Reaction time challenge

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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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LED module used to display load, traffic, and status data for your PC

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You’re going to like [Ivan’s] write-up for this LED computer status monitor. Of course he didn’t just show-and-tell the final product — if he had you’d be reading this in a Links post. But he also didn’t just detail how he put the thing together. Nope, he shared pictures and details of every iteration that got him here.

It started off with a tachometer. Yeah, that analog display you put on the dashboard of your car which reads out RPM. He wanted to make it into a USB device which would read out his CPU load. But that’s an awful lot of work when it can only display one thing at a time. So he decided to add an 8×8 LED module which would display the load for each individual core of his CPU. It looks great next to the illuminated tachometer. From there he added resolution by transitioning to an RGB module, which ended up sucking him into a coding project to extend the data pushed to his embedded hardware. In the end his ReCoMonB (Real Computer Monitoring Block) displays CPU load, RAM usage, several aspects of HDD activity, as well as the network up and down traffic.

We think he’s probably squeezed all that he can from this little display. Time to upgrade to a TFT LCD.

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Make your own electronic children’s toys

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[Miria Grunick’s] son nephew is two years old. If you’ve ever looked at that age range in the toy aisle we sure you’ve noticed that there’s a mountain of cheap electronic stuff for sale. Manufactures are cramming LEDs and noise makers into just about all kids stuff these days. But [Miria] thought why not just make him something myself? She calls this the Blinky Box. It’s an acrylic enclosure stuffed with pretty LEDs that is controlled with a few buttons.

It’s driven by a Teensy 3 board which monitors a half dozen colorful buttons, a mode selector on the side, and an on/off switch. The device is powered by a Lithium battery that recharges via USB. And of course there’s a strip of individually addressable RGB LEDs inside.

The demo shows that one mode allows you to press a button color and have the LEDs change to it. But there are other features like fade and scroll. She also mentions that since it can be reprogrammed the toy can grow with hime. Maybe it’ll be a Simon Says game. But eventually she hopes he’ll use it to learn the basics of programming for himself.

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Is an LED bow tie ironic or awesome?

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We’re not exactly trend setters when it comes to wardrobe. And so the recent revival of the bow tie as an accepted dress item confounds us. We’re even more confused by [Arichter’s] LED bow tie. Sure, the hobby electronics part of it is a win… but when it comes to fashion is he making fun of the bow tie wearers, or setting a new standard?

The tie is made of three PCBs, which lets the wings sit on a bit different plane than the center. He populated the boards with about 100 RGB LED modules which he desoldered from a couple of meters of LED strip. They draw a lot of juice and to supply that he uses a boost converter. A standard Arduino UNO board controls the lights.

If you’re still sold on the bow tie form factor we’d like to direct your attention to this long-tie version. It doesn’t just show patterns, but plays a wicked game of Tetris with you as the game board.

[via Reddit]

Update: Live video played on LED strip display

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[Paul] took this LED display along with him to Maker Faire. To give it some interactivity he figured out a way to make it play live video. It is also activated using some stomp actuators built from piezo speaker elements and rubber floor mats.

This moves his original project in new directions. Back in February he was showing off the RGB LED strip display. He had it playing video but that was all dependent on using previously processed files. This upgrade uses a BeagleBone Black (the newest rendition of the ARM-based development board). [Paul] had tried using a Raspberry Pi board but had trouble with the webcam (mounted above the LED display) dropping frames. With the new board he is able to use the Video4Linux API to capture 30 frames per second and push them out to the display.

So far he’s had five out of the 1920 LEDs die on him. This shows off a couple of good things about using strips like this. A dead pixel doesn’t affect its neighbors. And replacement is as easy as cutting the ribbon on either side of the bad component, then soldering a new segment in place.

 

Anti-Tetris project is a study in hand tracking

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The game of Anti-Tetris is played by standing in front of a monitor and watch falling Tetris pieces overlaid on a video image of your body. Each hand is used to make pieces disappear so that they don’t stack up to the top of the screen. We don’t see this as the next big indie game. What we do see are some very interesting techniques for hand tracking.

An FPGA drives the game, using a camera as input. To track your hands the Cornell students figured out that YUV images show a specific range of skin tones which can be coded as a filter to direct cursor placement. But they needed a bit of a hack to get at those values. They patched into the camera circuit before the YUV is converted to RGB for the NTSC output.

Registering hand movement perpendicular to the screen is also a challenge that they faced. Because the hand location has already been established they were able to measure distance between the upper and lower boundaries. If that distance changes fast enough it is treated as an input, making the current block disappear.

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North Street Labs try to spice up a game of Tic-Tac-Toe

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The team at North Street Labs really went all out with this Tic-Tack-Toe stomp box. At its most basic it’s a blinky version of the simple two-player game. But there’s always some added appeal when you make large manifestations of normally small items; the 10x Arduino is a good example of this.

The project is NSL’s qualifying entry for this year’s Red Bull Creation Contest (has it already been a year since the last contest?). A special Arduino shield was produced once again, this time it features hardware necessary to control LED strips… a lot of them. That led to the creation of this box, which houses a ton of strip sections inside to light the grid based on tapping one of the red buttons with your foot. We’d image the game would be seldom used at your hackerspace, but they take it to show off at the local children’s museum and it’s a huge hit with the kids!