Hardware Tribes Growing Up Around Artisanal Electronics

Consumer electronics are design beasts that must serve many masters. There’s a price point for the product itself, a ceiling for the feature set (lest it not be ‘user friendly’), and to take the risk of actually manufacturing something there needs to be proof of the market. A lot of great things make it through this process, but some really unique and special gear goes completely around it.

So is the story of this AND!XOR hardware badge being built for DEF CON 25. This is not the official conference badge, but the latest in a growing trend of hardware/firmware engineers and hackers who design their own custom gear for the conference, trying to one-up not just the official badge, but the other hardware tribes doing the same. This unique hardware excitement is a big reason that Hackaday has developed electronic badges for our conferences.

The new badge is a mashup of Bender from Futurama and Raoul Duke from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, presents something of monstrosity to hang around your neck. That has certainly never stopped us from having one of these bouncing around our necks as we pound the cattle paths from talk to talk (and the DC23 vinyl record was way more unwieldy anyway).

Bender’s forehead display has now been upgraded from a diminutive OLED to a generous color LCD display. The 433 MHz which used the spring antenna on the previous badge has given way to a Bluetooth Low Energy. The BLE is built into the Rigado BMD-300 SOC that is now in conrol of the badge. We can’t wait to see the shenanigans unlocked with this new hardware — they’re already showing of crazy animations, retro gaming, and teasing a huge multiplayer game with all the badges. Finally, the “Secret Component” at the bottom of their components list delivers the je ne sais quoi to the whole project.

Fans of AND!XOR have already thrown their weight behind it. Unofficial badges have been unavailable to a wider group or only offered in flash-sales that pop up during the con. Last year the team was met with a huge mob throwing money at their supply of 175 badges. Now the AND!XOR team has grown to five people toiling away to make the design, the easter-egg laden firmware, and the manufacturing process better than the amazing work of last year. They just launched a crowd funding campaign on Tuesday and immediately blew past their goal about five times over.

We’re hoping to get our mitts on one of these ahead of DEF CON to give you an early look at what these hardware artists have accomplished. If you’re part of another hardware tribe building custom electronics for the love of it, we’d really like to hear from you. This goes for any conference — we know of at least one other in progress.

Filed under: cons, Crowd Funding

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Starfish Cat, Bowling Ball Bot, and Stargate all Claim Prizes

We saw a huge outpouring of builds for the the Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest and it’s now time to reveal the winners. With 84 great themed projects submitted, the judges had a tough task to pull out the most impressive both in terms of creativity and execution.

Here are our four winners. Two come from the Stargate universe. One is a cuddly yet horrifying character of unknown origin but unarguably Sci-Fi. The other is the best use of a bowling ball we’ve seen so far.

Grand Prize

The grand prize goes to [Jerome Kelty] with Animatronic Stargate Helmet. [Jerome] has built a replica prop that looks like it just came out of a Hollywood shop. It’s almost a shame that this helmet won’t be worn on film – though it certainly could be. If you remember the film and the television show, these helmets have quite a bit of articulation. The head can pan and tilt. The eyes glow, as well as have irises which expand and contract. The “wings” also open and close in a particular way.

[Jerome] built the mechanics for this helmet. He used radio control servos to move the head, with the help of some hardware from ServoCity. Most of the metalwork was built in his own shop. Everything is controlled from a standard R/C transmitter, much like the original show. [Jerome] is taking home a Rigol DS1054Z 4 Channel 50 MHz scope.

First Prize

First prize goes to [Christine] with
Starfish Cat: Your Lovecraftian Furby-like Friend. Starfish Cat is one of those odd projects that finds itself right on the edge of the uncanny valley. We are equal parts intrigued and creeped out by this… thing. The bottom is all starfish, with a rubber base poured into a 3D printed mold. The top though, is more cat-like, with soft fur and ears. 5 claws hide under the fur, ready to grab you.

Starfish Cat detects body heat with 5 bottom mounted PIR sensors. The sensors are read by the particle photon which acts as its brain. When heat is detected, Starfish Cat activates its claws, and also blows or sucks air through its… uh… mouth hole.  [Christine] is taking home a Monoprice Maker Select Mini 3D printer.

Click past the break to see the rest of the winners

Second Prize

Second Prize goes to [Jochen Alt] with Paul. Paul is a balancing robot. He rides on a ball by driving 3 omnidirectional wheels. You might think he was inspired by BB-8, but [Jochen] has been working on balancing robots for years now — even longer than BB-8 has been around.

Paul is powered by a pair of Atmel ATmega644 microcontrollers. One handles balance and motor drive. The other micro drives the speakers, LEDs, and takes commands from an XBee radio.

Did we mention that Paul recites somewhat depressing poetry while riding on his ball? He might be related to Marvin the paranoid android. [Jochen] is rolling away with a complete Blu-Ray box of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Third Prize

In third place, we have [shlonkin] with Ma’Tok staff weapon from Stargate. Who knew we had so many Stargate fans among our readers?

[Shlonkin] didn’t have access to all the composites [Jerome] used, so he carved the staff entirely out of wood. A hidden trigger allows the Ma’Tok’s wielder to arm and fire the weapon. Sequenced LEDs take the place of the electrical discharges in the real thing. The Ma’Tok is controlled by an Adafruit Pro Trinket, which also drives a servo hidden in the head. The servo allows the Ma’Tok to “fire” a small projectile. The projectile was built from a tiny flashlight. It almost looks like a bolt of electricity when fired.

[Shlonkin] is taking home a Lego Millennium Falcon.

So that’s another contest all wrapped up. Congratulations to all the winners!  We’d like to thank everyone who entered, as well as the judges who toiled through the night to pick the best entries.

Filed under: contests

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The BeagleBone Blue – Perfect For Robots

There’s a new BeagleBone on the block, and it’s Blue. The BeagleBone Blue is built for robots, and it’s available right now.

If a cerulean BeagleBone sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. About a year ago, the BeagleBone Blue was introduced in partnership with UCSD. This board was meant for robotics, and had the peripherals to match. Support for battery charging was included, as well as motor drivers, sensor inputs, and wireless. If you want to put Linux on a moving thingy, there are worse choices.

The newly introduced BeagleBone Blue is more or less the same. A 9-axis IMU, barometer, motor driver, quad encoder sensor, servo driver, and a balancing LiPo charger are all included. The difference in this revision is the processor. That big square of epoxy in the middle of the board is the Octavo Systems OSD3358, better known as a BeagleBone on a chip. This is the first actual product we’ve seen using this neat chip, but assuredly not the last – a few people are working on stuffing this chip onto a board that fits in mini Altoids tins.

Filed under: hardware

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Fire Hazard Testing

How do you know that new appliance you bought won’t burn your house down? Take a look at any electrical appliance, and you’ll find it marked with at least one, and most often, several safety certification marks such as UL, DIN, VDE, CSA or BSI. Practically every electrical product that plugs into utility supply needs to go through a mandatory certification process to ensure it meets these conformity test requirements. Some examples include domestic and industrial electrical appliances, tools, electrical accessories, consumer electronics and medical electronics.

When you look through a typical safety test standard, you’ll notice it breaks down the various tests in two categories. “Type” tests are conducted on prototypes and samples of the final product or its individual parts and components, and are not generally repeated unless there are changes in design or materials. “Acceptance” tests are routine verification tests conducted on 100% of the products produced. For example, a typical Type test would be used to check the fire retardant properties of the plastics used in the manufacture of the product during development, while a Routine test would be carried out to check for high voltage breakdown or leakage and touch currents on the production line.

Nowadays, a majority of countries around the world adopt standards created by international organizations such as IEC, ISO, and ITU, then fine tune them to suit local requirements. The IEC works by distributing its work across almost 170 Technical Committees and Subcommittees which are entrusted with the job of creating and maintaining standards. One of these committees is “TC89 Fire hazard testing” whose job is to provide “Guidance and test methods for assessing fire hazards of electro-technical equipment, their parts (including components) and electrical insulating materials”. These tests are why we feel safe enough to plug something in and still sleep at night.

Practically all electrical products need to confirm to this set of tests as part of their “Type” test routine. This committee produces fire hazard testing documents in the IEC 60695 series of standards. These documents range from general guidelines on several fire hazard topics to specific instructions on how to build the test equipment needed to perform the tests. It’s interesting to see how some of these tests are carried out and the equipment used. Join me after the break as we take a look at that process.

Abnormal Heat — Ball Pressure Test

If your product gets really hot from a failure, will the enclosure safely contain the threat? IEC 60695-10-2 defines the test method and the associated test equipment needed to perform an abnormal heat test. The intent is to check that the insulating material does not deform or flow due to softening under elevated temperature and pressure so as to pose a safety hazard.

The equipment required to do this test consists of a 5 mm diameter steel ball which can be placed on the test sample such that a downward force of 20 N is applied. A heavy cylinder is used as a support platform to hold the test sample. The mass of the platform also helps prevent temperature variations during the test. Just under the flat surface of the platform, a drilled hole allows attaching a thermocouple probe to monitor the test temperatures, independent of the heating oven’s temperature control system.

Reticle Magnifier

The oven used is a regular laboratory or industrial oven, sufficiently large to hold the whole test apparatus and be able to maintain its internal temperature to within +/-2 °C up to a range of 200 °C. The last item required to complete the test setup is a means of measuring the indentation in the test sample after the test is over. A reticle magnifier — a x10 or x20 lens with a scale printed on it — is recommended in the standard, although a travelling (measuring) microscope can be used as well.

The test sample needs to be a 10 mm (square or circle) cut from the product being tested, and at least 2.5 mm thick. The platform and the ball pressure apparatus are placed in the oven until the whole mass achieves thermal equilibrium. The only variable in this test is the two different oven temperature settings used — either 75 °C or 125 °C — depending on how severe the expected conditions are for the product being tested. The test sample is then placed on the platform with the ball pressure apparatus bearing down on it. After an hour in the oven, the sample is removed, cooled to ambient temperature by dipping in water, dried, and the indentation produced by the ball pressure apparatus measured using the magnifier. The sample is declared acceptable if the diameter of the indentation on its surface does not exceed 2 mm.

Glowing/Hot-Wire Based Test Methods

The IEC 60695-2-x series is a range of standards that cover glow wire test methods. The Glow Wire test is used to check if an insulating material will catch fire when exposed to a hot or glowing piece of metal such as a heating element or an overheated piece of wire (caused by short circuit or overload). Additionally, the test is also used to verify if the test material will stop burning once the source of heat is removed — thus checking its self-extinguishing property.

The equipment used for the glow wire test is fairly complex, and IEC 60695-2-10 specifically describes just the construction of the apparatus, while the other three standards in this series cover the test methods and evaluation procedures for ascertaining flammability and ignition for materials and products.

A 4 mm diameter piece of Nichrome (Ni-Cr) wire is electrically heated via a low voltage transformer, capable of providing up to 200 Amps. The temperature of the Ni-Cr “glow wire” element is measured using a type ‘k’ thermocouple which is embedded inside a blind hole drilled in the tip of the glow wire element. Earlier versions of the standard specified a 0.5 mm diameter thermocouple. The present version requires a 1 mm diameter, with a fall back to 0.5 mm in case of doubts regarding the test measurements.

The glow wire temperature is manually set by adjusting the primary voltage of the transformer. No feedback control or re-adjustment of the heating current is allowed — the system is open loop. The test sample is then brought in contact with the glow wire element, usually by means of a sliding rail. The rail arrangement is such that the test sample presses against the glow wire with a force of 1 N and prevents it from penetrating more than 7 mm after initial contact.

The test sample is kept in contact with the glow wire for a duration of 30 sec. If it starts burning, a height gauge is used to record the maximum flame height. A piece of wood, covered in tissue paper, is placed 200 mm below the glow wire. Any falling particles of the test sample ought to self extinguish before they hit the paper/wood and not cause any charring. At the end of the 30 seconds, the test sample is moved away from the glow wire. Within another 30 seconds, the sample ought to stop burning, and any dripping material should not cause the tissue paper to get charred. Check out the video linked below.






Evaluation of the results is covered in the three remaining documents in this series and is not a simple pass/fail conclusion due to the numerous factors involved. The only variable in this test is the allowed test temperature, which ranges from 550 °C to 960 °C depending on the severity to which the test sample will be exposed in real world conditions.

The final test report will include a lot of data with the main information being the test temperature, the time when the sample starts burning after contact with the glow wire, the height of the flame and the time when the sample stops burning. A clear failure is when the sample continues to burn for more than 30 seconds after it is removed from contact with the glow wire — that’s a total of 60 seconds after the start of the test. Or if the tissue paper starts burning during the test.

Flame Test Methods

The IEC 60695-11-x series of Flame test methods and apparatus covers a range of flame tests at four separate intensity levels. These include the Needle Flame Test, a 50W flame test, a 500W flame test and a 1000W flame test. This set of tests goes a notch further from the glow wire tests by exposing the test samples directly to flames to verify that they will not propagate fire and are self-extinguishing.

The Needle flame test uses a 0.5 mm bore diameter needle burner supplied with either Butane or Propane gas. The flame height is adjusted to 12 mm using a flow control valve, and a gauge is used to verify the flame height. As in the glow wire test, a piece of wood covered with a tissue paper is used to check for flaming, dripping material. The variable in this test is the amount of time for which the flame is applied to the test sample, ranging from 5 sec. to 120 sec. As in the glow wire test, the sample is supposed to stop burning within 30 seconds after the flame source is removed. In case the test sample melts and drips, the needle burner can be tilted at a 45 ° angle to stay clear of the falling molten material.

Flame calibration is performed by measuring temperature rise using a 0.5 mm diameter ‘k’ type thermocouple with a small copper block crimped at its tip. When the measured temperature goes from 100 °C to 700 °C within 23.5 seconds, the system is considered calibrated for use.



The other tests in the IEC 60695-11-x series involve higher intensity flames and have similarities with the UL94 range of horizontal and vertical flame tests. They use more traditional flame sources such as laboratory Tirrill or Bunsen burners and we will possibly try to look at those tests in a future article.

These fire hazard tests are just three of the numerous tests that each product needs to pass through before it receives a mark of safety approval. It involves the work of the IEC, the national standards bodies, independent test laboratories and the manufacturers and their suppliers to ensure the products that reach the markets are safe to use.

Filed under: Engineering, Hackaday Columns

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Friday Hack Chat: ASIC Design

Join [Matt Martin], ASIC designer at Keysight, for this week’s Hack Chat.

Every week, we find a few interesting people making the things that make the things that make all the things, sit them down in front of a computer, and get them to spill the beans on how modern manufacturing and technology actually happens. This is the Hack Chat, and it’s happening this Friday, March 17, at noon PDT (20:00 UTC).

[Matt] has been working at Agilent / Keysight since 2007 as an ASIC designer. The work starts with code that is synthesized into logic gates. After that, [Matt] takes those gates and puts them into silicon. He’s worked with processes from 0.13um to 28nm. Turning code into silicon is still a dark art around here, and if you’ve ever wanted to know how all of this works, this is your chance to find out.

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging.

Log into Hackaday.io, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Upcoming Hack Chats

We’ve got a lot on the table when it comes to our Hack Chats. On March 24th, we’re going to argue the merits of tube amplifiers in audio applications. In April, we have [Samy Kamkar], hacker extraordinaire, to talk reverse engineering.

Because I’ve never had the opportunity to do so, and because these Hack Chat announcement posts never get many comments anyway, I’m going to throw this one out there. What would it take to build out a silicon fabrication plant based on technology from 1972? I’m talking about a 10-micrometer process here, something that might be able to clone a 6502. Technology is on our side — a laser printer is cheaper than a few square feet of rubylith — and quartz tube heaters and wire bonding machines can be found on the surplus market. Is it possible to build a silicon fab in your garage without going broke? Leave your thoughts in the comments, and then bring them with you to the Hack Chat this Friday.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns

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Surfing Like It’s 1998, The Dreamcast’s Still Got It!

If you were a keen console gamer at the end of the 1990s, the chances are you lusted after a Sega Dreamcast. Here was a console that promised to be like no other, a compact machine with built-in PowerVR 3D acceleration (heavy stuff back then!), the ability to run Windows CE in some form, and for the first time, built-in Internet connectivity. Games would no longer be plastic cartridges as they had been on previous Sega consoles, instead they would come on a proprietary DVD-like Sega disc format.

It was a shame then that the Dreamcast never really succeeded in capitalizing on its promise. Everyone was talking about the upcoming Sony Playstation 2, and disappointing Dreamcast sales led Sega to withdraw both the console, and themselves from the hardware market entirely.

There remains a hard core of Dreamcast enthusiasts though, and they continue to push the platform forward.The folks at the Dreamcast Junkyard decided to go backwards a little when they resurrected the console’s dial-up modem to see whether a platform from nearly twenty years ago could still cut it in 2017. This isn’t as easy a task as you’d imagine, because, well, who uses dial-up these days? Certainly in the UK where they’re based it’s almost unheard of. They were able to find a pay-as-you go dial-up provider though, and arming themselves with the most recent Dreamkey V3.0 browser disc were able to get online.

As you might expect, the results are hilariously awful for the most part. Modern web sites that rely on CSS fail to render or even indeed to load, but retro sites like those in the Dreamcast community appear as they should. There is a video we’ve put below the break showing the rather tortuous process, though sadly they didn’t think to load the Hackaday Retro Edition. It does however feature the rarely-seen keyboard and mouse accessories.

This is something that commenters will no doubt agree is Not A Hack. But we’re huge retro hardware fans in these parts, so it’s likely that most readers will have a soft spot for the console. If like your scribe you were lucky enough to pull a fresh-from-launch Japanese-market Dreamcast from an airmail pouch so your employer could evaluate it before it landed in the rest of the world, especially so.

We’ve shown you a few Dreamcasts, including this portable console, and a failed Dreamcast repurposed as a guitar amplifier case. Please keep them coming!

Thanks [Tom Charnock].

Header image: Asim18 (Public domain).

Filed under: classic hacks

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