Starfish Cat, Bowling Ball Bot, and Stargate all Claim Prizes

We saw a huge outpouring of builds for the the Hackaday Sci-Fi Contest and it’s now time to reveal the winners. With 84 great themed projects submitted, the judges had a tough task to pull out the most impressive both in terms of creativity and execution.

Here are our four winners. Two come from the Stargate universe. One is a cuddly yet horrifying character of unknown origin but unarguably Sci-Fi. The other is the best use of a bowling ball we’ve seen so far.

Grand Prize

The grand prize goes to [Jerome Kelty] with Animatronic Stargate Helmet. [Jerome] has built a replica prop that looks like it just came out of a Hollywood shop. It’s almost a shame that this helmet won’t be worn on film – though it certainly could be. If you remember the film and the television show, these helmets have quite a bit of articulation. The head can pan and tilt. The eyes glow, as well as have irises which expand and contract. The “wings” also open and close in a particular way.

[Jerome] built the mechanics for this helmet. He used radio control servos to move the head, with the help of some hardware from ServoCity. Most of the metalwork was built in his own shop. Everything is controlled from a standard R/C transmitter, much like the original show. [Jerome] is taking home a Rigol DS1054Z 4 Channel 50 MHz scope.

First Prize

First prize goes to [Christine] with
Starfish Cat: Your Lovecraftian Furby-like Friend. Starfish Cat is one of those odd projects that finds itself right on the edge of the uncanny valley. We are equal parts intrigued and creeped out by this… thing. The bottom is all starfish, with a rubber base poured into a 3D printed mold. The top though, is more cat-like, with soft fur and ears. 5 claws hide under the fur, ready to grab you.

Starfish Cat detects body heat with 5 bottom mounted PIR sensors. The sensors are read by the particle photon which acts as its brain. When heat is detected, Starfish Cat activates its claws, and also blows or sucks air through its… uh… mouth hole.  [Christine] is taking home a Monoprice Maker Select Mini 3D printer.

Click past the break to see the rest of the winners

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First Look: Macchina M2

In the past few years, we’ve seen a growth in car hacking. Newer tools are being released, which makes it faster and cheaper to get into automotive tinkering. Today we’re taking a first look at the M2, a new device from the folks at Macchina.

The Macchina M1 was the first release of a hacker friendly automotive device from the company. This was an Arduino compatible board, which kept the Arduino form factor but added interface hardware for the protocols most commonly found in cars. This allowed for anyone familiar with Arduino to start tinkering with cars in a familiar fashion. The form factor was convenient for adding standard shields, but was a bit large for using as a device connected to the industry standard OBD-II connector under the dash.

The Macchina M2 is a redesign that crams the M1’s feature set into a smaller form factor, modularizes the design, and adds some new features. With their Kickstarter launching today, they sent us a developer kit to review. Here’s our first look at the device.

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PIC Mesh, Accessible Distributed Networking

Wireless networks have been reduced to a component, for most of us. We fit a device, maybe an ESP8266 module or similar, and as if by magic a network exists. The underlying technology has been abstracted into the firmware of the device, and we never encounter it directly. This is no bad thing, because using wireless communication without having to worry about its mechanics gives us the freedom to get on with the rest of our work.

It is however interesting once in a while to take a look at the operation of a real wireless network, and [Alex Wong], [Brian Clark], and [Raghava Kumar] have given us a project with the opportunity to do just that. Their PIC Mesh university project is a distributed wireless mesh network using 2.4GHz NRF24L01 transceiver modules and PIC32 microcontrollers. They have it configured for demonstration purposes with a home automation system at the application layer, however it could be applied to many other applications.

The real value in this project is in its comprehensive but easy to read write-up of the kind you’d expect from a university project. The front page linked above has an overview of how the mesh works, but there are also pages taking us through the hardware, the networking software layer, and the home automation application layer. If you have ever wanted to understand a simple mesh networking system, this is a good place to start.

We’ve covered quite a few mesh networks over the years, but sadly we can only link you to a few of them. We’ve had a mesh network using the Raspberry Pi, Project Byzantium’s “ad-hoc wireless mesh networking for the zombie apocalypse“, and a 1000-node Xbee network for testing purposes.

My Life in the Connector Zoo

“The great thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from.” Truer words were never spoken, and this goes double for the hobbyist world of hardware hacking. It seems that every module, every company, and every individual hacker has a favorite way of putting the same pins in a row.

We have an entire drawer full of adapters that just go from one pinout to another, or one programmer to many different target boards. We’ll be the first to admit that it’s often our own darn fault — we decided to swap the reset and ground lines because it was convenient for one design, and now we have two adapters. But imagine a world where there was only a handful of distinct pinouts — that drawer would be only half full and many projects would simply snap together. “You may say I’m a dreamer…”

This article is about connectors and standards. We’ll try not to whine and complain, although we will editorialize. We’re going to work through some of the design tradeoffs and requirements, and maybe you’ll even find that there’s already a standard pinout that’s “close enough” for your next project. And if you’ve got a frequently used pinout or use case that we’ve missed, we encourage you to share the connector pinouts in the comments, along with its pros and cons. Let’s see if we can’t make sense of this mess.

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Smart Sutures

Researchers at Tufts University are experimenting with smart thread sutures that could provide electronic feedback to recovering patients. The paper, entitled “A toolkit of thread-based microfluidics, sensors, and electronics for 3D tissue embedding for medical diagnosis”, is fairly academic, but does describe how threads can work as pH sensors, strain gauges, blood sugar monitors, temperature monitors, and more.

Conductive thread is nothing new but usually thought of as part of a smart garment. In this case, the threads close up wounds and are thus directly in the patient’s body. In many cases, the threads talked to an XBee LilyPad or a Bluetooth Low Energy module so that an ordinary cell phone can collect the data.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Good Electronics Learning Toolkit

The Maker movement is a wildly popular thing, even if we can’t define what it is. The push towards STEM education is absolutely, without a doubt, completely unlike a generation of brogrammers getting a CS degree because of the money. This means there’s a market for kits to get kids interested in electronics, and there are certainly a lot of options. Most of these ‘electronic learning platforms’ don’t actually look that good, and the pedagogical usefulness is very questionable. Evive is not one of these toolkits. It looks good, and might be actually useful.

The heart of the Evive is basically an Arduino Mega, with the handy dandy Arduino shield compatibility that comes with that. Not all of the Mega pins are available for plugging in Dupont cables, though – a lot of the logic is taken up by breakouts, displays, buttons, and analog inputs. There’s a 1.8″ TFT display in the Evive, an SD card socket, connectors for an XBee, Bluetooth, or WiFi module, motor drivers, a fast DAC, analog inputs, and a plethora of buttons, knobs, and switches. All of this is packed into a compact and seemingly sturdy plastic case, making the Evive a little more durable than a breadboard and pile of jumper wires.

You can check out a remarkably well produced video for the Evive below.

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In Bed With an Arduino, Fighting Sleep Apnea

Sometimes the journey is as interesting as the destination, and that’s certainly the case with [Marc]’s pursuit of measuring his sleep apnea (PDF, talk slides. Video embedded below.). Sleep apnea involves periods of time when you don’t breathe or breathe shallowly for as long as a few minutes and affects 5-10% of middle-aged men (half that for women.) [Marc]’s efforts are still a work-in-progress but along the way he’s tried a multitude of things, all involving different technology and bugs to work out. It’s surprising how many ways there are to monitor breathing.

Debugging the Eeonyx conductive fabric approach
Debugging the Eeonyx conductive fabric approach

His attempts started out using a MobSenDat Kit, which includes an Arduino compatible board, and an accelerometer to see just what his sleeping positions were. That was followed by measuring blood O2 saturation using a cheap SPO2 sensor that didn’t work out, and one with Bluetooth that did work but gave results as a graph and not raw data.

Next came measuring breathing by detecting airflow from his nose using a Wind Sensor, but the tubes for getting the “wind” from his nose to the sensor were problematic, though the approach was workable. In parallel with the Wind Sensor he also tried the Zeo bedside sleep manager which involves wearing a headband that uses electrical signals from your brain to tell you what sleep state you’re in. He particularly liked this one as it gave access to the data and even offered some code.

And his last approach we know of was to monitor breathing by putting some form of band around his chest/belly to measure expansion and contraction. He tried a few bands and an Eeonyx conductive textile/yarn turned out to be the best. He did run into noise issues with the Xbee, as well as voltage regulator problems, and a diode that had to be bypassed.

But while [Marc]’s list of approaches to monitor sleep is long, he hasn’t exhausted all approaches. For example there’s monitoring a baby using lasers to detect whether or not the child is still breathing.

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