CNC On The Desktop Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 26 at noon Pacific for the CNC on the Desktop Hack Chat with Matt Hertel and John Allwine!

Once limited to multi-million dollar machines on the floors of cavernous factories, CNC technology has moved so far downscale in terms of machine size that it’s often easy to lose track of where it pops up. Everything from 3D-printers to laser engravers use computer numeric control to move a tool to some point in three-dimensional space, and do it with unmatched precision and reproducibility.

CNC has gotten so pervasive that chances are pretty good that there’s a CNC machine of some sort pretty close to everyone reading this, with many of those machines being homebrew designs. That’s the backstory of Pocket NC, a company that was literally started in a one-bedroom apartment in 2011 by Matt and Michelle Hertel. After a successful Kickstarter that delivered 100 of their flagship five-axis desktop CNC mills to backers, they geared up for production and now turn out affordable machine tools for the masses. We’ve even seen some very complex parts made on these mills show up in projects we’ve featured.

For this Hack Chat, we’ll be joined by Pocket NC CTO and co-founder Matt Hertel and John Allwine, who recently joined the company as Principal Software Engineer. We’ll discuss not only Pocket NC’s success and future plans, but the desktop CNC landscape in general. Drop by with your questions regarding both the hardware and the software side of CNC, about turning an idea into a business, and where the CNC world and next-generation manufacturing will be heading in the future.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, August 26 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Building The Ultimate Raspberry Pi Automation Controller

At this point, we’ve lost count of how many automation projects we’ve seen with some variant of a Raspberry Pi at the helm. Which is hardly surprising, as the boards are cheap, powerful, and well documented. The list of reasons not to use one has never been very long, but with the PiCon One that [Frank] has been working on, it’s about to get even shorter.

The project takes the form of an IP65 industrial enclosure and support electronics that the Raspberry Pi Zero W plugs into. While expandable in nature, [Frank] has a core set of features he’s aiming for as a baseline such as additional serial ports, integrated uninterruptible power supply, a battery-backed Real Time Clock (RTC), an array of programmable status LEDs, and support for XBee and GPS plug-in modules. Feedback is provided through a pair of four digit seven-segment displays and a color 320×480 TFT screen running a custom user interface.

[Frank] envisions the PiCon One for use as a rugged solar power controller, eventually able to measure array output, energy consumption, and even operate motorized mounts to keep the panels pointed at the sun. To that end, he’s recently been experimenting with running JPL’s Horizon software on the Pi to determine the sun’s position in real-time. But the device is capable of so much more, and would make an ideal controller for many home and potentially even industrial applications.

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Open And Sustainable Engineering Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 19 at noon Pacific for the Open and Sustainable Engineering Hack Chat with Joshua Pearce!

Since the first of our hominid ancestors learned to pick up a rock and make it into a tool, we humans have been using our engineering skills to change the world. For most of the 2 million or so years since that first technological leap, natural materials like stone and wood were the focus of our engineering projects, and except for a few tantalizing remnants, most of what was built has returned to the Earth whence it came.

Then we discovered other materials; we learned to free metals from rocks and how to harvest the fossilized hydrocarbon remains of ancient plants. Iron, aluminum, plastic, and silicon became our stock in trade, and the planet is now layered so thick with these materials and the byproducts of harvesting them that a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene Epoch, has been proposed to cover this time of human activity and its impact on the geological record.

But if we humans are clever enough to make such an impact, we should be clever enough to think our way out of the mess, and wise enough to see the need. That’s where the efforts of Dr. Pearce’s research at the Michigan Tech Open Sustainability Technology (MOST) lab are focused. Dr. Pearce envisions a sustainable future powered by pervasive solar photovoltaic systems and using open-source technologies like 3D printing to drive new models for manufacturing. We’ve recently seen interesting work from his lab, like this grinder that makes custom compression screws for plastic recycling. The MOST page on Hackaday.io is filled with other great examples of the technology that supports their mission, from low-cost environmental testing instruments to 3D-printable microfluidics.

Dr. Pearce will join us on the Hack Chat to talk about open and sustainable engineering. Be sure to stop by with your questions and to find out what you can do to engineer a brighter future, starting right in your own shop.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, August 19 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Continue reading “Open And Sustainable Engineering Hack Chat”

Drone Buoy Drifts Along The Gulf Stream For Citizen Science

It may be named after the most famous volleyball in history, but “Wilson” isn’t just a great conversationalist. [Hayden Brophy] built the free-drifting satellite buoy to see if useful science can be done with off-the-shelf hardware and on a shoestring budget. And from the look of the data so far, Wilson is doing pretty well.

Wilson belongs to a class of autonomous vessels known as drifters, designed to float along passively in the currents of the world’s ocean. The hull of [Hayden]’s drifter is a small Pelican watertight case, which contains all the electronics: Arduino Pro Trinket, GPS receiver, a satellite modem, and a charger for the LiPo battery. The lid of the case is dominated by a 9 W solar panel, plus the needed antennas for GPS and the Iridium uplink and a couple of sensors, like a hygrometer and a thermometer. To keep Wilson bobbing along with his solar panel up, there’s a keel mounted to the bottom of the case, weighted with chains and rocks, and containing a temperature sensor for the water.

Wilson is programmed to wake up every 12 hours and uplink position and environmental data as he drifts along. The drifter was launched into the heart of the Gulf Stream on August 8, about 15 nautical miles off Marathon Key in Florida, by [Captain Jim] and the very happy crew of the “Raw Deal”. As of this writing, the tracking data shows that Wilson is just off the coast of Miami, 113 nautical miles from launch, and drifting along at a stately pace of 2.5 knots. Where the buoy ends up is anyone’s guess, but we’ve seen similar buoys make it all the way across the Atlantic, so here’s hoping that hurricane season is kind to Wilson.

We think this is great, and congratulations to [Hayden] for organizing a useful and interesting project.

Continue reading “Drone Buoy Drifts Along The Gulf Stream For Citizen Science”

Hackaday Links: August 2, 2020

If you somehow manage to mentally separate yourself from the human tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic, it really has provided a fascinating glimpse into how our planet operates, and how much impact seven billion people have on it. Latest among these revelations is that the shutdowns had a salubrious effect in at least one unexpected area: solar power. Researchers found that after the Indian government instituted mandatory lockdowns in March, output from solar power installations in Delhi increased by more than eight percent. The cause: the much-diminished smog, which let more sunlight reach solar panels. We’ve seen similar shutdown-related Earth-impact stories, from decreased anthropogenic seismicity to actually being able to see Los Angeles, and find them all delightfully revealing.

Remember Google Glass? It’s hard to forget, what with all the hype leading up to launch and the bitter disappointment of realizing that actually wearing the device wouldn’t go over well in, say, a locker room. That said, the idea of smart glasses had promise, and several startups tried to make a go of combining functionality with less out-there styling that wouldn’t instantly be seen as probable cause for being a creep. One such outfit was North, who made the more-or-less regular looking (if a bit hipsterish) Focals smart glasses. But alas, North was bought out by Google back in June, and as with so many things Google acquires, Focals smart glasses are being turned off. Anyone who bought the $600 specs will reportedly get their money back, but the features of the smart glasses will no longer function. Except, you know, you’ll still be able to look through them.

It looks like someone has finally come up with a pretty good use case for the adorably terrifying robot mini-dogs from Boston Dynamics. Ford Motors has put two of the yellow robots to work in their sprawling Van Dyke Transmission Plant in Michigan. Dubbed Fluffy and Spot (aww), the dogs wander around the plant with a suite of cameras and sensors, digitally mapping the space to prepare for possible future modifications and expansions. The robots can cover a lot of ground during the two hours that their batteries last, and are even said to be able to hitch a ride on the backs of other robots when they’re tuckered out. Scanning projects like these can keep highly trained — and expensive — engineers busy for weeks, so the investment in robots makes sense. And we’re sure there’s totally no way that Ford is using the disarmingly cute robo-pets to keep track of its employees.

We all know that the Linux kernel has some interesting cruft in it, but did you know that it can actually alert you to the fact that your printer is aflame? We didn’t either until  Editor-in-Chief Mike Szczys shared this reddit post that details the kernel function lp_check_status and how it assumes the worst if it detects the printer is online but also in “check mode.” The Wikipedia entry on the “lp0 on fire” error message has some interesting history that details how it’s not as implausible as it might seem for a printer, especially one in the early 1970s, to burst into flames under the right conditions. A toner fuser bar running amok on a modern laser printer is one thing, but imagine a printer with a fusing oven running out of control.

And finally, because 2020 is apparently the gift that can’t stop giving, at least in the weirdness department, the US Department of Defense let it slip that the office charged with investigating unidentified aerial phenomena is not quite as disbanded as they once said it was. Reported to have been defunded in 2017, the Advanced Aerospace Threat Identification Program actually appears to live on, as the Unidentified Aerial Phenomena Task Force, operating out of the Office of Naval Intelligence. Their purpose is ostensibly to study things like the Navy videos of high-speed craft out-maneuvering fighter jets, but there are whispers from former members of the task force that “objects of undetermined origin have crashed on earth with materials retrieved for study.” All this could just be a strategic misdirection, of course, but given everything else that has happened this year, we’re prepared to believe just about anything.

Hackaday Links: July 12, 2020

Based in the US as Hackaday is, it’s easy to overload the news with stories from home. That’s particularly true with dark tales of the expanding surveillance state, which seem to just get worse here on a daily basis. So we’re not exactly sure how we feel to share not one but two international stories of a dystopian bent; one the one hand, pleased that it’s not us for a change, but on the other, sad to see the trend toward less freedom and more monitoring spreading.

The first story comes from Mexico, where apparently everything our community does will soon be illegal. We couch that statement because the analysis is based on Google translations of reports from Mexico, possibly masking the linguistic nuances that undergird legislative prose. So we did some digging and it indeed appears that the Mexican Senate approved a package of reforms to existing federal copyright laws that will make it illegal to do things like installing a non-OEM operating system on a PC, or to use non-branded ink cartridges in a printer. Reverse engineering ROMs will be right out too, making any meaningful security research illegal. There appear to be exceptions to the law, but those are mostly to the benefit of the Mexican government for “national security purposes.” It’ll be a sad day indeed for Mexican hackers if this law is passed.

The other story comes from Germany, where a proposed law would grant sweeping surveillance powers to 19 state intelligence bodies. The law would require ISPs to install hardware in their data centers that would allow law enforcement to receive data and potentially modify it before sending it on to where it was supposed to go. So German Internet users can look forward to state-sponsored man-in-the-middle attacks and trojan injections if this thing passes.

OK, time for a palate cleanser: take an hour to watch a time-lapse of the last decade of activity of our star. NASA put the film together from data sent back by the Solar Dynamics Observatory, a satellite that has been keeping an eye on the Sun from geosynchronous orbit since 2010. Each frame of the film is one hour of solar activity, which may sound like it would be boring to watch, but it’s actually quite interesting and very relaxing. There are exciting moments, too, like enormous solar eruptions and the beautiful but somehow terrifying lunar transits. More terrifying still is a massive coronal mass ejection (CME) captured in June 2011. A more subtle but fascinating phenomenon is the gradual decrease in the number of sunspots over the decade as the Sun goes through its normal eleven-year cycle.

You’ll recall that as a public service to our more gear-headed readers that we recently covered the recall of automotive jack stands sold at Harbor Freight, purveyor of discount tools in the USA. Parts for the jack stands in question had been cast with a degraded mold, making the pawls liable to kick out under load and drop the vehicle, with potentially catastrophic results for anyone working beneath. To their credit, Harbor Freight responded immediately and replaced tons of stands with a new version. But now, Harbor Freight is forced to recall the replacement stands as well, due to a welding error. It’s an embarrassment, to be sure, but to make it as right as possible, Harbor Freight is now accepting any of their brand jack stands for refund or store credit.

And finally, if you thought that the experience of buying a new car couldn’t be any more miserable, wait till you have to pay to use the windshield wipers. Exaggeration? Perhaps only slightly, now that BMW “is planning to move some features of its new cars to a subscription model.” Plans like that are common enough as cars get increasingly complex infotainment systems, or with vehicles like Teslas which can be upgraded remotely. But BMW is actually planning on making options such as heated seats and adaptive cruise control available only by subscription — try it out for a month and if you like it, pay to keep them on for a year. It would aggravate us to no end knowing that the hardware supporting these features had already been installed and were just being held ransom by software. Sounds like a perfect job for a hacker — just not one in Mexico.

Slothbot Lives Up To Its Name

For moving about in the real world, robots can crawl along the ground or take to the sky. Both options have disadvantages, with obstacles being a problem on the ground and flying being very energy intensive. What we don’t often see are robots that move along aerial cables, which can offer the best of both worlds for certain use cases. Taking inspiration from a sloth’s slow and efficient movement through the trees, researchers from Georgia Tech created a robot to crawl slowly along a cable network and monitor the world around it, and of course named it Slothbot.

The cable switching mechanism

Slothbot trades speed for efficiency, letting it operate for very long periods on solar power alone. It does require the set up and maintenance of a cable network, but that brings the advantage of no obstacles, and the ability to stop and recharge. To us the most interesting feature is the cable switching mechanism, that allows it to navigate its way along a web of interconnected cables.

Ring gears with a section removed hold the upper part of the pulley mechanism, but can rotate it’s opening to the left or right to allow an interconnecting cable to pass through,  The body is in two pieces, with an actuated hinge in the middle to allow it to turn onto a different cable section. Each section of the body also has a powered wheel which pushes up against the cable and moves the robot along slowly. Not surprisingly, researchers say that making the cable switching mechanism reliable is the biggest challenge. It does look like the current design would not work well with thicker cable joints. Watch the video after the break for a better look at the mechanism Continue reading “Slothbot Lives Up To Its Name”