Seth Molson is Designing the Future, One Show at a Time

From the banks of levers and steam gauges of 1927’s Metropolis to the multicolored jewels that the crew would knowingly tap on in the original Star Trek, the entertainment industry has always struggled with producing imagery of advanced technology. Whether constrained by budget or imagination, portrayals usually go in one of two directions: they either rely too heavily on contemporary technology, or else they go so far in the opposite direction that it borders on comical.

Seth Molson

But it doesn’t always have to be that way. In fact, when technology is shown properly in film it often serves as inspiration for engineers. The portrayal of facial recognition and gesture control in Minority Report was so well done that it’s still referenced today, nearly 20 years after the film’s release. For all its faults, Star Trek is responsible for a number of “life imitating art” creations; such as early mobile phones bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the flip communicators issued to Starfleet personnel.

So when I saw the exceptional use of 3D printing in the Netflix reboot of Lost in Space, I felt it was something that needed to be pointed out. From the way the crew made use of printed parts to the printer’s control interface, everything felt very real. It took existing technology and pushed it forward in a way that was impressive while still being believable. It was the kind of portrayal of technology that modern tech-savvy audiences deserve.

It left such an impression that we decided to reach out to Seth Molson, the artist behind the user interfaces from Lost in Space, and try to gain a little insight from somebody who is fighting the good fight for technology in media. To learn how he creates his interfaces, the pitfalls he navigates, and how the expectations of the viewer have changed now that we all have a touch screen supercomputer in our pocket.

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Kipp Bradford on the Importance of Boring Projects, Medical Tech, and Sci Fi Novels

If someone suggests you spend time working on boring projects, would you take that advice? In this case, I think Kipp Bradford is spot on. We sat down together at the Hackaday Superconference last fall and talked about medical device engineering, the infrastructure in your home, applying Sci-Fi to engineering, and yes, we spoke about boring projects.

Kipp presented a talk on Devices for Controlling Climates at Supercon last year. It could be argued that this is one of those boring topics, but very quickly you begin to grasp how vitally important it is. Think about how many buildings on your street have a heating or cooling system in them. Now zoom out in your mind several times to neighborhood, city, state, and country level. How much impact will a small leap forward have when multiplied up?

The next Hackaday Superconference is just around the corner. Before you join us below for the interview with Kipp, make sure you grab your 2018 Hackaday Superconference ticket to be there for great talks like Kipp’s!

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Lost in Space Gets 3D Printing Right

When it has become so common for movies and television to hyper-sensationalize engineering, and to just plain get things wrong, here’s a breath of fresh air. There’s a Sci-Fi show out right now that wove 3D printing into the story line in a way that is correct, unforced, and a fitting complement to that fictional world.

With the amount of original content Netflix is pumping out anymore, you may have missed the fact that they’ve recently released a reboot of the classic Lost in Space series from the 1960’s. Sorry LeBlanc fans, this new take on the space traveling Robinson family pretends the 1998 movie never happened, as have most people. It follows the family from their days on Earth until they get properly lost in space as the title would indicate, and is probably most notable for the exceptional art direction and special effects work that’s closer to Interstellar than the campy effects of yesteryear.

But fear not, Dear Reader. This is not a review of the show. To that end, I’ll come right out and say that Lost in Space is overall a rather mediocre show. It’s certainly gorgeous, but the story lines and dialog are like something out of a fan film. It’s overly drawn out, and in the end doesn’t progress the overarching story nearly as much as you’d expect. The robot is pretty sick, though.

No, this article is not about the show as a whole. It’s about one very specific element of the show that was so well done I’m still thinking about it a month later: its use of 3D printing. In Lost in Space, the 3D printer aboard the Jupiter 2 is almost a character itself. Nearly every member of the main cast has some kind of interaction with it, and it’s directly involved in several major plot developments during the season’s rather brisk ten episode run.

I’ve never seen a show or movie that not only featured 3D printing as such a major theme, but that also did it so well. It’s perhaps the most realistic portrayal of 3D printing to date, but it’s also a plausible depiction of what 3D printing could look like in the relatively near future. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’d be exceptionally interested to hear if anyone can point out anything better.

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Books you should read: The Bridge

A few weeks ago, Amazon’s crack marketing AI decided to recommend a few books for me. That AI must be getting better because instead of the latest special-edition Twilight books, I was greeted with this:

“The asteroid was called the Hand of God when it hit.”

That’s the first sentence of The Bridge, a new Sci-Fi book by Leonard Petracci. If you think that line sucks you in, wait until you read the whole first chapter.

The Bridge is solidly in the generation ship trope. A voyage hundreds or even thousands of years long, with no sleep or stasis pods. The original crew knows they have no hope of seeing their destination, nor will their children and grandchildren. Heinlein delved into it with Orphans of the Sky. Even Robert Goddard himself discussed generation ships in The Last Migration.

I wouldn’t call The Bridge hard Sci-Fi — and that’s perfectly fine. Leonard isn’t going for scientific accuracy. It’s a great character driven story. If you enjoyed a book like Ready Player One, you’ll probably enjoy this.

The Bridge Is the story of Dandelion 14, a ship carrying people of Earth to a new planet. At some point during the journey, Dandelion 14 was struck by an asteroid, which split the ship in two. Only a few wires and cables keep the halves of the ship together. The crew on both sides of the ship survived, but they had no way to communicate. They do catch glimpses of each other in the windows though.

Much of the story is told in the first person by Horatius, a young man born hundreds of years after the asteroid strike. Horatius’ side of the ship has a population of one thousand, carefully measured at each census. They’ve lost knowledge of how to operate the ship’s systems, but they are surviving. Most of the population are gardeners, but there are doctors, cooks, porters, and a few historians. At four years old, Horatius is selected to become a gardener, like his father was before him. But Horatius has higher aspirations. He longs to become a historian to learn the secrets of the generations that came before him and to write his own story down for those who will come after.

Horatius sees the faces of the people on the other side of the ship as well. Gaunt, hungry, often fighting with knives or other weapons. A stark contrast to the well-fed people on his side of the vessel. The exception is one red-haired girl about his age. He often finds her staring back at him, watching him.

Horatius might have been chosen as a gardener, but he’s clever — a fact that sometimes gets him in trouble. His life takes an abrupt turn when the sleeping ship awakens with an announcement blaring “Systems Rebooting, Ship damage assessed. Reuniting the two halves of the ship and restoring airlock, approximately twenty-four hours until complete.”

The hardest part of writing a book review is not giving too much away. While I won’t tell you much more about the plot for The Bridge, I can tell a bit about how the book came about. You might call this book a hack of the publishing system. Leonard Petracci is also known as leoduhvinci on Reddit. The Bridge started life as Leonard’s response to a post on /r/writingprompts. The prompt went like this:

After almost 1,000 years the population of a generation ship has lost the ability to understand most technology and now lives at a pre-industrial level. Today the ship reaches its destination and the automated systems come back online.

Leonard ’s response to the prompt shot straight to the top, and became the first chapter of The Bridge. Chapter 2 followed soon after. In only a few months, the book was complete. Available on Reddit, and on Leonard’s website. The Bridge is also available on Amazon for Kindle, and on paper from Amazon’s CreateSpace.

The only real criticism I have about The Bridge is the ending. The book’s resolution felt a bit rushed. It would have been nice to have a few more pages telling us what happened to the characters after the major events of the book. Leonard is planning a sequel though, and he teases this in the final pages.

You can start reading The Bridge right now on Leonard’s website. He has the entire book online for free for a few more weeks. If you’ve missed the free period, the Kindle edition is currently $2.99.

Jean-Luc PYcARD is a Pocketable Python Development Platform

It’s a good thing that a ridiculous pun and a screenprint of Jean-Luc Picard on the bottom of the board is enough to qualify for the 2017 Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest, because [bobricius]’s Python-plus-Arduino card and environmental sensor potpourri is very cool.

The PCB design itself is great. It’s got a gigantic LED array, cutout for a wrist strap, and an onboard USB plug so you can program it just by sticking it in your computer; it shows up as a USB mass storage device when you plug it in. The files that show up on the “drive” are Micropython code that you can edit, save, and then run directly on the device. You can hardly beat that for convenience.

And there’s a full complement of sensors: not one but two temperature and humidity sensors, including our recent favorite BME280, which also reads barometric pressure. (We suspect that makes it a tri-corder.) There’s a real-time clock, a buzzer, and some buttons. Want to add more sensors? I2C ports are broken out for your convenience.

Besides having Star Trek flair, this board would give the various educational platforms a run for their money: Micro:bit, we’re looking at you. Very cool indeed!

Sci-Fi Contest: Both Wars and Trek Represented

Hackaday’s Sci-Fi Contest is in its third week. We’ve passed warp speed and were heading toward ludicrous speed. There is still almost a month to enter before March 6, when the deadline hits and everything goes to plaid. With 22 submissions all vying for 4 great prizes, there is still plenty of room for new challengers!

This contest is all about projects inspired by science fiction. There is a great mix of projects so far.

BB-8 Using Roll-On Deoderant

bb-8partsStar Wars is well represented with [Tech Flare’s] DIY Phone Controlled BB-8 Droid. [Tech Flare] is improving upon an existing BB-8 build. This is a low-cost build, so many of the parts are sourced from everyday items.

A new one for us is the 11 roll-on deodorant balls that are used as internal bearings. We’re not sure how well this robot will work, but it sure will be the best smelling BB-8 out there and you have to admit that is a creative use of easily source materials!

An Arduino is the brains of this Robot. As the title suggests, control comes from a smartphone. There is some creative work happening to fabricate the ball that makes up the body of the bot so be sure to jump in and check out that writeup.

LCARS In Real Life? Yes, Please!

lcarsAny Star Trek fan knows what the LCARS interface is [Elkentaro] is bringing LCARS life with LCARS NASA ISS Live Stream Viewer. [Elkentaro] is using a Raspberry Pi to display the International Space Station High Definition Eart-Viewing System (ISS HDEV) experiment.

The ISS is constantly streaming live views of the earth from one of 4 cameras. The Pi takes the stream and adds an LCARS image overlay. Everything is displayed on a 7″ TFT LCD. The same view Wesley Crusher would have seen at the helm of the NCC-1701D.

The overlay really brings the content to life and it has us thinking. If you have a refrigerator with one of those questionably-useful built-in montiors, it needs LCARS. Show us what you got!

Use the Schwartz

So what is missing from this contest? You of course! There is plenty of time left to create a great Sci-Fi inspired project. The deadline is Monday, March 6, 2017, 09:00 pm PST (+8 UTC). We dropped some Spaceballs references at the top of this article but haven’t actually seen an entry for that theme. Who’s going to build a voice-changing Dark Helmet?

[Phaser shown in the main image is the Original Series Phaser which Think Geek used to carry]

Hackaday’s Sci-Fi Contest Hits Warp Speed

Hackers’ perspiration may go into soldering, coding, and building. For many of us, the inspiration for these projects comes from science fiction. The books, movies, TV shows, short stories, and comics we all grew up on, and continue to devour to this day. We’re paying homage to all these great Sci-Fi stories with our latest contest.

The Sci-Fi Contest isn’t about the most efficient way of building a 555 circuit or the tightest code. This one is about celebrating science fiction in the best way we know how — building awesome projects. This is Hackaday, so you’re going to have to use some form of working electronics in your entry. Beyond that, it’s up to you. Bring us your Overwatch cosplays, your Trek Tricorders, your Star Wars pod racers.

This isn’t our first Sci-Fi contest. In fact, Sci-Fi was one of Hackaday.io’s first contests way back in 2014.
3 years and over 100,000 new hackers later, it’s time to take a fresh look at what you all have been up to. Projects that were entered in the first Sci-Fi contest are eligible, but you need to create a new project page and do some new work.

Check the rules for the full details. Once you’ve published a project use the drop-down menu on the left sidebar to enter it in the Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.

Prizes

Great work reaps great rewards. Here’s what we’ve got for this contest:

  • Grand Prize is a Rigol DS1054Z 4 Channel 50 MHz scope.
  • First Prize is a Monoprice Maker Select Mini 3D printer
  • Second Prize is a complete Blu-Ray box of Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Third Prize is Lego’s latest rendition of the Millennium Falcon.

The deadline is Monday, March 6, 2017, 09:00 pm PST (+8 UTC), so don’t waste time! Warm up your soldering irons, spin up your warp drives, and create something awesome!