Hackaday Links: November 8, 2020

Saturday, November 7, 2020 – NOT PASADENA. Remoticon, the virtual version of the annual Hackaday Superconference forced upon us by 2020, the year that keeps on giving, is in full swing. As I write this, Kipp Bradford is giving one of the two keynote addresses, and last night was the Bring a Hack virtual session, which I was unable to attend but seems to have been very popular, at least from the response to it. In about an hour, I’m going to participate in the SMD Soldering Challenge on the Hackaday writing crew team, and later on, I’ll be emceeing a couple of workshops. And I’ll be doing all of it while sitting in my workshop/office here in North Idaho.

Would I rather be in Pasadena? Yeah, probably — last year, Supercon was a great experience, and it would have been fun to get together again and see everyone. But here we are, and I think we’ve all got to tip our hacker hats to the Remoticon organizers, for figuring out how to translate the in-person conference experience to the virtual space as well as they have.

The impact of going to a museum and standing in the presence of a piece of art or a historic artifact is hard to overstate. I once went to an exhibit of artifacts from Pompeii, and was absolutely floored to gaze upon a 2,000-year-old loaf of bread that was preserved by the volcanic eruption of 79 AD. But not everyone can get to see such treasures, which is why Scan the World was started. The project aims to collect 3D scans of all kinds of art and artifacts so that people can potentially print them for study. Their collection is huge and seems to concentrate on classic sculptures — Michelangelo’s David is there, as are the Venus de Milo, the Pieta, and Rodin’s Thinker. But there are examples from architecture, anatomy, and history. The collection seems worth browsing through and worth contributing to if you’re so inclined.

For all the turmoil COVID-19 has caused, it has opened up some interesting educational opportunities that probably wouldn’t ever have been available in the Before Time. One such opportunity is an undergraduate-level course in radio communications being offered on the SDRPlay YouTube channel. The content was created in partnership with the Sapienza University of Rome. It’s not entirely clear who this course is open to, but the course was originally designed for third-year undergrads, and the SDRPlay Educators Program is open to anyone in academia, so we’d imagine you’d need some kind of academic affiliation to qualify. The best bet might be to check out the intro video on the SDRPlay Educator channel and plan to attend the webinar scheduled for November 19 at 1300 UTC. You could also plan to drop into the Learning SDR and DSP Hack Chat on Wednesday at noon Pacific, too — that’s open to everyone, just like every Hack Chat is.

And finally, as if bald men didn’t suffer enough disrespect already, now artificial intelligence is having a go at them. At a recent soccer match in Scotland, an AI-powered automatic camera system consistently interpreted an official’s glabrous pate as the soccer ball. The system is supposed to keep the camera trained on the action by recognizing the ball as it’s being moved around the field. Sadly, the linesman in this game drew the attention of the system quite frequently, causing viewers to miss some of the real action. Not that what officials do during sporting events isn’t important, of course, but it’s generally not what viewers want to see. The company, an outfit called Pixellot, knows about the problem and is working on a solution. Here’s hoping the same problem doesn’t crop up on American football.

How Many Punches Does It Take?

Do you ever wonder just how many punches you have thrown? The answer is going to be different if you happen to use a punching bag as part of your exercise routine. So is the case with the [DuctTapeMechanic] and while restoring an old speed ball punching bag, he decided to combine his passions for sports and electronics by adding a punch counter.

Perhaps most interesting in this build is the method used to monitor the bag. A capacitance proximity sensor most often used for industrial automation is mounted in the wooden base. He just calls it “an NPN capacitive sensor” without mentioning part number but these are rather easy to find from the usual places. It has no problem sensing each punch — assuming you swing strong enough so that the bag comes near the sensor. Two battery packs, an Arduino, and an optocoupler round out the bill of materials. We were a little disappointed not to see any duct tape in the construction of this project, but since the electronics are outside and exposed to the elements, maybe duct tape will be used to install a roof in a future episode.

The [DuctTapeMechanic] likes to repurpose items which would otherwise be thrown away, which is something to be applauded. The frame of this punching bag was welded from a discarded metal bed frame (a regular occupant of crawl spaces and self storage places), and you might remember he repurposed the electric motor from a discarded clothes dryer last month, changing it into a disk sander.

Continue reading “How Many Punches Does It Take?”

Climbing Everest One Hill At A Time – And Keeping Track Of It

The internet is full of self-proclaimed challenges, ranging from some absolutely pointless fads to well-intended tasks with an actual purpose. In times of TikTok, the latter is of course becoming rarer, as a quick, effortless jump on the bandwagon is just easier for raising your internet points. Cyclists on the other hand love a good challenge where they compete with one another online, testing their skills and gamifying their favorite activity along the way. One option for that is Everesting, where you pick a hill of your choice, and within a single session you ride it up and down as many times as it takes until you accumulated the height of Mount Everest on it. Intrigued by the idea, but not so much its competitive aspect, [rabbitcreek] became curious how long it would take him to reach that goal with his own casual bicycle usage, so he built a bicycle computer to measure and keep track of it.

While the total distance and time factors into the actual challenge, [rabbitcreek]’s primary interest was the accumulated height, so the device’s main component is a BMP388 barometric pressure sensor attached to a battery-powered ESP32. An e-paper display shows the total height and completed percentage, along with some random Everest-related pictures. Everything is neatly packed together in a 3D-printed case that can be mounted on the bicycle’s handlebar, and the STL files are available along with the source code in his write-up.

Of course, if you’re actually interested in the challenge itself, you probably have an assortment of sports tracking equipment anyway, but this is a nice addition to keep track as you go, and has a lower risk of ransomware attacks. And in case [rabbitcreek] sounds like a familiar name to you, he’s indeed become a Hackaday regular with his environmental hacks like the tide clock, a handheld particle sniffer, or logging temperatures in the Alaskan wilderness.

A Basketball Hoop That Never Lets You Brick

With none of the major leagues in any team sport currently meeting, sports fans have a huge void that has to be filled with something. For [Shane Wighton], the machine shop is the place to go when sports let you down, and the result is this basketball backboard that lets you sink every shot every time.

When we first saw this, we thought for sure it would be some overly complicated motorized affair that would move the hoop to catch the basketball, sort of like the dart-catching dartboard we featured some time ago. And while that would be awesome and somebody should totally build that so we can write it up, [Shane]’s hoop dream is a lot simpler mechanically, even if the math needed to determine the proper shape for the backboard was complex. He wrote software to simulate throws from hundreds of positions to determine the shape for the board, which ends up looking like a shallow elliptic paraboloid. The software created a mesh that was translated into CNC tool paths in Fusion 360, and the backboard was carved from blocks of softwood.

The first tests were disappointing; instead of landing every shot, the board seemed to be actively denying them. [Shane] had to puzzle over that for a while before realizing that he didn’t account for the radius of the ball, which means the centroid never actually contacts the backboard. Rather than recalculate and create a new backboard, he just shifted the hoop out from the backboard by a ball radius. With that expedient in place, the setup performed exactly as calculated.

[Shane] may have taken the long road to hoops glory, but we appreciate the effort and the math lesson. And the fact that this ends up being the same shape as some antennas is a plus.

Continue reading “A Basketball Hoop That Never Lets You Brick”

ESP8266 And Sensors Make For A Brainy NERF Ball

For his final project in UCLA’s Physics 4AL program, [Timothy Kanarsky] used a NodeMCU to smarten up a carefully dissected NERF football. With the addition to dual MPU6050 digital accelerometers and some math, the ball can calculate things like the distance traveled and angular velocity. With a 9 V alkaline battery and a voltage regulator board along for the ride it seems like a lot of weight to toss around; but of course nobody on the Hackaday payroll has thrown a ball in quite some time, so we’re probably not the best judge of such things.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in refining your throw, there’s a lot of fascinating science going on in this project; complete with fancy-looking equations to make you remember just how poorly you did back in math class.

As [Timothy] explains in the write-up, the math used to find velocity and distance traveled with just two accelerometers is not unlike the sort of dead-reckoning used in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Since we’ve already seen model rockets with their own silos, seems all the pieces are falling into place.

The NodeMCU polls the accelerometers every 5 milliseconds, and displays the data on web page complete with scrolling graphs of acceleration and angular velocity. When the button on the rear of the ball is pressed, the data is instead saved to basic Comma Separated Values (CSV) file that’s served up to clients with a minimal FTP server. We might not know much about sportsball, but we definitely like the idea of a file server we can throw at people.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an instrumented football. Back in 2011 it took some pretty elaborate hardware to pull this sort of thing off, and it’s fascinating to see how far the state-of-the-art has progressed.

Microcontroller Studies The Blade

Kendo, a Japanese martial art, is practiced with a special sword. It’s not a particularly sharp sword, though, since the “blade” is essentially a length of bamboo. For this reason, Kendo practitioners must rely on correct form and technique in order to make sure their practice is as effective as possible, and Cornell students [Iman] and [Weichen] have made a Kendo trainer that helps the swordsmen in their art.

The core of the project is a PIC32 microcontroller hooked up to a set of three piezoelectric sensors and a LSM9DS1 inertial module. The three piezoelectric sensors are attached to a helmet and the inertial module to the sword, and the sensors work together to determine both the location of the strike and whether or not it had enough strength to be considered a “good” strike (the rules of Kendo are beyond the scope of this article). The trainer can then calculate all of the information and provide feedback to the user on a small screen.

While martial-arts related builds seem to be relatively rare, we did find a similar project from back in 2011 called the Virtual Sensei which used a then-popular Kinect in order to track movements. This PIC32-based project, though, seems to be a little more thorough by including the strength of the strike in the information the computer uses, and is probably less expensive to boot!

Continue reading “Microcontroller Studies The Blade”

Calling World Cup Goals Before They Happen, By Polling A Betting Site

[Ben] made an interesting discovery during the FIFA World Cup in 2018, and used it to grant himself the power to call goals before they happened. Well, before they happened on live TV or live streaming, anyway. It was possible because of the broadcast delay on “live” broadcasts, combined with the sports betting industry’s need for timely and detailed game state tracking.

He discovered that a company named Running Ball provides fairly detailed game statistics in digital form, which are generated from inside the stadium as events occur. An obvious consumer of this data are sports betting services, and [Ben] found a UK betting site that exposed that information in full inside their web app. By polling this data, he measured a minimum of 4 seconds between an event (such as a goal) being reported in the data and the event occurring on live TV. The delay was much higher — up to minutes — for live streaming. [Ben] found it quite interesting to measure how the broadcast delay on otherwise “live” events could sometimes be quite significant.

Knowing broadcast delays exist is one thing, but it’s a neat trick to use it to predict goals before they occur on “live” television. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen evidence of [Ben]’s special interest in data and using it in unusual ways; he once set up a program to play Battleship over the Border Gateway Protocol (BGP), making it very probably the first board game played over BGP.