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Hackaday Links: December 5, 2021

Sad news from Germany, with the recent passing of a legend in the crypto community: Mr. Goxx, the crypto-trading hamster. The rodent rose to fame in the crypto community for his trades, which were generated at random during his daily exercise routines — his exercise wheel being used like a roulette wheel to choose a currency, and a pair of tunnels determined whether the transaction would be a buy or sell. His trading career was short, having only started this past June, but he was up 20% over that time — that’s nothing to sneeze at. Our condolences to Mr. Goxx’s owners, and to the community which sprung up around the animal’s antics.

It might seem a little early to start planning which conferences you’d like to hit in 2022, but some require a little more lead time than others. One that you might not have heard of is DINACON, the Digital Naturalism Conference, which explores the intersection of technology and the natural world. The con is set for the entire month of July 2022 and will be held in Sri Lanka. It has a different structure than most cons, in that participants attend for a week or so on a rotating basis, much like a biology field station summer session. It sounds like a lot of fun, and the setting couldn’t be more idyllic.

If you haven’t already killed your holiday gift budget buying NFTs, here’s something you might want to consider: the Arduino Uno Mini Limited Edition. What makes it a Limited Edition, you ask? Practically, it’s the small footprint compared to the original Uno and the castellated edges, but there are a bunch of other extras. Each elegant black PCB with gold silk screening is individually numbered and comes in presentation-quality packaging. But the pièce de résistance, or perhaps we should say the cavallo di battaglia, is that each one comes with a hand-signed letter from the Arduino founders. They honestly look pretty sharp, and at $45, it’s really not a bad collector’s piece.

And finally, the YouTube algorithm giveth again, when this infrastructure gem popped up in our feed. You wouldn’t think there’d be much of interest to see in a water main repair, but you’d be wrong, especially when that main is 50′ (15 m) below the surface, and the repair location is 600′ (183 m) from the access hatch. Oh yeah, and the pipe is only 42″ (1 m) in diameter, and runs underneath a river. There’s just so much nope in this one, especially since the diver has to swim into a special turning elbow just to get pointed in the right direction; how he turns around to swim out is not worth thinking about. Fascinating tidbits include being able to see the gravel used to protect the pipe in the riverbed through the crack in the pipe, and learning that big water mains are not completely filled, at least judging by the small air space visible at the top of the pipe. Those with claustrophobia are probably best advised to avoid this one, but it’s still amazing to see how stuff like this is done.

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Get Yourself A Pupper (For Education)

While the disquieting appearance of some of the robots coming out of DARPA and other labs might give us some reservations about how much intelligence we want to give to those robots, there’s a lot to be learned from them before their inevitable global takeover. This small quadruped called the Mini Pupper is just the robot for that job. With a low cost and familiar platform, it’s the ideal robot to learn some of the tricks of the trade.

For a quadruped so small, some unique changes had to be made to ensure the robot’s functionality. There have been a few developments since it was first shown over a year ago. The first was to design a custom servo that could handle the unique characteristics of this robot. From there, some other improvements were made to the robot chassis such as using threaded rods for ease of assembly and maintenance. Some other things have stayed the same though like using a Raspberry Pi to handle the control systems and self-navigation.

Of course everything needed to make this robot yourself is open source, from the code to the schematics. For experimenting with quadrupeds and even with automatic navigation, this would be a great way to get started, and the small size will also limit its ability for a Skynet-style takeover as well. That’s a nice bonus.

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DOS Gaming PC Gets Necessary Updates

PC-104 is a standard computer form factor that most people outside of industrial settings probably haven’t seen before. It’s essentially an Intel 486 processor with lots of support for standards that have long since disappeared from most computers, but this makes it great for two things: controlling old industrial equipment and running classic DOS games on native hardware. For the latter, we turn once again to [The Rasteri] who is improving on his previous build with an even smaller DOS gaming rig, this time based on a platform even more diminutive than PC-104.

The key of a build like this is that it needs native support for the long-obsolete ISA bus to be able to interface with a SoundBlaster card, a gold standard for video games of the era. This smaller computer still has this functionality in a smaller package, but with some major improvements. First, it has a floating point unit so it can run games like Quake. It’s also much faster than the PC-104 system and uses less power. Finally, it fits in an even smaller case.

The build goes well beyond simply running software on a SoM computer. [The Rasteri] also custom built an interface board for this project, complete with all of the necessary ports and an ISA sound chip, all while keeping size down to a minimum. The new build also lets him give the build a better name than the old one (although he phrases this upgrade slightly differently), and will also let him expand some features in the future as well. Be sure to check out that first build if you’re new to this saga, too.

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Retrocomputing With Modern Hardware, No Emulation Required

The x86 processor family is for the time being, the most ubiquitous type of processor in the PC world, and has been since the 1980s when the IBM PC came on the scene. Emulating these older devices is easy enough if you want to play an old LucasArts game or experience Windows 3.1 again, but the true experience is found on original hardware. And, thanks to industrial equipment compatibility needs, you can build a brand new 486 machine with new hardware that will run this retro software as though it was new itself.

[The Rasteri] masterminded this build which is reminiscent of the NES classic and other nostalgic console re-releases. It’s based on the PC/104 standard which was introduced in the early 90s, mostly for industrial controls applications. The platform is remarkably small, and the board chosen for this build hosts a 486 processor running at 300 MHz. It has on-board VGA-compatible graphics but no Sound Blaster card, so he designed and built his own ISA-compatible sound card that fits in the PC/104’s available expansion port.

After adding some more tiny peripherals to the build and installing it in a custom case, [The Rasteri] has a working DOS machine on new, bare-metal 486 hardware which can play DOOM as it was originally intended. It can also run early versions of  Windows to play games from the Microsoft Entertainment Pack if you feel like being eaten by a snow monster while skiing. [The Rasteri] is no stranger to intense retro computing like this either, as he was the one who got DOOM to run on original NES hardware.

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An EV Conversion Engineered As A Drop-in Replacement

With electric vehicles such as the Tesla or the Leaf being all the rage and joined by fresh competitors seemingly every week, it seems the world is going crazy for the electric motor over their internal combustion engines. There’s another sector to electric traction that rarely hits the headlines though, that of converting existing IC cars to EVs by retrofitting a motor. The engineering involved can be considerable and differs for every car, so we’re interested to see an offering for the classic Mini from the British company Swindon Powertrain that may be the first of many affordable pre-engineered conversion kits for popular models.

Swindon Powertrain's demo Mini
Swindon Powertrain’s demo Mini

The kit takes their HPD crate EV motor that we covered earlier in the year, and mates it with a Mini front subframe. Brackets and CV joints engineered for the kit to drop straight into the Mini. The differential appears to be offset to the right rather than the central position of the original so we’re curious about the claim of using the Mini’s own driveshafts, but that’s hardly an issue that should tax anyone prepared to take on such a task. They can also supply all the rest of the parts for a turnkey conversion, making for what will probably be one of the most fun-to-drive EVs possible.

The classic Mini is now a sought-after machine long past its days of being dirt-cheap old-wreck motoring for the masses, so the price of the kit should be viewed in the light of a good example now costing more than some new cars. We expect this kit to have most appeal in the professional and semi-professional market rather than the budget end of home conversions, but it’s still noteworthy because it is a likely sign of what is to come. We look forward to pre-engineered subframes becoming a staple of EV conversions at all levels. The same has happened with other popular engine upgrades, and no doubt some conversions featuring them will make their way to the pages of Hackaday.

We like the idea of conversions forming part of the path to EV adoption, as we’ve remarked before.

Drop In Motor Converts Car To EV

With the latest craze of electric vehicles, it might be tempting to take an old project car and convert it from gas to electric. On the surface, it sounds simple, but the reality is there are a number of pitfalls. It would be nice if you could find a drop in engine replacement that was ready to go. According to Swindon Powertrain, you’ll be able to soon.

Based on their existing powertrain that can convert a Mini to EV, the transverse powertrain weighs 70 kg and if it can fit in a Mini, it can probably fit in nearly anything. Specifically, it’s 60 cm wide and 44 cm deep — that means it could fit easily in a roughly two foot box. The height can be as little as 28 cm. The company talks about fitting it on a quad bike or even a loading platform. It can be thought of as sort of an electric “crate engine” — a common term for a ready to install powerplant that, as the name implies, arrives in a crate.

The powertrain with a single-speed transmission, cooling system, and inverter weighs in at 154 pounds and generates up to 110 horsepower.  We aren’t sure what the expected battery pack is, but presumably, it will be somewhat flexible.

It’ll be interesting to see how people will integrate these if and when they become available as planned in June of next year. Can you drive a differential? Can you use two or four, each driving a different wheel? Turns out we might just be car designers after all.

If you want to see what they did with a Mini, look at their E Classic which claims an 80 MPH top speed and a range of 125 miles. We’ve looked at conversions before. If a conversion is not your thing, you could try to go Open Source although that project doesn’t seem very active.

What Happens To Tesla When The Sleeping Auto Giants Awake?

The history of automotive production is littered with the fallen badges of car companies that shone brightly but fell by the wayside in the face of competition from the industry’s giants. Whether you pine for an AMC, a Studebaker, or a Saab, it’s a Ford or a Honda you’ll be driving in 2019.

In the world of electric cars it has been a slightly different story. Though the big names have dipped a toe in the water they have been usurped by a genuinely disruptive contender. If you drive an electric car in 2019 it won’t be that Ford or Honda, it could be a Nissan, but by far the dominant name in EV right now is Tesla.

Motor vehicles are standing at the brink of a generational shift from internal combustion to electric drive. Will Tesla become the giant it hopes, or will history repeat itself?

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