Hackaday Links: November 8, 2020

Saturday, November 7, 2020 – NOT PASADENA. Remoticon, the virtual version of the annual Hackaday Superconference forced upon us by 2020, the year that keeps on giving, is in full swing. As I write this, Kipp Bradford is giving one of the two keynote addresses, and last night was the Bring a Hack virtual session, which I was unable to attend but seems to have been very popular, at least from the response to it. In about an hour, I’m going to participate in the SMD Soldering Challenge on the Hackaday writing crew team, and later on, I’ll be emceeing a couple of workshops. And I’ll be doing all of it while sitting in my workshop/office here in North Idaho.

Would I rather be in Pasadena? Yeah, probably — last year, Supercon was a great experience, and it would have been fun to get together again and see everyone. But here we are, and I think we’ve all got to tip our hacker hats to the Remoticon organizers, for figuring out how to translate the in-person conference experience to the virtual space as well as they have.

The impact of going to a museum and standing in the presence of a piece of art or a historic artifact is hard to overstate. I once went to an exhibit of artifacts from Pompeii, and was absolutely floored to gaze upon a 2,000-year-old loaf of bread that was preserved by the volcanic eruption of 79 AD. But not everyone can get to see such treasures, which is why Scan the World was started. The project aims to collect 3D scans of all kinds of art and artifacts so that people can potentially print them for study. Their collection is huge and seems to concentrate on classic sculptures — Michelangelo’s David is there, as are the Venus de Milo, the Pieta, and Rodin’s Thinker. But there are examples from architecture, anatomy, and history. The collection seems worth browsing through and worth contributing to if you’re so inclined.

For all the turmoil COVID-19 has caused, it has opened up some interesting educational opportunities that probably wouldn’t ever have been available in the Before Time. One such opportunity is an undergraduate-level course in radio communications being offered on the SDRPlay YouTube channel. The content was created in partnership with the Sapienza University of Rome. It’s not entirely clear who this course is open to, but the course was originally designed for third-year undergrads, and the SDRPlay Educators Program is open to anyone in academia, so we’d imagine you’d need some kind of academic affiliation to qualify. The best bet might be to check out the intro video on the SDRPlay Educator channel and plan to attend the webinar scheduled for November 19 at 1300 UTC. You could also plan to drop into the Learning SDR and DSP Hack Chat on Wednesday at noon Pacific, too — that’s open to everyone, just like every Hack Chat is.

And finally, as if bald men didn’t suffer enough disrespect already, now artificial intelligence is having a go at them. At a recent soccer match in Scotland, an AI-powered automatic camera system consistently interpreted an official’s glabrous pate as the soccer ball. The system is supposed to keep the camera trained on the action by recognizing the ball as it’s being moved around the field. Sadly, the linesman in this game drew the attention of the system quite frequently, causing viewers to miss some of the real action. Not that what officials do during sporting events isn’t important, of course, but it’s generally not what viewers want to see. The company, an outfit called Pixellot, knows about the problem and is working on a solution. Here’s hoping the same problem doesn’t crop up on American football.

The BYTE Is The Grand Prize Winner Of The 2020 Hackaday Prize

The BYTE, an open-source mouth-actuated input device for people with physical challenges has just been named the Grand Prize winner of the 2020 Hackaday Prize. The award for claiming the top place and title of “Best All Around” in this global engineering initiative is $50,000. Five other top winners and four honorable mentions were also named during this evening’s Hackaday Prize Ceremony, held during the Hackaday Remoticon virtual conference.

This year’s Hackaday Prize focused on challenges put forth by four non-profit partners who have first hand knowledge of the problems that need solving as they work to accomplish their missions. These organizations are Conservation X Labs, United Cerebral Palsy Los Angeles, CalEarth, and Field Ready. Join us below for more on the grand prize winner and to see the Best in Category and Honorable Mention winners from each non-profit challenge, as well as the Best Wildcard project.

Over $200,000 in cash prizes have been distributed as part of this year’s initiative where hundreds of hardware hackers, makers, and artists competed to build a better future. Continue reading “The BYTE Is The Grand Prize Winner Of The 2020 Hackaday Prize”

Let’s Take A Closer Look At This Robotic Airship

It’s not a balloon, however shiny its exterior may seem. This miniature indoor robotic airship created by the University of Auckland mechanical engineering research group [New Dexterity] is an asymmetric system experimenting with the possibilities of an open-source helium-based airship.

Why a helium airship, as opposed to a fixed wing aircraft? The group wanted to experiment with the advantages of lighter-than-air (LTA) travel, namely the higher mobility and looser path planning constraints. Furthermore, LTA airships have a less obstructed field of vision and fewer locomotion issues. While unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) may be capable of hovering in one place, their lift is generated by rotor thrust, which drains their batteries quickly in the order of minutes. LTA airships can hover for longer periods of time.

The design was created for educational and research purposes, focusing on the financial feasibility of manufacturing the platform, the environmental impact of the materials, and the helium loss through the balloon-like envelope. By measuring these parameters, the researchers are able to study the effects of circumstances such as the cost of indoor commercial balloons and the mechanical properties of balloon materials.

The airship gondola was designed and 3D printed in a modular fashion, then attached to the envelope with Velcro. The placement with respect to the horizontal symmetry of the gondola was done for flight stability, with several configurations tested for the side rotor angle.

The group open-sourced their CAD files and ROS interface for controlling the airship. They primarily use off-the-shelf components such as Raspberry Pi boards, propellers, a DC single brushed motor driver carrier, and LiPo batteries for a total cost of $90 for the platform, with an addition $20 for the balloon and initial helium filling. The price is comparable to the cost of indoor blimps like the Blimpduino 2.0.

You can check out the completed airship below, where the team demonstrates its path following capabilities based on a carrot chasing path finding algorithm. And if you’re interested in learning more about the gotchas of building lighter-than-air vehicles, check out [Sophi Kravitz’s] blimp talk from Hackaday Belgrade.

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Dexter Robot Arm Embraces New Manufacturing With First Micro-Factory

Haddington Dynamics, the company behind the Dexter robot arm that won the 2018 Hackaday Prize, has opened its first microfactory to build robot arms for Australia and Southeast Asia.

You may remember that the combination of Dexter’s makeup and capabilities are what let it stand out among robotics projects. The fully-articulated robot arm can be motion trained; it records how you move the arm and can play back with high precision rather than needing to be taught with code. The high-precision is thanks to a clever encoder makeup that leverages the power of FPGAs to amplify the granularity of its optical encodes. And it embraces advanced manufacturing to combine 3D printed and glue-up parts with mass produced gears, belts,  bearings, and motors.

It’s a versatile robot arm, for a fraction of the cost of what came before it, with immense potential for customization. And did I mention that it’s open source? Continue reading “Dexter Robot Arm Embraces New Manufacturing With First Micro-Factory”

Landbeest, A Single Servo Walking Robot

Walking robots have a rich history both on and off the storied pages of Hackaday, but if you will pardon the expression, theirs is not a field that’s standing still. It’s always pleasing to see new approaches to old problems, and the Landbeest built by [Dejan Ristic] is a great example.

It’s a four-legged walker with a gait dictated by a cam-and-follower mechanism that allows it to perform the full range of leg movement with only one motor. Each cam can control more than one leg in synchronisation, and in his most recent prototype, there are two such mechanisms that work on opposite corners of a four-legged machine. The legs are arranged in such a way that the two corner-to-corner pairs pivot at their centres in a similar manner to a pair of scissors; allowing a servo to steer the robot as it walks.

The result certainly isn’t as graceful as [Theo Janssen]’s Strandbeest, from which it evidently takes inspiration for its name, but it’s no less capable for it. After the break you can see a video he’s posted which clearly illustrates its operation and demonstrates its ability to traverse obstacles.

The only thing that’s missing are the files and software should you wish to create your own. He’s unapologetic about this, pointing out that he’d prefer to wait until he is satisfied with it before letting it go. Since he’s put a lot of work in so far and shows no sign of stopping, we’re sure he’ll reach that point soon enough.

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FieldKit Is The Grand Prize Winner Of The 2019 Hackaday Prize

FieldKit, an open-source, modular sensor system for conducting research in harsh environments has just been named the Grand Prize winner of the 2019 Hackaday Prize. The award for claiming the top place and title of “Best Product” in this nine-month global engineering initiative is $125,000. Five other top winners and five honorable mentions were also named during this evening’s Hackaday Prize Ceremony, held during the Hackaday Superconference in Pasadena, California.

This year’s Hackaday Prize focused on product development. From one good idea and a working prototype, entrants were encouraged to iterate on their UX, industrial design, ergonomics, software, and mechanical plans as they worked toward a product that is both manufacturable and meets the needs of the user it has been designed for. Out of twenty finalists, the top eleven are covered below. Over $200,000 in cash prizes have been distributed as part of this year’s initiative where thousands of hardware hackers, makers, and artists compete to build a better future. Continue reading “FieldKit Is The Grand Prize Winner Of The 2019 Hackaday Prize”

Build Your Own Plasma Ball

The simple plasma ball – it graces science museums and classrooms all around the world. It shares a place with the Van de Graaf generator, with the convenient addition of spectacular plasma rays that grace its spherical surface. High voltage, aesthetically pleasing, mad science tropes – what would make a better DIY project?

For some background, plasma is the fourth state of matter, often created by heating a neutral gas or ionizing the gas in a strong electromagnetic field. The availability of free electrons allows plasma to conduct electricity and exhibit different properties from ordinary gases. It is also influenced by magnetic fields in this state and can often be found in electric arcs.

[Discrete Electronics Guy] built a plasma bulb using the casing from an old filament bulb and an ignition coil connected to a high voltage power supply. The power supply is based on the 555 timer IC. It uses a step-up transformer (the ignition coil) driven by a square wave oscillator circuit at a high frequency working as AC voltage. The square wave signal boosts the current into the power transistor, increasing its power.

The plasma is produced inside the bulb, which contains inactive noble gases. When touching the surface of the bulb, the electric arc flows to the point of contact. The glass medium protects the skin from burning, but the transparency allows the plasma to be seen. Pretty cool!

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