Python PIC useful when attached to a computer

[Richard] sent in a link to the Python controlled microcontroller he’s been working on. Unlike the previous portable Python boards we’ve seen, [Richard] thinks his pyMCU isn’t best used autonomously. This board is meant to be used only when connected to a computer and to serve as a bridge between the digital world of computers and our analog world.

We’ve seen boards running lightweight Python interpreters, but we’re fairly intrigued by the idea of this board only being useful when plugged into a computer. The on-board PIC 16F chip has enough digital, analog and PWM pins to just about any task imaginable, and there’s also a 16-pin LCD display header if you’d like some output with your microcontrollers.

[Richard] says he’s been working with PICs for longer than the Arduino is around, but depending on the level of interest he’ll consider developing an Arduino version of the pyMCU. All we know is that the pyMCU would be awesome to teach electronics and programming to the younglings, and we could certainly find a few more uses for the board when they’re done with it.

Human-shaped planes troll NYC

It looks like a genetic leap has unleashed the age of mutants, but this is really just a few guys trolling New York City with some custom RC aircrafts. The video after the break shows the fliers up close. They’re pretty much full size, we’d guess 5’10” from head to heel. The outstretched arms and body act as wings, while the legs act as ailerons and rudders. But from afar (or even a medium distance) it’s quite difficult to make out the flat surfaces… they look like office workers loosed from their cubicles. Unfortunately we don’t have more than a flight demo to share with you. If you know where to find build info (or any extra details at all actually) don’t forget to send in a tip We wonder if these are the same guy who made the flying hero we posted back in July?

There’s another nugget of delight right at the beginning of the video. A sweet octocopter which looks much like this one was used to capture the aerial footage.

[Read more...]

$15 toy becomes fully programmable robot

[Kevin] undertook a robot build partly for his own enjoyment, but also to include his kids in the action. He acquired a cheap toy and packed it full of programmable goodness. The starting point was a $15 toy called Rad 2.0. It’s a great starting point as it already included some motorized parts, and takes care of much of the mechanical issues like joints and structure.

The image on the left is the fourth update which [Kevin] has posted. The robot now responds to voice commands (with the same syntax as Chippu uses), moving its gaze to face forward or to either side. You’ll notice there’s a wireless webcam which lets him spy on what’s in front of the robot’s gaze. An ultrasonic range finder makes itself at home in the beak of the bot, and a Larson Scanner is nestled in the brow using the kit from Evil Mad Scientist Labs. Check out the video after the break for an overview of the hardware modifications.

The build log for this project is a forum post. That forum is run by [DJ Sures], a veteran at taking cheap toys and making them awesome. It seems like he’s taken a web forum and made it awesome too because the conversation about [Kevin's] project is packed with constructive tips and encouragement.

[Read more...]

Building a flex sensor from component packing materials

Hacks like this one don’t help us recover from extreme pack-rat behavior. Driving home the point that one should never throw anything away [Peter] built a flex sensor from component packing material. It uses the black conductive foam in which integrated circuits are sometimes embedded for shipping. Above you can see the grey rectangle which is the sensor itself. in the background of the image, each component used in the build is labelled except for the tape.

The project starts with the foam being cut to the appropriate size and thickness. He does the same with some aluminum foil, then rips tape strips to act as the enclosure. Fine wire from some cable shielding serves as the two conductors for the sensor. He attaches each wire to an upturned piece of tape, followed by the foil, and finally the foam. When the two halves are assembled in the video after the break, [Peter] hooks up his multimeter to show the change in resistance as the sensor is bent.

We think it will take a clever calibration algorithm to get this working reliably, but it’s no more troublesome than the optical flex sensors we saw in this links post. [Read more...]

Motorcycle engine hack like having an old F1 between your legs

The difficulty of rolling a 16-cylinder engine into a motorcycle really boggles the mind. But that’s exactly what [Andreas Georgeades] is doing in his garage. It’s two straight-8 engines sandwiched on top of one another with a custom crankcase connecting them. And get this, those custom parts are being milled by hand, using time-tested techniques rather than modern computer assistance.

So, where does the complexity come in? Well first of all you’ve got to solve all of the problems that go along with combining two engines. It sounds like this isn’t a new concept, as older generations of Formula 1 engines used the technique. But we still think it’s the pinnacle of hardcore when it’s an enthusiast undertaking the challenge. Then there’s the issue of weight. The engine is bulky, but needs to balance in the frame. And you still must find a way for the rider to sit on the thing (even the most bow-legged of people won’t be able to get their hips around the thing).

Seems like something out of a Mario Kart game that should have no chance of being roadworthy. But we’re sure [Andreas] is going to prove us wrong.

[Thanks Th3BadWolf]

Reprogramming promotional USB dongles to launch custom URLs

webkey-hacking

The teachers at [Jjshortcut's] school were each given a Webkey by the administration as a promotional item of sorts, but most of the staff saw them as useless, so they pitched them. [Jjshortcut] got his hands on a few of them and decided to take one apart to see what made them tick.

He found that the device was pretty simple, consisting of a push button that triggers the device to open the Windows run prompt, enter a URL, and launch Internet Explorer. Since the microcontroller was locked away under a blob of epoxy, he started poking around the onboard EEPROM with his Bus Pirate to see if he could find anything interesting there. It turns out he was able to read the contents of the EEPROM, and since it was not write protected, he could replace the standard URL with that of his own web site.

While it’s safe to say that without a new microcontroller the Webkeys probably can’t be used for anything more exciting than launching a browser, [Jjshortcut] can always reprogram the lot and drop them in random locations to drive some fresh traffic to his web site!

[Thanks, Wouter]

Check it out, my clothes are electric. No, seriously

Someday you may be able to use your crotch or armpits to recharge that cellphone. Heck, maybe there won’t even be a battery, just a capacitor which gets its juice from Power Felt, a fabric that converts body heat to electricity.

Now we mention the nether-regions because it’s funny, but also because it makes the most sense. Researchers have developed a fabric containing carbon nanotubes used in a way that generates electricity based on a temperature differential. We figure the areas on the body that have high heat loss would be the most efficient locations for the fabric since it is currently extremely expensive to produce (the hope is that mass-production would reduce cost by orders of magnitude). So we think battery-charging briefs are a definite possibility.

What we see here is a nano-scale Peltier electricity generator. It’s the same concept as this candle-based generator, except the increased efficiency of the Power Felt lets your wasted body heat take the place of the flame.

There’s a white paper on the topic but you can’t get at it without surrendering some [George Washingtons].

[via Reddit and Megadgets]

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