Go Big or Go Home: A Tablecloth Touchpad

Phone screens keep getting bigger. Computer screens keep getting bigger. Why not a large trackpad to use as a mouse? [MaddyMaxey] had that thought and with a few components and some sewing skills created a trackpad in a tablecloth.

The electronics in this project are right off the shelf. A Flora board for the brains and 4 capacitive touch boards. If you haven’t seen the Flora, it is a circular-shaped Arduino made for sewing into things. The real interesting part is the construction. If you haven’t worked with conductive fabric and thread, this will be a real eye-opener. [Maddy’s] blog has a lot of information about her explorations into merging fabric and electronics and also covers things like selecting conductive thread.

As an optional feature, [MaddyMaxey] added vibration motors that provide haptic feedback to her touchpad. We were hoping for a video, but there doesn’t seem to be one. The code is just the example program for the capacitive sensor boards, although you can see in a screenshot the additions for the haptic motors.

We’ve covered the Flora before, by the way. You could also make a ridiculously large touch surface using tomography, although the resolution isn’t quite good enough for mouse purposes.

Laptop Trackpads and MIDI Controllers


A bunch of pads connected to a MIDI out port is as old an idea as the Akai MPC. creating a homebrew version is great, but [Scott] took his version one step further. He used old laptop trackpads to control note on and note off commands when the each pad is tapped, and also added MIDI CC values for the touch pressure and the x and y-axis position.

The trackpads were identical models, each having their own PS/2 output. A few ribbon cable to 8-pin header adapters were manufactured, and the entire ensemble encased in a wonderful maple and aluminum enclosure.

The electronics are based on an Arduino Mega with 16 clock and data points for each touchpad eating up 32 of the 54 available pins on the ‘duino. The PS/2 protocol is well documented, but running 16 separate PS/2 id most certainly not. [Scott] ended up writing his own asynchronous PS/2 communications library to get the latency of his midi device down to about 50ms.

It’s an amazing bit of kit and comparatively inexpensive, given that [Scott] now has a 16-channel Kaoss pad. Video of the device hooked up to a MicroKorg below.

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A Bluetooth trackpad from a resistive touchscreen


If you’ve checked out your favorite online retailer of absurdly inexpensive Chinese electronics, you’ll find a whole bunch of replacement parts. Phone parts are especially common, with high-resolution LCDs available for just a few dollars. There are also a few touchscreen kits – resistive touchscreen digitizers that can easily be read with a microcontroller. [Vinod] got his hands on one of these touchscreen digitizers, and with the help of an 8-pin micocontroller turned it into a Bluetooth trackpad.

The clear plastic touchpad is a relatively simple device. By reading a pair of analog values, it’s easy to find the coordinates of a finger or stylus on the touchpad. [Vinod] programmed an ATtiny13 to read these values and turn them in to x y coordinates, but he needed something useful to do with this data.

By connecting a small bluetooth module to his microcontroller, [Vinod] could send these coordinates to his computer. The result is a homebrew touchpad, able to move a cursor around, left and right click, and emulate a scroll wheel.

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Laptop touchpad as a standalone peripheral

[Viktor] is working on salvaging parts from a dead laptop. In his eyes the biggest gem to be had is the touchpad, so he set out to see if he could make the touchpad a standalone device. You might be envisioning the many hells of interfacing this with a microcontroller and writing firmware to measure and translate the input to HID compatible commands. The good news is it’s quite a bit simpler than that, with just one gotcha.

He looked around to see what he could find about the chip that drives the touchpad. He couldn’t locate an exact match, but a datasheet from a similar family of controllers make him think that there should be a PS/2 data and clock output from the chip. After probing the test points on the board he found them, as well as the voltage and ground rails. Above you can see he soldered an old mouse cable to the board and it works when plugged in.

But we did mention the gotcha. There doesn’t seem to be any support for the right and left buttons. Those were housed on a flexible PCB which attached to the white connector seen above. That PCB also connected to the computer so we don’t know if they will work with this hack or not.

Machine learning lets micro decode your handwriting

This rig will take the letters you write on the touchpad using a stylus and turn them into digital characters. The system is very fast and displays near-perfect recognition. This is all thanks to a large data set that was gathered through machine learning.

The ATmega644 that powers the system just doesn’t have the speed and horsepower necessary to reliably recognize handwriting on its own. But provide it with a dataset to compare against and you’re in business. [Justin] and [Stephen] designed a neural network algorithm that took a large volume of character handwriting samples, and boiled them down into a set of correlations that can be referenced when encountering a new entry. This set is about 88 kilobytes, too much to store in the microprocessor, but easy to reference from an external flash memory device.

There’s plenty of gritty details in the write up linked above, but you may want to start with the video overview found after the break.

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Capacitive sensing tutorial

[Bertho]’s submission for the 74xx logic contest is really impressive. He designed a capacitive sensing touchpad using only 74xx and 40xx logic chips. We’re impressed with the build and his writeup is one of the best resources we’ve ever seen for capacitive sensing.

There are two ways to go about designing a capacitive touchpad. The first option is put a voltage through an RC circuit. Measure the voltage-time curve, and you have a measure of the capacitance of the circuit. The second method is setting up an RC circuit to change polarity after a threshold for C has been reached. Microprocessors only use one of these methods (AVR uses the first, PIC uses the second), but [Bertho] decided to implement both methods for unknown reasons we still respect.

The circuit [Bertho] designed has a 30MHz clock using only 74xx logic chips, an amazing feat in itself. An 8×8 channel panel was fabricated and the whole build connects to a computer over RS-232.

The finished build is good enough has 64 points of resolution and is able to detect proximity very well. The touchpad is even able to recognize when a pen is placed on the panel. Check out the video after the break for the walk through and demo of this amazing build.

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Installing OpenSSH on the HP TouchPad


[Russ] was lucky enough to get his hands on a deeply discounted HP TouchPad, and after hearing about the huge bounty being offered for getting Android up and running on the device, he decided to poke around and see if he could make some headway.

He started off by making a full backup copy of his file system using a tool HP has on their WebOS site, just in case anything unfortunate happened to his device in the process. He grabbed a copy of the ARM cross-compiler and set off to build a copy of OpenSSH for the TouchPad. Once he had the binaries in hand, he started what he thought would be the arduous process of getting SSH onto the TouchPad, but it turned out that it was a simple drag and drop operation.

After remounting the file system to allow write operations, he fired up the SSH daemon and hoped for the best. It worked like a charm, and while it’s a relatively small part of getting Android running on the TouchPad, every bit helps.