Credit Card Sized Spacecraft Poised to Sail to Alpha Centauri

As a space-faring species, we’ve done a fair job of exploring and exploiting our local neighborhood. We’re pretty good at putting people and machines into orbit, but our galactic-scale signature is pretty tiny. Our radio signals are no more than 100 light-years away, and our farthest physical artifact isn’t even a light-day away from us 40 years after it launched.

Clearly we need to do a better job of getting out there, and that’s the goal of Breakthrough Initiatives’ Starshot program, which aims to launch a nano-spacecraft to Alpha Centauri and get it there fast. The program aims to build solar-powered credit card-sized spacecraft with sensors, cameras, communications, and even MEMS thrusters for attitude control. Motive power will come from solar sails catching laser light shined onto it from Earth, eventually accelerating the craft to 20% of the speed of light and reaching its destination within a generation.

The thought that we could start spreading ourselves out into the galaxy within the lifespan of most of the people on Earth is intoxicating. Sure, a wafer of silicon is a far cry from a sleek starship with powerful warp engines and all the finest appointments, or a gritty star freighter that can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs. But the laws of physics and the limits of engineering conspire to keep us mostly stuck at the bottom of a deep gravity well, and if this means sending fleets of nanobots across the galaxy in our stead, so be it.

And no matter what form our first galactic spacecraft take, you can bet that the Deep Space Network will be supporting the mission. For now, you can listen in on the program’s test satellites currently in orbit if you tune to 437.240 MHz.

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Two Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do

sprites_enhanced_stripWhen you hear “gravity waves” or “sprites”, you’d think you would know what is being discussed. After all, those ripples in space-time that Einstein predicted would emanate from twin, colliding, black holes were recently observed to much fanfare. And who doesn’t love early 8-bit computer animations? So when we were browsing over at SpaceWeather we were shocked to find that we were wrong twice, in one photo (on the right). Continue reading “Two Words That Don’t Mean What You Think They Do”

Building the Infinite Matrix of Tamagotchis

Tamagotchi is a digital pet, living in and cared for through a key-chain size piece of hardware. The mid-90’s toy lives in pop culture, but now it lives well beyond. A limitless network of Tamagachi has been created using some amazing tricks to feed, socialize, and monitor the beast now known as the Tamagachi Singularity.

Last weekend at the Hackaday SuperConference we were graced with a talk by [Jeroen Domburg], a.k.a. [Sprite_tm]. [Sprite] is a favorite of ours and over the years his hacker cred includes everything from reverse engineering hard drive controller chips to putting video games in his keyboard.

[Sprite] is also something of an Architect, and like all Architects he only wants what is best for the system he created. In this case, it’s a Matrix of Tamagotchis. [Sprite] created a hive of Tamagotchis that are able to interact with each other in their own separate world. The best part about this Matrix? There’s no allusions to violating the laws of thermodynamics in the exposition.

Like all good hacks, a Tamagotchi Matrix wasn’t created in a vacuum. A few years ago at 29C3, [Natalie Silvanovich] dumped the ROM in the current generation of Tamagotchis. This is an incredible feat of reverse engineering, that allows anyone to use the full capabilities of the 6502-based microcontroller that controls these digital pets

After [Sprite] figured out how to read and run the code in the Tamagotchi, the next obvious step towards a world of egg-shaped pods containing an entire population of Tamagotchis is virtual Tamagotchis. [Sprite] used a hard-coded state machine that takes care of pooping, flushing, training, feeding, and turning the lights off at bedtime.

With a single Tamagotchi described as a state machine, it’s a simple matter to build another. This is where things get interesting and Matrix-ey. Tamagotchis don’t live alone; they have an IR LED and receiver that allows them to interact with each other, eat, play, marry, and have kids. Emulating a single Tamagotchi is one thing, but controlling multiples is another thing entirely; some sort of protocol was needed to breed Tamagotchis and keep them happy and well-fed.

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Building a steam punk style time and weather display

This is [Pierre Cauchois’] digital weather display. Since weather displays are ubiquitous in this day of smart phones in every pocket he went out of his way to give it a unique look. He started with a wooden voltmeter case, swapping the ancient display for a modern LCD screen.

He used Gadgeteer components for the retrofit. The images for the LCD are stored on an SD card and displayed on demand. Since the digital bezel will be the same no matter what the time or environmental conditions [Pierre] used the power of the .NET framework that drives the system. He made up an image using magenta for all of the dial openings. This way a sprite can be used just for the changing numbers, weather icon, and graphing area.

Looking at all that went into coding the project we think the Gadgeteer components are perfect for those that are well-versed in upper-level languages and don’t really want to deal with low-level microcontroller issues.

[Thanks George]

Dungeon crawler game for IM-ME (and Linux)

[Joby Taffey] takes the prize for the first completed homebrew game for the IM-ME. Over the last few weeks we’ve seen [Travis Goodspeed] working with sprite graphics, and [Emmanuel Roussel] developing game music for the pink pager. But [Joby] didn’t really use either of those.

[Travis’] sprites were using a framebuffer that fills up a lot of valuable RAM. [Joby] decided to draw the room screens (all of them have been stitched together for the image above) as a one-time background image to keep the memory free. From there, the screen is updated in 8×8 blocks based on cursor movement. He also decided not to add music as he feels the high-pitched piezo is not capable making sound without driving everyone crazy.

Source code is available and for those of you who don’t own this pretty handheld, the game can also be compiled in Linux.

IM-ME graphic manipulation using sprites

Here’s a study in sprite animations that [Travis Goodspeed] put together. He’s working with one of his favorites, the pink IM-ME device that he’s been hacking on for a while now. But if you don’t have this hardware that shouldn’t discourage you. There’s a lot to be learned from his methods which will translate to any microcontroller working with a graphic LCD.

He starts with a 24-bit PNM sprite that includes three frames of his desired animation. From there he needs a way to store the data for use with 8-bit microcontrollers. He chose to write a Perl script that will translate the image format into a 1-bit map. Each frame of the animation takes up a column width that is a multiple of 8 for easy retrieval by the processor. This translation into a C array, and the accompanying code that translates it into data for the frame buffer is the key to the animation process. What is he shooting for? A sprite-based video game on the handheld.