Pong on Industrial Controllers

Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are a staple of control automation. Sometime in the 60s or 70s, they replaced a box full of relays to implement the kind of “if-this-then-that” logic that turns thermostats on or directs machinery. Sometime in the 90s or 2000s, some more computing power was added, giving us the Programmable Automation Controller (PAC). And if reading Hackaday has taught us anything, it’s that if you give people a little bit of computing power, they’ll implement Pong (or Snake or Doom!).

We were sent a link where [AbsolutelyAutomation] does just that: implements a remotely-playable Pong on a bit of industrial control. Even if you don’t have a PAC sitting around, the details are interesting.

The first step is to get graphics out of the thing. The PAC in question is already able to speak Ethernet, so it’s “just” a matter of sending the right packets. Perhaps the simplest way to go is to implement the remote framebuffer (RFB) protocol from VNC, and then use a VNC client on the PC to send the graphics. (As they point out [CNLohr] has done this quite nicely on the ESP8266 (YouTube) as well.) So an RFB library was written. [AbsolutelyAutomation] points out that this could be used to make boring things like user-friendly configuration and monitoring screens. (Yawn!)

Graphics done, it’s easy to add a Pong layer over the top, using the flowchart-based programming interface that makes homage to the PLC/PAC’s usual function as an industrial controller. (Oddly enough, it seems to compile to a Forth dialect to run on the PAC.) And then you’re playing. There’s code and a (PDF) writeup available if you want more info. If you don’t have a PAC to run it on, the manufacturers have a simulator for you.

We’ve never worked with a PLC/PAC, but we know the hacker spirit when we see it. And making something that’s usually located in the boiler room play video games is aces in our book. This sparks a memory of an industrial control hacking room at DEF CON a few years back. Maybe this is the inspiration needed to spend some time in that venue this year.

We know we’ve got controls engineers out there. What’s the strangest thing you’ve programmed into a PLC?

Gravity Pong Reaches Into the Sky

For a recent event [Norwegian Creations] decided to make something fun. They built what might just be the tallest free-standing gravity pong game out there. It’s 4.5m tall, and the LEDs in it draw over 100 amps!

What is Gravity Pong anyway? Well it’s a single person game where you get three “bounces”. A ball of light will drop from the top of the tube and the closer to the bounce-line you hit the button, the higher it will bounce. Your high score consists of how high you get the light — but if you miss the bounce line, you lose!

The structure itself is quite impressive. They’ve wrapped acrylic tubes with 1792 individually controllable RGB LEDs, in groups of four. Each section requires a power supply capable of putting out 27A @ 5V! The game is controlled by a Raspberry Pi 2 which controls a Pixelpusher to manipulate the LEDs. It’s connected to the Internet, so high scores can be automatically uploaded!

When it comes to pong though, we quite enjoy playing it with $5,000 construction crane controllers — because why not?

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Playing Pong with Construction Crane Controllers?

Here’s a project that will leave you scratching your head! Ever wonder what it would be like to play Pong using those big heavy duty shop crane controllers? No? We haven’t either, but that didn’t stop [hwhardsoft] from trying it anyway!

Now to be fair, they actually built it for the company that manufacturers them — guess it might be a fun game for in the lobby? The project has a Raspberry Pi 2 at the heart with a Pong game written in Python. The fun part was connecting the controllers.

Each controller is wireless with a separate control box, so they were able to modify the control box to avoid making any changes to the actual controller. But since they wanted to use the joysticks, they still had to use an additional ATMEG328 microcontroller to perform the analog to digital conversion for the Pi — it wasn’t exactly plug and play.

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Audience Pong and RC Trash bins: An intro to TEI

This past weekend, I had the chance to visit this year’s Tangible, Embedded, and Embodied Interaction Conference (TEI) and catch up with a number of designers in the human-computer-interaction space. The conference brings together a unique collection of artists, computer scientists, industrial designers, and grad students to discuss computer interactivity in today’s world. Over the span of five days (two for workshops, and three for paper presentations), not only did I witness a number of today’s current models for computer interactivity (haptics, physical computing with sensors), I also witnessed a number of excellent projects: some developed just to prove a concept, others, to present a well-refined system or workflow. It’s hard to believe, but our computer mouse has sat beneath our fingertips since 1963; this conference is the first place I would start looking to find new ways of “mousing” with tomorrow’s technology.

Over the next few days, I’ll be shedding more light on a few projects from TEI. (Some have already seen the light of day.) For this first post, though, I decided to highlight two projects tied directly to the conference culture itself.

Before each lunch break, the audience was invited to take part in an audience-driven interactive game of “Collective” Pong. With some image processing running in the background, players held up pink cards to increase the height of their respective paddle–albeit by a miniscule amount. The audience member’s corresponding paddle weight was mapped to their respective marker location on the screen (left or right). It turns out that this trick is a respectful nod back to its original performance by [Loren Carpenter] at Siggraph in 1991. With each audience member performing their own visual servoing to bring the paddle to the right height, we were able to give the ball a good whack for 15 minutes while lunch was being prepared.

TEI_2015Cards

Next off, the conference’s interactivity spread far beyond the main conference room. During our lunch breaks we had the pleasure of discarding our scraps in a remotely operated trash bin. Happily accepting our refuse, this bin did a quick jiggle when users placed items inside. Upon closer inspection, a Roomba and Logitech camera gave it’s master a way of navigating the environment from inside some remote secret lair.

Overall, the conference was an excellent opportunity to explore the design space of tinkerers constantly re-imagining the idea of how we interact with today’s computers and data. Stay tuned for more upcoming projects on their way. If you’re curious for more details on the papers presented or layout of the conference, have a look at this year’s website.

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Repairing and Reviewing a 1976 PONG Clone

Hackaday alum [Todd] has been searching for an old PONG clone for the last two years. This variant is called, “The Name of the Game”. [Todd] has fond memories of playing this game with his sister when they were young. Unfortunately, being the hacker that he is, [Todd] tore the game apart when he was just 14 to build his own Commodore 64 peripherals. He’s been wanting to make it up to his sister ever since, and he finally found a copy of this game to give to his sister last Christmas.

After opening up the box, [Todd] quickly noticed something strange with the power connector. It looked a bit charred and was wiggling inside of the enclosure. This is indicative of a bad solder joint. [Todd] decided he’d better open it up and have a look before applying power to the device.

It was a good thing he did, because the power connector was barely connected at all. A simple soldering job fixed the problem. While the case was still opened, [Todd] did some sleuthing and noticed that someone else had likely made repairs to several other solder joints. He also looked for any possible short circuits, but everything else looked fine. The system ended up working perfectly the first time it was started.

The end of the video shows that even after all this time, simple games like this can still capture our attention and be fun to play for hours at a time. [Todd] is working on part 2 of this series, where he’ll do a much more in-depth review of the system. You can watch part 1 below. Continue reading “Repairing and Reviewing a 1976 PONG Clone”

Crosswalk Pong Auf Deutschland

What is there to do in America while you’re waiting to cross the street at an intersection? Nothing; listen to that impatient clicking sound, and if you live in a busy city, pray you don’t get plowed into. In Germany however, pedestrians will now get to play Pong with the person on the other side.That’s right, as a means to encourage people to just hang in there and wait out the cycle instead of darting across against the light, design students [Sandro Engel] and [Holger Michel] came up with an entertaining incentive involving a potential conversation sparking duel with your impromptu counterpart across the street.

The first of these interactive cross-walk indicators was installed recently in Hildesheim, Germany, two years after the duo first designed them back in 2012. There was a little friction about installing the touch screen equipped modules initially, but after a proper redesign for functionality taking traffic science into account, the city authorities caved and allowed them to test the wings of their progressive idea on one city intersection so far. The mindset behind the invention of these indicators is part of a larger movement to make public spaces safer through means of fun and entertainment. Instead of threatening to punish those partaking in unsafe activity with fines, the notion is to positively enforce following rules by adding a level of play. While pedestrians have the right to walk, the screen shows how much time is left to make their away across, and for the duration that traffic is rolling through, the score will be kept for an individual game of pong for those on either side of the light.

Since the idea is generating some interest, the group of developers involved with the project have moved to promote their work (now branded as Actiwait) with an Indiegogo campaign. They hope to turn their invention into a full fledged product that will potentially be seen all over the world. Admittedly, it’d be charming to see this sort of technology transform our urban or residential environments with a touch of something that promotes friendly social interaction. Hopefully my faith in our worthiness to have nice things is warranted and we start seeing these here in America too. Nice work!

Check out this encounter with the street indicator here. The guy introducing the invention loses to the girl on the other side, but they share a high-five as they pass in the street:

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HammerPong Game Takes Pong to New Heights

large scoreboard with lots of flashy lights

[Jason] is back at it again with another new twist on the technically sophisticated and advanced game of Pong. Fashioned in a ‘Chuck E. Cheese’ style platform, the two players stand side by side each other with large foam hammers. A wack sends the 32 bit ARM powered dot skyward and then back down to the other player, where another wack will send the dot back whence it came. A brightly lit scoreboard keeps track of how many dots slip by.

[Jason] is a veteran of pong inspired games, but putting the HammerPong game together brought with it some new challenges. After being unable to squeeze a few MDF panels into his car, and fighting off flies, yard debris and pet dander that were trying to attach themselves to his freshly painted artwork, [Jason] managed to get his project completed.

The HammerPong is powered by an Arduino Due that controls six WS2812 LED strips and runs the background code. Various latches, shift registers and power transistors control the lights and scoreboard. Be sure to check out the linked project for more detail, and take a look at the video demonstration after the break.

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