Wireless pinball controller for tablet gaming


This wooden box is a wireless pinball controller and tablet stand. The idea is to set it on a workbench to give you some of the thrill of standing and playing the real thing. [Jeff] has been rather addicted to playing a pinball app on Android lately, and started the journey because he needed a way to give his thumbs some relief.

An Arduino monitors buttons on either side of this wooden controller. [Jeff] is new to working with hardware (he’s a Linux Kernel developer by trade) and was immediately struck with button debouncing issues. Rather than handle this in software (we’ve got a super-messy thread on that issue with our favorite at the bottom) he chose a hardware solution by building an SR latch out of two NAND gates.

With the inputs sorted out he added a BlueSMiRF board to the project which allowed him to connect a Nexus 7 tablet via Bluetooth. At this point he ran into some problems getting the device to respond to his control as if it were an external keyboard. His stop-gap solution was to switch to a Galaxy Tab 10.1 which wasn’t throwing cryptic errors. Hopefully he’ll fix this in the next iteration which will also include adding a plunger to launch the pinball, a part which just arrived in the mail as he was writing up this success.

We’ve embedded his quick demo video after the break.

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Fruit piano uses a different circuit than the Makey Makey


[Hasbi Sevinç] is using perishable goods in his electronics project. The orange, tomato, and two apples seen above act as keys for the virtual piano. The concept is the same as the Makey Makey which is often demonstrated as a banana piano. This implementation uses an Arduino to read the sensors and to connect to the computer running the piano program.

You can see there’s a fair amount of circuitry built on the breadboard. Each piece of fruit has its own channel to make it into a touch sensor. The signal produced when your finger contacts the food is amplified by transistors connected in a Darlington pair. That circuit drives the low side of a optoisolator transmitter. The receiving side of it is connected the I/O pin of the Arduino. You can see the schematic as well as a demo clip after the break.

This use of hardware frees up a lot of your microcontroller cycles. That’s because projects like this banana piano use the timers to measure RC decay. [Hasbi's] setup provides a digital signal that at most only needs to be debounced.

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USB Keyboard Becomes an AVR Programmer

[Steve] created an AVR programmer using an old USB keyboard. We feature a bunch of AVR programmers, but this one is made from parts that many people will have lying around. There are two components: the controller PCB from a USB keyboard, and an optocoupler for emulating key presses.

In order to send data to the AVR, [Steve] used the LED outputs on the keyboard. These LEDs can easily be toggled according to the HID device specification. They provide a 5 volt output with current limiting resistors, which means they can be connected directly to the target AVR.

Reading data is a bit more complex. The optocoupler tricks the keyboard into believing that a single key has been pressed, firing off a data transfer. The MISO pin on the AVR is connected to the row and column of the shift key, which is read by the driver.

On the software side [Steve] created an avrdude interface driver. This allows the programmer to be used with avrdude, just like any other programmer. [Steve] does point out that it isn’t the fastest programmer since the keyboard tries to debounce the MISO input, greatly limiting the speed. However, since it’s made from stuff you might have in your junk bin, it’s a neat hack.

Playing footsie with your video games

[Jon] will be tapping away with his toes during gaming session thanks to this foot controller which is packed with buttons and sensors. It’s the second iteration of the build. The original had some solder joints break and the USB stopped working. He had also been experiencing some erratic behavior and so he decided to upgrade the control hardware and add a few more things in the process.

This version uses an Arduino Uno as the interface board. He did a bunch of prototyping to find the best way to hook up all the analog sensors, and how to properly debounce the buttons. Once he was happy with the inputs he set about finding a better way to use the USB HID standard with the device. We were surprised to hear that the ATmega16u2 (one of the new AVR chips which includes USB hardware) doesn’t play nicely with Linux. But [Jon] managed to hack his way around that issue and now he’s gaming with an even better foot controller than before.

Tool box light dimmer helps out a friend, offers up design tips


[miceuz] has a friend that works as a theatre technician, and in the course of his job he often needs to jigger with various stage components while shows are in progress. As you can imagine, the lighting situation is far from ideal, so he asked [miceuz] to build him an adjustable lighting solution for his tool box.

The circuit itself is relatively straightforward, using an ATMega88 to provide the PWM required for dimming and color control. Input is taken from three different sources, a rotary encoder for color selection, a pot for brightness control, and a button to turn the light strip on and off.

[miceuz] says that while project came together pretty easily, it still presented some issues along the way which provide some useful design reminders for beginners (and some veterans) alike.

First and foremost: debounce, debounce, debounce. [miceuz] forgot this mantra and made a mad dash to add capacitors to his design after etching the PCB to ensure that his inputs were not bouncing all over the place. He also noted that one should always be sure to read the ADCL before the ADCH register when decoding ADC data. His final observation is that using thick traces is the best policy whenever possible – he ran into a lot of issues with traces detaching during assembly, which he had to rework with wire and solder.

In the end, his friend was happy with the result, and [miceuz] is a better hacker for having worked through his issues. What sorts of important/useful lessons have you learned through the course of your projects? Be sure to share them with us in the comments.

Slot car lap timer/counter

For his first project using the TI Launchpad [VOJT4] built a lap timer and counter for slot cars. For us it’s always hardest to come up with the idea of what to build and we think he found a great one here.

Each time a car passes the finish line of the track it trips a reed switch that was hot glued to the underside of the track segment. Both reed switches have a capacitor to smooth out the inputs (is this acting as a hardware debounce?). The time and lap number are then pushed to a graphic LCD by the MSP430G2553.

You must be logged into the forum where [VOJT4] posted the project in order to see the images. Because of this, we’ve embedded them (including the schematic) after the break along with a demo video. But do take a look at his project thread to hear his thoughts and peruse the code he wrote.

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chipKIT Sketch: Mini Polyphonic Sampling Synth

In our hands-on review of the Digilent chipKIT Uno32, we posed the question of what the lasting appeal might be for a 32-bit Arduino work-alike. We felt it needed some novel applications exploiting its special features…not just the same old Arduino sketches with MOAR BITS. After the fractal demo, we’ve hit upon something unique and fun…

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