Browsing the web one step at a time

After modifying his new manual treadmill to fit under his standing desk, [Brian Peiris] found a way to let him stroll all over the internet.

After removing the treadmill’s original time/distance display, [Peiris] reverse engineered the speed sensor to send data to an Arduino and his PC.  We’ve seen a number of projects that interface treadmills with virtual worlds, but what really makes this project stand out is a simple script using the Throxy Python library which allows the treadmill to throttle his machine’s internet connection.

The end result is a browsing experience that reacts to how fast the user runs.  In the demonstration video, you can see Peiris tiptoe through images or jog through YouTube videos.  A minimum bandwidth setting keeps the connection live, so if you can’t make it all the way through that HD Netflix movie, taking a breather won’t time out the connection.

It’s certainly a great way to get in shape, or at the very least, it’ll make your ISP’s bandwidth cap feel a lot bigger.

Video after the jump.

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University research dollars poured into developing a Holodeck


It may seem like this would be an early April Fool’s joke, but the image above shows serious research in action. [Ben Lang] recently had the chance to interview the director of a program that wants to make the Holodeck a reality. The core goal of the research — called Project Holodeck — is to develop an affordable multi-player virtual reality experience outside of the laboratory. We’ve heard speculation that Sony and Microsoft will release their next-gen systems in 2013; we’d rather wait for this to hit the market.

[Nathan Burba] is the director of the program. It’s part of the University of Southern California Games Institute and brings together students of Interactive Media, Cinema Arts, and Engineering. The hardware worn by each player is shown off at the beginning of the video after the break. Most of the components are commercially available (a Lenovo laptop worn in the backpack, PlayStation controllers, etc.) but the stereoscopic display which gives each eye its own 90-degree view was developed specifically for the project.

After seeing the in-game rendered footage we can’t help but think of playing some Minecraft with this equipment. We just need some type of omni-directional treadmill because our living room floor space is very limited.

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Cheetah robot can run down even the fastest of us

It’s a blur, but you really don’t want to seen this thing coming for you anyway. It’s the latest look at what the folks at Boston Dynamics have been working on under a DARPA contract. They call it the Cheetah robot as it’s the fastest four-legged bot ever developed. The clip after the break shows it breaking the world record over 100 meters… for a human. This isn’t really legitimate since the run is done on a treadmill and the robot is tethered. But it’s still impressive scary.

The Cheetah is a relative of BigDog, another Boston Dynamics robot which we’ve seen several times in the past. BigDog specializes in lifting heavy loads and traversing rough terrain. We don’t think it will be too long before both traits can be “bred” into one device. A lot of times when we feature these robots there are comments about how they invoke images from The Terminator movies. For us this is more along [Michael Bay’s] vision of robots from the Transformers series. It certainly not small enough or fast enough to be seen as an early version of the Rat Thing.

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The Simulacrum, an innovative solution to walking in Virtual Reality

If you’ve been following along with immersive gaming, even casually, you’ve probably considered the difficulty in trying to do a comfortable and believable “walk” in a game. The first thing that usually pops into peoples minds are Omni Directional Treadmills, or ODTs. There are many problems with these, one of the biggest simply being cost. They’re very expensive.

[Zalo] at the MTBS3d forums has been working on his own very cost effective solution called the “Simulacrum”. He has built this for under $100 and it allows for a walking motion to be translated into the game. As you can see in the video below it works fairly well, even when one is out of commission for repairs (hence the limp).

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Playing the song “Still Alive” on hacked exercise equipment

Back in 2009, [Evi1wombat] pulled of this interesting hack, and it has slowly made its way through the internet to find us today. He obtained the computer from a recently deceased treadmill and decided to hack into it. Finding himself unable to flash the existing chip, he yanked it out and replaced it with something he was more familiar with, a dsPIC30F4011. Unfortunately we don’t have any pics of the inside, but he says that he had some fun with wire because the pin mapping wasn’t exactly the same. [Evi1wombat] also gained some respect for the original designer judging by  this quote from the source code:

* Damn, the dude who designed that board pulled
* some pretty nifty tricks… took a while to
* get all the drivers working.

Of course, once you have control over some nifty new hardware, the first logical thing to do on it is play “Still Alive” from the game Portal.

Enjoy the video after the break.
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Sustainability Hacks: Wind turbine generator

With a little bit of thought put into the build, a wind turbine generator can be one of the greenest ways to generate electricity. Wind power doesn’t require a semiconductor fab lab (unlike solar panels) and doesn’t have very many environmental consequences (unlike hydro power). The Tech Junkies put up a build log of a wind turbine that ended up being a very easy build.

In the interests of sustainability, The Tech Junkies found an old 1.5 HP DC treadmill motor. After measuring the voltage output when the motor was connected to a lathe, they discovered the power output was very linear. With a little bit of calculations, they realized they needed about 1000 RPM to get 20 Volts out of the motor. The team connected an inverter (it’s always cool seeing a power meter run backwards) and started fabricating the blades.

The team found a wealth of info on blade design on this site and following a few guidelines made six blades out of 8″ diameter PVC pipe. An aluminum hub was fabricated and the whole shebang was put on top of a found steel frame.

The Tech Junkies’ build produces 10 Watts of power but they’re looking to increase that to 500 W with the appropriate gearing. A great build that harkens back to this awesome webpage about turbine building and living off the grid.

The “AlarmTock”, a Chumby Hacker Board Alarm Clock

[Thomas] wrote in to tell us about his latest project, the “AlarmTock”. Like many hacks, this was inspired by some outdated hardware, a radio alarm clock from 1992.

After finally getting fed up with his old alarm clock, [Thomas’] wife purchased him a new one for around $10 from a local retail store. Although most likely an improvement, [Thomas] wondered why after so many years he still had to listen to either an annoying “beep” sound or whatever song the DJ on the radio decided to play.

In true hacker form, he decided to do something about it. [Thomas] crammed a [Chumby Hacker Board], which has much of the same hardware as the [Chumby One] device, into his clock radio. RSS-driven text-to-speech was used to tell him exactly what he wanted to know every morning. A sample .wav file is provided as well as the python script used to execute his morning wakeup routine. For another fun hack from [Thomas] check out his Google treadmill hack here!