Newton’s Cradle for Those Too Lazy to Procrastinate

Desk toys are perfect for when you don’t want to work. There’s a particularly old desk toy called the Newton’s cradle. If you don’t know the name, you’d still recognize the toy. It is some ball bearings suspended in midair on strings. If you pull back, say, two balls and let them swing to impact the other balls, the same number of balls on the other side will fly out. When they return, the same number will move on the other side and this repeats until friction wears it all down.

We think [JimRD] might be carried away on procrastination. You see, he not only has a Newton’s cradle, he has automated it with an Arduino. According to [Jim], this is his third attempt at doing so. You can see the current incarnation in the video, below.

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Hidden Bookshelf Door Shows Incredible Motion

Who didn’t dream of a hidden door or secret passage in the house when they were kids? Some of us still do! [SPECTREcat] had already built a secret door in a fully functioning bookcase with a unique opening mechanism. The intriguing mechanism allows the doors to start by sliding slightly away form one another before hinging into the hidden space. Their operation was, however, was manual. The next step was to automate the secret door opening mechanism with electronics.

The project brain is an off-the-shelf Arduino Uno paired with a MultiMoto Arduino shield to drive 4 Progressive Automations PA-14 linear actuators. These linear actuators have 50lb force, allowing the doors to fully open or close within 10 seconds and maintain a speed that wouldn’t throw the books off the bookcases.

Not wanting to drill a hole through the bookshelf for a switch or other opening mechanisms, [SPECTREcat] added a reed switch that is activated on the other side by a DVD cover with a magnet inside. In addition to that, there is a PIR sensor on the inside room to automatically close the doors if no motion is detected for 2 hours. Dont worry, there’s also a manual switch inside just in case.

Using one of the items on the shelf to trigger the secret passage is a classic move. He could also have used a secret knock code, like the Secret Attic Library Door we covered in the past. Check out the video below to see the hinge and slide movement in action.

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Brain Controlled Tracked Robot

[Imetomi] found himself salvaging a camera from a broken drone when he decided to use it in a new project, a tracked robot with a live video feed from the mounted camera.

… I had a cheap Chinese drone that was broken, but its camera seemed to be operating and when I took apart my drone I found a small WiFi chip with a video transmitter. I (decided) that I will use this little circuit for a project and I started to buy and salvage the parts.

Being a tracked robot, it can negotiate most types of terrain and climb hills up to 40 degrees. It is powered by two 18650 lithium-ion batteries with a capacity of 2600 mAh and the remote control is based on the HC-12 serial communication module. You can control it with a joystick and watch the camera’s live-stream in a virtual reality glass. That’s pretty neat but it’s not all.

[Imetomi] also used a hacked Nacomimi Brainwave Toy to make a brain controlled version of his robot. The brainwaves are detected using sensors placed on the scalp. To actually control it the operator has to focus on the right hand to move right, focus on the left hand to move left, blink to move forward and blink again to stop. There is also an ultrasonic sensor to help navigation so the robot doesn’t bump into things. It’s not very precise but you can always build the joystick version or, even better, make a version with both controls.

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DIY Thermal Imaging Done Low-Tech Style

[Niklas Roy] has always wanted to try out thermal imaging and saw his opportunity when he received one of those handheld IR thermometers as a gift. But not content with just pointing it at different spots and looking at the temperatures on the LCD display, he decided to use it as the basis for a scanning, thermal imaging system that would display a heat map of a chosen location on his laptop.

DIY thermal imaging system
DIY thermal imaging system

He still wanted to to be able to use the IR thermometer as normal at a later date so cutting it open was not an option. Instead he firmly mounted a webcam to it pointing at the LCD display. He then wrote software on his laptop to process the resulting image and figure out what temperature was being displayed.

Once he got that working, he next put the thermometer on a platform with servos connected to an Arduino for slowly rotating it in the horizontal and vertical directions, also under control of the software on his laptop. Each time the thermometer measures the temperature of a spot, the software decodes the temperature on the LCD display and then tells the Arduino to use the servos to point the thermometer at the next spot to be measured. Each measurement takes a little time, so scanning an entire location as 70×44 spots takes around a half hour. But the end result is a heat map drawn on the laptop, done by a device that is low-tech. [Editor’s Snark: Because attaching a webcam and processing the images is “low-tech” these days.] He can overlay the heat map on a normal photo to see at a glance where the hot spots are.

The software he wrote is available on GitHub and the video below shows it in action. We’ve got to admit, it’s pretty awesome to watch. You can even see the heat map being filled in one measurement at a time.

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Vintage IBM Daisywheel Prints Again after Reverse Engineering

Just before the dawn of the PC era, IBM typewriters reached their technical zenith with the Wheelwriter line. A daisy-wheel printer with interchangeable print heads, memory features, and the beginnings of word processing capabilities, the Wheelwriters never got much time to shine before they were eclipsed by PCs. Wheelwriters are available dirt cheap now, and like many IBM products are very hackable, as shown by this simple Arduino interface to make a Wheelwriter into a printer.

[Chris Gregg] likes playing with typewriters – he even got an old Smith Corona to play [Leroy Anderson]’s The Typewriter – and he’s gotten pretty good with these largely obsolete but lovable electromechanical relics. Interfacing a PC to the Wheelwriter could have been as simple as scrounging up an original interface card for the machine, but those are like hen’s teeth, and besides, where’s the sport in that? So [Chris] hooked a logic analyzer to the well-labeled port that would have connected to the interface card and reverse engineered the somewhat odd serial protocol by banging on keys. The interface he came up with for the Wheelwriter is pretty simple – just a Light Blue Bean Plus and a MOSFET to drive the bus high and low for the correct amount of time. The result is what amounts to an alphanumeric printer, but with a little extra code some dot-matrix graphics are possible too.

Having spent a lot of time reverse engineering serial comms, we can appreciate the amount of work this took to accomplish. Looking to do something similar but don’t have the dough for a logic analyzer? Maybe you can free up $22 and get cracking on a similarly impressive hack.

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C64 Keyboard Emulation Over Serial

There’s a lot of reasons you might want to emulate the keyboard on your Commodore 64. The ravages of time and dust may have put the original keyboard out of order, or perhaps you need to type in a long program and don’t fancy pecking away with the less-than-stellar feedback of the standard keys. [podstawek] has come up with the solution: a Commodore 64 keyboard emulator that works over serial.

It’s a simple concept, but one that works well. A Python script accepts incoming keypresses or pre-typed text, then converts them into a 6-bit binary code, which is sent to an Arduino over the serial connection. The Arduino uses the 6-bit code as addresses for an MT8808 crosspoint switch.

MT8808 Functional Diagram from Datasheet

The MT8808 is essentially an 8×8 matrix of controllable switches, which acts as the perfect tool to interface with the C64’s 8×8 keyboard matrix. Hardware wise, this behaves as if someone were actually pressing the keys on the real keyboard. It’s just replacing the original key switches with an electronic version controlled by the Arduino.

[podstawek] already has the setup working on Mac, and it should work on Linux and Windows too. There’s a little more to do yet – modifying the script to allow complex macros and to enable keys to be held – so check out the Github if you want to poke around in the source. Overall it’s a tidy, useful hack to replace the stock keyboard.

The C64 remains a popular platform for hacking — it’s even had a Twitter client since 2009.

Crippled Calculator Features Unlocked with Automated Help

[Aguilera Dario] likes his Casio fx-82ES calculator. However, it was missing a few functions, including complex numbers. A Casio fx-991ES has more functions but, of course, costs more. A quick Google revealed that if you press the right buttons, though, you can transform an fx-82ES into an fx-991ES.

Because it is apparently a buffer overflow exploit, the hack involves a lot of keys and once you cycle the power you have to do it again. [Aguilera] realized this would be a good candidate for automation and added a microcontroller to push his buttons. You can see a video of a breadboard version below. He also has a PCB version in the works that should be better integrated.

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