Hackaday Links: May 31, 2020

We begin with sad news indeed as we mark the passing of Marcel van Kervinck on Monday. The name might not ring a bell, but his project, the Gigatron TTL computer, certainly will. We did a deep dive on the microprocessor-less computer a while back, and Marcel was a regular at conferences and on the Gigatron forums, supporting users and extending what the computer can do. He was pretty candid about his health issues, and I’ll add that when I approached him a few weeks ago out of the blue about perhaps doing a Hack Chat about Gigatron, he was brutally honest about how little time he had left and that he wouldn’t make it that long. I was blown away by the grace and courage he displayed. His co-conspirator Walter Belger will carry on the Gigatron mission, including joining us for a Hack Chat on June 24. In the meantime, this might be a great time to pick up a Gigatron kit before they’re all sold out and get busy soldering all those delicious through-hole TTL chips.

May of 2020 is the month that never seems to end, and as the world’s focus seems to shift away from the immediate public health aspects of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic to the long-term economic impact of the response to it, we happened across a very interesting article on just that topic. Mike Robbins from the Circuit Lab has modeled the economic impact of the pandemic using analog circuit simulations. He models people as charges and the flow of people between diseases states as currents; the model has capacitors to store the charge and allow him to measure voltages and filters that model the time delays needed for public policy changes to be adopted. It’s a fascinating mashup of engineering and policy. You can play with the model online, tweak parameters, and see what you come up with.

One of the things that the above model makes clear is that waiting to fully reopen the economy until a vaccine is ready is a long and dangerous game. But there has at least been some progress on that front, as Massachusetts biotech firm Moderna announced success in Phase 1 clinical trials of its novel mRNA vaccine against SARS-CoV-2. It’s important to temper expectations here; Phase 1 trials are only the beginning of human testing, aimed at determining the highest treatment dose that won’t cause serious side effects. Phase 2 and Phase 3 trials are much more involved, so there’s a long way to go before the vaccine, mRNA-1273, is ready for use. If you need to brush up on how these new vaccines work, check out our handy guide to mRNA vaccines.

In happier news, the “moar memory” version of the Raspberry Pi 4 is now on sale. Eben Upton announced that the 8GB version of the Pi 4 is now available for $75. The upgrade was apparently delayed by the lack of an 8GB LPDDR SDRAM chip in a package that would work in the Pi manufacturing process. They’ve also released a beta of a 64-bit version of the Raspberry Pi OS, if you’re interested in a bleeding-edge flex.

And finally, for those who missed the first wave of the computer revolution and never had a blinkenlight machine, you can at least partially scratch that itch with this Internet-connected Altair 8800. Jesse Downing has written a queueing system that allows users to connect to the machine via ssh and use Microsoft BASIC 5.0 on CP/M. Need to see those glorious front panels lights do their thing? Jesse has kindly set up a live stream for that, with an overlay of the current console output. It’s a great way to relive your misspent youth, or to get a taste of what computing was like when soldering skills were a barrier to entry.

The Next Best Thing To A Cybertruck

While production of the Tesla Cybertruck won’t start production until 2021 (at the earliest), you can always try to build your own. Unless you have a really big spare parts drawer, though, it probably won’t be full sized, but you can at least build a model if you have a shop as well-stocked as [Emiel]. He took some time to build a model cybertruck out of a single sheet of aluminum. (Video, embedded below. You might want to turn on subtitles.)

This project is a great example of the fact that some projects that seem simple on the surface require some specialized tools to get just right. To start, the aluminum sheet was cut with a laser to get into the appropriate shape and include details like windows, and the bending points were marked with an engraver to help the bending process along. The one tool that [Emiel] was missing was a brake, but he got great results with a set of metal bending pliers.

Finishing the model didn’t go particularly smoothly, either. He had planned to braze the metal together, but the heat required kept warping the body panels. The solution was to epoxy it together and sand down the excess, and the results are hopefully stronger than brazing would have been since he added a cloth to the epoxy for extra strength. The windows are made from polycarbonate (and didn’t break during the durability test), and we hope that when [Emiel] is ready to put in a motor he uses one of his custom-built electric motors. Continue reading “The Next Best Thing To A Cybertruck”

Foamboard Makes For A Light Hovercraft

If we are to believe many science fiction movies, one day throngs of people wearing skin-tight silver spandex jumpsuits will be riding around on hovercraft. Hovercraft haven’t really taken the world by storm, but [Fitim-Halimi] built his own model version and shows you how he did it. You can see the little craft moving in the video below.

In theory, a hovercraft is pretty simple, but in practice they are not as easy as they look. For one thing, you need a lot of air to fill the plenum chamber to get lift. That’s usually a noisy operation. The solution? In this case, a hairdryer gave up its motor for the cause. In addition, once floating on a near-frictionless cushion of air, you have to actually move without contacting the ground. Like many real hovercraft, this design uses another fan to push it along. You can see in the video that the designer uses Jedi hand motions to control the vehicle.

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Millennium Falcon Docking Bay Doubles As Table

A glass table makes a perfect display case for showing off whatever’s important to you, but if you want keep the dust off of your treasures, closing up the sides is probably a wise move. It might not be a bad idea to put some lighting in there to make sure everything is easy to see. You might as well make the lights RGB and remote controlled, so you can fiddle with the look from across the room. Of course, you could go all in and just make the thing a diorama…

It’s not hard to imagine the line of thinking that convinced [Erv Plecter] he should turn a simple glass table into a docking bay for a model of the Millennium Falcon, and looking at the final results, we think it was the right move. With an incredible attention to detail, what started out a generic looking table and rather modest toy, have been combined into an interactive display that could woo even the staunchest of Trekkies.

If you’ve ever considered lighting a model, this project is an excellent example to follow. The Hasbro toy that [Erv] started with certainly wasn’t what you’d call studio quality; the little lighting it featured wasn’t even accurate to how the ship appears in the films. But with some reference material, fiber optic cables, and enough Arduinos to drive it all, the final lighting is truly a marvel. We’d say the engine is our favorite part, but those tiny lit panels in the cockpit are hard to beat.

While the Falcon is clearly the star of the show, the docking bay itself is certainly no afterthought. The back-lit panels, with their inscrutable Imperial design aesthetic, look fantastic. The addition of small details like crates and barrels, plus the glossy black PVC sheet used for the floor, really brings the whole scene to life. It’s almost a shame that the ship itself is so big, as a smaller model would have left more room to toss in a few Stormtroopers and droids out on patrol.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen somebody augment a “toy” grade model with additional lighting effects. While the scale miniature aficionados in the audience might turn their nose up at some of the artistic liberties taken on these low fidelity models, we think any normal person would be blown away if they saw them in person.

Continue reading Millennium Falcon Docking Bay Doubles As Table”

3D Printed Dogbox Transmission Kicks Your Desk Into High Gear

It’s often been our experience that some of the most impressive projects are the passion builds, the ones where the builder really put in their all and obsessed over every detail. Even if they don’t always have a practical application, it’s impossible to look at the final product and not respect the accomplishment.

Case in point, this absolutely incredible 3D printed model of a sequential “dogbox” transmission created by [Indeterminate Design]. All of the STL files and a complete bill of materials are available for anyone brave enough to take on the challenge. It might never be mounted to a vehicle and driven around the track, but you can still flick through the gears and watch the complex gearing do its thing.

Even if you don’t want to necessarily build the model itself, [Indeterminate Design] takes you through the concepts behind this unique transmission and how it differs from the sort of gearboxes us lowly commuter drivers are familiar with. He’s even nice enough to explain what a dogbox is.

Put simply, this type of transmission allows the driver to simply move the gear change forward and backwards to step through the gears like in a video game. This prevents you from having to navigate an H-pattern gear shift while dealing with all the other stresses of competition driving. Watching it in action, you can certainly see the appeal.

If you prefer your printed gearboxes to be of the practical variety, we’ve certainly seen plenty of those as well. They’re perfect for next time you need to move an anvil around the shop.

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Train All The Things Contest Update

Back in January when we announced the Train All the Things contest, we weren’t sure what kind of entries we’d see. Machine learning is a huge and rapidly evolving field, after all, and the traditional barriers that computationally intensive processes face have been falling just as rapidly. Constraints are fading away, and we want you to explore this wild new world and show us what you come up with.

Where Do You Run Your Algorithms?

To give your effort a little structure, we’ve come up with four broad categories:

  • Machine Learning on the Edge
    • Edge computing, where systems reach out to cloud resources but run locally, is all the rage. It allows you to leverage the power of other people’s computers the cloud for training a model, which is then executed locally. Edge computing is a great way to keep your data local.
  • Machine Learning on the Gateway
    • Pi’s, old routers, what-have-yous – we’ve all got a bunch of devices laying around that bridge space between your local world and the cloud. What can you come up with that takes advantage of this unique computing environment?
  • Machine Learning in the Cloud
    • Forget about subtle — this category unleashes the power of the cloud for your application. Whether it’s Google, Azure, or AWS, show us what you can do with all that raw horsepower at your disposal.
  • Artificial Intelligence Blinky
    • Everyone’s “hardware ‘Hello, world'” is blinking an LED, and this is the machine learning version of that. We want you to use a simple microprocessor to run a machine learning algorithm. Amaze us with what you can make an Arduino do.

These Hackers Trained Their Projects, You Should Too!

We’re a little more than a month into the contest. We’ve seen some interesting entries bit of course we’re hungry for more! Here are a few that have caught our eye so far:

  • Intelligent Bat Detector – [Tegwyn☠Twmffat] has bats in his… backyard, so he built this Jetson Nano-powered device to capture their calls and classify them by species. It’s a fascinating adventure at the intersection of biology and machine learning.
  • Blackjack Robot – RAIN MAN 2.0 is [Evan Juras]’ cure for the casino adage of “The house always wins.” We wouldn’t try taking the Raspberry Pi card counter to Vegas, but it’s a great example of what YOLO can do.
  • AI-enabled Glasses – AI meets AR in ShAIdes, [Nick Bild]’s sunglasses equipped with a camera and Nano to provide a user interface to the world. Wave your hand over a lamp and it turns off. Brilliant!

You’ve got till noon Pacific time on April 7, 2020 to get your entry in, and four winners from each of the four categories will be awarded a $100 Tindie gift card, courtesy of our sponsor Digi-Key. It’s time to ramp up your machine learning efforts and get a project entered! We’d love to see more examples of straight cloud AI applications, and the AI blinky category remains wide open at this point. Get in there and give machine learning a try!

Making Models With Lasers

Good design starts with a good idea, and being able to flesh that idea out with a model. In the electronics world, we would build a model on a breadboard before soldering everything together. In much the same way that the industrial designer [Eric Strebel] makes models of his creations before creating the final version. In his latest video, he demonstrates the use of a CO2 laser for model making.

While this video could be considered a primer for using a laser cutter, watching some of the fine detail work that [Eric] employs is interesting in the way that watching any master craftsman is. He builds several cubes out of various materials, demonstrating the operation of the laser cutter and showing how best to assemble the “models”. [Eric] starts with acrylic before moving to wood, cardboard, and finally his preferred material: foam core. The final model has beveled edges and an interior cylinder, demonstrating many “tricks of the trade” of model building.

Of course, you may wish to build models of more complex objects than cubes. If you have never had the opportunity to use a laser cutter, you will quickly realize how much simpler the design process is with high-quality tools like this one. It doesn’t hurt to have [Eric]’s experience and mastery of industrial design to help out, either.

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