Stepping out in Style with Top Hat Navigation

Wearable tech is getting to be a big thing. But how we interface with this gear is still a bit of a work in progress. To explore this space, [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller course students came up with an acoustic interface to assist with navigation while walking. With style, of course.

[Bruce], from the Cornell University School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been burning up the Hackaday tips line with his students’ final projects. Here’s the overview page for the Sound Navigation Hat. It uses a PIC32 with GPS and compass. A lot of time was spent figuring out how to properly retrieve and parse the GPS data, but for us the interesting bits on that page are how the directional sound was put together.

Audio tones are fed to earbuds with phase shift and amplitude to make it seem like the sound is coming from the direction you’re supposed to walk. Navigation is all based on pre-programmed routes which are selected using a small LCD screen and buttons. One thing’s for sure, the choice of headwear for the project is beyond reproach from a fashion standpoint – engineering has a long history with the top hat, and we think it’s high time it made a comeback.

Is this a practical solution to land navigation? Of course not. But it could be implemented in smartphone audio players for ambient turn-by-turn navigation. And as a student project, it’s a fun way to demonstrate a novel interface. We recently covered a haptic navigation interface for the visually impaired that uses a similar principle. It’ll be interesting to see if either of these interfaces goes anywhere.

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The Most Drool-Worthy Pip-Boy to Date Can be Yours

Pip-Boy props are nothing new in the maker world, especially since the availability and prices of 3D printers have made the undertaking more straightforward. Something about bringing a piece of the Fallout universe into the real world is just incredibly appealing – so much so that Fallout 4 collector’s editions included a Pip-Boy phone case. However, because of practical limitations these props are usually just plastic shells that house a cell phone. [zapwizard] wasn’t satisfied with a purely aesthetic prop, so he has decided to design his own Pip-Boy 3000 Mk4 from scratch, while retaining as much of the functionality as possible.

For the few of you who are unfamiliar, the Pip-Boy is a wrist-mounted computer from the Fallout series of games. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s used to manage your character’s inventory, stats, quest data, and so on. Because of how often you interact with the Pip-Boy throughout the game, it has become very near and dear to the hearts of Fallout fans, which has driven it’s popularity for prop-making.

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It’s no wonder, then, that we’ve featured a number of builds here on Hackaday in the past. All of these builds have been impressive, but [zapwizard] is taking it to a whole other level. As a product engineer, he certainly has the experience necessary to bring this to life, and he’s not skipping any details. He’s starting by modeling everything up in CAD, using Solid Edge. Every knob, button, dial, and latch has been reproduced in meticulous detail, and will be functional with completely custom electronics. [zipwizard] is still in the design phase, but he should be close to getting started on the actual build. He’s also considering offering a limited run of units for sale, so be sure to get in touch with him if that tickles your fancy!

[thanks Daniel Kennedy]

Impedance Tomography is the new X-Ray Machine

Seeing what’s going on inside a human body is pretty difficult. Unless you’re Superman and you have X-ray vision, you’ll need a large, expensive piece of medical equipment. And even then, X-rays are harmful part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Rather than using a large machine or questionable Kryptonian ionizing radiation vision, there’s another option now: electrical impedance tomography.

[Chris Harrison] and the rest of a research team at Carnegie Mellon University have come up with a way to use electrical excitation to view internal impedance cross-sections of an arm. While this doesn’t have the resolution of an X-ray or CT, there’s still a large amount of information that can be gathered from using this method. Different structures in the body, like bone, will have a different impedance than muscle or other tissues. Even flexed muscle changes its impedance from its resting state, and the team have used their sensor as proof-of-concept for hand gesture recognition.

This device is small, low power, and low-cost, and we could easily see it being the “next thing” in smart watch features. Gesture recognition at this level would open up a whole world of possibilities, especially if you don’t have to rely on any non-wearable hardware like ultrasound or LIDAR.

Knappa Tutu: Some Dancing Required

Sometimes, you see a lamp shade and you’re just intoxicated enough to put it on your head like a hat and dance around on the table. Other times, you see the same lamp shade, and decide to wire it up with Neopixels, an accelerometer, and an Arduino and make a flowery, motion-activated light show when you wear it as a dress. Or at least that’s what we’ve heard.

[Cheng] gets full marks for the neo-IKEA name for the project and bonus points for clean execution and some nice animations to boot. The build is straightforward: build up the lamp so that it fits around your waist, zip-tie in the RGB LED strip, and connect up accelerometer and microcontroller. A tiny bit of coding later, and you’re off to the disco. It looks like a ridiculous amount of fun, and a sweet weekend build.

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Because Burning Man Needed More LEDs

There are a lot of blinky glowy things at Burning Man every year, and [Mark] decided he would literally throw his hat into the ring. He built a high visibility top hat studded with more RGB LEDs than common sense would dictate. It’s a flashy hat, and a very good example of the fashion statement a few hundred LEDs can make.

[Mark]’s top hat has 481 WS2812b addressable LEDs studded around the perimeter, a common LED choice for bright and blinky wearables. These LEDs are driven by a Teensy 3.1, with a Bluetooth transceiver, a GPS module, a compass, and gyro/accelerometer attached to the microcontroller. That’s a lot of hardware, but it gives [Mark] the capability of having the hat react to its own orientation, point itself North, and allow for control via a modified Nintendo NES controller.

The WS2812 LEDs draw a lot of power, and for any wearable project having portable power is a chief concern. [Mark]’s original plan was to use an 8x battery holder for the electronics enclosure, and use five AA batteries to power the hat. The total idle draw of the LEDs was 4.5 Watts, and with even a few LEDs blinking colors there was a significant voltage drop. The idea of powering the hat with AA batteries was discarded and the power source was changed to a 195 Watt-hour lithium ion battery bank that was topped off each day with a solar panel.

The hat is awesome, exceedingly bright, and something that gets a lot of attention everywhere  it goes. For indoor use, it might be too bright, but this could be fixed with the addition of a bit of black stretchy fabric, like what our own [Mike Szczys] did for his DEF CON hat. [Mark]’s hat is just version 1, and he plans on making a second LED hat for next year.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Homebrew Smartwatches

The Pebble Smartwatch has been around for years, and the introduction of the Apple Watch has everyone looking at wrist-mounted computing as the newest gadget consumers can glom onto. There was never any doubt the 2015 Hackaday Prize would have more than a few smartwatches.

[Ramon]’s Zerowatch gets its name from the Arduino Zero, as this watch is based off of and completely compatible with the Arduino Zero. With a 48 MHz ARM Cortex M0+, a three-axis accelrometer, a microSD card slot, and a bright OLED display, this is an extremely capable wrist-mounted computer. As with all wearable electronics, the enclosure makes or breaks the entire device, and [Ramon] has a very slick 3D printed case for this watch.

Connectivity is important for smartwatches, and that’s something [Montassar]’s Open Source Smart Watch doesn’t skimp out on. He’s using an STM32F4 as the main controller and a 1.44″ TFT, and adding the standard Bluetooth module — an HC-05 — to the mix. [Montasar]’s project is also tackling connectivity by working on a few Android apps that connect directly to this phone. He’s using the MIT App Inventor to speed up development for these phone apps, and makes custom smartwatch apps a breeze.

Both are great projects, and thanks to free, open source, and easy to use tool chains, both projects are excellent examples of open hardware development and a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Get up, Stand up. With a Little Help from the Mindfulness Bracelet

[Becky Stern] has created the mindfulness bracelet, a wearable which looks great and serves an important purpose. The bracelet buzzes every hour to remind you to stand up and take a break from work, soldering, gaming, or whatever it is you may be doing. The bracelet is made up of interlinked figure 8 shapes of leather, though [Becky] says rubber from a bicycle inner tube works great as well. The final shape reminds us of the link belts sometimes found on lathes or other industrial equipment. The links are the perfect size to slip an Arduino Gemma in, along with a battery and vibrating motor. A NPN transistor, diode, and resistor round out the entire bill of materials for this design. This bracelet is a heck of a lot cheaper than the Apple watch feature which inspired it!

The time interval is set in the code to 1 hour, and can be adjusted by the user. Although the times are stored in milliseconds, the design does use the ATtiny85’s Watchdog Timer (WDT) to conserve power. This means the time can drift up to 30 seconds per hour, which is fine in this application.

Click past the break to see the bracelet in action!

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