Transcend Wifi SD Card Is A Tiny Linux Server

[jamesone111] bought a Transcend WifiSD card, presumably for photography, but it may just have been because he heard that they’re actually tiny Linux servers.

He read a post about these cards on the OpenWRT forums. They’re all a similar configuration of a relatively large amount of memory (compared to the usual embedded computer), a WiFi chip, and an ARM processor running a tiny Linux install. The card acts as a WiFi access point with a little server running on it, and waits for the user to connect to it via a website. It also has a mode where it will connect to up to three access points specified by the user, but it doesn’t actually have a way to tell the user what its IP address is; which is kind of funny.

[jamesone111] hacked around with the Transcend card for a bit. He found it pretty insecure, which as long as you’re not a naked celebrity, shouldn’t be a huge issue. For the hacker this is great as it opens up the chance of hacking the firmware for other uses.

Some have already pulled off some cool hacks with these cards. For example, [peterburk] hacked a similar card by PQI to turn his iPod into a portable file server. 

Filed under: linux hacks, wireless hacks

Fail Of The Week (in 1996): The 7 Billion Dollar Overflow

The year was 1996, the European Space agency was poised for commercial supremacy in space. Their new Ariane 5 Rocket could launch two three-ton satellites into space. It had more power than anything that had come before.

The rocket rose up towards the heavens on a pillar of flame, carrying four very expensive and very uninsured satellites. Thirty-seven seconds later it self destructed. Seven billion dollars of RUD rained down on the local beaches near the Guiana Space Centre in Southern South America. A video of the failed launch is after the break.

The cause of all this was a single improper type cast in a bit of code that wasn’t even supposed to run during the actual launch. Talk about a fail.

There were two bits of code. One that measured the sideways velocity, and one that used it in the guidance system. The measurement side used a 64 bit variable, but the guidance side used a 16 bit variable. The code was borrowed from an earlier, slower rocket whose velocity would never grow large enough to exceed that 16 bits. The Ariane 5, however, could be described with a Daft Punk song, and quickly overflowed this value.

The code that caused the overflow was actually a bit of pre-launch software that aligned the rocket. It was supposed to be turned off before the rocket firing, but since the rocket launch got delayed so often, the engineers made it timeout 40 seconds into the launch so they didn’t have to keep restarting it.

The ESA never placed blame on a single contractor. The programmers had made assumptions. The engineers had made reasonable shortcuts to make their job easier. It had all made it through inspections, approvals, and finally the launch event.

They certainly learned from the event; the Ariane 5 rocket has flown 82 out of 86 missions successfully since then. It has at least five more launches contracted before it is retired in 2023 for the Ariane 6 rocket being developed now. This event also changed the way critical software and redundant systems were tested, bringing the dangers of code failure to the attention of the public for the first time.

If you want to read more, there is a great discussion on Reddit which tipped us off to this fail, a quite thorough Wikipedia article, and the original article that ran in the New York Times is mirrored here.

Filed under: Fail of the Week

200W Laser Bazooka Is Just Silly

We weren’t going to run this one, because, well, it’s just ridiculous. But enough of you have browbeat us by sending in tips to the tipline that we’re going to capitulate. We’re not going to name you all by name, because really, you should be ashamed of yourselves. But you know who you are!

[Styropyro] does a lot of crazy things on YouTube. We really liked his “stuff in a microwave oven” series. He’s also obsessed with lasers and popping black balloons. So he took the laser heads out of four DLP computer projectors (the ones with 24 of those 1.5W Nichia diodes) and combined them. Yup, 200W of 405nm blue.

Then he just straps them together and passes them through a lens. It’s not a tight beam, but this thing is really bright. Even though the beam is very loosely focused, it burns stuff. That’s about all you can say. Lots of laser. Boy Howdy!

OK, there, we ran it. Don’t do this at home. It doesn’t require much finesse, and it’s going to get someone blind. Much better to expend your efforts on something more civilized like a projector. At least then you can play vector games on the wall. And stay off my lawn!!! (Kids these days…)

For those that do want to burn stuff, [Joshua Vasquez] published an article yesterday about building a safe laser cutter… much more worth your energy than anything billed as a laser bazooka.

Filed under: laser hacks

Makerspace North, from Empty Warehouse to Maker Magnet

Makerspace North is unique out of the 5 makerspaces in the Ottawa, Canada area in that it started life as an empty 10,000 square foot warehouse with adjoining office spaces and large open rooms, and has let the community fill it, resulting in it having become a major hub for makers to mix in all sorts of ways, some unexpected.

Many makerspaces are run by an organization that provides tools that groups or individuals use, along with qualification courses for select tools. Makerspace North, on the other hand, provides the space and lets the community provide the maker component. The result is a variety of large scale events from indoor drone flying and various types of maker faire style days, to craft shows, garage sales, and even concerts. Smaller meet-ups, most often open to anyone, are held by such groups as the Ottawa Robotics Club and the Ottawa Electronics Club as well as some more general ones. Courses offered by the community are also as varied.

This also means that the owners of Makerspace North don’t provide tools for people to use, but instead provide dedicated rental space. That doesn’t mean there aren’t tools — it means that Makerspace North encompasses a microcosm of various renters who fill out the task of things like tool rental. This is just one example of how the community has embraced the unique approach. Let’s take a closer look at that and a few other novelties of this system.

Makers Renting Spaces

Make613's space with makers working away
Making an ornithopter with Make613's help

For Hackaday readers, the most familiar type of occupant in this space is Make613, a group of 4 makers. That’s right, just four people rent a space where they house many of their tools to use in common, including a CNC machine, various machine tools and the usual drawers of hand tools.

On Sunday afternoons and Wednesday evenings they open the doors of their space and put out as many tables as needed for whomever wants to drop by and make stuff, get some help, do a show and tell, or just hang out. I got plenty of help this way for making a rubber band ornithopter and am a regular visitor, often bringing my latest creation and looking over everyone’s shoulder to ask “Whatcha making?”. People are only too eager to answer that question.

Mike's Formula Junior race car and making space
Mike’s Formula Junior race car and making space

Another maker who rents space is race car enthusiast Mike Nilson. He uses his space for an ongoing project to restore his 1960 Formula Junior race car, visible on the right in the photo. He first bought it around 1980, but working on and racing other cars got in the way until he sold it in 1995 and bought it again in 2006. He has very little of the original body work and has to rely on photos. Having the car out in the open in the makerspace instead of hidden away in his basement provides some motivation to make progress and a big goal is to get it ready for the official Formula Junior race during the Formula Junior Diamond Jubilee in Canada in June 2018.

CNC Ottawa is a small company that rents a space right next to Make613 for doing CNC work for customers, including routing, cutting, engraving and design. In the photo you can see their 8’x4′ Shopsabre SideKick CNC machine.

Ottawa Tool Library
Ottawa Tool Library's events etc.
CNC Ottawa and their Shopsabre SideKick CNC machine

And if you don’t have your own tools then there’s the Ottawa Tool Library, where for a $50/year membership you get unlimited access to borrow tools for up to 1 week. They also have events such as a recent garage sale where they sold off excess donated tools, and where I purchased a few things, including a coping saw to replace one which I can no longer find, and have already made great use of for cutting styrofoam. They also hold the occasional seasonal workshop for things like repairing your bike or making a planter.

Ottawa City Woodshop's workshop
Ottawa City Woodshop's classroom

The Ottawa City Woodshop started by two local fellows who have both a workshop in one of Makerspace North’s large adjoining rooms and a classroom which they’re building in the warehouse area. The classroom itself is a work of art. Being a frequent visitor to Makerspace North I’ve watched its gradual construction including them shaving massive beams down to size, chiseling out dados and rabbets and hammering beams in place. They teach woodworking courses where students make everything from toboggans, to tables, baseball bats, and skateboards, and also have memberships so that people can come in and work on their own projects.

What’s was not expected was that all these renters would start sharing expertise, tools, getting each other to make parts, and after a long day of making stuff, have beers and barbecues together. The Make613 in particular takes this one step further and welcomes all comers in this sharing.

Events and Classes

Other organizations also host various events or classes either in the remaining open warehouse space or in the adjoining rooms and offices. A regular is NorthLabs which hosts a regular Wednesday maker gathering where anyone can come and share their work or just chew the fat. NorthLabs also has held classes and demonstrations on things like how to make a robot and how to buy a 3D printer, how to use it, how to design for 3D printing, and so on. Just this past weekend I dropped by while Random Hacks of Kindness was using up 4 of the office spaces for groups working on different IOT projects including an interesting beehive remote monitoring project. Did you know that just opening and closing a beehive kills around 20 of the 1000 bees in the hive, simply from collateral damage?

Hacks of Random Kindness - Making an IoT beehive
Hacks of Random Kindness - Redefining the CARE package

There’s also an annual Arduino Day where people can bring in their Arduino (or other) projects for show and tell. The Ottawa Robotics Club and the Ottawa Electronics Club meet there regularly and are both open to anyone. There have even been meetups for flying drones in the warehouse but space is getting tight for that now.

There are many other things going on, more than can fit here and many that are less relevant to Hackaday. So where’s the makerspace where people can come make things? Well, there’s the Make613 space open to anyone on Sundays and Wednesdays and there’s the wood workshop. But mostly there are endless occasions where makers can drop by and share, get help, or just hang out. It’s basically a warehouse that’s become a great space for makers, a maker magnet, albeit one with a different format than many would be familiar with.

Are there any interesting-format makerspaces or events you take advantage of in your area? Where do your makers meet and mix? Do you have opportunities like this where you live? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.

Filed under: Featured, Hackerspaces, Interest, Original Art

Die Photos Of A Runner’s RFID Chip

A mass participation sporting event such as a road race presents a significant problem for its record keepers. It would be impossible to have ten thousand timekeepers hovering over stopwatches at the finish line, so how do they record each runner’s time? The answer lies in an RFID chip attached to the inside of the bib each runner wears, which is read as the runner crosses the line to ensure that their time is recorded among the hundreds of other participants.

[Ken Shirriff] got his hands on a bib from San Francisco’s “Bay to Breakers” race, and set about a teardown to lay bare its secrets.

The foil antenna pattern.
The foil antenna pattern.

Stripping away the foam covering of the RFID assembly revealed a foil antenna for the 860-960MHz UHF band with the tiny RFID chip at its centre. The antenna is interesting, it’s a rather simple wideband dipole folded over with what looks like a matching stub arrangement and an arrow device incorporated into the fold that is probably for aesthetic rather than practical purposes. He identified the chip as an Impinj Monza 4, whose data sheet contains reference designs for antennas we’d expect to deliver a better performance.

After some trial-by-fire epoxy removal the tiny chip was revealed and photographed. It’s a device of three parts, the power scavenging and analog radio section, the non-volatile memory that carries the payload, and a finite-state logic machine to do the work. This isn’t a proper processor, instead it contains only the logic required to do the one task of returning the payload.

He finishes off with a comparison photograph of the chip — which is about the size of a grain of salt — atop a 1980s 8051-series microcontroller to show both its tiny size and the density advancements achieved over those intervening decades.

Since RFID devices are becoming a ubiquitous part of everyday life it is interesting to learn more about them through teardowns like this one. The chip here is a bit different to those you’ll find in more mundane applications in that it uses a much higher frequency, we’d be interested to know the RF field strength required at the finish line to activate it. It would also be interesting to know how the system handles collisions, with many runners passing the reader at once there must be a lot of RFID chatter on the airwaves.

We’ve featured [Ken]’s work before, among many others in his reverse engineering of Clive Sinclair’s 1974 scientific calculator, and his explanation of the inner workings of the TL431 voltage reference. Though we’ve had many RFID projects on these pages, this appears to be the first teardown of one we’ve covered.

Filed under: radio hacks

KeyCue 8.1

Minor update adds Typinator integration and addresses bugs. €19.99 new, free update, 5.4 MB)

 

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Invisible

[Kate Reed] found a quote by a homeless that said “No one sees us”, which led her to exploring what it actually means to be invisible — and if we actually choose to be invisible by hiding away our emotions, sexual preference, race or income. She realized that too often, we choose to only see what we want to see, rendering all the rest invisible by looking away. Her public art campaign and Hackaday Prize entry “Invisible” aims to increase social awareness and strengthening the community by making hidden thoughts, feelings and needs visible.

Inspired by the artist [Jin Young Yu], [Kate] started experimenting with transparent, hollow sculptures. She figured that people could write their secrets on a piece of paper and drop it into the sculpture through a slot. The more of these invisibilities are collected inside the sculpture, the more visible it becomes.

Frank the invisible homeless was one of the many inspirations for this project.
The sculpture was modeled in Rhino 3D and laser cut from acrylic.
A cardboard model helped verifying the design.
The skin of the manikin is made from plastic wrap.

In the planning of her work, [Kate] found that a frame assembly from laser cut acrylic would be the best option to define the silhouette of her manikins. A layer of plastic wrap would become the transparent skin. After getting the 3D model for the structure just right in Rhino 3D, [Kate] went on by adding engraved ornamentation and the call “What makes you feel invisible?” to the chest plate. A slot beneath the text was added to fill the sculpture. [Kate] verified her design choices on a cardboard model, and eventually, all the pieces were cut from clear acrylic, assembled and wrapped. These sculptures are now being placed in different places over the world, collecting insights into a secret, invisible world.

[Kate] has become quite a star over at hackaday.io. In 2015, she joined the Hackaday Prize and made it to the semifinals with her project Hand Drive, an open-source 3D printable device that allows any wheelchair to be powered in a rowing motion. Enjoy the video of her speaking at the Hackaday SuperConference on “The Creative Process In Action”:

The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:

Filed under: The Hackaday Prize

Puzzling Out an 80s Puzzle Toy

[Ido Gendel] looks back a time in the 80s when kids would learn by answering the questions to quizzes on their “TOMY Teacher,” or, “Sears Quiz-A-Tron”. There’s a bit of a conundrum with this toy. How did it know which answers were correct. Chip memory of any kind wasn’t the kind of thing you’d sweep into the dust bin if you had extras like it is now; it was expensive.

To use the toy, the child would place the notebook in the plastic frame on the device. They’d open the page with the quiz they would like to take. Printed in the upper left hand corner were three colored squares. There was a matching set of colored buttons on the device. They’d press the corresponding buttons in order from top to bottom and then the machine would magically know which answers on the quiz were correct.

[Ido] wondered how the machine handled this information. Was there an internal table for all 27 possible codes? Did it generate the answer table somehow? He sat down with a spreadsheet filled with the notebook code on the left and the corresponding correct answers on the right. Next he stared at the numbers.

He eventually determined that there was a pattern. The machine was using the colored squares as the input for a function that determined what the answers were. A table would have only taken up 68 bytes, but with one 80s chip on board, sounds to play, and lights to switch on and off, the machine needed all the free space it could get.

Filed under: news

Wireless Robotic Gripper With Haptic Feedback

We’re not sure what kind of, “High School,” [Sam Baumgarten] and [Graham Hughes] go to that gave them the tools to execute their robotic gripper so well. We do know that it was not like ours. Apparently some high schools have SLS 3D printers and Solidworks. Rather than a grumpy shop teacher with three fingers who, despite that, kept taking the safety off the table saws and taught drafting on boards with so many phalluses and names carved into the linoleum, half the challenge was not transferring them to the line work.

Our bitterness aside, [Sam] and [Graham] built a pretty dang impressive robotic gripper. In fact, after stalking [Sam]’s linkedin to figure out if he was the teacher or the student, (student) we decided they’re bright enough they could probably have built it out of scraps in a cave. Just like [HomoFaciens], and Ironman.

The gripper itself is three large hobby servos joined to the fingers with a linkage, all 3D printed. The mechanical fingers have force sensors at the contact points and the control glove has tiny vibrating motors at the fingertips. When the force of the grip goes up the motors vibrate more strongly, providing useful feedback. In the video below you can see them performing quite a bunch of fairly fine motor skills with the gripper.

The gripper is mounted on a pole with some abrasive tape, the kind found on skateboard decks. At the back of the pole, the electronics and batteries live inside a project box. This provides a counterbalance to the weight of the hand.

The control glove has flexible resistors on the backs of the fingers. The signal from these are processed by an Arduino which transmits to its  partner arduino in the gipper via an Xbee module.

[Sam] and [Graham] did a great job. They worked through all the design stages seen in professional work today. Starting with a napkin sketch they moved onto digital prototyping and finally ended up with an assembly that worked as planned. A video after the break explaining how it works along with a demo video.

Warning: Dubstep Below

Filed under: robots hacks

Denver Mini Maker Faire Roundup

I had a great time at Denver’s 3rd annual Mini Maker Faire, which was held inside the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. The official theme this year was “Building the Future” and looking back, I can tell you that they pulled the theme off well. There was a strong turnout in two categories that are crucial to building the future: the growth that comes from education at all ages and the physical places where learning becomes immersive.

The Really Fun Stuff

poison arrow[Casey] from Caustic Creations were showing off Poison Arrow just in time for season 2 of the BattleBots reboot. Poison Arrow is 250-lb. drum spinner that destroys things at 9,000 RPM. Here’s a nice introductory video shot by their sponsor, Arrow Electronics. [Casey] told me that Poison Arrow will be on the June 30th episode, so set your DVR.

Who knew that Colorado had so many maker- and hackerspaces? Colorado Makerhub, that’s who. They provide a portal to everything maker-related in Colorado, and they were in attendance along with most of the ‘spaces within a 50-mile radius of the city. Denver’s own Denhac brought a huge multiplayer rig that they had built for Comic Con last year. It runs Artemis, a spaceship bridge simulator game that divides up the tasks necessary for successful intergalactic travel. Here’s a video of Denhac member [Radio Shack] describing the game and giving a tour of one of the consoles. The group landed a space in one of the darker areas of the museum, which made the blinkenlights irresistible, especially to boys of a certain age range.

Made in Colorado

Both SparkFun and Aleph Objects (Lulzbot) are based in Colorado, and both were doing their part to entice the makers of tomorrow. The badge-making station at the SparkFun booth was always busy, but I did get a chance to play with their yellow ball-following robot. It’s worth noting that they didn’t bring a bunch of soldering irons with them—the badges were being constructed with copper tape. I’m sure this saved a lot of worry and electricity. toys that play with peopleAleph Objects brought their new Lulzbot TAZ6 of course and were running it alongside a Lulzbot Mini.

We told you about NixCore in a links post last fall. This is a small Linux-based router board with a dev board add-on option. [Drew] himself was on hand giving live demos and selling boards. $30 is a pretty good price for this small SBC that’s not quite a Pi or an Arduino nor an ESP8266.

Representing the more artistic side of things was [Ira Sherman], an artist and metalsmith. Along with his Escheresque metal sculptures, [Ira] brought some Toys That Play With People. These are made from the boards and sometimes the bodies of Furbies and other toys that walk and talk. [Ira] uses these circuits to control pneumatics in striking creations.

The STEM is Strong with This One

There aren’t too many things aimed at children that can make me literally ooh and ahh, but I found one at System 76’s booth. They brought an open-source augmented reality sandbox created by [Oliver Kreylos] of UC Davis. It was every bit as cool as it sounds. A projector and a Kinect transform 200 pounds of really fine white sand into a shape-shifting topographical map where mountains, valleys, lakes, and rivers blink in and out of existence. As sand is piled up, the colors of the elevation approaches red. As sand is removed, it moves toward blue to indicate water. Here’s the best part: holding your hand flat and still over the map
simulates rain.

Another busy booth was like an express Pinewood Derby. Aspiring race car drivers could build a car and send it flying down a two-slot track. Sensors and lights near the end of the run determined the winner without question.

car racingOne of the more attention-grabbing displays belonged to mcSquares, a collaborative, modular whiteboard system. What’s  interesting about mcSquares is that there is no traditional whiteboard surface involved. The system is made up of thin-profile tiles that are just under 12″ x 12″. A clear plastic surface snaps into a backing that holds a background. This can be anything from a plain white sheet of paper to a basketball court layout to a simple dot grid. Neodymium magnets on the back of each mcSquare snap to a visually appealing wall mount which makes it easy to move them around.

 It Isn’t Maker Faire Without. . .

Steampunk jewelry. Human Foosball. Some booths devoted to the textile arts. At least one R2D2 zipping around. It was all there to round out a great weekend of hacking, making, and learning. Be sure to check out the gallery below.

Retired derby cars
[Ira Sherman]'s bike that can be controlled with Furbies
Steampunk brooch
A monthly subscription for education
The underbelly of a Solar Roller
[Ira Sherman]'s pneumatic circuit
One of [Ira Shermans]'s creations
CNC guitars!
Creations that came out of BLDG 61, the Boulder Library makerspace
DMMF mascot Pokey the Fire-Breathing Dragon
A DIY light box for great-looking seller photos
I met this owl at the Raptor Education Foundation booth.
A tasty way to travel
Sandbox for junior roboticists
The SparkFun booth was always crowded
[Ira Sherman]'s Toys That Play With People
Packin' heat
Splatapult!
A liquid nitrogen demonstration
TinkerMill's booth - a 'space in Longmont, CO
Filed under: cons, roundup