Hackaday Podcast 074: Stuttering Swashplate, Bending Mirrors, Chasing Curves, And Farewell To Segway

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recap a week of hacks. A telescope mirror that can change shape and a helicopter without a swashplate lead the charge for fascinating engineering. These are closely followed by a vibratory wind generator that has no blades to spin. The Open Source Hardware Association announced a new spec this week to remove “Master” and “Slave” terminology from SPI pin names. The Segway is no more. And a bit of bravery and rock solid soldering skills can resurrect that Macbook that has one dead GPU.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always, tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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The Segway Is Dead, Long Live The Segway

Before it was officially unveiled in December 2001, the hype surrounding the Segway Human Transporter was incredible. But it wasn’t because people were excited to get their hands on the product, they just wanted to know what the thing was. Cryptic claims from inventor Dean Kamen that “Ginger” would revolutionize transportation and urban planning lead to wild speculation. When somebody says their new creation will make existing automobiles look like horse-drawn carriages in comparison, it’s hard not to get excited.

Dean Kamen unveils the Segway

There were some pretty outlandish theories. Some believed that Kamen, a brilliant engineer and inventor by all accounts, had stumbled upon some kind of anti-gravity technology. The kids thought they would be zipping around on their own Back to the Future hover boards by Christmas, while Mom and Dad were wondering what the down payment on a floating minivan might be. Others thought the big secret was the discovery of teleportation, and that we were only a few years out from being able to “beam” ourselves around like Captain Kirk.

Even in hindsight, you really can’t blame them. Kamen had the sort of swagger and media presence that we today associate with Elon Musk. There was a general feeling that this charismatic maverick was about to do what the “Big Guys” couldn’t. Or even more tantalizing, what they wouldn’t do. After all, a technology which made the automobile obsolete would change the world. The very idea threatened a number of very big players, not least of which the incredibly powerful petroleum industry.

Of course, we all know what Dean Kamen actually showed off to the world that fateful day nearly 20 years ago. The two-wheeled scooter was admittedly an impressive piece of hardware, but it was hardly a threat to Detroit automakers. Even the horses were largely unconcerned, as you could buy an actual pony for less than what the Segway cost.

Now, with the announcement that Segway will stop production on their eponymous personal transporter in July, we can confidently say that history will look back on it as one of the most over-hyped pieces of technology ever created. But that’s not to say Kamen’s unique vehicle didn’t have an impact. Continue reading “The Segway Is Dead, Long Live The Segway”

Hackaday Links: January 5, 2020

It looks like the third decade of the 21st century is off to a bit of a weird start, at least in the middle of the United States. There, for the past several weeks, mysterious squads of multicopters have taken to the night sky for reasons unknown. Witnesses on the ground report seeing both solo aircraft and packs of them, mostly just hovering in the night sky. In mid-December when the nightly airshow started, the drones seemed to be moving in a grid-search pattern, but that seems to have changed since then. These are not racing drones, nor are they DJI Mavics; witnesses report them to be 6′ (2 meters) in diameter and capable of staying aloft for 90 minutes. These are serious professional machines, not kiddies on a lark. So far, none of the usual government entities have taken responsibility for the flights, so speculation is all anyone has as to their nature. We’d like to imagine someone from our community will get out there with radio direction finding gear to locate the operators and get some answers.

We all know that water and electricity don’t mix terribly well, but thanks to the seminal work of White, Pinkman et al (2009), we also know that magnets and hard drives are a bad combination. But that didn’t stop Luigo Rizzo from using a magnet to recover data from a hard drive. He reports that the SATA drive had been in continuous use for more than 11 years when it failed to recover after a power outage. The spindle would turn but the heads wouldn’t move, despite several rounds of percussive maintenance. Reasoning that the moving coil head mechanism might need a magnetic jump-start, he probed the hard drive case with a magnetic parts holder until the head started moving again. He was then able to recover the data and retire the drive. Seems like a great tip to file away for a bad day.

It seems like we’re getting closer to a Star Trek future every day. No, we probably won’t get warp drives or transporters anytime soon, and if we’re lucky velour tunics and Spandex unitards won’t be making a fashion statement either. But we may get something like Dr. McCoy’s medical scanner thanks to work out of MIT using lasers to conduct a non-contact medical ultrasound study. Ultrasound exams usually require a transducer to send sound waves into the body and pick up the echoes from different structures, with the sound coupled to the body through an impedance-matching gel. The non-contact method uses pulsed IR lasers to penetrate the skin and interact with blood vessels. The pulses rapidly heat and expand the blood vessels, effectively turning them into ultrasonic transducers. The sound waves bounce off of other structures and head back to the surface, where they cause vibrations that can be detected by a second laser that’s essentially a sophisticated motion sensor. There’s still plenty of work to do to refine the technique, but it’s an exciting development in medical imaging.

And finally, it may actually be that the future is less Star Trek more WALL-E in the unlikely event that Segway’s new S-Pod personal vehicle becomes popular. The two-wheel self-balancing personal mobility device is somewhat like a sitting Segway, except that instead of leaning to steer it, the operator uses a joystick. Said to be inspired by the decidedly not Tyrannosaurus rex-proof “Gyrosphere” from Jurassic World, the vehicle tops out at 24 miles per hour (39 km/h). We’re not sure what potential market for these things would need performance like that – it seems a bit fast for the getting around the supermarket and a bit slow for keeping up with city traffic. So it’s a little puzzling, although it’s clearly easier to fully automate than a stand-up Segway.

Hoverchair For Your Hoverboard Turns Your Segway Into A Go-Kart

Want to get somewhere safely, but all you have is a Segway? An afternoon spent tinkering can turn your Segway into a lounging cruiser with this hoverseat attachment, just like YouTuber [Inflatable Boats]’s hot new ride.

The backbone of the cart is the Segway Mini Pro. An aluminium frame attaches to the Segway via an eye-bolt and two carabiners, the larger of which has some tape wrapped around it to reduce wear. A swivel caster is attached with u-bolts to support the weight  of the rider along the middle of this makeshift go-cart. Pushing on a t-handle made of pvc — connected to the Segway’s knee brace with a simple strap — engages the motor in lieu of the normal lean-to-go-forward action. Turning is simply done by swinging the handle or pressing with your feet.

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Hacklet 74 – Well Balanced Projects

Balance: we humans take it for granted. Without the sense of balance provided by our inner ears, we would have a hard time standing or walking around. What’s easy for us can be very hard for machines though. Projects that balance things have long been a challenge for engineers, makers and hackers. And rightly so, as building a machine to keep an object in balance often requires some novel electronic and mechanical solutions. This week’s Hacklet is all about projects that keep an object – or themselves – in balance.

wheelWe start with [Manuel Kasten] and Balance Wheel. Inspired by a project at Chaos Communication Congress, [Manuel] created a hack that looks timeless. A stainless steel ball is balanced on top of a wooden wheel. The system detects the ball’s position using a solar cell. More light on the cell means the ball is slipping off the wheel. The system counteracts this by spinning the wheel to oppose the falling ball. In the old days this would have been an analog system. [Manuel] made things a bit more modern by using an ATmega644p processor. The video shows the wheel spinning a bit fast, as the system was tuned for a ping pong ball rather than a heavy steel roller.

sidewayNext up is [Jason Dorie] with Sideway. Sideway is a two-wheeled skateboard that self-balances. One of the best parts of this project is that most of the mechanical components are from electric scooters, which means they are easy to source. The frame is even easier: A solid piece of plywood supports the rider and all the electronics. Two scooter motors are driven by a Sabertooth 2x32A motor controller. A Parallax Propeller performs the balancing act, obtaining IMU data from an ITG3200 digital gyro and an ADXL345 accelerometer. Speed is controlled by leaning forward and back, like a Segway. Steering is controlled by a Wiimote nunchuck. Sideway is powered by 3 cell LiPo batteries. [Jason] says this ride gets a lot of attention every time he takes it out.

 

balance-robot[Dominic Robillard] developed his Stair-climbing self-balancing robot as part of his masters degree at the University of Ottawa. We don’t know what grade his advisors gave him, but we give this project an A+. The robot is a 4WD off-road monster. Two heavy-duty drive motors give it tank style steering. The most impressive part of the robot are the two arms which allow it to roll its entire chassis up and over obstacles which would stop much larger robots. [Dominic’s] robot isn’t just statically balanced though – it can rear up and ride on two wheels Segway style. If it does tip over, the arms will lift it right back up!

 

terrabalanceFinally, we have [Paul Bristow] with Terabalance. [Paul] got his hands on an early copy of the TeraRanger One, a Time of Flight (ToF) sensor developed at CERN. He decided to test it out by using it to balance a ping pong ball on a wooden bar. The sensor had to be slowed down quite a bit in this application, data is only read about 1000 times a second and averaged. An Arduino reads the distance data from the sensor and uses that data to drive a hobby servo. No PID loops here, in fact, Terabalance is a great example of how a proportional only system will hunt forever. That said, it is good enough to keep the ball on the balance bar.

There are a plenty of balancing projects on Hackaday.io. If you want to see more, check out the new well balanced project list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Segway Build You Can Do Yourself

We’ve seen lots of Segway variants on Hackaday, but they don’t always have detailed instructions on how they made it… Well lucky for us, [Bob] from [Making Stuff] just finished his extensive Segway project with tons of videos of the build!

Inspired by other self-balancing scooter projects he had seen online, [Bob] wanted to try his hand at building one. So he took bits and pieces from designs he liked, and came up with his own solid looking Segway clone design. Using Google Sketchup he drew up the frame, and from there it was all hands on deck. A bit of TIG welding later and it was time for the components.

Some small slight mechanical hiccups aside, the longest part of the project was the electronics and software — getting it to work like a real Segway. After writing his own code he ran into a few roadblocks, but luckily he was able to get some help from someone at his local Maker meetup which saved a lot of troubleshooting on his end.

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The Self-Balancing Sideways Segway

[Jason Dorie] has been hard at work on his two-wheeled, self-balancing skateboard. He calls it the Sideway.

Similar to the Segway, it relies on the user shifting their weight to control the speed at which it will run. A Wii Nunchuk controller is used to steer, which varies each wheels output, which allows for some tight maneuvering!

Under the deck is a pair of 24V 280W (about 1/3HP each) scooter motors which are driven by two 32A Sabertooth speed controllers. They’re run off a pair of 3 cell 5Ah LiPos which get him about 40 minutes of use — not too shabby! To handle the control algorithm for the IMU, he’s using a Parallax Propeller with custom software.

To demonstrate, he takes us of a tour of one of his favorite stores — Michael’s.

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