Hackaday Links: December 15, 2019

When you’re right, you’re right. Back in January, we predicted that exoskeletons were about to break out as a mainstream product, and gave several examples of prototypes poised to become products. So it was with interest that we read about Sarcos Robotics and their new Guardian XO, a cyber suit aimed at those doing heavy lifting tasks. The wearable, full-body exoskeleton is supposed to amplify the wearer’s effort 20-fold, making a 200-pound load feel like lifting 10 pounds. It runs untethered for two hours on hot-swappable battery packs, and will be offered for lease to civilian heavy industries and the military for $100,000 a year. Honestly, it seems like you could hire a fair number of meat-robots for that sum, but still, it’s an interesting technology and a promising development.

Aficionados of 3D printing know all too well the limitations of the technology. While we’ve come a long way with things like a print in place, multiple materials, embedded electronics, and even direct 3D printing of complex mechanisms like electric motors, there’s been a long-standing obstacle to turning the 3D printer into the replicators of the Star Trek universe: batteries. But even that barrier is falling, and a new paper shows just how far we’ve come to printing batteries right into our designs. Using an off-the-shelf Prusa Mk 3 and specially formulated lithium iron phosphate/PLA and silicon dioxide/PLA filaments, the group was able to print working batteries in one shot. It’s exciting news because previous 3D-printed batteries required special printers or laborious post-processing steps. We’ll be watching for developments here.

Speaking of laboratory work, anyone who has been around labs is probably familiar with LabVIEW, the de facto standard for programming data capture and automation applications in the laboratory setting. The graphical programming language makes it easy to throw together a quick interface, and many lab-rats regret not having the expensive, proprietary environment available for their after-hours hacking. That might no longer be true, though, with special LabVIEW licensing for non-commercial users. It looks like there are two levels: LabVIEW Home Edition and a Community Edition of LabVIEW, which is currently in Beta. Either way, it’s good news for LabVIEW fans.

Friend of Hackaday Eric Strebel released a video the other day that we just had to comment on. It has nothing to do with electronics – unless you’re into circuit sculpture, that is. In the first of a two-part series, Eric covers the basics of modeling with brass and copper, using both wire and tubing. He has some great tips, like work-hardening and straightening copper wire by stretching it, and the miniature roll bender seen at 7:40 looks like something that could easily be 3D-printed. We recently did a Hack Chat on circuit sculpture with Mohit Bhoite, and saw his Supercon talk on the subject, so this video really got the creative juices flowing.

If you’re local to the Elkhorn, Wisconsin area, consider stopping by the Elkhorn Mini Maker Faire on February 15 and 16. Elkhorn looks like it has a nice central location between Milwaukee and Madison, and doesn’t appear too far from Chicago either, which is probably why they drew 1,200 people to the inaugural Faire last year. They’re looking to get that up to 2,000 people this year and over 150 booths, so if you’ve got something hackish to show off, check it out. The organizers have even set up a Hackaday.io event page to coordinate with the Hackaday community, so drop them a line and see what you can do to pitch in.

And finally, this one has us scratching our head. Activist group Extinction Rebellion (XR) has claimed they’ve “decommissioned” thousands of electric scooters in French cities. Why they’ve done this is the puzzler; they claim that the scooters-for-hire are an “ecological disaster” due to the resources needed to produce them compared to their short lifespan. We haven’t done the math. What is interesting, though, is the mode of decommissioning: XR operatives simply defaced the QR code on the scooters, rendering them un-rentable with the vendor’s smartphone app. Scooter companies might want to look into alternative rental methods if this keeps up.

Drone Takes Off With A Flick Of The Wrist

One of the companion technologies in the developing field of augmented reality is gesture tracking. It’s one thing to put someone in a virtual or augmented world, but without a natural way to interact inside of it the user experience is likely to be limited. Of course, gestures can be used to control things in the real world as well, and to that end [Sarah]’s latest project uses this interesting human interface device to control a drone.

The project uses a Leap Motion sensor to detect and gather the gesture data, and feeds all of that information into LabVIEW. A Parrot AR Drone was chosen for this project because of a robust API that works well with this particular software suite. It seems as though a lot of the grunt work of recognizing gestures and sending commands to the drone are taken care of behind-the-scenes in software, so if you’re looking to do this on your own there’s likely to be quite a bit more work involved. That being said, it’s no small feat to get this to work in the first place and the video below is worth a view.

To some, gestures might seem like a novelty technology with no real applications, but they do have real-world uses for people with disabilities or others with unusual workflow that require a hands-free approach. So far we’ve seen hand gesture technologies that drive cars, help people get around in the physical world, and even play tetris.

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12 Mbps Communication Between A PC And MCU

The world of hobby electronics have only started putting USB in projects for the last few years, and right now, pushing 1.5 Mbps down a USB port is good enough for most cases. This isn’t true for all cases; that’s a terrible data rate, really, and to get the most out of a USB connection, you can at least move up to USB Full Speed and 12 Mbps.

[Linas] is using the STM32F4 microcontroller for this example, an extremely large and very capable chip. [Linas] is using FTDI’s FT2232D USB UART to send data from an SPI port over USB. This chip does support 12 Mbps, but only after a few additions; an external EEPROM must be connected to the FTDI chip to provide a USB 2.0 device descriptor, otherwise the connection between the microcontroller and a computer is limited to 1.5 Mbps. Even using the USB on the STM32 would be a bottleneck in this case; [Linas] is moving data out of the processor using only the DMA controller – using the USB on the STM32 would eat up processor cycles in the microcontroller.

Thanks to the DMA controller inside the STM32, the microcontroller is capable of sending and receiving data through SPI at the same time. The STM32 is capable of reading and writing to the Tx and Rx buffer at the same time, but the computer is only capable of half-duplex operation – it can only read or write at any one time. [Linas] is setting up the DMA controller on the STM32 as a circular mode, putting everything in the buffer into the FTDI chip, and reading everything sent from the computer back into the STM32’s memory. After counting off the correct number of packets. the controller resets everything, moves the circular buffer back to the beginning, and starts the whole process over again.

The circuit was prototyped with an STM Discovery board. With Labview, [Linas] can see the bits coming out of the microcontroller, and send some bits back to the micro over USB. [Linas] has an extraordinarily detailed video tutorial on this project. You can check that out below.

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More Continuous Wave Radar Fun

[Gregory Charvat] continues to have a great time testing out radar systems. He and a friend have pointed the radar out the garage door and are using it to see who can reach a high running velocity.

The last time we looked in on [Greg’s] work he had acquired an old police radar unit and wired it up to use with a laptop. The hardware he’s working with now is a lot more bulky and we don’t think it will be hitting the road with him anytime soon (although it is on wheels). The video after the break starts off which an overview of the test system which is mounted in a waist-high rack. He illustrates how Labview is monitoring the radar inputs and then moves on to show off the hardware which is actually harvesting the data. The box is quite versatile, able to run five different systems and includes a slew of different connector types.

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Giant Pencil Used As An Etch A Sketch Stylus

The gang over at Waterloo Labs decided to add a team-building aspect to a plain old Etch a Sketch. Instead of just twisting the two knobs with your own mitts, they’re converting this giant pencil’s movements into Etch a Sketch art.

The challenge here is figuring out a reliable way to track the tip of the pencil as it moves through the air. You may have already guess that they are using a Microsoft Kinect depth camera for this task. The Windows SDK for the device actually has a wrapper that helps it to play nicely with LabView, where the data is converted to position commands for the display.

On the Etch a Sketch side of things they’ve chosen the time-tested technique of adding gears and stepper motors to each of the toy’s knobs. As you can see from the video after the break, the results are mixed. We’d say from the CNC ‘W’ demo that is shown there’s room for improvement when it comes to the motor driver. We can’t really tell if the Kinect data translation is working as intended or not. But we say load it up and bring to a conference. We’re sure it’ll attract a lot of attention just like this giant version did.

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Microcontroller Based Audio Volume Level Compressor

In an effort listen to his music on shuffle without the need to touch the volume knob [Mike] build his own automatic volume leveling hardware. He knows what you’re thinking right now: there’s software to do that for you. But building the feature in hardware is a great stepping off point for a project.

He started the prototype using LabVIEW along with a Mobile Studio development board and a Bus Pirate. This project will be a mix of digital and analog components and it’s a bit easier starting off the exploration with these tools rather than jumping right into the AVR code.

The circuit will sample the incoming audio, modify it accordingly, and output the result. The output side is where the Bus Pirate really shines. He’s using some MCP42010 digital potentiometer chips to make the necessary changes to the levels. They communicate via SPI and it’s nice to have the Bus Pirate’s terminal to issue commands without the need to reflash a microcontroller.

[Mike] made a video showing an audio waveform with and without the hardware leveling. Sound quality is still great, and each clip is played at a reasonably comfortable listening level. We’ve embedded that demonstration after the break.

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Music-synced Christmas Light Suit

Ah, the end of the 4th financial quarter – the magical time of increased sales, being at work the entire time the sun is up, and holiday parties. For [Andy] at National Instruments, though, things don’t seem too bad. He built a neat Christmas light suit to entertain everyone with his brilliant persona.

[Andy] always loves great Christmas light displays (he even blogs about them), so he figured a wearable light display synchronized with music would be very doable. The build is controlled with LabVIEW to convert .WAV files to power levels and frequency bands. This info is then piped into the Arduino that controls the lights.

[Andy] actually made two light suits, one for him and one for his friend [Richard]. Both guys have two light-up Christmas staffs to wield light mage powers on their coworkers. The lighsuits are controlled by Arduino/Xbee setups – one each for each suit and staff. The result is phenomenal, and should really get everyone in the holiday spirit.