Hackaday Prize Entry: Measuring 3D Magnetic Fields

Sometimes you have to start out with big goals. Ninth-graders [Finja Schneider] and [Myrijam Stoetzer] are aiming to make a magnetic field scanner that would be helpful in finding large underground metallic objects, like unexploded WWII bombs that pose a real threat whenever a new parking garage is excavated in Germany. But even big goals have to start out somewhere, so they’re gaining experience with the sensors and the math necessary to recreate 3D magnetic flux vector fields on household objects like sawblades and magnetized screwdrivers.

Magnetized screwdriver in the "valley"
Magnetized screwdriver in the “valley”

For their science-fair project, [Finja] and [Myrijam] took a mid-80s fischertechnik “toy” 2D scanner kit, mounted a 3D magnetic sensor to it, and wrote some firmware to scan around and pass the data back to a computer where they reconstructed the field lines and made some nice visualizations. Along the way, they tried a number of designs, from a DIY chassis on carbon-fiber rails to sensors with ferrofluid. They document their successes and failures equally nicely in their lab report (PDF, German). You can get a lot of the gist, however, from [Myrijam]’s blog and their Hackaday.io entry.

You might also recognize [Myrijam] from her work with [Paul Foltin] on their eye-controlled wheelchair interface. These are some really cool projects! We’re excited to see how they develop, and are stoked that the future of hacking is in such capable hands.

GPS And SDR Combine Forces

Software-defined radio (or SDR) is a relatively new (to average tinkerers, at least) way of sending and receiving radio signals. The interest in SDR exploded recently with the realization that cheap USB TV tuner cards could be used to start exploring the frequency spectrum at an extremely reduced cost. One of the reasons that this is so advantageous is because of all of the options that a general-purpose computer opens up that go beyond transmitting and receiving, as [Chris] shows with his project that ties SDR together with GPS.

The goal of the project was to automatically tune a radio to the local police department’s frequency, regardless of location. To do this, a GPS receiver on a computer reports information about the current location. A JavaScript program feeds the location data to the SDR, which automatically tunes to the local emergency services frequencies. Of course, this relies on good data for what those frequencies are, but this is public information in most cases (at least in the US).

There are a lot of opportunities here for anyone with SDR. Maybe an emergency alert system that can tune to weather broadcasts if there’s a weather alert, or any of a number of other captivating projects. As for this project, [Chris] plans to use Google’s voice recognition software to transcribe the broadcasts as well. The world of SDR is at your fingertips to do anything you can imagine! And, if you’re looking to get started in it, be sure to check out the original post covering those USB TV tuner dongles.

Build A Rhizotron: Image The World Beneath Your Feet

The world of the subsoil is a fascinating place. Our whole ecosystem depends on its variety of fungus, bacteria and detritivore creatures that break down and decay dead matter and provide the nutrients to sustain plants that bring in the energy from the sun.

It’s easy enough to study what is happening beneath the surface, just reach for a trowel. But of course, that’s an imperfect technique, for it only gives a picture of a world you have destroyed, and then at best only a snapshot.

Fungal hypha growth in action
Fungal hypha growth in action

What if you could image underground, take pictures and video of the decay process and the creatures that are its engine? [Josh Williams] was curious how this could be achieved, so after early experiments with buried webcams proved unimpressive he created the Rhizotron. A flatbed scanner waterproofed for burial with plenty of silicone, and driven by a Raspberry Pi. The result was particularly successful, and though he has lost several scanners to water ingress he has collected some impressive imagery which he has posted on the project’s blog. Below the break we’ve included one of his videos taken with the scanner in a compost bucket, in which you can see decomposition aplenty, mating millipedes, spreading fungal hyphae and much more.

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Digital Images And The Amiga

There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s where the Amiga was the standard for computer graphics. Remember SeaQuest? That was an Amiga. The intro to Better Call Saul? That’s purposefully crappy, to look like it came out of an Amiga. When it comes to the Amiga and video, the first thing that comes to mind is the Video Toaster, hardware and software that turns an Amiga 2000 into a nonlinear video editing suite. Digital graphics, images, and video on the Amiga was so much more than the Video Toaster, and at this year’s Vintage Computer Festival East, [Bill] and [Anthony] demonstrated what else the Amiga could do.

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DIY Single Pixel Digital Camera

[Artlav] wanted to build a digital camera, but CCDs are expensive and don’t respond well to all wavelengths of light. No problem, then, because with a photodiode, a few stepper motors, the obligatory Arduino, and a cardboard box, it’s pretty easy to make one from scratch.

The camera’s design is based on a camera obscura – a big box with a pinhole in one side. This is all a camera really needs as far as optics go, but then there’s the issue of digitizing the faint image projected onto the rear of the camera. That’s fine, just build a cartesian robot inside the box and throw a photodiode in there.

There are a few considerations when choosing a photodiode for a digital camera. Larger photodieodes have higher noise but lower resolution. [Artlav] has been experimenting with a few diodes, but his options are limited by export control restrictions.

Even with the right photodiode, amplifying the tiny amount of current – picoamps in some cases – is hard. The circuit is extremely sensitive to EMI, and it’s inside a box with stepper motors pulled from the scrap bin. It’s amazing this thing works at all.

Still, [Artlav] was able to get some very high resolution images across a huge range of wavelengths. He’s even getting a few images in mid-wave infrared, turning this homebrew digital camera into the slowest thermal imaging camera we’ve ever seen.

Automatic 3D Scanning On The Cheap

After hearing about a few 3D object scanners, [Will] thought one of these tools could find a place in his workshop. The price of these scanners made him reconsider simply buying one, so he just made one out of parts that were sitting around. This was the first version of his 3D scanner. It worked, but there were a few shortcomings. [Will] had to rotate the object manually. That’s a cheap way of doing it, but the method is tedious.

Now [Will] is back for round two. He’s made some improvements, and this time a few bits of electronics automate the process, allowing [Will] to hit a button, walk away, and come back to a scanned object.

Even though [Will] has improved his setup immensely, the theory of how to scan an object remains the same. He’s projecting a straight vertical line on an object, taking a few snapshots with a webcam, and reconstructing the object with computer vision algorithms and Meshlab. The new additions include a BeagleBone Black, a stepper motor and an EasyDriver from Sparkfun, and a turntable.

[Will] wrote two scripts for this project. The first does the mechanical heavy lifting – turning the stepper motor and taking a picture, while the second converts the output from the webcam to a point cloud. From there, the point cloud is sent over to Meshlab, and an object appears on [Will]’s hard drive.

There’s about $80 in hardware invested in this setup, and considering the inspiration for this project was the $800 Makerbot Digitizer, we’re going to call [Will]’s experiments in 3D scanning a success.

Scanning On The Cheap

[Will] recently stumbled across the MakerBot Digitizer, a device that’s basically a webcam and a turntable that will turn a small object into a point cloud that can then be printed off on a MakerBotⓇ 3D printer. Or any other 3D printer, for that matter. The MakerBot Digitizer costs $800, and [Will] wondered if he could construct a cheaper 3D scanner with stuff sitting around his house. It turns out, he can get pretty close using only a computer, a webcam, and a Black and Decker line laser/level.

The build started off with a webcam mounted right next to the laser line level. Software consisted of Python using OpenCV, numpy, and matplotlib to grab images from the webcam. The software looks at each frame of video for the path of the laser shining against the object to be scanned. This line is then extracted into a 3D point cloud and reconstructed in MeshLab to produce a 3D object that might or might not be 3D printable.

This is only [Will]’s first attempt at creating a scanner. He’s not even using a turntable with this project – merely manually rotating the object one degree for 360 individual frames. It’s extremely tedious, and he’ll be working on incorporating a stepper motor in a future version.

This is only attempt number 1, but already [Will] has a passable scanned object created from a real-world thing.