50″ multitouch table is expensive, indestructable


Wander through a well-funded museum these days and you’re likely to find interactive exhibits scattered around, such as this sleek 50″ projection-based multitouch table. The company responsible for this beauty, Ideum, has discontinued the MT-50 model in favor of an LCD version, and has released the plans for the old model as part of the Open Exhibits initiative. This is a good thing for… well, everyone!

The frame consists of aluminum struts that crisscross through an all-steel body, which sits on casters for mobility. The computer specs seem comparable to a modern gaming rig, and rely on IEEE1394 inputs for the cameras. The costs start to pile up with the multiple row of high-intensity infrared LED strips, which can run $200 per roll. The glass is a custom made, 10mm thick sheet with projection film on one side and is micro-etched to reduce reflections and increase the viewing angle to nearly 180 degrees. The projector is an InFocus IN-1503, which has an impressively short projection throw ratio, and a final resolution of 1280×720.

The estimated price tag mentioned in the comments is pretty steep: $12k-16k. Let us know with your own comment what alternative parts might cut the cost, and watch the video overview of the table below, plus a video demonstration of its durability. For another DIY museum build, check out Bill Porter’s “Reaction Time Challenge.

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Reaction time challenge


We’re not sure where [Bill Porter] finds all of his free time, but we’re glad he’s put it to such good use by building an exhibit piece for the local science museum: Reaction Time Challenge. It’s likely that we were all inspired to love science as kids in a museum like this, and [Bill's] contribution is already fascinating its young audience. The challenge lets two participants test how fast they can smack a big red button after a randomly-generated countdown. The time taken for the players to react is translated into the RGB LED strips, measuring how fast they managed to hit the button.

Builds like this one need to clearly communicate how they should be used; you don’t want confused children bamming around on your cabinet. First, [Bill] guts the dim LEDs inside the big plastic buttons and replaces them with some brighter ones. To keep the connections clean, he takes the cannibalized ends of an Ethernet cable and hooks the speaker and buttons to an Ethernet jack. The jack sits snugly in a project box where it connects to an Arduino. Two RGB LED strips run from the opposite end of the box, daisy-chaining from the bottom of the cabinet to the top, then back down again. See it all come together in the video after the break.

[Bill's] museum must be pretty lucky; he resurrected the “Freeze Frame” exhibit for them just over a year ago and has done a bunch of other projects for them over the years.

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Rotary phone museum exhibit

dial-telephone-museum-exhibit[David Burroughs] wrote in to share this dial telephone museum exhibit he built and we’re glad he did because we love interactive museum hacks. He mentions that it’s not really tied to the theme of the Roads and Rails Museum in which it’s installed. But when we think of railroad history we also think of telegraph. And that’s just a hop, skip, and a jump from telephones.

The display allows museum goers to play with the rotary dial on the phone. The box next two it contains a 10-position relay increment switch. So each pulse from the dial increments the switch. There’s a satisfying click, a moving arm, and different colored LEDs which highlight the inner workings. An Arduino board monitors the phone, displaying the dialed number on a seven segment display then incrementing the relay.

We figure the interesting part is to see that telephony used to use mechanical switching like this. But the video below includes a story about the kid who asked how you carried this phone around. This brings to mind the phrase “hang up the phone”, which doesn’t have the same literal meaning it used to.

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Retrotechtacular: Vintage computer museum playlist


Have you ever seen one of these SCELBI 8B computers? This is one of the first hobby computer kits which were sold starting in 1974.

This is just one of the many pieces of vintage computing hardware shown off in this playlist (the SCELBI is the fifth video). The collection is part of the Bugbook Historical Microcomputer Museum. [Dave Larsen], the curator of the collection, has been accumulating historic and often rare hardware for decades. More recently he’s been making video documentaries of the pieces and posting them for your enjoyment.

We love museums, but this is something different. [Dave's] videos walk us through each exhibit, often filling in the story with anecdotes and insight from his own personal experience. It’s like a school field trip to the museum for those of us who can’t get enough of the moldy oldies.

We remember seeing at least one cool hack that used the 8008 processor also found in the computer pictured above. It was a clock built from a similar system.

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Art installation plots every game of Lunar Lander that is played

This art installation makes a video game from the 1970′s popular again. It can be found at the Dublin Science Gallery’s GAME exhibition. Museum goers step up to the coin-op style game cabinet and the onlookers will see how they’re doing as the landing is plotted on this board.

Hardware details are a bit hard to come by but we hear that there will me more on the build posted soon. For now the Flickr set is the best source of information. From reading the captions we know that a set of three Mac minis run everything. There are also a few close-ups and a video overview of the drive hardware which you can see mounted on the upper left of the image above. We can tell you that this is a string plotter similar to builds we’ve seen in the past. The telemetry data from the Lunar Lander game is converted to instructions and fed directly to that device. See it in action in the clip after the break.

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World’s oldest functioning digital computer reminds us of a telephone exchange

This is the WHICH, the Wolverhampton Instrument for Teaching Computing from Harwell. It is the oldest functioning digital computer and thanks to a lengthy restoration process you can go and see it in person at The National Museum of Computing in Milton Keynes (Northwest of London in the UK).

The system was first put into operation in 1951. It’s function is both familiar and foreign. First off, it uses decimal rather than binary for its calculations. And instead of transistors it uses electromechanical switches like are found in older automatic telephone exchanges. This makes for very noisy and slow operation. User input is taken from strips of paper with holes punched in them. As data is accumulated it is shown in the registers using decatrons (which have since become popular in hobby projects). Luckily we can get a look at this in the BBC story about the WITCH.

According to the eLinux page on the device, it was disassembled and put into storage from 1997 until 2009. At that point it was loaned to the museum and has been undergoing cleaning, reassembly, and repair ever since.

[Thanks David]

Sculpting with LCD pixels

Each one of the small squares in this sculpture is actually an LCD cell, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. What you see here is just a small portion of the sculpture that spans multiple floors of the atrium at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. It’s made up of multiple panels hosting a total of 3600 LCD cells. We first saw it way back in April, but now there is a ‘making of’ video which you can see embedded after the break.

The project took about 18 months to complete, starting with a 256 pixel prototype. That served as proof that the non-lit hardware would achieve the look they were going for. From there they designed the code which would generate patterns on the sculpture and used it to drive a digital model (we’d bet that was to get the go-ahead and funding). The fast-motion footage of the three-man assembly line formed when soldering up the circuits is fun to watch, the real nail-biting stuff comes when they start mounting the fragile panels in the space.

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