Hackaday Links: September 13, 2020

Like pretty much every other big conference, the Chaos Communication Conference is going virtual this year. What was supposed to be 37C3 has been rebranded as rC3, the remote Chaos Experience. It’s understandable, as a 17,000 person live event would have not only been illegal but a bit irresponsible in the current environment. The event appears to be a hybrid of small local events hosted in hackerspaces linked with streamed talks and a program of workshops and “online togetherness.” rC3 is slated to run in the week between Christmas and New Year, and it seems like a great way to wrap up 2020.

Speaking of remote conferences, don’t forget about our own Remoticon. While it won’t be quite the same as everyone getting together in sunny — historically, at least — Pasadena for a weekend of actual togetherness, it’s still going to be a great time. The event runs November 6 to 8; we’ve had a sneak peek at the list of proposed workshops and there’s some really cool stuff. Prepare to be dazzled, and make sure you keep up on the Remoticon announcements — you really don’t want to miss this.

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Hackaday Links: August 23, 2020

Apple, the world’s first trillion-dollar company — give or take a trillion — has built a bit of libertarian cachet by famously refusing to build backdoors into their phones, despite the entreaties of the federal government. So it came as a bit of a surprise when we read that the company may have worked with federal agents to build an “enhanced” iPod. David Shayer says that he was one of three people in Apple who knew about the 2005 program, which was at the behest of the US Department of Energy. Shayer says that engineers from defense contractor Bechtel, seemed to want to add sensors to the first-generation iPod; he was never clued in fully but suspects they were adding radiation sensors. It would make sense, given the climate in the early 2000s, walking down the street with a traditional Geiger counter would have been a bit obvious. And mind you, we’re not knocking Apple for allegedly working with the government on this — building a few modified iPods is a whole lot different than turning masses of phones into data gathering terminals. Umm, wait…

A couple of weeks back, we included a story about a gearhead who mounted a GoPro camera inside of a car tire. The result was some interesting footage as he drove around; it’s not a common sight to watch a tire deform and move around from the inside like that. As an encore, the gearhead in question, Warped Perception, did the same trick bit with a more destructive bent: he captured a full burnout from the inside. The footage is pretty sick, with the telltale bubbles appearing on the inside before the inevitable blowout and seeing daylight through the shredded remains of the tire. But for our money, the best part is the slo-mo footage from the outside, with the billowing smoke and shredded steel belts a-flinging. We appreciate the effort, but we’re sure glad this guy isn’t our neighbor.

Speaking of graphic footage, things are not going well for some remote radio sites in California. Some towers that host the repeaters used by public service agencies and ham radio operators alike have managed to record their last few minutes of life as wildfires sweep across the mountains they’re perched upon. The scenes are horrific, like something from Dante’s Inferno, and the burnover shown in the video below is terrifying; watch it and you’ll see a full-grown tree consumed in less than 30 seconds. As bad as the loss of equipment is, it pales in comparison to what the firefighters face as they battle these blazes, but keep in mind that losing these repeaters can place them in terrible jeopardy too.

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Hackaday Links: August 9, 2020

We regret to admit this, but we completely missed the fact that Windows 10 turned five years old back in March. Granted, things were a little weird back then — at least it seemed weird at the time; from the current perspective, things were downright normal then. Regardless, our belated congratulations to Microsoft, who, like anyone looking after a five-year-old, spends most of their time trying to keep their charge from accidentally killing itself. Microsoft has done such a good job at keeping Windows 10 alive that it has been installed on “one billion monthly active devices”. Of course, back in April of 2015 they predicted that the gigainstall mark would be reached in 2018. But what’s a couple of years between friends?

Of all the things that proved to be in short supply during the pandemic lockdowns, what surprised us most was not the toilet paper crunch. No, what really surprised us was the ongoing webcam supply pinch. Sure, it makes sense, with everyone suddenly working from home and in need of a decent camera for video conferencing. But we had no idea that the market was so dominated by one manufacturer — Logitech — that their cameras could suddenly become unobtainium. Whatever it is that’s driving the shortage, we’d take Logitech’s statement that “demand will be met in the next 4-6 weeks” with a huge grain of salt. After all, back-to-school shopping is likely to look vastly different this year than in previous years.

Speaking of education, check out the CrowPi2 STEM laptop. On the one hand, it looks like just another Raspberry Pi-based laptop, albeit one with a better level of fit and finish than most homebrew Pi-tops. With a Raspberry Pi 4b on board, it can do all the usual stuff — email, browse the web, watch videos. The secret sauce is under the removable wireless keyboard, though: a pretty comprehensive electronics learning lab. It reminds us of the Radio Shack “150-in-One” kits that so many of us cut our teeth on, but on steroids. Having a complete suite of modules and a breadboarding area built right into the laptop needed to program it is brilliant, and we look forward to seeing how the Kickstarter for this does.

Exciting news from Hackaday Superfriend Chris Gammell — he has launched a new podcast to go along with his Contextual Electronics training courses. Unsurprisingly dubbed the Contextual Electronics Podcast, he already has three episodes in the can. They’re available as both video and straight audio, and from the few minutes we’ve had to spend on them so far, Chris has done a great job in terms of production values and guests with Sophy Wong, Stephen Hawes, and Erik Larson leading off the series. We wish him luck with this new venture, and we’re looking forward to future episodes.

One of the best things about GoPro and similar sports cameras is their ability to go just about anywhere and show things we normally don’t get to see. We’re thinking of those gorgeous slo-mo selfies of surfers inside a curling wave, or those cool shots of a skier powder blasting down a mountain slope. But this is the first time we’ve seen a GoPro mounted inside a car’s tire. The video by the aptly named YouTuber [Warped Perception] shows how he removed the tire from the wheel and mounted the camera, a battery pack, and an LED light in the rim, then remounted the tire. The footage of the tire deforming as it contacts the ground is fascinating but oddly creepy. It sort of reminds us a little of the footage from cameras inside the Saturn V fuel tanks — valuable engineering information to be sure, but forbidden in some way.

Print-in-Place Helping Hand Grabs A Hold Of Your PCB

We probably don’t have to promote the benefits of a third hand or PCB holders in general, such is their obvious utility. While you can arrange some boxes and pile up tools on your bench to get a similar result, a good grip and flexibility to move the PCB around during soldering or performing any other work on it makes life just so much easier. Thanks to 3D printing there have been plenty of inspiring designs that go beyond the usual clumsy-yet-cheap croc clip version of it, and [SunShine] adds one on to the list with his spring-loaded print-in-place PCB gripper, demonstrated in this video and available on Thingiverse.

The gripping part’s design is based on a spring-loaded box [SunShine] created a little while back — which you can read more about in his Instructable. The holder itself comes in two varieties: one that brings its own stand, and one that has a GoPro mount. The first one is really more to show off the design, and while the gripping part is fully functional, it might not perform too well with heavier boards and easily tip over. Sure, a bigger bottom or mounting it to something more sturdy will fix that, but so will the GoPro-mount version, which also adds the whole flexibility aspect.

If you do prefer something standing more sturdily on your desk though, have a look at the concrete-mounted solder squid from earlier this year. And if you’re interested in more of [SunShine]’s work, check out his 3D-printed brush collection.

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A Cheap And Easy GoPro Mount For Model Rocketry

Launching model rockets is fun, but the real meat of the hobby lies in what you do next. Some choose to instrument their rockets or carry other advanced payloads. [seamster] likes to film his flights, and built a nosecone camera package to do so. 

A GoPro is the camera of choice for [seamster]’s missions, with its action cam design making it easy to fire off with a single press of a button. To mount it on the rocket, the nosecone was designed in several sections. The top and bottom pieces are 3D printed, which are matched with a clear plastic cylinder cut from a soda bottle. Inside the cylinder, the GoPro and altimeter hardware are held in place with foam blocks, cut to shape from old floor mats. The rocket’s parachute is attached to the top of the nose cone, which allows the camera to hang in the correct orientation on both the ascent and descent phases of the flight. Check out the high-flying videos created with this setup after the break.

It’s a simple design that [seamster] was able to whip up in Tinkercad in just a few hours, and one that’s easily replicable by the average maker at home. Getting your feet wet with filming your flights has never been easier – we’ve certainly come a long way from shooting on film in the 1970s.

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Autonomous Boat For Awesome Video Hyperlapses

With the ever-increasing capabilities of smart phones, action cameras, and hand-held gimbals, the battle for the best shots is intensifying daily on platforms like YouTube and Instagram. Hyperlapse sequences are one of the popular weapons in the armoury, and [Daniel Riley] aka [rctestflight] realised that his autonomous boat could be an awesome hyperlapse platform.

This is the third version of his autonomous boat, with version 1 suffering from seaweed assaults and version 2 almost sleeping with the fishes. The new version is a flat bottomed craft was built almost completely from pink insulation foam, making it stable and unsinkable. It uses the same electronics and air boat propulsion as version 2, with addition of a GoPro mounted in smart phone gimbal to film the hyper lapses. It has a tendency to push the bow into the water at full throttle, due to the high mounted motors, but was corrected by adding a foam bulge beneath the bow, at the cost of some efficiency.

Getting the gimbal settings tuned to create hyperlapses without panning jumps turned out to be the most difficult part. On calm water the boat is stable enough to fool the IMU into believing that it’s is not turning, so the gimbal controller uses the motor encoders to keep position, which don’t allow it to absorb all the small heading corrections the boat is constantly making. Things improved after turning off the encoder integration, but it would still occasionally bump against the edges of the dead band inside which the gimbal does not turn with the boat. In the end [Daniel] settled for slowly panning the gimbal to the left, while plotting a path with carefully calculated left turns to keep the boat itself out of the shot. While not perfect, the sequences still beautifully captured the night time scenery of Lake Union, Seattle. Getting it to this level cost many hours of midnight testing, since [Daniel] was doing his best to avoid other boat traffic, and we believe it paid off.

We look forward to his next videos, including an update on his solar plane. Continue reading “Autonomous Boat For Awesome Video Hyperlapses”

Race RC Cars From Anywhere On Earth

Racing games have come a long way over the years. From basic 2D sprite-based titles, they’ve evolved to incorporate advanced engines with highly realistic simulated physics that can even be used to help develop real-world automobiles. For [Surrogate.tv], that still wasn’t quite good enough, so they decided to create something more rooted in reality.

The game is played in a web browser. Players are assigned a car and view the action from a top-down camera.

Their project resulted in a racing game based on controlling real RC cars over the internet, in live races against other human opponents. Starting with a series of Siku 1:43 scale RC cars, the team had to overcome a series of engineering challenges to make this a reality. For one, the original electronics had to be gutted as the team had issues when running many cars at the same time.

Instead, the cars were fitted with ESP8266s running custom firmware. An overhead GoPro is used with special low-latency streaming software to allow players to guide their car to victory. A computer vision system is used for lap timing, and there’s even automatic charging stations to help keep the cars juiced up for hours of play.

The game is free to play online, with the races currently operating on a regular schedule. We look forward to trying our hand at a race or three, and will be interested to see how the latency holds up from various parts of the world.

We’ve seen other remote RC builds before; usually featuring the power of the Raspberry Pi. We’ve also covered useful techniques for low latency video for real-time applications. Video after the break.

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