Fry your retina for $50 
Monday, January 12, 2009, 12:22 AM - Misc TechnoToys
Steve Crandall from Tingilinde pointed me to this 150mW blue laser diode available for $50. An ideal way to fry your retina in the blink of an eye (actually *before* the blink of an eye, and way faster than it).
With proper precaution it might be used to build a CNC laser cutting machine to cut foam (Depron) and such.

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ArduPilot (quasi-)available from Sparkfun 
Tuesday, January 6, 2009, 11:29 PM - Robotics
ArduPilot is a small Arduino-compatible board designed to be the centerpiece of a UAV autopilot. It has servo outputs, a receiver input, a GPS input, and an input for a PIR-based stabilization sensor (such as FMA's Copilot).

Sparkfun has the kit for $25, except that they seem to be out of stock right now. The SMD components are pre-soldered on the PC board.

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G-Dog: impressive robot dog kit from Japan 
Monday, December 29, 2008, 04:24 PM - Robotics
The G-Dog is a new robot dog kit from Japanese company HPI Robots, a division of HPI Racing, which sells R/C models and techno-toys of various kinds.

The G-Dog sells for about 70,000 Yens (about US$800).

This YouTube video shows the speed and agility of the G-Dog. It's much faster than the Aibo ever was. Then again, unlike the Aibo, it doesn't have a nice-looking shell, and has a rather simple on-board computer and few sensors.

It uses 9 custom servos, dubbed RS304MD, which seem to be controled through a TTL-level serial port. The CPU is based on an Atmel AtMega128, and includes a 3-axis accelerometer. It has interfaces for 2 gyros, and a wireless receiver.

The G-Dog weighs 570g, which is quite light, but could be made lighter with the use of LiPo batteries instead of NiMH.

If only this things became available outside of Japan....

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Akai EWI USB: a quick review 
Friday, December 26, 2008, 08:06 PM - Misc Music
I've been playing with my new Akai's new EWI USB for a couple of weeks now. I have to say, it's a mixed bag. Compared to the more expensive EWI 4000-S, there are pros and cons.
Let's start with the pros: it's a lot cheaper than the EWI 4000-S ($300 versus about $600), it's lighter (no built-in battery, no built-in synth), it's powered through the USB cable, and the breath, lip, pitch-bend, and key sensors are essentially identical to the 4000's, except that they are self-calibrating. Now for the cons: my main gripe is the absence of portamento sensor. The 4000 has a slider on the right side of the octave rollers that, when touched with the left thumb, turns on the portamento (or glissando). I love that feature, but it's absent from the EWI USB.
Second, since the EWI USB doesn't have a built-in synth, it comes with a software synth that runs on PC/Mac. The sounds provided with the soft synth are few and not so great. Many of them do not even react to the EWI sensors (like the pitch bend or breadth control). So, you will need another soft synth if you want decent sounds. I tried to install the soft synth on Linux under wine. The good news is that it runs. The bad runs is that the latency is so high that it's unusable. I'm not sure where the latency comes from, or whether it's fixable.

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Akai EWI USB available 
Saturday, December 6, 2008, 01:02 AM - Misc Music
Akai has announced the availability of the EWI USB, the latest product in their long line of Electronic Wind Instruments. The EWI USB sells for about $300 at Sam Ash, Sweetwater, and other online music instrument stores. It look similar to the EWI 4000S, but has a USB port instead of a MIDI port, and has no built-in sound module. Instead, the EWI USB relies on software synths on PC or Mac to produce sounds. Getting rid of the built-in analog emulation synth allows Akai to bring down the street price from $700 for the EWI 4000S to $300 for the EWI USB.

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CNC router table for $600 
Monday, December 1, 2008, 12:26 AM - Robotics
The Probotix Fireball V90 CNC router goes for $600. Okay, for $600 you only get the mechanical part, not the stepper motors nor the controller boards. Still, it's pretty cheap. Add $300 to $400 for a 3 axis kit, and you are all set.


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Pixhawk: Beagleboard-based UAV autopilot at ETHZ 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 01:22 PM - Robotics
While we are on the topic of the Beagleboard, it is worth mentioning that a group at ETH in Zurich is working on a micro-UAV autopilot project based on the Beagleboard called the Pixhawk. The main difference with most other open source autopilot projects is that this one will include a camera and a vision system. The beagleboard OMAP processor is powerful enough for simple vision algorithms (the alternative being the Blackfin processor).
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Make Magazine's definitive guide to open source hardware 
Sunday, November 30, 2008, 01:11 PM - Electronics
Make Magazine's blog has a great list of opne source hardware projects for 2008. The list includes most flavors of Arduinos (although not the stickduino, that we mentioned before), as well as various UAV autopilots, synths, and other projects.

Perhaps it is worth reminding our esteemed readers of the existence of the Beagleboard, a $150 board available from Digikey with a super-powerful OMAP3530 chip from Texas Instruments. The OMAP contains a super-scalar 600MHz ARM Cortex-A8 core and a 430MHz TMS320C64x+ DSP. The Beagleboard can run Linux.

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Lady Ada's Xbee carrier board and tutorial 
Sunday, November 9, 2008, 09:15 AM - Electronics
Lady Ada from Adafruit Industries has a nicely detailed tutorial on configuring a pair of Xbee wireless modules to talk wirelessly to an Arduino. It is an expanded version of another tutorial by Rob Faludi, a researcher in the Interactive Telecommunication Program at NYU

Adafruit conveniently sells (for $10) an Xbee carrier board which contains the level shifters, voltage regulator, and pin headers required to easily talk to an Xbee.

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Using an Xbee for R/C 
Saturday, November 8, 2008, 11:33 PM - Electronics
Effet de Bord is a French blog (written in English) that talks about using an Xbee module as the basis of an R/C system. Xbee Pro modules establish a bidirectional serial communication link with a range of roughly 1.5 km.

The blog is connected to the O24RCP project whose purpose is to build an open design for a 2.4GHz R/C system out of off-the-shelf components (such as the Xbee).
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Jump Jet quadrocopter available at Hammacher-Schlemmer 
Thursday, November 6, 2008, 07:10 PM - Flying Contraptions
The Jump Jet quadrocopter that we mentioned early October is available in the US for $120 at Hammacher Schlemmer.

They also have the Flying Saucer quadrocopter for $80.


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Kyosho 4-channel Minium AD: Piper Cherokee and Micro Heli 
Friday, October 24, 2008, 01:30 AM - Flying Contraptions
Kyosho has been distributing the Minium series of micro-R/C aiplanes for a while. The Minium series combine a 410mm wingspan micro-R/C airplane, with a 3-channel 2.4GHz radio at a low price.

The new Piper Cherokee Minium has 4 channels (with ailerons!) with a 410mm wingspan and a mass of 26 grams. Availability is announced for November on the Kyosho web site.

There is also a Minium AD micro-heli, which is a 200mm rotor, 30 gram, full-function heli with 4-channel control.

The Kyosho America online store has the Piper and the heli on pre-order for $180, with delivery in late November. Strangely, some other US retailer has the Cherokee available on pre-order for $170 with expected delivery in late January 2009....

The YouTube video below shows other Minimum planes, some of which don't seem to have been announced.



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How parrots fly: rotating feathers 
Friday, October 24, 2008, 01:13 AM - Flying Contraptions
I was watching an amazing set of slow motion movies and pictures of parrots in flight, and suddenly realized why birds have feathers. I've always thought feathers were a kind of kludge, an accident of evolution. But the videos clearly show the advantage of feathers. The large feathers at the trailing edge of a parrot's wing are flat and overlap slightly, forming a solid trailing edge on the down stroke, like the blades of a closed venetian blind. But in the up stroke, they rotate in such a way that they slice through the ambient airflow. The trailing edge now looks like open venetian blinds. The drag in the upswing is therefore considerably less than the thrust in the upswing. I'm guessing this effect is more pronounced in slow flight where the wings are moved forward in the down stroke and back in the upstroke so as to create more lifts at slower air speed. It's the equivalent of flaps in an airplane. It's a neat trick. None of the R/C ornithopters do this.
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Your next flying contraption made of buckypaper? 
Monday, October 20, 2008, 02:03 AM - Flying Contraptions
Buckypaper is a thin "paper" made of carbon nanotubes. It will be a while before it becomes widely available (at a reasonable price), but someday, your ultralight/ultrastrong micro-RC flying contraption might be made of buckypaper.

Buckypaper is being developed at the High-Performance Materials Institute at Florida State University. It is 10 times lighter than steel and, in theory (not yet in practice), 250 times stronger.


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R/C fish blimp: peaceful 
Friday, October 17, 2008, 04:47 PM - Flying Contraptions
Bertrand pointed us to this nice video of an R/C "flying fish". It's a blimp
with an oscillating tail for propulsion and fins
for directional control. Peaceful.


Air Art from flip on Vimeo

It is reminiscent of the Festo Manta Ray blimp that appeared a while ago.

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Minoru 3D webcam 
Thursday, October 16, 2008, 04:04 PM - Misc TechnoToys
The Minoru3D Webcam is a stereo webcam soon to be released by its British manufacturer. The website is a single front page with almost no information, beside a few pictures and the address of a marketing company Promotion and Display Technology Ltd. The big questions are the price and the date of availability.

Another British company Nvela, which is sponsored by the Microsoft Research Lab in Cambridge, UK, has produced a stereo webcam called the Hydra, but at 300 pounds ($600) it's way too expensive, and (so far) their SDK is for Windows only. They have been promising versions for Linux and Mac, but since the SDK was developed by Microsoft Research, I wouldn't hold my breath.



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