model rocketry

Retrotechtacular: Junior Missile Men Of The 1960s

Just like the imaginative kids depicted in “Junior Missile Men in Action,” you’ll have to employ a fair bit of your own imagination to figure out what was going on in the original film, which seems to have suffered a bit — OK, a lot — from multiple rounds of digitization and format conversion. [GarageManCave] tells us he found the film on a newsgroup back in the 1990s, but only recently uploaded it to YouTube. It’s hard to watch, but worth it for anyone who spent hours building an Estes model rocket and had that gut-check moment when sliding it onto the guide rail and getting it ready for launch. Would it go? Would it survive the trip? Or would it end up hanging from a tree branch, or lost in the high grass that always seemed to be ready to eat model rockets, planes, Frisbees, or pretty much anything that was fun?

Model rocketry was most definitely good, clean fun, even with the rotten egg stink of the propellant and the risk of failure. To mitigate those risks, the West Covina Model Rocket Society, the group the film focuses on, was formed in the 1960s. The boys and girls pictured had the distinct advantage of living in an area where many of their parents were employed by the aerospace industry, and the influence of trained engineers shows — weekly build sessions, well-organized range days, and even theodolites to track the rockets and calculate their altitude. They even test-fired rockets from miniature silos, and mimicked a Polaris missile launch by firing a model from a bucket of water. It was far more intensive and organized than the early rocketry exposure most of us got, and has the look and feel of a FIRST robotics group today.

Given the membership numbers the WCMRS boasted of in its heyday, and the fact that model rocketry was often the “gateway drug” into the hacking lifestyle, there’s a good chance that someone in the Hackaday community got their start out in that park in West Covina, or perhaps was even in the film. If you’re out there, let us know in the comments — we’d love to hear a first-hand report on what the club was like, and how it helped you get started.

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Robot Dogs Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, September 29 at noon Pacific for the Robot Dogs Hack Chat with Afreez Gan!

Thanks to the efforts of a couple of large companies, many devoted hobbyists, and some dystopian science fiction, robot dogs have firmly entered the zeitgeist of our “living in the future” world. The quadrupedal platform, with its agility and low center of gravity, is perfect for navigating in the real world, where the terrain is rarely even and unexpected obstacles are to be expected.

The robot dog has been successful enough that there are commercially available — if prohibitively priced — dogs on the market, doing everything from inspecting factory processes and off-shore oil platforms to dancing for their dinner. All the publicity around robot dogs has fueled a crush of DIY and open-source versions, so that hobbyists can take advantage of what the platform has to offer. And as a result, the design of these dogs has converged somewhat, with elements that provide a common design language for these electromechanical pets.

Afreez Gan has been exploring the robot dog space for a while now, and his MiniPupper is generating some interest. He’ll stop by the Hack Chat to talk about MiniPupper specifically and the quadruped platform in general. We’ll talk about what it takes to build your own robot dog, what you can do with one once you’ve built it, and how these bots can play a part in STEM education. Along the way, we’ll touch on ROS, lidar, machine vision with OpenCV, and pretty much anything involved in the care and feeding of your newest electronic pal.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, September 29 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Lego Microscope Aims To Discover Future Scientists

When it comes to inspiring a lifelong appreciation of science, few experiences are as powerful as that first glimpse of the world swimming in a drop of pond water as seen through a decent microscope. But sadly, access to a microscope is hardly universal, denying that life-changing view of the world to far too many people.

There have been plenty of attempts to fix this problem before, but we’re intrigued to see Legos used to build a usable microscope, primarily for STEM outreach. It’s the subject of a scholarly paper (preprint) by [Bart E. Vos], [Emil Betz Blesa], and [Timo Betz]. The build almost exclusively uses Lego parts — pretty common ones at that — and there’s a complete list of the parts needed, which can either be sourced from online suppliers, who will kit up the parts for you, or by digging through the old Lego bin. Even the illuminator is a stock part, although you’ll likely want to replace the orange LED buried within with a white one. The only major non-Lego parts are the lenses, which can either be sourced online or, for the high-power objective, pulled from an old iPhone camera. The really slick part is the build instructions (PDF), which are formatted exactly like the manual from any Lego kit, making the build process easily accessible to anyone who has built Lego before.

As for results, they’re really not bad. Images of typical samples, like salt crystal, red onion cells, and water fleas are remarkably clear and detailed. It might no be a lab-grade Lego microscope, but it looks like it’s more than up to its intended use.

Thanks for the heads up on this, [Jef].

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Hackaday Links: January 24, 2021

Code can be beautiful, and good code can be a work of art. As it so happens, artful code can also result in art, if you know what you’re doing. That’s the idea behind Programming Posters, a project that Michael Fields undertook to meld computer graphics with the code behind the images. It starts with a simple C program to generate an image. The program needs to be short enough to fit legibly into the sidebar of an A2 sheet, and as if that weren’t enough of a challenge, Michael constrained himself to the standard C libraries to generate his graphics. A second program formats the code and the image together and prints out a copy suitable for display. We found the combination of code and art beautiful, and the challenge intriguing.

It always warms our hearts when we get positive feedback from the hacker community when something we’ve written has helped advance a project or inspire a build. It’s not often, however, that we learn that Hackaday is required reading. Educators at the Magellan International School in Austin, Texas, recently reached out to Managing Editor Elliot Williams to let him know that all their middle school students are required to read Hackaday as part of their STEM training. Looks like the kids are paying attention to what they read, too, judging by KittyWumpus, their ongoing mechatronics/coding project that’s unbearably adorable. We’re honored to be included in their education, and everyone in the Hackaday community should humbled to realize that we’ve got an amazing platform for inspiring the next generation of hardware hackers.

Hackers seem to fall into two broad categories: those who have built a CNC router, and those who want to build one. For those in the latter camp, the roadblock to starting a CNC build is often “analysis paralysis” — with so many choices to make, it’s hard to know where to start. To ease that pain and get you closer to starting your build, Matt Ferraro has penned a great guide to planning a CNC router build. The encyclopedic guide covers everything from frame material choice to spindle selection and software options. If Matt has a bias toward any particular options it’s hard to find; he lists the pros and cons of everything so you can make up your own mind. Read it at your own risk, though; while it lowers one hurdle to starting a CNC build, it does nothing to address the next one: financing.

Like pretty much every conference last year and probably every one this year, the Open Hardware Summit is going to be virtual. But they’re still looking for speakers for the April conference, and just issued a Call for Proposals. We love it when we see people from the Hackaday community pop up as speakers at conferences like these, so if you’ve got something to say to the open hardware world, get a talk together. Proposals are due by February 11, so get moving.

And finally, everyone will no doubt recall the Boston Dynamics robots that made a splash a few weeks back with their dance floor moves. We loved the video, mainly for the incredible display of robotic agility and control but also for the choice of music. We suppose it was inevitable, though, that someone would object to the Boomer music and replace it with something else, like in the video below, which seems to sum up the feelings of those who dread our future dancing overlords. We regret the need to proffer a Tumblr link, but the Internet is a dark and wild place sometimes, and only the brave survive.

A Reason To Code

My son is just getting to the age that puts him in the crosshairs of all of the learn-to-code toys. And admittedly, we’ve been looking at some of those Logo-like toys where you can instruct a turtle-bot to make a few moves, and then to repeat them. After all, if breaking down a problem into sub-problems and automating the repetition isn’t the essence of programming, I don’t know what is.

But here’s the deal: I think drawing ‘bots are cooler than he does. If you ask a kid “hey, do you want a car that can draw?” that’s actually pretty low on the robot list. I’m not saying he won’t get into it once he’s got a little bit more coding under his belt and he can start to make it do fun things, but by itself, drawing just isn’t all that impressive. He can draw just fine, thank-you-very-much.

Meanwhile, I was making a robot arm. Or rather, I started up on yet another never-to-be-completed robot arm. (Frankly, I don’t know what I would do with a robot arm.) But at least I started with the gripper and wrist. Now that’s pretty cool for a kid, but the programming is waaaay too complicated. So I pulled the brains out and hooked up the servos to an RC plane remote. Just wiggling the thing around, duct-taped to the table, got him hooked. And this weekend, we’re building a remote controlled cherry-picker arm to put on a pole, because cherries are in season. His idea!

So no coding. He’s a little too young anyway, IMO. But silly little projects like these, stored deep in his subconscious, will give him a reason to program in the future, will make it plainly obvious that knowing how to program is useful. Now all I need is a reason to finish up a robot arm project…

Learn Water Purification Techniques With This STEM Learning Kit

We see a lot of great STEM education projects. These projects have a way of turning into something much larger. How many commercial devices and machines are built on Raspberry Pi’s and Arduinos? [Ryan Beltrán] is using common materials to teach people how to clean water. This particular kit demonstrates a water purification process called electro-coagulation.

When current is passed through two electrodes suspended in water it changes the surface charge on the suspended solids. This causes the solids, metals, and oils to clump together which makes them considerably easier to treat and clean.

The kit consists of a jar, electrodes, some 3D printed parts, and a pre-flashed Arduino. There’s also salts and filters to finalize the purification process. Students can start the experiment right away and if they’re inspired they’ll have all the tools to try more advanced techniques.

Often STEM kits lean heavily to robotics or computer science, but there are so many vast and interesting fields out there with problems that need to be solved.

InstaBeat Started Out Of Spite

[Tom] teaches electronics with this small programmable MP3 player, but it didn’t get its start as a teaching tool.

As all parents are sometimes required to do, [Tom] was acting as chauffeur for his daughter and his friends. When he played the Beatles one of his passengers informed him that she was completely devoid of taste and didn’t like them at all. So he decided what the world needed was a Beatles appliance. This way all the ignorant plebs could educate themselves at the push of a button.

The machine is based around some SEED studio parts and a simple PCB. It was able to hold all 12 original albums and even announced their titles in a generated voice. Since the kit is easy to put together it was quickly re-purposed as a teaching aid. They get to learn the laser cutter and do some through-hole soldering.

He has plans to turn it into a more formal how-to workshop that anyone can duplicate.He’d also like to make a small software suite for playing with text-to-speech and hacking the speaker into other roles such as a multi meter.