Category Archives: Hardware

The largest computer ever built

Locklin on Science has posted a fascinating piece about cold war computers.
Originally built to coordinate radar and missile defence across the US, the SAGE system could even control airborne “drones”!
This system was built in 1958 and didn’t go offline until 1984 (!!).

The SAGE system had many firsts: it was the first nation wide networked computer system. While it used special leased telephone lines and some of the first modems (at a blistering 1300 baud), it was effectively the internet, long before the internet. It was the first to use CRT screens. The first to use a “touch screen interface” via the use of light pens on the CRT. It was the first to use magnetic core memory. It was the first real time, high availability computer system. It was the first computer system to use time sharing. Many people attribute the genesis of computer programming as a profession to the SAGE system. Modern air traffic control, and computer booking systems of course, descend from the SAGE system.

Link.

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The GRAIL Project

In 1964 the RAND corporation unveiled the GRAIL Project. GRAIL was an early example of a GUI, and (the first?) example of a tablet.

The system used a programming language called GrailLanguage, which was a high-level flowchart-based programming language. All programs were written graphically and with a pen, using character recognition for statements and shape recognition for flow control.

Watch this video and tell me that the best new talent is working on Groupon for Babies or a better way to share photos.

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Machine with Concrete

Machine with Concrete is a gear train consisting of twelve pairs of worms and gears, each of which reduces the rotational velocity of the system by 1/50. The input shaft is constantly driven at 200 rpm, and the output shaft thus turns at (1/50)12 of that speed, at which rate, Ganson writes, “it will take well over two trillion years before the final gear makes but one turn.”

The punchline, of course, is that the final gear is embedded in a block of solid concrete.

Link.

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FROST: Forensic Recovery Of Scrambled Telephones

A ready to go cold boot attack for a Galaxy Nexus!
Your Android PIN does not protect you.

We present FROST, a tool set that supports the forensic recovery of scrambled telephones. To this end we perform cold boot attacks against Android smartphones and retrieve disk encryption keys from RAM. We show that cold boot attacks against Android phones are generally possible for the first time, and we perform our attacks practically against Galaxy Nexus devices from Samsung. To break disk encryption, the bootloader must be unlocked before the attack because scrambled user partitions are wiped during unlocking. However, we show that cold boot attacks are more generic and allow to retrieve sensitive information, such as contact lists, visited web sites, and photos, directly from RAM, even though the bootloader is locked.

Link.

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Toyota’s New Robot runs ROS

ROS is making headway into industrial robotics in a big way.
Toyota’s new human assistance robot runs ROS.

Link.

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How an Attitude Indicator Works

The author of X-Plane has posted a stream-of-conciousness piece about their journey towards turning an iPad into an attitude indicator.
Some interesting notes about how a mechanical attitude indicator works, and some troubles trying to determine what direction is ‘up’ in a non-inertial reference frame.
Long story short it is probably close to what you might guess, but a little more complicated once you account for gyro drift.

Worth a read.

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SCADA Hack Destroys Mains Water Pump

“Hackers gained remote access into the control system of the city water utility in Springfield, Illinois, and destroyed a pump last week, according to a report released by a state fusion center and obtained by a security expert.”
Link.

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Counterfeit parts making their way into brand new U.S. military weapons

Pretty crazy how this is a problem. Scary too.

“Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich) just dropped a couple of very alarming tales during a hearing about counterfeit parts making their way into brand new U.S. military weapons.
Earlier this year, Boeing and the Navy found that the ice detection system on a brand new P-8 Poseidon was defective. The ice detection system is a critical piece of hardware designed to prevent tragedies by alerting pilots to the presence of ice on an aircraft’s control surfaces. Where did this defective part come from? China. A whole batch of a key piece of the ice detection hardware that was sent to the P-8 production line turned out to be used and worn out parts that were badly refurbished and sold to P-8 subcontractor BAE Systems as a new part, according to Levin.”

Link.

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How Google’s Self Driving Car Works

IEEE Spectrum have an article describing some details of the Google autonomous vehicle project, much of the information is public for the first time.
The article is here, but by far the best bit is the video that I’ve embedded below.

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A Homemade GPS Reciever

A homemade GPS receiver including FPGA code and a pretty clear explanation of how it works. Excellent work and a good read.
Check it out here.

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