Britain Invented Rock-N-Roll, And Other Stories

An elderly relative of mine used to get irate at the BBC news. When our Prime Minister [Edward Heath] or another of her bêtes noirs of the day came on, she’d rail at the radio or the TV, expressing her views to them in no uncertain terms. It taught a young me a lot about the futility of shouting at the telly, as well as about making a spectacle of oneself.

The ISS in flight. NASA(Public Domain)
The ISS in flight. NASA [Public domain].
The other evening though I found myself almost at the point of  shouting at a TV programme, and since it’s one with a clear message about technology I feel it’s worth sharing here. The programme in question was one of the Impossible Engineering series, and it was talking about the technology behind the International Space Station. It was recent enough to include last year’s mission involving [Tim Peake], so it was by no means a show dredged from the archives.

All very well, you say. Impossible Engineering‘s format of looking at a modern engineering marvel and tracing the historical roots of some of its innovations would find fertile ground in the ISS, after all it’s one of our most impressive achievements and could easily provide content for several seasons of the show. And I’ll give them this, they did provide an interesting episode.

The trouble was, they made an omission. And it wasn’t just a slight omission, one of those minor cock-ups that when we Hackaday scribes make them the commenters pounce upon with glee, this one was a doozy. They managed to fill an hour of television talking about space stations and in particular a space station that was assembled by multiple countries under an international co-operation, without mention of any of the Russian technology that underpins much of its design. An egregious example among many was their featuring a new Boeing capsule designed to touchdown on land rather than on water as a novel invention, when as far as I am aware every Russian capsule ever made has performed a land-based touchdown.

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PiCorder: Raspberry Pi Stands in for Stone Knives and Bearskins

In a classic episode of Star Trek, Spock attempts to get data from a tricorder while stuck in the 1930s using what he described as “stone knives and bearskins.” In reality, he used vacuum tubes, several large coils, and a Jacob’s ladder. Too bad they weren’t in the year 2017. Then Spock could have done like [Directive0] and used a Raspberry Pi instead. You can see the result in the video below.

The build starts with a Diamond Select Toys model tricorder. The Raspberry Pi, a battery, a TFT screen, and a Pi Sense Hat make up the bulk of the build.

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Hackaday Links: May 21, 2017

It’s time to talk about something of supreme importance to all Hackaday readers. The first trailer for the new Star Trek series is out. Some initial thoughts: the production values are through the roof, and some of this was filmed in Jordan (thank the king for that). The writers have thrown in some obvious references to classic Trek in this trailer (taking a spacesuit into a gigantic alien thing a la TMP). There are a few new species, even though this is set about 10 years before waaaait a second, those are the Klingons?

In other news, [Seth MacFarlane] is doing a thing that looks like a Galaxy Quest series. We can only hope it’s half as good as a Galaxy Quest series could be.

The Dayton Hamvention should have been this week, but it’s never going to happen again. The Hara Arena, the traditional venue for the biggest amateur radio meet on the continent (thankfully) closed this year. Last year it was looking old and tired. This year, Hamvention moved to Xenia, Ohio, and it looks like we’re still getting the best ham swap meet on the planet. Remember: if you  drove out to Hamvention, the Air Force museum is well worth the visit. This year they have the fourth hangar open, full of space craft goodness.

Last week we saw an Open Source firmware for hoverboards, electric unicycles, and other explodey bits of self-balancing transportation. [Casainho], the brains behind this outfit, recently received an eBike controller from China. As you would expect, it’s based on the same hardware as these hoverboards and unicycles. That means there’s now Open Source firmware for eBikes.

Last year, [Cisco] built a cute little walking robot. Now it’s up on Kickstarter.

This week saw the announcement of the Monoprice Mini Delta, the much-anticipated 3D printer that will sell for less than $200. For one reason or another, I was cruising eBay this week and came upon this. They say yesterday’s trash is tomorrow’s collectors’ item, you know…

A new Tek scope will be announced in the coming weeks. What are the cool bits? It has a big touchscreen. That’s about all we know.

The ESP32 is the next great wonderchip, and has been for a while now. The ESP32 also has a CAN peripheral stuffed in there somewhere, and that means WiFi and Bluetooth-enabled cars. [Thomas] has been working on getting a driver up and running. There’s a thread on the ESP32 forum, a Hackaday.io page, and a GitHub page.

What do you do when you have a nice old Vacuum Fluorescent Display and want to show some stats from your computer? You build a thing that looks like it’s taken from a cash register. This is a project from [Micah Scott], and it has everything: electronics 3D modeling, magnets, print smoothing, creating snap-fit parts, and beautiful old displays.

Here’s something that randomly showed up in our Tip Line. [Mark] recently found some unused HP 5082-7000 segment displays in a collection of electronic components (pics below). According to some relevant literature, these were the first LED display package available, ever.  They were released in 1969, they’re BCD, and were obviously very expensive. [Mark] is wondering how many of these were actually produced, and we’re all interested in the actual value of these things. If anyone knows if these are just prototypes, or if they went into production (and what they were used for), leave a note in the comments.

Jean-Luc PYcARD is a Pocketable Python Development Platform

It’s a good thing that a ridiculous pun and a screenprint of Jean-Luc Picard on the bottom of the board is enough to qualify for the 2017 Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest, because [bobricius]’s Python-plus-Arduino card and environmental sensor potpourri is very cool.

The PCB design itself is great. It’s got a gigantic LED array, cutout for a wrist strap, and an onboard USB plug so you can program it just by sticking it in your computer; it shows up as a USB mass storage device when you plug it in. The files that show up on the “drive” are Micropython code that you can edit, save, and then run directly on the device. You can hardly beat that for convenience.

And there’s a full complement of sensors: not one but two temperature and humidity sensors, including our recent favorite BME280, which also reads barometric pressure. (We suspect that makes it a tri-corder.) There’s a real-time clock, a buzzer, and some buttons. Want to add more sensors? I2C ports are broken out for your convenience.

Besides having Star Trek flair, this board would give the various educational platforms a run for their money: Micro:bit, we’re looking at you. Very cool indeed!

A Real Star Trek Communicator Badge

Star Trek has never let technology get in the way of a good story. Gene Roddenberry and the writers of the show thought up some amazing gadgets, from transporters to replicators to the warp core itself. Star Trek: The Next Generation brought us the iconic communicator badge. In 1987, a long-range radio device which could fit in a pin was science fiction. [Joe] is bringing these badges a bit closer to the real world with his entry in the 2017 Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest.

trek-thumbThe first problem [Joe] dealt with was finding a radio which could run from watch batteries, and provide decently long-range operations. He chose the HopeRF RFM69HCW. Bringing fiction a bit closer to reality, this module has been used for orbital communications with low-cost satellites.

The Badge’s processor is a Teensy LC. [Joe] is rolling his own Teensy, which means using bootloader chips from PJRC, as well as the main microcontroller. Kicking the main micro into operation is where [Joe] is stuck right now. Somewhere between the breadboard and the first spin of the surface mount PCB things went a bit sideways. The oscillators are running, but there are no USB communications. [Joe] is trying another board spin. He made a few improvements and already has new boards on the way. Switching to a toaster oven or skillet paste and solder setup would definitely help him get the new badges up and running.

The Smartest Computer Was On Star Trek

There have been a lot of smart computers on TV and movies. We often think among the smartest, though, are the ones on Star Trek. Not the big “library computer” and not the little silver portable computers. No, the smart computers on Star Trek ran the doors. If you ever watch, the doors seem to know the difference between someone walking towards it, versus someone flying towards it in the middle of a fist fight. It also seems to know when more people are en route to the door.

Granted, the reason they are so smart is that the doors really have a human operating them. For the real fan, though, you can buy a little gadget that looks like an intercom panel from the Enterprise. That would be cool enough, but this one has sound effects and can sense when someone walks into your doorway so they can hear the comforting woosh of a turbolift door.

Of course, for the real hacker, that’s not good enough either. [Evan] started with this $25 gadget, but wanted to control it with an Arduino for inclusion in his hackerspace’s pneumatic door system. He did a bit of reverse engineering, a bit of coding, and he wound up in complete control of the device.

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Sci-Fi Contest: Both Wars and Trek Represented

Hackaday’s Sci-Fi Contest is in its third week. We’ve passed warp speed and were heading toward ludicrous speed. There is still almost a month to enter before March 6, when the deadline hits and everything goes to plaid. With 22 submissions all vying for 4 great prizes, there is still plenty of room for new challengers!

This contest is all about projects inspired by science fiction. There is a great mix of projects so far.

BB-8 Using Roll-On Deoderant

bb-8partsStar Wars is well represented with [Tech Flare’s] DIY Phone Controlled BB-8 Droid. [Tech Flare] is improving upon an existing BB-8 build. This is a low-cost build, so many of the parts are sourced from everyday items.

A new one for us is the 11 roll-on deodorant balls that are used as internal bearings. We’re not sure how well this robot will work, but it sure will be the best smelling BB-8 out there and you have to admit that is a creative use of easily source materials!

An Arduino is the brains of this Robot. As the title suggests, control comes from a smartphone. There is some creative work happening to fabricate the ball that makes up the body of the bot so be sure to jump in and check out that writeup.

LCARS In Real Life? Yes, Please!

lcarsAny Star Trek fan knows what the LCARS interface is [Elkentaro] is bringing LCARS life with LCARS NASA ISS Live Stream Viewer. [Elkentaro] is using a Raspberry Pi to display the International Space Station High Definition Eart-Viewing System (ISS HDEV) experiment.

The ISS is constantly streaming live views of the earth from one of 4 cameras. The Pi takes the stream and adds an LCARS image overlay. Everything is displayed on a 7″ TFT LCD. The same view Wesley Crusher would have seen at the helm of the NCC-1701D.

The overlay really brings the content to life and it has us thinking. If you have a refrigerator with one of those questionably-useful built-in montiors, it needs LCARS. Show us what you got!

Use the Schwartz

So what is missing from this contest? You of course! There is plenty of time left to create a great Sci-Fi inspired project. The deadline is Monday, March 6, 2017, 09:00 pm PST (+8 UTC). We dropped some Spaceballs references at the top of this article but haven’t actually seen an entry for that theme. Who’s going to build a voice-changing Dark Helmet?

[Phaser shown in the main image is the Original Series Phaser which Think Geek used to carry]