Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Superhero Powers

The inspiration for [K.C. Lee]’s project for The Hackaday Prize didn’t come from seeing a grave injustice or inhuman suffering. He was watching Daredevil on Netflix. A show about a blind guy who fights crime in his spare time. People don’t have superhuman senses, and radioactive material falling off a truck in New York City leads to Ninja Turtles, not superheros. Still, a crude form of echolocation is well within the reach of the a capable hacker and would be very useful for those who are legally blind.

[K.C.]’s idea for human echolocation is a small wearable with ultrasonic sensors, 6DOF IMUs, and audio and haptic feedback. With a bit of math and a lot of practice, it’s possible to walk down a hallway, avoid obstacles, and find your way around without sight.

Human echolocation is a real thing, and it’s great to see a device that makes this minor human superpower a little more accessible. [K.C.] says there are 40 million people world wide that could use a device like this, and for an idea that was inspired by a superhero on TV, it’s one of the more interesting inspirations for an entry to The Hackaday Prize.


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Tiny Robot Shakes Head At You In Disapproval

If you don’t have enough things staring at you and shaking their head in frustration, [Sheerforce] has a neat project for you. It’s a small Arduino-powered robot that uses an ultrasonic distance finder to keep pointing towards the closest thing it can find. Generally, that would be you.

When it finds something, it tries to track it by constantly rotating the distance finder slightly and retesting the distance, giving the impression of constantly shaking its head at you in disappointment. This ensures that you will either unplug it or smash it with a hammer after a very short time, but you should read [Sheerforce]’s code first: it’s a great example of documenting this for experimenters who want to build something that offers more affirmations of your life choices.

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Vibrating Distance Torch Illuminates the Dark without Light

If you’ve ever had to move around in a dark room before, you know how frustrating it can be. This is especially true if you are in an unfamiliar place. [Brian] has attempted to help solve this problem by building a vibrating distance sensor that is intuitive to use.

The main circuit is rather simple. An Arduino is hooked up to both an ultrasonic distance sensor and a vibrating motor. The distance sensor uses sound to determine the distance of an object by calculating how long it takes for an emitted sound to return to the sensor. The sensor uses sounds that are above the range of human hearing, so no one in the vicinity will hear it. The Arduino then vibrates a motor quickly if the object is very close, or slowly if it is far away. The whole circuit is powered by a 9V battery.

The real trick to this project is that the entire thing is housed inside of an old flashlight. [Brian] used OpenSCAD to design a custom plastic mount. This mount replaces the flashlight lens and allows the ultrasonic sensor to be secured to the front of the flashlight. The flashlight housing makes the device very intuitive to use. You simply point the flashlight in front of you and press the button. Instead of shining a bright light, the flashlight vibrates to let you know if the way ahead is clear. This way the user can more easily navigate around in the dark without the risk of being seen or waking up people in the area.

This reminds us of project Tacit, which used two of these ultrasonic sensors mounted on a fingerless glove.

Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy

[Tyler] was looking for a gift for his friend’s one year old son. Searching through the shelves in the toy store, [Tyler] realized that most toys for children this age are just boxes of plastic that flash lights and make sound. Something that he should be able to make himself with relative ease. After spending a bit of time in the shop, [Tyler] came up with the Pandaphone.

The enclosure is made from a piece of 2×4 lumber. He cut that piece into three thinner pieces of wood. The top piece has two holes cut out to allow for an ultrasonic sensor to poke out. The middle piece has a cavity carved out using a band saw. This would leave room to store the electronics. The bottom piece acts as a cover to hide the insides.

The circuit uses an ATtiny85. The program watches the ultrasonic PING sensor for a change in distance. It then plays an audio tone out of a small speaker, which changes pitch based on the distance detected. The result is a pitch that is lower when your hand is close to the sensor, but higher when your hand is farther away. The case was painted with the image of a panda on the front, hence the name, “Pandaphone”. Based on the video below, it looks like the recipient is enjoying it! Continue reading “Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy”

An External Autofocus for DSLRs

Most modern DSLR cameras support shooting full HD video, which makes them a great cheap option for video production. However, if you’ve ever used a DSLR for video, you’ve probably ran into some limitations, including sluggish autofocus.

Sensopoda tackles this issue by adding an external autofocus to your DSLR. With the camera in manual focus mode, the device drives the focus ring on the lens. This allows for custom focus control code to be implemented on an external controller.

To focus on an object, the distance needs to be known. Sensopoda uses the HRLV-MaxSonar-EZ ultrasonic sensor for this task. An Arduino runs a control loop that implements a Kalman filter to smooth out the input. This is then used to control a stepper motor which is attached to the focus ring.

The design is interesting because it is rather universal; it can be adapted to run on pretty much any DSLR. The full writeup (PDF) gives all the details on the build.

Controlling a Quadcopter with Gestures

[grassjelly] has been hard at work building a wearable device that uses gestures to control quadcopter motion. The goal of the project is to design a controller that allows the user to intuitively control the motion of a quadcopter. Based on the demonstration video below, we’d say they hit the nail on the head. The controller runs off an Arduino Pro Mini-5v powered by two small coin cell batteries. It contains an accelerometer and an ultrasonic distance sensor.

The controller allows the quadcopter to mimic the orientation of the user’s hand. The user holds their hand out in front of them, parallel to the floor. When the hand is tilted in any direction, the quadcopter copies the motion and will tilt the same way. The amount of pitch and roll is limited by software, likely preventing the user from over-correcting and crashing the machine. The user can also raise or lower their hand to control the altitude of the copter.

[grassjelly] has made all of the code and schematics available via github.

The Hovering, Holographic, Star Wars Display


While we’re still a long way off from the Star Wars telepresence holographic displays, this build over on the Projects site is the closest we’ve seen yet. Even better, it can be built in a garage for not much money.

Inside the Hoverlay are a few fans and a pair of ultrasonic atomizers that turn water into an extremely fine mist. The fans pull this vapor up through the base of the display and through simple drinking straws to create a laminar sheet of water vapor. Put a projector behind this thin sheet of vapor, and you have a display, seemingly floating in mid-air.

The base of the display can be scaled up, simply by putting several units together in a line. It’s still just a prototype – future versions will improve the stability and reduce the thickness of the fog layer – but it’s still a very cool build for a custom holographic display.

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