Sense All the Things with a Synthetic Sensor

What will it take to make your house smarter than you? Judging from the price of smart appliances we see in the home centers these days, it’ll take buckets of cash. But what if you could make your home smarter — or at least more observant — with a few cheap, general purpose “supersensors” that watch your every move?

Sounds creepy, right? That’s what [Gierad Laput] and his team at the Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institute thought when they designed their broadband “synthetic sensor,” and it’s why they purposely omitted a camera from their design. But just about every other sensor under the sun is on the tiny board: an IR array, visible light sensors, a magnetometer, temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors, a microphone, PIR, and even an EMI detector. Of course there’s also a WiFi module, but it appears that it’s only for connectivity and not used for sensing, although it clearly could be. All the raw data is synthesized into a total picture of the goings on in within the platform’s range using a combination of machine learning and user training.

The video after the break shows the sensor detecting typical household events from a central location. It’s a powerful idea and we look forward to seeing how it moves from prototype to product. And if the astute reader recognizes [Gierad]’s name, it might be from his past appearance on these pages for 3D-printed hair.

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Your Arm Is The Ideal Controller

With interest and accessibility to both wearable tech and virtual reality approaching an all-time high, three students from Cornell University — [Daryl Sew, Emma Wang, and Zachary Zimmerman] — seek to turn your body into the perfect controller.

That is the end goal, at least. Their prototype consists of three Kionix tri-axis accelerometer, gyroscope and magnetometer sensors (at the hand, elbow, and shoulder) to trace the arm’s movement. Relying on a PC to do most of the computational heavy lifting, a PIC32 in a t-shirt canister — hey, it’s a prototype! — receives data from the three joint positions, transmitting them to said PC via serial, which renders a useable 3D model in a virtual environment. After a brief calibration, the setup tracks the arm movement with only a little drift in readings over a few minutes.

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Navigation Thing: Four Days, Three Problems, and Fake Piezos

The Navigation Thing was designed and built by [Jan Mrázek] as part of a night game activity for high school students during week-long seminar. A night-time path through a forest had stations with simple tasks, and the Navigation Thing used GPS, digital compass, a beeper, and a ring of RGB LEDs to provide a bit of “Wow factor” while guiding a group of students from one station to the next. The devices had a clear design direction:

“I wanted to build a device which a participant would find, insert batteries, and follow the beeping to find the next stop. Imagine the strong feeling of straying in the middle of the night in an unknown terrain far away from civilization trusting only a beeping thing you found. That was the feeling I wanted to achieve.”

The Navigation Things (there are six in total) guide users to fixed waypoints with GPS, a digital compass, and a ring of WS2812 LEDs — but the primary means of feedback to the user is a beeping that gets faster as you approach the destination. [Jan] had only four days to make all six units, which was doable. But as most of us know, delivering on a tight deadline is often less about doing the work you know about, and more about effectively handling the unexpected obstacles that inevitably pop up in the process.

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Automatic Resistance: Resistors Controlled by the Environment

Resistors are one of the fundamental components used in electronic circuits. They do one thing: resist the flow of electrical current. There is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way for a resistor to work. In previous articles I talked about fixed value resistors as well as variable resistors.

There is one other major group of variable resistors which I didn’t get into: resistors which change value without human intervention. These change by environmental means: temperature, voltage, light, magnetic fields and physical strain. They’re commonly used for automation and without them our lives would be very different.

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Wireless Water Meter Monitor Watches Waste

It’s no secret that hackers like to measure things. Good numbers lead to good decisions, like when to kick your wastrel teenager out of a luxuriously lengthy shower. Hence the creation of this wireless Arduino-based water meter interface.

We’ll stipulate that “wireless” is a bit of a stretch. Creator [David Schneider] chose to split the system into two parts – a magnetometer and an Arduino to sense impulses from the water company meter, and a Raspberry Pi to serve the web interface. The water meter is at the street rather than in his house, so the sensor is wired to the Pi with some telephone cable. But from there the system is wireless.

[David] goes into some good detail on the sensing problem he faced, which relies on detecting the varying magnetic field due to the spinny-bits inside the flowmeter and cleaning up the signal with the Arduino; he also addresses aliasing errors that occur when flow rate approaches the sampling rate of the magnetometer.

We like the fact that there’s a lot of potential to leverage this technique to monitor other processes with rotating magnetic fields. And like this optically coupled gas-meter monitor, it’s not invasive of the utility’s equipment either, which is a plus.

[via reddit]

Visualizing Magnetic Fields In 3D Space

[John] is working on his PhD in experimental earthquake physics, and with that comes all the trials of becoming a PhD; tuning students into the cool stuff in the field, and demonstrating tech created after 1970 to his advisers. One of the biggest advancements in his line of work in the last 30 or 40 years is all those sensors you can find in your cell phone. The three-axis magnetometer in your phone is easily capable of measuring the Earth’s magnetic field, and this chip only costs a few dollars. To demonstrate this, [John] built a 3D compass to show off the capability of these sensors, and have a pretty light show for the undergrads.

The magnetometer [John] is using is just a simple I2C magnetometer that can be found on Adafruit or Sparkfun. It’s not really anything special, but with a little bit of code, [John] can read the magnetic field strength in the x, y, and z axes.

Having a microcontroller spit out a bunch of numbers related to the local magnetic field just doesn’t seem fun, so [John] picked up two neopixel rings – one inside the other, and set 90 degrees out of plane with each other. This turns his magnetometer and Arduino setup into a real 3D compass. With this device, the local magnetic field can be visualized in the x, y, and z axes. It looks cool, which is great for undergrads, and it’s a great demonstration of what you can do with small, cheap electronic sensors.

[John] put up a screencast of a talk he gave at the American Geophysical Union meeting last year. You can check that out below.

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MagnID – Sneaky New Way of Interacting With Tablets

New magnetic tech dubbed “MagnID” is being presented this weekend at Stanford’s annual TEI conference. It is a clever hack aimed to hijack a tablet’s compass sensor and force it to recognize multiple objects. Here is a sneak peek at the possibilities of magnetic input for tablets.

Many tablets come with some sort of triaxial magnetic sensor but as [Andrea] and [Ian]’s demo shows, they are only capable of passing along the aggregate vector of all magnetic forces. If one had multiple magnetic objects, the sensor is not able to provide much useful information.

Their solution is a mix of software and hardware. Each object is given a magnet that rotates at a different known speed. This creates complex sinusoidal magnetic fields that can be mathematically isolated with bandpass filters. This also gives them distance to each object. The team added an Arduino with a magnetometer for reasons unexplained, perhaps the ones built into tablets are not sufficient?

The demo video below shows off what is under the hood and some new input mechanics for simple games, sketching, and a logo turtle. Their hope is that this opens the door to all manner of tangible devices.

Check out their demo at Standford’s 9th annual “Tangible, Embedded, Embodied Interaction” this January 15-19, 2015.

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