Hackaday Links: August 30, 2020

Tech history is rife with examples of bizarre product demos, but we’ve got to think that Elon Musk’s Neuralink demo this week will have to rank up there with the weirdest of them. Elon’s job here was to sell the proposition that having a quarter-sized plug removed from your skull by a surgical robot and having it plunge 1,024 tiny wires into your gray matter will be totally normal and something that all the cool kids will be doing someday. We watched the 14-minute supercut of the demo, which went on for considerably longer than that due to the realities of pig wrangling, and we remain unsold on the technology. Elon selling it as “a Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires” probably didn’t help, nor did the somewhat terrifying appearance of the surgical robot needed to do the job. On the other hand, Gertrude the Bionic Pig seemed none the worse for her implant, which was reportedly wired to her snout and sending data wirelessly. The demonstration of reading joint positions directly from the brain was honestly pretty neat. If you want to dive deeper into Neuralink, check out Maya’s great article that separates fact from science fiction.

Jerry Carr, NASA astronaut and commander of the third and final crewed Skylab mission, passed away this week at the age of 88. Carr’s Skylab 4 mission was record-breaking in 1974, with the three astronauts living and working in the orbiting workshop for 84 days. The mission contributed a vast amount of information on space medicine and the human factors of long-duration spaceflight. Carr retired from NASA in 1977 and had a long career as an engineer and entrepreneur. It’s sad to lose yet another of the dwindling number of heroes remaining from NASA’s manned-flight heyday.

Speaking of spaceflight, the closest most of us DIYers can get to space is likely courtesy of a helium-filled balloon. If you’ve ever considered sending something — or someone — aloft, you’ll find this helium balloon calculator an invaluable tool. Just plug in the weight of your payload, select from a few common balloon sizes, and the calculator will tell you how many you need and how much gas it will take to fill them. It’s got a second section that tells you how many more balloons it’ll take to get to a certain altitude, should merely getting off the ground not be enough for you.

If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that time is, at best, a negotiable concept. Improbably, September is only a day away, after an August that somehow took forever to go by in the blink of an eye. With that in mind,  October is OSHWA’s Open Hardware Month, with this year’s theme being “Label and Certify”. We’re a little bit in love with the Open Hardware Facts generator, which takes your open-source hardware, software, and documentation license and generates a USDA “Nutrition Facts”-style label for your product. They’ve also added tools to make it easier to get OSHWA certification for your project.

And finally, what would it be like to pilot a giant exoskeleton? Like, a 9,000 pound (4,100 kg), quadrupedal all-terrain beast of a mech? Turns out you can (theoretically) find out for yourself courtesy of Furrion Exo-Bionics and their monster mech, dubbed Prosthesis. The machine has been in development for a long time, with the vision of turning mech racing into the next big thing in sports entertainment. Their Alpha Mech Pilot Training Program will allow mere mortals to learn how to pilot Prosthesis at the company’s proving ground in British Columbia. Details are sparse, so caveat emptor, but it sure looks like fun.

An Exoskeleton Arm For A Hacker On A Budget

Whether it is motivated by a dream of superhuman strength courtesy of a mech suit or of mobility for those with impaired muscle function, the powered exoskeleton exerts a curious fascination among engineers. The idea of a machine-augmented human body achieving great things is thwarted though by the difficulty of the task, actuators and power sources small enough to be worn comfortably represent a significant challenge that is not easily overcome. It’s a subject that has captivated [Kristjan Berce] since at a young age seeing his grandmother struggling with lifting, and he presents a working powered exoskeleton arm as a proof of his ideas.

It’s a wonderful exercise in low-tech construction with hand tools and a drill press on pieces of aluminium and wood. Motive power comes from an automotive windscreen wiper motor, and electrical power comes from a hefty LiPo attached to the device’s harness. There is a feedback potentiometer incorporated into the elbow joint, and an Arduino oversees the operation under the direction of a pair of glove-mounted buttons. It’s certainly impressive to see it in the video below lifting a bicycle, though we wonder how its weight might affect someone with less muscle function than average.

Projects like this one are very good to see, because there’s a chance that somebody out there may be helped by building one of these. However there is always a note of caution to be struck, as the best solutions come from those who need them and not those who merely think they have the solution. We have written about the Engineer Saviour Trap here in years past.

This isn’t the first prosthetic arm we’ve seen though, we covered a hackerspace in England printing one for a local youngster.

Continue reading “An Exoskeleton Arm For A Hacker On A Budget”

An Epic Mech Cockpit Build For Steel Battalion

Steel Battalion was released for the Xbox in 2002, and remains one of the most hardcore mech simulators of all time. It became legendary for its huge twin-stick controller covered in buttons, and for deleting your save game if you failed to eject in time. It took giant robot gaming to a new level, but fundamentally, you were still playing in front of a TV at home. Things really got serious in 2015, with the completion of the Big Steel Battalion Box – the battlemech cockpit of your dreams.

Coaching the player is a key part of BSBB gameplay, with a manual created specifically for this purpose.

If you’re thinking this is just a television in a dark room with some stickers, you’d be very wrong. The Imgur thread covers the build process, and it’s one heck of a ride. Things started with a custom cabinet being built, intentionally sized to induce claustrophobia. There’s a swivelling seat with a 4-point harness, and a hatch to seal the player inside. During initial testing of the box to determine how dark it was, one of the makers was trapped inside and had to call for help. That should highlight how serious the build really is.

The controller was modified and hooked up to custom electronics to add realistic effects. Get hit? Feel the seat rumble thanks to motors and a subwoofer in the base. Mech terminally damaged? The entire cockpit is bathed in flashing red light. There’s even smoke effects rigged up to make things even more stressful during battle.

The entire setup is connected to the outside world, where a coach can view the action inside through a video feed from the Xbox and several internal cameras. A basic manual is provided to help the coach keep the player alive during their first moments of combat. This is courtesy of a custom intercom setup, built using surplus Chinese aviation headsets. There’s even a red telephone to give that authentic military feel.

It’s a build that covers just about every detail you could think of. If you’re keen to try it out, it’s on permanent loan to The Museum of Art And Digital Entertainment in Oakland, California. It recalls memories of a similar build created to play Artemis. Video after the break.

Continue reading “An Epic Mech Cockpit Build For Steel Battalion”

About That Giant Robot Battle Last Night

Two years ago we wrote about a giant robot battle between the USA and Japan. After two years in the making, MegaBots (team USA) and Suidobashi (team Japan) were finally ready for the first giant robot fight. If you are into battle bots, you probably did not miss the fight that happened around 7:00 pm PST. If you missed it, you can watch the whole thing here.

There were two duels. First it was Iron Glory (MkII) vs. Kuratas, and after that it was Eagle Prime (MkIII) vs. Kuratas.

Be warned, spoilers ahead.

Continue reading “About That Giant Robot Battle Last Night”

VR Mech’s Missing Link: The Phone In Your Pocket

In the process of making a homemade Mech Combat game that features robot-like piloted tanks capable of turning the cockpit independent of the direction of movement, [Florian] realized that while the concept was intuitive to humans, implementing it in a VR game had challenges. In short, when the body perceives movement but doesn’t feel the expected acceleration and momentum, motion sickness can result. A cockpit view that changes independently of forward motion exacerbates the issue.

To address this, [Florian] wanted to use a swivel chair to represent turning the Mech’s “hips”. This would control direction of travel and help provide important physical feedback. He was considering a hardware encoder for the chair when he realized he already had one in his pocket: his iPhone.

By making an HTML page that accesses the smartphone’s Orientation API, no app install was needed to send the phone’s orientation to his game via a WebSocket in Unity. He physically swivels his chair to steer and is free to look around using the VR headset, separate from the direction of travel. Want to try it for yourself? Get it from [Florian]’s GitHub repository.

A video is embedded below, but if you’re interested in details be sure to also check out [Florian]’s summary of insights and methods for avoiding motion sickness in a VR Mech cockpit.

Continue reading “VR Mech’s Missing Link: The Phone In Your Pocket”

Hackaday Links: The 2017 One

You screwed everything up last night. The end of 2016 had a leap second, so instead of the seconds going up from 57, 58, 59… 00, there was a 61st second in the last minute of the year. Yeah, 2016 just wouldn’t quit. [Michel] built a device to keep track of 2016’s leap second using GPS, and everything worked beautifully.

Remember MechWarrior? There’s a reason those mid-90s games used mechs instead of more organic characters. Computers couldn’t draw that many polygons, making MechWarrior a stylistic choice driven by the limitations of technology. Here’s a real MechWarrior that could rip your head off without trying.

The Hackaday Retro Edition is a Web 1.0 version of our main blog, and a challenge to retrocomputing enthusiasts. [PK] recently got his Psion Series 3a surfing the interwebs with a little help from PPP and a Raspberry Pi. He also got a Psion Series 7 online using the same method, but that was a little more anti-climatic.

The NES Classic Edition costs too much, the cords are too short, and you can’t play anything but the pre-installed games. There’s a solution to this: [Andrew] has been working on the Beagle Entertainment System for a while now, and it’s ready for a proper release. The BES uses the SNES9X, VBA-M, and Nestopia emulators, with the original ROMs, and has a ‘shield’ for SNES gamepads. You can’t do better than this, and it’s cheaper than the NES Classic Edition.

Vacuum pens, or vacuum pickup tools, or whatever you want to call them, are really useful when working with SMD parts. You can build your own out of an aquarium pump, duct tape, a lighter, paperclip, and a mechanical pencil, but that lacks the elegance of a footswitch-operated, solenoid valve pickup tool. [Dave] built a great version of a vacuum pickup tool from scratch for less than $200. There’s NTP fittings on here, so you know it has to be great.

fundungeonTerrible news! I’m in Vegas next week for CES. While I’ll be spending most of my time figuring out ‘which internet of things is best internet of things’, I might have some time for a Hackaday CES meetup.

The best idea I have for a Hackaday CES meetup is the Fun Dungeon in the Trashy Castle. It has Skee Ball and Crazy Taxi. If you have a better idea of where Hackaday fans and aficionados can meet up for an hour or two, leave a note in the comments below.