Tipping Points In The Climate System: The Worst Kind Of Positive Feedback

With global temperatures continuing to break records in recent years, it’s important to cast an eye towards the future. While efforts to reduce emissions remain in a political quagmire, time is running out to arrest the slide into catastrophe.

Further compounding the issue are a variety of positive feedback loops that promise to further compound the problem. In these cases, initial warming has flow-on effects that then serve to further increase global temperatures. Avoiding these feedback mechanisms is crucial if the Earth is to remain comfortably livable out to the end of the century.

A Multitude of Causes

The issue of climate change often appears as a simple one, with the goal being to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent negative consequences for human civilization. Despite this, the effects of climate change are often diffuse and intermingled. The various climate systems of the Earth interact in incredibly complex ways, and there are many mechanisms at play in these feedback effects that could tip things over the edge.

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2D-Platform Seeks Balance With A Touch Screen

It’s the [Bruce Land]-iest season of all, when the Cornell professor submits the projects his microcontroller class students have been working on all semester. Imagination does not seem to be in short supply with these students, and we always look forward to these tips this time of year.

[Greg] and [Sam]’s touch-screen two-dimensional ball balancer is a good example of what [Land]’s students turn out. The resistive touch screen is supported by a 3D-printed gimballed platform and tilted in two axes by hobby servos. [Greg] and [Sam] chose to read the voltage outputs from the touch screen directly using the ADC on a PIC32, toggling between the two axes at 2 kHz. Two PID control loops were implemented to keep the ball as centered as possible on the platform, and the video below shows that there’s still some loop tuning to do. But given the positional inaccuracies of hobby servos and the compliance in the gimbal, we’re impressed that they were able to keep the system under control at all.

Of course we’ve seen ball-balancers before, but most of them have closed the loop using either cameras or microphones. Seeing direct sensing on the platform like this is a nice change of pace. Continue reading “2D-Platform Seeks Balance With A Touch Screen”

Get Your Tweets Without Looking

Head-mounted displays range from cumbersome to glass-hole-ish. Smart watches have their niche, but they still take your eyes away from whatever you are doing, like driving. Voice assistants can read to you, but they require a speaker that everyone else in the car has to listen to, or a headset that blocks out important sound. Ignoring incoming messages is out of the question so the answer may be to use a different sense than vision. A joint project between Facebook Inc. and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have a solution which uses the somatosensory reception of your forearm.

A similar idea came across our desk years ago and seemed promising, but it is hard to sell something that is more difficult than the current technique, even if it is advantageous in the long run. In 2013, a wearer had his or her back covered in vibrator motors, and it acted like the haptic version of a spectrum analyzer. Now, the vibrators have been reduced in number to fit under a sleeve by utilizing patterns. It is being developed for people with hearing or vision impairment but what drivers aren’t impaired while looking at their phones?

Patterns are what really set this version apart. Rather than relaying a discrete note on a finger, or a range of values across the back, the 39 English phenomes are given a unique sequence of vibrations which is enough to encode any word. A phenome phoneme is the smallest distinct unit of speech. The video below shows how those phonemes are translated to haptic feedback. Hopefully, we can send tweets without using our hands or mouths to upgrade to complete telepathy.

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Self-Powered Sun Tracker Takes A Cue From NASA Solar Probe

Getting a solar array to track the sun has always been an interesting problem, and it has led to some complicated solutions. Controllers that use GPS and servos seem to be much in favor these days, but as this NASA-inspired sun tracker shows, the task needn’t be overly complex.

It’s pretty obvious from the video below that [NightHawkInLight]’s solar tracker is just a proof-of-concept for now, but it certainly shows promise. It’s based on NASA’s sun-skimming Parker Solar Probe, which uses sensors at the rear of the probe to maneuver the craft to keep sunlight from peeking around the sides of the shield. [NightHawkInLight]’s design simplifies that scheme even more, by using solar cells as the four sensors. The cells, mounted behind a solar shade, are directly connected to small gear motors that control azimuth and elevation. When a cell sees the sun, it powers the motor that moves the panel the right way to occlude the sun again, thereby cutting power to the motor.

[NightHawkInLight] mentions the obvious problem of what happens when the sun comes up and the array is pointing the complete opposite direction after the previous sunset, but we’re still not sure his solution – a larger array with tracking cells mounted further apart – will work. We’re also not sure how it will scale to larger arrays that need bigger motors to move. We’ve seen such arrays handled with more complicated trackers, of course, but we hope the simplicity of this design can be made practical for real-world use.

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Giant Robot Arm Uses Fluid Power, Not Electronics

Fair warning that [Freerk Wieringa]’s videos documenting his giant non-electric robot build are long. We’ve only watched the first two episodes and the latest installment so far, all of which are posted after the break. Consider it an investment to watch a metalworking artist undertake an incredible build.

The first video starts with the construction of the upper arm of the robot. Everything is fabricated using simple tools; the most sophisticated tools are a lathe and a TIG welder. As the arm build proceeds we see that there are no electronic controls to be found. Control is through hydraulic cylinders in a master-slave setup; the slave opens a pneumatic valve attached to the elbow of the arm, which moves the lower arm until the valve closes and brings the forelimb to a smooth stop. It’s a very clever way of providing feedback without the usual sensors and microcontrollers. And the hand that goes at the end of the arm is something else, too, with four fingers made from complex linkages, all separately actuated by cylinders of their own. The whole arm looks to be part of a large robot, probably about 3 or 4 meters tall. At least we hope so, and we hope we get to see it by the end of the series.

True, we’ve seen terrifyingly large robots before, but to see one using fluid power for everything is a treat.

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‘SHE BON’ Is An Artful, Wearable, Sensual, Sensing Platform

SHE BON (that’s the French bon, or “good”) is an ambitious project by [Sarah Petkus] that consists of a series of wearable electronic and mechanical elements which all come together as a system for a single purpose: to sense and indicate female arousal. As a proponent of increased discussion and openness around the topic of sexuality, [Sarah]’s goal is to take something hidden and turn it into something obvious and overt, while giving it a certain artful flair in the process.

The core of the system is a wearable backpack in the shape of a heart, from which all other sensors and feedback elements are connected. A lot of thought has gone into the design of the system, ensuring that the different modules have an artistic angle to their feedback while also being comfortable to actually wear, and [Sarah] seems to have a knack for slick design. Some of the elements are complete and some are still in progress, but the system is well documented with a clear vision for the whole. It’s an unusual and fascinating project, and was one of the finalists selected in the Human Computer Interface portion of the 2018 Hackaday Prize. Speaking of which, the Musical Instrument Challenge is underway, so be sure check it out!

Twitch Stream Turned Infinity Mirror

Most Hackaday readers are likely to be familiar with the infinity mirror, a piece of home decor so awesome that Spock still has one up on the wall in 2285. The idea is simple: two parallel mirrors bounce and image back and forth, which creates a duplicate reflection that seems to recede away into infinity. A digital version of this effect can be observed if you point a webcam at the screen that’s displaying the camera’s output. The image will appear to go on forever, and the trick provided untold minutes of fun during that period in the late 1990’s where it seemed everyone had a softball-shaped camera perched on their CRT monitors.

Making use of that webcam in 2018.

While you might think you’ve already seen every possible variation of this classic visual trick, [Matt Nishi-Broach] recently wrote in to tell us about an infinity mirror effect he’s created using the popular streaming platform Twitch. The public is even invited to fiddle with the visuals through a set of commands that can be used in the chat window.

It works about how you’d expect: the stream is captured, manipulated through various filters, and then rebroadcast through Twitch. This leads to all sorts of weird visual effects, but in general gives the impression that everything is radiating from a central point in the distance.

While [Matt] acknowledges that there are probably not a lot of other people looking to setup their own Twitch feedback loops, he’s still made his Python code available for anyone who might be interested. There’s a special place in Hacker Valhalla for those who release niche software like this as open source. They’re the real MVPs.

If you’d like to get started on your infinite journey with something a bit more physical, we’ve covered traditional infinity mirror builds ranging from the simplistic to the gloriously over-engineered.