Hackaday Links: January 3, 2021

Last week we featured a story on the new rules regarding drone identification going into effect in the US. If you missed the article, the short story is that almost all unmanned aircraft will soon need to transmit their position, altitude, speed, and serial number, as well as the position of its operator, likely via WiFi or Bluetooth. The FAA’s rule change isn’t sitting well with Wing, the drone-based delivery subsidiary of megacorporation Alphabet. In their view, local broadcast of flight particulars would be an invasion of privacy, since observers snooping in on Remote ID traffic could, say, infer that a drone going between a pharmacy and a neighbor’s home might mean that someone is sick. They have a point, but how a Google company managed to cut through the thick clouds of irony to complain about privacy concerns and the rise of the surveillance state is mind boggling.

Speaking of regulatory burdens, it appears that getting an amateur radio license is no longer quite the deal that it once was. The Federal Communications Commission has adopted a $35 fee for new amateur radio licenses, license renewals, and changes to existing licenses, like vanity call signs. While $35 isn’t cheap, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s better than the $50 fee that the FCC was originally proposing. Still, it seems a bit steep for something that’s largely automated. In any case, it looks like we’re still good to go with our “$50 Ham” series.

Staying on the topic of amateur radio for a minute, it looks like there will be a new digital mode to explore soon. The change will come when version 2.4.0 of WSJT-X, the program that forms the heart of digital modes like WSPR and FT8, is released. The newcomer is called Q65, and it’s basically a follow-on to the current QRA64 weak-signal mode. Q65 is optimized for weak, rapidly fading signals in the VHF bands and higher, so it’s likely to prove popular with Earth-Moon-Earth fans and those who like to do things like bounce their signals off of meteor trails. We’d think Q65 should enable airliner-bounce too. We’ll be keen to give it a try whenever it comes out.

Look, we know it’s hard to get used to writing the correct year once a new one rolls around, and that time has taken on a relative feeling in these pandemic times. But we’re pretty sure it isn’t April yet, which is the most reasonable explanation for an ad purporting the unholy coupling of a gaming PC and mass-market fried foods. We strongly suspect this is just a marketing stunt between Cooler Master and Yum! Brands, but taken at face value, the KFConsole — it’s not a gaming console, it’s at best a pre-built gaming PC — is supposed to use excess heat to keep your DoorDashed order of KFC warm while you play. In a year full of incredibly stupid things, this one is clearly in the top five.

And finally, it looks like we can all breathe a sigh of relief that our airline pilots, or at least a subset of them, aren’t seeing things. There has been a steady stream of reports from pilots flying in and out of Los Angeles lately of a person in a jetpack buzzing around. Well, someone finally captured video of the daredevil, and even though it’s shaky and unclear — as are seemingly all videos of cryptids — it sure seems to be a human-sized biped flying around in a standing position. The video description says this was shot by a flight instructor at 3,000 feet (914 meters) near Palos Verdes with Catalina Island in the background. That’s about 20 miles (32 km) from the mainland, so whatever this person is flying has amazing range. And, the pilot has incredible faith in the equipment — that’s a long way to fall in something with the same glide ratio as a brick.

Retrocomputing With Modern Hardware, No Emulation Required

The x86 processor family is for the time being, the most ubiquitous type of processor in the PC world, and has been since the 1980s when the IBM PC came on the scene. Emulating these older devices is easy enough if you want to play an old LucasArts game or experience Windows 3.1 again, but the true experience is found on original hardware. And, thanks to industrial equipment compatibility needs, you can build a brand new 486 machine with new hardware that will run this retro software as though it was new itself.

[The Rasteri] masterminded this build which is reminiscent of the NES classic and other nostalgic console re-releases. It’s based on the PC/104 standard which was introduced in the early 90s, mostly for industrial controls applications. The platform is remarkably small, and the board chosen for this build hosts a 486 processor running at 300 MHz. It has on-board VGA-compatible graphics but no Sound Blaster card, so he designed and built his own ISA-compatible sound card that fits in the PC/104’s available expansion port.

After adding some more tiny peripherals to the build and installing it in a custom case, [The Rasteri] has a working DOS machine on new, bare-metal 486 hardware which can play DOOM as it was originally intended. It can also run early versions of  Windows to play games from the Microsoft Entertainment Pack if you feel like being eaten by a snow monster while skiing. [The Rasteri] is no stranger to intense retro computing like this either, as he was the one who got DOOM to run on original NES hardware.

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900-Degree Racing Wheel Helps You Nail The Apex

There are many racing wheels on the market for the budding sim enthusiast. Unfortunately, lower end models tend to have a limited range of motion and ship with cheap plastic wheels that don’t feel good in the hand. As always, if what’s on the shelf doesn’t meet your needs, you can always build your own. [ilge]’s DIY racing wheel build is a great example of how to go about it. 

It’s a no-frills build, with an Arduino Leonardo doing the USB Human Interface Device duties in this case. It reads a standard 10K potentiometer via an analog input to determine wheel position. To enable a realistic 900 degrees of motion, unlike the standard 270 degree rotation of the potentiometer, [ilge] uses 3D printed gears of 15 and 54 degrees respectively. This also has the benefit of allowing the wheel to be mounted to a stout bearing for smooth motion. The steering wheel itself is a high quality drift wheel from MOMO, and the benefit of building your own setup is that you can choose whatever wheel you like to taste.

It’s a simple build both mechanically and electronically speaking, but one that serves as a great entry into building a DIY sim for the beginner. We’d love to see further upgrades towards force feedback, or even shift paddles added on the back. Those looking to go all out can even consider building a motion platform. Video after the break.

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Console Controller Mod Gets Amputee Back In The Game

No matter how it happens, losing one or more fingers is going to change one’s life in thousands of ways. We’re a manipulative species, very much accustomed to interacting with the world through the amazing appendages at the ends of our arms. Finding ways around the problems that result from amputations is serious business, of course, even when it’s just modifying a game console controller for use with a prosthetic hand.

We’ve gotten to know [Ian Davis] quite well around these parts, at least from his videos and Instagram posts. [Ian]’s hard to miss — he’s in the “Missing Parts Club” as he puts it, consisting of those who’ve lost all or part of a limb, which he has addressed through his completely mechanical partial-hand prosthetic. As amazing as the mechanical linkages of that prosthetic are, he hasn’t regained full function, at least not to the degree required to fully use a modern game console controller, so he put a couple of servos and a Trinket to work to help.

An array of three buttons lies within easy reach of [Ian]’s OEM thumb. Button presses there are translated into servo movements that depress the original bumper buttons, which are especially unfriendly to his after-market anatomy. Everything rides in an SLA-printed case that’s glued atop the Playstation controller. [Ian] went through several design iterations and even played with the idea of supporting rapid fire at one point before settling on the final design shown in the video below.

It may not make him competitive again, but the system does let him get back in the game. And he’s quite open about his goal of getting his designs seen by people in a position to make them widely available to other amputees. Here’s hoping this helps.

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Among Us Emergency Meeting Button Becomes Reality

Among Us has been an indie gaming success story. A game built by a small team has, after several years on the market, become a worldwide sensation. Gameplay consists of players attempting to find the imposter amongst their ranks and an “Emergency Meeting” can be called if players need to speak to each other. [john lemme] wanted to be able to do the same with his roommates, and set about building the real thing.

The build relies on an ESP32, which reads the state of a big red emergency button. When pressed, the ESP32 uses its WiFi connection to trigger a Discord conference call containing all the roommates. Naturally, it also plays the buzzer sound from the actual game, too – via a small amplifier and a speaker yanked from some headphones.

It’s a fun build, though [john] notes it has its limits. The call takes 10 seconds to initiate after the button press, and the audio hardware doesn’t do a great job of recreating the buzzer noise from the game. However, it’s a good starting point, and we think the concept could actually prove useful with some refinement. Video after the break.

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The Most Expensive D20 You’ll See Today

Roll your negotiation skill, because this d20 is a hefty one. The Tweet is also below. We are charmed by [Greg Davill]’s twenty-sided LED contraption, but what do we call it? Is it a device? A sculpture? A die? Even though “d20” is right on his custom controller PCB, we don’t think this will grace the table at the next elf campaign since it is rather like taking a Rolls Royce to the grocery store. Our builder estimates the price tag at $350 USD and that includes twenty custom PCB light panels with their components, a controller board, one battery pack, and the 3D printed chassis that has to friction-fit the light faces.

Power and communication for all the panels rely on twenty ribbon cables daisy-chained throughout the printed scaffolding, which you can see in the picture above. [Greg] made a six-sided LED cube last year, and there are more details for it, but we suspect he learned his lesson about soldering thousands of lights by hand. There are one-hundred-twenty LEDs per panel, times twenty, that is over two-thousand blinkenlights. We don’t yet have specs on the controller, but last time he used a SAMD51 processor to support over three-thousand lights. We don’t know where he’ll go next, but we’re game if he wants to make a chandelier for Hackaday’s secret underground lair.

(Editor’s Note: If you were at Supercon last year, and you got to play with this thing in the flesh, it’s worth it!)

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Simple Sprite Routines Ease Handheld Gaming DIY

Making your own handheld games is made much easier with [David Johnson-Davies’] simple sprite routines for the Adafruit PyBadge and PyGamer boards. Sprites can be thought of as small, fixed-size graphical objects that are drawn, erased, moved, and checked for collision with other screen elements.

xorSprite() plots an 8×8 sprite, moveSprite() moves a given sprite by one pixel without any flicker, and hitSprite() checks a sprite for collision with any screen elements in a given color. That is all it takes to implement a simple game, and [David] makes them easy to use, even providing a demo program in the form of the rolling ball maze shown here.

These routines work out-of-the-box with the PyBadge and PyGamer, but should be easy to adapt to any TFT display based on the ST7735 controller. The PyGamer is the board shown here, but you can see the PyBadge as it was used to create an MQTT-enabled conference badge.

If you really want to take a trip down the rabbit hole of sprite-based gaming graphics, you simply can’t miss hearing about the system [Sprite_TM] built into the FPGA Game Boy badge.