Say Hello to This Cortana Hologram

Halo’s Cortana enters the real world with this internet appliance. [Jarem Archer] has built an amazing “holographic” home for Cortana of Halo and Windows fame. The display isn’t really a hologram, it uses the age-old Pepper’s ghost illusion. A monitor reflects onto 3 angled half mirrored panels. This creates a convincing 3D effect. Cortana herself is a 3D model. [Jarem’s] wife provided gave Cortana her moves by walking in front of dual Kinect depth-sensing cameras. This motion capture performance drives the 3D Cortana model on the screen.

The brain behind this hack is the standard Windows 10 Cortana voice assistant. Saying “Hey Cortana” wakes the device up. To make the whole experience more interactive, [Jarem] added a face detection camera to the front of the device. When a face is detected, the Cortana model turns toward the user. Even if several people are watching the device, it would seem as if Cortana was “talking to” one person in the audience.

The cherry on top of this hack is the enclosure. [Jarem] 3D printed a black plastic stage. An Arduino drives RGB LEDs whenever Cortana is activated. The LEDs project a blue glue that works well with the Pepper’s ghost illusion. The result is a project that looks like something Microsoft might have cooked up in one of their research labs.

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Just In Time For Summer: A Remote Controlled Snowblower

It’s May, and you know what that means: we’re winding down from a worldwide celebration of the worker, pollen is everywhere, Hackaday readers in the southern hemisphere are somehow offended, and somewhere, someone is finishing up a remote-controlled snow blower build.

In this nine-part, two-hour-long video series, [Dave] covers the planning and fabrication of one of the most coveted of all cold weather yard instruments. It’s a remote-controlled snow blower. Just think: instead of bundling up to go blow the driveway off, [Dave] can get all the snow off his driveway from the comfort of his living room window. Sure, it may not sound like a big deal now that it’s Crocs & Socks weather, but this is going to be a great invention in seven or eight months.

This snow blower robot is built around two motors taken from an electric wheelchair. Most snowblowers already have tracks, so the ever-important traction for this build is already taken care of. A linear actuator takes care of the angle of the ‘scoop’, and a clever confabulation of bicycle sprockets, chain, and a motor allows the ‘chute’ of the snowblower to be pointed in any direction. The electronics are simple enough – a normal, off-the-shelf RC transmitter and receiver handles the wireless communication while an Arduino takes those signals and turns them into something the relays and motors understand.

This is one of the better build vlogs we’ve seen. There are nine parts to this build, we’ve included the final, wrapup video below.

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Keep the Burglars Away With Some Pi

Ten years ago, we never imagined we would be able to ward off burglars with Pi. However, that is exactly what [Nick] is doing with his Raspberry Pi home security system.

We like how, instead of using a standard siren, [Nick] utilized his existing stereo system to play a custom audio file that he created. (Oh the possibilities!) How many off the shelf alarm systems can you do that with?

The Pi is the brains of the operation, running an open source software program called Home Assistant. If any of the Z-Wave sensors in his house are triggered while the alarm system is armed, the system begins taking several actions. The stereo system is turned on via IR so that the digital alarm audio file can be played. Lights flash on and off. An IP camera takes several snapshots and emails them to [Nick].

Home Assistant didn’t actually have the ability to send images in an email inline at the time that [Nick] was putting together his system. What did [Nick] do about that? He wrote some code to give it that ability, and submitted it through GitHub. That new code was put into a later version of the program. Ah, the beauty of open source software.

Perhaps the most important part of this project is that there were steps taken to help keep the wife-approval factor of the system on the positive side. For example, he configured one of the scripts so that even if the alarm is tripped multiple times in succession, the alarm won’t play over itself repeatedly.

This isn’t [Nick’s] first time being featured here. Check out another project of his which involves a couple of Pi’s communicating with each other via lasers.


Conflict Escalates Between Brilliant Rat and 555 Timer

After [Casey Connor] captured and relocated a number of unwanted rodents in his home using commercially available live traps, he was presented with a problem: a rat had learned to avoid them.

In an epic, and adorable, conflict caught on video (and embedded below),  he documents the  designs used and how the rat escaped them by either recognizing the trap, or sheer agility. We can only tip our hat to the determination of both parties.

All the trap mechanisms are based on a 555 monostable solenoid triggering circuit that ensures that a pulse of sufficient duration is sent to the solenoid to trigger the trap correctly. This way even intermittent contacts will trigger the trap rather than just causing the solenoid to twitch without fully actuating. This is the same technique used to debounce a switch using a 555 timer.

A Raspberry Pi Zero detects motion using an IR camera to film the interesting parts. This is also a good indicator for when you’ve trapped your quarry – if you’re trying be humane then leaving it in a trap for days is counterproductive.

With the time and effort we spend building better and more complex rodent traps, we sometimes wonder who has cleverly trapped whom.

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The Internet Connected Dog Treat Machine

[Eric] and [Shirin] have a dog called [Pickles], who is the kind of animal that if you are a dog lover you will secretly covet. They evidently dote upon [Pickles], but face the problem that they can’t always be at home to express their appreciation of him. But rather than abandon him entirely, they’ve applied technology to the problem. [Eric] has built an Internet-connected dog treat dispenser, through which they can dispense treats, and watch the lucky mutt wolfing them down.

The body of the machine has been made with lasercut acrylic, and the dispenser mechanism is a rotating hopper driven by a stepper motor. The whole thing — in all its transparent glory — is controlled through a Raspberry Pi, which plays a sound clip of [Shirin] calling [Pickles] for his treat, records his dining enjoyment with its camera, and emails the result to his owners. Behind the scenes it hosts an MQTT server, which can be triggered via an iPhone app, Alexa, or the site. Imagine for a moment: “Alexa, feed my dog!”. It has a ring to it.

He makes the point that this machine is not simply limited to dispensing treats, it could be used to engage [Pickles] in more activities. He hints at a future project involving a ball throwing device (have you ever seen such joy from a dog). There’s no substitute for being there with your dog, but maybe with this device they can make their dog’s life a little less of, well, a dog’s life.

You can see the machine in action in the video we’ve posted below the break.

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Honey, When Did We Get an Indoor Pool?

Is it too much to ask for a home to have a little ‘smart’ built-in? If you’ve ever woken up (or come home) to your dwelling being flooded, you’ll know how terrible it feels, how long it can take to recover from, and how stressful it can be. Yeah, it’s happened to us before, so we really feel for [David Schneider]. He woke up one Sunday morning to a whole lot of water in his house. The inlet valve for his washing machine somehow got stuck in the open position after putting a load of laundry in the previous night.

[David] took progressively complex measures to prevent a broken water feed flood from happening in the future. First, he lined the entire floor of his laundry closet with a steel tray. OK, that’s a good start but won’t prevent another disaster unless it is caught very quickly. How about a simple audible water alarm? That’s good and all if you’re home, but what if you’re not?

Next, he installed a valve with a mechanical timer on the water line for the washing machine which closes automatically after 2 hours of being opened. Much better, but what about all the other thirsty appliances around the house? After searching online a little, he found plenty of whole house systems that would work for him, but there were 2 problems with these. First, most were network-based and he didn’t want to IoT-ify his house’s water system. Second, they were overpriced.

Of course the solution was to put together his own system! First, he purchased a few mostly inexpensive things — a wireless alarm, some water sensors, and a motorized ball valve. Then he collected the last few things he needed from what he had on hand around the house, and got to work connecting the 4 LEDs on the alarm to 4 analog input pins on his Arduino. Next, he added a relay between the Arduino and the motorized ball valve.

If a sensor detects water, it tells the alarm about it (wirelessly), which triggers the Arduino to energize a relay that is connected to the motorized ball valve, causing it to shut off the main water line for the entire house. Disaster averted! Sure, it’s a fairly simple hack, but it works, meets his requirements, and now he sleeps better at night knowing he won’t wake up (or come home) to an indoor swimming pool.

It’s surprising that we haven’t seen more hacks like this given it’s such a common problem. The closest thing we can remember is an overflow sensor for an aquarium. If homes came standard with a water main shutoff system, it would remove a stressful event from our lives and maybe even lower our insurance premium.

Logs For A Toilet

The Internet of Things, as originally envisioned in papers dating to the early to mid-90s, is a magical concept. Wearable devices would report your location, health stats, and physiological information to a private server. Cameras in your shower would tell your doctor if that mole is getting bigger. Your car would monitor the life of your cabin air filter and buy a new one when the time arrived. Nanobots would become programmable matter, morphing into chairs, houses, and kitchen utensils. A ubiquity of computing would serve humans as an unseen hive mind. It was paradise, delivered by ever smaller computers, sensors, and advanced robotics.

The future didn’t turn out like we planned. While the scientists and engineers responsible for asking how they could make an Internet-connected toaster oven, no one was around to ask why anyone would want that. At least we got a 3Com Audrey out of this deal.

Fast forward to today and we learn [Christopher Hiller] just put his toilet on the Internet. Why is he doing this? Even he doesn’t know, but it does make for a great ‘logs from a toilet’ pun.

The hardware for this device is a Digistump Oak, a neat little Arduino-compatible WiFi-enabled development board. The Digistump Oak is able to publish to the Particle Cloud, and with just five lines of code, [Chris] is able to publish a flush to the Internet. The sensor for this build is a cheap plastic float switch. There are only three components in this build, and one of them is a 4k7 resistor.

Right now, there are a few issues with the build. It’s battery-powered, but that’s only because [Chris]’ toilet isn’t close enough to a wall outlet. There’s a bit of moisture in a bathroom, and clingfilm solves the problem for now, but some silly cone carne would solve that problem the right way. [Chris] also has two toilets, so he’ll need to build another one.