CheetahBeam: More Proof that Cats are Your Overlord

We don’t know what cats see when they see a red laser beam, but we know it isn’t what we see. The reaction, at least for many cats — is instant and extreme. Of course, your cat expects you to quit your job and play with it on demand. While [fluxaxiom] wanted to comply, he also knew that no job would lead to no cat food. To resolve the dilemma, he built an automated cat laser. In addition to the laser module, the device uses a few servos and a microcontroller in a 3D printed case. You can see a video, below. Dogs apparently like it too, but of course they aren’t the reason it was built.

If you don’t have a 3D printer, you can still cobble something together. The microcontroller is an Adafruit Pro Trinket, which is essentially an Arduino Pro Mini with some extra pins and a USB port.

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The Smartest Computer Was On Star Trek

There have been a lot of smart computers on TV and movies. We often think among the smartest, though, are the ones on Star Trek. Not the big “library computer” and not the little silver portable computers. No, the smart computers on Star Trek ran the doors. If you ever watch, the doors seem to know the difference between someone walking towards it, versus someone flying towards it in the middle of a fist fight. It also seems to know when more people are en route to the door.

Granted, the reason they are so smart is that the doors really have a human operating them. For the real fan, though, you can buy a little gadget that looks like an intercom panel from the Enterprise. That would be cool enough, but this one has sound effects and can sense when someone walks into your doorway so they can hear the comforting woosh of a turbolift door.

Of course, for the real hacker, that’s not good enough either. [Evan] started with this $25 gadget, but wanted to control it with an Arduino for inclusion in his hackerspace’s pneumatic door system. He did a bit of reverse engineering, a bit of coding, and he wound up in complete control of the device.

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Huge Interactive Crossword

Give kids some responsible and challenging tasks, and you’d be surprised at the results. The “Anything Goes” exhibit at the National Museum in Warsaw was aimed as a museological and educational experiment. A group of 69 children aged 6–14 was divided into teams responsible for preparing the main temporary exhibition at the museum. Over six months, they worked on preparing the exhibition during weekly four-hour meetings. They prepared scripts, provided ideas for multimedia presentations, and curated almost 300 works for display. One of those was [Robert Mordzon]’s Giant Interactive Crossword.

The build is in two parts. The letter tiles, which have embedded RFID tags, obviously look like the easiest part of the build. The table, looking at the video (after the break), probably needed a lot more effort and labour. It is built in two halves to make construction easier. There are a 130 boxes that need to be filled in with the right letters to complete the crossword. Each box contains a bunch of electronics consisting of an Arduino Nano, a RFID Reader and a bunch of sixteen WS2812B LEDs, all assembled on a custom PCB. Do the math, and you’ll figure out that there’s 2080 LEDs, each capable of sipping 60 mA at full brightness. That’s a total current requirement of almost 125 amps at 5 V. Add in all the Arduino’s, and [Robert] needed a beefy 750 W of power, supplied via four switch mode power supplies.

Each Arduino Nano is a slave on the I²C bus. The I²C master is an Arduino Mega 2560, which in turn communicates with a computer over serial. When a box is empty, the LEDs are dim, when a wrong letter is placed, they turn Red, and when the right letter is placed, they turn Green. If a word gets completed, a special word animation is played. This information is also passed on to the computer, which then projects an animation related to the word on a giant wall screen. Upon the crossword getting completed, the table erupts in to a sound (via the computer) and light “disco” show and also reveals the main motto of this section of the exhibit – “Playing the Hero”.

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Modular portable conveyor belt

When teaching Industrial Automation to students, you need to give them access to the things they will encounter in industry. Most subjects can be taught using computer programs or simulators — for example topics covering PLC, DCS, SCADA or HMI. But to teach many other concepts, you  need to have the actual hardware on hand to be able to understand the basics. For example, machine vision, conveyor belts, motor speed control, safety and interlock systems, sensors and peripherals all interface with the mentioned control systems and can be better understood by having hardware to play with. The team at [Absolutelyautomation] have published several projects that aim to help with this. One of these is the DIY conveyor belt with a motor speed control and display.

This is more of an initial, proof of concept project, and there is a lot of room for improvement. The build itself is straightforward. All the parts are standard, off the shelf items — stuff you can find in any store selling 3D printer parts. A few simple tools is all that’s required to put it together. The only tricky part of the build would likely be the conveyor belt itself. [Absolutelyautomation] offers a few suggestions, mentioning old car or truck tyres and elastic resistance bands used for therapy / exercise as options.

If you plan to replicate this, a few changes would be recommended. The 8 mm rollers could do with larger “drums” over them — about an inch or two in diameter. That helps prevent belt slippage and improves tension adjustment. It ought to be easy to 3D print the add-on drums. The belt might also need support plates between the rollers to prevent sag. The speed display needs to be in linear units — feet per minute or meters per minute, rather than motor rpm. And while the electronics includes a RS-485 interface, it would help to add RS-232, RS-422 and Ethernet in the mix.

While this is a simple build, it can form the basis for a series of add-ons and extensions to help students learn more about automation and control systems. Or maybe you want a conveyor belt in your basement, for some reason.

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M&Ms and Skittles Sorting Machine is Both Entertainment and Utility

If you have OCD, then the worst thing someone could do is give you a bowl of multi-coloured M&M’s or Skittles — or Gems if you’re in the part of the world where this was written. The candies just won’t taste good until you’ve managed to sort them in to separate coloured heaps. And if you’re a hacker, you’ll obviously build a sorting machine to do the job for you.

Use our search box and you’ll find a long list of coverage describing all manner and kinds of sorting machines. And while all of them do their designated job, 19 year old [Willem Pennings]’s m&m and Skittle Sorting Machine is the bees knees. It’s one of the best builds we’ve seen to date, looking more like a Scandinavian Appliance than a DIY hack. He’s ratcheted up a 100k views on Youtube, 900k views on imgur and almost 2.5k comments on reddit, all within a day of posting the build details on his blog.

As quite often happens, his work is based on an earlier design, but he ends up adding lots of improvements to his version. It’s got a hopper at the top for loading either m&m’s or Skittles and six bowls at the bottom to receive the color sorted candies. The user interface is just two buttons — one to select between the two candy types and another to start the sorting. The hardware is all 3D printed and laser cut. But he’s put in extra effort to clean the laser cut pieces and paint them white to give it that neat, appliance look. The white, 3D printed parts add to the appeal.

Rotating the input funnel to prevent the candies from clogging the feed pipes is an ace idea. A WS2812 LED is placed above each bowl, lighting up the bowl where the next candy will be ejected and at the same time, a WS2812 strip around the periphery of the main body lights up with the color of the detected candy, making it a treat, literally, to watch this thing in action. His blog post has more details about the build, and the video after the break shows the awesome machine in action.

And if you’re interested in checking out how this sorter compares with some of the others, check out these builds — Skittles sorting machine sorts Skittles and keeps the band happy, Anti-Entropy Machine Satiates M&M OCD, Only Eat Red Skittles? We’ve Got You Covered, and Hate Blue M&M’s? Sort Them Using the Power of an iPhone!  As we mentioned earlier, candy sorting machines are top priority for hackers.

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Quick and Easy IoT Prototyping with Involt

IoT, web apps, and connected devices are all becoming increasingly popular. But, the market still resembles a wild west apothecary, and no single IoT ecosystem or architecture seems to be the one bottle of snake oil we’ll all end up using. As such, we hackers are keen to build our own devices, instead of risking being locked into an IoT system that could become obsolete at any time. But, building an IoT device and interface takes a wide range of skills, and those who are lacking skill in the dark art of programming might have trouble creating a control app for their shiny new connected-thing.

Enter Involt, which is a framework for building hardware control interfaces using HTML and CSS. The framework is built on Node-Webkit, which means the conventions should be familiar to those with a bit of web development background. Hardware interactions (on Arduinos) are handled with simple CSS classes. For example, a button might contain a CSS class which changes an Arduino pin from high to low.

Involt can take that CSS and convert it into a function, which is then sent to the Arduino via serial or Bluetooth communication. For more advanced functionality, Javascript (or really any other language) can be used to define what functions are generated — and, in turn, sent to the Arduino. But, all that is needed for the basic functionality necessary for many IoT devices (which might only need to be turned on and off, or set to a certain value) is a bit of HTML and CSS knowledge. You’ll create both the interface and the underlying hardware interactions all within an HTML layout with CSS styling and functionality.

While Involt isn’t the only framework to simplify hardware interaction (it’s not even the only Node.js based method), the simplicity is definitely laudable. For those who are just getting started with these sorts of devices, Involt can absolutely make the process faster and less painful. And, even for those who are experienced in this arena, the speed and efficiency of prototyping with Involt is sure to be useful.

Dash With Arduino

Amazon Dash is a handy service, and when Amazon released their AWS IoT platform, [Brian Carbonette] felt that it left out all the hardware hackers from the tinkering fun. Seeking justice, he put together a guide for an Arduino Dash button aimed at hardware hackers and those who are still easing into the world.

For his build, [Carbonette] used an Arduino MKR1000, laying out a few different configuration options for building your button. He has also gone to great lengths to help all comers tackle the Arduino-Dash API communication process by building an AmazonDRS Arduino Library, which handles all the “boring details,” so you can focus on the hardware. With the warning that the software-side setup is tedious the first time around, [Carbonette] has included a detailed manual for setting up the aforementioned AmazonDRS library, some example code, and a breakdown thereof. He also suggests implementing other features — such as a notification if the item is out of stock on Amazon — to tie the project together.

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