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Introducing ALOHA 🏖

ALOHA stands for “A Low-cost Open-source Hardware System for Bimanual Teleoperation”, which is certainly a stretch in terms of acronym, but the project itself is so cool that I don’t think it really matters… Here’s the pitch:

Fine manipulation tasks, such as threading cable ties or slotting a battery, are notoriously difficult for robots because they require precision, careful coordination of contact forces, and closed-loop visual feedback. Performing these tasks typically requires high-end robots, accurate sensors, or careful calibration, which can be expensive and difficult to set up. Can learning enable low-cost and imprecise hardware to perform these fine manipulation tasks? We present a low-cost system that performs end-to-end imitation learning directly from real demonstrations, collected with a custom teleoperation interface.

Introducing ALOHA 🏖

Wired Icon Wired

Why the floppy disk just won’t die

If you thought floppy disks were a relic of the past, think again. A surprising number of industries, from embroidery to aviation, still use floppies. Jacopo Prisco tells the story in Wired:

The floppy disk may never truly die out. “There are people in the world who are still busy finding and fixing up and maintaining phonograph players from 1910, so it’s really hard for me to believe that the floppy disk is just going to utterly disappear,”…

Tyler Cipriani tylercipriani.com

Monitoring my weather at home 🌩️

Tyler Cipriani:

Despite their best efforts, all weather apps will eventually lie.

Weather is often hyper-local…

So, in 2013, I set up a Davis Vantage Vue integrated sensor suite (ISS) and mounted it on a pole attached to my garage.

The heart of his system is WeeWX, a free and open source weather station software written in Python. Ten years later, he’s learned some things, but he’s still using his homegrown weather monitoring.

Hardware spectrum.ieee.org

Who really invented the thumb drive?

I thouroughly enjoyed reading this. It’s interesting to think about the evolution of transport storage. To this day, the USB thumb drive has proved to be the long-term winner and something I personally use very often. Wanna install Debian or do a clean install of macOS? You’ll likely do it by creating a bootable USB thumb drive.

Before the invention of the thumb drive, computer users stored and transported their files using floppy disks. Developed by IBM in the 1960s, first 8-inch and later 5 ¼-inch and 3 ½-inch floppy disks replaced cassette tapes as the most practical portable storage media. Floppy disks were limited by their relatively small storage capacity—even double-sided, double-density disks could store only 1.44 MB of data. During the 1990s, as the size of files and software increased…

Would you be surprised to learn that the supposed inventor of the thumb drive is in jail right now in Singapore? But why?

Hardware newatlas.com

Record-breaking chip can transmit entire internet's traffic per second

The speed record for data transmission using a single light source and optical chip has been shattered once again. Engineers have transmitted data at a blistering rate of 1.84 petabits per second (Pbit/s), almost twice the global internet traffic per second.

For context, if you’re fortunate enough to be living the “gig-life” (as my local carrier markets it) with a 1-gigabit connection at your house… a petabit is a million times faster than that. And that record-setting 1.84 petabit speed is just the start:

But the new chip is far from finished breaking records, according to the team behind it. Using a computational model to scale the data transmission potential of the system, the researchers claim that it could eventually reach eye-watering speeds of up to 100 Pbit/s.

Shut up and take my money?!

Hardware spectrum.ieee.org

MNT's Reform is an open source PC that fits in your pocket

MNT Research… is going small for its next project. The MNT Pocket Reform has a seven-inch screen with a clamshell design that, when closed, will be less than five centimeters thick. If its perky purple facade looks a bit retro, that’s no surprise; the Pocket’s inspirations read like a ‘greatest hits’ list of pocketable computers.

They’re taking open source seriously:

MNT’s open-source promise is not limited to an open source operating system or select internal components The Pocket Reform, as with MNT’s full-size Reform laptop, will provide mainboard schematics, 3D models for physical components, and open source drivers, among other things.

Coming soon to a crowd fund near you.

MNT's Reform is an open source PC that fits in your pocket

Hardware techspot.com

YouTube now controls its hardware roadmap

Well, the end of Moore’s law has forced YouTube to make its own video chip. General purpose processors weren’t cutting it for specialized tasks like video transcoding, and after a 10 minute meeting with YouTube chief Susan Wojcicki, the company’s first video chip project was approved.

The obvious motive for building your own chip for a specific purpose is cost savings, but that’s not always the case. In many instances, big tech companies are simply looking to create a strategic advantage with custom chips. Consolidation in the chip industry also plays into the equation, as there are now only a couple of custom chipmakers to choose from in a given category making general-purpose processors that aren’t great at specialized tasks.

Google said the Argos VCUs delivered a performance boost of anywhere between 20 to 33 times compared to traditional server hardware running well-tuned transcoding software.

Design vibilagare.se

Physical buttons outperform touchscreens in new cars, test finds

The screens in modern cars keep getting bigger. Design teams at most car manufacturers love to ditch physical buttons and switches, although they are far superior safety-wise.

That is the conclusion when Swedish car magazine Vi Bilägare performed a thorough test of the HMI system (Human-Machine Interface) in a total of twelve cars this summer.

Hopefully studies like this will convince car makers to install both a big, sexy touchscreen display and physical buttons for key functions that need to be performed quickly and often. Unfortunately, right now it seems most manufacturers are following Tesla’s lead to a buttonless future. And they pair that move with worse software, too. I’m looking at you, Ford. 👀

Apple apple.com

Apple's M2 announcement makes your M1-based laptop suddenly "feel sluggish"

Built using second-generation 5-nanometer technology, M2 takes the industry-leading performance per watt of M1 even further with an 18 percent faster CPU, a 35 percent more powerful GPU, and a 40 percent faster Neural Engine.1 It also delivers 50 percent more memory bandwidth compared to M1, and up to 24GB of fast unified memory.

I pity the fool who upgraded last Fall and can think of zero good reasons to spend another pile of cash at the Apple Store right now no matter how hard he tries to drum up literally any valid reason why that would be a wise decision but if he could think of one he totally would do it and now maybe he’s just waiting for someone else to come up with some sort of justification for doing exactly that. I pity that fool 😉

Hardware github.com

A Cyberdeck built with the Framework mainboard

WANT!

Framework has created a really slick, fully user serviceable, laptop and have recently started selling the mainboard as a SBC for general use. To better support folks who may want to integrate it into their projects, they are also releasing technical documentation including pinouts, cad models and other resources.

When they reached out and explained their plans and offered to let me play with one, I jumped at the chance and this is what I came up with after some experimentation.

A Cyberdeck built with the Framework mainboard

Hardware github.com

OpenMower – a DIY smart mowing robot for everyone

Let’s be honest: The current generation of robotic lawn mowers sucks. Basically all of these bots drive in a random direction until they hit the border of the lawn, rotate for a randomized duration and repeat. I think we can do better!

Therefore, we have disassembled the cheapest off-the-shelf robotic mower we could find (YardForce Classic 500) and were surprised that the hardware itself is actually quite decent.

The bot itself is surprisingly high quality and doesn’t need to be changed at all. We just need some better software in there.

Here’s an overview video that explains the entire idea.

Gaming lunduke.substack.com

The computers used to do 3D animation for Final Fantasy VII

There’s a lot going on in that picture. Let’s take a closer look at exactly what computers and gear they were using to do the 3D animation for this game.

Why? Because, Final Fantasy 7 is a true classic. When the game was first released in early 1997, for the Sony PlayStation, it took the RPG gaming world by storm. To this day, many consider it the greatest entry in the franchise.

I remember getting this game for Christmas and playing it nearly non-stop until school started again after the new year. Greatest entry in the franchise? Easily!

The computers used to do 3D animation for Final Fantasy VII

Ars Technica Icon Ars Technica

A brief tour of the PDP-11, the most influential minicomputer of all time

Ars Technica takes an epic stroll down memory lane:

In their moment, minicomputers were used in a variety of applications. They served as communications controllers, instrument controllers, large system pre-processors, desk calculators, and real-time data acquisition handlers. But they also laid the foundation for significant hardware architecture advances and contributed greatly to modern operating systems, programming languages, and interactive computing as we know them today.

We were just discussing this machine on our upcoming episode with Brian Kernighan.

A brief tour of the PDP-11, the most influential minicomputer of all time

Luis Artola luisartola.com

Reviewing the Framework laptop with Ubuntu

Luis Artola:

I built my own laptop over the holiday break and it’s a developer’s dream come true. I took a chance and ordered a Framework Laptop DIY Edition. I’m so glad I did. The Framework is an excellent platform to customize and build a very capable and stable Linux machine for development. Here’s what I love about it and things that could be better.

Reviewing the Framework laptop with Ubuntu

Apple ifixit.com

iFixit tears down the new MacBook Pro

These teardowns are always an enjoyable read. This one is particular interesting because of the large upgrade this year’s line of pro laptops is and how Apple appears to be returning to form with their design decisions. Here’s the lede:

We’ve still got a long way to go with disassembly, but this new MacBook Pro has, at the very least, the first reasonably DIY-friendly battery replacement procedure since 2012.

iFixit tears down the new MacBook Pro

Raspberry Pi github.com

MagInkCal syncs your Google calendar with a framable e-ink display

This incredibly cool DIY e-ink calendar uses a Raspberry Pi Zero WH to do its thing. Here’s how it works:

Through PiSugar2’s web interface, the onboard RTC can be set to wake and trigger the RPi to boot up daily at a time of your preference. Upon boot, a cronjob on the RPi is triggered to run a Python script that fetches calendar events from Google Calendar for the next few weeks, and formats them into the desired layout before displaying it on the E-Ink display. The RPi then shuts down to conserve battery. The calendar remains displayed on the E-Ink screen, because well, E-Ink…

MagInkCal syncs your Google calendar with a framable e-ink display
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