Back to School Online

In 1961, FCC Commissioner [Newt Minow] famously described TV as a “vast wasteland.” But TV can do great things; educational programming, news coverage, and great performances do appear, just not all that often. You can draw the same parallels to the Internet. Sure, it’s mostly cat pictures, snarky comments, and posts of what your friends had for dinner. But it can also be a powerful tool, especially for education. Recently, top-name schools and other institutions have posted courses online for everything from Python to Quantum Mechanics to Dutch. The problems are finding these classes and figuring out which ones are gems and which are duds. A site called Class-Central aims to solve these problems.

The site aggregates class descriptions from a variety of sources like edX, Coursea, and more. Users can rate the classes. Many of these courses are free to take. The recent trend is to offer the content for free, but charge for people who want an assessment, such as a certificate of completion or even a full-blown degree. Even then, the cost is typically far less than traditional college costs.

There’s also news about courses. For example, a recent post highlighted that edX now offers nine online master’s degrees in conjunction with major schools. A computer science masters from the University of Texas, for example, runs about $10,000. A Georgia Tech cybersecurity masters degree costs even less. There are another seven not ready yet, including one for electrical engineering.

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Touch Anything And Everything

Powering IoT devices is often a question of batteries or mains power, but in rare exceptions to this rule there is no power supply (PDF Warning). At the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the University of California, San Diego, researchers have gone the extra mile to make advanced backscatter devices, and these new tags don’t need the discrete components we have seen in previous versions. They are calling it LiveTag, and it doesn’t need anything aside from a layer of foil printed or etched on a flexible ceramic-PTFE laminate. PTFE is mostly seen in the RF sector as a substrate for circuit boards.

We have seen some of the wild creations with wifi backscatter that range from dials to pushbuttons. RF backscatter works by modulating the RF signals in which we are continuously swimming. Those radio waves power the device and disrupt the ambient signals, which disruption can be detected by a receiver. With a BOM that looks like a statement more than a list, integration with many devices becomes a cost-effective reality. Do not however broadcast important data because you cannot expect great security from backscatter.

[Via IEEE Spectrum]

Hack Your Own Computer Science Degree

We ran across something interesting on GitHub of all places. The “Open Source Society University” has a list of resources to use if you want to teach yourself computer science for free. We found it interesting because there are so many resources available it can be hard to pick and choose. Of course, you can always pick a track from one school, but it was interesting to see what [Eric Douglas] and contributors thought would be a good foundation.

If you dig down, there are really a few potential benefits from going to college. One is you might learn something — although we’ve found that isn’t always a given, surprisingly. The second is you can get a piece of paper to frame that impresses most people, especially those that want to hire you but can’t determine if you know what you are talking about or not. Lastly, if you go to the right school you can meet people that might be useful to know in the future for different reasons.

The Internet has really changed all of those things, you can network pretty easily these days without a class ring, and there are lots of ways to earn accredited diplomas online. If you are interested in what we think is the most important part — the education — there are many options for that too.

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Building A Drone That (Almost) Follows You Home

There’s a great deal of research happening around the topic of autonomous vehicles of all creeds and colours. [Ryan] decided this was an interesting field, and took on an autonomous drone as his final project at Cornell University.

The main idea was to create a drone that could autonomously follow a target which provided GPS data for the drone to follow. [Ryan] planned to implement this by having a smartphone provide GPS coordinates to the drone over WiFi, allowing the drone to track the user.

As this was  a university project, he had to take a very carefully considered approach to the build. Given likely constraints on both money and time, he identified that the crux of the project was to develop the autonomous part of the drone, not the drone itself. Thus, off-the-shelf parts were selected to swiftly put together a drone platform that would serve as a test bed for his autonomous brain.

The write up is in-depth and shares all the gritty details of getting the various subsystems of the drone talking together. He also shares issues that were faced with altitude control – without any sensors to determine altitude, it wasn’t possible to keep the drone at a level height. This unfortunately complicated things and meant that he didn’t get to complete the drone’s following algorithm. Such roadblocks are highly common in time-limited university projects, though their educational value cannot be overstated. Overall, while the project may not have met its final goals, it was obviously an excellent learning experience, and one which has taught him plenty about working with drones and the related electronics.

For another take on autonomous flight, check out this high-speed AI racing drone.

Hacker U.

If you go to the University of South Florida, you can take the “Makecourse.” The 15-week program promises to teach CAD software, 3D printing, Arduino-based control systems, and C++. Don’t go to the University of South Florida? No worries. Professor [Rudy Schlaf] and [Eric Tridas] have made the entire course available online. You can see several videos below, but there are many more. The student project videos are great, too, like [Catlin Ryan’s] phase of the moon project (see below) or [Dustin Germain’s] rover (seen above).

In addition to a lesson plan and projects, there’s a complete set of videos (you can see a few below). If you are a regular Hackaday reader, you probably won’t care much about the basic Arduino stuff and the basic electronics–although a good review never hurts anyone. However, the more advanced topics about interrupts, SDCards, pin change interrupts might be just the thing. If you ever wanted to learn Autodesk Inventor, there are videos for that, too.

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Projection Mapping in Motion Amazes

Projection mapping is pretty magical; done well, it’s absolutely miraculous when the facade of a building starts popping out abstract geometric objects, or crumbles in front of our very eyes. “Dynamic projection mapping onto deforming non-rigid surface” takes it to the next level. (Watch the video below.)

A group in the Ishikawa Watanabe lab at the University of Tokyo has a technique where they cover the target with a number of dots in an ink that is only visible in the infra-red. A high-speed (1000 FPS!) camera and some very fast image processing then work out not only how the surface is deforming, but which surface it is. This enables them to swap out pieces of paper and get the projections onto them in real time.

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JumpRoaCH is Kind Of Cute, Kind Of Creepy

There’s a theory that the fear of scurrying things is genetic. Likewise, a similar theory arose about the tendency for humans to find helpless things cute. After all, our useless babies do best in a pest free environment. This all could explain why we found this robotic roach to be both a little cute and a little creepy.

The university sponsored project, JumpRoaCH, is a collaboration between South Korea’s SNU Biorobotics Lab and Berkeley’s Biomimetic Millisystems Lab. Imitating insects has been a popular avenue for robotic research, and often results in very interesting experiments.

This robot looks like a ladybug going through its rebellious teen phase. It runs on six hook shaped legs which allow it to traverse a wider array of surfaces than wheels would, at the expense of speed and higher vibrations. The robot does a very convincing, if wobbly, scurry across the surface of its test table.

It also has a secret attack in the form of a single Rockem Sockem Robot arm located on its belly. With a powerful burst, the arm can launch the robot up a few feet to a higher surface. If the robot lands on its wheels the researchers high-five. If the robot lands on its back, it can use its ,”wings,” to flip itself right-side-up again.

The resulting paper (PDF file) has a nice description of the robot and its clever jumping mechanism. At least if these start multiplying like roaches, hackers will never short for tiny motors for their projects. Video after the break.

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