Adding a little polish to your cellphone charging setup

Cable management can really be an eyesore, but a little creative camouflage and you can have a cellphone charging station that also serves as decoration.

[Kitesurfer] wanted to use one of the cubbyholes in his new Ikea book shelf for charging but wasn’t keen on the rat’s nest of wires that would go along with it. Also not wanting to take on the challenge of wireless charging he hit the As-Is section of the home furnishing giant and grabbed a leftover board that matched the same finish as the cabinetry. It now serves as a false-back for the charging center behind which a power strip and wall-warts hide.

This covers up the problem, but a blank white box filled with the business end of the charging wires isn’t a whole to better. As with a magic show, the trick is in redirection. [Kitesurfer] cut a hole in the false-back and added the guts of a digital picture frame. Right now he’s got it scrolling through different charging icons, but it’s easy enough to change up the slide-show if he gets tired of them. We’d love to see a subsequent hack that lets the picture frame access the photos on your phone via Bluetooth.

Amp Hour interviews [Joe Grand]

The Amp Hour, a podcast of electronics enthusiasts and professionals alike, just did an epic interview with [Joe Grand]. Along with hosts [Chris Gammell] and [Dave Jones], the discussion runs the gamut of points of interest in the hardware hacking world. The first vignette explores the rise, run, and fall of Prototype This, an engineering-centric TV show that [Joe] did along with a group of various engineers for the Discover Channel. He politely discusses some of the goods and bads of the TV business and how that affected the team’s ability to go into great detail about the projects they were building.

From there the guys discuss the development of Hackerspaces through the years. [Joe] has some concerns about the injection of corporate sponsorships in these DIY spaces and what that may mean in the long run. He then talks about the impending release of his 3-year-long laser range-finder project (we’ve seen a project using a prototype of this sensor). The show is rounded out with discussions about hardware fab houses that [Joe] uses and has used over the years for projects like the Defcon Badges (we loved his Defcon 18 badges).

It’s a great episode so download a copy and set aside about an hour to listen to the whole show.

CheapStat: an open-source potentiostat

A commercial potentiostat can cost several thousand dollars, but the CheapStat is an open source project that makes it possible to build your own at a tiny fraction of that cost. It is possible to build one for less than $80, breaking down the cost barrier faced by many labs that would like to have this test hardware.

A potentiostat is used to measure electrochemical properties. To give you a few examples of what it can do, the hardware can measure arsenic levels in water, Vitamin C concentration in orange juice, Acetaminophen concentrations in over-the-counter medications, and a bunch of other less easily explained tests having to do with chemical compounds and DNA.

The device makes use of an Atmel XMEGA microcontroller and connects to a computer via USB. A Java program grabs that data from the hardware displaying test results on your choice of computer platforms. If you’re looking for all the gory details you won’t be disappointed by their journal paper.

Video – Eagle CAD’s CAM processor

Here is the next installment in our series of Eagle CAD videos. In this video we skip ahead a bit and show off the CAM processor that you use to create the files necessary to have your circuit boards be manufactured. After watching this video, you will know how create a new CAM program, load a circuit board into the CAM processor, tell it where to save your files, and actually use it to create the files.

We’re skipping ahead today because of a screw up on our part. We meant to show the layout portion of the program today but edited the wrong video… We’ll show layout next week. After that, we will show the completed circuit board and solder the parts onto it.

If you are itching for some Eagle CAD layout info, you may be interested in some supplementary videos that we have uploaded to our Youtube channel. In those videos, we show how to use the most important features in the layout portion of the Eagle CAD.

Have you missed the previous videos? Here are some links to them:

Schematic and the beginning of a custom part: [click here]
More custom part stuff: [click here]

Video is after the break:
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Making better CNC halftone pictures

[Jason] was messing around with CNC machines and came up with his own halftone CNC picture that might be an improvement over previous attempts we’ve seen.

[Jason] was inspired by this Hack a Day post that converted a image halftone like the default Photoshop plugin or the rasterbator. The results were very nice, but once a user on the JoesCNC forum asked how he could make these ‘Mirage’ CNC picture panels, [Jason] knew what he had to do.

He immediately recognized the algorithm that generated the Mirage panels as based on the Gray-Scott reaction-diffusion algorithm. With this algorithm, dark areas look a little like fingerprints, meaning the toolhead of the CNC router can cut on the X and Y axes instead of a simple hole pattern with a traditional halftone. After a little bit of coding, [Jason] had an app that converted an image to a reaction-diffusion halftone which can then be converted to vectors and sent to a router.

It’s a very neat build and we imagine that [Jason]‘s pictures would cost a bit less than the commercial panels. Check out the video after the break to see the fabrication process.

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Quadcopter stabilization system using Wii Motion Plus

If you’re contemplating a quadcopter build here’s a way to add stabilization hardware without breaking the bank. The BaronPilot project uses an Arduino and a Wii Motion Plus module to ensure an even keel for your flying projects. The hardware inside of the Motion Plus includes two gyroscopes, which the BaronPilot monitors for changes in your flying rig’s orientation. The project serves as a co-pilot by differentiating between movements caused by the remote control, and changes due to wind or other outside factors (like hitting the quadcopter with a stick as seen in the video after the break). It should all translate to less chance of crashing due to operator error.

You can pick up a Motion Plus for less than twenty dollars, a deal when compared to the IMU boards that we usually see in quadcopter builds which usually run more than twice that amount. It’s an I2C device which makes it easy to hook up to just about anything. This project has native support for Teensy, Arduino Nano, and Arduino clones using an ATmega328 chip. But the portability of the Arduino platform should make it easy to tweak the code for use with just about any microprocessor.

[Read more...]

Keeping simple children’s toys interesting with small modifications

souping_up_slot_cars

[Jaroslav] was racing slot cars with his son not too long ago, but like many of us discovered in our youth, driving cars around a small oval track can get dull after awhile. Rather than buy more track sections, he decided to fiddle with their cars a bit to make racing them a little more exciting.

After removing the top of his slot car, [Jaroslav] found that it cruised around corners with ease, giving him a distinct advantage over his son. He did the same with his son’s car to level the playing field, then he decided to add a few extra LEDs to make driving around the small track more lively.

Now, this obviously isn’t the most advanced of modifications, but it is a great example of extending the useful life of a toy by using cheap, easy to access components. We think that it would be reasonable to add even more features to the cars/track such as speed-dependent lighting or lap counters without changing the car dynamics all that much.

Any thoughts or suggestions to help [Jaroslav] soup up his kid’s race track even more? Share them with us in the comments.

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