Can You Hear Me Now?

It’s great to build projects just to do something neat, to learn; to impress friends and other hackers. It’s even better to address a real need.

I’ve worn hearing aids for 40 some years. My response to the question “Can you hear me now?” is still all too often, “No.” Because of this I heartily applaud the Aegis Acoustics Headset currently active on Kickstarter. I’m happy to see it’s blown through its goal with over a month left.

The Aegis is targeted at prevent hearing loss, primarily in teens since they use headsets so often. It’s equally applicable to adults and pre-teens. The Aegis works by limiting the sound level emitted to 85db, which is a safe level. Above that the risk of damage to the tiny hairs in the cochlea – the inner ear – increases dramatically with a 3db increase cutting the safety time in half.

Future’s So Bright I’ve Got to Wear ‘Aids

My personal experience explains why this is important. At my first professional level job as a software developer I noticed that people at the other end of the table often mumbled during meetings. Not really, because everyone else understood them fine. I needed hearing aids.

My first hearing aids were analog devices. There were three frequency bands across the audio spectrum whose volumes could be custom set for my ears — resulting in crude and limited improvements in what I could hear. My current hearing aids are technological marvels of digital signal processing with a multitude of algorithms the audiologist can use to help me hear better. They even coordinate their actions by communicating between themselves.

I still need to ask people to repeat what they say at times. But who doesn’t? I had a successful career despite my loss. But it is still a royal pain-in-the-butt to miss out on one-third of the dialog in a movie, to not go to a local coffee house because I won’t understand the lyrics or comments by the musicians, and miss out on all the other small parts of life along these lines.

Hacking for Hearing

There are a range of areas where hackers could contribute and not just in assisting individuals, like myself, who personally gain from technological assistance.

Consider how the cell phone improved communications in developing countries. Using radio communications the countries avoided the need to string thousands of miles of wires. That saved the expense and the decades of construction time. It’s easier to get cell phone service than water in some locations. It’s important to notice that it didn’t come about because of a big plan. It came about as an unseen consequence of a technical development.

“We can rebuild him…we have the technology” is from the opening of an old TV series and movies, “The 6 Million Dollar Man” and has found it’s place in the pop-culture vocabulary. But it rings true. We have the technology. We have the tools. We have the expertise. We’re hackers and builders. We and the technology are all over the place. We’re a solution looking for a problem.

Devices that Extend the Body

All signs point to a coming revolution of devices that protect our bodies and make them work better. The 2015 Hackaday Prize theme is Build Something That Matters and that sentiment is obviously taking hold throughout the hardware hacker movement. The Aegis headphones I mentioned above are one example of preventive devices, but look around and there are many more like the UV-Badge which gives you feedback on safe levels of sunlight for your skin.

Surely we’re going to see further augmentation for the devices that help restore function. Wearables are all the rage, how long will it be before your smartwatch notification functions make it into my hearing aids? Imagine the improvements we will see in custom hearing profiles born of that smartphone-hearing aid connection. The foundations of this are user-controlled profile switching which is already in place for apps like Belltone’s HearPlus. If the advanced electronics in the smartphone can build a better noise profile and transfer it to the hearing aid my visits to the coffee shop just might get a lot better. And this doesn’t mean the devices need to look the same either. I love the Design Affairs Studio hearing aid concept that is shown at the top of this article.
Hardware can be a status symbol after all.

This type of forward thinking easily extends to all assistive technologies such as wheelchair improvements and navigation systems for the blind.

As you look toward your next big hack, roll these concepts around in your mind. The tools, software, and talent have never been easier to connect for our group of citizen scientists who are hacking in basements and garages. It’s exciting to think about the change we can affect using the skills honed over the past decades of this hardware enlightenment we’re all living.

Filed under: Featured, Medical hacks, rants

Novation Launchpad MIDI Controller Moves Toward Open Source

The Novation Launchpad is a MIDI controller, most commonly used with the Ableton Live digital audio workstation. It’s an eight by eight grid of buttons with RGB LED backlights that sends MIDI commands to your PC over USB. It’s often used to trigger clips, which is demonstrated by the artist Madeon in this video.

The Launchpad is useful as a MIDI input device, but that’s about all it used to do. But now, Novation has released an open source API for the Novation Pro. This makes it possible to write your own code to run on the controller, which can be flashed using a USB bootloader. An API gives you access to the hardware, and example code is provided.

[Jason Hotchkiss], who gave us the tip on this, has been hacking around with the API. The Launchpad Pro has a good old 5 pin MIDI output, which can be connected directly to a synth. [Jason]’s custom firmware uses the Launchpad Pro as a standalone MIDI sequencer. You can check out a video of this after the break.

Unfortunately, Novation didn’t open source the factory firmware. However, this open API is a welcome change to the usual closed-source nature of audio devices.

Filed under: musical hacks

Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Berlin, Germany

Join the Hackaday Crew in Berlin this Saturday for a meetup!

This weekend in Berlin, Germany, there are at least two events happening and [Sophi], [Elliot] and [Bilke] are going to check them all out. The Vintage Computing Festival is one of the big events, and it looks like there will be lots of geeky magic to play with. This weekend is also Maker Faire Berlin where we’re looking forward to hanging out with our friends from and we’re excited about meeting new people and projects.

Hackaday often throws a party after Maker Faire to celebrate all of our community projects and we’re doing it again Saturday night. We are co-hosting a party with the Vintage Computing Festival, on the same site as the festival, and all are welcome. We’ll have drinks and snacks, and the VCF has live music planned for the evening. This event is free, but we’d like you to RSVP so we know how many refreshments are needed.

Your first drink is on us, and naturally, if you bring a project,your second one is on us too! Please help spread the word by telling your friends, sharing on social media, and mobilizing all the people at your Hackerspace. See you on Saturday!

berlin meetup

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, The Hackaday Prize

Teeny Tiny Very Small – Atomic Resolution and the Home

Atoms are small. Really small. You just won’t believe how minusculely microscopically mindbogglingly small they are. I mean you may think it’s a short way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to atoms.

Atoms really are small. The atomic radius of a carbon atom is on the order of 0.1 nanometers, that’s 0.0000001 millimeters. It’s hard to grasp how fantastically small this is compared to objects we generally encounter, but as a starting point I’d recommend looking at the “Powers of Ten” video found below whose ability to convey the concept has been unrivaled since it was published in 1977.

The term nanometer might be most familiar from the semiconductor industry, and its seemingly unstoppable march to smaller feature sizes. Feature sizes currently hover somewhere around the 10 nanometer mark. So while these multi-billion dollar facilities can achieve 10nm precision it’s somewhat surprising that sub-nanometer feature size positioning, and fabrication techniques are available at relatively low cost to the hacker hobbyist.

In this article we’re going to review some of the amazing work demonstrated by hobbyists in the area of the very very small through use of cutting edge, but low cost techniques.


A homebrew Piezo actuator by Nebojsa Jaksic, Colorado State University-Pueblo

The first technique in our toolkit is sub-nanometer precision positioning. Piezoelectic materials contract in response to an applied voltage. You’ll most likely be familiar with the cheap piezo buzzers in greeting cards or beepers in cheap gadgets. However, in nanopositioning their precise motion is exploited to provide positioning. These actuators often take the form of Piezo stacks or tubes formed into XYZ stages costing of 100s to 1000s of dollars. However starting with John Alexander’s design, accurate actuators have been developed by hobbyists from cheap Piezo buzzers. Using these sub-dollar devices, cut into quadrants sub-nanometer precision motion can be achieved in X, Y and Z axis over about 10 microns of travel.

Atomically Sharp Tips

A sharp point is formed from a single atom

While being able to move things with atomic precision is great, it’s of little value until you have a method of fabricating nanoscale features. This turns out to be pretty simple, by simply cutting Platinum Iridium wire while pulling it using a pair of titanium wirecutters the wire can be pinched and pulled into a sharp tip.  While this tip will be somewhat irregular, there will be one atom at the tip slightly ahead of all the others, providing a tiny nanoscale feature.

Atomic Scale Imaging and Measurement

Optical microscopes are limited by the wavelength of light and therefore at best provide a resolution of about 200 nanometers (2000 carbon atoms). There are a couple of neat techniques we can use however to make atomic scale measurements.

By combining nanopositioning and atomically sharp tips we can begin to build a scanning tunneling microscope (STM).  These microscopes scan the tip across a surface, measuring a tunneling current flowing between the tip and the surface (in general using a trans-impedance amplifier). A version of this technique was used in IBMs famous atomic resolution movie “A Boy And His Atom”.

Hackers like John Alexander and Dan Berard  have successfully built these systems for 100s of dollars. Tunneling microscopes however are limited to imaging conductive surfaces. In contrast to this, Atomic Force Microscopes exploit Van der Waals forces to deflect a tip. Because of this non-conductive materials can be imaged too, which is of particular importance in biological application. Dan has begun to work on cheap methods for exploiting this technique using affordable and effective methodology.

A Home Built Interferometer

Another measurement technique which sidesteps the optical limit is laser interferometry. In this method a laser is split and reflected off two mirrors then recombined. By moving one mirror and measuring the interference between the two beams, distances can be measured. The measurement resolution of a basic interferometer will still be limited by the wavelength of visible light. However more advanced techniques (such as looping the beam back and reflecting it twice) even allow nanoscale distances to be measured. Interferometers have also been developed by hackers on a budget using BluRay laser parts and cheap laser diodes. Among other things, interferometric measurements can help calibrate, or provide feedback to Piezo actuators.

Now, with nanoscale imaging and measurement techniques in hand, what are we going to look at?

Atomically Flat, Regular Surfaces

Carbon (HOPG) Atoms Imaged by Dan’s STM

Another limitation of the scanning microscopes we’ve described is that they only work on flat surfaces. Turns out that nature has done our work for us here. Two popular materials are HOPG (Highly Ordered Pyrolytic Graphite) and Mica. Both materials are planar. An atomically flat surface can be cleaved off easily, most commonly pulled off using scotch tape! HOPG is conductive and regular. As such STMs produce great looking HOPG images. While this is interesting it its own right, we can also use these materials as a substrate. Molecules of interest can be laid out on the flat surface and imaged against a known background.

Atomically Thin Films

Ben Krasnow’s Sputtering machine at work

Sputtering machines can be used to apply a thin layer of material to a substrate. The technique is used extensively in the semiconductor industry to build up the layers of materials required to construct and integrated circuit. But we’ve also seen hackers experimenting with this technique. Like Ben Krasnow’s sputtering of ITO on glass to create transparent conductive coatings. Sputtering machines require a vacuum, but this is not particularly difficult to achieve, and there’s an endless variety of coatings to experiment with.

As you’ve seen, the past few years have laid a solid foundation in cheap techniques for nanoscale measurement and fabrication. These solutions, for the most part, have all been developed by a series of industrious hackers. We hope this inspires you to further build on their work and peer into the atomic realm! We’d like to hear from you in the comments, what kind of projects do you think will be built from this framework in the coming years?

Filed under: classic hacks, Featured

Google explains why the Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P don’t hav

The new Nexus 6P from Huawei. left, and the new Nexus 5X from LG.

Google’s Nexus team hosted a Reddit AMA today to answer questions about its newly unveiled Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P, the first Android 6.0 Marshmallow devices. As is typical with these public forums, there was a lot of bantering and joking, though some interesting questions did get answered.

One of the biggest complaints about Nexus 5X and Nexus 6P is that they don’t support the Qi wireless charging standard, despite the fact
that their predecessors did. Google apparently believes that the tradeoff of thickness was not worth it, and that USB Type-C solves a lot of the problems because it is fast and reversible:

We added Qi wireless charging starting with N4 because plugging in USB micro B was such a hassle! (Which way is up!?) With this year’s Nexii, we support USB Type-C which has a reversible connector so there’s no more guessing. AND it charges incredibly swiftly: 1% to 100% in 97 mins on the 6P for example (the first ~45 mins of charging is especially fast). Meanwhile, wireless charging adds z (thickness). So, ease of plugging in + fast charging + optimizing for thinness made us double down on Type-C instead of wireless!

From VentureBeat
Got translation? You got problems. We’re here to help. Localization and translation tips from the best minds in marketing.

Of course, wireless charging will always be more convenient than plugging in a cable. More important is of course battery life, but we’ll hold that judgment until we’ve tried the devices for a bit longer.

Other answers in the AMA were less interesting. The Android devices support USB 2.0 (not USB 3.1), feature software-accelerated encryption (as opposed to hardware), internal storage is eMMC 5.0 (not UFS 2.0 ), and they both have the same camera (12.3MP with 1.55um pixels). Also, the X stands for “the core of the Nexus brand” while the P is for premium.

Still, this answer responding to the question as to why the Nexus 5X starts at 16GB amused us:

The idea here was to strike a balance between premium features/experiences and affordability.
EDIT: HL> It’s a conspiracy! MOVE TO THE CLOUD!

We’ll update you if anything else catches our eyes.

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Elon Musk’s Tesla Model X launch was a marketing and PR

tesla model x

Elon Musk is a genius. He’s a business icon. He’s a massive force for good on our planet, and he’s one of the most impressive people of this century, having founded PayPal, SpaceX, SolarCity, and, of course, Tesla.

(Having even one of those on your resume would be amazing.)

tesla model xBut what’s not amazing is Elon Musk’s public speaking abilities, or, apparently, his ability to orchestrate and manage a major launch event. At least, if you go by the disastrous Model X launch last night.

Prominent venture capitalist and Tesla customer Stewart Alsop posted angrily about the event, which was delayed by almost two hours, calling it “unacceptable” and “insensitive,” and worse, saying the presentation and slideshow was amateurish. But really, all anyone who wanted to know how it went needed to do was watch the video stream Tesla made available on its website.

(I’d embed it, but Tesla is not enabling that.)

From VentureBeat
Got translation? You got problems. We’re here to help. Localization and translation tips from the best minds in marketing.

The video stream starts mid-sentence and goes downhill from there. Way downhill. Musk looks and sounds nervous at the beginning, stumbling frequently in his presentation and throwing in frequent “ums” and “ahs.” That’s not nearly the worst part, though.

The worst part is the content.

Tesla is a game-changing company. Its product is a game-changing car — one that Consumer Reports said was the best car they’ve ever tested. The new Model X is a major addition to the line-up and a hotly awaited SUV version of the company’s
eco-friendly vehicles. It’s beautiful. It has self-opening doors! Gull-wing doors! It’s gorgeous. Sexy, even. Exciting. And painstakingly designed.

And Musk starts with safety. Minutes and minutes of safety. Maybe 10 minutes of crashes, crumple zones, collision-detection systems, risk of death, and chances of serious injury.

tesla model x doorsA little clue here for Tesla: When you are marketing, sell what’s awesome. Pitch what’s exciting. Focus on what is aspirational, inspirational, emotional. For example, if you’re an airline, don’t sell “we don’t crash and you won’t die.” Instead, sell getting where you need to go, having fun, exploring, enjoying, maybe saving money, and so on. If you’re a car company
selling a $130,000 electric SUV, sell design, style, luxury, planet-friendliness, technology, excitement, membership in a movement, partnership in saving the planet … and, sure, some safety.

Maybe a minute of it, simply by saying: “And the Tesla Model X is the safest SUV ever built, achieving the highest safety rating of any car ever.”

Where was marketing? Where was PR? Where were the people around Musk giving him advice and prepping his presentation and slide deck? This is not rocket science. This is not a secret.

Musk got stronger as the evening went on and he actually demoed the product. And it’s really helpful to have a rock-star product that basically sells itself. But to begin this way seems to indicate a serious lack of preparation, of self-awareness, of attention to detail. I know it’s an unfair comparison for anyone, really, but given Musk’s incredible entrepreneurial achievements, I can’t help comparing him
to Steve Jobs. Jobs famously was not only a top-notch presenter, but he was also famously a rigorous preparer for launches.

Jobs understood the value of beginnings, the value of events, and the value of prep time. I suspect that after this event, Musk will too — if he gets honest feedback from those around him.

But I also suspect that this has been painful, because he must know that this was not nearly the triumphant success it could have been. As Alsop posted, “Dear @ElonMusk: You should be ashamed of yourself.”

Tesla will go on. The Model X will sell well. And Elon Musk will continue to be an outrageously successful individual.

But it could been much better.

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Twitter cofounder Jack Dorsey to reportedly become permanent CEO

Jack Dorsey

It’s been said that Twitter is getting ready to name its new chief executive, and that person is likely cofounder Jack Dorsey. Sources told Re/code that the company could name him its permanent CEO as early as tomorrow, and that Dorsey would remain as leader of his other company, Square.

Dorsey was appointed as interim CEO in July following the resignation of Dick Costolo after six years of leading Twitter. During this transition period, at least one member of the company’s board had stressed that they’d like a full-time CEO, not one who would split their duties between two companies. But over the past three months, there has been pressure by external parties for the board to quicken its pace.

Re/code reported that the move to elevate Dorsey to permanent CEO isn’t unexpected, as he appeared to be the heavy favorite. With the conclusion of the search, it’s also believed that there will be a reorganization of Twitter’s board with at least one director stepping down: Costolo.

From VentureBeat
Got translation? You got problems. We’re here to help. Localization and translation tips from the best minds in marketing.

What about other favorite choice Adam Bain, Twitter’s head of revenue? It’s said that he opted out of taking on the CEO role if Dorsey was still in the running.

This would herald Dorsey’s second stint as CEO — when the company launched, he served in that role. He was also executive chairman starting in 2011 before returning as interim CEO. Now he’s primed to take over once again to perhaps finally lead the company how he wanted to in the first place. But there are challenges.

Twitter’s user numbers aren’t growing, and Dorsey knows it.
Perhaps having one of the cofounders reclaim the throne at Twitter isn’t a bad thing because they might be well placed to really know the DNA of the service, right? During the Q2 2015 earnings, Dorsey said in a statement, “we are not satisfied with our growth in audience. In order to realize Twitter’s full potential, we must improve in three key areas: ensure more disciplined execution, simplify our service to deliver Twitter’s value faster, and better communicate that value.”

But besides Twitter, how will Dorsey deal with the fact that his other company is getting ready to go public very soon? Is there enough confidence from potential shareholders to buoy Square’s public debut and success?

At the very least, it seems that Dorsey’s vision has finally won over Twitter’s board, to the point where they appear to have backtracked on that whole “no part-time CEO” thing.

Twitter declined to comment for
this story, but shares in the company are up 2.36 percent (as of this publishing) at $26.19. We’ve also reached out to Square to see what that company has to say and will update if we hear back.

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New trailer finally reveals story behind Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Call of Duty: Black Ops III

Activision is finally adding the tip to the marketing spear for Call of Duty: Black Ops III by releasing a trailer about the story for the game, which comes out on November 6.

I’ve always enjoyed the single-player campaign stories in Call of Duty games, though many also play just for its multiplayer. This year, Activision and Treyarch released only rudimentary details of the story and showed much more of the multiplayer for this first-persons shooter than in the past.

Call of Duty games draw about 40 million players a month who play year round, and over the past decade, the franchise has generated more than $10 billion in revenues. So Activision Blizzard, the parent of publisher Activision, has a lot of stake in the release of Black Ops III.

Gaming is in its golden age, and big and small players alike are maneuvering like kings and queens in A Game of Thrones. Register now for our GamesBeat 2015 event, Oct. 12-Oct.13, where we’ll explore strategies in the new world of gaming.

The trailer highlights the theme of augmenting humans for combat — a theme that we’ve seen before in the Deus Ex series. Call of Duty: Black Ops III is set in the year 2065, 40 years after the timing of Black Ops II. And that means that soldiers can augment themselves with artificial limbs that give them tremendous killing power.

On top of that, they can be outfitted with a Direct Neural Interface, which marries the machine and computer technology with the human brain. That overview
explains the theme of the story, which is about whether humanity has gone too far.

“We wanted a perfect future, and fuck, we got it,” says the main character in the narration of the trailer. “I wanted to be a killing machine, and they made me one.”

One of the main character’s comrades, named John Tailor, has apparently gone off mission with a team that is accused of a massacre. The main character is sent in to investigate. That sets up a conflict that forms the center of the story on a personal level, against the backdrop of a wider war.

“The way I look at the hard truth, I may not want to come back,” the main character says. He also says, “My brothers have gone dark, but nobody knows just how far. I have to chase the chaos as far as it goes.”

There’s also a female combat soldier who plays a friendly role, but it’s not clear how she fits in the story.

SMA Robot Jumps 7 Times Its Height, Weighs Nothing

This is some seriously cool research. Scientists at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) have made tiny, tiny, tiny robots using shape memory alloys, or SMA’s for short. They weigh less than 4 grams and move like an inchworm!

Unlike regular robots that feature rigid structures and electric actuators, the researchers opted to take more of an origami like approach — so much so, they call it robogami. Their very first attempt was years ago, and was rather large. Since then they’ve shrunk it down to about the size of a compact flash card. The way it works is quite simple. SMA’s shrink when heated (either externally heated or by an internal current) and in doing so, produce extremely high forces.

So by patterning these in a shape (like that of an inchworm) the researchers are able to trigger each “limb” separately to induce movement. They can also jump seven times their height thanks to the super high power-density of SMA’s.

SMA’s are available to the public, but sadly we haven’t seen many hacks that make use of them.

[Thanks Steve!]

Filed under: robots hacks

SMA Robot Jumps 7 Times Its Height, Weighs Nothing

This is some seriously cool research. Scientists at the EPFL (Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne) have made tiny, tiny, tiny robots using shape memory alloys, or SMA’s for short. They weigh less than 4 grams and move like an inchworm!

Unlike regular robots that feature rigid structures and electric actuators, the researchers opted to take more of an origami like approach — so much so, they call it robogami. Their very first attempt was years ago, and was rather large. Since then they’ve shrunk it down to about the size of a compact flash card. The way it works is quite simple. SMA’s shrink when heated (either externally heated or by an internal current) and in doing so, produce extremely high forces.

So by patterning these in a shape (like that of an inchworm) the researchers are able to trigger each “limb” separately to induce movement. They can also jump seven times their height thanks to the super high power-density of SMA’s.

SMA’s are available to the public, but sadly we haven’t seen many hacks that make use of them.

[Thanks Steve!]

Filed under: robots hacks