AI Patent Trolls Now on the Job for Drug Companies

Love it or loathe it, the pharmaceutical industry is really good at protecting its intellectual property. Drug companies pour billions into discovering new drugs and bringing them to market, and they do whatever it takes to make sure they have exclusive positions to profit from their innovations for as long a possible. Patent applications are meticulously crafted to keep the competition at bay for as long as possible, which is why it often takes ages for cheaper generic versions of blockbuster medications to hit the market, to the chagrin of patients, insurers, and policymakers alike.

Drug companies now appear poised to benefit from the artificial intelligence revolution to solidify their patent positions even further. New computational methods are being employed to not only plan the synthesis of new drugs, but to also find alternative pathways to the same end product that might present a patent loophole. AI just might change the face of drug development in the near future, and not necessarily for the better.

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Friday Hack Chat: Visual Synthesis

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing generating analog video for visual synthesis. What’s on the front porch?

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be Jonas Bers, an audiovisual artist and performer. For their work they used hacked video mixers, a hand-built video synthesizer, and various pieces of restored/modded lab equipment and military surplus devices. Jonas has also developed the CHA/V, the Cheap, Hacky, A/V, an open source, DIY, audiovisual video synthesizer. This video synth has been built by people around the world, and has been the subject of international workshops in fancy art schools. It’s a dirt-cheap video synth, quick and easy to make, expandable and customization as a part in a larger system, and requires no computer, Arduino, microcontroller, or programming.

Jonas will be discussing entry points into hardware-based real-time video synthesis such as their own tutorial for the CHA/V, and the LZX cadet/castle DIY series. If you enjoy making analog audio circuits, and you are interested in video synthesis, they can suggest some good places to start and helpful resources. Jonas’s personal practice involves hardware-based scan-processing (aka Rutt/Etra synthesis) which they can also discuss at length.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’ll be talking about:

  • Hardware-based video synthesis
  • Real time video synthesis
  • Common visual synthesis practices and variations

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Visual Synthesis Hack Chat and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.


Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Friday, October 19th, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones got you down, 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

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

The Furby Organ

Sometimes you have an idea that is so brilliant and so crazy that you just have to make it a reality. In 2011, [Look Mum No Computer] drew up plans in his notebook for a Furby organ, an organ comprised of a keyboard and a choir of Furbies. For those who don’t know what a Furby is, it’s a small, cute, furry robotic toy which speaks Furbish and a large selection of human languages. 40 million were sold during its original production run between 1998 and 2000 and many more since. Life intervened though, and, [LMNK] abandoned the Furby organ only to recently take it up again.

He couldn’t get a stable note out of the unmodified Furbies so he instead came up with what he’s calling the Furby Forman Fusion Synthesis. Each Furby is controlled by a pair of Ardunios. One Arduino sequences parts inside the Furby and the other produces a formant note, making the Furby sing vowels.

We love the label he’s given for what would otherwise be the power switch, namely the Collective Awakening switch. Flicking it causes all 44 (we count 45 but he says 44) Furbies to speak up while moving their ears, eyes, and beaks. Pressing the Loop switch makes them hold whatever sound they happen to be making. The Vowel dial changes the vowel. But you’ll just have to see and hear it for yourself in the videos below. The second video also has construction details.

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Eight SEGAs Singing

Way back in the dark ages, before the average computer could play back high quality recorded audio, things were done differently. Music and sounds were stored as instructions to be played back on audio synthesis chips, built into the computers and consoles of the 80s and 90s. These chips and their unique voices hold a special nostalgia that’s key to this era, making them popular to experiment with today. To that end, [little-scale] decided to wire up eight chips from the SEGA Master System to please your ears.

The chips, laid out on a breadboard with a Teensy LC running the show.

The chip in question is the SN76489, which we’ve also noted is used in the Sega Genesis as well. It packs 3 square wave tone generators, and a noise channel as well. With eight of these to play with, that’s 32 total channels. To drive these, [little-scale] decided to go the MIDI route. To get around the MIDI limit of 16 channels, he decided to split the frequency range in half. Each MIDI channel addresses two SN76489 channels, the top pitches being used for one, the lower pitches being used for the other. All this MIDI data is passed to a Teensy LC, which handles transposition of the note data to get everything back in tune, and addresses the eight chips to create a beautiful square wave symphony.

It’s a great way to create a cacophony of sound in a delightful vintage way, and code is available if you’d like to recreate the feat. What we’d like to know is this – what’s your favourite sound chip from yesteryear, and how badly do you want eight of them to sing in glorious harmony? Continue reading “Eight SEGAs Singing”

Anyone Need a Little Fuming Nitric Acid?

If there’s a chemical with a cooler name than “fuming nitric acid,” we can’t think of it. Nearly pure nitric acid is useful stuff, especially if you’re in the business of making rocket fuels and explosives. But the low-end nitric acid commonly available tops out at about 68% pure, so if you want the good stuff, you’ll have to synthesize fuming nitric acid yourself. (And by “good stuff”, we mean be very careful with the resulting product.)

Fuming nitric acid comes in two colors – red fuming nitric acid (RFNA), which is about 90% pure and has some dissolved nitrogen oxides, giving it its reddish-brown color. White fuming nitric acid (WFNA) is the good stuff — more than 99% pure. Either one is rough stuff to work with — you don’t want to wear latex or nitrile gloves while using it. It’s not clear what [BarsMonster] needs the WFNA for, although he does mention etching some ICs. The synthesis is pretty straightforward, if a bit dangerous. An excess of sulfuric acid is added to potassium nitrate, and more or less pure nitric acid is distilled away from the resulting potassium sulfate. Careful temperature control is important, and [BarsMonster] seems to have gotten a good yield despite running out of ice.

We don’t feature too many straight chemistry hacks around here, but this one seemed gnarly enough to be interesting. We did have a Hackaday Prize entry a while back on improvements to the Haber process for producing ammonia, which curiously is the feedstock for commercial nitric acid production processes.

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Piana – Musical Synthesis For The Raspberry Pi

For the last 15 years or so, software synths have slowly yet surely replaced those beatboxes, drum machines, and true synthesizers. It’s a loss for old hardware aficionados, but at least everyone with a MacBook is now a musician, amiright?

The Raspberry Pi and Pi2 already have more processing power than a desktop from ’99, so it’s no surprise that all of those classic synths, from a Moog. Yamaha DX, Casio CZ, Linn drum machine, Fairlight, and a mellotron, can all be stuffed into a Pi thanks to the work of [Phil Atkin] and his Raspberry Pi synthesizer.

[Phil]’s efforts to bring audio synthesis to the Pi fall under three techniques: subtractive synthesis, phase distortion synthesis, and sample-based synthesis, something that’s found in everything from Akai MPCs, MacBooks, and that one episode of The Cosby Show. [Phil] is combining all of these techniques into a piece of software that’s capable of running seamlessly on the Pi, giving anyone with a $35 computer a tool that would have been worth several thousand dollars in 1985.

The project is pretty far along, but the recent release of the Raspberry Pi 2 has thrown [Phil] for a loop. On one hand, the Pi 2 is much more capable than the original Pi in terms of hardware, and this lends itself to more sounds and a better GUI. On the other hand, there are millions of original Pi 1s out there that still make for exceptional synthesizers. Either way, [Phil]’s work is a great example of how far you can push the Pi with audio work.

Thanks [Wybren] for the tip. Videos below.

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Two saxophone synthesizer builds for the price of one

[Bruce Land] has been sending in student projects from the electronic design course he taught at Cornell last semester. By a curious coincidence, two groups build saxophone synthesizers with the same key arrangement as a real sax.

First up is [Brian Wang]’s digital sax. There’s a small microphone in the mouthpiece and a series of buttons down the body of the sax telling the ATMega664 what note to play. The data for the saxophone synthesis was created by looking at a frequency plot of a sax, bassoon, harp, and pipe organ. [Brian] has the synthesis part down pat; there’s definitely a baritone sax in that little microcontroller.

Next up is [Suryansh] and [Chris]’s PVC pipe saxophone. It’s the same general principle as [Brian]’s project – the musician blows into the sax (we really like the kazoo mouthpiece) and a small mic picks up the sound of the wind. If the microphone output is above a certain threshold, the buttons are read and a note come out of the sax. We’re picking up a whiff of alto sax here; shame there wasn’t a duet with the two teams.

After the break you can see both saxophone projects in all their glory.

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