If Our Eyes Could See Wireless Signals, They Wouldn’t Look Like This.

A neat visualization of wireless signals was released last week showing off what our world might look like if we could see radio signals. While it’s an awesome visual effect, it’s really not what we would see. At least not with our puny human eyes.

The app uses data like WiFi hotspots, cell towers, and other wireless devices to create an augmented reality effect showing where the signals are propagating from. Site specific versions of the app also include the wired communication infrastructure as well to give a complete window into the science-fiction-sounding title of “infosphere”.

But like a user on Gizmodo commented, if we could actually see radio signals, they would just be flashes of light. Radio waves are just electromagnetic wavelengths longer than infrared light after all. Though if we could see those wavelengths, what’s the chance we have light speed vision too?

Continue reading “If Our Eyes Could See Wireless Signals, They Wouldn’t Look Like This.”

Driving a 7 Segment LED Display From An FT232

Sometimes, a good hack is about using less rather than more. That’s the case with this neat tutorial from [Rahul.S] on driving a 7-segment LED display with an FT232. By using this cheap USB to serial controller, [Rahul.S] was able to drive the display directly without using a microcontroller, which keeps the component cost down.

He’s bit banging an octal buffer connected to the display. You may be surprised to find that the FT232 chips do have enough outputs to make this work. Rather than send serial data number to the display and have a controller convert this into a set of signals that make the number, this conversion is done by the PC, which then sends a signal that directly illuminates the appropriate parts of the LED. By using all of the available output lines of the FT232 (including ones like the RTS/CTS line that are usually used for signalling), [Rahul.S] was able to drive all seven of the elements and the decimal point.

Of course, cynics may argue that it would be simpler to use a cheap serial LCD display. That is true, but there is always something to be said for knowing how to do something yourself rather than letting others do it for you… Continue reading “Driving a 7 Segment LED Display From An FT232”

Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Portable A/C

Many people with Multiple Sclerosis have sensitivity to heat. When the core body temperature of an MS sufferer rises, symptoms get worse, leading to fatigue, weakness, pain, and numbness. For his entry to the Hackaday Prize, [extremerockets] is finding a solution. He’s developing a wearable, personal cooling device that keeps the wearer at a comfortable temperature.

The device is based on a wearable shirt outfitted with small tubes filled with a cooling gel. This setup is extremely similar to the inner garments worn by astronauts on spacewalks, and is the smallest and most efficient way to keep a person’s core body temperature down.

Unlike a lot of projects dealing with heating and cooling, [extremerockets] isn’t working with Peltiers or thermoelectric modules; they’re terribly inefficient and not the right engineering choice for something that’s going to be battery-powered. Instead, [extremerockets] is building a miniature refrigeration unit, complete with a real refrigeration cycle. There are compressors, valves, and heat exchanges in this build, demonstrating that [extremerockets] has at least some idea what he’s doing. It’s a great project, and one we can’t wait to see a working prototype of.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Make Your Own Transparent Whiteboard

Now this is seriously cool. Beyond seeing it in movies, having a transparent whiteboard that lights the ink up is absolutely awesome and pretty darn unique. [Andrew McNeil] shows us how — and it’s pretty simple too!

As an avid YouTuber, [Andrew] often has to explain things by drawing out diagrams and what not. If you’ve ever tried to film yourself doing this, you’ll know it’s not easy. So what if you could use the whiteboard like you normally would? And that whiteboard is also the window of which you, the audience, watches through? It’s really quite brilliant, and already in use for some teaching methods.

But wait, are we talking about literally using a glass window to write on? Well… kind of. But the trick is to have the glass edge-lit using LEDs. Doing so will literally make your dry erase markers glow. It practically looks like a neon sign.

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A Sunflower Heat Engine

Looking for a cool science experiment to do with the kids? Why not build a type of heat engine that resembles a sunflower? [Steve] from Rimstar.org shows us how!

It’s actually a pretty ingenious little project. Using metal foil scraps from a coffee bag, [Steve] created a perfectly balanced wheel that looks kind of like a sunflower. When the foil petals come close to heat they try to expand, but much like a bimetal strip, the materials making up the packaging expand at different rates to straighten the heated petal. This moves the center of gravity of the wheel off-axis, causing a rotation. As the wheel spins, the foil petal cools off, and another one is heated, creating continual movement — at least until the heat supply is taken away!

It’s a lot of work to get the balance just right, but thanks to an ingenious axle design it’s pretty easy to make adjustments. The wheel actually floats on a nail with its point stuck to a magnet, and the other end is suspended by a series of magnets. It’s pretty much as close to a friction free axle as you can get!

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Firmware Factory: Bit Fields vs Shift and Mask

Working with embedded systems usually involves writing code which will interface with hardware. This often means working on the register level. It doesn’t matter if we’re talking about a UART, an analog to digital converter, an LCD controller, or some other gizmo. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to break out the datasheets and figure out how to talk to an external device. To succeed at this you must become a master of bit manipulation.

Hardware designers don’t like wasting space, so modes, settings and other small pieces of information are often stored as packed bits. Our processors usually access things a byte (or a word) at a time, so what is the best way to handle this? Like so many other topics in software engineering, there are multiple ways to skin this cat. In C (and its derivatives) there are two major options: shift and mask, and bit fields.

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Hacklet 72 – Burning Man Projects

Burning Man is almost here! In just a few days, artists, hackers, makers, and engineers will converge on the Black Rock Desert in northern Nevada. They’ll endure the heat, the dust, and possibly a few bugs to create one of the largest outdoor art festivals in the world. Every year, the playa is covered with art cars, giant rolling barges, and fire-breathing animals covered in RGB LEDs. With so many projects to work on, it’s no surprise that quite a few Hackaday.io members (and Hackaday staffers) are burners. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best Burning Man projects on Hackaday.io!

thedeepWe start with [David Nghiem] and “The Deep” – DC’s Sonic Jellyfish Art Cart. There’s just something calming about a watching a luminescent jellyfish floating serenely through the dark ocean. [David] and his team are recreating that effect in the desert with The Deep. They’re hanging a giant jellyfish in front of a golf cart. The medusa will be festooned with yards of silk and other types of fabric to create a flowing effect. Lighting will come from 8 RGB LED strips, controlled by 15 Teensy LCs. The Teensys will keep the lights flashing to the beat of the music. Burners can dance inside the sculpture, because this jellyfish thankfully has no sting.

anglerfishBicycles are the preferred mode of personal transportation at Burning Man. As you might imagine, it can be pretty hard to find your bike among all the other parked cycles. [Bob Baddeley] has made this a bit easier with Anglerfish for Bikes. Real anglerfish have an illicium, which is a stalk with a lighted tip that hangs just in front of their mouth. The bioluminescent light lures prey to the fish. [Bob] is using an RGB LED illuminated ball to lure him to his bike. This anglerfish started life as a blinky globe from Amazon. [Bob] removed the original electronics and replaced them with a Bluetooth radio on his own custom PCB. A simple press of a button gets the ball shimmering and blinking, leading [Bob] to his ride.

danceNext up is [Jeremy] with Interactive Disco Dance Floor. Inspired by Saturday Night Fever and the music video for Billy Jean, [Jeremy] is creating a dance floor that responds to those dancing on it. The floor is lit by 80 meters of 5050 RGB LEDs, controlled by ATmega168s. The ATmega168’s are connected to a capacitive sensor made up of a chicken wire grid. The system is sensitive enough to pick up feet even when wearing thick motorcycle boots. All the processors connect to a central computer via an RS-485 network. This allows the computer to take over and drive pre-programmed patterns to the floor. The PC side code is written in JavaScript, so it’s easy to modify.

jacketFinally, we have Hackaday.io’s own [Jasmine] with Glow Jacket. Walking around at night in Black Rock City can be dangerous. People running from party to party, high cyclists flying across the playa, you never know who might run into you! Having something to make sure you’re visible is a great start of a project. Keeping warm through the cold nights in the desert would be an added bonus. [Jasmine] sewed 32 feet of electroluminescent (EL) wire onto the back of a black parka. The wire ran to two AA battery-powered inverters hidden in the jacket. The hardest part turned out to be sewing all that EL wire to a jacket. Once all the stitching was done though, her husband [Ben] glows like a beacon in the night.

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Burners unite! [Jasmine] has set the Hacker Burners project page as a meeting place for all burners and fans of Burning Man. If you’re interested, join up! If you’d like to see more Burning Man projects, I’ve got you covered with our new Burning Man project list. If I missed your project, don’t hesitate to drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!