Tracking the Hamster Marathon

[Michelle Leonhart] has two Roborovski hamsters (which, despite the name, are organic animals and not mechanical). She discovered that they seem to run on the hamster wheel all the time. A little Wikipedia research turned up an interesting factoid: This particular breed of hamster is among the most active and runs the equivalent of four human marathons a night. Of course, we always believe everything we read on Wikipedia, but not [Michelle]. She set out to determine if this was an accurate statement.

She had already added a ball bearing to the critters’ wheel to silence it by cannibalizing an old VCR. What she needed was the equivalent of a hamster pedometer. A Raspberry Pi and a Hall effect sensor did the trick. At least for the raw measurement. But it still left the question: how much distance is a hamster marathon?

01_hamster_stride_measurement[Michelle] went all scientific method on the question. She determined that an average human female’s stride is 2.2 feet which works out to 2400 strides per mile. A marathon is 26.2 miles (based on the distance Pheidippides supposedly ran to inform Athens of victory after the battle of Marathon). This still left the question of the length of a hamster’s stride. Surprisingly, there was no definitive answer, and [Michelle] proposed letting them run through ink and then tracking their footsteps. Luckily, [Zed Shaw] heard about her plan on Twitter and suggested pointing a webcam up through the plastic bottom of the cage along with a scale. That did the trick and [Michelle] measured her hamster’s stride at about 0.166 feet (see right).

Now it was a simple matter of math to determine that a hamster marathon is just under 10,500 steps. Logging the data to SQLite via ThingSpeak for a month led [Michelle] to the conclusion: her hamsters didn’t run 4 marathon’s worth of steps in a night. In fact, they never really got much over 2 marathons.

Does [Michelle] have lazy hamsters, or did she just add to our body of scientific knowledge about rodents? We don’t know. But we couldn’t help but admire her methods and her open source data logging code would probably be useful for some non-hamster activities.

If you are super competitive, you could use [Michelle’s] data to handicap yourself and challenge your pets to a race. But it would probably be cooler to build them their own Starship Trooper-style walkers. Either way, you can check out [Michelle’s] little marathon runners in the video below.

Raspberry Pi Opens Doors

The Raspberry Pi is a cheap credit card sized computer that has opened the doors of embedded Linux to millions of people. But in this case, it’s literally opening a door. The Computer Club at Western Michigan University had to move to a different room which brought with it a new challenge. The door handle was more difficult to turn than the old one. Nothing that a NEMA 17 stepper couldn’t handle, however.

After printing a few gears and wiring up an Easy Driver board between the Raspi and stepper motor, they had the basics of a door opener in place. A 5v relay is used to keep the power off the stepper when not in use, and a limit switch is used to monitor the position of the door handle while a Hall Effect sensor tells when the door is open and shut.

Be sure to check out the project as all source, parts list and schematics are available in case you have a simliar door that needs amending.

Firing Blanks With Laser Tag

glockLast year, [Tony] was asked to develop a lasertag system with ultimate realism. This meant a system that used a blank firing replica gun, and a system to detect blank rounds being fired. Very cool, and the way he went about it includes some interesting electronics.

Because the system requires a blank to be fired before shooting a laser at a target, the entire system must be able to detect a blank being fired. [Tony]’s first attempt used a piezo sensor to detect the shock from being fired. This system had a lot of noise and was ditched for a much better solution: a magnet mounted to the slide, and a hall effect sensor mounted to a 3D printed frame that turns this replica into a carbine.

A little bit of tweaking in software was required to inhibit the laser when the operator cocks the gun, but it looks – and sounds – really good. It’s also very, very realistic: the only way to shoot an opponent is to physically reload. Video below.

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Adding an RPM Readout for a Home Made CNC Mill


[Rui] recently put the finishing touches on his homemade CNC mill, which utilizes a dremel-like rotary tool. The problem with using rotary tools for this kind of application is you don’t really have an accurate speed readout… so he designed his own RPM gauge.

The sensor is in itself very simple. He’s using a TLE4935L hall effect sensor, a spare 16FE88 microcontroller, a Nokia LCD, and one tiny neodymium magnet. The magnet has been carefully epoxied onto the motor fan, with the hall effect sensor close by. He’s also built a guard around it, just in case the magnet decides to fly off at high speeds.

During testing he hooked up the hall effect sensor to both his home-made circuit, and an oscilloscope to confirm his findings. Once he was assured everything was working properly he sealed it off and mounted the LCD above the spindle as a nice digital readout.

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Ride, Captain, Ride Aboard Your Arduino-Controlled Autopiloted Sailboat

[Jack], a mechanical engineer, loom builder, and avid sailor wanted an autopilot system for his 1983 Robert Perry Nordic 40 sailboat with more modern capabilities than the one it came with. He knew a PC-based solution would work, but it was a bit out of reach. Once his son showed him an Arduino, though, he was on his way. He sallied forth and built this Arduino-based autopilot system for his sloop, the Wile E. Coyote.

He’s using two Arduino Megas. One is solely for the GPS, and the other controls everything else. [Jack]’s autopilot has three modes. In the one he calls knob steering, a potentiometer drives the existing hydraulic pump, which he controls with a Polulu Qik serial DC motor controller. In compass steering mode, a Pololu IMU locks in the heading to steer (HTS).  GPS mode uses a predetermined waypoint, and sets the course to steer (CTS) to the same bearing as the waypoint.

[Jack]’s system also uses cross track error (XTE) correction to calculate a new HTS when necessary. He has fantastic documentation and several Fritzing and Arduino files available on Dropbox.

Autopilot sailboat rigs must be all the rage right now. We just saw a different one back in November.

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AVR Atmega based PID Magnetic Levitator


[Davide] saw our recent post on magnetic levitation and quickly sent in his own project, which has a great explanation of how it works — he’s also included the code to try yourself!

His setup uses an Atmega8 micro-controller which controls a small 12V 50N coil using pulse-width-modulation (PWM). A hall effect sensor (Allegro A1302) mounted inside the coil detects the distance to the magnet and that data is used by a PID controller to automatically adjust the PWM of the coil to keep the magnet in place. The Atmega8 runs at 8Mhz and the hall effect sensor is polled every 1ms to provide an updated value for the PWM. He’s also thrown in an RGB LED that lights up when an object is being levitated!

So why is there a kid with a floating balloon? [Davide] actually built the setup for his friend [Paolo] to display at an art fair called InverART 2013!

After the break check out the circuit diagram and a short demonstration video of the device in action!

Oh yeah, those of you not impressed by magnetic levitation will probably appreciate acoustic levitation.

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Hacking grandfather clock accuracy while it’s still ticking


[Keith] got his hands on a few grandfather clocks. Apparently the price tag is greatly reduced if you are able to get them second-hand. The mechanical timepieces require weekly winding, which is a good thing since you’ll also need to correct the time at least that often. But this drift got [Keith] thinking about improving the accuracy of these clocks. He figured out a high-tech way to adjust the timepiece while it’s ticking.

The first thing he needed was a source of super-accurate time. He could have used a temperature compensated RTC chip, but instead went the more traditional route of using the frequency of mains power as a reference. The next part of the puzzle is to figure out how to both monitor the grandfather clock and make small tweaks to its pendulum.

The answer is magnets. By adding a magnet to the bottom of the pendulum, and adjusting the proximity of a metal plate positioned below it, he can speed up or slow down the ticking. The addition of a hall effect sensor lets the Arduino measure the rate of each swing and calculate the accuracy compared to the high voltage frequency reference.