Friday, April 11, 2014

Learn to build an autonomous quadcopter

Quadcopters for all!

A while back, Widdikay and I took a class from Udacity on how to build a self-driving car.  It wasn't really about how to build a car, that is the easy part.  The class focused on the self-driving part.  Sure enough, in seven weeks we learned the basic principles required to build a self driving car that can navigate the streets around us.  In the process, not only did I learn about some really cool artificial intelligence techniques, I gained an appreciation for self-driving cars.  I'm pretty convinced at this point that the roads will be much safer when the self-driving cars dominate our highways.

Shelly - the Stanford/Audi self-driving car as it drove past me the other day
As our readers know we have an affinity for quadcopters around here.  So I was very excited to find that Technische Universit√§t M√ľnchen is teaching an online class on autonomous navigation of quad rotors.  I realize this isn't for everyone, but for those of you who are interested (and you know who you are) this could be really great.  And did I mention it's free?  This looks like a lot of fun.  Take a look at the video for some idea of what they will cover.

Class starts on May 6.  It will last for 8 weeks and is expected to take about 4 hours per week.  It is free to audit, so just do it!
More information can be found here, and the syllabus is available here.  

Visible sound

If asked what a sound looks like, some people immediately imagine a waveform.  This however is really a graphical representation of the compression and ratification of the air as the sound passes by a microphone.  It is not really what the sound looks like in space if we could see it.  I've seen people use something called cymatics to visualize sounds.  It is super cool (see the video below) and can map out where the nodes and antinodes of a sound are with vibrating particles.  The thing is that it is fairly static. It doesn't show sound propagating through the air.

However, the video below shows what sounds really looks like.  It uses a technique called Schlieren flow visualization to make minute changes in the density of the air visible.  By capturing minute changes in the density of the air and making them visible to your eye, we can actually see sound waves propagating.  Very cool!

Of course, the really cool version of this would be in 3D so that you could see sounds propagate out in all directions and bounce off of objects in the room.... Maybe some day.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Expert

Have you ever been called on because you are an "expert?"  It is a great feeling.  At least for a little while. The feeling rarely lasts.  Sometimes you realize just how much of an expert your are... as in, no one else has a clue what they are talking about.  Or is it me?  No, I'm the expert.  I'm here because I'm supposed to know what I'm talking about, right?  Right?  Somebody?  Help!
The short film below captures the feeling perfectly.  I think I've attended this meeting... more than once.  Here's to the "experts."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Arduino-based farming

We have a bit of a water crisis here in California.  We have gotten a little bit of rain recently, but we are still hovering near the minimum rainfall that we've had in recorded history.  About 80% of our water goes to agriculture.  Unfortunately, that water is not used efficiently.  Most of it just soaks into the soil and is gone.  Hydroponic systems, on the other hand grow crops with recycled water.  In fact the Aeroponic system they use at Tribe Awesome uses as little as 2% as much water as traditional farming.  If we could convert large crops over to these systems it dramatically help reduce our water needs.

Another interesting part of hydroponic systems is the nutrients they use.  They can be managed to optimize for different parts of a plant's lifecycle.  They are also much more efficient because they have very little run-off - all the nutrients go to the plants.  One type of system, aquaponics, uses fish to generate the nutrients for the plants.  The entire system is closed.  The fish muck up the water and fill it with nutrients for the plants.  The plants then filter the water and clean it up for the fish.  The result is a recirculating system that is extremely efficient.

The guy in the video below has a lot of plans for starting to scale up some hydroponic systems.  He makes a compelling case and he looks to be making great progress, just using pieces and parts that anyone can get.  He uses Arduinos to sense and control the system.  The whole system connects to the net so he can monitor and control it over the web.  It is quite impressive.

Spring is coming up, so its time to make the plans for your hydroponic garden.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Maker Mission Control Center

I'm clearly a bad father because I didn't build a mission control panel for either of my children.  I only hope they can forgive me.  I don't know who this guy is, but he's definitely raising the bar for all the other dads on the planet.  This is a great piece of work.  Watch the video and enjoy.

You can read about the project at Make.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Draw your hand in 3D

The folks at Handmania have come up with a clever little trick that shows how easy it is to create a 3D drawing of your hand.  The process is quite clever and the result is pretty impressive.  It surprises me that a simple curved line can be so effective at creating a 3D illusion.  Go ahead.  Try it.  Amaze you're friends!

For all the details, see the instructions here.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Where have you been?

Hello dear readers. I know... I know... It's been a month.  Sorry.  I've been busy.  So where have you been, you ask?  I'm going to divert you from that question.  It brings up an interesting point.  What if you could see where people have been?  What if positions had history?  What if when you see someone sitting in a chair, you also saw where they came from before they came to that chair?  That would be pretty cool eh?  I suppose slugs leave a trail when they slide along, but I was hoping for something a little less slimy.  Thanks to the wonders of digital technology, we can create these trails.

Dennis Hiynsky, professor at the Rhode Island School of Design, has made a set of videos that are really cool.  He set up a stationary camera and recorded as birds flew around.  Then, in post processing, he was able to show the paths of the birds movements through the sky.  I think it is brilliant and beautiful myself.  I think we need to try this effect on everything that moves... So, where was I?  Check it out.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

This air-powered, life-size, Lego car is brilliant or insane or both

This air-powered, life-size, lego car is brilliant or insane or both.  First of all, just look at it!  It is made of more than 500,000 Lego pieces.  The entire engine is made of Legos, has 256 pistons and it runs on air pressure.  It can attain a top speed of 20 MPH.  Apparently some of the load bearing parts, tires and the drive train aren't made of Legos, so if you are making a pure Lego car, you don't need to worry about this project.  Still, the engine in particular is quite an achievement.  Well done Steve Sammartino and  Raul Oaida.  See the video to watch it move.

What other little bits of informations there are can be found at SuperAwesomeMicroProject.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Comparing the Renaissance to the maker culture/movement - please help Digital Diner

Hi Digital Diner Readers,

Widdakay is writing a research paper comparing/contrasting the Renaissance to the modern day maker culture/movement.  He can't interview people from the Renaissance, but he can question people now about the maker movement as it happens.  That is where you come in.  He has created a short questionnaire for makers and non-makers alike to help collect information about makers and the maker movement.  It only takes about 10 minutes to fill out and it would help him immensely if you would take a moment to answer the questions for him... and maybe even pass the questionnaire on to your friends.

Answer questionnaire here.

Thanks one and all.  Your opinion matters.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ah yes, the food extruder is finally coming...

Ever since a few years ago when I saw a sugar-based 3D printer, I've wondered when we would have a 3D food printer.  Finally, a company called Natural Machines is taking the leap to build such a device (see the video above).  They can print interesting shapes in chocolate and pasta.  It is a sort of a step beyond the Play-doh fun factory for food.  It's still in early stages of development, so the food in the video doesn't look too appetizing at this point, but the concept is good.

I really think they should apply a little more food science.  Just look at what we have learned from sous vide and the interesting results when you have exacting control of temperature of your ingredients.  Since 3D printers have heated nozzles, don't you think we could do some really accurate cooking at the same time.  Extrude your runny egg mixture, but then cook it to just the right texture as it leaves the nozzle (click here to learn more about exact egg cooking temperatures).  Maybe we could even include some frickin' lasers to do some spot cooking.  The printer should be the oven as well as the extruder.  I think with the right set of technologies you could create beautiful and delicious culinary art.  I feel a Kickstarter campaign coming on...