LEGO Looper Makes Modular Music

This LEGO synth made by [Rare Beasts] had us grinning from ear to ear.

It combines elements from LEGO Mindstorms with regular blocks in order to make music with color. A different music sample is assigned to each of five colors: red, blue, green, yellow, and white. The blocks are attached to spokes coming off of a wheel made with NXT an EV3. As the wheel turns, the blocks pass in front of a fixed color sensor that reads the color and plays the corresponding sample. The samples are different lengths, so changing the speed of the wheel makes for some interesting musical effects.

As you’ll see in the short video after the break, [Rare Beasts] starts the wheel moving slowly to demonstrate the system. Since the whole thing is made of LEGO, the blocks are totally modular. Removing a few of them here and there inserts rests into the music, which makes the result that much more complex.

LEGO is quite versatile, and that extends beyond playtime. It can be used to automate laboratory tasks, braid rope, or even simulate a nuclear reactor. What amazing creations have you made with it? Let us know in the comments.

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MIT Researchers Can Read Closed Books (and defeat CAPTCHA)

Ten years ago, MIT researchers proved that it was possible to look through an envelope and read the text inside using terahertz spectroscopic imaging. This research inspired [Barmak Heshmat] to try the same technique to read a book through its cover. A new crop of MIT researchers led by [Heshmat] have developed a prototype to do exactly that, and he explains the process in the video after the break. At present, the system is capable of correctly deciphering individual letters through nine pages of printed text.

They do this by firing terahertz waves in short bursts at a stack of pages and interpreting the return values and travel time. The microscopic air pockets between the pages provide boundaries for differentiation. [Heshmat] and the team rely on these pockets to reflect the signal back to a sensor in the camera. Once they have the system dialed in to be able to see the letters on the target page and distinguish them from the shadows of the letters on the other pages, they use an algorithm to determine the letters. [Heshmat] says the algorithm is so good that it can get through most CAPTCHAs.

The most immediate application for this technology is reading antique books and other printed materials that are far too fragile to be handled, potentially opening up worlds of knowledge that are hidden within disintegrating documents. For a better look at the outsides of things, there is Reflectance Transformation Imaging.

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Licorice Launcher Locks on to Your Voice

As the red licorice wars rage on inextinguishably, it appears that Team Red Vines has a new advantage over Team Twizzlers—[TVMiller]’s voice activated, room-tracking, catapult-launching, magazine reloading Arduino licorice launcher.

Hacking and snacking often go hand in hand. They go together even better if you have a robot that can throw a tasty treat to you on command. That’s the dream behind this candy catapult. We’ve featured quite a few of [TVMiller]’s projects in the past, so we know he spends a lot of time hacking. So, how does this licorice launcher work to him keep going?

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You’re Overdue for a Visit to the Library

When was the last time you went to a library? If it’s been more than a couple of years, the library is probably a very different place than you remember. Public libraries pride themselves on keeping up with changing technology, especially technology that benefits the communities they serve. No matter your age or your interests, libraries are a great resource for learning new skills, doing research, or getting help with just about any task. After all, library science is about gathering together all of human knowledge and indexing it for easy lookup.

It doesn’t matter if you’re not a researcher or a student. Libraries exist to serve everyone in a class-free environment. In recent years, patrons have started looking to libraries to get their piece of the burgeoning DIY culture. They want to learn to make their lives better. Public libraries have stepped up to meet this need by adding new materials to their collections, building makerspaces, and starting tool libraries. And this is in addition to ever-growing collections of electronic resources. Somehow, they manage to do all of this with increasingly strained budgets.

The purpose of this article is to explore the ways that libraries of all stripes can be a valuable resource to our readers. From the public library system to the sprawling academic libraries on college campuses, there is something for hackers and makers at all levels.

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An Organ Made from Back-Driven Steppers

[Josh] wrote in to tell us about an experimental instrument he’s been working on for a couple of months. We’re glad he did, because it’s a really cool project. It’s an organ that uses the principle of back-drive—applying torque to the output shaft of a motor—to create sounds.  [Josh] is back-driving four octaves worth of stepper motors with spinning wooden disks, and this generates alternating current. At the right speeds, the resulting sinusoidal waveform falls within the range of human hearing and can be amplified for maximum musical enjoyment.

[Josh] built this organ from the ground up, including the keys which are made from oak and walnut. Each of the forty-nine stepper motors has a corresponding wooden disk. The larger the wooden disk in the stack, the higher the resulting pitch. [Josh] says that if he built it for a full 88 keys, the highest note’s disk would be sixteen feet in diameter.

This stack of disks is driven independently by a separate DC motor, and the speed determines the key it will play in. When [Josh] plays a note, that note’s lever is actuated and its stepper motor makes contact with its disk in the stack. When they meet, the motor is back-driven by the spinning disk. In other words, they work in concert to produce some cool, eerie sounds.

Here’s a somewhat similar sort of build made from lasers and fans, if you consider that both instruments create music from objects that weren’t built to do so. Watch [Josh] play his stepper organ after the break. He has several build videos on his YT channel, and we’ve also embedded the one that covers the motor, power, and electronics part of the build.

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Wake Up With A NeoPixel Sunrise Alarm Clock

Like many of us, [Lee] wakes up every morning grumpy and tired. Once he decided to try to do something about it, he settled on making a sunrise alarm clock using NeoPixels. Over the course of thirty minutes the clock illuminates 60 NeoPixels one by one in blue mode to simulate a sunrise.

The clock has three modes: 30-minute sunrise, analog time display, and a seconds counter that uses the full RGB range of the LEDs to light up one for each passing second. It runs on an Arduino Pro Mini knockoff and an RTC module for the sake of simplicity. [Lee] chained NeoPixel strips together in five rows of eight, which allowed him to use a 3×5 font to display the time. The only other electronics are passives to protect the LEDs.

NeoPixels are great, but powering them becomes an issue pretty quickly. [Lee] did the math and figured that he would need 3.4 A to drive everything. He found a 3-outlet USB power adapter that delivers 3.4 A total while shopping at IKEA for an enclosure. [Lee] took his first Instructable from beginner to intermediate level by cracking the adapter open and using two of the USB ports wired in parallel to provide 5 V at 3.4 A. [Lee] has the code available along with detailed instructions for replicating this build. Be sure to check out the demo after the break.

We love a good clock build around here, especially when they involve Blinkenlights. For those less interested in building an alarm clock, here’s a word clock that pulls time and weather data with an ESP8266.

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NFL to Experiment with Chipped Balls

NFL preseason starts in just a few weeks. This year, it will come with a bit of a technological upgrade. The league plans to experiment with custom microchip-equipped footballs. Unfortunately, this move has nothing to do with policing under-inflation — the idea is to verify through hard data that a narrower set of goal posts would mean fewer successful kicking plays.

Why? Kicking plays across the league have been more accurate than ever in the last couple of seasons, and the NFL would like things to be a bit more competitive. Just last year, extra point kicks were moved back from the 20 to the 33-yard line. Kickers already use brand-new balls that are harder and more slippery than the field balls, so narrowing the goal from the standard 18’6″ width is the natural next step. A corresponding pair of sensors in the uprights will reveal exactly how close the ball is when it passes between them.

The chips will only be in K-balls, and only in those kicked during the 2016 preseason. If all goes well, the league may continue their use in Thursday night games this season. We couldn’t find any detail on these custom-made chips, but assume that it’s some kind of transmitter/receiver pair. Let the speculation begin.

Main image: Field goal attempt during the Fog Bowl via Sports Illustrated

[via Gizmodo]