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Hackaday Links: April 11, 2021

Bad news, Martian helicopter fans: Ingenuity, the autonomous helicopter that Perseverance birthed onto the Martian surface a few days ago, will not be taking the first powered, controlled flight on another planet today as planned. We’re working on a full story so we’ll leave the gory details for that, but the short version is that while the helicopter was undergoing a full-speed rotor test, a watchdog timer monitoring the transition between pre-flight and flight modes in the controller tripped. The Ingenuity operations team is going over the full telemetry and will reschedule the rotor test; as a result, the first flight will occur no earlier than Wednesday, April 14. We’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Anyone who has ever been near a refinery or even a sewage treatment plant will have no doubt spotted flares of waste gas being burned off. It can be pretty spectacular, like an Olympic torch, but it also always struck us as spectacularly wasteful. Aside from the emissions, it always seemed like you could at least try to harness some of the energy in the waste gasses. But apparently the numbers just never work out in favor of tapping this source of energy, or at least that was the case until the proper buzzword concentration in the effluent was reached. With the soaring value of Bitcoin, and the fact that the network now consumes something like 80-TWh a year, building portable mining rigs into shipping containers that can be plugged into gas flaring stacks at refineries is now being looked at seriously. While we like the idea of not wasting a resource, we have our doubts about this; if it’s not profitable to tap into the waste gas stream to produce electricity now, what does tapping it to directly mine Bitcoin really add to the equation?

What would you do if you discovered that your new clothes dryer was responsible for a gigabyte or more of traffic on your internet connection every day? We suppose in this IoT world, such things are to be expected, but a gig a day seems overly chatty for a dryer. The user who reported this over on the r/smarthome subreddit blocked the dryer at the router, which was probably about the only realistic option short of taking a Dremel to the WiFi section of the dryer’s control board. The owner is in contact with manufacturer LG to see if this perhaps represents an error condition; we’d actually love to see a Wireshark dump of the data to see what the garrulous appliance is on about.

As often happens in our wanderings of the interwebz to find the very freshest of hacks for you, we fell down yet another rabbit hole that we thought we’d share. It’s not exactly a secret that there’s a large number of “Star Trek” fans in this community, and that for some of us, the way the various manifestations of the series brought the science and technology of space travel to life kick-started our hardware hacking lives. So when we found this article about a company building replica Tricorders from the original series, we followed along with great interest. What we found fascinating was not so much the potential to buy an exact replica of the TOS Tricorder — although that’s pretty cool — but the deep dive into how they captured data from one of the few remaining screen-used props, as well as how the Tricorder came to be.

And finally, what do you do if you have 3,281 drones lying around? Obviously, you create a light show to advertise the launch of a luxury car brand in China. At least that’s what Genesis, the luxury brand of carmaker Hyundai, did last week. The display, which looks like it consisted mostly of the brand’s logo whizzing about over a cityscape, is pretty impressive, and apparently set the world record for such things, beating out the previous attempt of 3,051 UAVs. Of course, all the coverage we can find on these displays concentrates on the eye-candy and the blaring horns of the soundtrack and gives short shrift to the technical aspects, which would really be interesting to dive into. How are these drones networked? How do they deal with latency? Are they just creating a volumetric display with the drones and turning lights on and off, or are they actually moving drones around to animate the displays? If anyone knows how these things work, we’d love to learn more, and perhaps even do a feature article.

Kerbal Space Program Goes To The Movies In Stowaway

Fans of the lusciously voiced space aficionado [Scott Manley] will know he often uses Kerbal Space Program (KSP) in his videos to knock together simple demonstrations of blindingly complex topics such as orbital mechanics. But as revealed in one of his recent videos, YouTube isn’t the only place where his KSP craft can be found these days. It turns out he used his virtual rocket building skills to help the creators of Netflix’s Stowaway develop a realistic portrayal of a crewed spacecraft in a Mars cycler orbit.

The Mars cycler concept was proposed in 1985 by Buzz Aldrin as a way to establish a long-term human presence on the Red Planet. Put simply, it describes an orbit that would allow a vehicle to travel continuously between Earth and Mars while needing only an occasional engine burn for course corrections. The spacecraft couldn’t actually stop at either planet, but while it made a close pass, smaller craft could rendezvous with it to hitch a ride. The concept can be thought of as a sort of interplanetary train: where passengers and cargo are picked up and dropped off at “stations” above Earth and Mars. It’s worth noting that a similar cycler orbit should be possible for Earth-Venus trips, but nobody really wants to go there.

An early KSP proof of concept for Stowaway.

The writers of Stowaway wanted their film to take place on a Mars cycler, and to avoid having to create the illusion of weightlessness, they wanted their fictional craft to also have some kind of artificial gravity. The only problem was, they weren’t sure what that would actually look like. So they reached out to [Scott], who in turn used KSP to throw together a rough idea of how such a ship might work in the real-world.

As you can see in the video below, the CGI spacecraft shown in the film’s recently released trailer ended up bearing a strong resemblance to its KSP prototype. While naturally some artistic license was used, [Scott] is excited by what he’s seen so far. The spinning spacecraft, which uses a spent upper stage to counterbalance its crew module and features a stationery utility node at the center, certainly looks impressive; all the more so with the knowledge that it’s based on sound principles.

While Netflix has had a hand in some surprisingly realistic science fiction in the past, they’ve also greenlit some real groan-worthy productions (if you haven’t watched Away, don’t). So until we can see the whole thing for ourselves, we can only hope that [Scott]’s sage advice will allow the crew of Stowaway to fly safe.

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Raspberry Pi Makes A Practical Tricorder

What do you get when you add a thermal camera, a software-defined radio dongle, and a battery to a Raspberry Pi? If you are [saveitforparts] you make a tricorder for sniffing radio signals and viewing heat signatures. He admits, the videos (see below) aren’t exactly a “how-to” but it will still give you some ideas for your next build.

You can sense the frustration with some Linux configuration issues, but [saveitforparts] admits he isn’t a Linux or Raspberry Pi guru. Version 1 seemed to be a bit of a prototype, but version 2 is more polished. We still aren’t sure we’d see Spock carrying a case like that, but some 3D printing could spiff that right up.

Of course, a real tricorder is a McGuffin that does whatever the plot calls for. This one is a bit more practical, but it can monitor thermal and RF energy and could accommodate more sensors. This is a great example of a project that would have been very hard to do in the past but is much easier today. The availability of cheap computers and ready-made modules along with associated software open up many possibilities.

If you want to do your own Tricorder hacking you could take over a commercial model. Then again, there’s an official replica on its way that seems like it might have some similar features.

3D Printed DIY Neuralyzer

We agree with you. We can never have enough cosplay hacks. And the ones that include some electronics element definitely have a special place in our hearts. That’s why when we ran across [Maddogg0’s] 3D printed Neuralyzer on Instructables, we knew we had to share.

You may recall [How to make’s] DIY Neuralyzer that we featured a few weeks ago which required more of a metal-working approach. [Maddogg0’s] design might be a bit more convenient for those of you that have a 3D printer, but no machine shop.

We love the elegant simplicity of [Maddogg0’s] design. The entire enclosure is printed in two halves that are held together by magnets. One half of the enclosure houses a single coin cell battery and a tiny circuit board for holding the LEDs in place, really giving the Neuralyzer some shine. In true maker fashion, [Maddogg0] released the necessary design files on TinkerCAD so anyone can reuse, remix, and reshare.

Whichever design you fancy, [Maddogg0’s] or [How to make’s], be careful not to point the Neuralyzer at yourself and always remember to wear your sunglasses!

 

 

DIY Neuralyzer From Scrap Parts

Cosplay and prop making are near and dear to our hearts here at Hackaday. That’s why whenever we see sci-fi tech brought to life, we can’t help but pay close attention. Enter [How to make’s] DIY Neuralyzer, from the Men-in-Black franchise. Unfortunately, this won’t wipe your memories as the real-life Neuralyzer would, but it will make for a cool prop at your next cosplay event.

What makes this project worth sharing is its use of very simple home tools and a bit of scrap metal, some PVC, a single LED, a switch, and maybe a few more miscellaneous bits. The base of the design is composed of two pieces of hollow, rod-shaped scrap metal and a single spring that mechanizes the entire setup.

The video is a few months old at this point. It took a recent post on Reddit to send this across our feed, but we’re glad we came across it.

Great project [How to make]! May we suggest a few more LEDs?

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A Bootable Greeting For The Xenomorph In Your Life

When he needed a gift for his Alien superfan friend, [Stephen Brennan] decided the best way to put his unique set of skills to use would be to create a bootable Linux operating system that captures the sights and sounds of the Nostromo’s retro-futuristic computer systems. We could all use a friend like that.

Even if would never occur to you gift somebody a bootable flash drive, there’s a wealth of information in this blog post about Linux customization which could be useful for all sorts of projects. From creating a bootsplash image to automatically starting up a minimalistic windowing environment so a single graphical application takes center stage.

Whether you’re looking to tweak your desktop machine or build a Raspberry Pi kiosk, the commands and tips that [Stephen] shows off are sure to be interesting for anyone who’s not quite satisfied with how their Linux distribution of choice looks “out of the box”.

But there’s more to this project than a custom wallpaper and some retro fonts. [Stephen] actually took the time to create a facsimile of the “Personal Terminal” computer interface shown in the recent Alien: Isolation game in C using ncurses. The resulting program, aptly named “alien-console”, is released under the BSD license and is flexible enough that you could either use it as a base to build your own cyberpunk UI, or just load it up with custom text files and use it on your cyberdeck as-is.

Finally, to really sell the Alien feel, [Stephen] went through and ripped various audio clips from the film and wove them into the OS so it would make the movie-appropriate boops and beeps. He even included a track of the Nostromo’s ambient engine noise for proper immersion. But perhaps our favorite trick is the use of the sleep command to artificially slow down the terminal and give everything a bit more “weight”. After all, flying a pretend starship should feel like serious business.

Pegleg: Raspberry Pi Implanted Below The Skin (Not Coming To A Store Near You)

Earlier this month, a group of biohackers installed two Rasberry Pis in their legs. While that sounds like the bleeding edge, those computers were already v2 of a project called PegLeg. I was fortunate enough to see both versions in the flesh, so to speak. The first version was scarily large — a mainboard donated by a wifi router roughly the size of an Altoids tin. It’s a reminder that the line between technology’s cutting edge and bleeding edge is moving ever onward and this one was firmly on the bleeding edge.

How does that line end up moving? Sometimes it’s just a matter of what intelligent people can accomplish in a long week. Back in May, during a three-day biohacker convention called Grindfest, someone said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be cool if…” Anyone who has spent an hour in a maker space or hacker convention knows how those conversations go. Rather than ending with a laugh, things progressed at a fever pitch.

The router shed all non-vital components. USB ports: ground off. Plastic case: recycled. Battery: repurposed. Amazon’s fastest delivery brought a Qi wireless coil to power the implant from outside the body and the smallest USB stick with 64 GB on the silicon. The only recipient of PegLeg version 1.0 was [Lepht Anonym], who uses the pronoun ‘it’. [Lepht] has a well-earned reputation among biohackers who focus on technological implants who often use the term “grinder,” not to be confused with the dating app or power tool.

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