Augmented Reality Sandbox Using a Kinect

Want to make all your 5 year old son’s friends jealous? What if he told them he could make REAL volcanoes in his sandbox? Will this be the future of sandboxes, digitally enhanced with augmented reality?

It’s not actually that hard to set up! The system consists of a good computer running Linux, a Kinect, a projector, a sandbox, and sand. And that’s it! The University of California (UC Davis) has setup a few of these systems now to teach children about geography, which is a really cool demonstration of both 3D scanning and projection mapping. As you can see in the animated gif above, the Kinect can track the topography of the sand, and then project its “reality” onto it. In this case, a mini volcano.

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Okay, Google. Start the Jeep!

When [wizardpc] bought his Jeep, it came with an Avital 3100L car alarm system; but after it started going on the fritz, he needed to replace it. So he opted for a new alarm system with the same harness type — and then he decided to hack it.

When installing the new alarm system, an Avital 5103L combo unit, he realized there was an extra wire that when grounded, starts the vehicle — Avital had included the hardware upgrade before the software came out on this specific model. Score.

From there it was a pretty easy hack. All he needed was a Raspberry Pi 2, a relay board, and a few dirt simple lines of code. On the mobile end of things is a collection of hacks; he’s using Tasker with his Android phone to add a special command to Google Now. He tells Google to ‘Start the Jeep’ and after a few seconds, she turns right on.

Wouldn’t it be nice if Google would expose some hooks so that we can all add our own functionality to Google Now without doing the app-juggling  [wizardpc] used for this? If you have your own set of Google Now hacks we’d love to hear about it. Send us a tip!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Lighting the Way for Walkers

Chances are, you probably know someone who uses a walker to assist in their mobility. Ever wonder about how they could be made better? When [Alan McFarland] noticed his friend using his iPhone as a light to walk down a hallway — with only one hand on his walker — he realized something could easily be done to make the walker more functional. His own light bar.

Sure you could get a flashlight, zip tie it to the walker, or maybe a bike light with a dedicated mount — but [Alan] wanted it to be a bit more elegant; and functional. With this in mind, he attached an LED light strip to the lower frame of the walker to help illuminate the path ahead. A button is wired up to the handle for easy access, and he’s even using a PIC12F1501 microcontroller to give it some logic — it’ll turn off by itself, fading out, giving the person a chance to sit down before the lights go out.

The thing we like about this project is he programmed it using the PICBASIC PRO compiler — the same compiler that [Alan] himself used nearly 20 years ago programming the Borg suits and spacesuit lighting on Star Trek: First Contact — how’s that for a random trivia fact!

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Steam-Powered Machine Shop

It’s sometimes hard to believe how stuff was made over a hundred years ago when electricity wasn’t widely available. One of the most common ways of powering tools was via belt drive — powered by a water mill, or a steam engine, or even horses. [David Richards] has spent a good chunk of time making his own period accurate steam powered machine shop — and it’s fantastic.

It represents approximately what a 1920’s machine shop would look like in America. Not a single tool is newer than 1925. The whole shop is powered by a line shaft using steam power. A massive boiler provides steam for a Pennsylvania built 5 by 5 steam engine, dating back to approximately 1895. Using belts and clutches, it powers a few lathes, drill presses, a mill, and even a shaper — an identical machine to one in the Edison Museum!

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Taking Atlas For a Walk

Remember Atlas, the humanoid robot from Boston Dynamics? The company bought by Google, er, owned by Alphabet, and uh, most likely to become Skynet? Well — they’ve just shown us that Atlas can take a light jog through the woods now.

Published on YouTube a few days ago, Boston Dynamics gave a quick presentation on some of the upgrades the company has been working on for their bots. First up is a demonstration of Big Dog’s new appendage… What looks like an elephant trunk with a prosthetic hand on the end. Big Dog can now leave the testing lab any time he wants — door knobs are no longer an obstacle. Considering its been able to traverse extremely rough terrain for years now, this doesn’t bode well…

Atlas on the other hand has also come a long way. From standing on his own for the first time back in 2013, he moved quickly to being hit with medicine balls (and not falling over!) — and now, he can run outside. Luckily they haven’t quite figured out the battery pack solution yet… Video of his outdoor escapades after the break.

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Cozy Heat Control with an Arduino

[George Dewar] and his wife live in a typical 1940’s house in New Zealand , which in case you didn’t know, have a little insulation in the ceiling… and nowhere else. Like most, they put up with the cold — but after having a baby, [George] decided it was time to start controlling the heat a bit better.

They have an electric oil radiator which works well, but isn’t very smart. It only has 6 settings — not very useful when you’re trying to stay at a certain temperature. First off, they looked into a plug-in thermostat controller, and found a cheap one called the HeaterMate. Unfortunately it left a lot to be desired. For example, it didn’t seem to have PID control at all — and for an oil radiator, when you turn it off… it’s still going to heat the room for a while. He also found that because of the high current load of a heater … the device would read a few degrees over room temperature when operating. Unperturbed, [George] took this opportunity to design and build his own PID thermostat controller instead.  Continue reading “Cozy Heat Control with an Arduino”

Living in a Sphere in the Sky

Wow. Looking to live off the grid in style? [Jono Williams] just finished off his rather ambitious Skysphere project.

Using industrial materials (is that highway lamp post tower?), [Jono] designed and built his ultimate apartment tower out in the country. Kind of looks like a futuristic outlook or security post — something straight out of that [Tom Cruise] flick, Oblivion.

The project has been in the works for years, and [Jono] estimates its taken about 3000 hours so far — not to mention $50,000 USD in building materials. It’s solar powered, Android controlled, has a fingerprint scanner at the door, an integrated beer fridge in the couch, RGB LED lighting, WiFi, a stargazing platform, a custom queen size bed, his own AI voice, wireless sound, and automated heat management!  Continue reading “Living in a Sphere in the Sky”