The image of the crackpot inventor, disheveled, disorganized, and surrounded by the remains of his failures, is an enduring Hollywood trope. While a simple look around one’s shop will probably reveal how such stereotypes get started, the image is largely not a fair characterization of the creative mind and how it works, and does not properly respect those that struggle daily to push the state of the art into uncharted territory.
That said, there are plenty of wacky ideas that have come down the pike, most of which mercifully fade away before attracting undue attention. In times of war, though, the need for new and better ways to blow each other up tends to bring out the really nutty ideas and lower the barrier to revealing them publically, or at least to military officials.
Of all the zany plans that came from the fertile minds on each side of World War II, few seem as out there as a plan to use birds to pilot bombs to their targets. And yet such a plan was not only actively developed, it came from the fertile mind of one of the 20th century’s most brilliant psychologists, and very nearly resulted in a fieldable weapon that would let fly the birds of war.
Continue reading “Hacking When It Counts: Pigeon-Guided Missiles”
When faced with a problematic Bird slug, [Chuck Martin] didn’t give up. He pecked away at the slug and brought us all along for the ride. If that sentence didn’t make sense to you, read on! Anyone who’s been to a hamfest has seen a Bird meter. The Bird Model 43 watt meter is the defacto standard for measuring transmitter power in-line. Bird meters don’t just work from DC to light though. In fact, the model 43 itself is just a bit of transmission line and a meter movement. The magic happens inside the swappable measurement element. These elements, affectionately called “slugs” are calibrated for a frequency band and power range. An example would be the model 4410-6, which works from 50 – 200 MHz, at up to 1 kW. Most hams have a collection of these slugs to go with the bands they transmit on.
[Chuck’s] problem child was a model 100E element, good for 100 watts on 400 – 1000 MHz. The meter output seemed erratic though. A bit of troubleshooting with a second meter and a known good slug isolated the problem to the 100E. The problem was isolated to the slug, but how to fix it?
Continue reading “The Early Bird Repairs a Slug”
Positive reinforcement is the process of getting someone to understand their actions result in a reward. Children get a sweet treat when they pick up all their toys and older ones might get some cash for mowing the lawn. From the perspective of the treat-giver, this is like turning treats into work. A Dutch startup wants to teach the crow population to pick up cigarette butts in exchange for bird treats.
The whole Corvidae family of birds is highly intelligent so it shouldn’t be a problem training them that they will get a reward for depositing something the Hominidae family regularly throw on the street where the birds live. This idea is in turn an evolution of the open-source Crow Box.
For some, leveraging the intelligence of animals is more appealing than programming drones which could do the same thing. A vision system mixed with a drone and a manipulator could fulfull the same function but animals are self-repairing and autonomous without our code. The irony of this project is that, although it’s probably fairly easy to train crows to recognize cigarette butts, the implementation hinges on having a vision system that can recognize the butts in order to properly train the crows in the first place.
If we had the time to train crows, it would definitely be to poop on cars that don’t signal for turns. Maybe some of these winged devices can be programmed to recognize lapses in traffic laws in exchange for some electrons.
Thank you, [jo_elektro], for the tip.
Turns out you don’t have to be a multi-million dollar corporation like Festo to create a remote controlled, flapping bird robot. [Kazuhiko Kakuta] is a medical Doctor of Allergy, and in his free time he likes to build flying mechanical birds with his son.
It has just over a meter wingspan, weighs 193 grams, and it flies by flapping its wings. The majority of its components are 3D printed. If that’s not impressive enough for you as is, consider this. It it has no sensors, no gyroscopes or anything — it’s all manually controlled by [Kazuhiko].
And this isn’t even the only ornithopter he’s done. He’s also created something out of an anime film, Castle in the Sky. He even sells the designs for one of them, to be printed via Shapeways.
Continue reading “Mechanical Bird Actually Flies by Flapping its Wings”
No, not real birds! [Kyle] works in operations at a web company and needed a way to send alerts to his fellow coworkers, so he modified a flock of Audubon Society plush birds to respond to a Bluetooth beacon.
Using NRF24L01+ Bluetooth Low Energy modules, [Kyle] installed one each in these battery-powered singing birds. The devices are presumably powered off of the battery that comes with the birds, but the use of the BTLE module means the batteries won’t discharge as rapidly.
[Kyle] also built an API that works over HTTP or IRC, which means that the employees in the office can activate everyone else’s birds over a simple and intuitive interface. The birds can be activated one at a time, or all together in “panic” mode as one giant flock (in case of an emergency in the office). They can also be activated one at a time on a specific hour to simulate the Audubon Society’s bird call clock.
He calls the device equail and it’s a very unique notification system with a lot of applications. All of [Kyle]’s code and documentation of his project are available on his github site. He also used this primer on BTLE to get started, and this guide on sending data over BTLE to help get the project in the air.
Our cats were both sleeping near the computer and these videos were driving them nuts. To our ears these birdsongs sound pretty good. They didn’t trick the cats into stalking mode, but they did spark an audible complaint. So the predators aren’t drooling but the mechanical engineers reading this should be. These automata combine the precision of a mechanical clock with a bellows and specialized whistle to recreate birdsong.
You’ve got to hear it for yourself to appreciate the variety produced by the mechanisms. The first video shows off the device seen on the left. This particular model is from the 1890’s and the demo gives a good look at the arms that open and block a passageway to alter the sound. After seeing that link — which was sent in by [Stefan] — we started searching around for more info on the devices. The one pictured to the right turned up. It’s from YouTube user [Singing Bird Boxes] who has many videos showcasing these types of devices. We picked this one because he tried to explain how each part of the mechanism works. These are still being made today, but there’s something magical about seeing one built during the steam age.
We’d like to make Retrotechtacular a weekly feature every Tuesday. Help us out by sending in links to projects that highlight old technology, instructional videos of yore, tours of museums or similar relics.
Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Singing bird automata”
[Jorge Rancé] was nursing a sick bird back to health. He found it on the street with a broken leg, which required a mini plaster cast for it to heal correctly. But felt bad when leaving the house for long periods. He grabbed some simple hardware and put his mind at easy by building an Internet connected bird monitoring system. It’s really just an excuse to play around with his Raspberry Pi, but who can blame him?
A webcam adds video monitoring using the Linux software called “motion” to stream the video. This is the same package we use with our cats when we travel; it provides a continuous live stream but can also save recordings whenever motion is detected. He added a USB temperature sensor and attached a water level sensor to the GPIO header. These are automatically harvested — along with a still image from the webcam — and tweeted once per hour using a bash script. He just needs to work out automatic food and water dispensing and he never needs to return home! Bird seed shouldn’t be any harder to dish out than fish food, right?