Update: What You See Is What You Laser Cut

If there’s one thing about laser cutters that makes them a little difficult to use, it’s the fact that it’s hard for a person to interact with them one-on-one without a clunky computer in the middle of everything. Granted, that laser is a little dangerous, but it would be nice if there was a way to use a laser cutter without having to deal with a computer. Luckily, [Anirudh] and team have been working on solving this problem, creating a laser cutter that can interact directly with its user.

The laser cutter is tied to a visual system which watches for a number of cues. As we’ve featured before, this particular laser cutter can “see” pen strokes and will instruct the laser cutter to cut along the pen strokes (once all fingers are away from the cutting area, of course). The update to this system is that now, a user can import a drawing from a smartphone and manipulate it with a set of physical tokens that the camera can watch. One token changes the location of the cut, and the other changes the scale. This extends the functionality of the laser cutter from simply cutting at the location of pen strokes to being able to cut around any user-manipulated image without interacting directly with a computer. Be sure to check out the video after the break for a demonstration of how this works.

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Two-Axis Solar Tracker

Solar panels are an amazing piece of engineering, but without exactly the right conditions they can be pretty fickle. One of the most important conditions is that the panel be pointed at the sun, and precise aiming of the panel can be done with a solar tracker. Solar trackers can improve the energy harvesting ability of a solar panel by a substantial margin, and now [Jay] has a two-axis tracker that is also portable.

The core of the project is a Raspberry Pi, chosen after [Jay] found that an Arduino didn’t have enough memory for all of the functionality that he wanted. The Pi and the motor control electronics were stuffed into a Pelican case for weatherproofing. The actual solar tracking is done entirely in software, only requiring a latitude and longitude in order to know where the sun is. This is much easier (and cheaper) than relying on GPS or an optical system for information about the location of the sun.

Be sure to check out the video below of the solar tracker in action. Even without the panel (or the sun, for that matter) the tracker is able to precisely locate the panel for maximum energy efficiency. And, if you’d like to get even MORE power from your solar panel, you should check out a maximum power point tracking system as well.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: The 70s Called. They Want This Calculator

For those of us who grew up during TI’s calculator revolution, the concept of reverse polish notation (RPN) might be foreign. For other more worldly calculator users, however, the HP calculator was ubiquitous. Hewlett-Packard peaked (at least as far as calculators are concerned) decades ago and the market has remained dominated by TI since. Lucky for those few holdouts there is now a new microcode emulator of these classic calculators.

Called the NP25 (for Nonpariel Physical), the calculator fully emulates the HP-21, HP-25C and HP-33C. It’s a standalone microcode emulator, which means that these calculators work exactly as well as the original HP calculators of the 70s did. The new calculators, however, are powered by a low power MSP430G2553 processor and presumably uses many, many fewer batteries than the original did. It has an LED display to cut power costs as well, and was built with the goal of being buildable by the average electronics hobbyist.

Even if you didn’t grow up in the 70s with one of these in your desk drawer, it’d still be a great project and would help even the most avid TI user appreciate the fact that you don’t have to use RPN to input data into calculators anymore. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. This isn’t the only calculator we’ve featured here, either, so be sure to check out another free and open calculator for other calculator-based ideas.

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3D Printed Vice Holds Dev Boards Beside Breadboard

The Stickvise has been a staple of the Hackaday community for a while now. If you need something held for soldering there’s no better low-cost helping hand. But if you’re just using a breadboard and a dev board of some sort, there’s another vice on the horizon that uses similar spring clamping to hold everything in place while you build something awesome.

BreadboardVise1-croppedWhile [Pat]’s inspiration came from the aforementioned Stickvise, the new 3d-printed vice is just what you’ll need before you’re ready to do the soldering. The vice is spring-loaded using rubber bands. The base is sized to fit a standard breadboard in the center with clamping arms on either side to hold dev boards such as an Arduino. This innovative yet simple de”vice” grips boards well enough that you won’t be chasing them around your desk, knocking wires out of place, anymore.

There are some nuances to this board, so be sure to check out the video below to see it in action. As we mentioned, it uses rubber bands instead of springs to keep it simple, and it has some shapes that are easily 3d printed such as the triangular rails. If you want to 3d print your own, the files you’ll need are available on the project’s site. If you want to get even simpler, we’ve seen a few other vices around here as well.

The Stickvise is available for sale in the Hackaday Store.

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NES Reborn as Nexus Player and NES

Anyone who has a Raspberry Pi and an old Nintendo has had the same thought. “Maybe I could shove the Pi in here?” This ran through [Adam’s] head, but instead of doing the same old Raspberry Pi build he decided to put a Nexus Player inside of this old video game console, with great success. Not only does it bring the power of a modern media player, it still works as an NES.

If you haven’t seen the Nexus Player yet, it’s Google’s venture into the low-cost home media center craze. It has some of the same features of the original Chromecast, but runs Android and is generally much more powerful. Knowing this, [Adam] realized it would surpass the capabilities of the Pi and would even be able to run NES emulators.

[Adam] went a little beyond a simple case mod. He used a custom PCB and an Arduino Pro Micro to interface the original controllers to the Nexus Player. 3D printed brackets make sure everything fits inside the NES case perfectly, rather than using zip ties and hot glue. He then details how to install all of the peripherals and how to set up the Player to run your favorite game ROMs. The end result is exceptionally professional, and brings to mind some other classic case mods we’ve seen before.

Polarization Camera Views the Invisible

Light polarization is an interesting phenomenon that is extremely useful in many situations… but human eyes are blind to detecting any polarization. Luckily, [David] has built a polarization-sensitive camera using a Raspberry Pi and a few off-the-shelf components that allows anyone to view polarization. [David] lists the applications as:

A polarimetric imager to detect invisible pollutants, locate landmines, identify cancerous tissues, and maybe even observe cloaked UFOs!

The build uses a standard Raspberry Pi 2 and a 5 megapixel camera which sits behind a software-controlled electro-optic polarization modulator that was scavenged from an auto-darkening welding mask. The mask is essentially a specialized LCD screen, which is easily electronically controlled. [David] whipped up some scripts on the Pi that control the screen, which is how the camera is able to view various polarizations of light. Since the polarization modulator is software-controlled, light from essentially any angle can be analyzed in any way via the computer.

There is a huge amount of information about this project on the project site, as well as on the project’s official blog. There have been other projects that use polarized light for specific applications, but this is the first we’ve seen of a software-controlled polarizing camera intended for general use that could be made by pretty much anyone.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

DDR-ing a Simon Game with a Raspberry Pi

Since 1998 we’ve been privileged to partake in an arcade game known as Dance Dance Revolution, but before that, way back in the 70’s, was the Simon game. It’s essentially a memory game that asks the player to remember a series of lights and sounds. [Uberdam] decided to get the best of both worlds and mixed the two together creating this giant foot controlled Simon game. (English translation.)

The wood platform that serves as the base of the project was fitted with four capacitive sensors, each one representing a “color” on the Simon game. When a player stomps on a color, a capacitive sensor sends a signal to a relay which in turn notifies the Raspberry Pi brain of the input. The Pi also takes care of showing the player the sequence of colored squares that must be stepped on, and keeps track of a player’s progress on a projector.

This is a pretty good way of showing how a small, tiny computer like the Raspberry Pi can have applications in niche environments while also being a pretty fun game. We all remember Simon as being frustrating, and we can only imagine how jumping around on a wooden box would make it even more exciting. Now, who can build a robot that can beat this version of Simon?

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