Hackaday Podcast Ep18: Faxploitation! Ikea RFID Hacking, Space Ads, Hydrogen Dones, And Blinkies

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys gather round the microphone to spin tales from a week of hacks. All the rage are fax-machine-based malware, a hydrogen fuel cell drone, and bringing color to the monochrome world of the original Super Mario Land. There are at least three really cool LED hacks this week, plus Tom’s been exploring space advertising, Maya’s debunking solder myths, and Elliot goes ga-ga for a deep Ikea electronics hack. Closing out the show is an interview with Bart Dring about his exquisitely-engineered string art robot.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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A Hydrogen Fuel Cell Drone

When we think about hydrogen and flying machines, it’s quite common to imagine Zeppelins, weather balloons and similar uses of hydrogen in lighter-than-air craft to lift stuff of the ground. But with smaller and more efficient fuel cells, hydrogen is gaining its place in the drone field. Project RACHEL is a hydrogen powered drone project that involves multiple companies and has now surpassed the 60 minutes of flight milestone.

The initial target of the project was to achieve 60 minutes of continuous flight while carrying a 5 kg payload. The Lithium Polymer battery-powered UAVs flown by BATCAM allow around 12 minutes of useable flight. The recent test of the purpose-built fuel cell powered UAV saw it fly for an uninterrupted 70 minutes carrying a 5 kg payload.  This was achieved on a UAV with below 20 kg maximum take-off mass, using a 6-litre cylinder containing hydrogen gas compressed to 300 bar.

While this is not world record for drones and it’s not exactly clear if there will be a commercial product nor the price tag, it is still an impressive feat for a fuel cell powered flying device. You can watch the footage of one of their tests bellow:

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Drone Registration Tax Sought by UK’s CAA

As the UK’s aviation regulator, the Civil Aviation Authority is tasked with “making aviation better for those who choose to fly and those who do not”. Their latest plan to further this mission comes in the form of a drone registration tax. The proposal, which is open to online responses until 7 June, seeks to pass on the cost of a drone registration system to those who register themselves.

Proposals for a drone registration scheme have been in the works for a while now, and if enacted it would go into effect on 1 November. Owners of craft weighing more than 250 g (0.55 lbs) would have to fork out £16.50 ($21.50) per year, ostensibly to pay for the administration of the scheme. The CAA are basing this rate on as many as 170,000 people registering. In the US, the FAA has a drone registration program in place that requires registration based on the same 250 g weight guideline, but only charges $5 (£3.82) for a 3-year license, about thirteen times less than the CAA proposal.

Long-time readers will be familiar with our ongoing coverage of the sometimes-farcical saga of drone sightings in British skies. Airports have been closed (and implausible excuses have been concocted), but one thing remains constant: no tangible proof of any drone has yet been produced. Faced with a problem it doesn’t fully understand, the British Government is looking to this registration program.

It goes without saying that people misusing drones and endangering public safety should be brought to justice as swiftly as possible. But our concern is that the scale of the problem has been vastly over-represented, and that this scheme will do little to address either the problem of bogus drone sightings or the very real problem of criminal misuse of drones for example to smuggle contraband into prisons. It’s difficult to think this measure will have an effect on the number of incidents blamed on drones, and the high cost included in the proposal is a troubling burden for enthusiasts who operate responsibly.

Battlebots To The Skies!

If you’re too young to remember Battlebots on the television, there are two things that you should know. First is that there are plenty of highlights of this epic robot battle royale on YouTube, and the second is that now there’s an even better version with drones instead of robots merely confined to land. It’s called DroneClash 2019, and it looks like it was amazing.

Not only were the robots set up in a box and asked to battle each other, they first had to navigate down a corridor with anti-drone measures. The drones have to make it through and into a battle royale in the final room. If this wasn’t good enough, the event was opened by a prince of the Netherlands and is put on by a university.

This is an annual event to push the state of the art in drone and anti-drone tech, but we’d be happy to see it optioned for a TV show. If it doesn’t, you might be satisfied with a giant human-driven robot competition from a while back, or maybe just head down the rabbit hole of old Battlebots clips.

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Hackaday Links: April 21, 2019

A Russian company has developed a drone with a very interesting control scheme. It’s a VTOL fixed wing, that takes off like a bicopter, transitions to use wings for lift, flies around for half an hour or so, and then lands on its tail. This is a big ‘un; the reported weight is 50 pounds. Although the available footage really doesn’t give any sense of scale, we would estimate the wingspan as somewhere between four and five feet. Fixed-wing VTOLs are close to the holy grail of current drone science — wings actually generate lift, and VTOL means Uber can deliver McDonalds to your driveway.

What happens when you give an idiot a USB killer? $60,000 in damages. A former student at the College of St. Rose killed 59 computers with a USB killer, basically a charge pump that dumps a hundred or so volts back into a USB port, destroying the computer. Yes, you can just buy USB killers on the Internet, and yes you can film yourself zapping computers and posting the videos on social media. Both are dumb ideas.

This week was huge for the preservation of our digital culture. The source for the original Infocom games, such as Zork and Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy have been archived and released. This is a rather interesting development, as these games were written in Zork Implementation Lanugage (ZIL), a language that is used by no one and there’s almost zero documentation. Yes, we have the source, but not a compiler. It’s Lisp-ish, and there are people working to make new games in this language. Also this week is the release of the source for Leisure Suit Larry. Hackaday readers will be familiar with Leisure Suit Larry as the protagonist is a 38-year-old loser who lives in his mother’s basement. This game goes off the rails when the protagonist decides to leave the basement, but it was written a long time ago, and I guess Al Lowe didn’t foresee the Internet or something. Tip of the very fancy hat to @textfiles here.

You in Jersey? The Vintage Computer Festival East is May 3-5th, and it’s bound to be a grand time. Keynotes are by Steve Bellovin, co-inventor of USENET, Ken Thompson (!), co-inventor of UNIX, and Joe Decuir, co-inventor of the Atari VCS, Atari 800, and the Commodore Amiga. There’s also a Software Store (new this year), which we can only hope is like walking into Babbage’s. Protip: while you’re there, go up to Asbury Park and visit the Silverball Museum. It’s a whole lot of pinball.

For easier production and assembly of circuit boards, you should only place your components on one side. Doing so means you don’t have to flip the board and run it through the pick and place again, and you don’t have to worry about glue. This is a single-sided circuit board. There’s only one side. It’s a Mobius PCB, the flex-circuit version of a handmade circuit board made with a conductive pen.

The Drones and Robots that Helped Save Notre Dame

In the era of social media, events such as the fire at Notre Dame cathedral are experienced by a global audience in real-time. From New York to Tokyo, millions of people were glued to their smartphones and computers, waiting for the latest update from media outlets and even individuals who were on the ground documenting the fearsome blaze. For twelve grueling hours, the fate of the 850 year old Parisian icon hung in the balance, and for a time it looked like the worst was inevitable.

The fires have been fully extinguished, the smoke has cleared, and in the light of day we now know that the heroic acts of the emergency response teams managed to avert complete disaster. While the damage to the cathedral is severe, the structure itself and much of the priceless art inside still remain. It’s far too early to know for sure how much the cleanup and repair of the cathedral will cost, but even the most optimistic of estimates are already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With a structure this old, it’s likely that reconstruction will be slowed by the fact that construction techniques which have become antiquated in the intervening centuries will need to be revisited by conservators. But the people of France will not be deterred, and President Emmanuel Macron has already vowed his country will rebuild the cathedral within five years.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the men and women who risked their lives to save one of France’s most beloved monuments. They deserve all the praise from a grateful nation, and indeed, world. But fighting side by side with them were cutting-edge pieces of technology, some of which were pushed into service at a moments notice. These machines helped guide the firefighters in their battle with the inferno, and stood in when the risk to human life was too great. At the end of the day, it was man and not machine that triumphed over nature’s fury; but without the help of modern technology the toll could have been far higher.

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Sensor-Laden Pigeons Gather Data For Urban Weather Modeling

When it comes to gathering environmental data in real-world settings, urban environments have to be the most challenging. Every city has nooks and crannies that create their own microenvironments, and placing enough sensors to get a decent picture of what’s going on in all of them is a tough job. But if these sensor-laden pigeons have anything to say about it, the job might get a bit easier.

The idea for using pigeons as biotelemetry platforms comes to us from the School of Geography, Earth, and Environmental Sciences at the University of Birmingham in the UK. [Rick Thomas], lead investigator on the “CityFlocks” project, explains that meteorological models are hampered by a lack of data about the air in the urban canyons formed by tall buildings. Placing a lot of fixed sensors has a prohibitive cost, and using drones to do the job would probably cause regulatory problems, especially given recent events. But pigeons are perfect for the job once they’re outfitted with an “Avian-Meteorology Instrumentation Package (AvMIP)”. From the photographs we’re guessing the AvMIP is a pretty simple data logger with GPS and inputs for the usual sensors, all powered by a small LiPo pack. Luckily, the pigeons used are all domesticated racing birds that return to the nest, so no radio transmitter is needed, but if other urban avians such as peregrine falcons and seagulls are used then a future AvMIPS might leverage pervasive WiFi networks to upload data.

It’s not the first time we’ve seen mobile platforms used to fill in gaps in weather data, of course. And if this at all puts you in mind of that time pigeons were used to guide bombs, relax – no pigeons were harmed in the making of this research project.

Thanks to [Itay Ramot] for the tip [via Gizmodo].