Mouse Brains Plus Line Laser Equals Rangefinder

[Neumi] wrote in with a sweet robotics hack. It’s a 2D laser distance sensor (YouTube) made with a cheap line laser and an optical mouse’s flow-sensor chip used as a low-resolution camera. In one sense, it’s a standard laser-distance-sensor project. But it is clever for a whole bunch of reasons.


For one, using a mouse sensor as a low-res camera is awesome. It’s designed to read from a standard red LED, so the sensitivity is in just the right ballpark for use with a line laser. It returns a 30×30 pixel greyscale image, which is just about the right amount of data for a low-end microcontroller to handle and keep up with the framerate without resorting to coding tricks.

It’s also no coincidence that these sensors are available with lenses built in, for relatively cheap, on eBay. Apparently the quadcopter gurus use them as if they were mice to visually track their quad’s motion. Hacker spillover!

Detecting the laser line as it reflects off of whatever objects are lying on [Neumi]’s floor could also possibly prove difficult, and might produce false readings in the presence of background illumination. So [Neumi] takes two readings with the camera — one with the laser on and one with it off — and differences them. Done fast enough, this should reduce any non-laser sources down to the sensor’s noise floor. Finally, there’s some thresholding and averaging going on behind the scenes that help make everything work out right. The code is up on GitHub.

Not a bad build for a 2D laser distance system on a budget. If you want to shell out a bit more money, and are into a seriously involved build, this is probably the slickest we’ve seen in a long time. And if you’re thinking that you’ve heard of [Neumi] before, you’re right: we featured this 405mm laser PCB exposer / burner CNC machine just a few months ago.

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Quickie USB Keyboard Device

There are a ton of applications that we use that can benefit from keyboard shortcuts, and we use ’em religiously. Indeed, there are some tasks that we do so often that they warrant their own physical button. And the only thing cooler than custom keyboards are custom keyboards that you’ve made yourself.

Which brings us to [Dan]’s four-button Cherry MX USB keypad. It’s not really all that much more than four keyswitch footprints and an AVR ATmega32u4, but that plus some software is all you really need. He programs the Arduino bootloader into the chip, and then he’s using the Arduino Leonardo keyboard libraries. Bam! Check out the video below.

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Metalized Gift Wrap Saves A Classic Keyboard

What do you do when you decide that running CP/M on a Commodore 128 with a 5.25″ drive “Isn’t CP/M enough”? If you are [Chris Osborn], you reach for your trusty TRS-80 Model II, with its much more CP/M-appropriate 8″ drive.

There was one small snag with the TRS-80 though, its keyboard didn’t work. It’s a capacitive device, meaning that instead of each key activating a switch, it contains a capacitive sensor activated by a piece of aluminized Mylar film on a piece of foam. Nearly four decades of decay had left the foam in [Chris]’s example sadly deflated, leaving the keys unable to perform. Not a problem, he cast around for modern alternatives and crafted replacements from a combination of foam weather strip and metalized gift wrap.

Care had to be taken to ensure that the non-metalized side of the gift wrap faced the capacitive sensor pads, and that the weather strip used had the right thickness to adequately fill the gap. But the result was a keyboard that worked, and for a lot less outlay and effort than he’d expected. We would guess that this will be a very useful technique for owners of other period machines with similar keyboards.

What is CP/M, I hear you ask? Before there was Linux, Windows, and MacOS, there was DOS, and before DOS, there was CP/M. In the 1970s this was the go-to desktop operating system, running on machines powered by Intel’s 8080 and its derivatives like the Zilog Z80 in the TRS-80. When IBM needed an OS for their new PC they initially courted CP/M creators Digital Research, but eventually they hired a small software company called Microsoft instead, and the rest is history. Digital Research continued producing CP/M and its derivatives, as well as an MS-DOS clone and the GEM GUI that may be familiar to Atari ST owners, but were eventually absorbed into Novell in the 1990s.

We’ve featured a few capacitive keyboards here at Hackaday before, including this similar repair to a Compaq from the 1980s, and this look at a classic IBM terminal keyboard.

Fixing A Complicated Scrollwheel

[Thomas] loves his Logitech MX Master mouse, which has a pretty elaborate scroll-wheel mechanism. Perhaps too elaborate; it broke on him after a week of use, just when he was getting used to the feature. So what did he do? Took it apart and fixed it, naturally. And as a bonus, we get a guided tour of the interesting mechanism. Check out his video below to watch it in action.

The weighted scroll wheel switches between two different modes, one with a detent like you’re probably used to, and one where the wheel is allowed to spin freely for long-distance travel. And to do this, it’s actually got a little motor inside that rotates a cam and throws a lever into the side of the scroll wheel for the detent mode, and pulls the lever out of the way for free spins. It must also have some logic inside that detects how quickly the scroller is spun because it re-engages as soon as the scroll wheel stops.

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8-bit Video Wall Made From 160 Gaming Keyboards

Well this is something we haven’t seen before. A video wall An 8-bit style video wall made from 160 RGB illuminated gaming keyboards.

On display at the PAX East gaming expo, the keys on 160 Logitech keyboards make up the “pixels” of a video wall showing a short film inspired from side-scroller video games. It’s the work of the production company iam8bit. Details on the system are scant, but we can learn a little from close observation of the video.

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Automatic Book Scanner To Bring Knowledge To Ethiopian Students

In 2013 the dean of an Ethiopian university addressed Maker Faire Hannover and outlined one of his concerns; that the high price of developed-world textbooks was holding back the cause of education for universities such as his own in developing countries. He was there to ask for help from the maker community to solve his problem, and a group of his audience took up the challenge to create an affordable and accessible automatic book scanner.

Their scanner builds on the work of Google engineer [Dany Qumsiyeh], whose open source linear book scanner turns pages by traversing the opened book over a triangular prismic former such that pages are turned by vacuum as they pass over carefully designed slots in its surface. Their modification replaces the vacuum with the Coandă effect, to more gently tease open each page and it is hoped reduce the chance of damaging the volumes being scanned.

The whole machine is controlled by a Raspberry Pi, and the scanning is performed by linear scanning optics, sensors, and electronics taken from flatbed scanners.

An important design goal of the project was to ensure that the scanner could be built without special tools or expertise that might be difficult to find in a developing country, as well as that it should be as inexpensive as possible. The frame of the machine is off-the-shelf extruded aluminium, and the body is acrylic sheet which can be cut to shape with a hand saw if necessary. It is estimated that the device will cost in the region of 500 Euros (about $568) to build.

More information can be found at the project’s web site (German language, Google translate link), including a selection of videos such as the one below the break showing the device in operation.

Writing from the perspective of having been peripherally involved in a professional book scanning operation at a large publisher the benefits of this machine are immediately apparent. Removing the binding and automatically scanning each page as an individual sheet produces a very fast and high quality result, but by its very nature damages the volume being scanned. This machine promises to deliver a solution to the problem of book scanning that is considerably less intrusive.

It is also worth noting that the project does not address any copyright issues that might arise from scanning commercially published textbooks, though this is more of a concern for the end user in terms of what they scan with it than it is for the maker.

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Audio Out Over UART

There’s a reason that the bog-standard serial port will never die. It’s just so robust and simple. When you need a console that will absolutely work with minimal software and hardware, UART is the way to go. Because of this, UART hacks abound. Here’s a new one to us, and a challenge to our readers.

[Tiziano Bacocco] decided to use UART signals as a type of PWM to create audio. That’s right, he’s plugging the serial TX line straight into a speaker. This gives you eight possible PWM output voltage levels. The trick is using some Python code (using the awesome pyserial module) to down-quantize the audio data to fit these eight possible values and then push them out at the correct sampling rate. ffmpeg is used to pre-process the files.

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