Skin Bling: Wearable Electronics from Golden Temporary Tattoos

MIT Media Lab and Microsoft have teamed up to take wearable devices one step further — they’ve glued the devices directly to the user’s skin. DuoSkin is a temporary tattoo created with gold leaf. Metallic “Flash” temporary fashion tattoos have become quite popular recently, so this builds on the trend. What the team has done is to use them to create user interfaces for wearable electronic devices.

weeding-gold-leaf-temporary-tattooGenerally speaking, gold leaf is incredibly fragile. In this process to yield the cleanest looking leaf the gold is not actually cut. Instead, the temporary tattoo film and backer are cut on a standard desktop vinyl cutter. The gold leaf is then applied to the entire film surface. The cut film/leaf can then be “weeded” — removing the unwanted portions of film which were isolated from the rest by the cutting process — to complete the temporary tattoo. The team tested this method and found that traces 4.5 mm or more thick were resilient enough to last the entire day on your skin.

The gold leaf tattoos make excellent capacitive touch sensors. The team was able to create sliders, buttons, and even 2 dimensional diamond grids. These controls were used to move a cursor on a computer or phone screen. They were even able to create a wearable NFC tag. The gold leaf is the antenna, and the NFC chip itself is mounted on the temporary tattoo backer.

These devices all look great, but with the exception of the NFC chip, we’re not seeing the electronics driving them. Capacitive touch sensors used as a UI for a phone will have to have a Bluetooth radio and a battery somewhere. We’re that’s all hidden under the arm of the user. You can see what we’re taking about in the video after the break. That said, the tools and materials are ubiquitous and easy to work with. Take a quick read through the white paper (PDF) and you can be making your own version of this today.

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Hacklet 120 – Coffee Hacks

Hackers need fuel to hack. In general that fuel comes in the form of food, water, and caffeine. Not necessarily in that order. While soda or energy drinks will do in a pinch, the best hackers know that the purest form of caffeine comes from coffee. This of course means that there have been decades of coffee hacks. The first Internet-connected coffee pot dates all way back to 1991, before the web even had pictures. We’ve come a long way since then. This week on the Hacklet we’re checking out some of the best coffee hacks on!

coffee1We start with [opeRaptor] and CoffeeOfThings. [OpeRaptor] has created a wireless, internet connected coffee carafe. The carafe has three CdS cells which enable it to detect how much black gold is left in the pot. A TMP36 sensor reports the current coffee temperature. Data is sent out via a NRF24l01 radio. The brains of the coffee pot is an MSP430 microcontroller. All this runs from a simple CR2032 coin cell. A base station receives the coffee data, displays it on a very nice Vacuum fluorescent Display (VFD). An ESP8266 then passes the data on to the internet.


coffewarmerNext up is [magnustron] with quad-386 coffee heater. No one likes a cold cup of coffee. Everyone loves old CPUs. [Magnustron] turned these two shower thoughts into a the world’s first USB powered quad CPU coffee warmer with data logging capabilities. A simple ATtiny461 micro runs the show. PC connectivity is via USB using the V-USB library. [Magnustron] has gotten the CPUs to warm up, but is having some issues with switching. them on. Turning all four heaters on too quickly causes the rail to droop, leading to dropped USB connections. Those power-hungry 386 chips may be a bit too much for a single USB connection. It might be time to add an external power supply.

groundsNext is [kesh1030] with Using Waste Coffee As A Biodiesel Source. Coffee isn’t just liquid energy. There’s oil in them there grounds. Millions of pounds of used coffee grounds produced every year can be converted to biodiesel fuel. [Kesh1030] experimented with different coffee grounds, and different ways to prepare them. The oil was extracted from the coffee using hexane, which is a bit of a nasty solvent. [Kesh1030] used a fume hood to stay safe. He found that homogenized coffee grounds had an 11.87% oil yield. Used homogenized coffee grounds weren’t far behind, with 9.82% yield of oil. Nearly 10% per weight yield isn’t too shabby, considering this is all going into the trash.

dripperFinally, we have [saadcaffeine] with Caffeinator: gravity powered geek fuel dripper. This is a project of few words, but the images tell much of the story. [Saadcaffeine] created his own cold drip iced coffee maker using upcycled and found components. Three clothes hangers form an ingenious tripod. The tripod holds two soda bottles – the water reservoir and the brew pot. Water is restricted by small holes in the soda bottle caps. This allows it to drop slowly though the machine, giving it time to soak up all the caffeinated goodness. The result is a fresh cup of cold drip. Just add ice and enjoy a quick power up!

If you want to see more coffee hacks, check out our new coffee projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Hacklet 119 – Retrogaming Console Hacks

If you haven’t heard, retrogaming is a thing. 40-somethings are playing the games of their youth alongside millennials who are just discovering these classic games. There are even folks developing new homebrew games for consoles as far back as the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Atari 2600. This week on the Hacklet, we’re highlighting some of the best retrogaming console hardware hacks on Note that I did say hardware hacks. The focus this week is on games played on the original hardware. Don’t worry though, I’ll give emulated projects some love in a future Hacklet.

bankerWe start with [danjovic] and Atari 2600 Bankswitch Cartridge. The Atari 2600 is a legendary system. Millions of hackers’ first exposure to gaming came through its one button joystick. To make the unit affordable, Atari used a MOS Technology 6507 processor. Essentially it’s a 6502 in a 28-pin package. This meant several features got nerfed, most notably the address space. The 6507 can only address 8KB of RAM. In the Atari, only 4KB is available to the cartridge. Games got around the 4KB limit by bank switching – write a value to a magic address, and the bank switching logic would swap in a whole different section of cartridge ROM. There were several different bank switching schemes used over the years. [Danjovic] has created his own version of this bank switching logic, using only classic 74 series logic chips.


nesmodNext up is [ThunderSqueak] with Top Loader NES composite mod. Toward the end of the NES’s life, Nintendo introduced a cost-reduced version known as the “top loader”. This version had a top loading cartridge and no DRM lock-out chip. Unfortunately it also did away with composite AV ports. The only way to hook this NES to your TV was through the RF modulated output. [ThunderSqueak] and a number of other intrepid hackers have fixed this problem. All it takes is a 2N3906 PNP transistor and a few jellybean parts. The video and audio outputs are pulled from the motherboard before they enter the RF modulator. One nice feature is the clean connectors. [ThunderSqueak] used connectors from modular in-wall AV boxes for a setup that looks as good as it works.

segaNext we have [makestuff] with USB MegaDrive DevKit. Sega’s MegaDrive, or Genesis as it was known here in the USA, was a groundbreaking console. It used a Motorola 68000 16-bit CPU while most other systems were still running a Z80 or a 6502. People loved this console, and there are plenty who still want to develop software for it. Enter [makestuff] with his development kit. On a card with a $40 USD bill of materials, he’s managed to fit SDRAM, an FPGA, and a USB interface. This is everything you need to load and debug software on an unmodified console. The FPGA had enough logic left over that [makestuff] was able to implement a continuous bus cycle tracer over USB. Nice work!

robbbFinally, we have our own [Joshua Vasquez] with R.O.B. 2.0. The original NES came in a deluxe version with a special pack in – a robot. Robotic Operating Buddy, or ROB for short, would play games with the player. Unfortunately ROB was a bit of a flop. It only worked with two games, Gyromite and Stack-Up Ice Climber. Most ROB units eventually found their way to the recycling bin. [Joshua] is building a new version of the ROB, with modern controls. He’s already modeled and 3D printed ROB’s head. I can’t wait to see this project come together!

If you want to see more retrogaming goodness, check out our new retrogaming hardware hacks list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Hacklet 118 – Infrared and Universal Remote Controls

The first remote control for a TV was the Zenith Space Command back in the 1950’s. Space Command used sounds at ultrasonic frequencies to control the set. It wasn’t until the 1980’s and the Viewstar cable box that infrared entered the picture. Remote controls spread like wildfire. It wasn’t long before every piece of consumer electronics had one. Coffee tables were littered with the devices. It didn’t take long for universal remotes to hit the scene. [Woz] himself worked on the CL9 Core device, back in 1987. Even in today’s world of smart TV’s and the internet of things, universal remotes are still a big item. Hackers, makers, and engineers are always trying to build a device that works better for them. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best universal and IR remote projects on!

smoteWe start with [Harikrishna] and zmote. Zmote is an open source WiFi enabled, infrared,  360° remote control. That’s a mouthful. It might be easier to say it’s an ESP8266 and some IR LEDs. An ESP-01 module connects the device to WiFi and provides the 32-bit processor which runs the show. Learning functionality comes courtesy of a TSOP1738 modulated infrared receiver. The beauty of the Zmote is in the software. REST and MQTT connectivity are available. Everything is MIT licensed, and all the code is available on Github.



Next up is [Benjamin Kenobi] with TV Remote Control, Limited. Not everyone can operate the tiny buttons on a modern remote. [Benjamin] built this device for Easton, a special kid with a disability that impairs his motor skills. The 3D printed case holds two buttons – one for power, and one to change the channel. An Arduino Nano running [Ken Shirriff’s] IR library is the brains of the operation. The IR signal timing is hard coded for simplicity. One problem [Ben] ran into was the Nano’s high current draw, even in sleep mode. Batteries wouldn’t last a week. A simple diode circuit with a reed relay keeps the Nano shut down until Easton presses a button.


openirNext we have [Nevyn] with OpenIR – Infrared Remote Control. A dead DSLR remote shutter release was all the motivation [Nevyn] needed to start work on his own universal remote control. OpenIR can be connected to (and controlled by) just about anything with a UART – a PC via an FTDI cable, a Bluetooth module, even an ESP8266. The module can be programmed by entering pulse length data through a custom Windows application. The Windows app even allows the user to view the pulses graphically, like a scope. The data is stored on an EEPROM on OpenIR’s PCB. Once programmed, the OpenIR board is ready to control the world.

onebuttonFinally, we have [facelessloser] with One button TV remote. This project may be the simplest open source remote control this side of TV-B-GONE. He wanted to build a simple remote control for his young daughter to scan between the various kids channels. A simple toggle switch turns the device on, and one button performs the rest of the magic. [Facelessloser] wanted to “move up” from an Arduino to an ATtiny85. This project became part of his ATtiny education. A custom PCB from OSH Park ties things together. A simple black project box keeps the electronics safe from tiny fingers – at least until she’s old enough to use a screwdriver.

If you want to see more IR and universal remote projects, check out our new infrared and universal remote projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Power Log Splitting: Trying (and Sometimes Failing) to Build a Better Ax

Wood. Humans have burned it for to heat their homes for thousands of years. It’s truly a renewable source of energy. While it may not be the most efficient or green method to warm a space, it definitely gets the job done. Many homes still have a fireplace or wood burning stove for supplemental heat. For those in colder climates, wood is more than just supplemental, it’s needed simply for survival.

Splitting maul by Chmee2 via Wikipedia
Splitting maul by Chmee2 via Wikipedia

The problem with firewood is that it doesn’t come ready to burn. Perfect fireplace sized chunks don’t grow on trees after all. The trees have to be cut up into logs. The logs must be split. The split wood then needs to dry for 6 months or so.

Anyone who’s spent time manually splitting wood can tell you it’s back breaking work. Swinging an 8 pound maul for a few hours will leave your hands numb and your shoulders aching. It’s the kind of work that leaves the mind free to wander a bit. The hacker’s mind will always wander toward a better way to get the job done. Curiously we haven’t seen too many log splitting hacks here on the blog. [KH4] built an incredible cross bladed axe back in 2015, but that’s about it.

Continue reading “Power Log Splitting: Trying (and Sometimes Failing) to Build a Better Ax”

Hacklet 117 – NFC Projects

Near Field Communication (NFC) is something we take for granted these days. Nearly all smartphones have it. We even have NFC interfaces for all our favorite development boards. NFC’s history goes back all the way to 1997, when an early version was used in Star Wars special edition toys. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which NFC builds on, goes back even further. The patent citation trail leads all the way back to 1983 in a patent awarded to [Charles Walton]. NFC is much more than RFID though. The idea of two way communication between devices opens up tons of possibilities for projects and hacks. This week on the Hacklet we’re checking out some of the best NFC projects on!

ctrl0We start with [Patrick] and Ctrl-O. Somewhere in the hackerspace bible there is a clause that states “Thou shalt build an electronic access control system”. In [Patrick’s] case, a door lock became a complex membership subscription management database. Members who have paid can use an NFC tag to gain access to the hackerspace. The system consists of a Raspberry Pi with an NFC interface. A relay allows the Pi to control the door lock. The Pi can be manually configured through a web interface. It connects to Paypal to verify that each user’s membership has actually been paid. Of course a project like this is never done. The last we heard from [Patrick], he was planning future upgrades such as startup company memberships with multiple people.

keyduinoNext up is [Pierre Charlier] and KeyDuino. KeyDuino is an Arduino compatible board with all the NFC hardware baked right in. The board is based upon the Arduino Leonardo, with an ATmega32u4 processor. [Pierre] must be on to something, because the KeyDuino had a successful Kickstarter back in 2015. It’s also open source hardware, so you can build your own whenever you want. The real gem is checking out [Pierre’s] other projects. He’s documented all his KeyDuino example projects right on These include an NFC Controlled infinity mirror coffee table, a locking wooden gift box, and NFC controlled car door locks, just to name a few.

nfcringNext we have [John McLear] with 2016 NFC Ring. [John] jumped into wearable technology with one of the toughest form factors imaginable – a ring. Between the tiny amount of space and the lack of batteries, you might think there isn’t much you can do with a ring. Undaunted, [John] managed to fit two NXP NFC chips and their antennas inside a standard ring. This is the upgraded 2016 version of the ring. [John] was nice enough to supply several hundred of the earlier models to hackers at the Hackaday Supercon back in 2015. [John’s] rings would be hard for the average hacker to reproduce. [Sean Hodgins] comes to the rescue here with his own project, DIY NFC Bentwood Ring.

pressureFinally, we have [CaptMcAllister] with RFID air pressure sensor. As the name implies, this sensor measures air pressure. It could be in open air, a tire, or even a football used by the New England Patriots. Sure, cars all have Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) sensors which do something similar. [CaptMcAllister’s] design has one important difference – it has no batteries. The heart of the system is a Texas Instruments RF430FRL15X, a device with the NFC radio and a low power MSP430 microcontroller in one chip. The system is energy harvesting, being powered by an external reader. As you can imagine, tuning the antenna was critical to this design. You can read all about it in [CaptMcAllister’s] 24 project logs.

If you want to see more NFC projects and hacks, check out our new near field communication projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Hacklet 116 – Audio Projects

If the first circuit a hacker builds is an LED blinker, the second one has to be a noisemaker of some sort. From simple buzzers to the fabled Atari punk console, and guitar effects to digitizing circuits, hackers, makers and engineers have been building incredible audio projects for decades. This week the Hacklet covers some of the best audio projects on!

vumeterWe start with [K.C. Lee] and Automatic audio source switching. Two audio sources, one amplifier and speaker system; this is the problem [K.C. Lee] is facing. He listens to audio from his computer and TV, but doesn’t need to have both connected at the same time. Currently he’s using a DPDT switch to change inputs. Rather than manually flip the switch, [K.C. Lee] created this project to automatically swap sources for him. He’s using an STM32F030F4 ARM processor as the brains of the operation. The ADCs on the microcontroller monitor both sources and pick the currently active one. With all that processing power, and a Nokia LCD as an output, it would be a crime to not add some cool features. The source switcher also displays a spectrum analyzer, a VU meter, date, and time. It even will attenuate loud sources like webpages that start blasting audio.


muzzNext up is [Adam Vadala-Roth] with Audio Blox: Experiments in Analog Audio Design. [Adam] has 32 projects and counting up on His interests cover everything from LEDs to 3D printing to solar to hydroponics. Audio Blox is a project he uses as his engineer’s notebook for analog audio projects. It is a great way to view a hacker figuring out what works and what doesn’t. His current project is a 4 board modular version of the Big Muff Pi guitar pedal. He’s broken this classic guitar effect down to an input board, a clipping board, a tone control, and an output stage. His PCB layouts, schematics, and explanations are always a treat to view and read!

pauldioNext we have [Paul Stoffregen] with Teensy Audio Library. For those not in the know, [Paul] is the creator of the Teensy family of boards, which started as an Arduino on steroids, and has morphed into something even more powerful. This project documents the audio library [Paul] created for the Freescale/NXP ARM processor which powers the Teensy 3.1. Multiple audio files playing at once, delays, and effects, are just a few things this library can do. If you’re new to the audio library, definitely check out [Paul’s] companion project
Microcontroller Audio Workshop & HaD Supercon 2015. This project is an online version of the workshop [Paul] ran at the 2015 Hackaday Supercon in San Francisco.

drdacFinally we have [drewrisinger] with DrDAC USB Audio DAC. DrDac is a high quality DAC board which provides a USB powered audio output for any PC. Computers these days are built down to a price. This means that lower quality audio components are often used. Couple this with the fact that computers are an electrically noisy place, and you get less than stellar audio. Good enough for the masses, but not quite up to par if you want to listen to studio quality audio. DrDAC houses a PCM2706 audio DAC and quality support components in a 3D printed case. DrDAC was inspired by [cobaltmute’s] pupDAC.

If you want to see more audio projects and hacks, check out our new audio projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!