellular phone accessories?) by a condom. When the nonet of 9V batteries are connected to the heating element from the hair dryer it melts a hole in the prophylactic, mixing the water with the metal causing a reaction that propels pocket change as the projectile. The video after the break shows that this does take a while… perhaps 10 seconds from the time the trigger is pulled. Oh, and you might not want to be holding the thing when it goes off. We’d say the firearm can barely contain the explosion.

If you like this (or were horrified by it) [Evan’s] got a whole collection of weapons built inside the airport terminal. For those that care, here’s a link to the most recent of 3D printed gun posts which we referenced earlier.

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Airport X-ray Machine Teardown

Who has an airport carry-on X-ray machine sitting in their garage? Apparently [Mike] does, and he’s sharing the fun by posting a video teardown series that really digs into the machine’s hardware and operating system.

At this point the series includes six lengthy segments. The first episode, which you’ll find embedded after the break, starts with an external overview of the hardware. [Mike] mentions that it’s not functional at that point. He guesses that this has to do either with security settings to enable the machine (it does produce x-ray after all) or corrupt memory in an EPROM chip. The password lockout is later confirmed when he looks at a code disassembly and finds strings requesting username and password to gain access to some of the menus. The second installment involves more disassembly to figure out the passwords and gain full access to the machine. By the fourth video he’s X-raying random items from around the shop and then some.

It’s a lot to watch, but it’s exciting to see how far he gets with the rare equipment.

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How To Properly Fly With Electronics

Some electronics professionals have to fly relatively frequently. One such person, [Steve Hoefer] shares with us how to properly fly with your exposed wires and bits without getting nabbed by the TSA for suspicion of being a terrorist. The article is fairly in depth with tips on how to handle most situations including being pulled aside and put in a tiny room for questioning. Most of it boils down to the fact that you can’t expect the TSA agents to be experts in everything. They see stuff that is slightly out of the norm, they have to follow up. We’re not talking about pat-downs and body scanners here, we’re talking about circuit boards, duct tape, and battery packs.

One story [Steve] shares is especially humorous. He noted that the servos had been disconnected from one of his robots. He wonders, why disconnect them? If they were suspected of being an explosive, they shouldn’t have messed with them. If they weren’t… why did they un-plug them?

Airport Express Speaker Mashup

[Wei] salvaged the internals from an Airport Express that had a blown power supply. From there he built this streaming music box. The case is from an IKEA clock with the face removed. He added some decorative fabric around a grill to make an acoustically transparent front panel. Inside you’ll find the Airport guts connected to a USB charger (replaces the dead PSU) and a set of powered stereo speakers. This simple mashup looks good and frees up space in your junk-parts box.