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Hardware Hacking

Celebrating Workarounds, Kludges, and Hacks 118 118

itwbennett writes: We all have some favorite workarounds that right a perceived wrong (like getting around the Wall Street Journal paywall) or make something work the way we think it ought to. From turning off annoying features in your Prius to getting around sanctions in Crimea and convincing your Android phone you're somewhere you're not, workarounds are a point of pride, showing off our ingenuity and resourcefulness. And sometimes artful workarounds can even keep businesses operating in times of crisis. Take, for example, the Sony employees, who, in the wake of the Great Hack of 2014 when the company's servers went down, dug out old company BlackBerrys that, while they had been abandoned, had never had their plans deactivated. Because BlackBerrys used RIM's email servers instead of Sony's, they could still communicate with one another, and employees with BlackBerrys became the company's lifeline as it slowly put itself back together. What hacks and workarounds keep your life sane?

UW Researchers Prototype Sonar-Based Contactless Sleep Monitoring 40 40

n01 writes: Researchers of the University of Washington are testing the prototype of their ApneaApp to diagnose sleep apnea, a health problem that can become life-threatening. To monitor a person's sleep, the app transforms the user's smartphone into an active sonar system that tracks tiny changes in a person's movements. The phone's speaker sends out inaudible sound waves, which bounce off a sleeping person's body and are picked back up by the phone's microphone. "It's similar to the way bats navigate," said Rajalakshmi Nandakumar, lead author and a doctoral candidate in the UW's department of computer science and engineering. "They send out sound signals that hit a target, and when those signals bounce back they know something is there." In technical terms, the app continuously analyzes changes in the acoustic room-transfer-function (sampled at ultrasonic frequencies) to detect motion. This is very similar to what the iPhone app Sleep Cycle Sonalarm Clock does, except that the UW researchers have improved the sensitivity of the method so it can precisely track the person's breathing movements which allows it to not only detect different sleep phases but also sleep apnea events. The advantage in both use cases is that the sleep monitoring is contact-less (there's nothing in the user's bed that could disturb their sleep) and doesn't require any additional hardware besides the user's smart phone.
Hardware Hacking

Pi Stays Sky High In 2015 Hacker SBC Survey 32 32

DeviceGuru writes: The results from the 2015 Hacker SBC Survey cohosted by and the Linux Foundation's community site have just been announced and, not surprisingly, RPi won two of the top three slots. With 1721 voting in the survey, the ten most popular single board computers turned out to be the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, Beaglebone Black, Raspberry Pi Model B+, Odroid-C1, DragonBoard 410c, Odroid-XU3, Parallella, Arduino TRE, Edison Kit for Arduino, and Odroid-U3. The report includes scores for all 53 SBCs that were listed in the susrvey, along with data on feature preferences, targeted applications, and the nature of participants' use of [SBCs], and more.
Hardware Hacking

Ask Slashdot: If You Were Building a New Home, What Cool New Tech Would You Put In? 557 557

An anonymous reader writes: I am starting the process of building a new home, and I would like to make the house as wired (or wireless) as possible. At this stage I can incorporate new tech in the design. What features do you have in your house that you just couldn't live without? What features are nice to have? What features do you want? In-home Fiber? Solar? Audio/Visual? Heating/Cooling?
Hardware Hacking

Ask Slashdot: Your Most Unusual Hardware Hack? 258 258

An anonymous reader writes: Another Slashdotter recently asked what kind of things someone can power with an external USB battery. I have a followup along those lines: what kind of modifications have you made to your gadgets to do things that they were never meant to do? Consider old routers, cell phones, monitors, etc. that have absolutely no use or value anymore in their intended form. What can you do with them?
Classic Games (Games)

1-Pixel Pac-Man 41 41

szczys writes: Retro games just aren't the same since the display technology resolution has exploded. I went the opposite direction and chose a display with less resolution than the original. This reinvention of Pac-Man uses a 32x32 RGB LED module which are made for LED billboards. This makes the player just one pixel. Add in an Atari joystick and we have a winner.This is a great programming challenge. If you've never looked at Pac-Man AI before, it's fascinating and worth your time!
Hardware Hacking

More About Dan Shapiro and the Glowforge CNC Laser Cutter (Video #2) 25 25

Yesterday Glowforge Co-Founder and CEO Dan Shapiro told us that the Glowforge machine is a CNC laser cutter and engraver, not a 3-D Printer -- even though the first words on Glowforge's main page are, "The First 3D Laser Printer," a description Dan says is there for people not familiar with things like laser cutters and 3-D printers, who want to call the Glowforge a 3-D printer even though people who know about this stuff know what it is at first glance. He also talks about his previous startup, Robot Turtles; what it is, how it came to be, and why kids like it so much. This interview is worth watching (or reading) for the Robot Turtles section alone, especially if you have children or are thinking about designing board games for kids.
Hardware Hacking

Glowforge is a CNC Laser Cutter, not a 3D Printer (Video) 45 45

Co-Founder and CEO Dan Shapiro says, right at the beginning of the interview, that the Glowforge machine is a CNC laser cutter and engraver, not a 3-D Printer. He says they've "simplified the heck" out of the hardware and software, and are making an easy-to-use, non-costly ($2500 has been bandied about as the unit's likely price) device that can fit on a kitchen table -- or, more likely, a workbench at a maker facility. Although Dan did very well on Kickstarter (and afterwards) with his previous venture, Robot Turtles, this time he seems to have raised his first $9 million in the venture capital market, with participation from several MakerBot executives.

Glowforge is not the only CNC laser cutter/etcher device out there (or about to be). In Australia, Darkly Labs appears to have raised $569,397 (AUD) on Kickstarter to bring their LazerBlade to life, and already makes a small laser device called the Emblaser. There are others, too, including Boxzy, which did the Kickstarter thing and will now sell you a device that "rapidly transforms into 3 kinds of machines: CNC Mill, 3D Printer & Laser Engraver while enhancing precision & power with ballscrews." All this, and their top-of-the-line "does everything" machine sells for a mere $3500. Obviously, devices to give makers and prototypers the ability to make ever more complex and accurate shapes are coming to market like crazy. We'll continue to keep an eye on all this activity, including a second video interview with Glowforge's Dan Shapiro tomorrow.
Hardware Hacking

Turning an Arduino Project Into a Prototype 107 107

An anonymous reader writes: Those of us who fiddle with electronics are probably familiar with this scenario: you've just finished assembling a project using your Arduino/Raspberry Pi/whatever, and it works! You'd like to set it up for long-term use, but... it's just a mass of wires and LEDs and switches. Alexis Matelin has written up a brief but handy guide for turning that mess into a self-contained prototype. He goes from planning out your circuit to designing your schematic to making your board, then working on an enclosure and a battery holder. Matelin also links to a variety of resources for the individual steps involved. It's a straightforward guide written for amateurs. Those of you who have experience with building permanent micro-controller projects: what would you add?
Hardware Hacking

Apple Watch's Hidden Diagnostic Port To Allow Battery Straps, Innovative Add-Ons 113 113

MojoKid writes: Apple's Watch launched two weeks ago to some unbelievable hype and coverage in the press. However, it appears one feature flew under the radar and Apple actually had just one more trick up its sleeve. You see, on one side of the watch face is a hidden door that exposes a 6-pin port. It's assumed that this could be used for diagnostic purposes, but with an Apple Watch in hand, a company by the name of Reserve Strap was able to verify that it could also be used for charging. This seems pretty huge and strange at the same time: why would Apple keep such a thing quiet, when the Apple Watch's battery-life isn't what most people would consider impressive? Even more interesting is the fact that Apple didn't make use of this port to release its own charging straps — watch straps that carry a charge themselves. Apple's lack of transparency here doesn't much matter, though, as the aforementioned Reserve Strap is planning to get such a product to market as soon as possible. The company says about its first offering: "The Reserve Strap will come in White, Gray and Black and will fit both the 38mm and 42mm case sizes. The first batch of straps will be shipped in the Fall.

Meet the Firmware Lead For Google's Project Ara Modular Smartphone (Video) 25 25

According to Wikipedia, 'Project Ara is the codename for an initiative that aims to develop an open hardware platform for creating highly modular smartphones.' Google is the sponsor, and the project seems to be moving faster than some people expect it to. There's a Project Ara website, of course, a GitHub repository, a Facebook page, even an Ara subreddit. During his conversation with Timothy Lord, Ara firmware project lead (and spokesman) Marti Bolivar said it won't be long before prototype Ara modular phones start user testing. Meanwhile, if you want to see what Marti and his coworkers have been up to lately, besides this interview, you can read a transcription of his talk (including slides) from the January Project Ara Developers Conference in Singapore.
Hardware Hacking

Another 'Draw Your Own Circuits' System at SXSW (Video) 27 27

While Timothy Lord was at SXSW, he chatted with Yuki Nishida of AgIC and learned about the company's conductive ink products. But AgIC wasn't the only company at SXSW showing off conductive ink. You could also meet the Electroninks people and see their Circuit Scribe product, which had a Kickstarter campaign a while back that raised $574,425.

This kind of product seems to be attractive to the kind of people who fund Kickstarter projects, and this bunch seems to have good resumes and some interesting, well thought-out products. There is apparently room in the 'draw circuits and learn electrical basics' market for both AgIC and Electroninks -- and probably for another dozen competitors, too.
Hardware Hacking

eBay Sales Patterns Show That the Maker Movement is Still Growing (Video) 24 24

Meet Aron Hsiao. He works for Terapeak, a company that tracks sales through online venues such as eBay and Amazon in order to help merchants decide what to sell -- and how. The five 'maker' categories Terapeak tracks (drones, robotics, Arduino, Raspberry Pi and 3D printing) outsold Star Trek-related merchandise by a huge amount, namely $33 million to $4.3 million, during a recent 90 day study period. Star Wars merchandise did better at $29.4 million, but still... And as another comparison, Aron says that all Apple laptops combined, new and used, sold $48.4 million, so the DIY hobbyist movement still has a ways to go before it catches up with Apple laptops -- but seems to be heading steadily in that direction.

Drones are the hottest hobbyist thing going right now, Aron says, but all five of the hobbyist/tinkerer' categories Terapeak tracks are growing steadily at a rate of up to 70% year over year, with drones leading the way and robotics trailing (but still growing). It's good to see people taking an interest in making things for themselves. If you remember (or have heard of) the Homebrew Computer Club, you have an idea of what tinkerers and hobbyists can produce if given even a tiny bit of encouragement. And it's good to see that the DIY mindset is not only still alive, but growing -- even if it seems to be moving away from traditional hobby tinkering (cars; radios) toward concepts (drones; robotics) that weren't considered mass market 'homebrew' possibilities even a few years ago.
Hardware Hacking

Armstrap Claims to Make ARM Prototyping Easier (Video) 41 41

It almost seems too perfect that the originator of the Armstrap 'community of engineers and makers' is named Charles Armstrap. He just introduces himself as 'Charles' on the website. Names aside, is 100% open source, including circuit board designs. This is not a 'draw your own circuit boards' bunch, although you certainly could if you wanted to badly enough since they provide schematics and even full CAD drawings of what they make. The reason they do this is laid out on their Core Values page. The boards Armstrap sells are not expensive, but if you are going to be truly open source, you need to supply the means to duplicate and modify or extend your work, as is totally permitted under the MIT License they use.
Hardware Hacking

Radar That Sees Through Walls Built In Garage 63 63

szczys writes: Building radar in his garage is nothing new to Greg Charvat. He has a PhD in this stuff and has literally written the book (and a University course) on building your own radar system. This time around it's Phased-Array Radar. This is more than just judging the speed of a baseball or Ferrari. This rig can actually see through walls. Greg uses the example of a soda can to illustrate the quality and resolution possible from this type of system.
Hardware Hacking

Turning the Arduino Uno Into an Apple ][ 113 113

An anonymous reader writes: To demonstrate how powerful modern computers are compared to their forebears, engineer Damian Peckett decided to approximate an Apple ][ with an Arduino Uno. In this post, he explains how he did it, from emulating the 6502 processor to reinventing how characters were displayed on the screen. "The Apple II used a novel approach for video generation, at the time most microcomputers used an interlaced frame buffer where adjacent rows were not stored sequentially in memory. This made it easier to generate interlaced video. The Apple II took this approach one step further, using an 8:1 interlacing scheme. This had the first line followed by the ninth line. This approach allowed Steve Wozniak to avoid read/write collisions with the video memory without additional circuitry. A very smart hack!" Peckett includes code implementations and circuit diagrams.
Emulation (Games)

Building an NES Emulator 140 140

An anonymous reader writes: Programmer Michael Fogleman recently built his own emulator for the original Nintendo Entertainment System. He's now put up a post sharing many technical insights he learned along the way. For example: "The NES used the MOS 6502 (at 1.79 MHz) as its CPU. The 6502 is an 8-bit microprocessor that was designed in 1975. ... The 6502 had no multiply or divide instructions. And, of course, no floating point. There was a BCD (Binary Coded Decimal) mode but this was disabled in the NES version of the chip—possibly due to patent concerns. The 6502 had a 256-byte stack with no overflow detection. The 6502 had 151 opcodes (of a possible 256). The remaining 105 values are illegal / undocumented opcodes. Many of them crash the processor. But some of them perform possibly useful results by coincidence. As such, many of these have been given names based on what they do." It's an interesting look at how software and hardware interacted back then, and what it takes to emulate that in modern times. Fogleman released the source code on GitHub.
Hardware Hacking

Hand-Drawn and Inkjet Printed Circuits for the Masses (Video) 33 33

We started looking at ways to make instant hand-drawn or inkjet-printed circuit boards because Timothy met an engaging young man named Yuki Nishida at SXSW. Yuki is a co-founder of AgIC, a company that makes conductive ink pens and supplies special paper you can use to write or draw circuits or, if you have the right model of Brother printer, to print them with special inkjet inks. The AgIC people are aggressively putting the 'A' in STEAM by marketing their products to artists and craftspeople. Indeed the second line on their website's home page says, 'AgIC offers handy tools to light up your own art works.' This is an excellent niche, and now that AgIC has developed a circuit eraser (due to ship this April), it may lead to all kinds of creative designs. And as is typical with this kind of company these days, AgIC has been (at least partly) crowdfunded.

A little cursory Google searching will soon lead you to other companies selling into the home/prototype circuit board market, including Cartesian Co and their Argentum 3-D printer that does prototype and short-run PCBs and only costs $899 (on special at the time this was written) and Electroninks, which markets the Circuit Scribe pen and associated materials with an emphasis on education. There are others in this growing field, and a year from now there will probably be more of them, all working to replace the venerable breadboard the same way electronic calculators replaced slide rules.
Hardware Hacking

Hack Air-Gapped Computers Using Heat 123 123

An anonymous reader writes Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) researchers have discovered a new method to breach air-gapped computer systems called "BitWhisper," which enables two-way communications between adjacent, unconnected PC computers using heat. BitWhisper bridges the air-gap between the two computers, approximately 15 inches apart that are infected with malware by using their heat emissions and built-in thermal sensors to communicate. It establishes a covert, bi-directional channel by emitting heat from one PC to the other in a controlled manner. Also at Wired.
Hardware Hacking

Maker Person Rich Olson Returns (Video) 42 42

In February we ran a video titled Rich Olson Embodies the Spirit of the Maker Movement. We aren't saying Rich is a superman, but more like everyman or, in this case, everymaker. He is a hobbyist who, like many others, shares his designs freely in the best spirit of open source. Today we have some more words from Rich that may help you if you are just starting to use a 3-D printer and similar tools either at home or in a makerspace. and a note: If you know someone we should interview, please email robinATroblimoDOTCOM.