Wide word-clock takes a modular approach

[Ishan Karve] took on the challenge of building his own word clock. This is a timepiece that displays the current time in the same syntax you would use if someone asked you what time it was. You’ll find a lot of these projects around, with one of our favorites using etched copper clad as a bezel. But [Ishan] departed for the ordinary by building a clock that is rectangular rather than square. To do so he uses a 16×8 LED matrix that is made up of small modules.

He designed a board that holds a 4×4 LED matrix and includes pin headers on each edge. This way he can arrange these 16-pixel blocks into arrays to make a larger grid. For the clock he used eight boards. These are driven by two MAX7219 chips, with an ATmega168 as the main controller and a DS1307 to keep time. Each LED is isolated by a thick layer of acrylic which as one hole for each pixel. This prevents light from bleeding over into letters that should not be illuminated. Check out the result in the clip after the break.

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Motorizing this trycicle

[Kaj] wanted to help out an aging family member by building them an electric tricycle during international Hack Day back on August 11th. He mixed in some reused parts with some new ones and ended up with bike that lets the rider troll other cyclists. Apparently when serious riders see an older man on a trike gaining on them they pedal like mad to make sure they don’t suffer the embarrassment of being passed. But there’s enough power and range to overtake the strongest of non-powered competitors.

Many of the parts came from a non-functional electric bike sold on Craig’s List. [Kaj] reports that the bike was trashed, but the motor system was mostly salvageable. He replace the batteries and charger and hooked up the motor to the rear axle. The initial install placed everything but the motor in the basket behind the rider. The weight and placement made the thing unstable when cornering. The solution was to house the batteries in a tool box and strap it below the basket. The lower center of gravity makes sure the trike is easy to handle, and now there’s still room in the basket for your groceries.

This would make a perfect platform for some road messages printed in water.

Vitamin C used to detect the presence of Vanillin

[Markus Bindhammer] recently made a discovery while conduction chemistry experiments in his home lab. Ascorbic acid can be used to detect the presence of Vanillin. The reaction starts as a color change, from a clear liquid to a dark green. When he continued to heat the mixture he ended up with the surface crystallization seen above.

Vanillin is an organic compound which you will commonly find in vanilla extract, with the synthetic variety being used in imitation extract. Ascorbic acid is a type of vitamin C. When [Markus] first observed the color change he though it could be due to metallic contamination, but running the experiment again without the use of metal tools or probes, produced the same result.

You can see in the clip after the break that it doesn’t take long to turn green. The vanillin must be heated to 130 degrees C before adding the ascorbic acid or the color change will not occur. He believes this can be a reliable way to detect the presence of Vanillin in a substance.

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Inebriator servers up all the cocktails

The robotic bartender, lovingly named the Inebriator, is a work of mastery. We think you’ll be surprised by the simplicity and grace of its beverage dispensing system.

The most obvious part is the lineup of nine liquor bottles across the top with LED backlight for style. Each has a valve on it that is meant to be pressed on by the rim of a glass in order to dispense its payload. To dose the glass with alcohol the Inebriator drives a trolley along one axis beneath the line of bottles. When in position it has an actuator arm the rises up and depresses the bottle’s valve mechanism. Once all the liquor is in the glass it moves to the left side to be topped off with mixers. These are stored in bottles in a cooler under the table. They are pressurized with nitrogen, and an electronically actuated value lets the liquid flow. Drinks are selected on a character display, and there’s a weight sensor in the trolley to ensure that a drink isn’t mixed without a vessel to receive it.

You don’t want to miss seeing this in action after the break.

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Bluetooth control in a power strip

[Mansour] had a ceramic space heater mounted near the ceiling of his room. Since heat rises this is not the best design. He upgraded to an infrared heater which works a lot better, but lacks the timer function he used on the old unit. His solution wasn’t just to add a timer. He ended up building a Bluetooth module into a power strip in order to control the device wirelessly. He ends up losing all but two outlets on the strip, but everything fits inside the original case so we think it’s a reasonable trade-off.

He uses relays on both the live and neutral wires to switch the two outlets. These are driven via MOSFETs to protect the ATmega168 which controls the board. The microcontroller and Bluetooth module both need a regulated DC power source, so he included a transformer and regulator in the mix. After the break you can see him demonstrating the system using two lamps. There’s even a terminal interface which lets you select different control commands by sending the appropriate character. This interface makes script a breeze.

At least this power strip doesn’t spy on you.

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Turning on PC speakers whenever there is music playing

If you’re like a lot of people, most of the time your computer speakers are on without actually playing any music. This wastes a bit of power, and [Bogdan] thought he could create a circuit to cut down on that wasted electricity. The result is a very tiny auto-on circuit able fit inside a pair of speakers.

The circuit is built around the ATtiny13, very nearly the smallest microcontroller available with an on-board ADC. When music is played on the computer, the ATtiny senses a bit of voltage in the audio line and switches a relay to power the speaker.

Of course, there is always the problem of music with a high dynamic range; if the sound played from the computer has too low of a volume, the ATtiny might turn the speakers off even if music is playing. [Bogdan] solved this problem by adding a timer to his code; if nothing is detected by the ADC for three minutes, the speakers turn off.

Robo Doc reads children’s pulses without scaring them

[Markus] recently took his 14-month-old daughter to the pediatrician for a routine checkup. During the examination, the doctor needed to measure her pulse and quickly clamped an infrared heart rate monitor onto her finger. Between the strange device clamped to her finger and incessant beeping of machines, [Markus]’ daughter got scared and started to cry. [Markus] thought these medical devices were far too scary for an infant, so he designed a funny robot to read an infant’s heart rate.

[Markus] liked the idea the Tengu, a robot with a LED matrix for facial expressions, and used it as inspiration for the interface and personality of his RoboDoc. To read a child’s pulse rate, [Markus] used a photoplethysmography sensor; basically an IR LED and receiver that reflects light off a finger bone and records the number of heartbeats per minute.

The build is tied together with a speaker allowing the RoboDoc to give the patient instructions, and a servo to turn the head towards the real, human doctor and display the recorded heart rate.

We think the RoboDoc would be far less disconcerting for an infant that a huge assortment of beeping medical devices, and we can’t wait to see [Markus]’ next version of non-scary doctor’s tools.