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]

Hackerspaces are Hard: Insurance

Do you dream of opening a hackerspace, makerspace, or co-working space? Maybe it’s in the works and you’re already scoping out locations, intoxicated by visions of all the projects that will emerge from it. Here’s a sobering thought: makerspaces are a great big pile of risk. If the doors of your ‘space are already open, perhaps you’ve come to realize that the initial insurance policy you signed doesn’t really fit the needs of your particular creative paradise. Even if it does, the protection you need will change as you acquire new toys.

So why should you even get insurance? For one thing, your landlord will probably require it. If you own the building, you should insure it to protect yourself and anyone who uses the space. Do it for the same reason you’d insure a car, your house, or your collection of vintage pinball machines: to mitigate risk. It takes a lot of hard work to open a makerspace, perform the day-to-day operations, and keep it growing and getting better. Whenever the unthinkable happens, insurance will protect your investment as well as the people who make it a great place to be.

In researching this article, I contacted several well-established makerspaces in the United States as well as most of the major insurance providers to get both sides of the story. My intent was not to make a how-to guide, but to simply explore the topic and provide a view of the process and the struggle.

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Kansas City Maker Faire: Lawn da Vinci is the Droid You’re Looking For

Summer is now in full swing, which means that mowing the lawn once a week is starting to get old. So why not build a robot do it for you? That’s what [Blake Hodgson] did, and he’s never been happier. It only took him a couple of weeks of quality time at one of the local makerspaces.

[Blake] was showing off Lawn da Vinci at this year’s Kansas City Maker Faire. He had his own booth around the corner from Hammerspace, the shop where it all came together. [Blake] started with a standard push mower from a garage sale and designed a frame around it using OnShape. The frame is made from angle iron, so it’s strong enough that he can ride on the thing. To each his own, we say. The wheels and motors came from a mobility scooter and match the beefiness of the frame. These are powered by two 12v car batteries wired in series. He drives it around his yard with an R/C airplane controller.

lawnmower gutsLawn da Vinci’s brainpower comes from two Arduino Pro Minis and a Raspberry Pi. One Arduino controls the motors and the R/C signal from the remoteThe other runs some extra kill switches that keep the Lawn da Vinci out of trouble.

So what’s the Raspi for? Right now, it’s for streaming video from the webcam attached to a mast on the frame back to his phone. [Blake] says he has had some latency issues with the webcam, so there could be a pair of drone racing goggles in his future. He also plans to add a GPS logger and to automate part of the mowing.

Now, about those kill switches: there are several of them. You probably can’t have too many of these on a remote control spinning suburban death machine. Lawn da Vinci will stop grazing if it goes out of range of the remote or if the remote is turned off. [Blake] also wired up a dedicated kill switch to a button on the remote and a fourth one on a separate key fob.

The Lawn da Vinci is one of many example projects that [Blake] uses to showcase the possibilities of KC Proto, a company he started to help local businesses realize their ideas by offering design solutions and assistance with prototyping. Between mowings, [Blake] puts the batteries on a trickle charger. If you make your own robot lawn mower, you might consider building a gas and solar hybrid.

Kansas City Maker Faire: Pi-Plates

As soon as he spied the Jolly Wrencher on my shirt, [Jerry Wasinger] beckoned me toward his booth at Kansas City Maker Faire. Honestly, though, I was already drawn in. [Jerry] had set up some interactive displays that demonstrate the virtues of his Pi-Plates—Raspberry Pi expansion boards that follow the HAT spec and are compatible with all flavors of Pi without following the HAT spec. Why not? Because it doesn’t allow for stacking the boards.

[Jerry] has developed three types of Pi-Plates to date. There’s a relay controller with seven slots, a data acquisition and controller combo board, and a motor controller that can handle two steppers or up to four DC motors. The main image shows the data acquisition board controlling a fan and some lights while it gathers distance sensor data and takes the temperature of the Faire.

The best part about these boards is that you can stack them and use up to eight of any one type. For the motor controller, that’s 16 steppers or 32 DC motors. But wait, there’s more: you can still stack up to eight each of the other two kinds of boards and put them in any order you want. That means you could run all those motors and simultaneously control several voltages or gather a lot of data points with a single Pi.

The Pi-Plates are available from [Jerry]’s site, both singly and in kits that include an acrylic base plate, a proto plate, and all the hardware and standoffs needed to stack everything together.