This Animatronic Hand is So Metal

According to his Instructables profile, [bwebby] wants to make cool stuff in the special effects industry. We think he has a pretty good chance at it based on the animatronic hand he built.

The finger segments are made from copper pipe. They are connected to each other and to the sheet metal palm with tiny hinges and superglue. That stuff inside the finger segments is epoxy putty. It keeps the ends of the tendons made from bicycle gearing cable firmly attached to the fingertip segments, and provides a channel through the rest of the fingers. These cables run through 50mm aluminium tubes that are set in a sheet metal forearm, and they connect to high-torque servos mounted on a piece of MDF. [bwebby] used a Pololu Mini Maestro to control the servos using the board’s native USB interface and control software.

Watch [bwebby] run through some movements and try out the grip after the break. If you want to make an animatronic hand but aren’t ready for this type of undertaking, you could start with an approach closer to puppetry.

Continue reading “This Animatronic Hand is So Metal”

Nomograms: Complex Analog Calculators Simple for Everyone

In the late 1800s, a railway engineer named Philbert Maurice d’Ocagne was part of a group of men faced with the task of expanding the French rail system. Before a single rail could be laid, the intended path had to be laid out and the terrain made level. This type of engineering involves a lot of cut and fill calculations, which determine where dirt must be added or removed. The goal of earthwork is to create a gentle grade and to minimize the work needed to create embankments.

In the course of the project, d’Ocagne came up with an elegant, reusable solution to quickly  solve these critical calculations. Most impressively, he did it with little more than a pen, some paper, and a straightedge. By developing and using a method which he called nomography, d’Ocagne was able to perform all the necessary calculations that made the gentle curves and slopes of the French railway possible.

Continue reading “Nomograms: Complex Analog Calculators Simple for Everyone”

Toy Television’s Dreams Come True

A couple of years ago, [Alec]’s boss brought him a souvenir from Mexico City—a small mid-century console television made of scrap wood and cardboard. It’s probably meant to be a picture frame, but [Alec] was determined to give it a better life.

As it turns out, the screen of [Alec]’s old Samsung I9000 was a perfect fit for the cabinet with room to spare. It was on its way to becoming a real (YouTube) TV once [Alec] could find a way to control it remotely. A giant new-old stock remote that’s almost bigger than the TV was just the thing. There’s enough room inside the remote for a non-LE Bluefruit module, which is what the I9000 will accept as input without complaint.

Trouble is, Bluefruit doesn’t support matrix keypads, so [Alec] used a bare ATMega328 running on the internal clock. Since the Bluefruit board provides voltage regulation, the remote was able to keep its native 9V power. [Alec] is happy with the results, though he plans to refine his button choices and maybe make a new overlay for the remote. Stay tuned for a tiny TV tour.

Continue reading “Toy Television’s Dreams Come True”

See Who’s Calling with Caller Pi-D

One of the hardest things in life is watching your parents grow old. As their senses fail, the simplest things become difficult or even impossible for them to do.

[kjepper]’s mom is slowly losing her sight. As a result, it’s hard for her to see things like the readout on the caller ID. Sure, there are plenty of units and phones she could get that have text-to-speech capabilities, but the audio on those things is usually pretty garbled. And yes, a smartphone can natively display a picture of the person calling, but [kjepper]’s mom isn’t technologically savvy and doesn’t need everything else that comes with a smartphone. What she needs is a really simple interface which makes it clear who’s calling.

Initially, [kjepper] tried to capture the caller ID data using only a USB modem. But for whatever reason, it didn’t work until he added an FSKDTMF converter between the modem and the Pi. He wrote some Node.js in order to communicate with the Pi and send the information to the screen, which can display up to four calls at once.  To make a mom-friendly interface, he stripped an old optical mouse down to the scroll wheel and encased it in wood. Mom can spin the wheel to wake the system up from standby, and click it to mark the calls as read. Now whenever Aunt Judy calls the landline, it’s immediately obvious that it’s her and not some telemarketer.

[via r/DIY]

How Analog Tide Predictors Changed Human History

If you’re completely landlocked like I am, you may dream of ocean waves lapping at the shore, but you probably don’t think much about the tides. The movement of the ocean tides is actually quite important to many groups of people, from fishermen to surfers to coastal zone engineers. The behavior of the tides over time is helpful data for those who study world climate change.

Early tide prediction was based on observed changes in relation to the phases of the Moon. These days, tide-predicting is done quickly and with digital computers. But the first purpose-built machines were slow yet accurate analog computation devices that, as they were developed, could account for increasing numbers of tidal constituents, which represent the changes in the positions of tide-generating astronomical bodies. One of these calculating marvels even saved the Allies’ invasion of Normandy—or D-Day— in World War II.

Continue reading “How Analog Tide Predictors Changed Human History”

The Conductive Paper That Sparked a Revolution

Legendary electrical engineer and linear IC trailblazer Bob Widlar was just like you. What I mean is that he would use everything available to him to mock up circuits, create prototypes, and make things work. One of the simplest and coolest tools he used was a conductive paper called Teledeltos. This wonderful stuff allowed him to define and test various configurations for the oddly-shaped ballast resistors he used in some of his high-performance circuit designs. But it wasn’t created for people like you and Bob. Teledeltos paper was created and trademarked by communications giant Western Union to drastically improve the convenience of telegrams.

Development of the electric telegraph ushered in the era of global communication. Suddenly, people could send messages to the other side of the world in a fraction of the time it took by post. The telegraph absolutely revolutionized human communication. It was the e-mail and the Twitter of its time. The telegraph’s efficiency made the Pony Express pretty much obsolete by the 1860s. And for a very long time it was much cheaper for people to send a telegram than make a long-distance phone call.

The Advantages of Facsimile

Translated from ancient Greek, ‘teledeltos’ basically means writing tablet at a distance. Western Union began developing Teledeltos paper in the 1930s for the purpose of transmitting telegrams by facsimile, a method that would greatly reduce the time it took to input messages into the system and get them out on the other side. As long as both the sender and the receiver had facsimile machines, a handwritten telegram could be transmitted without having to be typed by a clerk or translated into code. Teledeltos paper was also used in a variety of chart recorders, like seismographs and map plotters. The ability to feed a handwritten message, a photograph, or a map of enemy territory into a machine that transmitted an exact copy was a real game changer.

Because of its composition, Teledeltos paper could be easily marked without an electrolyte. It marked so well that photographs and other graphic information could be transmitted, and no processing was required on the receiving end. A dry recording paper is also much less sensitive to light and to temperature extremes. More importantly, properly stored dry paper is impervious to fungal growth. Teledeltos paper could sit around indefinitely without becoming useless. The only real disadvantage to this type of paper was the somewhat laborious process that went into achieving the desired resistance. Fax machines eventually moved on to digital transmission and thermal printing technology.

Image credit: MIT

Sparking a Revolution

Teledeltos paper has a light gray electro-sensitive coating on one side, and the other side is carbon black. When a current is applied with a stylus to the coated side of the paper, the coating is instantly burned away, revealing the carbon black. Teledeltos paper could be marked using either AC or DC. Polarity didn’t matter, either, but the boys in the lab at Western Union had better luck when they used a positive stylus with DC rather than a negative one.

Teledeltos paper was made in two types—“L” for low resistance and “H” for high. The resistivity of a roll of Teledeltos paper depended on the quality of the conductive fibers that went into it. The paper’s electrical characteristics were also influenced by the fiber beating process and the distribution of the conductive fibers by the supercalender, a system of hard rollers used in papermaking and other processes that press and smooth paper and other materials to increase the density.

Teledeltos to the Rescue

The Western Union Telecar printed telegrams on the go and delivered them to homes and businesses.
The Western Union Telecar printed telegrams on the go and delivered them to homes and businesses. Image credit: Modern Mechanix

Western Union was eager to extend its reach into private businesses and public places so that patrons who weren’t heavy telegram users didn’t have to visit a telegram office in order to share a bit of good news or to send their condolences. The company’s Telefax division came up with several types of machines to serve different business needs.

Some messages continued to be delivered by hand, but they weren’t printed at the central office. Western Union created a Telecar service to print telegrams transmitted to the car by the central office and deliver them to people’s homes. Messages were printed onto recording blanks that were cut automatically by a Telefax recorder situated in the car’s passenger area. The Telecar’s radio and amplification equipment was in the trunk.

The standard Telefax machine for office use was fairly large, like an early microwave oven. A smaller version called the DeskFax was only about the size of a breadbox, and these units occupied the desks of many businessmen and secretaries because of their convenience.

A Western Union DeskFax unit. Image from [B. Hilpert]
A Western Union DeskFax unit. Image from [B. Hilpert]
Both the Telefax and the DeskFax scanned and recorded telegrams using a rotary drum mechanism. A message could either be typed or handwritten onto a telegram blank. The sender then wrapped the telegram around a drum and set the machine to send. The machine would scan the message optically and then transmit it to the central office.

Before sending it on to the recipient, an attendant at the telegram office had to remove the incoming message and wrap it around the drum of a transmitting machine. Once connected to the receiving party’s line, the far end unit would buzz to arouse attention. The receiving patron would then load a blank on to their DeskFax’s roller and set their machine to receive.

Teledeltos for Hacking and Education

Measuring potential differences. Image from
Measuring potential differences.
Image from UCSD

Conductive paper like Teledeltos has many applications aside from fax machines and Fathometers. For starters, it’s great for making one-offs of both standard and variable resistors. Conductive paint can be used as connection points for wires. The paper is also well-suited for simulating current flow through circuits using a fraction of the current intended in production. Vacuum tube designers used Teledeltos for modeling potentials. Teledeltos can also be used to visualize electromagnetic potentials and perform field plotting.

We’re sure that at least a few of our readers out there used Teledeltos or something like it in school or on the job. Did you know you can still buy it? Teledeltos paper itself is still available from two companies in the UK, Better Equipped and Timstar. In the US, you can get it from Pasco in packs of 50 and 100 sheets, with and without a grid pattern.

[Teledeltos paper image is a product photo from Better Equipped]

Hackaday’s Omaha Mini Maker Faire Roundup

The 2nd annual Omaha Mini Maker Faire wasn’t our first rodeo, but it was nonetheless a bit surprising . Before we even made it inside to pay our admission to the Omaha Children’s Museum, I took the opportunity to pet a Transylvanian Naked Neck chicken at one of the outdoor booths. The amiable fowl lives at City Sprouts, an Omaha community farming collective in its 20th year of operation. There seemed to be a theme of bootstrappy sustainability among the makers this year, and that’s great to see.

Just a few feet away sat a mustard-colored 1975 Chevy pickup with a food garden growing in its bed. This is Omaha’s truck farm, an initiative that seeks to educate the city’s kids in the ways of eating locally and growing food at home.  On a carnivorous note, [Chad] from Cure Cooking showed my companion and me the correct way to dry-cure meats using time-honored methods.

Continue reading “Hackaday’s Omaha Mini Maker Faire Roundup”