Development Tools of the Prop-Making World

We’ve seen them before. The pixel-perfect Portal 2 replica, the Iron Man Arc Reactor, the Jedi Lightsaber. With the rise of shared knowledge via the internet, we can finally take a peek into a world hidden behind garage doors, basements, and commandeered coffee tables strewn with nuts, bolts, and other scraps. That world is prop-making. As fab equipment like 3D printers and laser cutters start to spill into the hands of more people, fellow DIY enthusiasts have developed effective workflows and corresponding software tools to lighten their loads. I figured I’d take a brief look at a few software tools that can open the possibilities for folks at home to don the respirator and goggles and start churning out props.

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Knappa Tutu: Some Dancing Required

Sometimes, you see a lamp shade and you’re just intoxicated enough to put it on your head like a hat and dance around on the table. Other times, you see the same lamp shade, and decide to wire it up with Neopixels, an accelerometer, and an Arduino and make a flowery, motion-activated light show when you wear it as a dress. Or at least that’s what we’ve heard.

[Cheng] gets full marks for the neo-IKEA name for the project and bonus points for clean execution and some nice animations to boot. The build is straightforward: build up the lamp so that it fits around your waist, zip-tie in the RGB LED strip, and connect up accelerometer and microcontroller. A tiny bit of coding later, and you’re off to the disco. It looks like a ridiculous amount of fun, and a sweet weekend build.

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Hacking Diabetes Meters, Towards an Artificial Pancreas

We’ve covered a number of diabetes-related hacks in the past, but this project sets its goals especially high. [Tim] has diabetes and needs to monitor his blood glucose levels and administer insulin accordingly. As a first step, he and a community of other diabetics have been working on Android apps to log the data when combined with a self-made Bluetooth re-transmitter.

But [Tim] is taking his project farther than previous projects we’ve seen and aiming at eventually driving an insulin pump directly from the app. (Although he’s not there yet, and user input is still required.) To that end, he’s looking into the protocols that control the dosage pumps.

We just read about [Tim] in this article in the Guardian which covers the diabetic-hacker movement from a medical perspective — the author currently runs a healthcare innovation institute and is a former British health minister, so he’s not a noob. One passage made us pause a little bit. [Tim] speaks the usual praises of tech democratization through open source and laments “If you try to commercialize [your products], you run up against all sorts of regulatory barriers.” To which the author responds, “This should ring alarm bells. Regulatory barriers are there for a reason.”

We love health hacking, and we’re sure that if we had a medical condition that could be helped by constant monitoring, that we’d absolutely want at least local smart-phone logging of the relevant data. But how far is too far? We just ran an article on the Therac-25 case study in which subtle software race conditions ended up directly killing people. We’d maybe hesitate a bit before we automated the insulin pump, but perhaps we’re just chicken.

The solution suggested by [Lord Ara Darzi] in the Guardian piece is to form collaborations between patients motivated by the DIY spirit, and the engineers (software and hardware) who would bring their expertise, and presumably a modicum of additional safety margin, to the table. We like that a lot. Why don’t we see more of that?

Jewelry Meets Carpentry with Bentwood Rings

[Dorkyducks] is a bit of a jeweler, a bit of a carpenter, and a bit of a hacker.  They’ve taken some time to document their technique for making bentwood rings. Bentwood is technique of wetting or steaming wood, then bending or forming it into new shapes. While the technique is centuries old, this version gets a bit of help from a modern heat source: The microwave oven. [Dorkyducks] starts with strips of veneer, either 1/36″ or 1/42″ thick. The veneer is cut into strips 1/2″ wide by about 12″ long, wrapped in a wet paper towel, and microwaved. The microwaveglue-roll heats the water in the towel, steaming it into the wood. This softens the wood fibers, making the entire strip flexible. The softened wood is then wrapped around a wooden preform dowel and allowed to dry for a day or two.

Once dry, the wood will hold the circular shape of the dowel. [Dorkyducks] then uses masking tape to tack the wood down to a new dowel which is the proper ring size for the wearer. Then it’s a superglue and wrapping game. The glue holds the laminated veneer together, and gives the ring it’s strength. From there it’s sanding, sanding, sanding. At this point, the ring can be shaped, and inlays added. [Dorkyducks] shows how to carve a ring and insert a gemstone in this gallery. The final finish is beeswax and walnut oil, though we’d probably go for something a bit longer lasting – like polyurethane.

Because Burning Man Needed More LEDs

There are a lot of blinky glowy things at Burning Man every year, and [Mark] decided he would literally throw his hat into the ring. He built a high visibility top hat studded with more RGB LEDs than common sense would dictate. It’s a flashy hat, and a very good example of the fashion statement a few hundred LEDs can make.

[Mark]’s top hat has 481 WS2812b addressable LEDs studded around the perimeter, a common LED choice for bright and blinky wearables. These LEDs are driven by a Teensy 3.1, with a Bluetooth transceiver, a GPS module, a compass, and gyro/accelerometer attached to the microcontroller. That’s a lot of hardware, but it gives [Mark] the capability of having the hat react to its own orientation, point itself North, and allow for control via a modified Nintendo NES controller.

The WS2812 LEDs draw a lot of power, and for any wearable project having portable power is a chief concern. [Mark]’s original plan was to use an 8x battery holder for the electronics enclosure, and use five AA batteries to power the hat. The total idle draw of the LEDs was 4.5 Watts, and with even a few LEDs blinking colors there was a significant voltage drop. The idea of powering the hat with AA batteries was discarded and the power source was changed to a 195 Watt-hour lithium ion battery bank that was topped off each day with a solar panel.

The hat is awesome, exceedingly bright, and something that gets a lot of attention everywhere  it goes. For indoor use, it might be too bright, but this could be fixed with the addition of a bit of black stretchy fabric, like what our own [Mike Szczys] did for his DEF CON hat. [Mark]’s hat is just version 1, and he plans on making a second LED hat for next year.

Becoming A Zombie with the Hackable Electronic Badge

Last week, Parallax released an open hackable electronic badge that will eventually be used at dozens of conferences. It’s a great idea that allows badge hacks developed during one conference to be used at a later conference.

[Mark] was at the Hackable Electronics Badge premier at the 2015 Open Hardware Summit last weekend, and he just finished up the first interactive hack for this badge. It’s the zombie apocalypse in badge form, pitting humans and zombies against each other at your next con.

The zombie survival game works with the IR transmitter and receiver on the badge normally used to exchange contact information. Upon receiving the badge, the user chooses to be either a zombie or survivor. Pressing the resistive buttons attacks, heals, or infects others over IR. The game is your standard zombie apocalypse affair: zombies infect survivors, survivors attack zombies and heal the infected, and the infected turn into zombies.

Yes, a zombie apocalypse is a simple game for a wearable with IR communications, but for the Hackable Electronics Badge, it’s a great development. There will eventually be tens of thousands of these badges floating around at cons, and having this game available on day-one of a conference will make for a lot of fun.

The Open, Hackable Electronic Conference Badge

Electronic conference badges have been around for at least a decade now, and they all have the same faults. They’re really only meant to be used for a few days, conference organizers and attendees expect the badge to be cheap, and because of the nature of a conference badge, the code just works, and documentation is sparse.  Surely there’s a better way.

Enter the Hackable Electronic Badge. Ever since Parallax started building electronic conference badges for DEF CON, they’ve gotten a lot of requests to build badges for other conventions. Producing tens of thousands of badges makes Parallax the go-to people for your conference badge needs, but the requests for badges are always constrained by schedules that are too short, price expectations that are too low, and volumes that are unknown.

There’s a market out there for electronic conference badges, and this is Parallax’s solution to a recurring problem. They’re building a badge for all conferences, and a platform that can be (relatively) easily modified while still retaining all its core functionality.

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