PC Hardware Monitor Uses Tricorder-Derived Tech

The visually striking hardware monitor that [Mangy_Dog] recently put together for his new custom PC build might look like something out of the Alien franchise, but the hardware he’s built it around actually comes from a very different science-fiction property: Star Trek. Or at least, from a very impressive line of Star Trek props, anyway.

Given the incredible amount of time and effort that [Mangy_Dog] has put into developing his Star Trek: Voyager tricorder, it’s no surprise that he would decide to reuse its graphics chip and microcontroller. But while the familiar hardware might have helped jump-start this build, this was no weekend project.

He’s steadily been working on it for several months now, and even entered it into the 2022 Sci-Fi Contest back in April. Obviously he wasn’t able to complete it before the Contest deadline, but looking at the final results, we’re happy to see he kept chugging away at it.

Of course, with a project like this, the hardware is only half the battle. In the video below, [Mangy_Dog] explains the challenges involved in creating not only the firmware that runs on the monitor, but the accompanying PC-side application. This included modifying existing libraries to add support for the device’s unique flash storage arrangement, and pulling the relevant system status information out of the operating system and into a series of customizable widgets.

As impressive as the project is, [Mangy_Dog] says he’s not done yet. A second revision of the hardware and software will address several issues and add new capabilities, and considering the high degree of polish we’ve come to expect from his creations, we’re not surprised

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2022 Sci-Fi Contest: The Winners Are In

The Sci-Fi Contest closed out on Monday, and we put our heads together and picked our favorites. And it was no easy task, because in addition to many of the projects simply looking stellar, many went all-out on the documentation as well, making these stellar examples that we can all learn from, whether you’re into sci-fi or not. But who are we kidding? From the responses we got, you are.

The Winners

[RubenFixit]’s Star Trek Shuttle Console is a Trek themed escape room in a box. The project’s extraordinary attention to detail and exhaustive project logs absolutely won our judges heart. From the LCARS graphics to the 3D printed isolinear chip bays and mimetic crystals, it’s all there. [Ruben] estimates about 300 hours of work went into this one, and it shows.

We had no shortage of robotic projects in the contest, but [RudyAramayo]’s R.O.B. won our judges over. This one is not a joke, weighing in at over 140 lbs of custom metalwork and righteous treads. It’s also made out of some expensive hardware all around, so maybe this isn’t your weekend-build robot. We love the comment on the Arduino test code suite: “For gods sake man, you must test your code when it becomes an autonomous vehicle.”

Finally, [zapwizard]’s Functional Razor Crest Control Lever is a prop and a video game controller in one. We can totally see Grogu playing with this, and we were wowed by the attention to detail in the physical build — with custom gears and a speed limiter — as well as the attention to prop-making detail. Some parts are custom-cut stainless steel plates. 3D printed parts are covered in aluminum tape and chemically aged. Awesome. Oh yeah, it’s also a working USB joystick.

These three winners will be receiving a $150 shopping spree at Digi-Key.

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2022 Sci-Fi Contest: The Animatronic Baby Yoda You’ve Always Wanted

Simple robot parts make up the internals.

When it comes to sci-fi, it’s hard to go past Star Wars, and many submissions to our contest land in that exact universe. [Kevin Harrington]’s entry is one such example, with his animatronic Baby Yoda that’s exactly as cute as you’d hope it would be.  

The build is based on a Pololu Romi chassis, a simple two-wheeled differential-drive robot platform. It’s paired with a robot arm in the form of Hephaestus Arm 2, which provides the articulation for the precocious little creature. An ESP32 microcontroller serves as the brains of the operation, controlling all the servos and motors that make baby Yoda move. Control is via WiFi, using a website hosted on the ESP32 via RBE1001lib.

The animatronic baby Yoda would surely be a hit sitting on one’s shoulder at any sci-fi convention. Overall, it’s a simple robot that becomes more personable by skinning it with an adorable toy. It’s not the first baby Yoda (or Grogu) that we’ve seen, either – the popular character has inspired builds before, too! Video after the break.

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Announcing: The 2022 Hackaday.io Sci-Fi Contest

Ladies and Gentlemen, Sentient robots, Travellers from the distant future, or Aliens from the outer rim, it’s time to enter the 2022 Hackaday.io Sci-Fi Contest!

We last ran the Sci-Fi contest in the far, far past — before the Voigt-Kampff machine was detecting replicants on the gritty streets of 2019’s LA. Back then, we had some out-of-this-world entries. It’s time for the sequel.

Thanks to Digi-Key, the contest’s sponsor, your best blaster, your coolest costume, or your most righteous robot could win you one of three $150 shopping sprees in their parts warehouse. Create a Hackaday.io project, enter it in the contest, and you’re set. You might as well do that right now, but the contest closes on April 25th.

Sci-Fi is all about the looks, so if it’s purely decorative, be sure to blind us with science (fiction). If your project actually functions, so much the better! Of course we’d like to know how it works and how you made it, so documentation of the project is the other big scoring category. Whatever it is, it’s got to be sci-fi, and it’s got to have some electronics in it.

If you’re looking for inspiration, you could do a lot worse than to check out [Jerome Kelty]’s Animatronic Stargate Helmet, that not coincidentally took the grand prize last time around. It’s an artistic and engineering masterpiece all rolled into one, and the description of how it’s made is just as extensive. [Jochen Alt]’s “Paul” robot isn’t out of any particular sci-fi franchise that we know, but of rolling on one ball and reciting robot poetry, it absolutely should be.

Honorable Mentions

In addition to the overall prizes, we’ll be recognizing the best projects in the following honorable mention categories:

  • Star Star: Whether you’re “beam me up” or “use the force”, fans of either of the “Star” franchises are eligible for this honorable mention.
  • ExoSuit: This category recognizes sci-fi creations that you can wear. Costumes and armor fit in here.
  • Stolen off the Set: If your blaster looks exactly like Han Solo’s, you’re a winner here.  This is the category for your best prop replica.
  • Living in the Future: If your sci-fi device was purely fantasy when imagined, but now it’s realizable, you’re living in the future. A working tricorder or a functioning robot companion would fit in fine here.
  • The Most Important Device: Has no function, but it certainly looks like it does. Just blinking lights that blink back and forth, yet the government spent millions of dollars on it.

You don’t have to tell us where your project fits in. We’ve got you covered.

Engage!

Get started now by creating a project page on Hackaday.io. In the left sidebar of your project page, use the “Submit Project To” button to enter in the 2022 Sci-Fi Contest.

You have from now until April 25, 2022 to get it finished. Of course, if your time machine actually works, you can finish it whenever. Check out the Hackaday.io contest page for all the fine print.

Taking A Close Look At Hawkeye’s Workbench

We don’t have to tell you that the representation hackers and makers get in popular media is usually pretty poor. At this point, we’ve all come to accept that Hollywood is only interested in perpetuating negative stereotypes about hackers. But in scenes where the plot calls for a character to be working on an electronic device, it often seems like the prop department just sticks a soldering iron in the actor’s hand and calls it a day.

Of course, there are some exceptions. In the final episode of Marvel’s Hawkeye, the titular character is shown building some custom gear in a work area that looks suspiciously like somewhere actual work might get done. The set design was impressive enough that [Giovanni Bernardo] decided to pause the show and try to identify some of the tools and gadgets that litter the character’s refreshingly chaotic bench.

Now to be clear, we haven’t personally seen the latest Marvel spectacle from the House of Mouse, and it’s entirely possible that the illusion falls apart when taken as a whole. But from what we’re seeing here, it certainly looks like whoever did the set dressing for Hawkeye seems to have made an effort to recreate the hackerspace chic. We’ve got a multimeter within arm’s reach, the classic magnifying glass third arm, a Wiha screwdriver about to roll out of frame, and even some JB-Weld. If this looks eerily like what’s currently on your own bench, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

On the wider shot, we can see that the attention to detail wasn’t limited to the close-up. From the tools hanging on the pegboard to the shelves filled with rows of neatly labeled bins, we totally buy this as a functional workspace. It’s quite a bit neater than where we currently do our tinkering, but that’s more of a personal problem than anything. As we’ve seen, there are certainly people in this community who take their organization seriously.

Portrayals of science or technology in the media often leave a lot to be desired, which is why it’s so important to praise productions that put in the effort to get things right. With a little luck, maybe it will get through to the right people and raise the bar a bit. But even if it doesn’t change anything, we can at least give the folks behind the scenes some well-deserved recognition.

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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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