Open-Source Farming Robot Now Includes Simulations

Farming is a challenge under even the best of circumstances. Almost all conventional farmers use some combination of tillers, combines, seeders and plows to help get the difficult job done, but for those like [Taylor] who do not farm large industrial monocultures, more specialized tools are needed. While we’ve featured the Acorn open source farming robot before, it’s back now with new and improved features and a simulation mode to help rapidly improve the platform’s software.

The first of the two new physical features includes a fail-safe braking system. Since the robot uses electric geared hub motors for propulsion, the braking system consists of two normally closed relays which short the motor leads in emergency situations. This makes the motors see an extremely high load and stops them from turning. The robot also has been given advanced navigation facilities so that it can follow custom complex routes. And finally, [Taylor] created a simulation mode so that the robot’s entire software stack can be run in Docker and tested inside a simulation without using the actual robot.

For farmers who are looking to buck unsustainable modern agricultural practices while maintaining profitable farms, a platform like Acorn could be invaluable. With the ability to survey, seed, harvest, and even weed, it could perform every task of larger agricultural machinery. Of course, if you want to learn more about it, you can check out our earlier feature on this futuristic farming machine.

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Hackaday Links: August 1, 2021

Amateur radio operators have a saying: When all else fails, there’s ham radio. And that’s true, at least to an extent — knock out the power, tear down the phone lines, and burn up all the satellites in orbit, and there will still be hams talking about politics on 40 meters. The point is, as long as the laws of physics don’t change, hams will figure out a way to send and receive messages. In honor of that fact, the police in the city of Pune in Maharashtra, India, make it a point to exchange messages with their headquarter using Morse code once a week. The idea is to maintain a backup system, in case they can’t get a message through any other way. It’s a good idea, especially since they rotate all their radio operators through the Sunday morning ritual. We can’t imagine that most emergency services dispatchers would be thrilled about learning Morse, though.

Just because you’re a billionaire with a space company doesn’t mean you’re an astronaut. At least that’s the view of the US Federal Aviation Administration, which issued guidelines pretty much while Jeff Bezos and his merry band of cohorts were floating about above the 100-km high Kármán line in a Blue Origin “New Shepard” rocket. The FAA guidelines make it clear that those making the trip need to have actually done something to qualify as an astronaut, by “demonstrated activities during flight that were essential to public safety, or contributed to human space flight safety.” That’s good news to the “Old Shepard”, who clearly was in control of “Freedom 7” during the Mercury program. But the Bezos brothers, teenager Oliver Daemen, and Wally Funk, one of the “Mercury 13” group of women who trained to be NASA astronauts but never got to fly, were really just along for the ride, as the entire flight was automated. It doesn’t take away from the fact that they’ve been to space and you haven’t, of course, but they can’t officially call themselves astronauts. This goes to show that even billionaires can just be ballast too.

Good news, everyone — if you had anything that was being transported aboard the Ever Given, your stuff is almost there. The Suez Canal-occluding container ship finally made it to its original destination in Rotterdam, approximately four months later than originally predicted.  After plugging up the vital waterway for six days last March, the ship along with her cargo and her crew were detained in Egypt’s Great Bitter Lake, perhaps the coolest sounding body of water in the world next to the Dead Sea. Legal squabbling ensued at that point, all the while rendering whatever was in the 20,000-odd containers aboard the ship pretty much pointless. We’d imagine that even with continuous power, whatever was in the refrigerated containers must be pretty nasty by now, so there’s probably a lot of logistics and clean-up left to sort out.

I have to admit that I have a weird love of explosive bolts. I don’t know what it is, but the idea of fasteners engineered to fail in a predictable way under the influence of pyrotechnic charges just tickles something in me. I mean, I even wrote a whole article on the subject once. So when I came across this video explaining how the Space Shuttles were held to the launch pad, I really had to watch it. Surprisingly, the most interesting part of this story was not the explosive aspect, but the engineering problem of supporting the massive vehicle on the launch pad. For as graceful as the Shuttles seemed once they got into orbit, they really were ungainly beasts, especially strapped to the external fuel tank and booster. The scale of the eight frangible nuts used to secure the boosters to the pad is just jaw-dropping. We also liked the idea that NASA decided to catch the debris from the explosions in a container filled with sand.

The Hurricanes Are Coming

It’s hurricane season in the northern hemisphere right now, and plenty of news and weather organizations remain dedicated to alerting people if a storm is about to impact their area. There’s no shortage of ways to receive this information, either. We all have our favorite weather app or forecasting site, and there are emergency alerts to cell phones, TV, and radio stations as well. If none of that suits you, though, you can also roll out your own weather alert readerboard.

[Damaged Dolphin] built a weather alert readerboard using a Raspberry Pi and a 64×128 LED matrix. The Raspberry Pi runs Raspbian and uses a HAT from Adafruit, and once connected to the internet pulls down weather information for a specific area using custom python code. From there it can display any emergency weather alerts instantly on the readerboard screen including alerts for hurricanes. It does rely on data from the National Weather Service though, so if that is not available in your area some modifications will need to be made to the code.

While he notes that you probably shouldn’t rely on his non-professional python code exclusively when getting weather information, it would still be a good way of retrieving information about weather events without having to refresh a browser all the time. Once the storms have passed though, be sure you’re prepared for the days following.

Thanks to [b00tfa|l] for the tip!

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Testing Your Grit: Tales Of Hacking In Difficult Situations

What’s your work area like? Perhaps you’re mostly a software person, used to the carpeted land of cubicles or shared workspaces, with their stand-up desks and subdued lighting. Or maybe you’ve got a lab bench somewhere, covered with tools and instruments. You might be more of a workshop person, in a cavernous bay filled with machine tools and racks of raw material. Wherever you work, chances are pretty good that someone is paying good money to keep a roof over your head, keeping the temperature relatively comfortable, and making sure you have access to the tools and materials you need to get the job done. It’s just good business sense.

Now, imagine you’ve lost all that. Your cushy workspace has been stripped away, and you’ve got to figure out how to get your job done despite having access to nothing but a few basic tools and supplies and your own wits. Can you do it? Most of us would answer “Yes,” but how many of us have ever tested ourselves like that? Someone who has tested her engineering chops under difficult conditions — and continues to do so regularly — is Laurel Cummings, who stopped by the 2019 Hackaday Superconference to tell us all about her field-expedient life with a talk aptly titled, “When It Rains, It Pours”.

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Vampire Charger Is A Rugged Anything-to-5VDC Converter

USB sockets providing 5 VDC are so ubiquitous as a power source that just about any piece of modern portable technology can use them to run or charge. USB power is so common, in fact, that it’s easy to take for granted. But in an emergency or in the wake of a disaster, a working cell phone or GPS can be a life saver and it would be wise not to count on the availability of a clean, reliable USB power supply.

That’s where the Vampire Charger by [Matteo Borri] and [Lisa Rein] comes in. It is a piece of hardware focused on turning just about any source or power one might possibly have access to into a reliable source of 5 VDC for anything that can plug in by USB. This is much more than a DC-DC converter with a wide input range; when they say it is made to accept just about anything as an input, they mean it. Found a working power source but don’t know what voltage it is? Don’t know which wire is positive and which is negative? Don’t even know whether it’s AC or DC? Just hook up the alligator clips and let the Vampire Charger figure it out; when the light is green, the power’s clean.

The Vampire Charger was recently selected to move on to the final round of The Hackaday Prize, netting $1000 cash in the process. The next challenge (which will have another twenty finalists receiving $1000 each) is the Human-Computer Interface challenge. All you need to enter is an idea and some documentation, so dust off that project that’s been waiting for an opportunity, because here it is.

You’ll Really Want An “Undo” Button When You Accidentally Send A Ballistic Missile Warning

Hawaiians started their weekend with quite a fright, waking up Saturday morning to a ballistic missile alert that turned out to be a false alarm. In between the public anger, profuse apologies from officials, and geopolitical commentary, it might be hard to find some information for the more technical-minded. For this audience, The Atlantic has compiled a brief history of infrastructure behind emergency alerts.

As a system intended to announce life-critical information when seconds count, all information on the system is prepared ahead of time for immediate delivery. As a large hodgepodge linking together multiple government IT systems, there’s no surprise it is unwieldy to use. These two aspects collided Saturday morning: there was no prepared “Sorry, false alarm” retraction message so one had to be built from scratch using specialized equipment, uploaded across systems, and broadcast 38 minutes after the initial false alarm. In the context of government bureaucracy, that was really fast and must have required hacking through red tape behind the scenes.

However, a single person’s mistake causing such chaos and requiring that much time to correct is unacceptable. This episode has already prompted a lot of questions whose answers will hopefully improve the alert system for everyone’s benefit. At the very least, a retraction is now part of the list of prepared messages. But we’ve also attracted attention of malicious hackers to this system with obvious problems in design, in implementation, and also has access to emergency broadcast channels. The system needs to be fixed before any more chaotic false alarms – either accidental or malicious – erode its credibility.

We’ve covered both the cold-war era CONELRAD and the more recent Emergency Broadcast System. We’ve also seen Dallas’ tornado siren warning system hacked. They weren’t the first, they won’t be the last.

(Image: Test launch of an unarmed Minuteman III ICBM via US Air Force.)

GPS And SDR Combine Forces

Software-defined radio (or SDR) is a relatively new (to average tinkerers, at least) way of sending and receiving radio signals. The interest in SDR exploded recently with the realization that cheap USB TV tuner cards could be used to start exploring the frequency spectrum at an extremely reduced cost. One of the reasons that this is so advantageous is because of all of the options that a general-purpose computer opens up that go beyond transmitting and receiving, as [Chris] shows with his project that ties SDR together with GPS.

The goal of the project was to automatically tune a radio to the local police department’s frequency, regardless of location. To do this, a GPS receiver on a computer reports information about the current location. A JavaScript program feeds the location data to the SDR, which automatically tunes to the local emergency services frequencies. Of course, this relies on good data for what those frequencies are, but this is public information in most cases (at least in the US).

There are a lot of opportunities here for anyone with SDR. Maybe an emergency alert system that can tune to weather broadcasts if there’s a weather alert, or any of a number of other captivating projects. As for this project, [Chris] plans to use Google’s voice recognition software to transcribe the broadcasts as well. The world of SDR is at your fingertips to do anything you can imagine! And, if you’re looking to get started in it, be sure to check out the original post covering those USB TV tuner dongles.