I need someone to explain this to me.

Custom heaters for a DIY BBQ smoker

Spring is in the air, and with that comes savory meals cooked over the course of dozens of hours. While preparing for your yearly allotment of pork and beef, check out [Brett Beauregard]‘s custom heater elements he built for a DIY wood smoker.

This build follows the very successful smoker [Brett] built last year. This year, he’s using the same toaster oven heating elements, only cut down to make the heater smaller and more efficient. Basically, [Brett] is making a small cartridge heater out of the equipment he already has.

After cutting the toaster oven heating elements to length, [Brett] reamed out the ends to expose the nichrome wire. A short hit with a TIG welder bonded the lead to the heating element. Insulated with furnace cement, [Brett] had a custom heater perfect for charring chunks of mesquite or hickory.

Meat smokers aren’t very complicated – they can be built with a flowerpot and a hotplate, and will still cook up a delicious dinner. We might have to borrow [Brett]‘s technique when we build this year’s smoker.

Make your RC car drive itself with this simple brain swap

arduino-rc-conversion

If the kids have lost interest in that RC car or truck you bought them over the holidays, [Randy Sarafan] from Instructables has a few ideas that might help make the toys fun again, while teaching your kids a bit about electronics in the process. In his writeup, he shows how to swap out the brains of your run of the mill RC truck, enabling it to do far more than was originally intended. The procedure is pretty simple, and something that you can easily involve your kids in, if you’d like.

He uses an Arduino and a motor shield to keep the conversion simple, but this can be done with just about any capable microcontroller you might have on hand. [Randy] added a Parallax Ping sensor to the front of the truck enabling it to avoid objects as it drives itself, but since he cut out the truck’s original control board we’re assuming that there’s no way to override the truck’s actions at present.

[Randy] calls the conversion a “robot” though it seems like more of a semi-autonomous rover if you ask us. Regardless, revamping an old RC car is certainly far better than letting it collect dust on a shelf, or worse, tossing it out during spring cleaning.

Continue reading to see a short video of [Randy’s] RC truck in action.

[via HackedGadgets]

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Facial recognition software can tell when you’re frustrated with Xbox Live

Most of us have been faced with the anguish of being shot in the head repeatedly by 12-year-olds. There are also the times when we’re overjoyed by defeating the Mother Brain and making it out of the caverns of Zebes. If we wanted to scientifically quantify how happy, sad, or angry we are while playing video games, we wouldn’t know what to do. [Dale] came up with a very interesting way to gauge someone’s state of mind while either playing Xbox, or watching TV.

To get a measure of how happy or sad he is, [Dale] put a webcam underneath his TV and pointed it towards his couch. Every 15 seconds or so, the webcam snaps a picture and sends if off to the face.com API. After face.com sends a blob of JSON containing information about all the faces detected in the photo, a short Python script plots it on a graph.

[Dale] admits he’s not entirely scientific with this project; the low resolution of the webcam, coupled with images being captured every 15 seconds means he runs into the limitations of his hardware very quickly. Also, there’s the confound of [Dale] paying attention to something else in the room – like his kids – rather than the TV. Still, it’s an interesting use of hardware and software that would be loved by a market researcher or QA designer.

Giving an old Atari computer a much needed upgrade

As a kid, [Boisy] cut his teeth on the TRS-80 Color Computer. It was a wonderful machine for its day, featuring a relatively powerful Motorola 6809 CPU. Although his CoCo was theoretically more powerful than its Commodore and Apple contemporaries, the graphics and sound capabilities of [Boisy]‘s first love paled in comparison to his friends 6502-based machines. A little jealously and thirty years go a long way, because now [Boisy] is adding a 6809 microprocessor to the 6502-based machines Atari put out.

[Boisy]‘s goal for his Liber809 project was simple: Put a 6809 CPU in an Atari XEGS and get NitrOS-9, the Unix-like OS for the TRS-80 CoCo running on his Frankenputer. After a few months of work, [Boisy] completed his goal and more so: the Liber809 also works on the Atari 1200XL.

To put [Boisy]‘s work in perspective, it’s like he took a Macintosh from 1993 and made it run on an Intel 486. While that’s not a terribly accurate analogy, we hope our readers will understand the fortitude needed to make a computer run on a completely different processor.

After the break, you can check out a neat demo app written by [SLOR] from the AtariAge forums showcasing a 6809 running in a machine designed for a 6502. Awesome work for all involved

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Board games over IP means telepresence chess

Correspondence chess, or playing a game of chess via email or snail mail, is well-known in the chess community. [FunGowRightNow] thought he could bring correspondence chess into the 21st century, so he built two robotic chess boards that communicate over the Internet. The end result makes for an awesome senior project for school.

Instead of a simple monitor displaying the other player’s moves (and having to manually move both black and white pieces), the positions of all the pieces are controlled via a laptop an Arduino underneath each board. An electromagnet mounted on an xy frame moves one piece at a time. To detect the positions of the pieces, an 8×8 grid of reed switches open and close with magnets put in the base of each piece. The end result is a nearly seamless chess game that can be played by two people separated by hundreds of miles.

Right now, all we have are a few videos and the descriptions of the inner machinations of the chessbots. [FunGow] promised the Internet design specs after he turns this in as his senior project on April 10th. Until then, you can enjoy a few of the videos he’s posted after the break.

via reddit

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Auto-locking pet door ensures that your outdoor kitty obeys its curfew

auto-locking-pet-door

If you’ve got a pet that roams freely in and out of your house, you may find yourself wanting to more closely regulate how they come and go. [tareker] was looking to keep his cat indoors at night when dangerous animals might be lurking in the neighborhood, but he didn’t want it to become a hassle.

He already had locking pet door on hand, which he hacked to regulate the egress and ingress of his cat automatically. He installed a pair of reed switches to determine if the door had been opened outwards (cat leaving) or inwards (cat returning), keeping track of the state using an Arduino Nano. A servo motor attached to the door’s frame locks the door whenever it detects the cat is safely inside after nightfall.

While he also added an RGB LED to reflect the status of the door, he’s considering connecting it to the Internet so that he can control and check the door from wherever he might be at the moment.

Closing in on Nixie cuff links

It’s not Nixie cuff links yet, but we’re seeing a lot of potential for a few very classy accoutrements with [thouton]‘s Nixie tube necklace.

The build was inspired by this much clunkier necklace that found its way onto the MAKE blog. Unlike the previous necklace, [thouton] used a much smaller Mullard ZM1021 indicator bulb. Instead of the normal 0-9 digits in a Nixie, this tube displays only A V Ω + - % and ~, betraying its pedigree as part of the display from an ancient multimeter.

To power the bulb, [thouton] is using a single AA battery and a boost converter salvaged from a camera flash unit. All the circuitry is on a little piece of perfboard encased in a handsome aluminum tube. Power is delivered through two terminals with a bit of audio cable standing in as the chain of the necklace. We suppose this could be re-engineered to use a coin cell battery; although a coin cell doesn’t offer as many amp hours as a AA cell, [thouton] is confident the AA will last for a few days. A coin cell would be more than enough for a night on the town, though.