University research dollars poured into developing a Holodeck

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It may seem like this would be an early April Fool’s joke, but the image above shows serious research in action. [Ben Lang] recently had the chance to interview the director of a program that wants to make the Holodeck a reality. The core goal of the research — called Project Holodeck — is to develop an affordable multi-player virtual reality experience outside of the laboratory. We’ve heard speculation that Sony and Microsoft will release their next-gen systems in 2013; we’d rather wait for this to hit the market.

[Nathan Burba] is the director of the program. It’s part of the University of Southern California Games Institute and brings together students of Interactive Media, Cinema Arts, and Engineering. The hardware worn by each player is shown off at the beginning of the video after the break. Most of the components are commercially available (a Lenovo laptop worn in the backpack, PlayStation controllers, etc.) but the stereoscopic display which gives each eye its own 90-degree view was developed specifically for the project.

After seeing the in-game rendered footage we can’t help but think of playing some Minecraft with this equipment. We just need some type of omni-directional treadmill because our living room floor space is very limited.

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[Limor] from Adafruit to hang out with President [Obama]

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In a positive twist on the usual publicity events that our administration has experimented with over the years, President [Obama] will be hosting a google+ hangout with some lucky people to discuss, well, whatever matters. It is nice to see the people running the country finally getting to grips with some technology. It is still scary to hear how many people making the laws about data still don’t even use a computer.

[Limor] from Adafruit was selected as one of the few that would get to ask the President some questions. She will be focusing on manufacturing and small businesses.  We think she’s a great candidate to do so. We’ve watched her go from someone who just did some really well documented hacks to someone who runs a successful business focusing on open information and education (and gadgets of course). You can also submit your own questions, and if they get enough votes, the president will answer them.

Build an eye tracking headset for $90

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Eye tracking is a really cool technology used in dozens of fields ranging from linguistics, human-computer interaction, and marketing. With a proper eye tracking setup, it’s possible for a web developer to see if their changes to the layout are effective, to measure how fast someone reads a page of text, and even diagnose medical disorders. Eye tracking setups haven’t been cheap, though, at least until now. Pupil is a serious, research-quality eye tracking headset designed by [Moritz] and [William] for their thesis at MIT.

The basic idea behind Pupil is to put one digital camera facing the user’s eye while another camera looks out on the world. After calibrating the included software, the headset looks at the user’s pupil to determine where they’re actually looking.

The hardware isn’t specialized at all – just a pair of $20 USB webcams, a LED, an infrared filter made from exposed 35mm film negatives, and a 3D printed headset conveniently for sale at Shapeways.

The software for Pupil is based on OpenCV and OpenGL and is available for Mac and Linux. Calibration is easy, as seen in the videos after the break, and the results are amazing for an eye tracking headset thrown together for under $100.

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Automatic, custom Eagle schematics

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It’s a simple fact that for every circuit you design, someone else has done it before. If you’re working on a high altitude balloon project, there’s already a project out there with a microcontroller, barometric pressure sensor, and an SD card somewhere out there in a corner of the Internet. Google will only help so much if you want to copy these previous builds, which led [Ben] to come up with a better solution. He took dozens of building blocks for basic digital projects and put them all into one really great interface called HackEDA.

The premise is simple: most electronic projects are just electronic Lego. You connect your microcontroller to a sensor, add in a battery, throw in a few caps and resistors for good measure, and hopefully everything will work. HackEDA takes all those basic building blocks – microcontrollers, power sources, and sensors – and creates a custom Eagle schematic with all the parts your project needs

HackEDA is still very much in beta, so there aren’t a whole lot of building blocks to choose from. That said, being able to generate an Eagle schematic with all the parts necessary for your next project is a boon. With this, all you need for a final circuit board is to create a new board file, hit the autorouter, and spend a half hour fixing whatever mess the autorouter made.

The Firecracker Crossbow

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If there are two things that we love at [HAD], giant German firecrackers, and medieval weapons would have to be close to the top of this list. This clever hack gives us both, with a toy crossbow capable of both lighting and launching firecrackers to a safe distance. We didn’t see a blooper reel, but being ready to run in case of a malfunction is probably a good idea as well.

The post has some pictures of the mechanism, but at its heart, this hack consists of ripping up a grill igniter, and placing the contacts into a shortened-stock toy crossbow. Safety is of course encouraged, as much as it can be with this type of device. It’s especially important here as apparently “firecracker” roughly translates in German to “small sticks of high-explosive,” or possibly “road flare.”

Be sure to check out this modded crossbow in action in the video after the break!

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