You Need a Self-Righting Thrust-Vector Balloon Copter

Cornell University’s microcontroller class looks like a tremendous amount of fun. Not only do the students learn the nitty-gritty details of microcontroller programming, but the course culminates in a cool project. [Brian Ritchken] and [Jim Liu] made a thrust-vector controlled balloon blimp. They call this working?!?!

Three balloons provide just enough lift so that the blimp can climb or descend on motor power. Since the machine is symmetric, there’s no intrinsic idea of “forward” or “backward”. Instead, a ring of eight LEDs around the edge let you know which way the blimp thinks it’s pointing. Two controls on the remote rotate the pointing direction clockwise and counter-clockwise. The blimp does the math to figure out which motors to run faster or slower when you tell it to go forward or back.

The platform is stabilized by a feedback loop with an accelerometer on board, and seems capable of handling a fairly asymmetric weight distribution, as evidenced by their ballast dangling off the side — a climbing bag filled with ketchup packets that presumably weren’t just lifted from the dining halls.

It looks like [Brian] and [Jim] had a ton of fun building and flying this contraption. We’d love to see a distance-to-the-floor sensor added so that they could command it to hover at a given height, but that adds an extra level of complexity. They got this done in time and under budget, so kudos to them both. And in a world full of over-qualified quadcopters, it’s nice to see the humble blimp getting its time in the sun.

Yep, you heard right… this is yet another final project for a University course. Yesterday we saw a spinning POV globe, and the day before a voice-activated eye test. We want to see your final project too so please send in a link!

Hacking the Leapfrog TV to Play Doom

In a few hours, millions of fresh-faced children will be tearing open presents like the Leap TV, a Wii for the pre-school crowd that has a number of educational games. And, once they get bored with them, what could be more educational than fighting your way through a horde of demons to save the earth? Yup, [mick] has hacked the Leap TV console to play Doom. After some poking around he discovered that the Leap TV is built around a quad-core nxp4330q arm7-A processor, with 1GB of RAM and 16GB of flash memory, while the controller links to the main console using Bluetooth LE. That’s more than enough to run Doom on (in fact… too much), so he whipped out his handy compiler and got Doom and SDL running with only a few minor code changes.

This isn’t [Mick]s first such hack: he previously hacked the V-Tech InnoTab, a cheap tablet for kids, which persuaded the manufacturers to release the full source code for the tablet. Will Leapfrog follow suit? That remains to be seen, but in the meantime, [Mick]s work gives us some insight into the internals of this device.

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Decoupling Lego Trains Automatically

Lego train sets were introduced almost 50 years ago, and since then, one thing has been constant: the trains connected with magnets. While this is a supremely simple means of connecting locomotives to rolling stock, there is one big disadvantage. Building decouplers – devices that will separate one car from another – is difficult.

Now, with a clever combination of racks, gears, and wedges, trains can disassemble themselves. They can even do it with an Arduino.

wedgeThis decoupler works by effectively wedging cars apart from each other. With a motor from an old Lego Technic set, a few gears, shafts, and a rack, a device can be constructed that fits between the rails of a track that raises into the undercarriage of rolling stock.

Because this rolling stock is moved around with a locomotive, all that’s needed to separate two halves of a train is to move the locomotive forward. Yes, it does mean that the connection with the weakest magnet is disengaged – not necessarily the connection you want to decouple. However, with only one car and a locomotive, there’s only one connection to break. Simple enough.

This Lego decoupler can be further improved with an Arduino, a few ultrasonic sensors, and an IR detector to make a fully automatic decoupling siding for a Lego train layout. You can see all this below operating with a full state machine that perpetually switches rolling stock behind a locomotive.

A great use for Legos.

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“Hello Barbie” Under the Knife

In February, Google and Mattel introduced their Hello Barbie Internet-connected toy. This Barbie has an internal microphone, a WiFi connection to Google’s voice recognition services, and a speaker to carry on a “conversation” with the targeted child.

Like the folks at Somerset Recon, we’d say that this is an Internet of Things (IoT) device that’s just begging for a teardown, and we’re totally looking forward to their next installment when they pore through the firmware.

BarbieTeardown2On the hardware front, Barbie looks exactly like what you’d expect on the inside. A Marvell 88MW300 WiFi SoC talks to a 24-bit (!) audio codec chip, and runs code from a 16Mbit flash ROM. There’s some battery management, and what totally looks like a JTAG port. There’s not much else, because all the brains are “in the cloud” as you kids say these days.

From day to day we alternate between the promise of IoT and being anti-IoT curmudgeons, so it should come as no surprise that we’re of two minds about Hello Barbie. First, there’s the creepy-factor of having your child’s every word overheard by a faceless corporation with “evil” in their mission statement (see what we did there?). Next, we’re not sure that it’s OK to record everything your child says to a toy and listen to it later, even if you are the parent. Hackaday’s [Sarah Petkus] summarized this neatly in this article.

But mostly, we’re curious about how well the thing actually works and what it will do with naughty words. And who will take on the task of reviving the Barbie Liberation Organization? Now we totally want to go out and buy one of these things.

Automated Star Wars Themed Nerf Targets

When challenged with making a game for a kids event using only the parts he already had on hand, [Nathan Gray] had to get creative. What he ended up making is pretty awesome. It’s a Star Wars themed Nerf gun shooting gallery.

icons-390Using a Teensy 2.0, he’s controlling nine RC servo motors attached to two-sided targets which randomize themselves every round — The Empire is bad, the Rebels, good. They’re also color coded red and green in case the images are too hard to see.

To keep track of scoring, there are piezo elements which register the impact of a Nerf dart. A cute little command console with a big red start button and score display can be set up in front of the range to let the kids know how they’re doing.

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Full Size Star Wars Holochess Build

The quality and attention to detail seen in [Ian Martin]’s build is impressive regardless of his choice to build a functioning holochess set. We’re not to take away from the nerd-gasm this build invokes, but we’d rather draw to attention the craftsmanship of the builder. Sadly [Ian] doesn’t have a proper blog or product page but you can view everything he posts about the project on his social networking page and get his take on the finished work in the video below.

This build is not just a well engineered mechanical design, the electronics that run the controls and indicators are [Ian]’s home brew Arduino Mega shields. A complete game requires two sets of electronics, one for each side of the table so rolling his own shield was probably a space saving decision.

Each of the figures used as game pieces were hand sculpted and painted (is that a Rancor to the right?). User controls are presented in true-to-form fashion with 54 buttons, 26 lights, 10 knobs, and an LCD screen with custom bezel to display custom monster status. Nope, the monsters aren’t animated holograms but to make up for that [Ian] built in ambient noises so you know which are still alive. This is our first time discovering that there is a name other than “Holochess” for the game: Dejarik. We’ll leave it up to the reader to figure out how it’s played.

This is an impressive build and we can’t wait to see what else [Ian] comes up with in the future. We have covered Star Wars builds before and some interesting board game builds but never where the two meet before this.

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Wheel Of Password!

Before the rise of the Nintendo Gameboy, Tiger LCD games were the king of handheld gaming. Inexpensive and appealing to a wide audience, you still often find them “in the wild” or lurking in your house, even today. When [Lee] found a “Wheel Of Fortune” model laying low in a box, having a look inside and turning the handheld into something it’s not.

Being based on a game show, this specific model has a feature most Tiger handheld’s don’t: a cartridge slot. Originally intended to supply additional categories and phrases, the slot is a wide open bus to the internal CPU. It didn’t take long for the some probing with the Bus Pirate to decode the data protocol.

So what does one do with a hacked game show game? Well you could just make it say goofy stuff, or you could make it into a TOTP password generator. Future plans are to take off the computer umbilical cord and bit bang the cart slot with an AVR. Once done anyone, trying to break in to [Lee’s] PC will never suspect the innocent old toy is the key to the kingdom.

Join us after the break for a quick demo video

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