Minecraft Trojan Horse Teaches Kids to Love Electronics and Code

Kids love Minecraft, and a clever educator can leverage that love to teach some very practical skills. The summer class offered by the Children’s Museum in Bozeman Montana would have blown my mind if such a thing existed when we were younger. (Rather than begging one of the dads in my Boy Scout Troop to pirate Visual Studio for me, which was delivered in the form of an alarmingly tall stack of CDs.) The kids in Bozeman get to learn hardware, software, their integration, and all while playing Minecraft.

Minecraft is an immersive universe that has proven to suck in creative minds. It’s the bait that pulls the kids into the summer class but Serialcraft delivers on making the learning just as addictive. This is accomplished by providing students with physical objects that are tied to the Minecraft world in meaningful ways we just haven’t seen before (at least not all at one time). On the surface this adds physical LEDs, toggle switches, potentiometers, and joysticks to the game. But the physical controls invite understanding of the mechanisms themselves, and they’re intertwined in exciting ways, through command blocks and other in-game components that feel intuitive to the students. From their understanding of the game’s mechanics they understand the physical objects and immediately want to experiment with them in the same way they would new blocks in the game.

The thing that makes this magic possible is a Minecraft mod written by [John Allwine], who gave us a demonstration of the integration at Maker Faire Bay Area 2016. The mod allows the user to access the inputs and output of the Arduino, in this case a Pololu A-Star 32U4, from within Minecraft. For the class this is all packaged nicely in the form of a laser cut controller. It has some LEDs, two joysticks, buttons, potentiometers, and a photosensor.

As you can see in the video below the break, it’s really cool. The kids have a great time with it too. For example, [John] showed them how they can attach their unique controller to a piston in the world. Since this piston can be controlled by them alone, they quickly figured out how to make secret safe rooms for their items.

Another troublesome discovery, was that the photo transistor on the controller set the light level in the game world by altering the time of day. Kids would occasionally get up and change the world from day to night, by turning the lights in the room on or off. A feature that has a certain appeal for any Minecraft player, is rigging one of the LEDs on the controller to change brightness depending on proximity to a creeper.

There’s a lot more to the library, which is available on GitHub. The kids (and adults) have a great time learning to link the real world with the world’s most accessible fantasy world creation kit.  Great work [John]!

Continue reading “Minecraft Trojan Horse Teaches Kids to Love Electronics and Code”

Save a Spaceship with Spacehack!

York Hackspace needed a demonstration piece to grace their stand at Maker Faires and similar events. Their solution was Spacehack, a multi-player control console based starship emergency simulator game. Each Spacehack player has console with a selection of displays, switches, dials, and levers. Players must operate their controls in response to a series of sometimes confusing commands the game supplies them from their fellow crew members. Each wrong move brings the disaster-prone ship closer to destruction, and the aim is to keep it spaceworthy for as long as possible. The result is an engaging and addictive draw for the hackspace.

Behind the brilliantly designed consoles, silver ducting and pyramidal hub box the game relies on a Raspberry Pi acting as a server and a Beaglebone Black for each player. All resources can be found on York Hackspace’s GitHub repository. The hackspace has a selection of videos on the Spacehack website, the one below the break shows the game as well as a montage of its construction. Continue reading “Save a Spaceship with Spacehack!”

Snake On A BBC Micro:bit

The first of the BBC Micro Bits are slowly making their ways into hacker circulation, as is to be expected for any inexpensive educational gadget (see: Raspberry Pi). [Martin] was able to get his hands on one and created the “hello world” of LED displays: he created a playable game of snake that runs on this tiny board.

For those new to the scene, the Micro Bit is the latest in embedded ARM systems. It has a 23-pin connector for inputs and outputs, it has Bluetooth and USB connectivity, a wealth of sensors, and a 25-LED display. That’s small for a full display but it’s more than enough for [Martin]’s game of snake. He was able to create a hex file using the upyed tool from [ntoll] and upload it to the Micro Bit. Once he worked out all the kinks he went an additional step further and ported the game to Minecraft and the Raspberry Pi Sense HAT.

[Martin] has made all of the code available if you’re lucky enough to get your hands on one of these. Right now it seems that they are mostly in the hands of some UK teachers and students, but it’s only a matter of time before they become as ubiquitous as the Raspberry Pi or the original BBC Micro.  It already runs python, so the sky’s the limit on these new boards.

Continue reading “Snake On A BBC Micro:bit”

Connect Four Robot Uses Raspberry Pi

Most people play games for entertainment. Hackers build robots to play games for entertainment. That’s what [piandchips] did. He used a Raspberry Pi and a MeArm kit to build a Connect 4-playing robot. The robot–named 4-Bot–has to do two things: the first is it has to be able to manipulate the pieces. Secondly, it has to be able to see the board. The MeArm imbues 4-Bot with the manipulation ability, and a clever scanning system does the trick.

Continue reading “Connect Four Robot Uses Raspberry Pi”

String Racing Robots are Here !

This could be the start of a new thing. [HarpDude] showed off his String Car Racers over on the Adafruit forum. It’s like a small model cable car on caffeine. String up enough of them and go head to head racing with others.

A motor with a small pulley runs over a length of string stretched between 2 posts. Below the pulley, acting as a counterweight balance, is the rest of the racer. A Trinket board, motor driver, 9V battery and a pair of long lever micro switches to detect end of travel. The switches also help reverse the motor. A piece of galvanized wire acts as a guide preventing the String Car from jumping off the string. And discovering the benefits of a micro-controller design, as against discrete TTL/CMOS, old timer [HarpDude] added two operational modes via software. “Pong”, where the String Car keeps going back and forth over the string until it stops of (battery) exhaustion. The other mode is “Boomerang” – a single return trip back and forth.

We are guessing the next upgrade would be to add some kind of radio on the car (ESP8266 perhaps) and build an app to control the String Car. That’s when gaming could become fun as it opens up possibilities. One way to improve performance would be to add two “idler” pulleys in line with the main drive pulley, and then snake the string through the three of them. Now you know what to do with all of those old motors you’ve scavenged from tape drives, CD drives and printers. Let the Games begin!

Thanks [Mike Stone] for tipping us off on this.

Printing Objects Directly From Fallout 4

Fallout 4 was released about a month ago, and although we don’t have a ‘took an arrow to the knee’ meme like Bethesda’s last game, there are ample opportunities for cosplay and printing out deathclaws and mirelurks on a 3D printer. How do you turn files hidden away in a game’s folders into a real, printed object? It’s actually pretty easy and [Angus] is here to tell you how.

The files for Fallout enemies and items can be readily accessed with the Bethesda Archive Extractor, although this won’t give you files that a 3D printer can understand. You’ll get a .NIF file, and NifSkope can convert the files found in the Fallout archives to an .OBJ file any 3D modeling program can understand. The next step from there is taking the .OBJ file into Meshmixer and fixing everything with Netfabb. After that, it’s off to the printer.

[Angus] printed his model of a Deathclaw in ABS in multiple parts, gluing them together with a little bit of acetone. This didn’t go exactly as planned; there were some contaminants in the ABS that turned into a white film on the black ABS. This was ultimately fixed with XTC-3D, the 3D print coating everyone is experimenting with.

The finished product is a solid yellow but completely smooth 3D model of one of the toughest enemies in Fallout 4. The only thing left to do is paint the model. The best way to proceed at this point is probably doing what model builders have been doing for decades – an airbrush, and hundreds of tiny bottles of paint. [Angus] is opening up his YouTube comments for suggestions, and if you have a better idea he’s looking for some help.
Continue reading “Printing Objects Directly From Fallout 4”

Robot Cheats at Rock Paper Scissors

It is hard enough to beat computers at games like chess. Now robotics engineers at the Ishikawa Watanabe Laboratory in Japan have created a janken robot that wins every time (if you didn’t know, janken is the Japanese name for rock-paper-scissors). How can it win every time? Easy. It cheats.

The janken robot evolved through three different versions. In the first version, the robotic hand would note the human player’s hand with a high-speed camera and then move the hand to a winning counter play with about a 20 millisecond delay. In the second version, the delay was greatly reduced.

However, in the third version, the robot uses a scanning technique to capture an entire field of view and determines what play the human is making. Again, a winning counter play is instantly produced by the robotic hand.

Continue reading “Robot Cheats at Rock Paper Scissors”