Conference Badges are the Newest Form of Hardware Art

About four decades ago, many European truck drivers started placing electronic LED badges in their windshields. Most of them were simple; nothing more than an animated heart pierced by an arrow. It became a common distraction in the highway night panorama of that time, at least until it became illegal. Most motorists became accustomed to seeing them, and the idea of the truck drivers making a statement with electronics always stuck with me. Now I have the chance to help people make a similar statement. Conference badges are not just a way to identify those who have registered, but a fashion statement and a mark of pride for conference organizers. They’ve become an art form, and engineers always want to stretch the limits of what is possible.

Every September, we have BalCCon, an international hacker’s conference at Novi Sad, Serbia. I was asked to design a badge for the 2016 event, and this is the first (well, the second) release. It is based on the PIC18LF24K50 and consists of a circle of LEDs which randomly displays pre-defined patterns. Every badge has its own infrared transceiver (LED-receiver pair), so the fun begins when two or more badges spot each other: they go from Adagio to full on Rondo, losing their default, dull visual pattern for a more dynamic, attention grabbing one, but most importantly – they synchronize. This means that, in a group of people, all badges will play the same pattern in unison. Every badge can spread the pattern code, so the whole group, however large, soon becomes synchronized. But if one of them “gets lost” somehow, it will try to learn it back from a neighbor or it might even launch into its own, randomly generated one. Sometimes it manages to spread it further and you get to witness a battle for light show domination.

This isn’t merely a story of designing badges, but of design choices that come in on budget while achieving a look that will delight those who end up wearing the hardware.

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Turning your CNC into a Vinyl Cutter

This may seem like a no-brainer, but it’s actually pretty easy to modify your CNC machine to hold a vinyl cutter blade in order to do stencils or even cut out vinyl logos!

[Jouni] designed a holder for a standard Roland vinyl/sticker cutter blade (replacement with 5 blades is about $10 on eBay). It’s made to fit his specific CNC which uses a 65mm spindle, with a 49mm mounting ring — but the file could be easily modified to suit others.

Simply clamp your plastic or vinyl onto a flat piece of wood, and get stenciling! [Jouni’s] included his .STL file on his site in case anyone wants to try it out. While he’s designed it for 3D printing, you could probably CNC mill it as well — which would kinda make more sense…

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The Arduino Birthday Cake is No Lie

Making someone a birthday cake is very thoughtful, but not if they are watching their weight. [MrFox] found a way around that: an Arduino-powered birthday cake. Even if you don’t mind the calories, an Arduino cake is a novelty and sure to be a hit with a hacker who’s another year older.

The cake uses a UTFT LCD shield which eats up a lot of pins and memory, so the project uses an Arduino Mega. A speaker plays the happy birthday song (which may even be legal now) while a microphone detects the birthday boy or girl blowing out the virtual candles.

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Robot Clock Writes Time Over and Over and Over

We’ve seen quite a few clocks that write the time out with a pen or marker. If you think about it, this really isn’t a great solution; every whiteboard marker will dry out in a day or two, and even if you’re using a pen, that’s still eventually going to run out of ink.

[ekaggrat] wanted a drawing clock that didn’t have these problems, and after taking a look at a magnetic drawing board, was struck with inspiration. The result is a clock that will perpetually write the time. It’s a revision of one of his earlier builds and looks to be much more reliable and mechanically precise.

A clock that writes time needs some sort of surface that won’t degrade, but can be written to over and over again. Whiteboards and glass won’t work, and neither will anything with ink. The solution to this problem was found in a ‘magnetic writing board’ or a Magna Doodle. These magnetic writing boards have a series of cells encapsulating iron filings. Pass a magnet over one side of the board, and a dot of filings appear. Pass a magnet over the opposite side of the board, and the filings disappear.

[ekaggrat]’s time-writing robot consists of a small Magna Doodle display, a robotic arm controlled by two stepper motors, and two solenoids on the end of the arm. The kinematics come from a helpful chap on the RepRap forums, and with the ATmega644 and two stepper drivers, this clock can write the time by altering the current flowing through two solenoids.

A video is the best way to experience this project, and you can check that out below.

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Hand Cranking the Malevolent Mechanical Pumpkin

Meet Marty. He’s a pumpkin that has been fitted out with a moving eyes, tongue and an expression of malevolent glee. You would probably assume that this is all driven by servos, right? Nope: Marty is driven by an old-fashioned crank mechanism, designed and built by [Ben Brandt].

He wanted to make something that could be driven by a hand crank. Of course, there is nothing stopping you from throwing a motor on the back to drive the mechanism, but [Ben] wanted the internals to be fireproof so he could light it with a candle. His mechanism, built from old bits of wire and sheet metal, is not flammable or adversely affected by heat like a motor and power supply would be. He succeeded admirably, and he has also done an excellent job of documenting the process to providing handy tips on creating a mechanical pumpkin-based monstrosity.

Those hackers down with a little electronic wet work you should start building their LED-integrated Jack-O-Lantern now. These things take a lot of time turn out.

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Password Haters Can Now Use

You can’t be bothered to sign up for a free account? Fine. You also don’t want to sign in each time you need to look up a component? Got it. You’ve made your point and the folks over at have made it so.

When the electronic component search engine was opened up for public use we covered it and gave you the rundown. Some of our readers left comments about things they were unhappy with regarding the system. Surprisingly, signing in was the most frequently voiced concern. It looks like your complaints were not taken lightly and you no longer have to register with the site to unlock all the parametric search data. There is still some added value to having an account like saving parts to a list for later use or you could get involved by joining the community on the forum.

Now we just need a parts search that knows what we want without having to actually choose parameters.

Full Disclosure: is produced by Supplyframe Inc. Hackaday is an Editorially Independent part of Supplyframe.

Robot Cheats at Rock Paper Scissors

It is hard enough to beat computers at games like chess. Now robotics engineers at the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory in Japan have created a janken robot that wins every time (if you didn’t know, janken is the Japanese name for rock-paper-scissors). How can it win every time? Easy. It cheats.

The janken robot evolved through three different versions. In the first version, the robotic hand would note the human player’s hand with a high-speed camera and then move the hand to a winning counter play with about a 20 millisecond delay. In the second version, the delay was greatly reduced.

However, in the third version, the robot uses a scanning technique to capture an entire field of view and determines what play the human is making. Again, a winning counter play is instantly produced by the robotic hand.

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