Retrotechtacular: The Bell Laboratory Science Series

For those of a certain vintage, no better day at school could be had than the days when the teacher decided to take it easy and put on a film. The familiar green-blue Bell+Howell 16mm projector in the center of the classroom, the dimmed lights, the chance to spend an hour doing something other than the normal drudgery — it all contributed to a palpable excitement, no matter what the content on that reel of film.

But the best days of all (at least for me) were when one of the Bell Laboratory Science Series films was queued up. The films may look a bit schlocky to the 21st-century eye, but they were groundbreaking at the time. Produced as TV specials to be aired during the “family hour,” each film is a combination of live-action for the grown-ups and animation for the kiddies that covers a specific scientific topic ranging from solar physics with the series premiere Our Mr. Sun to human psychology in Gateways to the Mind. The series even took a stab at explaining genetics with Thread of Life in 1960, an ambitious effort given that Watson and Crick had only published their model of DNA in 1953 and were still two years shy of their Nobel Prize.

Produced between 1956 and 1964, the series enlisted some really big Hollywood names. Frank Capra, director of Christmas staple It’s a Wonderful Life, helmed the first four films. The series featured exposition by “Dr. Research,” played by Dr. Frank Baxter, an English professor. His sidekick was usually referred to as “Mr. Fiction Writer” and first played by Eddie Albert of Green Acres fame. A list of voice actors and animators for the series reads like a who’s who of the golden age of animation: Daws Butler, Hans Conried, Sterling Halloway, Chuck Jones, Maurice Noble, Bob McKimson, Friz Freleng, and queen and king themselves, June Foray and Mel Blanc. Later films were produced by Warner Brothers and Walt Disney Studios, with Disney starring in the final film. The combined star power really helped propel the films and help Bell Labs deliver their message.

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Play with a Papercraft Electronics Activity Book

As conductive ink becomes readily available and in greater varieties, we’re starting to see some intriguing applications. [Marion Pinaffo] and [Raphaël Pluviange] created a book of papercraft projects that employ silver-based ink for making a circuit’s wires, carbon-based ink for resistance, as well as color-changing ink. Electronics components’ leads are slipped into slits cut into the paper, connected to conductive-ink traces.

[Marion] and [Raphaël] use 555s, ATtiny85s, watch batteries, and other hardware to make each activity or project unique. A number of projects use a rolling ball bearing to make beeps in a piezo speaker. They also created beautifully designed pages to go with the electronics.

It looks like a fun way for neophytes to play around with electronics, and once the paper part is kaput, the user would be left with the hardware. Imagine one of those beginners googling to find the pinout of the Tiny85 or discovering the Stepped Tone Generator and makes one with the 555.

If you like this project you’ll appreciate the working papercraft organ and papercraft resistor calculator we previously published.

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Wearable Breadboard

We all know what a short circuit is, but [Clement Zheng] and [Manasvi Lalwani] want to introduce you to the shirt circuit. Their goal is to help children, teachers and parents explore and learn electronics. The vehicle is a shirt with a breadboard-like pattern of conductors attaching snaps. Circuit elements reside in stiff felt boxes with matching snaps. You can see it all in action in the video below.

We imagine you could cut the felt pieces out by hand with the included patterns. However, they used a laser cutter to produce the “breadboard” and the component containers. Conductive thread is a must, of course, as are some other craft supplies like glue and regular thread.

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Sony Unveils Swarm Robots for Kids

Sony recently unveiled Toio, an educational robotics toy for young programmers. We all know Sony as an electronics giant, but they do dabble in robotics from time to time. The AIBO dog family is probably their most famous creation, though there is also QRIO, a bipedal humanoid, and on the stranger side, the Rolly.

Toio consists of two small cube robots which roll around the desktop. You can control them with handheld rings, or run programs on them. The robots are charged by a base station, which also has a cartridge slot. Sony is marketing this as an ecosystem that can be expanded by buying packs which consist of accessories and a software cartridge. It looks like the cartridge is yet another proprietary memory card format. Is Sony ever going to learn?

There isn’t much hard information on Toio yet. We know it will be released in Japan on December 1st and will cost around ¥ 20,000, or about 200 USD. No word yet on a worldwide release.

The striking thing about this kit is how well the two robots know each other’s position. Tape a paper pair of pants, and they “walk” like two feet. Attach a paper linkage between them, and they turn in perfect sync, like two gears. Add some paper strips, and the two robots work together to form a gripper.  We can only guess that Sony is using cameras on the bottom of each robot to determine position — possibly with the aid of an encoded work surface — similar to Anoto paper. Whatever technology it is, here’s to hoping Sony puts out an SDK for researchers and hackers to get in on the fun with these little robots.

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These Engineering Ed Projects are Our Kind of Hacks

Highly polished all-in-one gear for teaching STEM is one way to approach the problem. But for some, they can be intimidating and the up-front expenditure can be a barrier to just trying something before you’re certain you want to commit. [Miranda] is taking a different approach with the aim of making engineering education possible with junk you have around the house. The point is to play around with engineering concepts with having to worry about doing it exactly right, or with exactly the right materials. You know… hacking!

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Hacker U.

If you go to the University of South Florida, you can take the “Makecourse.” The 15-week program promises to teach CAD software, 3D printing, Arduino-based control systems, and C++. Don’t go to the University of South Florida? No worries. Professor [Rudy Schlaf] and [Eric Tridas] have made the entire course available online. You can see several videos below, but there are many more. The student project videos are great, too, like [Catlin Ryan’s] phase of the moon project (see below) or [Dustin Germain’s] rover (seen above).

In addition to a lesson plan and projects, there’s a complete set of videos (you can see a few below). If you are a regular Hackaday reader, you probably won’t care much about the basic Arduino stuff and the basic electronics–although a good review never hurts anyone. However, the more advanced topics about interrupts, SDCards, pin change interrupts might be just the thing. If you ever wanted to learn Autodesk Inventor, there are videos for that, too.

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Veni, Vidi, ViciLogic Teaches You Digital Logic Interactively

This is about the time of the year you realize you aren’t going to keep all of those new year’s resolutions you made. However, if one of them was to learn VHDL and FPGAs, you might be in luck. Vicilogic has a free course in Fundamentals of Digital Systems. You do have to register, but it didn’t even verify our e-mail address, so it shouldn’t be too onerous to sign up.

Associated with the National University of Ireland Galway, the training is high quality and offers animated demos in your browser of the digital circuitry. You can even control the demos yourself. You’d think the work was occurring in some browser script, but according to the site, the demos are tied to real FPGA boards. You can supposedly look in on them as you use them with a video stream, but we never saw that working so your mileage may vary. If you want a preview of what it looks like, check out the video below. There’s guided exercises and also quizzes where you have to interact with the demos.

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