Solar powered hovercraft

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It looks a little bit like an octocopter, but this solar-powered hovercraft is distinctly different from its free-flying brethren. It depends mostly on ground effect for operation and to get it just a bit into the air you need a pretty large reflective rig nearby.

The vehicle needs to be even lighter than traditional quadcopters in order to function. It doesn’t carry any battery at all which presents a problem when trying to program the microcontroller board. For this it is connected to an external battery, which is removed before flight so that the control can be powered from the solar array.

What’s not shown in the image above is a mirror array used to focus more intense sunlight on the panels to bump up the available electricity. Not much is said about this, but there is one image on the project page which shows the creator standing in front of the set of four mirrors (perhaps sheets of mylar?) strung up between a couple of trees.

Alas, we couldn’t find a video of the aircraft in action. With such a delicate balsa wood frame we’re sure this thing is affected by every air current that passes its way.

[Thanks Laimonas]

Building custom game controllers for people with physical disabilities

Hold on tight. This is going to be a long post. I kept my temper in the video, but here I can just come out and let you know that I’m livid. Every time I start thinking about this, I feel so angry and helpless that my face gets hot and my hands get shaky.  I’m getting ahead of myself though, so lets just back up a little bit and talk about a pretty cool kid named [Thomas].

[Thomas] has muscular dystrophy. This means he’s going to gradually lose strength and control in his muscles over time. He has already lost his ability to stand, and even holding buttons on a game-pad for extended times can be difficult. Gaming, as you can imagine, is very important to [Thomas] and people like him. It offers a release of frustration, like it does for all of us, but also a level playing ground. When he’s in the game, he’s like everyone else.

[Read more...]

Modeling squid cells in code foregoes connecting voltage to animals

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[Kemper Smith] built a little piece of nature in Processing. He was inspired by a biology experiment that excited squid cells using electricity. The result is an interactive display that mimics that biology.

Last August we saw a peculiar experiment that forced Cyprus Hill music on the color changing cells of a squid. The cells make colors by stretching sacs of pigment; the larger they get the more of that color is shown. Normally this is used for camouflage. The image on the left is the reaction from connecting headphone wires while music is being played.

But we can’t all get our hands on this type of wet-ware — especially if life far inland. So [Kemper] got to work writing some Processing code. The result is seen on the right. It does a good job of replicating the motion and color palette of the original. He’s put together a web-based demonstration which you can interact with using your mouse cursor. But we also saw him demonstrate a Kinect based version at our local hackerspace.

[Read more...]

Giving digital calipers Bluetooth

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[Fede]‘s wife uses a pair of digital calipers to take measurements of fruits, leaves, and stems as part of her field research. Usually this means taking a measurement and writing it down in a log book. All things must be digitized, so [Fede] came up with a way to wirelessly log data off a pair of cheap Chinese calipers with a custom-made Bluetooth circuit.

Most of these cheap Chinese digital calipers already have a serial output, so [Fede] only needed to build a circuit to take the serial output and dump it in to an off-the-shelf Bluetooth module. He fabbed a custom circuit board for this, and after seeing the increased battery drain from the Bluetooth module, decided to add an external battery pack.

In addition to etching his own board for sending the serial output of the calipers to a Bluetooth module, [Fede] also put together a custom flex circuit to connect the two boards. It’s just a small bit of brass glued to a transparency sheet etched with ferric chloride, but the end result looks amazingly professional for something whipped up in a home lab.

An interview with [David] of Ultimaker

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After interviewing the creator of Slic3r and the folks at Shapeways, [Andrew] is back again with his adventures in 3D printer videography and an interview with [David Braam] of Ultimaker

About a year ago, [David] looked at the state of the art in 3D printer control and Replicator G. While Replicator G, along with Pronterface and Repetier-Host both convert 3D models into G-code files as well as control the printer while its squeezing plastic out onto a bed. [David] thought the current state of these RepRap host programs were janky at best, and certainly not the best user experience for any home fabricator. This lead him to create Cura, a very slick and vastly improved piece of host software for the Ultimaker.

Cura isn’t just a fancy front end on an already existing slicer engine; [David] created his own slicing algorithm to turn .STL files into G-code that’s immensely faster than skeinforge. Where skeinforge could take an hour to slice a complex model, Cura does the same job in minutes.

There are also a bunch of cool features available in Cura: you can rotate any part before sending it to the printer, as well as pulling voxels directly from your Minecraft world and sending them to your printer. Very, very cool stuff, and if you’re running a Ultimaker or any other RepRap, you might want to check it out.

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Building a blink based input device

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Fans of the AMC show Breaking Bad will remember the Original Gangsta [Hector Salamanca]. When first introduced to the story he communicates by ringing a bell. But after being moved to a nursing home he communicates by spelling out messages with the assistance of a nurse who holds up a card with columns and rows of letters. This hack automates that task, trading the human assistant for a blink-based input system.

[Bob Stone] calls the project BlinkTalk. The user wears a Neurosky Mindwave Mobile headset. This measures brainwaves using EEG. He connects the headset to an mBed microcontroller using a BlueSMiRF Bluetooth board. The microcontroller processes the EEG data to establish when the user blinks their eyes.

The LCD screen first scrolls down each row of the displayed letters and numbers. When the appropriate row is highlighted a blink will start scrolling through the columns until a second blink selects the appropriate character. Once the message has been spelled out the “SAY!” menu item causes the Emic2 module to turn the text into speech.

If you think you could build something like this to help the disabled, you should check out thecontrollerproject.com where builders are connected with people in need.

[Read more...]

We should build mandolins and violas

Lutherie is the art of turning strips of maple and spruce into beautiful stringed instruments like the violin, cello, viola, as well as guitars, mandolins, and banjos. Just about anyone can make an electric guitar on a bandsaw, but the skill and precision of building acoustic instruments is something to stand in awe of.

[Helen Michetschläger] builds violins, violas, and cellos in her hometown of Manchester, each one a work of art. Hardly any of her tools would seem out of place in the workshop of [Stradivarius]; everything is made by hand. The scroll on the neck is carved by hand, the inlaid purfling on the edges of the top and back are cut with a knife, not a router, and even the finish – one of [Helen]‘s specialties – is applied with a light touch.

Violins are fine, but for the dulcet tones we enjoy, you’ll need the most beautiful instrument ever created, the mandolin. [Tom Ellis] has been making mandolins for over 40 years. After working in the shop of another accomplished luthier, he struck out on his own to build mandolins.

[Tom] does the tuning and setup on all his mandolins, but there is a bit more machinery involved in the creation of his pieces; quite a bit of the routine stuff (bridges, for example) are milled on a CNC, but each instrument still has a hand-built touch.

There’s much more to the luthier’s art than can be presented in a pair of 6-minute videos, so if you have something else that showcases some of the larger, more difficult instruments such as an archtop guitar or a double bass, send them in. We’ll put them up.

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