A tale of (un)bricking a $10k Microsoft Surface unit

We’ve all had that sinking feeling as a piece of hardware stops responding and the nasty thought of “did I just brick this thing?” rockets to the front of our minds. [Florian Echtler] recently experienced this in extremis as his hacking on the University of Munich’s Microsoft Surface 2.0 left it unresponsive. He says this is an 8,000 Euro piece of hardware, which translates to around $10,000! Obviously it was his top priority to get the thing working again.

So what’s the first thing you should do if you get your hands on a piece of hardware like this? Try to run Linux on the thing, of course. And [Florian] managed to make that happen pretty easily (there’s a quick proof-of-concept video after the break). He took a Linux kernel drive written for a different purpose and altered it to interface with the MS Surface. After working out a few error message he packaged it and called to good. Some time later the department called him and asked if his Linux kernel work might have anything to do with the display being dead. Yikes.

He dug into the driver and found that a bug may have caused the firmware on the USB interface chip to be overwritten. The big problem being that they don’t just distribute the image for this chip. So he ended up having to dump what was left from the EEPROM and rebuild the header byte by byte.

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Multitouch table uses a Kinect for a 3D display

[Bastian] sent in a coffee table he built. This isn’t a place to set your drinks and copies of Make, though: it’s a multitouch table with a 3D display. Since no description can do this table justice, take a look at the video.

The build was inspired by the subject of this Hackaday post where [programming4fun] was able to build a ‘holographic display’ using a regular 2D projector and a Kinect. Both builds work on the principle of redrawing the 3D space in relation to the user’s head – as [Bastian] moves his head around the coffee table, the Kinect tracks his location and moves the 3 dimensional grid of boxes in the opposite direction. It’s extremely clever, and looks to be a promising user interface.

In addition to a Kinect, the coffee table uses a Microsoft Surface-like display; four infrared lasers are placed at the corner and detected with a camera next to the projector in the base.

After the break you can see the demo video and a gallery of the images [Bastion] put up on the NUI group forum.

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Hackday Links: March 10, 2012

We’re throwing money at our monitor and nothing’s happening!

Sometimes we get hacks sent into our tip line that are outrageously awesome, but apart from a YouTube video we’ve got nothing else to write about. So begins the story of the flying Back to the Future DeLorean quadrocopter. Sadly, the story ends with the video as well. (If you’ve got any info, send it in!)

Fine, we’ll throw in another cool car

Mercedes covered a car with LEDs and made the James Bond’s invisible car from Die Another DayThe Mercedes video cost tens of thousands of dollars to produce, so of course there’s camera trickery; we’re just wondering how much credit Adobe After Effects gets for this build.

Microsoft touchscreen demo might be impossible

Yes, Microsoft does care about user experience. Just take a look at this video from their applied sciences group. They did user testing with touchscreens that updated every 1 millisecond, compared to the ~100ms our phones and tablets usually update. Of course the result was a better UX, but now we’re wondering how they built a touch screen that updates every millisecond? That’s a refresh rate of 1 kHz, and we’ve got no clue how they bodged that one together. We’re probably dealing with a Microsoft Surface projector/IR camera thing here, but that doesn’t answer any questions.

Edit: [Philip Rowney] sent in a tip that it could be this TI touch screen controller that can sample above 1 kHz. The only problem is this chip uses a resistive touch screen, instead of a multitouch-enabled capacitive screen. At least that solves one problem.

And now for something that can measure 1 kHz

[Paleotechnologist] posted an excellent guide to the care and feeding of an oscilloscope. Most of our readers probably already know the ins and outs of their awesome Techtronix and HP units, but that doesn’t mean the younglings won’t have to learn sooner or later.

Good idea, except the part about saving it for spring

In a moment of serendipity, [Valentin] figured out how to use touchscreens with wool gloves. The answer: rub thermal grease into the tip of the index finger. It works, and doesn’t look to be too much of a mess. We’ll remember this for next winter.

The last one didn’t have a picture, so here’s this

[Darrell] used a little bit of LaTeX and Ruby to make colored labels for his resistor collection. We’re struck with the idea of using test tubes to organize resistors. It’s cool and makes everything look all sciencey and stuff.

Medusa: a proximity-aware tabletop

Finally [Michelle Annett] can talk about her super secret project she did at Autodesk Research.

Medusa, as [Michelle]‘s project is called, is a Microsoft Surface that has been fitted with 138 proximity sensors. This allows the Surface to sense users walking up to it, and detect users hands and arms above the table top. Multiple users can be detected at the same time, and the left and right hands of two users can be mapped to specific users.

The proximity sensors [Michelle] used are inexpensive, so we’re wondering when someone with a crazy multitouch setup will add proximity sensors to their build. We’d like to play with Medusa, even if just for a virtual game of Settlers of Catan. It seems like the perfect setup…

[Michelle] built Medusa last January during her internship at Autodesk. Now that UIST 2011 is over, she can finally talk about it. There’s also a video demonstrating the possibilities of Medusa, check it out after the break.

Thanks [Fraser] for sending this one in.

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IR glass level detection

[Johnny Lee]‘s colleague [Paul Dietz] has done some interesting work using interactive tables. He’s specifically researched how to determine how full a drink glass is. In the video above, he’s using Microsoft’s Surface, but this technique should work with any IR camera based multitouch table. Determining the drink level requires custom glassware that has a small prism inside. When the liquid level is above the prism, light passes through, but when it’s below the top it reflects more IR light back into the table. Using this information, restaurant staff could serve drinks in a more efficient manner.

[Paul] has worked on another project that uses RFID and capacitive sensing to a similar effect.

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