Insanely-Quick 3D Tracking with 1 Camera

Let’s face it: 3-dimensional odometry can be a computationally expensive problem often requiring expensive 3D cameras and optimized algorithms that can be difficult to wrap our head around. Nevertheless, researchers continue to push the bounds of visual odometry forward each year. This past year was no exception, as [Christian], [Matia], and [Davide] have tipped the scale in terms of speed with an algorithm that can track itself in 3D in real time.

In the video (after the break), the landmarks are sparse, the motion to track is relentlessly jagged, but SVO, or Semi-Fast Visual Odometry [PDF warning], keeps tracking its precision with remarkable consistency, making use of “high frequency texture” as a reference. Several other implementations require two cameras or a depth camera variant, but not SVO. It uses a single camera with a high frame rate between 55 and 300 frames per second. Best of all, the trio at the University of Zürich have made their codebase open source and available as a package for ROS.

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DIY Virtual Reality Snowboard

If you’re looking for a quick and easy project to get into virtual reality, making your own VR skateboard controller is actually pretty easy to do!

First you’ll need some kind of VR headset. You could buy a fancy one, like the Oculus, or a Samsung Gear VR — or you could use something as simple as Google Cardboard — and you could even make your own. All it takes is a phone, an Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and an accelerometer-plus-gyroscope IMU.

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Wall-E Goes Corporate, Offering Telepresence Service

I guess if you are going to build a robot to do something boring like telepresence, you might as well make it cute. That’s obviously what [Andrew Maurer] was thinking when he built a telepresence robot using a Wall-E toy. The result is kind of adorable: Wall-E is holding the 5-inch HDMI screen that shows the video, and can scoot around in true Pixar fashion under remote control.

It’s also a neat build on the inside, using a Raspberry Pi for the brains and an Adafruit MotorHat to control the motors. The original toy didn’t have motors, so he added a new RC gearbox and motors to drive the little fella around. Installed behind Wall-Es eye is a USB webcam. Running behind the scenes is a mumble server that does the audio, a copy of Chromium that shows the video, and an Apache server that feeds the captured video to the other end of the conversation. The whole thing is tied together by a few scripts that kick things off appropriately and allow the user to remotely control Wall-E. It’s a cute build, and hopefully Wall-E can still find his EVE while performing his new corporate duties.

[via reddit]

Augmented Reality Ultrasound

Think of Virtual Reality and it’s mostly fun and games that come to mind. But there’s a lot of useful, real world applications that will soon open up exciting possibilities in areas such as medicine, for example. [Victor] from the Shackspace hacker space in Stuttgart built an Augmented Reality Ultrasound scanning application to demonstrate such possibilities.

But first off, we cannot get over how it’s possible to go dumpster diving and return with a functional ultrasound machine! That’s what member [Alf] turned up with one day. After some initial excitement at its novelty, it was relegated to a corner gathering dust. When [Victor] spotted it, he asked to borrow it for a project. Shackspace were happy to donate it to him and free up some space. Some time later, [Victor] showed off what he did with the ultrasound machine.

As soon as the ultrasound scanner registers with the VR app, possibly using the image taped to the scan sensor, the scanner data is projected virtually under the echo sensor. There isn’t much detail of how he did it, but it was done using Vuforia SDK which helps build applications for mobile devices and digital eye wear in conjunction with the Unity 5 cross-platform game engine. Check out the video to see it in action.

Thanks to [hadez] for sending in this link.

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Amazing IMU-based Motion Capture Suit Turns You Into a Cartoon

[Alvaro Ferrán Cifuentes] has built the coolest motion capture suit that we’ve seen outside of Hollywood. It’s based on tying a bunch of inertial measurement units (IMUs) to his body, sending the data to a computer, and doing some reasonably serious math. It’s nothing short of amazing, and entirely doable on a DIY budget. Check out the video below the break, and be amazed.

Cellphones all use IMUs to provide such useful functions as tap detection and screen rotation information. This means that they’ve become cheap. The ability to measure nine degrees of freedom on a tiny chip, for chicken scratch, pretty much made this development inevitable, as we suggested back in 2013 after seeing a one-armed proof-of-concept.

But [Alvaro] has gone above and beyond. Everything is open source and documented on his GitHun. An Arduino reads the sensor boards (over multiplexed I2C lines) that are strapped to his limbs, and send the data over Bluetooth to his computer. There, a Python script takes over and passes the data off to Blender which renders a 3D model to match, in real time.

All of this means that you could replicate this incredible project at home right now, on the cheap. We have no idea where this is heading, but it’s going to be cool.

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Baby Saved by Doctors Using Google Cardboard after 3D Printer Fails

It’s a parent’s worst nightmare. Doctors tell you that your baby is sick and there’s nothing they can do. Luckily though, a combination of hacks led to a happy ending for [Teegan Lexcen] and her family.

When [Cassidy and Chad Lexcen]’s twin daughters were born in August, smaller twin [Teegan] was clearly in trouble. Diagnostics at the Minnesota hospital confirmed that she had been born with only one lung and half a heart. [Teegan]’s parents went home and prepared for the inevitable, but after two months, she was still alive. [Cassidy and Chad] started looking for second opinions, and after a few false starts, [Teegan]’s scans ended up at Miami’s Nicklaus Children’s Hospital, where the cardiac team looked them over. They ordered a 3D print of the scans to help visualize possible surgical fixes, but the 3D printer broke.

Not giving up, they threw [Teegan]’s scans into Sketchfab, slapped an iPhone into a Google Cardboard that one of the docs had been playing with in his office, and were able to see a surgical solution to [Teegan]’s problem. Not only was Cardboard able to make up for the wonky 3D printer, it was able to surpass it – the 3D print would only have been the of the heart, while the VR images showed the heart in the context of the rest of the thoracic cavity.[Dr. Redmond Burke] and his team were able to fix [Teegan]’s heart in early December, and she should be able to go home in a few weeks to join her sister [Riley] and make a complete recovery.

We love the effect that creative use of technology can have on our lives. We’ve already seen a husband using the same Sketchfab tool to find a neurologist that remove his wife’s brain tumor. Now this is a great example of doctors doing what it takes to better leverage the data at their disposal to make important decisions.

Being Hit in the Virtual World

Virtual reality could be the next big thing in the gaming world. And while VR displays and headsets are getting more and more sophisticated, many are forgetting perhaps the biggest feature VR will need to succeed — haptic feedback. [Pedro Lopes], [Alexandra Ion] and [Prof. Patric Baudisch] from the Hasso Plattner Institute is hoping to change that, with a project called Impacto: Simulating Physical Impact by Combining Tactile with Electrical Muscle Stimulation.

We’ve covered lots of haptic feedback devices over the past few years — some use mini gyros to simulate resistance, others blow air on you, but this is the first time we’ve seen one that combines muscle stimulation to really cause a physical effect.

They’re using an Oculus rift, and a Microsoft Kinect to perform the research. For their demonstration they use a basic boxing game that allows the user to feel the computer’s punches — but don’t worry, it doesn’t hit that hard!

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