At this point we always say the same thing, but once again, this is a repeat: this is a wonderful year for Hockaday. In fact, it is our common honor to present literally thousands of amazing creations from the hacking and making community. But more than that, we have witnessed some fascinating technological trends, legitimate historical so-called moments and a fair number of misdeeds that will soon be forgotten. In fact, this year we’ve covered a wide range of topics than ever before, and judging by the record-setting numbers we’ve seen in response, it sounds like you might be excited to read it. To close out the year, let’s take a look at 2019’s most popular and interesting stories. It’s a wild ride, and we can’t wait to do it again in 2020. Bevy of new boards In June we saw a somewhat surprising release of the Raspberry Pi 4. No one doubts that this wildly popular (up to 30 million units) new entry of Linux Single Board Computers (SBC). Surprise is in the timing: Pi 3b + has just been released in 2018, and in interviews conducted months ago, Eben Upton has been very modest about the foundation’s plans for succession. As it turned out, this pie may need a little more time in the oven. Once the hackers started to get their hands on them, they started finding some odd quirks. We’re not talking about the (still clogged) decision to use dual micro HDMI ports. There are enough legitimate grips around the top of 2019 that most people are sticking with the previous iteration until things settle down.
But Raspberry Pi isn’t the only SBC game in town. It’s not just a cute “pie” name, for that matter. We have seen considerable interest in the Atomic Pi, which is not far from its berry-flavored pier with the power of a quad-core Intel Atom processor. We’ve had some pretty impressive changes on the powerful board since then, but the discovery that the Atomic Pi is actually a surplus hardware purchased from the now useless Mayfield Robotics has raised some valid questions about the product’s long-term viability. In fact, hardware pieces are not as exciting to us as this year’s Hackeday Super Conference badge. This is not only an exceptionally cool conference badge (no shortage of it), but it also marks a turning point for FPGA technology. Thanks to ballooning numbers of projects, products and yes conference badges, increasing FPGAs and vast improvements to the open source toolchain, we look back on 2019, the year when most hackers first came to play with FPGA. If the projects from the Badge Hacking Competition are any indication, we think they liked it. Get there easy Despite the perennial interest in such things, the most talked about piece of hardware this year is not the pocket sized Linux computer. This is, if you can believe, a humble light bulb. Well, more specifically, sophistication in home lighting technology.
It’s true. As of this writing, our most popular part of 2019 is Ted Yapo’s incredible deep dive into the occasional frustrating reality of modern LED bulbs. This article aims to find out that LED bulbs are dark years (or even decades) ahead of their announced lifetime, and that these 21st-century solid-state illumination kills the wonders. We are also very concerned about the safety of so-called “smart” light bulbs or, more precisely, its absence. That discovery was clear textual user’s WiFi storing many of these bulbs as we learned it was all about how easy it is to get physical access to the microcontroller’s power bulbs that connect to the latest generation of the internet. That’s why we’ve also seen DIY smart lighting projects this year; If you can’t trust what’s on the market, you can build it yourself. The safety of such devices is still a lot of debate, but we can say for many of the projects that have graced these pages over the years.
Speaking of light, 2019 will also drop as the year’s desktop SLA printers finally hit the hacker-friendly price. These printers, which make three-dimensional objects from light-activated resins, have much higher resolutions than you can do with more traditional FDM machines. Of course, the top of the line models are outside the average tinker budget, but many companies now offer entry-level LCD-based resin printers in the spectacular $ 200 to $ 300 range. But buyer beware: even for 3D printing fans, these machines can be challenging. Resin printers have their own unique quirks and limitations, which are completely different from the quirks and restrictions you are accustomed to with FDM printing. As Donald Pop recounts his own experiences with a low-cost SLA printer, prospective buyers need to understand what they are getting before they travel light. Alexa Peking inside On paper, the hacking community should hate Amazon’s Alexa. A device that integrates our homes (and even cars now) with a retail juggernaut, under normal circumstances, we end up with a serious bias. Amazon has been able to convince us that adding Alexa compatibility to gadgets has become a very common hack.
But in 2019, we saw what were the first signs of cracks in our bizarre relationship with Amazon’s high-tech hockey pucks family. Brian Dorey’s incredibly keen interest in the teardown on the third generation Eco Dot, as well as his next reverse engineering smart speaker, revealed that there is a hidden USB port that you can access with a DIY adapter. We’ve also seen an amazing hardware add-on that ensures that Amazon’s and Google’s devices “help” you only when you want them. As hackers, not only do we know what ticks these devices, but how to get them to our liking. In fact, some gadgets were able to whisper sweet notes with laser beams as these gadgets were considered a security liability. After the New Space Race Over the past few years, we have had a front row seat to the newest space race. This time it is not the world’s superpowers who are looking at who can push higher, this war is fought between billionaires like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson.
As long as satellite networks with more than 10,000 personal spacecraft are economically viable, the cost of putting payloads into space will fall into stone. NASA is also trying to get back to the moon, although it is still unclear whether their timber SLS rocket will be relevant in the era of private industry making such huge advances. SpaceX completed an engine design that was once considered impossible to build, and they are now flying the world’s most powerful rocket. Rocket Lab is launching satellites into orbit using an empty weight booster that rivals the pickup truck. There are many companies working on 3D printable (in or out of the world) spacecraft and boosters, and they are closer to showcasing prototypes than you might think. Make no mistake, space travel is still very difficult and dizzyingly expensive. But there is not much activity in our heads since the 1960s, and there are no signs of slowing things down anytime soon. For those of us who have a lifelong fascination with the ultimate frontier, this is a very exciting time to be alive. Boeing Very Bad Year Unfortunately, this is not a banner year for everyone. Case in point, the aerospace giant Boeing. In the centuries-old history of the legendary company, 2019 will surely be remembered as one of the most publicly troubling. Every 737 MAX aircraft in the world have been grounded since March after the aircraft’s aircraft control systems were directly responsible for the loss of 346 lives; The longest and most expensive grinding of an aircraft in United States history. It is still unknown when the aircraft will be allowed to resume commercial services, but it is surprising how much consumer confidence remains when all is said and done. We now know that other members of the 737 family have been diagnosed with mechanical failure. Recently, the company’s CST-100 Starliner was unable to reach the International Space Station on its inaugural flight. It is not a catastrophic failure, but it is unclear how this will affect NASA’s overall plans to use Starliner to launch US astronauts to the station next year, but it is certainly a very public mistake, and SpaceX feels so effortless. All the bad press definitely caught the attention of Boeing board members. On December 23, one day after the troubled starliner went ahead of its landing in New Mexico, CEO Dennis Muilenberg was fired. Happy Christmas. The road ahead So what’s in store for us in 2020 and beyond? For one thing, it’s hard to imagine that ARM single-board computers will be soaring in the next 12 months. Considering all its shortcomings, the Raspberry Pi 4 is still a powerful computer at an incredible size and price; And with the fall of 600 MHz Teensy 4 in the summer, we can say that microcontroller platforms have also started hitting the performance plateau. This means that hackers are increasingly pushing towards parallel programming and FPGA for their high-performance computing needs, so you can start learning now. We also hope to make big improvements in battery cost and availability. As our mobile devices are not hungry enough, every auto manufacturer in the world is scrambling to add electric vehicles to their product line. The economies of scale on 18650 cells will improve, but if we are really lucky, the demand for high efficiency cells with fast recharge times will help the development of completely new battery chemistries. It is not just the right time to reflect on all the wonderful things we have seen so close to the year, but also thank you for being a consistent reader. Without our dedicated audience, we would not be able to do what we do. Whether you are regularly offering tips from your particular corner of the Internet, attending our live events and meetings, or checking in every day and reading something new, we know it doesn’t matter. There is no shortage of information on the Internet, and whether you join us this year or from scratch, everyone here at Hakkade is so grateful that you have decided to make us a part of your life. Now go out there and build something amazing for 2020. We will keep an eye out for it.