One of the best things about hanging out with other hackers is the freewheeling brainstorming sessions that tend to occur. Case in point: I was at the Electronica trade fair and ended up hanging out with [Stephen Hawes] and [Lucian Chapar], two of the folks behind the LumenPnP open-source pick and place machine that we’ve covered a fair number of times in the past.
Among many cool features, it has a camera mounted on the parts-moving head to find the fiducial markings on the PCB. But of course, this mean a camera mounted to an almost general purpose two-axis gantry, and that sent the geeks’ minds spinning. [Stephen] was talking about how easy it would be to turn into a photo-stitching macrophotography rig, which could yield amazingly high resolution photos.
Meanwhile [Lucian] and I were thinking about how similar this gantry was to a 3D printer, and [Lucian] asked why 3D printers don’t come with cameras mounted on the hot ends. He’d even shopped this idea around at the East Coast Reprap Festival and gotten some people excited about it.
So here’s the idea: computer vision near extruder gives you real-time process control. You could use it to home the nozzle in Z. You could use it to tell when the filament has run out, or the steppers have skipped steps. If you had it really refined, you could use it to compensate other printing defects. In short, it would be a simple hardware addition that would open up a universe of computer-vision software improvements, and best of all, it’s easy enough for the home gamer to do – you’d probably only need a 3D printer.
Now I’ve shared the brainstorm with you. Hope it inspires some DIY 3DP innovation, or at least encourages you to brainstorm along below.
My wife and I are reading a book about physics in the early 1900s. It’s half history of science and half biography of some of the most famous physicists, and it’s good fun. But it got me thinking about the state of physics 120 years ago.
What we’d now call classical mechanics was fully settled for quite a while, and even the mysterious electricity and magnetism had been recently put to rest by Maxwell and Heaviside. It seemed like there was nothing left to explain for a while. And then all the doors broke wide open.
As much as I personally like Einstein’s relativity work, I’d say the most revolutionary change in perspective, and driver of the most research in the intervening century, was quantum mechanics. And how did it all start? In the strangest of ways – with Niels Bohr worrying about why hydrogen and helium gasses gave off particular colors when ionized, which lead to his model of the atom and the idea of energy in quantum packets. Or maybe it was De Broglie’s idea that electrons could behave like waves or magnets, from slit and cathode-ray experiments respectively, that lead to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle.
Either way, the birth of the strangest and most profound physics revolution – quantum mechanics – came from answering some ridiculously simple and straightforward questions. Why does helium emit pink, and how do TVs work? (I know, they didn’t have TVs yet…) Nobody looking at these phenomena, apart or together, could have thought that answering them would have required a complete re-thinking of how we think about reality. And yet it did.
I can’t help but wonder if there are, in addition to the multi-bazillion dollar projects like the Large Hadron Collider or the James Webb Space Telescope, some simpler phenomena out there that we should be asking “why?” about. Are we in a similar quiet before the storm? Or is it really true that the way to keep pushing back the boundaries of our ignorance is through these mega-projects?
While pundits routinely predict the end of e-mail, we still get a ton of it and we bet you do too. E-mail has been around for a very long time and back in the day, it was pretty high-tech to be able to shoot off a note asking everyone where they wanted to go to lunch. What we had on our computers back then was a lot different, too. Consider that the first e-mail over ARPANET was in 1971. Back then some people had hardcopy terminals. Graphics were unusual and your main storage was probably a fraction of the smallest flash drive you currently have on your desk. No one was sending photographs, videos, or giant PDF files.
Today, things are different. Our computers have gigabytes of RAM and terabytes of storage. We produce and consume richly formatted documents, photographs at high resolutions, and even video. Naturally, we want to share those files with others, yet e-mail has turned up woefully short. Sure, some systems will offer to stash your large file in the cloud and send a link, but e-mailing a multi-megabyte video to your friend across town is more likely to simply fail. Why?
Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Is Bigger (E-mail) Better?” →
We ran an article this week about RS-485, a noise resistant differential serial multidrop bus architecture. (Tell me where else you’re going to read articles like that!) I’ve had my fun with RS-485 in the past, and reading this piece reminded me of those days.
You see, RS-485 lets you connect a whole slew of devices up to a single bundle of Cat5 cable, and if you combine it with the Modbus protocol, you can have them work together in a network. Dedicate a couple of those Cat5 lines to power, and it’s the perfect recipe for a home, or hackerspace, small-device network — the kind of things that you, and I, would do with WiFi and an ESP8266 today.
Wired is more reliable, has fewer moving parts, and can solve the “how do I get power to these things” problem. It’s intrinsically simpler: no radios, just serial data running as voltage over wires. But nobody likes running cable, and there’s just so much more demo code out there for an ESP solution. There’s an undeniable ease of development and cross-device compatibility with WiFi. Your devices can speak directly to a computer, or to the whole Internet. And that’s been the death of wired.
Still, some part of me admires the purpose-built simplicity and the bombproof nature of the wired bus. It feels somehow retro, but maybe I’ll break out some old Cat5 and run it around the office just for old times’ sake.
Hi, my name is Dan and I’m a crimpoholic.
Honestly, I didn’t know I was a serial abuser of crimping tools until this weekend. I’ve been working on a small solar power system, and on Saturday I found myself struggling to get the BMS installed on the battery. I bought a Bluetooth dongle to connect the BMS to a smartphone app for checking the individual cells of the battery. I assumed it would just plug right into the UART port on the BMS, but alas — different connectors. So off I went to my bench, looking for a sensible way to make the connection.
My first thought was to simply log the connector off the dongle and solder the leads to the traces on the PCB right below the UART port. But then I saw that the pins in the port looked like 0.1″ pitch, so I rummaged through my stash to see what I could find. To my surprise, I had not only a kit of 0.1″ female crimps and housings, but I also had the crimping tool for them! I had no memory of making the purchase, but I thanked my lucky stars that I did, and got on with the job.
Continue reading “Confessions Of A Crimpoholic” →
While Star Trek’s transporter is hard to imagine — perfect matter movement across vast distances with no equipment on one end — it may not be the most far-fetched piece of tech on the Enterprise. While there are several contenders, I strongly suspect the universal translator is the most unlikely MacGuffin. After all, how would you decipher a totally unknown language in real-time? Of course, no one wants to watch 30 episodes of TV about how we finally figured out what Klingons call clouds, so pretty much every science fiction movie has some hand-waving explanation for speaking the viewer’s language. Farscape had microbes, some aliens have telepathy that works with alien brains of any kind, and still others study English from afar for decades off camera. Babelfish anyone?
I was thinking about this because of an article I read by [Alizeh Kohari] about [Jiaming Luo’s] work using AI to decode dead languages. While this might seem to be similar to Spock’s translator, it really isn’t. Human languages change over time and distance. You only have to watch the BBC or read something written by Thomas Jefferson to see that. But there is still a lot in common, at least within certain domains.
Continue reading “AI Maybe Revives Dead Languages” →
Quantum computers are really in their infancy. If you created a few logic gates with tubes back in the 1930s, it would be difficult to predict all the ways we would use computers today. However, you could probably guess where at least some of the problems would lie in the future. One of the things we are pretty sure will limit quantum computer development is error correction.
As far as we know, every quantum qubit we’ve come up with so far is very fragile and prone to random errors. That’s why every practical design today incorporates some sort of QEC — quantum error correction. Of course, error correction isn’t news. We use it all the time on unreliable storage media or communication channels and high-reliability memory. The problem is, you can’t directly clone a qubit (a quantum bit), so it is hard to use traditional error correction techniques with qubits.
After all, the whole point to a qubit is we don’t measure it until the end of the computation which, like Schrödinger’s cat, seals its fate. So if you were to “read” a bunch of qubits to form a checksum or a CRC, you’d destroy their quantum nature in the process making your computer not very useful. You can’t even copy a bit to use something like triple redundancy, either. There seems to be no way to practically duplicate a qubit.
Continue reading “Scientific Honesty And Quantum Computing’s Latest Theoretical Hurdle” →