Vibrating Distance Torch Illuminates the Dark without Light

If you’ve ever had to move around in a dark room before, you know how frustrating it can be. This is especially true if you are in an unfamiliar place. [Brian] has attempted to help solve this problem by building a vibrating distance sensor that is intuitive to use.

The main circuit is rather simple. An Arduino is hooked up to both an ultrasonic distance sensor and a vibrating motor. The distance sensor uses sound to determine the distance of an object by calculating how long it takes for an emitted sound to return to the sensor. The sensor uses sounds that are above the range of human hearing, so no one in the vicinity will hear it. The Arduino then vibrates a motor quickly if the object is very close, or slowly if it is far away. The whole circuit is powered by a 9V battery.

The real trick to this project is that the entire thing is housed inside of an old flashlight. [Brian] used OpenSCAD to design a custom plastic mount. This mount replaces the flashlight lens and allows the ultrasonic sensor to be secured to the front of the flashlight. The flashlight housing makes the device very intuitive to use. You simply point the flashlight in front of you and press the button. Instead of shining a bright light, the flashlight vibrates to let you know if the way ahead is clear. This way the user can more easily navigate around in the dark without the risk of being seen or waking up people in the area.

This reminds us of project Tacit, which used two of these ultrasonic sensors mounted on a fingerless glove.

Typewriter Types, Plays Music

[Chris Gregg] had a dream. He wanted to convert use a typewriter as a printer. Sure this has been done before, but [Chris] wanted to create his own version. He picked up a 60’s era Smith Corona electric typewriter, with the hopes of driving its key switches with a computer. You can imagine his surprise when he discovered the keys were not electric switches at all, but a complex mechanical system which triggered a clutch to strike the actual paper. Realizing this was not going to be a simple wiring job, [Chris] set the project aside, where it remained for several years.

A conversation with [Bruce Molay], a coworker at Tufts University reignited [Chris’] interest in project. [Bruce] suggested using solenoids to press the keys. [Chris] dove in, and quickly had 48 solenoids on hand. The first problem was mounting the solenoids on the keys. [Chris’] roommate happens to be [Derek Seabury], president of Artisan’s Asylum Hackerspace. [Derek] created an acrylic frame which holds the solenoids and fits directly over the typewriter’s keyboard. This meant that no modifications needed to be made to the typewriter itself. Simply lift off the solenoid array and you’re ready to rock like it’s 1965.

The next step was driving all those solenoids. For that, Chris worked with [Kate Wasynczuk], one of his students at Tufts. [Chris] designed a board using Texas Instruments  TPIC6A595 shift registers. The TIPC “power logic” series work like regular 74 series logic, but have seriously beefy outputs. These chips can handle up to 50 volts and 1.5 amps pulsed output current – plenty for [Chris’] 24 volt solenoids. [Chris] taught himself schematic entry and PCB layout in Eagle. After only two tries, he had a working board from OSHPark.

An Arduino Uno converts serial over USB output to a bit stream ready to clock into the shift registers. On the computer side, [Chris] wrote up a basic CUPS driver which allows him to print from his Macbook. The perfect demo for this project turned out to be musical. Click past the break to see The Smith Corona perform “The Typewriter Symphony”, by Leroy Anderson. This may be the first time this particular piece of music has been performed with actual words being typed, rather than random keys.

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KeyMouSerial Solves Your Raspberry Pi Keyboard Problems

All laptops have a working keyboard and mouse built into them, the only problem is that you can’t use these tools on other computers that don’t have them. At least, until now. [Peter] has created the KeyMouSerial in order to use his laptop’s keyboard and mouse as physical devices on his Raspberry Pi, finally freeing the bonds holding our laptops’ human interface devices back.

The software for KeyMouSerial copies keystroke and mouse information and sends this out via a serial port on his laptop (using a USB to serial adapter). From there the information is translated by an Arduino into HID commands which are sent via USB to the target computer, in this case a Raspberry Pi. It’s a pretty elegant solution to carrying a bulky keyboard and mouse along just for a Raspberry Pi, or for any computer that might not have access to a network and SSH.

[Peter] has also been working on using his iPod as a serial-to-USB converter, so if you’re a Rockbox developer and want to help out then drop him a line. All of the software is available (for Windows, Mac, or Linux) including the Arduino sketch if you want to try this software out for yourself. And, if you don’t want to turn a computer into a keyboard and want to go the other direction and turn a keyboard into a computer, that is also an option.

Embed with Elliot: I2C Bus Scanning

A lot of great ICs use I2C to communicate, but debugging a non-working I2C setup can be opaque, especially if you’re just getting started with the protocol/bus. An I2C bus scanner can be a helpful first step in debugging an I2C system. Are all the devices that I think should be present actually there and responding? Do they all work at the bus speed that I’m trying to run? If you’ve got an Arduino or Bus Pirate sitting around, you’re only seconds away from scanning your I2C bus, and answering these questions.

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Motion Sensing Water Gun Tweets Photos To Embarrass Enemies

[Ashish] is bringing office warfare to the next level with a motion sensing water gun. Not only does this water gun automatically fire when it detects motion, but it also takes a photo of the victim and publishes it on Twitter.

This hack began with the watergun. [Ashish] used a Super Soaker Thunderstorm motorized water gun. He pulled the case apart and cut one of the battery wires. he then lengthened the exposed ends and ran them out of the gun to his control circuit. He also placed a protection diode to help prevent any reverse EMF from damaging his more sensitive electronics. The new control wires run to a MOSFET on a bread board.

[Ashish] is using a Lightblue Bean board as a microcontroller. The Bean is Arduino compatible and can be programmed via low energy Bluetooth. The Bean uses an external PIR sensor to detect motion in the room. When it senses the motion, it activates the MOSFET which then turns on the water gun.

[Ashish] decided to use Node-RED and Python to link the Bean to a Twitter account. The system runs on a computer and monitor’s the Bean’s serial output. If it detects the proper command, it launches a Python script which takes a photo using a webcam. A second script will upload that photo to a Twitter account. The Node-RED server can also monitor the Twitter account for incoming direct messages. If it detects a message with the correct password, it can use the rest of the message as a command to enable or disable the gun.

Visualizing Magnetic Fields In 3D Space

[John] is working on his PhD in experimental earthquake physics, and with that comes all the trials of becoming a PhD; tuning students into the cool stuff in the field, and demonstrating tech created after 1970 to his advisers. One of the biggest advancements in his line of work in the last 30 or 40 years is all those sensors you can find in your cell phone. The three-axis magnetometer in your phone is easily capable of measuring the Earth’s magnetic field, and this chip only costs a few dollars. To demonstrate this, [John] built a 3D compass to show off the capability of these sensors, and have a pretty light show for the undergrads.

The magnetometer [John] is using is just a simple I2C magnetometer that can be found on Adafruit or Sparkfun. It’s not really anything special, but with a little bit of code, [John] can read the magnetic field strength in the x, y, and z axes.

Having a microcontroller spit out a bunch of numbers related to the local magnetic field just doesn’t seem fun, so [John] picked up two neopixel rings – one inside the other, and set 90 degrees out of plane with each other. This turns his magnetometer and Arduino setup into a real 3D compass. With this device, the local magnetic field can be visualized in the x, y, and z axes. It looks cool, which is great for undergrads, and it’s a great demonstration of what you can do with small, cheap electronic sensors.

[John] put up a screencast of a talk he gave at the American Geophysical Union meeting last year. You can check that out below.

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Castrol Virtual Drift: Hacking Code at 80MPH with a Driver in a VR Helmet

Driving a brand new 670 horsepower Roucsh stage 3 Mustang while wearing virtual reality goggles. Sounds nuts right? That’s exactly what Castrol Oil’s advertising agency came up with though. They didn’t want to just make a commercial though – they wanted to do the real thing. Enter [Adam and Glenn], the engineers who were tasked with getting data from the car into a high end gaming PC. The computer was running a custom simulation under the Unreal Engine. El Toro field provided a vast expanse of empty tarmac to drive the car without worry of hitting any real world obstacles.

The Oculus Rift was never designed to be operated inside a moving vehicle, so it presented a unique challenge for [Adam and Glenn]. Every time the car turned or spun, the Oculus’ on-board Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) would think driver [Matt Powers] was turning his head. At one point [Matt] was trying to drive while the game engine had him sitting in the passenger seat turned sideways. The solution was to install a 9 degree of freedom IMU in the car, then subtract the movements of that IMU from the one in the Rift.

GPS data came from a Real Time Kinematic (RTK) GPS unit. Unfortunately, the GPS had a 5Hz update rate – not nearly fast enough for a car moving close to 100 MPH. The GPS was relegated to aligning the virtual and real worlds at the start of the simulation. The rest of the data came from the IMUs and the car’s own CAN bus. [Adam and Glenn] used an Arduino with a Microchip mcp2515 can bus interface  to read values such as steering angle, throttle position, brake pressure, and wheel spin. The data was then passed on to the Unreal engine. The Arduino code is up on Github, though the team had to sanitize some of Ford’s proprietary CAN message data to avoid a lawsuit. It’s worth noting that [Adam and Glenn] didn’t have any support from Ford on this, they just sniffed the CAN network to determine each message ID.

The final video has the Hollywood treatment. “In game” footage has been replaced with pre-rendered sequences, which look so good we’d think the whole thing was fake, that is if we didn’t know better.

Click past the break for the final commercial and some behind the scenes footage.

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