Blackboard digitization for under $40

Digital White/Black Boards or “Smart Boards” are very useful in modern classrooms, but their high cost often makes it difficult to convince administrators from loosening their purse strings. Cooper Union’s 2nd annual HackCooper event in New York wanted students to design and build hardware and software projects that both solve real problems and spark the imagination. At the 24 hour hackathon, the team of [harrison], [david] and [caleb] decided to put together a low-cost and simple solution to digitizing classroom black board content.

A chalk-holder is attached to two strings, each connected over a pulley to a weight. The weights slide inside PVC pipes at the two sides of the black board. Ultrasonic sensors at the bottom of each tube measure the distance to the weights. The weights sit in static equilibrium, so they serve the purpose of keeping the string taut without negatively interfering with the writer.

With a couple of calibration points to measure the extent of displacement of each weight, board width can be determined, making it easy to adapt to different sizes of boards. Once calibrated, the system can determine position of the chalk over the board based on some trigonometrical calculations. Since they had just 24 hours to hack the system together, they had to use a hand operated radio with a couple of buttons to provide user control. Pressing the “Write” button starts transmitting chalk movements to the digital screen. A second button on the radio remote serves to “Erase” the digital screen. After receiving the chalk position data, they had to do a fair amount of processing to eliminate noise and smooth out the writing on the digital screen.

A server allows the whole class to receive the chalk board data in real time. After each “Erase” command, the chalk board state is saved and logged on the server, thus allowing previous content to be viewed or downloaded. If only text is written, optical character recognition can be used to further digitize the content.

What makes the project really useful is the low cost. The sensors cost a dollar. The other parts – PVC pipe, weights/pulleys, Arduino and the Radio key fob – were all bought for under 40 dollars. For some additional cost (and maybe more time in their case) they could have automated the detection of when the chalk was actually doing the writing. The team have made their code available on Github. For a Chalk board at the other end of the cost spectrum, check this one out. Video below.

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Automatic Garage Door Opener Works for Your Cat

Using an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to perform a task in the real world is certainly a project we’ve seen here before, and certainly most of these projects help to make up the nebulous “Internet of Things” that’s all the rage these days. Once in a while though, a project comes along that really catches our eye, as is the case with [Jamie’s] meticulously documented automatic garage door opener.

This garage door opener uses an ATMega328 to connect the internet to the garage door. A reed switch is installed which lets the device sense the position of the door, which is relayed back to the internet. [Jamie] wrote an Android app that can open and close the door and give the user the information on the door’s status. One really interesting feature is the ability to “crack” the garage door. This is done by triggering the garage door opener twice with a delay in between. From the video after the break we’d say this is how [Jamie’s] cat gets in and out.

We love seeing projects that are extremely well documented so that anyone who wants to make one can easily figure out how. Internet-connected garage door openers have been featured in other unique ways before too, but we’ve also seen ways to automatically open blinds or chicken coops!

Non-Arduino powered by a piece of Computing history

Sometimes it is a blessing to have some spare time on your hands, specially if you are a hacker with lots of ideas and skill to bring them to life. [Matt] was lucky enough to have all of that and recently completed an ambitious project 8 months in the making – a Non-Arduino powered by the giant of computing history – Intel’s 8086 processor. Luckily, [Matt] provides a link to describe what Non-Arduino actually means; it’s a board that is shield-compatible, but not Arduino IDE compatible.

He was driven by a desire to build a single board computer in the old style, specifically, one with a traditional local bus. In the early days, a System Development Kit for Intel’s emerging range of  microprocessors would have involved a fair bit of discrete hardware, and software tools which were not all too easy to use.

Back in his den, [Matt] was grappling with his own set of challenges. The 8086 is a microprocessor, not a microcontroller like the AVR, so the software side of things are quite different. He quickly found himself locking horns with complex concepts such as assembly bootstrapping routines, linker scripts, code relocation, memory maps, vectors and so on. The hardware side of things was also difficult. But his goal was learning so he did not take any short cuts along the way.

[Matt] documented his project in detail, listing out the various microprocessors that run on his 8OD board, describing the software that makes it all run, linking to the schematics and source code. There’s also an interesting section on running Soviet era (USSR) microprocessor clones on the 8OD. He is still contemplating if it is worthwhile building this board in quantities, considering it uses some not so easy to source parts. If you are interested in contributing to the project, you could get lucky. [Matt] has a few spares of the prototypes which he is willing to loan out to anyone who can can convince him that they could add some value to the project.

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Hat-Mounted Clock Requires Mirror For Wearer To Tell Time

[gfish] was planning on attending Burning Man and wanted to make something unique (and useful) to wear. He decided on a hat/clock hybrid. Just slapping a clock on a hat would be too easy, though. [gfish] wanted his hat to change time zones both via manual switches or physical location.

On the front of the hat there are 2 hands, as most clocks have. Each one is attached to one of two concentric shafts that run to the back of the hat. Each hand is individually controlled by an RC vehicle servo. Those of you familiar with RC servos know that a servos’ max rotation is about 180 degrees and is certainly not enough for a full revolution required by the clock. To fix this, there is a 3:1 gear set that allows a 120 degree rotation of the servo to move the clock hand a full 360 degrees. With this method, each hand can’t move past 12 and instead has to quickly move counter-clockwise to get where it needs to be in order to again start its journey around the clock face.

Mounted inside the hat there is an Arduino that controls the clock, a GPS shield to determine location and an RTC to maintain accurate time. Mounted on the side of the hat is a control panel that contains an overall on/off switch as well as a rotary switch for selecting a specific timezone or for engaging GPS mode. The whole thing is powered by a 9 volt battery.

If you like unnecessarily complicated top hats, check out this WiFi enabled message displaying one.

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Bill’s Arduino

Pokemon is a great game by itself, but when you realize that not all of the ‘mon are available in one game, trading is required for completion, and some pokemon aren’t available without either hacking or going to a Toys ‘R Us in 1997, you start to see how insidious this game can be. Figuring he could finally complete the game with an Arduino, [Pepijn] decided to build a pokemon storage system.

This build was inspired by an earlier post that also spoofed trades. Instead of building this project around a high-power micro, [Pepijn] decided to use an Arduino. The protocol Game Boys use to communicate with each other is extremely well documented, although that’s only half the battle. Each game using the link cable used specialized data structures for transfer, and after grepping through a disassembled Pokemon ROM,  [Pepijn] figured out how everything worked.

The completed hardware keeps one Pokemon in the EEPROM of an Arduino. It’s not very fast if you want to catch all 151 Pokemon in the Gen 1 games, but any way you look at it, you’re going to be catching a lot of Magikarp anyway.

Know Your Speed on Rollerblades

[Anurag] is a computer engineering student with a knack for rollerblading. Rollerblades are not a transportation device that are often fitted with speedometers, so [Anurag] took that more as a challenge and designed this Arduino-powered computer to give him more information on his rollerblade rides.

The device uses an Arduino as the brain, and counts wheel revolutions (along with doing a little bit of math) in order to calculate the speed of the rider. The only problem with using this method is that the wheels aren’t on the ground at all times, and slow down slightly when the rider’s foot is off the ground. To make sure he gets accurate data, the Arduino uses an ultrasonic rangefinder to determine the distance to the ground and deduce when it should be taking speed measurements.

In addition to speed, the device can also calculate humidity and temperature, and could be configured to measure any number of things. It outputs its results to a small screen, but it could easily be upgraded with Bluetooth for easy data logging. If speed is truly your goal, you might want to have a look at these motorized rollerblades too.

A Router Table with Height Control

The wood router is a versatile power tool which can be picked up at a low price. Nicer router setups are mounted underneath a table, with the cutting head poking through. This makes it easier and safer to work with the tool.

[Paul] combined his interest in electronics and woodworking by making a router table with automated controls [translation]. The neat part of this build is the automated height control, which ensures accurate cutting depth.

The router is mounted to a threaded rod, which allows it to be moved up and down by a motor. A low cost L298 motor driver provides the power to the motor, which is controlled by an Arduino Uno. A VCNL4020 based sensor board is used to measure distance and accurately set the router height. This tiny proximity sensor looks like a nifty chip, providing distance measurements up to 200 mm and an ambient light sensor in one package.

The routing table has an LCD display and buttons, allowing the user to dial in their desired height. The entire thing was built using recycled bits and well under $100 in new parts.