Trebucheting Tennis Balls at 124 MPH

A trebuchet is one of the older machines of war. It’s basically a sling on a frame, with a weight that you can lift up high and which pulls the sling arm over on release. Making one opens up the doors to backyard mayhem, but optimizing one opens up the wonders of physics.

[Tom Stanton] covers just about everything you need to know about trebuchet building in his four-part video series. Indeed, he sums it up in video two: you’ve got some potential energy in the weight, and you want to transfer as much of that as possible to the ball. This implies that the optimal path for the weight would be straight down, but then there’s the axle in the way.  The rest, as they say, is mechanical engineering.

Video three was the most interesting for us. [Tom] already had some strange arm design that intends to get the weight partially around the axle, but he’s still getting low efficiencies, so he builds a trebuchet on wheels — the classic solution. Along the way, he takes a ton of measurements with Physlets Tracker, which does video analysis to extract physical measurements. That tip alone is worth the price of admission, but when the ball tops out at 124 mph, you gotta cheer.

In video four, [Tom] plays around with the weight of the projectile and discovers that he’s putting spin on his tennis ball, making it curve in flight. Who knew?

Anyway, all four videos are embedded below. You can probably skip video one if you already know what a trebuchet is, or aren’t interested in [Tom] learning that paying extra money for a good CNC mill bit is worth it. Video two and three are must-watch trebucheting.

We’re a sad to report that we couldn’t find any good trebuchet links on Hackaday to dish up. You’re going to have to settle for a decade-old catapult post or this sweet beer-pong-playing robotic arm. You can help. Submit your trebuchet tips.

Thanks [DC] for this one!

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The Photo Lab That Flew to the Moon

When planning a trip by car these days, it’s pretty much standard practice to spin up an image of your destination in Google Maps and get an idea of what you’re in for when you get there. What kind of parking do they have? Are the streets narrow or twisty? Will I be able to drive right up, or will I be walking a bit when I get there? It’s good to know what’s waiting for you, especially if you’re headed someplace you’ve never been before.

NASA was very much of this mind in the 1960s, except the trip they were planning for was 238,000 miles each way and would involve parking two humans on the surface of another world that we had only seen through telescopes. As good as Earth-based astronomy may be, nothing beats an up close and personal look, and so NASA decided to send a series of satellites to our nearest neighbor to look for the best places to land the Apollo missions. And while most of the feats NASA pulled off in the heyday of the Space Race were surprising, the Lunar Orbiter missions were especially so because of how they chose to acquire the images: using a film camera and a flying photo lab.

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Need A Tiny CRT? Karaoke Might Just Help

[Brett] is working on a video installation, and for the past few months, has been trying to get his hands on tiny CRTs any way he can. After initially coming up short, he happened across a karaoke machine from 2005, and got down to work.

Karaoke machines of this vintage are typically fairly low-rent affairs, built cheaply on simple PCBs. [Brett] found that the unit in question was easy to disassemble, having various modules on separate PCBs joined together with ribbon cables and headers. However, such machines rarely have video inputs, as they’re really only designed to display low-res graphics from CD-G format discs.

While investigating the machine, initial research online proved fruitless. In the end, a close look at the board revealed just what [Brett] was looking for – a pin labeled video in! After throwing in a Raspberry Pi Zero and soldering up the composite output to the karaoke machine’s input pin, the screen sprung to life first time! This initial success was followed by installing a Raspberry Pi 3 for more grunt, combined with a Screenly install – and a TRS adapter the likes of which we’ve never seen before. This allows video to be easily pushed to the device remotely over WiFi. [Brett] promises us there is more to come.

Karaoke is a sparse topic in the Hackaday archives, but we’ve seen a couple builds, like this vocal processor. If you’ve got the hacks, though? You know where to send ’em.

Philo Farnsworth, RCA, and the Battle for Television

The parenthood of any invention of consequence is almost never cut and dried. The natural tendency to want a simple story that’s easy to tell — Edison invented the light bulb, Bell invented the telephone — often belies the more complex tale: that most inventions have uncertain origins, and their back stories are often far more interesting as a result.

Inventing is a rough business. It is said that a patent is just a license to get sued, and it’s true that the determination of priority of invention often falls to the courts. Such battles often pit the little guy against a corporate behemoth, the latter with buckets of money to spend in making the former’s life miserable for months or years. The odds are rarely in the favor of the little guy, but in few cases was the deck so stacked against someone as it was for a young man barely out of high school, Philo Farnsworth, when he went up against one of the largest companies in the United States to settle a simple but critical question: who invented television?

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Vlogging With Vintage 1980s Equipment

[Dan Mace] decided to try vlogging 1980s style. To do this, he built Pram Cam — a one-man mobile video recording setup using vintage gear. [Dan] is a YouTuber from Cape Town, South Africa. His goal for this project was to motivate people to get out there and make videos. Smartphones, action cams, and modern video equipment all have made it incredibly easy to create content.

[Dan] reminds us of this by grabbing a vintage 1984 video camera – a Grundig vs150 VHS recorder. He couples the camera with a sturdy video tripod, blimp microphone, CRT TV as a monitor, and everything else needed for a period-accurate recording setup.

In a build sequence even the A-Team would appreciate, [Dan] tears down a rusty old three wheel pram, or baby carriage for the Americans out there. He then mounts the video setup to the pram frame using duct tape, zip ties, and a few odd pieces of wood. The result is a proper hacked off-road rolling video studio.

He then uses Pram Cam to film some of the great scenery in Cape Town — beaches, rocky cliffs, and even a helicopter ride. To say the pram was a bit more cumbersome than a cell phone would be the understatement of the year.

The video quality from the camera looks quite a bit worse than we would expect. Some of this may be due to Dan’s digitizing system though the chances are it’s from the camera itself. The Grundig captured video using a Saticon, which was Hitachi’s version of the video camera tube. That’s right, this is a tube based camera – no CMOS sensor, nor CCD. Tubes might not have Jello effect, but they do have all the blooming, motion blur, and other problems one might expect from a 34-year-old device.

What becomes of the Pram Cam? You’ll have to watch the video below to find out. Dan’s message is clear though: get out there and film something. Of course this is Hackaday, so if we’ll add that you should build something — then film it!

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Nvidia Transforms Standard Video Into Slow Motion Using AI

Nvidia is back at it again with another awesome demo of applied machine learning: artificially transforming standard video into slow motion – they’re so good at showing off what AI can do that anyone would think they were trying to sell hardware for it.

Though most modern phones and cameras have an option to record in slow motion, it often comes at the expense of resolution, and always at the expense of storage space. For really high frame rates you’ll need a specialist camera, and you often don’t know that you should be filming in slow motion until after an event has occurred. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just convert standard video to slow motion after it was recorded?

That’s just what Nvidia has done, all nicely documented in a paper. At its heart, the algorithm must take two frames, and artificially create one or more frames in between. This is not a manual algorithm that interpolates frames, this is a fully fledged deep-learning system. The Convolutional Neural Network (CNN) was trained on over a thousand videos – roughly 300k individual frames.

Since none of the parameters of the CNN are time-dependent, it’s possible to generate as many intermediate frames as required, something which sets this solution apart from previous approaches.  In some of the shots in their demo video, 30fps video is converted to 240fps; this requires the creation of 7 additional frames for every pair of consecutive frames.

The video after the break is seriously impressive, though if you look carefully you can see the odd imperfection, like the hockey player’s skate or dancer’s arm. Deep learning is as much an art as a science, and if you understood all of the research paper then you’re doing pretty darn well. For the rest of us, get up to speed by wrapping your head around neural networks, and trying out the simplest Tensorflow example.

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Rolling Old School with Copy Protection from the 1980s

Oh, for the old days when sailing the seas of piracy was as simple as hooking a couple of VCRs together with a dubbing cable. Sure, the video quality degraded with each generation, but it was so bad to start out with that not paying $25 for a copy of “Ghostbusters” was a value proposition. But then came The Man with all his “rules” and “laws” about not stealing, and suddenly tapes weren’t so easy to copy.

If you’ve ever wondered how copy protection worked in pre-digital media, wonder no more. [Technology Connections] has done a nice primer on one of the main copy protection scheme from the VHS days. It was dubbed “Analog Protection System” or “Analog Copy Protection” by Macrovision, the company that developed it. Ironically, Macrovision the company later morphed into the TiVo Corporation.

The idea for Macrovision copy protection was to leverage the difference between what a TV would accept as a valid analog signal and what the VCR could handle. It used the vertical blanking interval (VBI) in the analog signal, the time during which the electron beam returns to the top of the frame. Normally the VBI has signals that the VCR uses to set its recording levels, but Macrovision figured out that sending extra signals in the VBI fooled the VCR’s automatic gain controls into varying the brightness of the recorded scenes. They also messed with the vertical synchronization, and the effect was to make dubbed tapes unwatchable, even by 1985 standards.

Copy protection was pretty effective, and pretty clever given the constraints. With Digital Rights Management, it’s easier to put limits on almost anything — coffee makers, arcade games, and even kitty litter all sport copy protection these days. It almost makes us nostalgic for the 80s.

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