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Hackaday Links: August 14, 2022

What’s this? News about robot dogs comes out, and there’s no video of the bots busting a move on the dance floor? Nope — it looks like quadruped robots are finally going to work for real as “ground drones” are being deployed to patrol Cape Canaveral. Rather than the familiar and friendly Boston Dynamics “Big Dog” robot, the US Space Force went with Ghost Robotics Vision 60 Q-UGVs, or “quadruped unmanned ground vehicles.” The bots share the same basic layout as Big Dog but have a decidedly more robust appearance, and are somehow more sinister. The dogs are IP67-rated for all-weather use, and will be deployed for “damage assessments and patrols,” whatever that means. Although since this is the same dog that has had a gun mounted to it, we’d be careful not to stray too far from the tours at Kennedy Space Center.

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A HVTPI adapter plugged into a USBASP, with a an IDC10 cable plugged into it in turn

HVTPI Primer And Toolkit Equips You For BOM Substitutions

Novel programming interfaces for MCUs might catch us by surprise, but then we inevitably get up to speed with the changes required. Today’s bastion is HVTPI – a “12V reset” addition to the TPI we’ve just started getting used to, and [Sam Ettinger] has shared a simple circuit to teach us all about it, along with PCB files and detailed explanations of how it all works.

HVTPI is an add-on on top of TPI, for which, as Sam explains, you need to hold RST at 12V when TPI would have it be low logic level, and leave it at Vtarget otherwise. For that, he has designed a variety of interposer boards of various complexity and requirements; explaining the choices behind each one and clearing up any misunderstandings that might occur on your way. All of the board files (and the TPI write-up copy) are caringly shared with us in a git repository, too! As a result, if you have an USB-ASP or an Arduino available, now you also have everything to do HVTPI, thanks to Sam’s work and explanations.

We’ve been covering Sam’s exploits before, and can’t help but be grateful for the stop-and-explain detour along the way. HVTPI being used on very small ATTiny parts, we wonder if something new in the vein of his recent FPC board able to fit and function entirely within a Type-C cable end!

With chip shortages, investigating programming interfaces for small and obscure yet in-stock microcontrollers has been, quite literally, paying off, and if you got some projects that need a MCU but won’t consume a whole lot of resources, it could be time to give an ATTiny10 a go. What’s the worst that can happen – you make the smallest chiptunes ever?

Teaching A USBasp Programmer To Speak TPI

Last Fall [Kevin] wanted to program some newer TPI-only AVRs using an old¬†USBasp he had kicking around his lab. Finding an “odd famine of information” and “forums filled with incorrect information and schematics”, he decided to set the record straight and document things correctly. He sleuthed out the details and succeeded in reprogramming the USBasp, although he did end up buying a second one in the process.

Designers who use AVR microcontrollers have no shortage of programming interfaces — we count at least five different methods: ISP/SPI, JTAG, TPI, PDI, and UPDI. We’re not sure whether this is variety is good or bad, but it is what it is. [Kevin] discovers that for the particular family of Attiny devices he is using, the ATtiny20, TPI is the only option available.

While he normally builds his designs around ARM Cortex-M chips, [Kevin] needed some glue logic and decided to go with an ATtiny20 despite its unique programming requirements. He observes that the price of the ATtiny20, $0.53 last Fall, was cheaper than the equivalent logic gates he needed. This particular chip is also quite small — only 3 mm square (a 20-pin VQFN). We would prefer not to use different MCUs and tool chains on a single board, but sometimes the convenience and economics steer the design in that direction.

If you’re not familiar with the USBasp, our own [Mike Szczys] covered the breaking story over ten years ago. And if you have a lot of free time on your hands, ditch all these nicely packaged solutions and program your chips using an old USB Hub and a 74HCT00 NAND gate as described in this bizarre hack by Teensy developer [Paul Stoffregen].

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Hackaday Links: May 2, 2021

Mars is getting to be a busy place, what with helicopters buzzing around and rovers roving all about the place. Now it’s set to get a bit more crowded, with the planned descent of the newly-named Chinese Zhurong rover. Named after the god of fire from ancient Chinese mythology, the rover, which looks a little like Opportunity and Spirit and rides to the surface aboard something looking a little like the Viking lander, will carry a suite of scientific instruments around Utopia Planitia after it lands sometime this month. Details are vague; China usually plays its cards close to the vest, and generally makes announcements only when a mission is a fait accompli. But it appears the lander will leave its parking orbit, which it entered back in February, sometime this month. It’s not an easy ride, and we wish Zhurong well.

Speaking of space, satellites don’t exactly grow on trees — until they do. A few groups, including a collaboration between UPM Plywood and Finnish startup Arctic Astronautics, have announced intentions to launch nanosatellites made primarily of wood. Japanese logging company Sumitomo Forestry and Kyoto University also announced their partnership, formed with the intention to prove that wooden satellites can work. While it doesn’t exactly spring to mind as a space-age material, wood does offer certain advantages, including relative transparency to a wide range of the RF spectrum. This could potentially lead to sleeker satellite designs, since antennae and sensors could be located inside the hull. Wood also poses less of a hazard than a metal spaceframe does when the spacecraft re-enters the atmosphere. But there’s one serious disadvantage that we can see: given the soaring prices for lumber, at least here in the United States, it may soon be cheaper to build satellites out of solid titanium than wood.

If the name Ian Davis doesn’t ring a bell with you, one look at his amazing mechanical prosthetic hand will remind you that we’ve been following his work for a while now. Ian suffered a traumatic amputation of the fingers of his left hand, leaving only his thumb and palm intact, and when his insurance wouldn’t pay for a prosthetic hand, he made his own. Ian has gone through several generations, each of which is completely mechanical and controlled only by wrist movements. The hands are truly works of mechanical genius, and Ian is now sharing what he’s learned to help out fellow hand-builders. Even if you’re not building a hand, the video is well worth watching; the intricacy of the whiffle-tree mechanism used to move the fingers is just a joy to behold, and the complexity of movement that Ian’s hand is capable of is just breathtaking.

If mechanical hands don’t spark your interest, then perhaps the engineering behind top fuel dragsters will get you going. We’ll admit that most motorsports bore us to tears, even with the benefit of in-car cameras. But there’s just something about drag cars that’s so exciting. The linked video is a great dive into the details of the sport, where engines that have to be rebuilt after just a few seconds use, fuel flows are so high that fuel lines the size of a firehouse are used, and the thrust from the engine’s exhaust actually contributes to the car’s speed. There’s plenty of slo-mo footage in the video, including great shots of what happens to the rear tires when the engine revs up. Click through the break for more!

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Second-Hand Television SHINEs, Takes Down Entire Village’s Internet

We occasionally get stories on the tips line that just make us want to know more. This is especially true with tech stories covered by the mass media, which usually leave out the juicy tidbits that would just clutter up the story for the majority of non-technical readers. That leaves us to dig a little deeper for the satisfying details.

The latest one of these gems to hit the tips line is the tale of a regular broadband outage in a Welsh village. As in, really regular — at 7:00 AM every day, the internet customers of Aberhosan suffered a loss of their internet service. Customers of Openreach, the connectivity arm of the British telco BT, complained about the interruptions as customers do, and technicians responded to investigate the issue. Nobody was able to find the root cause, and despite replacing nearly all the cables in the system, the daily outages persisted for 18 months.

In the end, Openreach brought in a crack team from their Chief Engineer’s office to investigate. Working against COVID-19 restrictions, the team set up a spectrum analyzer in the early morning hours, to capture any evidence of whatever was causing the problem. At the appointed hour they saw a smear of radio frequency interference appear, a high-intensity pulse of noise at just the right frequency to interfere with the village’s asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) broadband service.

A little sleuthing led to the home of a villager and a second-hand TV, which was switched on every day at 7:00 AM. The TV was found to be emitting a strong RF impulse when it was powered up, strong enough to knock out the ADSL service to the entire village. Openreach categorized this as SHINE, or single high-level impulse noise. We’d never heard of this, but apparently it’s common enough that BT warns customers about it and provides helpful instructions for locating sources with an AM radio.

We’ll say one thing for the good people of Aberhosan: they must be patient in the extreme to put up with daily internet outages for 18 months. And it’s funny how there was no apparent notice paid by the offending television’s owner that his or her steady habit caused the outage. Perhaps they don’t have a broadband connection, and so wouldn’t have noticed the borking.

In any case, the owner was reportedly “mortified” by the news and hasn’t turned the TV on since learning of the issue. This generally seems to be the reaction when someone gets caught inadvertently messing up the spectrum — remember the Great Ohio Key Fob Mystery?

Thanks to [Kieran Donnelly] for spotting this for us.

Build Your Own Dial-Up ISP – Now With Modem Pool!

When it was the only viable option, the screech and squeal of dial-up internet was an unwelcome headache to many. But now that its time has passed, it’s gained a certain nostalgia that endears it to the technophiles of today. [Doge Microsystems] is just one such person, who has gone all out to develop their very own dial-up ISP for multiple clients.

The retro network is based on an earlier single-device experiment, with a Raspberry Pi 3B acting as the dial-up server. It’s hooked up to four modems, three of which are connected over USB-serial adapters implementing hardware flow control.

Obviously, four analog phone lines are hard to come by in this day and age, so [Doge] uses Asterisk along with a series of Linksys SIP devices to create their own PBX network.  Each modem gets a phone line, with four left over for clients to dial in.

To connect, users can either call a certain modem directly, or dial a special number which rings the whole pool. Thanks to mgetty, each modem is set up to answer on a different number of rings to allow the load to be shared. Once connected, a PPP daemon handles connecting the user to the Internet at large.

While it’s unlikely we’ll all be ringing [Doge]’s house to get our next YouTube fix, owning your own dial-up ISP is certainly an admirable feat. We’d love to see it deployed in the field sometime, perhaps at a hacker conference or Burning Man-type event. Of course, if you’ve got your own old-school network pumping data, be sure to let us know! Video after the break.

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Connecting New York City To The Backbone: Meet NYC’s Mesh Network

Access to fast and affordable internet is a big issue in the USA, even in a major metropolis such as New York City. Amidst a cartel of ISPs who simply will not deliver, a group of NYC inhabitants first took it upon themselves to ease this situation by setting up their own mesh-based internet connections way back in 2013. Now they will be installing a new Supernode to take the installation base far beyond the current 300 buildings serviced.

As a community project, NYC Mesh is run as a non-profit organization, with its community members supporting the effort through donations, along with partnerships with businesses. Its router hardware consists out of off-the-shelf equipment (with a focus on the Ubiquiti NanoStation NSM5) that get flashed with custom firmware containing the mesh routing functionality.

As this article by Vice mentions, NYC Mesh is one of 750 community-led broadband projects in the US. Many of those use more traditional fixed wiring with distribution lines, but NYC Mesh focuses fully on wireless (WiFi) links with wireless mesh networking. This has the obvious benefit that given enough bandwidth on the Supernodes that hook into the Internet exchange points (IXP) and an efficient mesh routing protocol, it’s quick and easy to hook up new clients and expand the network.

The obvious downsides of using WiFi and RF in general is that they are not immune to outside influences, such as weather (rain), RF interference (including from other WiFi stations) and of course fairly limited range if there’s no direct line of sight. In a densely populated city such as NYC this is not much of an issue, with short hops between roof tops.