Hackaday Prize Entry: The Open Voice Factory

Joe’s little brother Richard has never been able to speak. When Richard turned 19, he received a device not unlike the voice box of Stephen Hawking. Suddenly, Richard was able to communicate using thousands of words, and everyone could understand him. In the UK, there are thousands of people who could benefit from this technology, but can’t afford one. This is the inspiration for the Open Voice Factory, a device that allows anyone to create pages of touch screen interfaces and parses them into functioning speech aids.

The basic idea behind the Open Voice Factory is — wait for it — PowerPoint. Hold on, this actually makes sense. The Open Voice Factory is designed so caregivers can create and modify the touchscreen ‘pages’ with different words and actions. PowerPoint is universal, and everybody’s grandmother knows how to use it. In this regard, the software that is the leading cause of death for astronauts isn’t a terrible choice.

That PowerPoint stack is sent off to an online Factory that parses the commands and assembles a web page built for touch screen interaction. It’s brilliantly simple, relies on a cloud service so it’s highly marketable, and requires only a minimal hardware investment for each user. Consider the fact that computers – especially Macs – have had exceptional text to speech capabilities for twenty years now, and you wonder why something like this hasn’t come along sooner. It’s an awesome idea, and a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Minecraft Sword Lights Up When Nearby Friends

With All Hallow’s Eve looming close, makers have the potential to create some amazing costumes we’ll remember for the rest of the year. If you’re a fan of the hugely addict-*cough* popular game Minecraft, perhaps you’ve considered cosplaying as your favorite character skin, but lacked the appropriate props. [Graham Kitteridge] and his friends have decided to pay homage to the game by making their own light-up Minecraft swords.

These swords use 3D-printed and laser-cut parts, designed so as to hide the electronics for the lights and range finder in the hilt. Range finder? Oh, yes, the sword uses an Arduino Uno-based board to support NewPixels LEDs and a 433Mhz radio transmitter and receiver for ranged detection of other nearby swords that — when they are detected — will trigger the sword to glow. Kind of like the sword Sting, but for friendlies. Continue reading “Minecraft Sword Lights Up When Nearby Friends”

Simple Game Boy iPhone Mod Is Simple

We’ve featured the work of [Modpurist] before, but his latest hack is wonderful in its simplicity. He wanted to create a more authentic Game Boy feel on his iPhone, so he printed out and stuck a skin on the front that makes it look like a Game Boy. Or rather, a Phone Boy, as the form factor is a bit different.

By measuring out the on-screen buttons and using light photo paper, he was able to have buttons on the skin as well: the touch screen still works through it.  You can download his printable templates… and the finishing touch is a similar print for the back of the phone to gives that genuine Game Boy feel. Okay, feel is not the right term since the classic d-pad and red buttons are still just capacitive and have no throw. But this is a clever step in a fun direction.

Check out his other hacks while you are at it, including the Game Boy Fridge.

Continue reading “Simple Game Boy iPhone Mod Is Simple”

RadarCat Gives Computers A Sense of Touch

So far, humans have had the edge in the ability to identify objects by touch. but not for long. Using Google’s Project Soli, a miniature radar that detects the subtlest of gesture inputs, the [St. Andrews Computer Human Interaction group (SACHI)] at the University of St. Andrews have developed a new platform, named RadarCat, that uses the chip to identify materials, as if by touch.

Realizing that different materials return unique radar signals to the chip, the [SACHI] team combined it with their recognition software and machine learning processes that enables RadarCat to identify a range of materials with accuracy in real time! It can also display additional information about the object, such as nutritional information in the case of food, or product information for consumer electronics. The video displays how RadarCat has already learned an impressive range of materials, and even specific body parts. Can Skynet be far behind?

Continue reading “RadarCat Gives Computers A Sense of Touch”

You Might Not Be Able To Read This

Early today, some party unleashed a massive DDoS attack against Dyn, a major DNS host. This led to a number of websites being completely inaccessible. DNS is the backbone of the Internet. It is the phone book that turns URLs into IP addresses. Without it, the Internet still works, but you won’t be able to find anything.

Over the past few months, security professionals have suggested — in as responsible terms as possible — that something big could happen. In early September [Bruce Schneier] wrote, Someone Is Learning How To Take Down The Internet. The implication of this very general warning is that someone — possibly a state actor, but don’t be too sure about that — was figuring out how to attack one of the core services of the web. The easiest way to effectively ‘turn off the Internet’ for everyone is a Distributed Denial of Service attack against root servers, DNS servers, or some other service that plays a key role in the web.

Dyn is responding well to the attack this morning, and the Internet is safe from attack for the time being. As for who is responsible for the attack, what the goal is, and if this will happen again, no one knows. An attack on this scale is most certainly someone with a very large pocketbook or a state actor (Russia, China, the US, UK, Germany, Israel, or the like) but that’s not a given. It’s also not given the DDoS attacks have stopped. You might not be able to read this, but if you can, it might be a good idea to find a shortwave radio.

Two-Stage Tentacle Mechanisms Part III: Putting it All Together

Welcome back to the final chapter in our journey exploring two-stage tentacle mechanisms. This is where we arm you with the tools and techniques to get one of these cretins alive-and-kicking in your livingroom. In this last installment, I’ll guide us through the steps of building our very own tentacle and controller identical to one we’ve been discussing in the last few weeks. As promised, this post comes with a few bonuses:

Nothing like a fresh batch o’ parts.

Design Files

  1. The Almighty Bill-o’-Materials
  2. Vector Drawings for laser cutting
    1. DXF files pre-offset (0.003″)
    2. DXF files original
  3. STL Models for 3D Printing
  4. Original Tentacle CAD Model Files
  5. Original Controller CAD Model Files

Depending on your situation, some design files may be more important than others. If you just want to get parts made, odds are good that you can simply cut the pre-offset DXFs from the right plate thicknesses and get rolling. Of course, if you need to tune the files for a laser with a slightly different beam diameter, I’ve included the original DXFs for good measure. For the heavy-hitters, I’ve also included the original files if there’s something about this design that just deserves a tweak or two. Have at it! (And, of course, let us know how you improve it!)

Ok, now that we’ve got the parts on-hand in a pile of pieces,let’s walk through the last-mile tweaks to making this puppet work: assembly and tuning. At this point, we’ve got a collection of parts, some laser-cut, some off the shelf. Now it’s time to string them together.

Continue reading “Two-Stage Tentacle Mechanisms Part III: Putting it All Together”

Down the Rabbit Hole and Back Out Again: Serial Over Headphone Jack

[ttsiodras] tells an epic tale of getting a custom Debian kernel installed on an Asus MemoPAD (ME103K) tablet. Skipping to the end of the saga, he discovers what looks like serial data coming out on the headphone jack when the system boots, but the signal was so distorted that he couldn’t simply interpret it. The solution turns out to be attaching a level-converter chip.


A level converter is a non-inverting amplifier, usually with a Schmitt trigger for immunity against noise. In this case, it acts like a “binarizer” — outputting a high voltage when the input rises above a threshold, and a low when it drops below. It’s the right part when you need to clean up a messy digital signal, and in this case works just fine because the capacitive distortion effects slow down both the leading and trailing edges of the signal, keeping the serial data’s timing intact.

That was the spoiler. If you want to read up on putting a custom Linux on an Android device, check out [ttsiodras]’s first post where he backs the machine up, and the second where he gets his custom kernel up and running. If you’re ever faced with an Android tablet that hasn’t been owned yet, or if you just have a DIY streak, this should help you get started.

Using the audio jack for serial is actually not uncommon, and discovering a serial terminal that listens at boot time is our favorite way to wedge a Linux OS into odd devices. So when you see a funny, distorted signal coming out at 115,200 baud, take a moment to clean its edges up and see what you’ve got.