Bringing Pneumatics To The Masses With Open Source Soft Robotics

Soft robotics is an exciting field. Mastering the pneumatic control of pliable materials has enormous potential, from the handling of delicate objects to creating movement with no moving parts. However, pneumatics has long been overlooked by the hacker community as a mode of actuation. There are thousands of tutorials, tools and products that help us work with motor control and gears, but precious few for those of us who want to experiment with movement using air pressure, valves and pistons.

Physicist and engineer [tinkrmind] wants to change that. He has been developing an open source soft robotics tool called Programmable Air for the past year with the aim of creating an accessible way for the hacker community to work with pneumatic robotics. We first came across [tinkrmind]’s soft robotics modules at World Maker Faire in New York City in 2018 but fifty beta testers and a wide range of interesting projects later — from a beating silicone heart to an inflatable bra — they are now being made available on Crowd Supply.

We had the chance to play with some of the Programmable Air modules after this year’s Makerfaire Bay Area at Bring A Hack. We can’t wait to see what squishy, organic creations they will be used for now that they’re out in the wild.

If you need more soft robotics inspiration, take a look at this robotic skin that turns teddy bears into robots from Yale or these soft rotating actuators from Harvard.

See a video of the Programmable Air modules in action below the cut. Continue reading “Bringing Pneumatics To The Masses With Open Source Soft Robotics”

Hackaday Links: June 9, 2019

The Chicago Pile led to the Manhattan Project, which led to the atomic bomb. In Germany, there were similar efforts with less success, and now we have physical evidence from the first attempted nuclear reactor in Germany. In Physics Today, there’s a lovely historical retrospective of one of the ‘fuel cubes’ that went into one of Germany’s unsuccessful reactor experiments. This is a five-centimeter cube that recently showed up in the hands of a uranium collector. In the test reactor, six hundred of these cubes were strung along strings and suspended like a chandelier. This chandelier was then set inside a tub surrounded by graphite. This reactor never reached criticality — spectroscopy tells us the cube does not contain fission products — but it was the best attempt Germany made at a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

The biggest failing of the Arduino is the pinout. Those header pins aren’t all on 0.1″ centers, and the board itself is too wide to fit on a single solderless breadboard. Here’s the solution to that problem. It’s the BreadShield, an Arduino Uno-to-Breadboard adapter. Plug an Uno on one end, and you get all the pins on the other.

There’s a new listing on AirBnB. this time from NASA. They’re planning on opening the space station up to tourism, starting at $35,000 USD per night. That’s a cool quarter mil per week, launch not included. The plan appears to allow other commercial companies (SpaceX and whoever buys a Boeing Starliner) to accept space tourists, the $35k/night is just for the stop at the ISS. Costs for launch and landing are expected to be somewhere between $20 and $60 Million per flight. Other space tourists have paid as much: [Dennis Tito], the first ‘fee-paying’ space tourist, paid $20M for a trip to the ISS in 2001. [Mark Shuttleworth] also paid $20M a year later. Earlier space ‘tourists’ paid a similar amount; Japanese journalist [Toyohiro Akiyama] flew to Mir at a cost of between $12M and $37M. Yes, the space station is now an AirBnB, but it’s going to cost twenty million dollars for the ride up there.

We’re getting into conference season, and there are two hardware cons coming up you should be aware of. The first is Hardwear.io, keynoted by [Christopher Tarnovsky], famous for DirecTV hacks. There will be other talks by [@TubeTimeUS] on cloning the Sound Blaster and [John McMaster] on dropping acid. All of this is going down this week at The Biltmore in Santa Clara, CA. The second upcoming conference of note is Teardown, the hardware conference put on by Crowd Supply. That’s in Portland, June 21-23, with a presence from the Church of Robotron.

A Better Battery Arduino

We’ve seen [Johan]’s AA-battery-sized Arduino/battery crossover before, but soon (we hope!) there will be a new version with more MIPS in the same unique form factor! The original Aarduino adhered to classic Arduino part choices and was designed to run as the third “cell” in a 3 cell battery holder to relay temperature readings via a HopeRF RFM69CW. But as [Johan] noticed, it turns out that ARM development tools are cheap now. In some cases very cheap and very open source. So why not update an outstanding design to something with a little more horsepower?

The Aarduino Zero uses the same big PTH battery terminals and follows the same pattern as the original design; the user sticks it in a battery holder for power and it uses an RFM69CW for wireless communication. But now the core is an STM32L052, a neat low power Cortex-M0+ with a little EEPROM onboard. [Johan] has also added a medium size serial flash to facilitate offline data logging or OTA firmware update. Plus there’s a slick new test fixture to go along with it all.

So how do you get one? Well… that’s the rub. It looks like when this was originally posted at the end of 2017 [Johan] was planning to launch a Crowd Supply campaign that hasn’t quite materialized yet. Until that launches the software sources for the Zero are available, and there are always the sources from the original Aarduino to check out.

Retro-uC, Your Favorite Instruction Sets On Custom Silicon

A few months ago, we caught wind of an interesting project in Big-O Open silicon. It’s a chip, loaded up with the great CPU cores of yore. Now, it’s finally a project on Crowd Supply. The Retro-uC project is an Open Source microcontroller for the retro geek, with a Zilog Z80, MOS 6502, and Motorola 68000 buried in the epoxy of a single QFP package. Oh yes, custom silicon and retro goodness, what more could you want?

The Retro-uC project is part of the Chips4Makers project to develop an Open Source chip for the community. Of course, this has been done before with projects like the HiFive1 and other RISC-V implementations, but really — this is a Z80, 6502 and 68k on a single chip. Let’s not bury the lede here.

As far as the architecture and implementation of these cores go, the ‘active’ core is externally selected on reset, or can be changed through the JTAG interface. There are 72 GPIO pins that can handle 5V, with each pin mapped to the address space of the cores. So far, so good. We can make this work for some really cool stuff.

The JTAG interface is used for testing and programming, although programs can be stored on an external I2C Flash chip and booted from there. There is 4kB of on-chip RAM, and while the peripheral configuration is still being determined, there will at least be UART, I2C, and PWM peripherals. How many of each is anyone’s guess.

The Retro-uC is now a Crowd Supply project, with rewards/orders/whatever ranging from a bare Retro-uC chip for $42 USD to an Arduino Mega-ish development platform for $89, a breadboard version of the chip for $59, and a chip mounted to a Perf2+ prototyping board for $65.

While this chip hasn’t even gotten to tape-out, all the cores work on an FPGA, and there is precedent for doing Open Source, crowdfunded silicon. We’re looking at this one closely and are excited to see what everyone is going to make.

This project has been a long time in the making, with the project lead giving a talk at FOSDEM earlier this year. Now it’s finally time for the hard part of any silicon project — getting the money — and we’re looking forward to see what comes of it.

SPIDriver Shows You What’s Going On

When you’re debugging two bits of electronics talking SPI to each other, there’s a lot that can go sideways. Starting from the ground up, the signals can be wrong: data not synced with clocks right, or phase inverted. On top of that, the actual data sent needs to make sense to the receiving device. Are you sending the right commands?

When nothing’s working, you’re fighting simultaneously on these two fronts and you might need different tools to debug each. An oscilloscope works great at the physical layer, while something like a Bus Pirate or fancier logic analyzer works better at the data layer because it can do parsing for you. [James Bowman]’s SPIDriver looks to us like a Bus Pirate with a screen — giving you a fighting chance on both fronts.

SPIDriver also has a couple more tricks up its sleeve: a voltage and current monitor for the device under test, so you don’t even have to break out your multimeter when you’re experiencing random resets. We asked [James] if these additions had a sad history behind them. He included this XKCD.

Everything about SPIDriver is open, so you can check out the hardware design, browse the code, and modify any and all of it to your taste. And speaking of open, [James] is also the man behind the Gameduino and an amazing FPGA Forth soft-CPU.

It’s fully crowd-funded, but it closes in a couple of days so if you want one, get on it soon.

And if you want to learn more about SPI debugging, we’ve written up a crash-course. With the gear and the know-how, you at least stand a fighting chance.

Hackaday Links: August 6th, 2017

We get a lot of Kickstarter pitches in our email, but this one is different. First of all, it’s over. No biggie there. Secondly, it’s a laser-cut hurdy gurdy. What’s a hurdy gurdy? It’s a musical instrument that uses a wheel to vibrate strings. It has drone strings and a rudimentary keyboard for the melody. Think of it as ‘string bagpipes’ and you’re not that far off. This means you can laser cut (or 3D print, someone get on it) a hurdy gurdy, and that’s just awesome.

I wrote the previous paragraph without referencing Donovan. You’re welcome, Internet.

[Spencer] found a few very small seven-segment flip display units. This, of course, meant he had to build a clock. Right now [Spencer] is in the PCB design stage of the project, with the hope of finishing it before school starts. There is still an open question here: where do you get really tiny flip segment displays?

Perhaps we’ve said too much about the number one badge at this year’s DEF CON, but this is really the project that just keeps giving. [Hyr0n] thought it would be a great idea to have a shirt printed with the design of this year’s official Hackaday DEF CON badge. This seemed simple enough — all he needed to do was send the design off to a custom printed t-shirt place on the Internet and wait a week or two. This is where things got a little nuts. [Hyr0n] stole my intellectual property. My very intellectual property. Here’s a great tip for when a t-shirt place puts your order on hold because of a copyright: just say it’s creative commons, they’ll send it right on through.

The DIY-VT100 is a miniature VT100 (and VT102) terminal, because sometimes you need a standalone serial terminal. Soon, it’s going to be a Crowd Supply campaign. Who’s going to be the first to 3D print a look-alike VT100 enclosure for this little thing? Where can you get pre-bromiated filament?

We all know what the Atari 2600 is, but what is the Atari 2700? It’s an exceptionally rare prototype that used wireless controllers. One was found in a thrift store recently. [L064N] bought it for $30, and sold it on eBay for $3000.

Here’s a weird thing [Yann] sent in. The Rise mP6 was a non-Intel, non-AMD, non-Cyrix, non-VIA, x86 compatible CPU sold in the late 90s.  What’s cool about it? Three parallel MMX instructions, and an easter egg hidden in the microcode. The principal engineer on the project, [Chris Norrie], decided he wanted to hide his name in the CPU, and managed to do it without anyone else catching on. If you put ‘NZ’ into eAX and execute CPUID, it returns “* Chris Norrie *”. That’s a hack, and it’s amazing.

Friday Hack Chat: Crowd Supply

Crowdfunding is a mixed bag, at best. On one hand, you have fantastically successful products like Pebble, Oculus, and the Kano personal computer that managed to take in money, turn out a product, and become a successful company. (If even just for a while, the Pebble was great.) On the other hand, you have obvious scams like a color-picking pen that are run by a literal Nigerian scammer.

Crowd Supply is different. Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, to get on Crowd Supply you’ll need a working prototype. Where other platforms can measure their success by how many campaigns were successfully funded, and how many of those campaigns successfully delivered rewards to backers, I’m not aware of any Crowd Supply campaigns that have ever failed completely.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’ll be talking with [Josh Lifton], CEO of Crowd Supply. Topics will include determining if there’s a market for your product, the ins and outs of fulfillment, to shipping your product. We’re taking questions from the community, and there’s a question sheet we’ll be reading from.

Josh has a PhD from the MIT Media Lab and holds a BA in physics and mathematics from Swarthmore College. Prior to Crowd Supply, Josh worked in a variety of technology settings, from instrumenting thousands of audience members with custom wearable computers for a Cirque du Soleil performance to, most recently, serving as head of engineering at Puppet Labs.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, July 28th. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.