Computers May Someday Need A Drink

“We want to put water right into your processor.” If that statement makes you sweat, that is good. Sweating is what we’re talking about, but it’s more involved than adding some water like a potted plant. Sweating works naturally by allowing liquid to evaporate, and that phase change is endothermic which is why it feels cool. Evaporative coolers that work in this way, also known as swamp coolers, haven’t been put into computers before because they are full of sloshy water. Researchers in South Korea and the United States of America have been working on an evaporative cooling system mimicking the way some insects keep themselves cool by breathing through their exoskeletons while living in damp soil.

Springtails are little bugs that have to keep the water and air separate, so they don’t drown in the wet dirt where they live. Mother Nature’s solution was for them to evolve to do this with columns that have sharp edges at the exit. Imagine you slowly add water to a test tube, it won’t spill as soon as you reach the top, it will form a dome. This is the meniscus. At a large scale, say a river dam, as soon as you get over the dam you would expect spillage, but at the test tube level you can see a curve. At the scale of the springtail, exuded water will form a globe and resist water pressure. That resistance to water pressure allows this type of water cooling to self-regulate. Those globes provide a lot of surface area, and as they evaporate, they allow more water to replenish the globe. Of course, excessive pressure will turn them into the smallest squirt guns.

We have invented a lot by copying Mother Nature. Velcro was inspired by burrs, and some of our most clever robots copy insects. We can also be jerks about it.

Learn Programming From Ants

Humans and insects think on a different scale, but entomologists study the behavior of these little organisms, so they’re not a complete mystery. There isn’t much intelligence in a single ant or a cubic millimeter of gray matter, but when they all start acting together, you get something greater than the sum of the parts. It is easy to fall into the trap of putting all the intelligence or programming into a single box since that’s how we function. Comparatively, itty-bitty brains, like microcontrollers and single-board computers are inexpensive and plentiful. Enter swarm mentality, and new tasks become possible.

[Kevin Hartnett] talks about a paper researching the simple rules which govern army ants who use their bodies as bridges when confronted with a gap in their path. Anyone with a ruler and a map can decide the shortest route between two places, but army ants perform this optimization from the ground, real-time, and with only a few neurons at their disposal. Two simple rules control bridge building behavior, and that might leave some space in the memory banks of some swarm robots.

A simpler example of swarm mentality could be robots which drive forward anytime they sense infrared waves from above. In this way, anyone watching the swarm could observe when an infrared light was present and where it was directed. You could do the same with inexpensive solar-powered toy cars, but we can already see visible light.

We’re not saying ants should be recruited to control robots, but we’re not objecting to the humane treatment of cyborg bugs either. We’ve been looking into swarm robots for a long time.

Thanks for the tip, [JRD].

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Hacklet #9 Bugs and Fire

9 This week on the Hacklet, we’re spending some time looking at bugs and fire! honeybeeFirst up we have [Noel] who is saving the bees with Bee-O-Neo-Tweet-O. Bees are incredibly important, both to Earth’s ecosystem and the food chain we humans need to survive. Unfortunately bees are also sensitive to some of the chemicals humans dump into the atmosphere. Sometimes it results in colored honey, but more often than not it’s detrimental to the bees.

Neonicotinoids are a class of insecticide that has been causing problems to hives near where they are used. [Noel] is banking on sensors created with bismuth electrodes to detect the chemical near the entrance to hives. The data can be collected by beekeepers all over the world and sent to a central server. He’s using an Arduino Yun as a WiFi connected base station. Each individual hive has an Adafriut Trinket and a 433MHz radio link to send data to the base. [Noel] is even hoping to detect individual bees by the sound of their wings beating.


[Ken] is keeping his own bees, and wants to monitor more than just chemicals. His honeybee hive monitoring system keeps track of the temperature and weight (and thus the honey produced) by his hives. Rather than buy an expensive load cell setup, [Ken] modified a standard digital bathroom scale to suit his needs. The insects connect to the IOB (Internet of Bees) with a bit of help from the Apitronics platform and a BeagleBone Black. Ken even added a solar-powered weather station with the Apitronics system.

bug-killa[Mike] is taking a slightly different approach. He doesn’t want to save the bugs, he wants to kill the ones that bug him! [Mike] doesn’t want to get his hands dirty, so he’s created Lazy Killer 9000 for easy bug killing. Lazy Killer uses the business end of an electrified fly swatter to do its work. This project wouldn’t be complete without an Arduino, so [Mike] is adding one, as well as a WiFi shield. The entire system will have a friendly interface to turn the juice on. One of the best features of Lazy Killer is the internet connected kill count. [Mike] knows that there aren’t any bugs in the vacuum of space, so he’s entered Lazy Killer in The Hackaday Prize.


From bugs, we move on to Fire! [mr.jb.swe] needed a reliable portable power source. He found it in LiFePO4 batteries, but still needed a way to charge them. Toward that end he’s created The Multicharger, a watt meter and charger which can be powered from solar, wind, or thermometric power. A Powerpot X provides the fire and the power to charge the batteries. [mr.jb.swe’s] charger converts that into the standard constant current->constant voltage charging system needed by lithium chemistry batteries. The Multicharger isn’t a complete battery management system yet, but it’s well on its way.

Unitycandle candles have become a staple at wedding ceremonies.[Quinn] has taken things to the next level and beyond with this take on the classic unity candle. This candle throws fireballs 30 feet into the sky! We covered the candle back in June, but [Quinn] has been busy since then. With over 20 updates, [Quinn] has created one of the most well documented projects on Of course, being that this project is dealing with propane and monstrous fires, [Quinn] mentions you shouldn’t try unless you really know what you’re doing. Don’t set any brides on fire! That’s it for this week’s Hacklet! Tune in next week, same hack time, same hack channel, for more of the best of!

Insects turned into orchestra; not harmed but terribly inconvenienced

[Jochem] has always been fascinated by chaos in nature, whether it’s a swarm of ants or evolution in action in a petri dish. His insect orchestra takes the chaos in the natural world and changes it into something completely artificial. In this case, MIDI.

For the build, a light sensor was placed at the bottom of a test tube. A cricket (or grasshopper, or locust) is then put into the test tube. The test tube is then closed up with a cap that houses a LED. An Arduino reads the light sensors and then transmits the data over MIDI. The MIDI commands are picked up in Abelton Live which converts everything to audio.

[Jochem] rigged up Abelton to have the insects perform in four different modes – instrument, synthesis, samples, and drums. Definitely an improvement over the humble Mexican Jumping bean.

You can check out the insect orchestra in action after the break.

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