“What is My Purpose?” You Amplify and Display Signals.

[Andy_Fuentes22] likes to stream music, but is (understandably) underwhelmed by the sound that comes out of his phone. He wanted to build something that not only looks good, but sounds good. Something that could stream music through a Chromecast or a Raspi, but also take auxiliary input. Something awesome, like the Junkbots Sound System.

The ‘bots, named LR-E (Larry) and R8-CHL (Rachel), aren’t just cool pieces of art. They’re both dead-bug-walking bots with an LM386-based amplifier circuit and an AN6884-based VU meter in their transparent, industrial relay bodies. LR-E is the left channel, and his lovely wife is the right channel. The best part is that they are wired into the circuit through their 3.5mm plug legs and the corresponding jacks mounted in the Altoids tin base.

[Andy] built this labor of love from the ground up. He started with some very nice design sketches and took a bazillion pictures along the way. We think it sounds pretty good, but you can judge for yourself after the break. If VU meters are your jam, here’s another that’s built into the speaker.

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All I Want for Christmas is a 4-Factor Biometric Lock Box

It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, we’re not talking about the holiday season, although that certainly has its merits. What we mean is that it’s time for the final projects from [Bruce Land]’s ECE4760 class. With the giving spirit and their mothers in mind, [Adarsh], [Timon], and [Cameron] made a programmable lock box with four-factor authentication. That’s three factors more secure than your average Las Vegas hotel room safe, and with a display to boot.

Getting into this box starts with a four-digit code on a number pad. If it’s incorrect, the display will say so. Put in the right code and the system will wait four seconds for the next step, which involves three potentiometers. These are tuned to the correct value with a leeway of +/- 30. After another four-second wait, it’s on to the piezo-based knock detector, which listens for the right pattern. Finally, a fingerprint scanner makes sure that anyone who wants into this box had better plan ahead.

This project is based on Microchip’s PIC32-based Microstick II, which [Professor Land] starting teaching in 2015. It also uses an Arduino Uno to handle the fingerprint scanner. The team has marketability in mind for this project, and in the video after the break, they walk through the factory settings and user customization.

We have seen many ways to secure a lock box. How about a laser-cut combination safe or a box with a matching NFC ring?

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Modular Tap-Dancing Robot Can Shuffle Ball Change

Electromechanical solenoids are pretty cool devices. Move some current through an electromagnet and you can push a load around or pull it. If you’re MIT student [Lining Yao], you can use them to dance. [Lining] built TapBot, a re-configurable set of tap-dancing robots that are both modular and modern. She even rolled her own solenoids.

The one with the eye stalk is the bridge, and it’s connected to a computer over FTDI. The other nodes attach to the bridge and each other with small magnets that are designed to flip around freely to make the connections. These links are just physical, though. The nodes must also be connected with ribbon cables.

Each of the nodes is controlled by an ATtiny45 and has a MOSFET to drive the solenoid at 8-12 V. [Lining] snapped a small coin magnet to the end of each solenoid slug to provide a bigger surface area that acts like a tap shoe. TapBot can be programmed with one of several pre-built tap patterns, and these can be combined to make new sequences. The curtain goes up after the break.

There are other ways to make things dance, like muscle wire. Check out this whiteboard pen that uses nitinol to dance to Duke Nukem.

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LEGO Strain Wave Gear is Easy on the Eyes

We are continually amazed by the things people do with LEGO and Technics, especially those that require incredible engineering skill. There’s an entire community based around building Great Ball Contraptions, which are LEGO Rube Goldberg machines that move tiny basketballs and soccer balls from one place to another. Except for a few rules about the input and output, the GBC horizons are boundless.

Famed GBC creator [Akiyuki] recently built a GBC module that’s designed to show the movement of strain wave gear systems. These types of gear systems are used in industrial applications where precision is vital. Strain wave gears are capable of reducing gear ratios in a small footprint.

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Arduino Laser Pinball is On Target

Have you ever wanted to roll your own pinball machine? It’s one of those kinds of builds where it’s easy to go off the deep end. But if you’re just getting your feet wet and want to mess around with different playfield configurations, start with something like [joesinstructables]’ Arduino Laser Pinball.

It’s made from meccano pieces attached with standoffs, so the targets are easy to rearrange on the playfield. [joesinstructables] wanted to use rollover switches in the targets, but found that ping pong balls are much too light to actuate them. Instead, each of the targets uses a tripwire made from a laser pointing at a photocell. When the ping pong ball enters the target, it breaks the beam. This triggers a solenoid to eject the ball and put it back into play. It also triggers an off-field solenoid to ring a standard front-desk-type bell one to three times depending on the target’s difficulty setting.

The flippers use solenoids to pull the outside ends of levers made from meccano, which causes the inside ends to push the ball up and away from the drain. Once in a while a flipper will get stuck, which you can see in the demo video after the break. An earlier version featured an LCD screen to show the score, but [joesinstructables] can’t get it to work for this version. Can you help? And do you think a bouncy ball would actuate a rollover switch?

This isn’t the first pinball machine we’ve covered. It’s not even the first one we’ve covered that’s made out of meccano. Here’s an entire Hacklet devoted to ’em. And remember when an Arduino made an old table great again?

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Controlling This Smartwatch is All in the Wrist

Smartwatches are pretty great. In theory, you’ll never miss a notification or a phone call. Plus, they can do all kinds of bio-metric tracking since they’re strapped to one of your body’s pulse points. But there are downsides. One of the major ones is that you end up needing two hands to do things that are easily one-handed on a phone. Now, you could use the tip of your nose like I do in the winter when I have mittens on, but that’s not good for your eyes. It seems that the future of smartwatch input is not in available appendages, but in gesture detection.

Enter WristWhirl, the brain-child of Dartmouth and University of Manitoba students [Jun Gong], [Xing-Dong Yang], and [Pourang Irani]. They have built a prototype smartwatch that uses continuous wrist movements detected by IR proximity sensors to control popular off-the-shelf applications. Twelve pairs of dirt-cheap IR sensors connected to an Arduino Due detect any of eight simple gestures made by the wearer to do tasks like opening the calendar, controlling a music player, panning and zooming a map, and playing games like Tetris and Fruit Ninja. In order to save battery, a piezo senses pinch between the user’s thumb and forefinger and uses this input to decide when to start and stop gesture detection.

According to their paper (PDF warning), the gesture detection is 93.8% accurate. To get this data, the team had their test subjects perform each of the eight gestures under different conditions such as walking vs. standing and doing either with the wrist in watch-viewing position or hanging down at their side. Why not gesture your way past the break to watch a demo?

If you’re stuck on the idea of playing Tetris with gestures, there are other ways.

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Rotating Frame Will Change Your View of Vertical Images

[Tim] was tired of compromising his portrait-oriented digital photos by shoehorning them into landscape-only frames. Unable to find a commercial solution, he built his own rotating digital photo frame from a 27″ LCD TV.

It uses a Raspi 3 to find [Tim]’s pictures on a giant SD card. He originally wanted to have the Pi pull pictures from Google Photos and display them randomly, but the API doesn’t work in that direction. Instead, a Python script looks at the pictures on the SD card and determines whether each is landscape or portrait-oriented. If a picture was taken in portrait-mode, the display will rotate 90 degrees. Rotation is handled with an Arduino, a stepper motor, and some 3D-printed herringbone gears. The first version was a bit noisy, so [Tim] re-printed the motor mount and the pinion gear out of flexible filament.

[Tim] designed the mount and frame himself and laser-cut the pieces out of birch plywood. We like that he accounted for the front-heaviness and that he covered the high voltage circuitry with acrylic to mitigate the risk of shock. All the code and design files are available on his project page. Make the jump to see a brief demonstration followed by a walk-through and stay for the six-minute slide show.

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