Sense All the Things with a Synthetic Sensor

What will it take to make your house smarter than you? Judging from the price of smart appliances we see in the home centers these days, it’ll take buckets of cash. But what if you could make your home smarter — or at least more observant — with a few cheap, general purpose “supersensors” that watch your every move?

Sounds creepy, right? That’s what [Gierad Laput] and his team at the Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institute thought when they designed their broadband “synthetic sensor,” and it’s why they purposely omitted a camera from their design. But just about every other sensor under the sun is on the tiny board: an IR array, visible light sensors, a magnetometer, temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors, a microphone, PIR, and even an EMI detector. Of course there’s also a WiFi module, but it appears that it’s only for connectivity and not used for sensing, although it clearly could be. All the raw data is synthesized into a total picture of the goings on in within the platform’s range using a combination of machine learning and user training.

The video after the break shows the sensor detecting typical household events from a central location. It’s a powerful idea and we look forward to seeing how it moves from prototype to product. And if the astute reader recognizes [Gierad]’s name, it might be from his past appearance on these pages for 3D-printed hair.

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Self-assembling Polymers Support Silicone 3D Prints

We all know what the ultimate goal of 3D printing is: to be able to print parts for everything, including our own bodies. To achieve that potential, we need better ways to print soft materials, and that means we need better ways to support prints while they’re in progress.

That’s the focus of an academic paper looking at printing silicone within oil-based microgels. Lead author [Christopher S. O’Bryan] and team from the Soft Matter Research Lab at the University of Florida Gainesville have developed a method using self-assembling polymers soaked in mineral oil as a matrix into which silicone elastomers can be printed. The technique takes advantage of granular microgels that are “jammed” into a solid despite being up to 95% solvent. Under stress, such as that exerted by the nozzle of a 3D printer, the solid unjams into a flowing liquid, allowing the printer to extrude silicone. The microgel instantly jams back into a solid again, supporting the silicone as it cures.

[O’Bryan] et al have used the technique to print a model trachea, a small manifold, and a pump with ball valves. There are Quicktime videos of the finished manifold and pump in action. While we’ve covered flexible printing options before, this technique is a step beyond and something we’re keen to see make it into the hobby printing market.

[LonC], thanks for the tip.

Robot Lives in Your Garden and Eats the Weeds

You can’t deny the appeal of gardening. Whether it’s a productive patch of vegetables or a flower bed to delight the senses, the effort put into gardening is amply rewarded. Nobody seems to like the weeding, though — well, almost nobody; I find it quite relaxing. But if you’re not willing to get down and dirty with the weeds, you might consider deploying a weed-eating garden robot to do the job for you.

Dubbed the Tertill, and still very much a prototype, the garden robot is the brainchild of some former iRobot employees. That’s a pretty solid pedigree, and you can see the Roomba-esque navigation scheme in action — when it bumps into something it turns away, eventually covering the whole garden. Weed discrimination is dead simple: short plants bad, tall plants good. Seedlings are protected by a collar until they’re big enough not to get zapped by the solar-powered robot’s line trimmer.

It’s a pretty good idea, but the devil will be in the details. Will it be able to tend the understory of gardens where weeds tend to gather as the plants get taller? Can it handle steep-sided raised beds or deeply mulched gardens? Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this Australian weed-bot.

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Solar Powered Camper is a Magic Bus Indeed

There’s no doubt that Volkswagen’s offerings in the 1960s and early 1970s were the hippie cars of choice, with the most desirable models being from the Type 2 line, better known as the Microbus. And what could be even hippier than
converting a 1973 VW Microbus into a solar-electric camper?

For [Brett Belan] and his wife [Kira], their electric vehicle is about quality time with the family. And they’ll have plenty of time, given that it doesn’t exactly ooze performance like a Tesla. Then again, a Tesla would have a hard time toting the enormous 1.2 kW PV panel on its roof like this camper can, and would look even sillier with the panel jacked up to maximize its solar aspect. [Brett] uses the space created by the angled array to create extra sleeping space like the Westfalia, a pop-top VW camper. The PV array charges a bank of twelve lead-acid golf cart batteries which power an AC motor through a 500-amp controller. Interior amenities include a kitchenette, dining table, and seating that cost as much as the van before conversion. There’s no word on interior heat, but honestly, that never was VW’s strong suit — we speak from bitter, frostbitten experience here.

As for being practical transportation, that just depends on your definition of practical. Everything about this build says “labor of love,” and it’s hard to fault that. It’s also hard to fault [Brett]’s choice of platform; after all, vintage VWs are the most hackable of cars.

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Exoskeleton Aims to Prevent Falls for Seniors

When we think of exoskeletons, we tend to think along comic book lines: mechanical suits bestowing superhero strength upon the villain. But perhaps more practical uses for exoskeletons exists: restoring the ability to walk, for instance, or as in the case of these exoskeleton shorts, preventing hip fractures by detecting and correcting falls before they happen.

Falls and the debilitating injuries that can result are a cruel fact of life for the elderly, and anything that can potentially mitigate them could be a huge boon to public health. Falls often boil down to loss of balance from slipping, whether it be a loose rug, a patch of ice, or even the proverbial banana peel. The “Active Pelvic Orthosis” developed by [Vito Monaco] and colleagues seeks to sense slips and correct them by applying the correct torque to the hip joints. Looking a little bulky in their prototype form and still tethered to an external computer, the shorts have motors with harmonic drives and angle sensors for each hip, plus accelerometers to detect the kinematic signature of a slip. The researchers discovered that forcing the leg that slipped forward while driving the stable leg back helped reduce the possibility of a fall. The video below shows the shorts in action preventing falls on a slip-inducing treadmill.

At the Hackaday Unconference in Pasadena, we heard from [Raul Ocampo] on his idea for autonomous robots to catch falling seniors. Perhaps wearing the robot will end up being a better idea.

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CNC Machine Boasts Big Bed, Impressive Power from Off-the-Shelf Parts

A lot of homebrew CNC machines end up being glorified plotters with a router attached that are good for little more than milling soft materials like wood and plastic. So if you have a burning need to mill harder materials like aluminum and mild steel quickly and quietly, set your sights higher and build a large bed CNC machine with off-the-shelf components.

With a budget of 2000 €, [SörenS7] was not as constrained as a lot of the lower end CNC builds we’ve seen, which almost always rely on 3D-printed parts or even materials sourced from the trash can. And while we certainly applaud every CNC build, this one shows that affordable and easily sourced mechatronics can result in a bolt-up build of considerable capability. [SörenS7]’s BOM for this machine is 100% catalog shopping, from the aluminum extrusion bed and gantry to the linear bearings and recirculating-ball lead screws. The working area is a generous 900 x 400 x 120mm, the steppers are beefy NEMA23s, and the spindle is a 3-kW VFD unit for plenty of power. The video below shows the machine’s impressive performance dry cutting aluminum.

All told, [SörenS7] came in 500 € under budget, which is a tempting price point for a machine this big and capable.

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Automate the Freight: Medical Deliveries by Drone

Being a cop’s kid leaves you with a lot of vivid memories. My dad was a Connecticut State Trooper for over twenty years, and because of the small size of the state, he was essentially on duty at all times. His cruiser was very much the family vehicle, and like all police vehicles, it was loaded with the tools of the trade. Chief among them was the VHF two-way radio, which I’d listen to during long car rides, hearing troopers dispatched to this accident or calling in that traffic stop.

One very common call was the blood relay — Greenwich Hospital might have had an urgent need for Type B+ blood, but the nearest supply was perhaps at Yale-New Haven Hospital. The State Police would be called, a trooper would pick up the blood in a cooler, drive like hell down I-95, and hand deliver the blood to waiting OR personnel. On a good day, a sufficiently motivated and skilled trooper could cover that 45-mile stretch in about half an hour. On a bad day, the trooper might end up in an accident and in need of blood himself.

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