Transformers, Birthday Cakes in Disguise

[Russel Munro] decided to go all-out for his son’s birthday cake: he made a Transformers robot cake that, well, transforms from a truck into a robot, Optimus Prime style. His impressive build has the actions of the original: first, the front rears up to lift the head, then the back lifts to form the body and the head and arms pop out of the top. Underneath the thin fondant exterior is a 3D printed body, driven by a mechanism in the base. He used fishing line to lift the parts, which is pulled by a motor salvaged from a CD player, being driven by an EasyDriver board from Sparkfun.

The main issue he had to overcome was weight: apparently he underestimated the weight of the fondant that covers the cake, and had to do some last-minute work to strengthen the drive mechanism, and skip plans for the more ornately decorated version that his wife had planned. But the look of glee on his son’s face when he operates it at the party is the best bit. In these days of CGI and computer games, it is good to remind the kids that there is still a lot of fun to be found in ingenuity and liberal quantities of hot glue.

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Arduino Video Over 2 Wires for Under $50: Mesa-Video

If you want video support on your project, you might start from a device like a Raspberry Pi that comes with it built in. [Kevinhub88] doesn’t accept such compromises, so he and his Black Mesa Labs have come up with a whole new way to add video support to devices like the Arduino and other cheap controllers. This project is called Mesa-Video, and it can add digital video at a resolution of up to 800 by 600 pixels to any device that has a single serial output.

The video is created by an FT813, a low cost GPU from FTDI that offers a surprising amount of video oomph from a cheap, low power chip (he has demoed it running from a lemon battery), meaning that he is hoping to be able to sell the Mesa-Video for under $50.

UPDATE: [KevinHub88] let us know that he didn’t actually power the device from a lemon battery, as you would need a lot of lemons to make 50mA at 5V. Apologies for any confusion!

However, Mesa-Video is just the beginning. [Kevinhub88] wanted to get around the problem of stacking shields on Arduinos: add more  than one and you get problems. He wanted to create an interface that would be simpler, faster and more open, so he created the Mesa-Bus. This effectively wraps SPI and I2C traffic together over a simple, fast serial connection that doesn’t require much decoding. This means that you can send power and bi-directional data over a handful of wires, and still connect multiple devices at once, swapping them out as required. You could, for instance, do your development work on a PC talking to the prototype devices over Mesa-Bus, them swap the PC out for an Arduino when you have got the first version working in your dev environment. Is the Arduino not cutting it? Because Mesa-Bus is cross-platform and open source, it is easy to swap the Arduino for a Raspberry Pi without having to change your other devices. And, because all the data is going over a simple serial connection in plain text, it is easy to debug.

It’s an ambitious project, and [Kevinhub88] has a way to go: he is currently working on getting his first prototype Mesa-Bus devices up and running, and finalizing the design of the Mesa-Video. But it is an impressive start and we’ll be keeping a close eye on this work. Hopefully he can avoid that head crab problem as well because those things are as itchy as hell.

Use Your Mouse Pointer to Send Data

[Ido Gendel] was thinking about new and interesting ways to send data between devices, when he realized that the answer was right in his hand. Literally: he decided to try sending data using the mouse pointer. What he came up with was an interesting hack that uses small movements of the mouse pointer to send data at up to 1200bps, or about 150 bytes per second.

The way he did this was very, very clever. He used an Arduino Leonardo that is set to emulate a mouse, working alongside his existing mouse. This setup means that he can use his existing mouse: the system just sees the Arduino as a second mouse, and the pointer just looks a little jerky when you zoom in. That is because the Arduino is just sending tiny movements, each of which is a code that represents a nybble (4 binary bits) of data. By using both a combination of three left-right or up-down movements, he was able to create 16 movements, each of which can encode 4 bits of data. Each of these encoding movements also returns the mouse to its origin point, so the mouse doesn’t mysteriously scroll off the screen when data is being sent.

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Stuffing Everything on a DIP32 Package

Putting an full microcontroller platform in a DIP format is nothing new – the Teensy does it, the Arduino nano does it, and a dozen other boards do it. [Alex] and [Alexey] aren’t content with just a simple microcontroller breakout board so they’re adding a radio, an OLED, an SD card reader, and even more RAM to the basic Arduino platform, all in a small, easy to use package.

The DIPDuino, as [Alex] and [Alexy] are calling it features an ATmega1284 processor. To this, they’re adding a 128×32 pixel OLED, a micro SD slot, and 1Mbit of SRAM. The microcontroller is a variant that includes a 2.4 GHz Zigbee radio that allows for wireless connections to other DIPDuinos.

What are [Alex] and [Alexey] going to do with their cool little board? They’re planning on using the OLED for a watch, improve their software so the firmware can be updated from the SD card, and one of [Alex]’s friends wants to build a RepRap controller with one of these. There’s a lot of potential with this board, and we’re interested in seeing where the guys take the project from here.

Build a Sensor Network Around a Weather Station

[Yveaux] had a problem. The transmitter on his outdoor weather station had broken, rendering the inside display useless. He didn’t want to buy a new one, so, like the freelance embedded software designer that he is, he decided to reverse engineer the protocol that the transmitter uses and build his own. He didn’t just replace the transmitter module, though, he decided to create an entire system that integrated the weather system into a sensor network controlled by a Raspberry Pi. That’s a far more substantial project, but it gave him the ability to customize the display and add more features, such as synching the timer in the display with a network clock and storing the data in an online database.

Fortunately for [Yveaux], the transmitter itself was fairly easy to replace. The weather station he had, like most, transmitted on the 868MHz frequency, which is a license-free ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Monitoring) spot on the spectrum. After some poking around, he was able to figure out the protocol and teach the Pi to speak it. He then added a Moteino and an nRF2401+ transmitter to the weather station, so it can send data to the Pi, which then sends it to the display. It is a more complicated setup, but it is also much more flexible. He’s had it running for a couple of years now and has collected more than a million sensor readings.

Hot-Wire CNC Foam Cutter From E Waste

A couple of old DVD ROM drives and a compact photo printer is fairly standard fare at the thrift store, but what do you do with them? Hack them up to make a CNC foam cutter of course!

[Jonah] started with a couple LITE-ON brand DVD RW drives, which use stepper motors instead of plain old DC motors. This is a huge score since steppers make accurate positioning possible. With the internal frames removed, threaded rod and nuts were used to hold the two units parallel to each other forming the Z axis.

The feed mechanism from a Canon compact photo printer was then bolted onto the bottom to form the Y axis. Add a bit of nichrome wire for the cutting element (this can be found in old hair dryers) onto where the laser assembly of the DVD rom once lived, and you have the mechanics done.

Control is handled by an Arduino and some easy-driver modules to interface with the steppers. G-Code is generated by CamBam, which handles various cad files, or has its own geometry editor.

This is a fantastic way to get your feet wet in several ways; Cracking things open to harvest parts, driving steppers with simple micocontrollers, modeling and generating g-code, etc. The one issue we see with this build is a chicken-or-egg problem since you need to have a cube of foam cut down to somewhat strict dimensions before it will fit in this cutter. But we suppose that is really just an iterative design problem.

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Make Your Own Remote Control LED Light

Want to control the colors in your home? Sure, you could just buy a Philips Hue bulb, but where’s the hacking fun in that? [Dario] agrees: he has written a tutorial on building an Arduino-controlled RGB light system that plugs into a standard light socket.

[Dario] is using a bulb from Automethion in Italy, an Arduino, and an ESP8266 shield that sends signals to the bulb. The Arduino and shield are running the Souliss framework that provides smart home features and runs on a number of platforms, so it is a good open platform for creating your own smart home apps, and would be easy to expand. We have also seen a few other projects that use the ESP8266 to control an RGB strip, but this is the first one that uses a bulb that plugs into a standard light socket.

At the moment, Automethion is the only company selling this light, but I hope that others will sell similar products soon.

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