An HDMI Input For A Laptop Screen, Minus Laptop

The lack of HDMI inputs on almost all laptops is a huge drawback for anyone who wants to easily play a video game on the road, for example. As to why no manufacturers offer this piece of convenience when we all have easy access to a working screen of this size, perhaps no one can say. On the other hand, if you want to ditch the rest of the computer, you can make use of the laptop screen for whatever you want.

This project from [Avner] comes to us in a few parts. In the first section, the teardown of the laptop begins and a datasheet for the screen is discovered, which allows [Avner] to prepare an FPGA to drive the screen. The second part involves building an HDMI sink, which is a device which decodes the signal from an HDMI source into its constituent parts so it can be sent to the FPGA. The final section of the project involves actually sending a video to this impressive collection of hardware in order to get a video to appear on the old laptop screen.

This build is worth checking out if you’ve ever dealt with anything involving digital video. It goes into great depth on a lot of the technical details involving HDMI, video devices, and hardware timing issues. This is a great build and, even though we’ve seen similar projects, definitely worth diving into if you have some time on your hands and a spare laptop screen.

DAT, The HD Video Tape Format We Never Knew We Had

When we consume our music online via streaming services it is easy to forget the days of recordings being contained on physical media, and to overlook the plethora of competing formats that vied for space in our hi-fi systems to play them. [Andrew Rossignol] has an eye for dated recording media formats as a chiptune enthusiast though, because not only has he found a DAT machine from the 1990s, he’s hacked it to record HD video rather than hi-fi audio.

If you’ve not encountered DAT before, it’s best to consider the format as the equivalent of a CD player but on a tape cassette. It had its roots in the 1980s, and stored an uncompressed 16-bit CD-quality stereo audio data stream on the tape using a helical-scan mechanism similar to that found in a video cassette recorder. It was extremely expensive due to the complexity of the equipment, the music industry hated it because they thought it would be used to make pirate copies of CDs. But despite those hurdles it established a niche for itself among well-heeled musicians and audiophiles. If any Hackaday readers have encountered a DAT cassette it is most likely to have not contained audio at all but computer data, it was common in the 1990s for servers to use DAT tapes for backup purposes.

[Andrew]’s hack involves using the SPDIF digital interface on his Sony DAT player to carry compressed video data. SPDIF is a mature and well-understood standard that he calculated has a bandwidth of 187.5 kB/s, plenty to carry HD video using the H.265 compression scheme. The SPDIF data is brought into the computer via a USB sound card, and from there his software could either stream or retrieve the video. The stream is encoded into frames following the RFC1662 format to ensure synchronization, and he demonstrates it in the video below with a full explanation.

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Downloadable 3D Cockpits Enhance FPV Racing

First Person View (or First Person Video) in RC refers to piloting a remote-controlled vehicle or aircraft via a video link, and while serious racers will mount the camera in whatever way offers the best advantage, it’s always fun to mount the camera where a miniature pilot’s head would be, and therefore obtain a more immersive view of the action. [SupermotoXL] is clearly a fan of this approach, and shared downloadable designs for 3D printed cockpit kits for a few models of RC cars, including a more generic assembly for use with other vehicles. The models provide a dash, steering wheel, and even allow for using a small servo to make the steering wheel’s motions match the actual control signals sent. The whole effect is improved further by adding another servo to allow the viewer to pan the camera around.

Check out the video embedded below to see it in action. There are more videos on the project’s page, and check out the project’s photo gallery for more detailed images of the builds.

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Tritium Tesseract Makes A Nifty Nightlight

As the cube is to three dimensions, the tesseract is to four. Mortals in this universe find it difficult to contemplate four-dimensional geometry, but there are methods of making projections of such heretical shapes in our own limited world. [Sean Hodgins] was interested in the geometry, and decided to build a tesseract featuring everyone’s favourite isotope of hydrogen, tritium.

The build starts with a 3D printed inner and outer frame, sourced in this case from Shapeways in nylon. Both frames have holes which are designed as a friction fit for off-the-shelf tritium vials. These vials use the radioactive decay of tritium with a phosphor coating to create a dim glow which lasts approximately a decade. With the inner frame held inside the outer with the vials acting as structural supports, the inner and outer surfaces are then fitted with semi-transparent mirrored acrylic, creating a nice infinity effect.

It’s a fun trinket that would be perfect as a MacGuffin in any sci-fi film with a weak plot. [Sean] notes that while the tritium glow is disappointingly dim, the device does make a good nightlight. If you’ve built one and get bored with the hypercube, you can always repurpose your tritium vials into a nuclear battery. Video after the break.

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Little FPV Bot Keeps It Simple With An ESP32

When it comes to robots, it seems the trend is to make them as complicated as possible – look at anything from Boston Dynamics if you’ve any doubt of that. But there’s plenty to be said for simple robots too, such as this adorable ESP32-driven live-streaming bot.

Now it’s true that [Max.K]’s creation is more remote controlled car than robot, and comparing it to one of the nightmare-fuelling creations of Boston Dynamics is perhaps unfair. But [Max.K]’s new project is itself a simplification and reimagining of his earlier, larger “ZeroBot“. As the name implies, ZeroBot was controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero, an obvious choice for a mobile platform designed to stream FPV video. The ESP32 bot eschews the Pi platform in favor of, well, an ESP32. To save as much space as possible, [Max.K] did a custom PCB for the microcontroller and its supporting components. The 3D-printed case is nicely designed to hold the board along with two motors, a small VGA camera, and a battery pack. At 160×120 resolution, the video isn’t amazing, but the fact that it can be streamed from the ESP32 at a decent enough framerate to drive the bot using a simple web interface is impressive.

This was a fun project and a very clean, smooth build. We like the lines of this little bot, and wouldn’t mind building one as a quick weekend project ourselves.

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Do Other Things Besides Output Video

Small microcontrollers and tiny systems-on-chips are getting more and more popular these days as the price comes down and the ease of programming goes up. A Raspberry Pi is relatively inexpensive and can do pretty much everything you need, but not every chip out there can do something most of us take for granted like output video. For a lot of platforms, it’s next to impossible to do while saving any processor or memory for other tasks besides the video output itself.

[Dave] aka [Mubes] has been working on the Blue Pill platform which is a STM32F103C8 board. While they don’t natively output video, it’s a feature that provides a handy tool to have for debugging in order to see what’s going on in your code. However, if the video code takes up all of the processor power and memory there’s not much point. [Dave]’s video output program, on the other hand, takes up only 1200 bytes of RAM and 24% of the processor for a 50×18 text display over VGA, leaving a lot of room left for whatever else you need the tiny board to do.

Video output on a device this small and lightweight is an impressive feat, especially while saving room for other tasks. This brings it firmly out of the realm of novelty and into the space of useful tools to keep around. If you want to try the same thing on an ATtiny, though, you might have to come up with some more impressive tricks.

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Robot Arm is a Fast Learner

Not long ago, machines grew their skills when programmers put their noses to the grindstone and mercilessly attacked those 104 keys. Machine learning is turning some of that around by replacing the typing with humans demonstrating the actions they want the robot to perform. Suddenly, a factory line-worker can be a robot trainer. This is not new, but a robot needs thousands of examples before it is ready to make an attempt. A new paper from researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, are adding the ability to infer so robots can perform after witnessing a task just one time.

A robotic arm with no learning capability can only be told to go to (X,Y,Z), pick up a thing, and drop it off at (X2, Y2, Z2). Many readers have probably done precisely this in school or with a homemade arm. A learning robot generates those coordinates by observing repeated trials and then copies the trainer and saves the keystrokes. This new method can infer that when the trainer picks up a piece of fruit, and drops it in the red bowl, that the robot should make sure the fruit ends up in the red bowl, not just the location where the red bowl was before.

The ability to infer is built from many smaller lessons, like moving to a location, grasping, and releasing and those are trained with regular machine learning, but the inference is the glue that holds it all together. If this sounds like how we teach children or train workers, then you are probably thinking in the right direction.

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