This Arduino Feeds The Dog

Part of the joy of owning a dog is feeding it. How often do you get to make another living being that happy? However, sometimes you can’t be there when your best friend is hungry. [El Taller De TD] built an auto dog feeder using an Arduino and stepper motor. The video and links are in Spanish, but if your Spanish is rusty, YouTube’s caption autotranslation isn’t bad and Google Translate can help you with the web site.

The electronics are reasonably simple: an Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and a stepper motor driver. Mechanically, the motor and some PVC pipe are all you need. There’s a small phone application to drive the Bluetooth using App Inventor.

This would be a pretty straightforward first project and — of course — could be useful for any kind of animal. For dog use, we might have hardened the external wires and circuit boards a bit though. In addition there are plenty of things you could do in software, for example you could feed every 8 hours. It seems like you could add a sensor to tell when you are out of food, or perhaps if the food was not feeding for some reason.

We’ve looked at using App Inventor with Bluetooth before and it is pretty easy. We might have been tempted to go with Blynk to have more options for communication, but either way is pretty easy.

Posted in arduino, Arduino Hacks, bluetooth, dog, dog food, feeder, pet feeder, stepper motor | Leave a comment

Octavo Systems Shows Off With Deadbug Linux Computer

Once upon a time, small Linux-capable single board computers were novelties, but not anymore. Today we have a wide selection of them, many built around modules we could buy for our own projects. Some of the chipset suppliers behind these boards compete on cost, others find a niche to differentiate their product. Octavo Systems is one of the latter offering system-in-package (SiP) modules that are specifically designed for easy integration. They described how simple it would be to build a minimal computer using their SC335x C-SiP, and to drive the point home they brought a deadbug implementation to Embedded World 2019. [Short video after the break.]

Most of us encounter Octavo modules as the heart of a BeagleBoard. Their increasing integration made tiny wonders like PocketBeagle possible. But bringing out all those pins for use still required a four-layer circuit board. Octavo’s pitch for hardware professionals center around how easy integration saves time for faster time to market, and fortunately for us easy integration also translates to a more accessible device for our projects. It’s one thing to publish a document describing a hypothetical single-layer PCB for an Octavo module, it’s quite something else to show that concept in action with no PCB at all.

Of course, this little machine only has access to a fraction of the module’s functionality, and it is certainly overkill if the objective is just to blink a few LEDs. If so, we’d just use 555 timers! But it does show how simple a bare bones “Hello World” machine can be built, removing intimidation factor and invite more people to come play.

One of the three top winners in our circuit sculpture contest was a wireframe Z80 computer. There’s quite a jump from a Z80 to an Octavo SC335x, but we’ve already seen one effort by [Zach] over Supercon 2018 weekend to build a deadbug computer with an Octavo module. It won’t be long before someone one-ups this minimalist LED blinker with something more sophisticated and we can’t wait to see it.

Posted in hardware, linux, Linux ARM, Microcontrollers, Octavo, Octavo Systems, OSD3358, OSD335x, SIP, som | Leave a comment

RetroPie NES Clock Tells You When it’s Game Time

We’ve all seen the 3D printed replicas of classic game consoles which house a Raspberry Pi; in fact, there’s a pretty good chance some of the people reading this post have one of their own. They’re a great way to add some classic gaming emulation to your entertainment center, especially compared to the bare PCB chic of just having a Pi hanging off your TV’s HDMI port.

[Victor Heid] loved the look of these miniature consoles, but wanted to challenge himself to design something that was also multi-functional and unique. So he decided to create an NES-inspired case for the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ that doubles as a LED matrix clock with a decidedly retro feel. Frankly, even if it was just a clock we would have been impressed with the final product; but the fact that it’s also a fully functional RetroPie build really goes above and beyond.

It should be obvious just looking at the completed product that [Victor] put a lot of effort into sanding and finishing the 3D printed case. But we don’t have to imagine the process, since he was kind enough to thoroughly detail the steps and materials he used. As you might have guessed, the short version is a lot of filler and a lot of time; but it’s worth looking at the complete write-up if you’ve ever considered trying to make your own printed parts look less…printed. His method of applying the lettering on the front of case using a laser printer, some Mod Podge, and a healthy dose of patience is also something you might want to file away for a future project.

The electronics for this project are exceptionally simple, as [Victor] used the Pimoroni Scroll pHAT HD rather than trying to roll his own LED matrix in such a limited space. So it was just a matter of connecting up the wires to the Pi’s GPIO header and getting the various bits of software talking to each other, which he also details for anyone who might be interested.

It’s been a few months since the Raspberry Pi 3 A+ was unveiled, and we’re finally starting to see projects that make use of the new board’s reduced footprint. The ability of hardware like the A+, combined with the lackluster attempts by manufactures to produce official “mini” systems, seems to have set the stage for hackers to once again outshine commercial offerings. Not that we’re complaining, of course.

Posted in 3D printed enclosure, clock, led matrix, nes, nintendo hacks, Raspberry Pi, RetroPi | Leave a comment

Mid-Winter Hacker Camp In Civilised Surroundings

Imagine a weekend of opulence in which you meet your companion at the railway station and whisk away across the continent in a 190mph express train for a relaxing couple of days enjoying the ambience of a luxury resort hotel in the fresh surroundings of a woodland in midwinter. Break out the Martinis, it’s a scene of elegance and sophistication from a byegone era! This is the general idea of Hacker Hotel 2019, and I had a wonderful time!

On a recent February weekend I broke out the Club-Mate instead stea of a Martini. My companion for the Eurostar and Thalys trip was my local hackspace friend Matt “Gasman” Westcott with his keytar in a bulky suitcase for a chiptune gig, and we were heading for the Netherlands. It’s a pivot from the summer’s hacker camps as over 200 hackers fill a resort hotel for the weekend, scoring comfortable beds instead of dust or mud!

What follows is my experience from this weekend. Join me below and find out why you simply can’t miss the next one!

Straight Off The Train…

The Westcord Hotel De Veluwe at Garderen, in the Netherlands countryside not far from Amersfoort was our temporary home, and the majority of attendees came from that country’s vibrant hackerspace scene with a scattering of visitors like us from other countries.

Dimitri Modderman delivering the opening talk.Dimitri Modderman delivering the opening talk.

Arriving at a hotel after a long journey one is usually interested only in the bar and then bed, but on the Friday evening after checking in and receiving our badges and wristbands it was down to business. Orga head honcho Dimitri Modderman started proceedings with his launch talk, and then it was straight into the program of talks and workshops of which they had assembled an impressive array. With so many to choose from it was impossible to be present for all of them, fortunately for us all but a few of the talks were captured on video and are being released over the next few weeks for your enjoyment via YouTube.

Certainly for me fatigue won over desire to watch talks on the Friday, after Dimitri’s opening and the spectacle of some outdoor fun with high voltages I was fit only to recover from my long day with a meal and a glass or two of the exceptionally fine local Veluwse Schavuyt (Google Translate link) beer in the bar before turning in.

…and Into The Talk Schedule

Now that I’ve admitted one person couldn’t catch everything, it’s best to take a look at the talks and workshops and name the ones that created a buzz, the ones I managed to see, and the ones I wished I’d managed to see.

Top among the last category was the headline talk which will not appear on video, a representative of the Dutch law enforcement community talking about “How to become a darkweb admin”. This was the tale of how as part of an international investigation into the so-called “Dark Web” of TOR sites selling drugs and other criminal activities they compromised a marketplace and ran it for a few months posing as its criminal owners before using the evidence they had harvested to take down the crooks. Why did I miss it? I was assured that it would be Dutch-language, which despite Duolingo’s best efforts I can’t speak to a good enough standard, so I sat in the bar and hung out with a few other Brits. My disappointment was huge when I discovered it had been delivered in English after all. Happily The Register has a good summary of the events from closer their time, but it remains a fascinating story which shows the callibre of the Hacker Hotel schedule.

It's not every day you hear from someone who bought a water tower by accident.It’s not every day you hear from someone who bought a water tower by accident.

Most of the videos are scheduled for the coming weeks at the time of writing and some of them are in Dutch, but to give you all something to watch let’s start with Ben Fitzgerald’s “101 Hacks for Late Soviet Era Water Towers“. This talk created a buzz, detailing as it did how he accidentally acquired a Latvian water tower, and what he intends to do with it while incidentally providing us with a bit of Soviet and Latvian social history.

I mentioned my traveling companion was Matt Westcott, aside from giving a chiptune concert on the Saturday night he also gave us the tale of how he had a hand in the recent Black Mirror interactive episode, Bandersnatch. If you noticed the Easter egg of a Sinclair Spectrum game concealed in the audio at the end of the show, you now know who created it, because when Matt isn’t playing chiptunes he’s also a well-known ZX Spectrum demoscene coder.

Of the ones that aren’t yet on YouTube, watch out for Niklas Fauth and Jan Henrik Hemsing describing their TranspOtter electric transport platform, readers with long memories might remember when we featured this on Hackaday. A surprise one that didn’t attract many in its audience but which created a buzz from those who did was Klazien Schaap’s “Love hacks”, Dimitri tells me she may return with more active billing at a future event.

Plenty Of Workshops To Keep Everyone Occupied

When blacksmithing is in the blood, you'll risk your officewear.When blacksmithing is in the blood, you’ll risk your officewear.

The workshop sessions ran in parallel with the talks, and were spread throughout the hotel’s various function rooms as well as in the hotel grounds. My former OxHack member friend Igor was running the RevSpace forge, which of course as a blacksmith’s kid I had to have a go on despite wearing comically inappropriate clothing. Outdoors there was also thermite casting, the impressive collapse of an oil drum using the steam and air pressure trick, and a workshop using bleach to imprint logos and patterns onto clothing.

Indoors were a selection of workshops on topics as diverse as lockpicking and key impressioning (in which to my shame I was the only one in my class who didn’t open their lock!), soldering classes both through-hole and surface-mount, creating cyberpunk helmets, and a flamethrower building workshop. The flamethrowers were tested outside the hotel, sometimes their sound could be heard as the talks went on.

There’s A Social Side To Hacker Camps, Too

The Helpful Otter is no ordinary Shitty Addon adaptor!The Helpful Otter is no ordinary Shitty Addon adaptor!

Meanwhile the normal process at a hacker camp went on, of hanging out with friends both old and new, looking at the work they’d brought with them, and catching up with interesting stuff. We’ve already covered the conference badge and the launch of the badge.team firmware running upon it, there was also a busy badge hacking area to service that. If you read our report on the badge you may remember its Shitty Addon connector was at 90 degrees to the board rather than the usual 45, so a special mention goes out to [OpeRaptor], who had designed an adaptor PCB called the Helpful Otter to cope with this problem. There have been other multi-Shitty-Addon boards, but never one this artistic!

And I’m not going to lie, we were in a well-appointed hotel for the weekend, a lot of time was spent in the bar with good beers and good company. The most hacker-friendly pub quiz ever and then Matt’s chiptune gig on the Saturday, innumerable fascinating conversations, and of course an international competition of great importance in which the British BS1363 mains connector triumphed over its European equivalent.

We boarded the train on Monday morning and made our way back to the UK with the usual post-hacker-camp blues, this had been a particularly good antidote to the interminable chill and damp of a maritime European winter. It was a very different camp from the norm in its situation, but that made it a bit special. I am much indebted to Dimitri and the rest of our Dutch hosts for the hacker camp, to the Hotel de Veluwe folks for putting up with so many hackers for the weekend, and to the rest of the attendees for putting up with a Brit with a camera and a load of stupid questions. I’m told Hacker Hotel will be back next February, and I fully intend for it to be on my itinerary.

Posted in cons, Featured, hacker camp, Hacker Hotel, Netherlands | Leave a comment

Hackaday Podcast Ep10 – XKCD Graphs, Turing Complete Meta Computers, False Finger Printing 3D Printers, and Jargon

Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys walk through the past week in hackerdom. There’s a new jargon quiz! Do you know what astrictive robotic prehension means? We look at the $50 Ham series, omni-wheeled pen plotting robots, a spectrum of LED hacks, LEGO CNC for chocolate rework, and grinding lenses with a CNC mill. In the “can’t miss” category are fingerprinting 3D Printers, and how NASA designs far beyond the stated life of an engineering project.

Links for all discussed on the show are found below. As always, join in the comments as we’ll be watching those as we work on next week’s episode!

Direct download (70 MB)

Places to follow Hackaday podcasts:

Episode 010 Show Notes:

New This Week:

Interesting Hacks of the Week:

Quicklinks:

  • Elliot’s Picks:
  • Mike’s Picks:

Can’t-Miss Articles:

Posted in 3D printers, astrictive robotic prehension, Hackaday Columns, nasa, podcast, Podcasts | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in digital, fpga, hdmi, laptop, screen, video, video hacks | Leave a comment

Downdraft Table Inhales Dust, Not Cash

We always look forward to the builds [MakerMan] sends in, and it’s not just because we dig his choices in royalty free music (though it helps). He always manages to put together his projects with a minimum of fuss, and perhaps more importantly, a minimum of funds. His builds use salvaged components, easily sourced materials, and common tools. Watching him work invariably makes us realize that we tend to overthink our own projects.

In his latest video, [MakerMan] was tasked with building a downdraft table for a local factory that makes jewelry boxes. By sucking air through a series of holes in the table’s surface, sawdust created while the workers are building the boxes will automatically be removed from the workspace. Even if you aren’t in the jewelry box making business, any task which produces fine particles (such as sanding) could benefit from such a setup. You probably won’t need a downdraft table quite as large as the one he builds, but the principles will be the same if you get inspired to build a somewhat smaller version.

The build starts with sheets of MDF, which get cut, glued, and screwed together to make the basic tabletop shape. To this, [MakerMan] attaches a welded steel frame which will give it the strength MDF itself lacks. With careful measurement, lines are plotted across the top of the MDF sheet and all the holes are drilled with a simple hand drill; no fancy CNC here.

With the table doing its best colander impression, [MakerMan] adds an air box to the bottom which is similarly made of thin MDF sheets. All of the joints are sealed up with caulk, because at this point you want things to be as air tight as possible. A large blower is attached to the bottom, which gets piped to a dust collection system that’s made of a garbage can and…you guessed it, more MDF.

Watching [MakerMan] turn what’s often literal trash into a functional build never gets old. We’ve seen him create everything from a gorgeous origami chandelier to a very impressive diode laser cutter using little more than scrap parts and hand tools, and we can’t wait to see what he comes up with next.

Posted in downdraft, dust collection, mdf, tool hacks, vacuum, woodworking | Leave a comment

Wood SCARA Arm Gets a Grip

[Ignacio]’s VIRK I is a robot arm of SCARA design with a very memorable wooden body, and its new gripper allows it to do a simple pick and place demo. Designing a robot arm is a daunting task, and the fundamental mechanical design is only part of the whole. Even if the basic framework for a SCARA arm is a solved problem, the challenge of building it and the never-ending implementation details make it a long-term project.

When we first saw VIRK I in all its shining, Australian Blackwood glory, it lacked any end effector and [Ignacio] wasn’t sure of the best way to control it. Since then, [Ignacio] has experimented with Marlin and Wangsamas support for SCARA arms, and designed a gripper based around a hobby servo. It’s as beautiful to see this project moving forward as it is to see the arm moving ping-pong balls around, embedded below.

Posted in cnc hacks, gripper, marlin, robot arm, robots hacks, scara, SCARA arm, virk i, wangsamas, wood | Leave a comment

Expert Says Don’t Teach Kids to Code

I was a little surprised to see a news report about Andreas Schleicher, the director of education and skills at OECD — the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Speaking at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Paris, Schleicher thinks that teaching kids to code is a waste of time. In particular, he seems to think that by the time a child today grows up, coding will be obsolete.

I can’t help but think that he might be a little confused. Coding isn’t going away anytime soon. It could, of course, become an even deeper specialty, and thus less generally applicable. But the comments he’s made seems to imply that soon we will just tell smart computers what we want and they will just do that. Somewhat like computers work on Star Trek.

What is more likely is that most people will be able to find specific applications that can do what they want without traditional coding. But someone still has to write something for the foreseeable future. What’s more, if you’ve ever tried to tease requirements out of an end user, you know that you can’t just blurt out anything you want to a computer and expect it to make sense. It isn’t the computer’s fault. People — especially untrained people — don’t always make sense or communicate unambiguously.

But there’s a larger issue at hand. When you teach a kid to code, what benefit do they actually get? I mean, we can all agree that teaching a kid Python isn’t necessarily going to help them get a job in 10 years because Python will probably not be the hot language in a decade. But if we are just teaching Python, that’s the real problem. A Python class should teach concepts and develop intuition about how computers solve problems. That’s a durable skill.

Schleicher almost agrees. He said:

For example, I would be much more inclined to teach data science or computational thinking than to teach a very specific technique of today.

I’m not sure what computational thinking is, but I would expect it is how computers work and how to architect computer-based solutions. That’s fine, but you will want to reduce that to practice and today that means JavaScript, Java, Python, C, or some other practical language. It isn’t that you should know the language, you should understand the concepts. I do a lecture with kids where we “code” but not for a real computer and it illuminates a number of key ideas, but I would still classify it as “coding.”

This isn’t a new problem. Gifted math teachers or gifted math students build intuition about the universe by understanding what math means. Dull teachers and students just learn rote formulae and apply patterns to problems without real understanding. Many programming classes turn into a class about the syntax of some programming language. But the real value is to understand when and why you would want, say, a linked list vs a hash table vs a binary tree data structure. It seems like teaching those concepts in the abstract with UML diagrams and hand waving won’t be very effective.

You also have to wonder about unintended consequences. Kids aren’t taught to write in cursive in many schools, yet that’s really good for fine motor skill development. While the slide rule was harder to use than a calculator, it forced you to think about scales and estimation.

If you listen to Schleicher’s other addresses and his TED talk, he has a lot of great ideas about education. Perhaps he doesn’t mean the word “obsolete” as strongly as I’m taking it and only means most people don’t need to know specific coding techniques. Maybe this is the press taking things a bit out of context. Oddly enough at the last summit, one of Schleicher’s colleagues appears to disagree with his position, as you can see in the video below.

I would submit that as more people try to do more with computers, they need to be increasingly able to think logically about how a computer solves problems. And the best way we have to do that today is through teaching coding, but teaching it in the right way.

What do you think? Have you taught kids to code? How do you get past the specifics and develop the general understanding required to formulate computer-based solutions to real-world problems? Do you want kids to learn about coding in school? Why or why not? Let us know in the comments.

Photo credits:

  • Boys at Computer (Tallinn Digital Summit) by [Arno Mikkor] CC BY 2.0
  • Student with Cursive by [OakleyOriginals] CC BY 2.0
Posted in children, coding, education, Featured, kids, Original Art, rants, school, stem, students | Leave a comment

[Ben Krasnow] Drills Really Small Holes with Electricity

Drilling holes is easy; humans have been doing it in one form or another for almost 40,000 years. Drilling really tiny holes in hard materials is more challenging, but still doable. Drilling deep, straight holes in hard materials is another thing altogether.

Luckily, these days we have electric discharge machining (EDM), a technique that opens up all kinds of possibilities. And just as luckily, [Ben Krasnow] got his hands on some EDM gear to try out, with fascinating results. As [Ben] explains, at its heart EDM is just the use of a small arc to ablate metal from a surface. The arc is precisely controlled, both its frequency via an arc controller, and its location using CNC motion control. The arc controller has always been the sticking point for home EDM, but the one [Ben] tried out, a BaxEDM BX17, is squarely aimed at the small shop market. The whole test platform that [Ben] built has a decidedly home-brew look to it, with a CNC gantry rigged up to a water tank, an EDM drill head spinning the drill rods slowly, and an airless paint gun providing high-pressure process fluid. The video below shows that it works remarkably well nonetheless.

While we’re certainly keen to see [Ben]’s promised videos on EDM milling and cutting, we doubt we’ll line up to shell out €2,950 for the arc controller he used. If you have more courage than money, this mains-powered EDM might be a better fit.

Thanks to [Måns Almered] for the tip.

Posted in arc, cnc, cnc hacks, drill, EDM, electric discharge machining, machining, metalwork, tool hacks | Leave a comment