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Hackaday Links: May 15, 2022

It may be blurry and blotchy, but it’s ours. The first images of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy were revealed this week, and they caused quite a stir. You may recall the first images of the supermassive black hole at the center of the M87 galaxy from a couple of years ago: spectacular images that captured exactly what all the theories said a black hole should look like, or more precisely, what the accretion disk and event horizon should look like, since black holes themselves aren’t much to look at. That black hole, dubbed M87*, is over 55 million light-years away, but is so huge and so active that it was relatively easy to image. The black hole at the center of our own galaxy, Sagittarius A*, is comparatively tiny — its event horizon would fit inside the orbit of Mercury — a much closer at only 26,000 light-years or so. But, our black hole is much less active and obscured by dust, so imaging it was far more difficult. It’s a stunning technical achievement, and the images are certainly worth checking out.

Another one from the “Why didn’t I think of that?” files — contactless haptic feedback using the mouth is now a thing. This comes from the Future Interfaces Group at Carnegie-Mellon and is intended to provide an alternative to what ends up being about the only practical haptic device for VR and AR applications — vibrations from off-balance motors. Instead, this uses an array of ultrasonic transducers positioned on a VR visor and directed at the user’s mouth. By properly driving the array, pressure waves can be directed at the lips, teeth, and tongue of the wearer, providing feedback for in-world events. The mock game demonstrated in the video below is a little creepy — not sure how many people enjoyed the feeling of cobwebs brushing against the face or the splatter of spider guts in the mouth. Still, it’s a pretty cool idea, and we’d like to see how far it can go.

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Hackaday Links: August 15, 2021

Unless you’re in the market for a new car, household appliance, or game console, or if you’re involved in the manufacture of these things, chances are pretty good that the global semiconductor shortage hasn’t directly impacted you yet. But we hobbyists might be due for a comeuppance as the chip shortage starts to impact our corner of the market. We suppose it’s natural that supplies of the chips needed to build Arduinos and Raspberry Pis would start to dry up, as semiconductor manufacturers realign their resources to service their most lucrative markets. Still, it was all sort of abstract until now, but seeing dire quotes from the likes of Adafruit, Pololu, and Sparkfun about the long lead times they’re being quoted — some chips won’t be seen until 2023! — is disheartening. As are the reports of price gouging and even hoarding; when a $10 part can suddenly command $350, you know something has gone seriously wrong.

But have no fear — we’re certain the global chip shortage will have no impact on the planned 2027 opening of the world’s first space hotel. Voyager Station — once dubbed Von Braun Station but renamed for some reason — looks for all the world like Space Station V in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, or at least half of it. The thing is enormous — witness the Starship docked in the center hub, as well as the several dozen shuttle-like craft — escape pods, perhaps? — attached to the outer rim. The renders are imaginative, to say the least — the station looks very sleek, completely unfettered by such banalities as, say, solar panels. We get that a private outfit needs to attract deep-pocketed investors, and that one doesn’t do that by focusing on the technical details when they can sell a “premium experience”. But really, if you’re going to space, do you want basically the same look and feel as a premium hotel on Earth, just with a better view? Or would you rather feel like you’ve actually traveled to space?

Speaking of space, did you ever wonder what the first programmable calculator in space was? Neither did we, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t find this detailed story about the HP-65 that was sent up on the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project in 1975 pretty fascinating. The ASTP was the last hurrah of Apollo, and an often underappreciated engineering challenge. Linking up the two spacecraft safely was not trivial, and a fair number of burn calculations had to be made in orbit to achieve rendezvous and docking, as well as to maintain orbit. The HP-65, a programmable calculator that went for about $750 at the time (for the non-space-rated version, of course) had several programs loaded onto its removable magnetic cards, and the Apollo crew used it to verify the results calculated by the Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC).

Facebook, a company that exists by providing people with a product they don’t need but now somehow can’t live without, is now dipping a toe into weird, weird waters: reverse-passthrough virtual reality. The idea, we take it, is that as users more widely adopt VR and integrate it into their daily lives, the VR headsets everyone will be wearing will make face-to-face contact more difficult. So what better way to solve that problem than by projecting a live image of the VR user’s eyes onto a screen outside the VR rig, for any and all to see? Pure genius, and not the least bit creepy. They’ve perhaps got a bit of work to go before achieving their goal of “seamless social connection between real and virtual worlds”.

And speaking of eyes, it’s good to know that developers are still hard at work keeping the most vital applications running at peak efficiency on today’s hardware. Yes, the venerable XEyes, a program for the X Window System on Unix-like operating systems that draws a pair of googly eyes on the screen to follow your mouse movements, has finally moved to version 1.2.0. It’s been 11 years since the 1.1.0 upgrade, so it was a long time coming. If you haven’t had the chance to play with XEyes, fear not — just about any Linux machine should be able to show you what you’ve been missing. Or, you know, you could even run it on a camera as the video below the break shows.

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Heads Up: Smart Glass Multimeter

Sometimes it is hard to probe a circuit and then look over at the meter. [Electronoobs] decided to fix that problem by making a Google Glass-like multimeter using an OLED screen and Bluetooth module.

The custom PCB doesn’t have many surprises. A small board has a controller, a battery charger, a display, and a Bluetooth module. One thing he did forget is a switch, though, so the board is always on unless you arrange an external switch.

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Haptics Hack Chat With Nanoport Technology

Join us on Wednesday, April 7 at noon Pacific for the Haptics Hack Chat with Tim Szeto and Kyle Skippon!

Of all our senses, the sense of touch is perhaps the most underappreciated. We understand and accept the tragedy that attends loss of vision or hearing, and the impact on the quality of life resulting from olfactory and gustatory sensations can be severe. But for some reason, we don’t give a second thought to our sense of touch, which is indeed strange given that we are literally covered with touch sensors. That’s a bit of a shame, since touch can reveal so much about the world around us, and our emotional well-being is so tightly tied to the tactile senses that those deprived of it in infancy can be scarred for life.

Haptics is the technology of tactile feedback, which seeks to leverage the human need for tactile experiences to enrich the experience of dealing with the technological world. Haptic feedback devices are everywhere now, and have gone far beyond the simple off-balance motor used since the days when a pager was a status symbol. To help us sort out what’s new in the haptics world, Tim and Kyle from Nanoport Technology will stop by the Hack Chat. Nanoport is a company on the cutting edge of haptics, so they’ll have a wealth of details about what haptics are, where the field is going, and how you can start thinking about making touch a part of your projects.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 7 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, 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.
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Augmented Reality On The Cheap With ESP32

Augmented reality (AR) technology hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of attention as VR, and seriously lags in terms of open source development and accessibility.  Frustrated by this, [Arnaud Atchimon] created CheApR, an open source, low cost AR headset that anyone can build at home and use as a platform for further development

[Arnaud] was impressed by the Tilt Five AR goggles, but the price of this cutting edge hardware simply put it out of reach of most people. Instead, he designed and built his own around a 3D printed frame, ESP32, cheap LCDs, and lenses from a pair of sunglasses. The electronics is packed horizontally in the top of the frame, with the displays pointed down into a pair of angled mirrors, which reflect the image onto the sunglasses lenses and into the user’s eyes. [Arnaud] tested a number of different lenses and found that a thin lens with a slight curve worked best. The ESP32 doesn’t actually run the main software, it just handles displaying the images on the LCDs. The images are sent from a computer running software written in Processing. Besides just displaying images, the software can also integrate inputs from a MPU6050 IMU and  ESP32 camera module mounted on the goggles. This allows the images to shift perspective as the goggles move, and recognize faces and AR markers in the environment.

All the design files and software is available on GitHub, and we exited to see where this project goes. We’ve seen another pair of affordable augmented reality glasses that uses a smartphone as a display, but it seems the headset that was used are no longer available.

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Hackaday Links: May 3, 2020

In a sign of the times, the Federal Communications Commission has officially signed off on remote testing sessions for amateur radio licensing in the United States. Testing in the US is through the Volunteer Examiner Coordinator program, which allows teams of at least three Volunteer Examiners to set up in-person testing sessions where they proctor amateur radio licensing exams. The VEs take their jobs very seriously and take pride in offering exam sessions on a regular schedule, so when social distancing rules made their usual public testing venues difficult to access, many of them quickly pivoted to remote testing using teleconferencing applications. Here’s hoping that more VEs begin offering remote testing sessions.

Another aspect of life changed by COVID-19 and social distancing rules has been the simple pleasure of a trip to the museum. And for the museums themselves, the lack of visitors can be catastrophic, both in terms of fulfilling their educational and research missions and through the lack of income that results. To keep the flame alive in a fun way, Katrina Bowen from The Centre for Computing History in Cambridge has recreated her museum in loving detail in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. For being limited to what’s available in the game, Katrina did a remarkable job on the virtual museum; we especially like the Megaprocessor wallpaper. She even managed to work in that staple last stop of every museum, the gift shop.

To the surprise of few, “spatial computing” startup Magic Leap has announced that it is laying off half its workforce as it charts a new course. The company, which attracted billions in funding based on its virtual retinal display technology, apparently couldn’t sell enough of their Magic Leap One headsets to pay the bills. The company is swiveling to industrial users, which honestly seems like a better application for their retinal display technology than the consumer or gaming markets.

And finally, as if 2020 hasn’t been weird enough already, the Department of Defense has officially released videos of what it calls “unidentified aerial phenomena.” These videos, taken from the head-up displays of US Navy fighter jets, had previously been obtained by private parties and released to the public. Recorded between 2004 and 2015, the videos appear to show objects that are capable of extremely high-speed flight and tight maneuvers close to the surface of the ocean. We find the timing of the release suspicious, almost as if the videos are intended to serve as a distraction from the disturbing news of the day. We want to believe we’re not alone, but these videos don’t do much to help.

The Smallest Large Display Is Projected Straight Onto Your Retina

For most of human history, the way to get custom shapes and colors onto one’s retinas was to draw it on a cave wall, or a piece of parchment, or on paper. Later on, we invented electronic displays and used them for everything from televisions to computers, even toying with displays that gave the illusion of a 3D shape existing in front of us. Yet what if one could just skip this surface and draw directly onto our retinas?

Admittedly, the thought of aiming lasers directly at the layer of cells at the back of our eyeballs — the delicate organs which allow us to see — likely does not give one the same response as you’d have when thinking of sitting in front of a 4K, 27″ gaming display to look at the same content. Yet effectively we’d have the same photons painting the same image on our retinas. And what if it could be an 8K display, cinema-sized. Or maybe have a HUD overlay instead, like in video games?

In many ways, this concept of virtual retinal displays as they are called is almost too much like science-fiction, and yet it’s been the subject of decades of research, with increasingly more sophisticated technologies making it closer to an every day reality. Will we be ditching our displays and TVs for this technology any time soon?

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