Connected World Contest: Four Top Winners Announced

We love seeing the astonishing array of projects large and small entered into Hackaday contests which push the boundaries of what is possible. Our latest has been the Connected World contest which was announced back in June, and today we’re pleased to bring you its four top winners. As a recap, the brief was to create something that connects wirelessly and shows a blend of creativity and functionality. The final four have a diverse range of applications, and here they are with their respective categories:

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Hackaday Links: September 29, 2019

In a sure sign that we’ve arrived in the future, news from off-world is more interesting this week than Earth news. When the InSight probe landed on Mars last year, it placed the first operating magnetometer on the Red Planet. Since then, the sensitive instrument has been logging data about the planet’s magnetic field, and now there are reports that researchers have discovered a chain of pulsations in the magnetic field. Pulsations in planetary magnetic fields aren’t all that strange; pulse trains that occur only at Martian midnight are, though. Researchers haven’t got a clue yet about what this means. We assume they’ve eliminated artifacts like something on the lander being turned on at local midnight, so when they figure it out it should be fascinating.

In more news from the future, Boston Dynamics is trolling us again. We covered the announcement early this week that they’re putting their Spot quadruped robot on sale – sort of. Turns out you need to be selected to qualify based on the application you have in mind, plus have several Ferraris full of cash to spend. While everyone was watching the adorable antics of Spot as it wandered through improbably industrial vignettes, Boston Dynamics also released this slightly terrifying video of their Atlas robot running through a gymnastics routine.  It starts with a headstand and a front roll and ends with a slipt leap and whatever the gymnastics equivalent of a figure skating axel jump is. Yes, it has a special roll cage attached to make the tumbles a bit smoother, but it’s still some remarkable stuff.

How are your RF design skills? If they’re good enough to design an RF power amp, you might want to check out this homebrew RF design challenge. Put on by NXP Semiconductors, the design must use one of their new LDMOS RF power transistors. They’ll send you samples so you can build your design, and you stand to win up to $3000 plus $1000 worth of NXP products. The contest opened back in May but is running through the middle of November, so you’d better hurry.

Speaking of RF, wouldn’t it be interesting to see a snapshot of the RF spectrum over the entire planet? ElectroSense thinks so, and they’re working on a crowdsourcing model to set up a globe-spanning network of connected RF sensors. The idea is similar to what FlightAware does for monitoring the locations of aircraft with a distributed network of ADS-B receivers. But where FlightAware only monitors a narrow slice of spectrum, ElectroSense wants it all – DC to 6 GHz. You can build a sensor from an SDR and a Raspberry Pi and start contributing to the effort, which only has a handful of sensors at the moment.

Has affordable metal 3D-printing finally arrived? For certain values of affordability, it soon will, when One Click Metal launches their new selective laser melting printer. Thomas Sanladerer did a video with the principals, and the prototype looks promising. SLM is not a new process, but patents on the core process recently ran out, so startups like One Click Metal are jumping into the market. Their printer won’t be cheap — you’ll still need to write a check with many zeroes — but with more players, the price should come down.

And finally, what’s this world coming to when a startup specializing in building giant fighting robots can’t make a go of it? MegaBots is shutting down, and while that’s certainly bad news for its founders and employees, it’s great news for anyone in the market for used battle bots. The company’s flagship bot, the 15-ton Eagle Prime, is currently up for auction on eBay. Bidding started at $1 with no reserve, but if you were looking for a steal, you’re a bit late. The high bid is currently $100,100, which is still an incredible buy considering it cost $2.5 million to build. You’ll have to pay for shipping, but you’ll have a super-destructive mecha of your own to drive around. And think how cool you’ll look rolling into some kid’s backyard birthday party. Presumably one you’ve been invited to.

Hackaday Links: September 8, 2019

We start this week with very sad news indeed. You may have heard about the horrific fire on the dive boat Conception off Santa Cruz Island last week, which claimed 33 lives. Sadly, we lost one of our own in the tragedy: Dan Garcia, author of the wildly popular FastLED library. Dan, 46, was an Apple engineer who lived in Berkley; his partner Yulia Krashennaya died with him. Our community owes Dan a lot for the work he put into FastLED over the last seven years, as many an addressable LED is being driven by his code today. Maybe this would be a good chance to build a project that uses FastLED and add a little light to the world, courtesy of Dan.

In happier news, the biggest party of the hardware hacking year is rapidly approaching. That’s right, the 2019 Hackaday Superconference will be upon us before you know it. Rumor has it that there aren’t that many tickets left, and we haven’t even announced the slate of talks yet. That’s likely to clean out the remaining stock pretty darn quickly. Are you seriously prepared to miss this? It seems like a big mistake to us, so why don’t you hop over and secure your spot before you’re crying into your Club-Mate and wondering what all the cool kids will be doing in November.

Of course one of the highlights of Superconference is the announcement of the Hackaday Prize winner. And while we naturally think our Prize is the best contest, that doesn’t mean there aren’t others worth entering. MyMiniFactory, the online 3D-printing community, is currently running a “Design with Arduino” competition that should be right up the alley of Hackaday readers. The goal is simple: submit a 3D-printed design that incorporates Arduino or other electronics. That’s it! Entries are accepted through September 16, so you’ve still got plenty of time.

Sometimes you see something that just floors you. Check out this tiny ESP32 board. It doesn’t just plug into a USB port – it fits completely inside a standard USB Type A jack. The four-layer board sports an ESP32, FTDI chip, voltage regulator, an LED and a ceramic antenna for WiFi and Bluetooth. Why would you want such a thing? Why wouldn’t you! The board is coming soon on CrowdSupply, so we hope to see projects using this start showing up in the tipline soon.

Here’s a “why didn’t I think of that?” bench tip that just struck us as brilliant. Ever had to probe a board to trace signal paths? It’s a common enough task for reverse engineering and repairs, but with increasingly dense boards, probing a massive number of traces is just too much of a chore. Hackaday superfriend Mike Harrison from “mikeselectricstuff” makes the chore easier with a brush made from fine stainless wires crimped into a ring terminal. Attached to one probe of a multimeter, the brush covers much more of the board at a time, finding the general area where your trace of interest ends up. Once you’re in the neighborhood you can drop back to probing one pad at a time. Genius! We’d imagine a decent brush could also be made from a bit of coax braid too.

Another shop tip to wrap up this week, this one for woodworkers and metalworkers alike. Raw materials are expensive, and getting the most bang for your buck is often a matter of carefully laying out parts on sheet goods to minimize waste. Doing this manually can be a real test of your spatial relations skills, so why not automate it with this cut list optimizer? The app will overlay parts onto user-defined rectangles and snuggle them together to minimize waste. The program takes any units, can account for material lost to kerfs, and will even respect grain direction if needed. It’s built for wood, but it should prove useful for sheet metal on a plasma cutter, acrylic on a laser, or even PCBs on a panel.

Hams Gone Wild: Amateur Radio Field Day 2019

Of all the images that amateur radio conjures up, the great outdoors doesn’t usually figure heavily. People seem to think hams sit in a dark room at a desk heavy with radio gear, banging out Morse code into late into the night and heedless of the world outside the window. All of which sort of sounds like hard-core gaming, really.

And while that image certainly applies in a lot of cases, hams do like to get out and about at least once a year. That day is upon us with the 2019 Amateur Radio Field Day. Hams across North America reserve the fourth full weekend of each June to tear themselves out of their shacks and get into the world to set up operations in some kind of public venue, generally a park or other green space. Part cookout, part community outreach, and part slumber party – it lasts all weekend and goes around the clock – hams use field day as a chance to show the general public where amateur radio really shines: real-time worldwide communications under austere conditions.

It’s also a chance to get folks excited about getting their license, with many Field Day locations hosting “Get on the Air” stations so that unlicensed folks can try making a contact under the supervision of a licensed operator. Licensed but underequipped hams also get the chance to spin the knobs on someone else’s gear, and maybe line up that first rig purchase. And there are plenty of opportunities to learn about new modes as well, such as FT8 and WSPR. As an example your scribe is looking for some guidance on getting started with APRS, the automated packet reporting system that’s used for things like high-altitude balloon tracking.

If you have any interest at all in learning how to properly operate radio equipment, you owe it to yourself to track down the nearest Field Day location and stop by. The American Radio Relay League (ARRL) has a ton of Field Day information, from a map to locate the 1500 Field Day sites to rules for the contests that will be run that weekend to guides for setting up and operating an effective Field Day setup. There will be 40,000 hams out there this year, and they’d all be thrilled if you drop by and ask a few questions.

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New Contest: Flexible PCBs

The now-humble PCB was revolutionary when it came along, and the whole ecosystem that evolved around it has been a game changer in electronic design. But the PCB is just so… flat. Planar. Two-dimensional. As useful as it is, it gets a little dull sometimes.

Here’s your chance to break out of Flatland and explore the third dimension of circuit design with our brand new Flexible PCB Contest.

We’ve teamed up with Digi-Key for this contest. Digi-Key’s generous sponsorship means 60 contest winners will receive free fabrication of three copies of their flexible PCB design, manufactured through the expertise of OSH Park. So now you can get your flex on with wearables, sensors, or whatever else you can think of that needs a flexible PCB.

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Freeforming The Atari Punk Console

This stunning piece of art is [Emily Velasco’s] take on the Atari Punk Console. It’s a freeform circuit that synthesizes sound using 555 timers. The circuit has been around for a long time, but her fabrication is completely new and simply incredible!

This isn’t [Emily’s] first rodeo. She previously built the mini CRT sculpture project seen to the left in the image above. Its centerpiece is a tiny CRT from an old video camera viewfinder, and it is fairly common for the driver circuit to understand composite video. And unlike CRTs, small video cameras with composite video output are easily available today for not much money. Together they bring a piece of 1980s-era video equipment into the modern selfie age. The cubic frame holding everything together is also the ground plane, but its main purpose is to give us an unimpeded view. We can admire the detail on this CRT and its accompanying circuitry representing 1982 state of the art in miniaturized consumer electronics. (And yes, high voltage components are safely insulated. Just don’t poke your finger under anything.)

With the experience gained from building that electrically simple brass frame, [Emily] then stepped up the difficulty for her follow-up project. It started with a sound synthesizer circuit built around a pair of 555 timers, popularized in the 1980s and nicknamed the Atari Punk Console. Since APC is a popular circuit found in several other Hackaday-featured projects, [Emily] decided she needed to add something else to stand out. Thus in addition to building her circuit in three-dimensional brass, two photocells were incorporated to give it rudimentary vision into its environment. Stimulus for this now light-sensitive APC were provided in the form of a RGB LED. One with a self-contained circuit to cycle through various colors and blinking patterns.

These two projects neatly bookend the range of roles brass rods can take in your own creations. From a simple frame that stays out of the way to being the central nervous system. While our Circuit Sculpture Contest judges may put emphasis the latter, both are equally valid ways to present something that is aesthetic in addition to being functional. Brass, copper, and wood are a refreshing change of pace from our standard materials of 3D-printed plastic and FR4 PCB. Go forth and explore what you can do!

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Skeletal Robot Skips The Chassis

With the high availability of low-cost modular electronic components, building your own little robot buddy is easier and more affordable than ever. But while the electronics might be dirt cheap thanks to the economies of scale, modular robot chassis can be surprisingly expensive. If you’ve got a 3D printer you can always make a chassis that way, but what if you’re looking for something a bit more artisanal?

For his entry into the Circuit Sculpture Contest, [Robson Couto] has built a simple robot which dumps the traditional chassis for a frame made out of bent and soldered copper wire. Not only does this happen to look really cool in a Steampunk kind of way, it’s also a very cheap way of knocking together a basic bot with just the parts you have on hand. Not exactly a heavy-duty chassis, to be sure, but certainly robust enough to rove around your workbench.

The dual servos constrained within the wire frame have been modified for continuous rotation, which combined with the narrow track should make for a fairly maneuverable little bot. [Robson] equipped his servos with copper wheels built in the same style of the frame, which likely isn’t great for traction but really does help sell the overall look. If you aren’t planning on entering your creation into a contest that focuses on unique construction, we’d suggest some more traditional wheels for best results.

The brains of this bot are provided by an ATmega8 with external 16MHz crystal tacked onto the pins. There’s also a ultrasonic sensor board mounted to the servos which eventually will give this little fellow the ability to avoid obstacles. Of course, it doesn’t take a robotics expert to realize there’s currently no onboard power supply in the design. We’d love to say that he’s planning on using the copper loops of the frame to power the thing via induction, but we imagine [Robson] is still fiddling around with the best way to get juice into his wireframe creation before the Contest deadline.

Speaking of which, there’s still plenty of time to get your own Circuit Sculpture creation submitted. If it’s a functional device that isn’t scared to show off the goods, we’re interested in seeing it. Just document the project on Hackaday.io and submit it to the contest before the January 8th, 2019 deadline.