Command Alexa With a Completely Mechanical Vintage Remote Control

Anyone with grandparents already knows that in ye olden days, televisions did not have remote control. Your parents probably still complain about how, as children, they were forced to physically walk over to the TV in order to switch between the three available channels. In these modern times of technological wonder, we have voice control, programmable touch screen remotes, and streaming services that will automatically play an entire season of the show you’re binge watching. However, before these, and before the ubiquitous infrared remote, television manufacturers were experimenting with ways to keep kids from having to run across the living room every time the channel needed to be changed.

Early remote controls were simply wired affairs — nothing too surprising there. But, it wasn’t long before methods of wireless control were being introduced. One early effort called the Flashmatic would shine light onto a photoelectric cell on the television set to control it. Of course, it might also be controlled by unintended light sources, and users had to have good aim to hit the sensor. These issues soon led to the introduction of the Zenith Space Command remote control, which used ultrasonic frequencies to control the TV.

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Oscillating Fan Controller Used As Relay

The most brilliant hacks we see aren’t always the thousand-dollar, multi-year projects spanning every facet of engineering. Rather, the most ingenious projects are ones that take an everyday thing and use it in a simple but revolutionary way. By that measure, it’ll be hard to top [Robert]’s latest hack which uses the controller board from an everyday oscillating fan to build a three-way remote-controlled relay board.

Most oscillating fans have a speed selector switch. What that does might be somewhat different between different types of fan, but in general it will select either a smaller portion of the fan’s motor to energize or switch in a resistor which will have the same speed-lowering effect. [Robert]’s fan had little more than a triple-throw switch on the control board, so when he decided the fan wasn’t worth keeping anymore, he was able to re-purpose the control board into a general-use relay. As a bonus, the fan could be controlled by infrared, so he can also remote control whatever he decides to plug into his new piece of equipment.

While this simple hack might not change the world, it may give anyone with an old fan some ideas for other uses for its parts. If you want to do a little more work and get the fan itself running again, though, it is possible to rebuild the whole thing from the ground up as well.

Remote Controlling A Dog

Until the industrial revolution, humans made use of animals to make our labor easier. This is still seen in some niche areas, like how no machine yet has been invented that’s as good at sniffing out truffles as pigs are. [William] has hearkened back to humanity’s earlier roots, but in a more modern twist has made something of a general purpose dog that could feasibly do any work imaginable. Now his dog is remote-controlled.

[William] accomplished the monumental task in a literally cartoonish fashion using the old trope of hanging a hot dog in front of something’s face to get them to chase it. The attachment point was fitted with a remote control receiver and an actuator to get the hanging hot dog to dangle a little bit more to the dog’s right or left, depending on where the “operator” wants the dog to go. [William]’s bulldog seems to be a pretty good sport about everything and isn’t any worse for wear either.

Believe it or not, there has been some actual research done into remote controlling animals, although so far it’s limited to remote-controlled cockroaches. We like the simplicity of the remote-controlled dog, though, but don’t expect to see these rigs replacing leashes anytime soon!

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Helicopter Pendulum is PID-licious

If you’ve ever tried to tune a PID system, you have probably encountered equal parts overwhelming math and black magic folk wisdom. Or maybe you just let the autotune take over. If you really want to get some good intuition for motion control algorithms, PID included, nothing beats a little hands-on experimentation.

To get you started, [Clovis] wrote in with his budget propeller-based PID demo platform (Portuguese, translated shockingly well here).

The basic setup is a potentiometer glued to a barbecue skewer with a mini-quadcopter motor and rotor on the end of it. A microcontroller reads the voltage and PWMs the propeller through a MOSFET. The goal is to have the pendulum hover stably in midair, controlled by whatever algorithms you can dream up on the controller. [Clovis]’ video demonstrates on-off and PID control of the fan. Adding a few more potentiometers (one for P, I, and D?) would make hands-on tweaking even more interactive.

In all, it’s a system that will only set you back a few bucks, but can teach you more than you’d learn in a month in college. Chances are good that you’re not going to have exactly the same brand of sardine can on hand that he did, but some improvisation is called for here.

If you don’t know why you’d like to master open-loop closed-loop control algorithms, here’s one of the best advertisements that we’ve seen in a long time. But you don’t have to start out with hand-wound hundred-dollar motors, or precisely machined bits. As [Clovis] demonstrates, you can make do with a busted quadcopter and whatever you find in your kitchen.

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Furuta Style Inverted Pendulum Is King of Geek Desk Ornaments

Newton’s Cradle is thought of as the most elegant of executive desk toys. But that 20th-century dinosaur just got run off the road as [Ben Katz]’s Furuta pendulum streaks past in the fast lane, flipping the bird and heralding a new king of desk adornments.

This Furata pendulum has wonderfully smooth movement. You can watch it go through its dance in the video after the break. Obviously you agree that this is the desk objet d’art for the modern titan of industry (geek). Just don’t stop at watching it in action. The best part is the build log that [Ben] put together — this project has a little bit of everything!

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Hand Gestures Play Tetris

There are reports of a Tetris movie with a sizable budget, and with it come a plentiful amount of questions about how that would work. Who would the characters be? What kind of lines would there be to clear? Whatever the answers, we can all still play the classic game in the meantime. And, thanks to some of the engineering students at Cornell, we could play it without using a controller.

This hack comes from [Bruce Land]’s FPGA design course. The group’s game uses a video camera which outputs a standard NTSC signal and also does some filtering to detect the user. From there, the user can move their hands to different regions of the screen, which controls the movement of the Tetris pieces. This information is sent across GPIO to another FPGA which uses that to then play the game.

This game is done entirely in hardware, making it rather unique. All game dynamics including block generation, movement, and boundary conditions are set in hardware and all of the skin recognition is done in hardware as well. Be sure to check out the video of the students playing the game, and if you’re really into hand gesture-driven fun, you aren’t just limited to Tetris, you can also drive a car.

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Tiling your TV Remote

The Tile is a small Bluetooth chip, speaker, and enough battery for a year in a keychain format. If you lose your keys in the morning, simply use the app on your phone to find the keychain. If you lose your phone simply get out your second phone.

This planned obsolescence didn’t jive with [JM] when his Tile stopped being discoverable. He didn’t want to toss a gadget that had served him so well into the landfill. So, like any good hacker, he cracked its plastic case open.

The Tile itself is a really interesting product. The largest component is the battery which has tabs spot-welded to its surface. Attached to those is a well laid out board. [JM] points out the clever use of spring contacts to engage the piezo element for the speaker as a nice example of good design for manufacture.

The hack itself was pretty easy to complete. Some electrical tape and soldering was all it took to embed the tile into the remote. Now he can take out his phone and press a button to hear a forlorn beep coming from under the couch cushions.