Power from Paper

Comedian Steven Wright used to say (in his monotone way):

“We lived in a house that ran on static electricity. If we wanted to cook something, we had to take a sweater off real quick. If we wanted to run a blender, we had to rub balloons on our head.”

Turns out, all you need to generate a little electricity is some paper, Teflon tape and a pencil. A team from EPFL, working with researchers at the University of Tokyo, presented just such a device at a MEMS conference. (And check out their video, below the break.)

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Screen Printing Electroluminescent T-Shirts From Tron

Travel around to enough security conferences, faires, and festivals, and you’ll see some crazy wearable electronics. Most of them blink, and most of them use LEDs. Electroluminescent panels are used for wearables, but that’s a niche – the panels are a little expensive, and you have to deal with high frequency AC instead of the much simpler, ‘plug in a LiPo here’ circuit LED-based wearables have to contend with.

Still, electroluminescent panels are cool, and thanks to how EL panels are made, you can screen print EL displays. That’s what some of the guys at AMBRO Manufacturing did recently: screen printing electroluminescent lights directly onto garments. It’s t-shirts from Tron made real.

EL panels and EL wire are really only three separate parts: a conductor of some sort, a phosphor, and another conductor. Pass a high-frequency AC current through the conductors, and the phosphor lights up. With EL wire, it’s a thick copper wire clad in phosphor and wrapped in a very fine copper wire. EL displays are made with conductive ITO-coated glass or plastic. It’s a relatively simple construction, and one that is perfectly suited for screen printing. In fact, one of the first EL displays – the DSKY, the user interface for the Apollo Guidance Computer – used screen printed seven-segment EL displays.

The folks at AMBRO only have a proof of concept right now, but it is a completely screen printed electroluminescent design on fabric. To light it up, the t-shirt will need an inverter, but this is the beginnings of t-shirts from Tron.

Video below.

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Cheap Smartwatch Teardown

A proper smartwatch can cost quite a bit of money. However, there are some cheap Bluetooth-connected watches that offer basic functions like show your incoming calls, dial numbers and display the state of your phone battery. Not much, but these watches often sell for under $20, so you shouldn’t expect too much.

Because they’re so cheap, [Lee] bought one of these (a U8Plus) and within an hour he had the case opened up and his camera ready. As you might expect, the biggest piece within was the rechargeable battery. A MediaTek MT6261 system on a chip provides the smart part of the watch.

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Second Skin Synth Fits Like a Glove

California textiles artist and musician [push_reset] challenged herself to make a wearable, gesture-based synth without using flex-sensing resistors. In the end, she designed almost every bit of it from the ground up using conductive fabric, resistive paint, and 3-D printed parts.

A couple of fingers do double duty in this glove. Each of the four fingertips have a sensor made from polyurethane, conductive paint, and conductive fabric that is connected to wires using small rivets. These sensors trigger different samples on an Edison that are generated with Timbre.js. The index and middle fingers also have knuckle actuators made from 3-D printed pin-and-slot mechanisms that turn trimmer pots. Bending one knuckle changes the delay timing while the other manipulates a triangle wave.

On the back of the glove are two sensors made from conductive fabric. Touching one up and down the length will alter the reverb. Sliding up and down the other alters the frequency of a sine wave. [push_reset] has kindly provided everything necessary to re-create this build from the glove pattern to the STL files for the knuckle actuators. Check out a short demonstration of the glove after the break. If you love a parade, here’s a wearable synth that emulates a marching band.

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Warm Up Your Small Talk with a Thermometer Scarf

Just how cold is it out there? This giant thermometer scarf is a fantastic entry-level wearables project. It’s sure to strike up conversations that move past the topic of weather.

The scarf is built around a FLORA, a Neopixel ring that represents the bulb, and a short length of Neopixels to show the temperature in Fahrenheit and Celsius. Temperature sensing is done with a poorly documented DHT11 that gave [caitlinsdad] the fits until he found Adafruit’s library for them.To make the scarf, [caitlinsdad] used a nice cozy micro-fleece. He built a pocket for the electronics and padded it with polyester fiber fill to diffuse the LEDs. This makes the lights blur and run together, resembling a mercury thermometer.

Once it was up and running, [caitlinsdad] figured out the temperature scale based on the DHT11 readings and marked it out on the scarf with a permanent marker. [caitlinsdad] has a few mods in mind for this project. For instance, it would be easy to add haptic feedback to keep you from being exposed for too long. Another wearable in the same spirit is this hat that has a sunblock reminder system.

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PIC32 Smart Watch for Less Than a Benjamin

[Matthew Filipek] likes smart watches, but wanted to build one for under $100, so he did. The watch has a 1.7 inch LCD touchscreen, a rechargeable LiPo battery, an SD card, and Bluetooth. The watch is a little large since [Matthew] had only a month to complete the project that drove him to use some pre-made modules image004and meant one shot at getting his custom PCB right.

The watch sports three applications: a settings app, a simple game, and a sketch program (you can see a demo in the video below). Power management is a primary goal, of course, although the clock rate is held high enough to make the game playable. To simplify the software, [Matthew] uses protothreads–a lightweight thread abstraction for embedded systems.

We’ve seen several DIY smartwatches in the past including one entry for the Hackaday Prize. It is hard to roll your own watch that has the same small size and style as a commercial offering. However, there is something to be said for having a homebrew watch for boosting your hacker cred.

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Stepping out in Style with Top Hat Navigation

Wearable tech is getting to be a big thing. But how we interface with this gear is still a bit of a work in progress. To explore this space, [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller course students came up with an acoustic interface to assist with navigation while walking. With style, of course.

[Bruce], from the Cornell University School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been burning up the Hackaday tips line with his students’ final projects. Here’s the overview page for the Sound Navigation Hat. It uses a PIC32 with GPS and compass. A lot of time was spent figuring out how to properly retrieve and parse the GPS data, but for us the interesting bits on that page are how the directional sound was put together.

Audio tones are fed to earbuds with phase shift and amplitude to make it seem like the sound is coming from the direction you’re supposed to walk. Navigation is all based on pre-programmed routes which are selected using a small LCD screen and buttons. One thing’s for sure, the choice of headwear for the project is beyond reproach from a fashion standpoint – engineering has a long history with the top hat, and we think it’s high time it made a comeback.

Is this a practical solution to land navigation? Of course not. But it could be implemented in smartphone audio players for ambient turn-by-turn navigation. And as a student project, it’s a fun way to demonstrate a novel interface. We recently covered a haptic navigation interface for the visually impaired that uses a similar principle. It’ll be interesting to see if either of these interfaces goes anywhere.

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