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Retroball or Super Pong Table Grows Up

pong-table

Retroball is, as its Kickstarter campaign says, “Retro Fun for up to Four Players.” What you might not know, is that it’s ancestor was featured here earlier last year. With a year and a half of development underway, the build looks spectacular, and the people in their promo video look like they’re having lots of fun (obviously).

The whole concept of the game is that it has up to four players that each manipulate a paddle as in the classic Pong game. The obvious difference is that there are four players, and everything is played on a 32 x 32 LED array.

Although it looks like fun in it’s stock form, readers of Hack a Day will most likely start thinking about how they could modify it for their own uses. Everything is open source, and they promise to release the documentation for this project. On the other hand, if you can’t wait, or would rather build something very similar, check out [Brad]‘s original Instructable article!

Variable frequency laser using shaken ball bearings

Lasers normally emit only one color, or frequency of light. This is true for laser pointers or the laser diodes in a DVD player. [Kevin] caught wind of state-of-the-art research into making variable wavelength lasers using shaken grains of metal and decided to build his own.

When [Kevin] read a NewScientist blog post on building variable frequency lasers built with shaken metallic grains, he knew he had to build on. He dug up the arxiv article and realized the experimental setup was fairly simple and easily achievable with a bit of home engineering.

[Kevin]‘s device works by taking thousands of small ball bearings and putting them in a small vial with Rodamine B laser dye. To vibrate the particles in the dye, [Kevin] mounted his container of dye and bearings on an audio speaker and used a frequency generator to shake the ball bearings.

When a small 30mW green laser shines through the vial of ball bearings and dye, the laser changes color to a very bright yellow. By vibrating the vial at 35 to 45 Hz, [Kevin] can change the frequency, or color of the laser.

[Kevin] can only alter the frequency of the laser by about 30 nm, or about the same color change as a reddish-orange and an orangish-yellow. Still, it’s pretty amazing that [Kevin] was able to do state-of-the-art physics research at home.

Sadly, we couldn’t find any videos of [Kevin]‘s variable frequency laser. If you can find one send it in to the tip line and we’ll update this post.

Using an undocumented display with an FPGA

When [Mike] ran across a display on Deal Extreme with 8 seven-segment displays, 8 red/green LEDs, and 8 buttons, he knew it would find a good home in a future project. There was only one problem, though: except for an Arduino library, there was absolutely no documentation available for this display. Wanting to use this display with an FPGA board, [Mike] decided against bit-banging a protocol and ported the C++ code into a hardware implementation.

This Deal Extreme display, the TM1638, features enough seven-segment displays, LEDs and buttons to build something really cool, and surprisingly isn’t terribly hard to interface with a microcontroller. The TM1638 library communicates with the outside world via only three pins and a simple serial connection.

After figuring out what commands are sent to make the display turn LEDs on or off, [Mike] wrote a hardware implementation for his Digilent Nexys2 and Digilent Basys2. Now the display operates on an FPGA just like it does with an Arduino, and is a great tool for debugging HDL code for [Mike]‘s FPGA.

Popinator fires popcorn into your mouth, is probably a PR stunt

Popcorn Indiana, the same company that manufactures the bags of kettle corn you might find in a convenience store, posted a project on their website called The Popinator. It’s a device you fill with popcorn, turn on, and responds to the word, ‘pop’ by firing a piece of popcorn into your mouth. Details on this build are scant, most likely because The Popinator doesn’t operate exactly as described in the video demo for the Popinator project.

We’re going to call this build a figment of the imagination of one of Popcorn Indiana marketing drones, but the idea behind the project is actually fairly interesting. The idea of using voice recognition to determine when the word ‘pop’ is said to turn on the machine is very cool. Using time of flight to calculate where someone’s head is puts this build into a category of awesome we’ve rarely seen before.

Despite all that coolness, we can’t help but think this project is simply an attempt to “go viral” and get a ton of publicity from random tech blogs using only a video camera and a few hours in Final Cut Pro. You’re welcome, Popcorn Indiana.

Surely there will be a ton of comments for this post arguing the merits of this build. You can check out those comments after the break, along with the official Popinator video.

[Read more...]

Turning video game sprites into 3D objects

Anyone who has played Minecraftfor a good amount of time should have a good grasp on making 3D objects by placing voxels block by block. A giant voxel art dragon behind your base is cool, but what about the math behind your block based artwork? [mikolalysenko] put together a tutorial for making 3D objects out of video game sprites and covers a lot of the math involved in turning pixels into voxels.

The process of modeling a 3D object from a series of 2D images is a very well-studied computer vision problem called multiview stereo reconstruction. This process has been used to build 3D models of random objects with devices such as the Stanford spherical gantry. Unfortunately the math for this algorithm is a mess, but there is another way: using photo hulls (PDF warning) to find the largest possible object from a series of images showing the top, bottom, left, right, front, and back views.

[mikolaly] put together an algorithm to produce 3D images from a series of images and even went so far as to build a web-based shape carving editor. With this web app, it’s possible to make 3D objects simply by inputting a bunch of colored pixels onto six 2D grids.

Once the models were complete, [mikolaly] sent some of the 3D models off to Shapeways for 3D printing. He’s completed Meat boy, Mario, and Link 3D sprites, all available for sale.

Now the only thing left to do is build a script to turn these objects into Minecraft object schematics.

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