Hackaday Links: August 21, 2016

Are you in New York? What are you doing this week? Hackaday is having a party on Wednesday evening. come on out!

How about a pub in Cambridge? Hackaday and Tindie will be there too, on Wednesday evening. It’s a bring-a-hack, so bring a hack and enjoy the company of your fellow nerds. If this goes late enough we can have a trans-Atlantic Hackaday meetup.

Portable emulation machines are all the rage, and [Pierre] built one based on the Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s small, looks surprisingly comfortable to hold, and is apparently it’s fairly inexpensive to build your own.

For the last year or so, the Raspberry Pi Zero has existed. This came as a surprise to many who couldn’t buy a Raspberry Pi Zero. In other news, Ferraris don’t exist, and neither do Faberge egg omelets. Now, the Raspberry Pi shortage is officially over. They’re in stock everywhere, and we can finally stop listening to people who call the Pi Zero a marketing ploy.

No Starch Press is having another Humble Bundle. Pay what you want, and you get some coding books. They have Python, Haskell, and R, because no one should ever have to use SPSS.

[Reg] wrote in to tell us about something interesting he found while cruising eBay. The used and surplus market is awash in Siemens MC45/MC46 cellular modem modules. They’re a complete GSM ‘cellular modem engine’, with an AT command set, and cost about $10 each. Interfacing them with a board requires only two (strange) connectors, SIM and SD card sockets, and a few traces to through-hole pads. Anyone up for a challenge? A breakout board for this cellular modem could be very useful, should someone find a box full of these modules in a surplus shop.

On this page, about halfway down the page, is an LCD driver board. It turns a video signal into something a small, VGA resolution LCD will understand. This driver board is unique because it is completely hand-made. This is one of those small miracles of a soldering iron and copper clad board. If anyone out there is able to recognize these parts, I’d love for you to attempt an explanation in the comments.

A few weeks ago, the RTL8710 WiFi module showed up on the usual online marketplaces. Initially, we thought it was a competitor to the ever-popular ESP8266, offering a small microcontroller, WiFi, and a bunch of useful output pins. A module based on the RTL8710, the RTL-00, is much more than a competitor. It’s pinout compatible with the ESP8266. This module can be swapped into a project in place of the ESP-12, probably the most popular version of the ESP8266. This is genius, and opens the door to a lot of experimentation with the RTL8710.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Hackaday
links

Hacked Furby Knows When You’re Near

One of the classics of circuit bending is to mess around with the clock chip that drives the CPU in simple noise-making toys. [Goran] took this a step further with his Furby hack. Skip down to the video embedded below if you just want to see the results.

After first experiments modifying the Furby’s clock with a string of resistors (YouTube), [Goran] decided to opt for more control, overriding the clock entirely with a square wave coming out of an Arduino. And then, the world became his oyster.

The Furby’s eyes were replaced with ultrasonic distance sensors, and what looks like a speaker was hot-glued into its mouth. Since this particular Furby only “talks” when you pull its tail, he naturally wired in tail-switch control to boot. As [Goran] suggests, a light show is the obvious next step.

If you haven’t pulled apart an electronic toy and played around with glitching it, you don’t know what you’re missing. We’ve got a classic intro to circuit bending, as well as projects that range from the simple to the ridiculously elaborate. It’s a fun introduction to electronics for the young ones as well. Grab a toy noisemaker and get hacking.

Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Building A DIY Heat Pipe

Once the secret design tool for aerospace designers, the heat pipe is a common fixture now thanks to the demands of PC CPU cooling. Heat pipes can transfer lots of energy from a hot side to a cold side and is useful when you need to cool something where having a fan near the hot part isn’t feasible for some reason. Unlike active cooling, a heat pipe doesn’t require any external power or pumps, either.

[James Biggar] builds his own heat pipes using copper tubing. You can see a video of one being made, below. There’s not much to it, just a copper pipe with some water in it. However, [James] gets the water boiling to reduce the pressure in the tube before sealing it, which is an interesting trick.

One limitation of his technique is that there is no internal wick. That means the tube can only be installed vertically. If you haven’t looked at heat pipes before, most of them do have a wick. The idea is that some working fluid is in the pipe. You select that fluid so that it boils at or below the temperature you want to handle. The hot vapor rushes to the cool side of the pipe (carrying heat) where you have a large heatsink that may have a fan or active cooling system. The vapor condenses and–in this case–drops back to the bottom of the tube. However, if there is a wick, capillary action will return the fluid to the hot end of the tube.

You might think that using water as the working fluid would limit you to 100°C, but remember, [James’] technique lowers the pressure in the tube. At a lower pressure, the water will boil at a lower temperature.

We’ve seen heat pipes and wine chillers used to cool a PC before. In fact, we’ve even seen them in builds of completely fanless PCs.

Filed under: misc hacks

Bare-bones Musical Tesla Coil is Tiny and Tinny

We’ve seen musical Tesla coils aplenty on these pages before, and we’ll be the first to point out that [Kedar Nimbalkar]’s musical high-voltage rig doesn’t quite qualify as a Tesla coil. But it’s dirt cheap, and might make a pretty cool rainy-afternoon-with-the-kids project.

Chances are good you have the parts needed for this build lying around the house. All that’s needed is an audio power amplifier and a high-voltage source. [Kedar] used a Class D amp board and a 3V to 7kV high-voltage module sourced from eBay for a couple of bucks; if you really want to go cheap, tear down that defunct electronic fly swatter gathering dust on top of your fridge and harvest the high-voltage module inside. The output of the amp feeds the high-voltage module, the HV leads are placed close together to get an arc, and the glorious high-fidelity sound will wash over you. Or not – sounds pretty awful to us. Still, it looks like a fast, fun build.

If this project gets you in the mood to go the full Tesla, check out this coil big enough to produce 12-foot arcs, or even this musical Tesla hat.

Filed under: musical hacks

Fly With A Game Boy Classic

How many grown-up hardware hackers whiled away their youth playing Tetris or Mario on their Game Boy? Fond memories for many, but unless you are lucky your Game Boy will probably be long gone. Not for [Gautier Hattenberger] though, he had an unexpected find at his parents’ house; his Game Boy Classic, unloved and forgotten for all those years. Fortunately for us his first thought was whether he could use it as a controller for a drone, and better still he’s shared his work for all of us to see.

How to connect a drone and a Game Boy
How to connect a drone and a Game Boy

Back in the day a would-be Game Boy hacker would have been deterred by Nintendo’s legal defences against game piracy, but with the benefit of a couple of decades the handheld console’s hardware is now an open book. Unfortunately for [Gautier], he seems to be the first to use one as a flight controller, so he had to plough his own furrow. His Game Boy Game Link serial port feeds an Arduino/FTDI combination that converts Game Link  to USB, which is then sent to his laptop on which a small piece of software converts them to commands for the drone through the Paparazzi UAV framework.

All his code is in a GitHub repository, and he’s posted a video of his work which you can see below the break. For a child of the early ’90s, the mere thought that their handheld console could do this would have been mindblowing!

Perhaps unsurprisingly most of the Nintendo Game Boy hacks we’ve featured over the years have had a gaming flavour, so this is the first Game Boy flight controller. The hack we desperately wanted in about 1991 was a Game Boy oscilloscope cartridge, and though it seems that’s another one yet to be conquered we have featured the reverse: an oscilloscope as Game Boy display.

Thanks [Piotr] for the tip.

Filed under: drone hacks, nintendo gameboy hacks

Hackaday Prize Entry: A CNC Plasma Table

CNC routers and 3D printers are cool, but the last time I checked, cars and heavy machinery aren’t made out of wood and plastic. If you want a machine that will build other machines, you want a CNC plasma cutter. That’s [willbaden]’s entry for the Hackaday prize. It’s big, massive, and it’s already cutting.

A plasma CNC machine isn’t that much different from a simple CNC router. [will]’s table controller is just a GRBL shield attached to an Arduino, the bearings were stolen from many copy machines, and your motors and drivers are fairly standard, barring the fact they’re excessively huge for a simple 3D printer.

The real trick up [will]’s sleeve is the controller interface. For this, he’s mounted a Raspberry Pi display, a big, shiny, red button, and all the associated electronics behind a beautifully rusty welded enclosure. This part of the build just sends gcode over to the GRBL shield, and is doing so reliably. Right now [will] is looking for some way to save, arrange, and queue jobs on the Pi, a problem that is almost – but not quite – the same job Octoprint does. A software for big, mean CNCs that spew exotic states of matter is an interesting project, and we can’t wait to see where [will] goes with this one.

Filed under: Raspberry Pi, The Hackaday Prize

Bachelor Builds Enormous Laser Cutter, Nobody Complains

Nothing says swinging 21st-century bachelor pad better than a laser cutter. To really make a statement, you want a custom-built, 100 Watt, 1200mm x 900mm laser cutter.

The bachelor in question, [drandolph], rightly points out that a $6,000 build that takes up a significant fraction of the floor space in one’s apartment is better attempted without the benefit of spousal oversight. Still, what spouse couldn’t love the finished product? With a custom aluminum extrusion frame (which barely made the trip from China intact) it’s a sturdy affair, and who could deny the appeal of the soft glow of an LED-illuminated work chamber? A custom exhaust system with sound-deadening, a water chiller for laser cooling, an Arduino-controlled status beacon – there’s even a 3-D printed beer holder on the control panel! And think of all the goodies that will come off the enormous bed of this thing. Note to self: make sure wife sees this post.

There are cheaper and smaller laser cutters, but what’s the point if you have the freedom to go big?

[via r/DIY]

Filed under: laser hacks

Pokémon Center Charging Station

If you watch Pokémon Go enthusiasts, you may have noticed something of a community spirit among gamers congregating at busy in-game locations. [Spencer Kern] wanted to encourage this, so produced what he describes as a water cooler for Pokémon Go players, a Pokémon-styled charging station with multiple USB ports.

His build centres on a Yeti 400 solar power pack and a large multi-port USB hub, for which he has built a detailed wooden housing in the style of a Pokémon Center from the earlier Nintendo games. The idea is that gamers will congregate and plug in their phones to charge, thus bringing together a real-world social aspect to the game. We can see the attraction to gamers, however we suspect most Hackaday readers would join us in not trusting a strange USB socket and using only a USB cable not equipped with data conductors.

pokemon-center-usersStill, the housing has seen some careful design and attention to detail in its construction. He started with a 3D CAD model from which he created a set of 2D templates to print on paper and from which to cut the wood. As many of his dimensions as possible were taken from common wood stock to save machining time, and the structure was assembled using wood glue before being sanded and filled. Finally, the intricate parts such as the Pokémon logo were 3D printed, and spray painted. The result is a pretty good real-world replica of the Pokémon Center that you’d recognise if you were a player of the original games, and he reports it was a hit with gamers in his local park.

We’ve covered quite a few Pokémon Go hacks recently, but many of them have had a less physical and more virtual basis. We did see a real-world Pokémon-catching Pokéball though, and of course there was also the automated Pokémon egg incubator.

Thanks [Genki] for the tip.

Filed under: nintendo hacks

D.Va For Real: Playing An FPS With Flight Sticks

[Rudeism] loves playing Blizzard’s hit game Overwatch. He wanted to make his gaming experience a bit more realistic though. One of the characters is D.Va, who according to game lore is a member of the South Korean Mobile Exo-Force (MEKA). D.Va pilots her MEKA in game using two joysticks. Overwatch is a standard FPS with WASD and mouse controls, so the realism ends at the screen.

d.va-thumb[Rudeism] didn’t let that stop him. He used two flight sticks to create the  ultimate D.Va experience. [Twitch recording link – language warning] A commercial software package called Xpadder allowed him to map movements on the joystick to mouse and keystrokes. The left joystick maps to WASD, left shift, Q, and right click. The right stick corresponds to mouse movements, E, and left click.

This isn’t exactly the tank style steering we’re used to from classic mech games like Virtual-On, but it’s pretty good for a software solution. It makes us wonder what would be possible with a bit of hardware hacking – perhaps a Teensy handling the analog and button inputs.

People have been coming up with interesting ways to play video games for years. Check out this hack with the classic Microsoft Kinect, or these arcade hacks.

Via Reddit

Filed under: video hacks

Hacklet 121 – Tea Hacks

Last week on the Hacklet I covered coffee hacks. Not everyone likes coffee though. A good portion of the world’s population enjoys a nice cup of tea. Different cultures are rather particular with how they prepare their drink of choice. Americans tend to use teabags, while British, Chinese (and much of the rest of the globe) generally prefer loose tea leaves. Everyone has their own particular style, which has led to quite a few tea hacks. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best tea projects on Hackaday.io!

teapiWe start with [James P.] and Tea Pi. Tea Pi is designed to emulate commercial tea makers costing hundreds of dollars. The heart of the operation is a Raspberry Pi, making this one of the first Linux powered tea makers we’ve ever heard of. An Adafruit PowerSwitch Tail allows the Pi to control a standard tea kettle. The Pi monitors water temperature with a DS18B20 temperature sensor. A simple servo drops a tea basket into the water for brewing. When the time is up, the servo pulls the basket up and the tea is ready to serve. [James P] planned to add voice control to his tea creation. I’m betting that would be pretty easy with Amazon’s voice services for the Raspberry Pi.

eyeoteaNext up is [Tom] with Eye-O-Tea. With this project, even your cup of tea can join the Internet of Things. Eye-O-Tea essentially is a web connected coaster with temperature monitoring built right in. Temperature is measured with a Melexis MLX90615 IR thermometer. An Arduino Pro Mini reads the temperature and passes it on to an ESP8266 WiFi module. The entire device is powered by a LiPo battery, and neatly housed in a gutted cup warmer. On the cloud side, [Tom] used ThinkSpeak and freeboard.io to make an interface he can access with his cell phone. If his tea is too hot, Eye-O-Tea will let him know. It will also send him an SMS if he’s forgotten his cup and it’s
going cold.

chaiNext we have [Adrian] and ChaiBot. Chaibot was created by [Adrian’s] son [Oliver] to combat a common problem. Both father and son would pour cups of tea, then get involved in a project. By the time they came back, they had ink. ChaiBot steeps the tea for a set amount of time, stirring every minute. The mechanics of the project came from an old CD-ROM drive. A PIC16F887 runs the show, ensuring the steep time is accurate, and activating the motor drive. When the tea is done, an ESP8266 sends a push notification to the user’s phone. The project is housed in a wooden case that fits perfectly on the kitchen counter.

inductFinally, we have [Siggi] with Camper Induction Cooker, a 2016 Hackaday Prize entry. [Siggi] needed hot liquids on the go, but he didn’t want to fool around with heating elements. An induction heater was the way to go. A Cypress PSOC micro controls the system. Metal travel style mugs can be used without modification. For ceramic or plastic mugs, a metal washer (hopefully coated with something food safe) acts as an immersion heater. The project is definitely a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I could see [Siggi’s] idea being incorporated into automotive cup holders. [Siggi] put his project on hold back in June. I hope seeing his work on the front page will get development
moving again.

If you want to see more tea projects, check out our new tea projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Filed under: cooking hacks, Hackaday Columns