An Arduino Powered Tank Built To Pull Planes

Surely our readers are well aware of all the downsides of owning an airplane. Certainly the cost of fuel is a big one. Birds are a problem, probably. That bill from the traveling propeller sharpener is a killer too…right? Alright fine, we admit it, nobody here at Hackaday owns an airplane. But probably neither do most of you; so don’t look so smug, pal.

But if you did own a plane, or at least work at a small airport, you’d know that moving the things around on the ground is kind of a hassle. Smaller planes can be pulled by hand, but once they get up to a certain size you’ll want some kind of vehicle to help out. [Anthony DiPilato] wanted a way to move around a roughly 5,200 pound Cessna 310, and decided that all the commercial options were too expensive. So he built his own Arduino powered tank to muscle the airplane around the tarmac (if site is down try Google cache), and his journey from idea to finished product is absolutely fascinating to see.

So the idea here is pretty simple. A little metal cart equipped with two beefy motors, an Arduino Mega, a pair of motor controllers, and a HC-08 Bluetooth module so you can control it from your phone. How hard could it be, right? Well, it turns out combining all those raw components into a little machine that’s strong enough to tow a full-scale aircraft takes some trial and error.

It took [Anthony] five iterations before he fine tuned the design to the point it was able to successfully drag the Cessna without crippling under the pressure. The early versions featured wheels, but eventually it was decided that a tracked vehicle would be required to get enough grip on the blacktop. Luckily for us, each failed design is shown along with a brief explanation about what went wrong. Admittedly it’s unlikely any of us will be recreating this particular project, but we always love to see when somebody goes through the trouble of explaining what went wrong. When you include that kind of information, somewhere, somehow, you’re saving another maker a bit of time and aggravation.

Hackers absolutely love machines with tank treads. From massive 3D printed designs to vaguely disturbing humanoid robots, there’s perhaps no sweeter form of locomotion in the hacker arsenal.

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Roll A Black Box For Your Wheels

Telemetric devices for vehicles, better known as black boxes, cracked the consumer scene 25 years ago with the premiere of OnStar. These days, you can get one for free from your insurance company if you want to try your luck at the discounts for safe driving game. But what if you wanted a black box just to mess around with that doesn’t share your driving data with the world? Just make one.

[TheForeignMan]’s DIY telematics box was designed to pull reports of the car’s RPM, speed, and throttle depression angle through the ODBII port. An ODBII-to-Bluetooth module sends the data to an Arduino Mega and logs it on an SD card along with latitude and longitude from a NEO-6M GPS module. Everything is powered by the car’s battery through a cigarette lighter-USB adapter.

He’s got everything tightly wrapped up inside a 3D printed box, which makes it pretty hard to retrieve the SD card. In the future, he’d like to send the data to a server instead to avoid accidentally dislodging a jumper wire.

If this one isn’t DIY enough for you to emulate, start by building your own CAN bus reader.

Nuclear Synchroscope Gets New Life

The Synchroscope is an interesting power plant instrument which doubles up as two devices in one. If the generator frequency is not matched with the grid frequency, the rotation direction of the synchroscope pointer indicates if the frequency (generator speed) needs to be increased or decreased. When it stops rotating, the pointer angle indicates the phase difference between the generator and the grid. When [badjer1] [Chris Muncy] got his hands on an old synchroscope which had seen better days at a nuclear power plant control room, he decided to use it as the enclosure for a long-pending plan to build a Nixie Tube project. The result — an Arduino Nixie Clock and Weather Station — is a retro-modern looking instrument which indicates time, temperature, pressure and humidity and the synchroscope pointer now indicates atmospheric pressure.

Rather than replicating existing designs, he decided to build his project from scratch, learning new techniques and tricks while improving his design as he progressed. [badjer1] is a Fortran old-timer, so kudos to him for taking a plunge into the Arduino ecosystem. Other than the funky enclosure, most of the electronics are assembled from off-the-shelf modules. The synchroscope was not large enough to accommodate the electronics, so [badjer1] had to split it into two halves, and add a clear acrylic box in the middle to house it all. He stuck in a few LEDs inside the enclosure for added visual effect. Probably his biggest challenge, other than the mechanical assembly, was making sure he got the cutouts for the Nixie tubes on the display panel right. One wrong move and he would have ended up with a piece of aluminum junk and a missing face panel.

Being new to Arduino, he was careful with breaking up his code into manageable chunks, and peppering it with lots of comments, for his own, and everyone else’s, benefit. The electronics and hardware assembly are also equally well detailed, should anyone else want to attempt to replicate his build. There is still room for improvement, especially with the sensor mounting, but for now, [badjer1] seems pretty happy with the result. Check out the demo video after the break.

Thanks for the tip, [Chris Muncy].

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We Couldn’t Resist this CNC Batik Bot

Batik is an ancient form of dyeing textiles in which hot wax is applied to a piece of cloth in some design. When the cloth is submerged in a dye bath, the parts covered with wax resist the pigment. After dyeing, the wax is either boiled or scraped away to reveal the design.

[Eugenia Morpurgo] has created a portable, open-source batik bot that rolls along the floor and draws with wax, CNC-style, on a potentially infinite expanse of cloth. The hardware should be familiar: an Arduino Mega and a RAMPS 1.4 board driving NEMA 17 steppers up and down extruded aluminium.

Traditionally, batik wax is applied with a canting, a pen-like object that holds a small amount of hot wax and distributes it through a small opening. The batik bot’s pen combines parts from an electric canting tool with the thermistor, heater block, and heater cartridge from an E3D V6 hot end. [Eugenia] built the Z-axis from scrap and re-used the mechanical endstops from an old plotter. Check out the GitHub for step-by-step instructions with a ton of clear pictures and the project’s site for even more pictures and information. Oh, and don’t resist the chance to see it in action after the break.

We love a good art bot around here, even if the work disappears with the tide.

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A Mobile Terminal for Guerrilla Communications

We use the Internet to do everything from filing our taxes to finding good pizza, but most critically it fulfills nearly all of our communication needs. Unfortunately, this reliance can be exploited by those pulling the strings; if your government is trying to do something shady, the first step is likely to be effecting how you can communicate with the outside world. The Internet is heavily censored and monitored in China, and in North Korea the entire country is effectively running on an intranet that’s cutoff from the wider Internet. The need for decentralized information services and communication is very real.

While it might not solve all the world’s communication problems, [::vtol::] writes in to tell us about a very interesting communication device he’s been working on that he calls “Hot Ninja”. Operating on the principle that users might be searching for accessible Wi-Fi networks in a situation where the Internet has been taken down, Hot Ninja allows the user to send simple messages through Wi-Fi SSIDs.

We’ve all seen creatively named Wi-Fi networks before, and the idea here is very much the same. Hot Ninja creates a Wi-Fi network with the user’s message as the SSID in hopes that somebody on a mobile device will see it. The SSID alone could be enough depending on the situation, but Hot Ninja is also able to serve up a basic web page to devices which actually connect. In the video after the break, [::vtol::] even demonstrates some rudimentary BBS-style functionality by presenting the client devices with a text field, the contents of which are saved to a log file.

In terms of hardware, Hot Ninja is made up of an Arduino Mega coupled to three ESP8266 boards, and a battery to keep it all running for up to eight hours so you can subvert a dictatorship while on the move. The user interface is provided by a small OLED screen and a keyboard made entirely of through-hole tactile switches, further reinforcing the trope that touch-typing will be a must have skill in the dystopian future. It might not be the most ergonomic device we’ve ever seen, but the fact it looks like something out of a Neal Stephenson novel more than makes up for it in our book.

This is not the first time we’ve seen Wi-Fi SSIDs used as a method of communication, thanks largely to how easy the ESP8266 makes it. For his part, [::vtol::] has previously experimented with using them to culturally enrich the masses.

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Reviving an Electron Microscope with Arduino

We don’t know about you, but when our friends ask us if we want to help them fix something, they’re usually talking about their computer, phone, or car. So far it’s never been about helping them rebuild an old electron microscope. But that’s exactly the request [Benjamin Blundell] got when a friend from a local hackerspace asked if he could take a look at a vintage Cambridge Stereoscan 200 they had found abandoned in a shed. Clearly we’re hanging out with the wrong group of people.

As you might imagine, the microscope was in desperate need of some love after spending time in considerably less than ideal conditions. While some of the hackerspace members started tackling the hardware side of the machine, [Benjamin] was tasked with finding a way to recover the contents of the scope’s ROM. While he’s still working on verification, the dumps he’s made so far of the various ROMs living inside the Stereoscan 200 have been promising and he believes he’s on the right track.

The microscope uses a mix of Texas Instruments 25L32 and 2516 chips, which [Benjamin] had to carefully pry out after making sure to document everything so he knew what went where. A few of the chips weren’t keen on being pulled from their home of 30-odd years, so there were a few broken pins, but on the whole the operation was a success.

Each chip was placed in a breadboard and wired up to an Arduino Mega, as it has enough digital pins to connect without needing a shift register. With the wiring fairly straightforward, [Benjamin] just needed to write up some code to read the contents of the chip, which he has graciously provided anyone else who might be working on a similar project. At this point he hasn’t found anything identifiable in his ROM dumps to prove that they’ve been made successfully, all he really knows right now is that he has something. At least it’s a start.

More and more of these older electron microscopes are getting a second lease on life thanks to dedicated hackers in their home labs. Makes you wonder if there’s ever going to be a piece of hardware the hacker community won’t bend to their will.

RGB Disk Goes Interactive with Bluetooth; Shows Impressive Plastic Work

[smash_hand] had a clear goal: a big, featureless, white plastic disk with RGB LEDs concealed around its edge. So what is it? A big ornament that could glow any color or trippy mixture of colors one desires. It’s an object whose sole purpose is to be a frame for soft, glowing light patterns to admire. The disk can be controlled with a simple smartphone app that communicates over Bluetooth, allowing anyone (or in theory anything) to play with the display.

The disk is made from 1/4″ clear plastic, which [smash_hand] describes as plexiglass, but might be acrylic or polycarbonate. [smash_hands] describes some trial and error in the process of cutting the circle; it was saw-cut with some 3-in-1 oil as cutting fluid first, then the final shape cut with a bandsaw.

The saw left the edge very rough, so it was polished with glass polishing compound. This restores the optical properties required for the edge-lighting technique. The back of the disc was sanded then painted white, and the RGB LEDs spaced evenly around the edge, pointing inwards.

The physical build is almost always the difficult part in a project like this — achieving good diffusion of LEDs is a topic we talk about often. [smash_hands] did an impressive job and there are never any “hot spots” where an LED sticks out to your eye. With this taken care of, the electronics came together with much less effort. An Arduino with an HC-05 Bluetooth adapter took care of driving the LEDs and wireless communications, respectively. A wooden frame later, and the whole thing is ready to go.

[smash_hands] provides details like a wiring diagram as well as the smartphone app for anyone who is interested. There’s the Arduino program as well, but interestingly it’s only available in assembly or as a raw .hex file. A video of the disk in action is embedded below.

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