A custom Starcraft keyboard

keybaord

What do you do if you’re looking for a project, but don’t know what to do? If you’re [gltovar], just look around at your hobbies. He’s been playing Starcraft for a while and finally decided to build a custom Starcraft keyboard.

[gltovar] came across an interesting keyboard layout known as TheCore. Ostensibly, this layout allows the player faster access to the commands most used when playing Starcraft. [gltovar] decided he needed a keyboard specifically designed for TheCore, and set about making one of his own design.

The keyboard matrix is designed around a 1×5 row of keys, each attached to a Teensy microcontroller acting as a USB device. Each of these rows are a separate circuit board, allowing [gltovar] to move the rows up and down ergonomically in a custom enclosure.

It’s everything [gltovar] wanted in a custom keyboard. Whether it improves his Starcraft game is another story entirely, but we’re sure he’s at least having fun.

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USB sniffing with the BeagleBoard-xM

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[Matlo] wrote in to share his USB sniffing project using the BeagleBoard-xM. It builds on the Google Summer of Code project from 2010 that used the non-xM version of the hardware to build a pass through USB sniffer. [Matlo] couldn’t get it to work back then, but recently revisited the project. He’s cleaned up some scripts and generally made it a bit easier for others to pull off as well.

The ARM-based BeagleBoard seen above acts as man-in-the-middle. You connect your target USB device to the board and the board to a computer. The board emulates the target device, passing packets in either direction while also logging them. The captured data is in the correct format for display using WireShark, the de facto standard for making sense of captured communication packets.

This is great for figuring out how to use USB devices on non-standard systems, or vice versa.

An XBMC controller built for Grandma

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Is your grandmother cool enough to use XBMC? Maybe it’s a testament to the functionality of the wildly popular home entertainment suite rather than the hipness of your elders. But indeed, [Brian's] grandmother is an XBMC user who needed a controller with larger buttons to accommodate her. This is what he built. He sent us a set of photos and a description of the build, both of which you can see below. He was inspired to get in touch after reading about the custom controller which [Caleb] has been working on for [Thomas].

[Brian] didn’t get bogged down with electronics. He went with the simple, cheap, and popular solution of gutting a wireless keyboard. After tracing out the keys he needed he got rid of everything except the PCB. A wiring harness was crafted by soldering jumper wires to the PCB traces and terminating them with crimping slide connectors. The arcade buttons he used have terminals for the connectors which will make it simple to mate the electronics with the mechanics.

The enclosure is a little wooden hobby box. It originally had a lid with a mirror. [Brian] broke open the lid’s frame to replace it with a thin piece of plywood which hosts the buttons. Inside you’ll find a battery power source. These keyboards last a long time on one set of batteries so he just needs to remember to preemptively replace them from time to time. The finishing touch was to add decals so that granny can figure out what each button does.

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Build a waterproof music controller on the cheap

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[Aaron] wrote in to show off the waterproof music controller (translated) he just finished building. He uses it in the shower — which makes us wonder how long he’s spending in there. We could also see it being useful by the pool, on the beach, or anywhere else that you need a cheap and easy control system.

His computer plays tunes while he’s getting ready for the day. This means he was able to use an inexpensive wireless keyboard for control. The donor keyboard has dedicated music control keys which he carefully traced to the PCB before removing the flexible sheets that detect key presses. Next he found a water tight food container and sized his protoboard to fit. You can see his button layout above. Holes were cut in the lid of the container, with a plastic membrane glued on the underside. This will keep the water out while still allowing him to actuate the momentary push switches.

Most mobile devices will work with wireless keyboards. If your car is nearby just hook your phone to the stereo and control it with this rather than building a dedicated beach stereo system.

Building a blink based input device

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Fans of the AMC show Breaking Bad will remember the Original Gangsta [Hector Salamanca]. When first introduced to the story he communicates by ringing a bell. But after being moved to a nursing home he communicates by spelling out messages with the assistance of a nurse who holds up a card with columns and rows of letters. This hack automates that task, trading the human assistant for a blink-based input system.

[Bob Stone] calls the project BlinkTalk. The user wears a Neurosky Mindwave Mobile headset. This measures brainwaves using EEG. He connects the headset to an mBed microcontroller using a BlueSMiRF Bluetooth board. The microcontroller processes the EEG data to establish when the user blinks their eyes.

The LCD screen first scrolls down each row of the displayed letters and numbers. When the appropriate row is highlighted a blink will start scrolling through the columns until a second blink selects the appropriate character. Once the message has been spelled out the “SAY!” menu item causes the Emic2 module to turn the text into speech.

If you think you could build something like this to help the disabled, you should check out thecontrollerproject.com where builders are connected with people in need.

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Ditch that boring mouse for a military-grade trackball

military-grade-trackball

The bad thing about this type of hack is that now [Tomek Dubrownik] needs to cut a hole in his desk to house the thing. He got this military grade trackball working over USB. It’s old, and could be used as a blunt weapon. But as the video shows it still makes a great input device.

He found the hardware on Allegro – a Polish auction site similar to eBay — for just $20. The original circuitry didn’t make a lot of sense, but a bit of probing with the old oscilloscope let him establish connections to the encoders which are read by some TI 54xx parts. Apparently they use the same logic as 7400 parts but are military grade. He chose a ATmega32u4 development board for his replacement control board. That chip has native USB support so the rest is just a matter of passing data like an HID input device. His code even lets him use those pushbuttons to toggle between cursor movement and window scrolling.

[Tomek] translated his post into English after some prompting by friends at the Warsaw Hackerspace. Here’s the original in Polish if you’re interested.

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Gesture control uses WiFi doppler shift

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We’ve said it before: in the future simple interfaces will use nothing but your body. At least at first glance that’s the case with this WiFi-based gesture control system. If you have Internet at home you probably have a WiFi access point. That’s the first portion of the equation. The remainder is a way of measuring how the radio waves bounce off of your body. So far this is being done with Software-Define Radio (SDR) but researchers at University of Washington think it may be possible to build the technique into future WiFi devices.

The demo video shows this man waving his arm to adjust the volume of his home entertainment system. Intuition tells us that this would be impossible if your arm wasn’t the only thing in motion at the time. But that issue is quickly addressed. Multiple antennas can track multiple people at the same time. There is also consideration for false-positives. The system requires a moderately complex wake-up gesture sequence to prevent you from, say, accidentally turning on the stereo when you roll over in bed.

If you’re having trouble wraping your mind around this, consider this ultrasonic music player. The WiFi version does the same thing, but processing changes in the returning radio waves is much more complex.

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