Color changing coaster has a built-in drink detector

[Robert] put together his own illuminated coasters that know when they hold a drink. They look fantastic, thanks to professionally produced PCBs and a layered, laser-cut acrylic case. They’re much like the pagers given to restaurant-goes who are waiting for tables, but this version is much fancier (and doesn’t include the vibrating/paging feature).

The RGB-LED board is a previous project which was developed using eight surface mount RGB LED modules around a circular board. It uses an ATmega168 paired with an MBI5168 constant-current LED sink driver. The coaster enclosure gave him room for a few more items, like the pair of AA batteries which work in conjunction with a boost converter to power the device. It also houses an IR reflectance sensor which is used to detect the presence of a drink on the coaster. This is important since an on-occupied coaster looks like it would be blindingly bright if there wasn’t a glass to diffuse the intensity of the LEDs.

He mentions that incandescent light bulbs mess with the IR reflectance sensor. But there must be some way to account for ambient conditions with the code, right?

Hybrid roller coaster concept


Toyota recently ran an ad campaign touting “Ideas for Good” in which the actors speculated uses for Toyota Synergy Drive hybrid systems in non-automotive related applications. One idea that was floated involved using the car’s regenerative braking system at an amusement park, in an effort to reclaim and use some of a roller coaster’s kinetic energy.

Toyota sent a Prius to the team over at Deeplocal, who deconstructed it and found that the car could generate 60 amps of current when braking. That’s not an insignificant number, so they decided to create a cool demonstration showing how powerful the technology is. They built a coaster car from the Prius’ guts, and positioned it at the top of an elevated platform, which was connected to a 70 foot track. In the video embedded below they push the car from the platform and down the track, using the regenerative braking system to illuminate a large display of amusement park lights.

While the video is little more than a well-produced advertisement for Toyota, we can’t help but think that it’s pretty cool. It’s doubtful that we will suddenly see an inrush of hybrid-based roller coasters any time soon, but the concept is interesting nonetheless.

[via Notcot]

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Entrust you kid’s life to a homemade roller coaster?

So you fancy yourself as an amateur engineer? Been working on those welding skills for a while? The real test is to trust your children’s lives on a roller coaster you’ve designed and built (translated).

Now we’re not talking some tired old carnival ride like the teacups. This is a full-blown roller coaster, complete with an upside-down loop. The ride starts off with a chain-lift to the top of the garage/barn roof. From there it’s off and away on the single-rider train. We’d recommend keeping your hands and feet inside the car… if there was a car. The ride utilizes an automobile seat, but you’ll have to settle for a lap-belt as there’s no shoulder restraint here. We’re a bit wary of the track footings – we’d bet they’re not well anchored in the ground – but the fact that the entire length of track has been painted makes us think that [John Ivers] might have known at least a little bit about what he was doing. Don’t forget to catch the video below the fold.

Update: Much better video now embedded after the break thanks to [Tom 101’s] link in the comments.

Update: Source link changes to the original thanks to [Mike’s] comment.

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Coaster Controlled HTPC


These days, HTPCs are becoming more and more common, however controlling the content elegantly can be a painfully annoying problem. Roteno Labs have come up with a wonderful solution they call the RFiDJ. Similar to the RFID phone we covered earlier, they used a set of picture frame coasters and mounted descriptive pictures as well as unique RFID tags in each one. When a coaster is placed in the sensor area the server begins streaming that particular selection, including local news, This Week in Tech podcast, and other specific albums. Roteno Labs even managed to include a “shuffle” tag which would play content randomly out of a library. The end result is very well put together, excellently documented, and there is even a working video after the break.

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MicroPython on the ESP8266: Kicking the Tires

Scripting languages are for large computers, right? “Real” embedded device work is a hellish, never-ending cycle of code, compile, and re-flash. Well, I used to think so too, but with the proliferation of scripting and other interactive languages to microcontrollers over the last few years, the hurdle to interactive development on the small chips has gotten a lot lower.

On the ESP8266 platform, I’ve tried out NodeMCU’s Lua and ESP8266 BASIC. (For the last half-year, I’ve been using the awesome Mecrisp-Stellaris almost exclusively on the STM32F1xx and F4xx chips, but haven’t dipped into ESP8266 Forth yet.)

NodeMCU is great because it’s got everything you could want built in, and through cloud services it’s easy to get a tailored build made that maximizes free flash memory for your projects. I just don’t dig the asynchronous Lua thing (you might, try it!). ESP BASIC has a different set of libraries, and is missing MQTT for my purposes. Still it’s pretty slick, and worth a look.

So when the MicroPython folks announced that they were releasing the binary builds for the ESP, I thought it was time to give it a spin. I’ve used Python for nearly twelve years now, so it’s like a comfortable shoe for me. Would MicroPython be the same on the ESP8266? The short answer is yes and no.

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Ball Run Gets Custom Sound Effects

Building a marble run has long been on my project list, but now I’m going to have to revise that plan. In addition to building an interesting track for the orbs to traverse, [Jack Atherton] added custom sound effects triggered by the marble.

I ran into [Jack] at Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics booth at Maker Faire. That’s a mouthful, so they usually go with the acronym CCRMA. In addition to his project there were numerous others on display and all have a brief write-up for your enjoyment.

[Jack] calls his project Leap the Dips which is the same name as the roller coaster the track was modeled after. This is the first I’ve heard of laying out a rolling ball sculpture track by following an amusement park ride, but it makes a lot of sense since the engineering for keeping the ball rolling has already been done. After bending the heavy gauge wire [Jack] secured it in place with lead-free solder and a blowtorch.

As mentioned, the project didn’t stop there. He added four piezo elements which are monitored by an Arduino board. Each is at a particularly extreme dip in the track which makes it easy to detect the marble rolling past. The USB connection to the computer allows the Arduino to trigger a MaxMSP patch to play back the sound effects.

For the demonstration, Faire goers wear headphones while letting the balls roll, but in the video below [Jack] let me plug in directly to the headphone port on his Macbook. It’s a bit weird, since there no background sound of the Faire during this part, but it was the only way I could get a reasonable recording of the audio. I love the effect, and think it would be really fun packaging this as a standalone using the Teensy Audio library and audio adapter hardware.

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Mike Szczys Ends 8-Bit vs 32-Bit Holy War!

If you’ve read through the comments on Hackaday, you’ve doubtless felt the fires of one of our classic flame-wars. Any project done with a 32-bit chip could have been done on something smaller and cheaper, if only the developer weren’t so lazy. And any project that’s squeezes the last cycles of performance out of an 8-bit processor could have been done faster and more appropriately with a 32-bit chip.


Of course, the reality for any given project is between these two comic-book extremes. There’s a range of capabilities in both camps. (And of course, there are 16-bit chips…) The 32-bit chips tend to have richer peripherals and run at higher speeds — anything you can do with an 8-bitter can be done with its fancier cousin. Conversely, comparatively few microcontroller applications outgrow even the cheapest 8-bitters out there. So, which to choose, and when?

Eight Bits are Great Bits

The case that [Mike] makes for an 8-bit microcontroller is that it’s masterable because it’s a limited playground. It’s a lot easier to get through the whole toolchain because it’s a lot shorter. In terms of debugging, there’s (often) a lot less that can go wrong, letting you learn the easy debugging lessons first before moving on to the truly devilish. You can understand the hardware peripherals because they’re limited.

And then there’s the datasheets. The datasheet for a chip like the Atmel ATMega168 is not something you’d want to print out, at around 660 pages long. But it’s complete. [Mike] contrasts with the STM32F405 which has a datasheet that’s only 200 pages long, but that’s just going over the functions in principle. To actually get down to the registers, you need to look at the programming manual, which is 1,731 pages long. (And that doesn’t even cover the various support libraries that you might want to use, which add even more to the documentation burden.) The point is, simpler is simpler. And if you’re getting started, simpler is better.

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