VR Mech’s Missing Link: The Phone in Your Pocket

In the process of making a homemade Mech Combat game that features robot-like piloted tanks capable of turning the cockpit independent of the direction of movement, [Florian] realized that while the concept was intuitive to humans, implementing it in a VR game had challenges. In short, when the body perceives movement but doesn’t feel the expected acceleration and momentum, motion sickness can result. A cockpit view that changes independently of forward motion exacerbates the issue.

To address this, [Florian] wanted to use a swivel chair to represent turning the Mech’s “hips”. This would control direction of travel and help provide important physical feedback. He was considering a hardware encoder for the chair when he realized he already had one in his pocket: his iPhone.

By making an HTML page that accesses the smartphone’s Orientation API, no app install was needed to send the phone’s orientation to his game via a WebSocket in Unity. He physically swivels his chair to steer and is free to look around using the VR headset, separate from the direction of travel. Want to try it for yourself? Get it from [Florian]’s GitHub repository.

A video is embedded below, but if you’re interested in details be sure to also check out [Florian]’s summary of insights and methods for avoiding motion sickness in a VR Mech cockpit.

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Boombox Doorjam Plays Your Theme Song When You Step in the Ring

Although many of us may have had childhood aspirations to be a famous wrestler in the WWE, not very many of us will ever realize those dreams. You can get close, though, if you have your own epic intro music theme that plays anytime you walk into a room. Although it’s not quite the same as entering a wrestling ring, [Matt]’s latest project will have you feeling just as good whenever you enter a room to your own theme song.

The core of the build consists of a boom box with an auxiliary input. The boom box is fed sound via a Raspberry Pi which also serves as the control center for the rest of the project. It runs Node.js and receives commands via websockets from a publicly accessible control server. The Pi is also running Spotify which allows a user to select a theme song, and whenever that user’s iBeacon is within range, the Pi will play that theme song over the stereo.

The project looks like it would be easy to adapt to any other stereo if you’re looking to build your own. Most of the instructions and code you’ll need are available on the project’s website, too. And, if you’re a fan of music playing whenever you open a door of some sort, this unique project is clearly the gold standard. It might even make Stone Cold Steve Austin jealous.

Leapcast emulates Chromecast in your Chrome browser

Our Chrome browser thinks it’s a Chromecast dongle. Here’s a screenshot of it playing a YouTube video. Note the tile banner and onscreen controls which are just like the ones you’d see on the actual hardware. Give it a try yourself by downloading the Leapcast Python package which [dz0ny] programmed.

After cloning the GitHub repo we had a few problems compiling the package. Turns out we needed to install python-dev and that took care of it. Starting the daemon is a simple command, we specified our Chrome binary path as well as added a few flags

leapcast --name HAD --chrome /usr/bin/google-chrome --fullscreen

Once that was running the Android YouTube app automatically detected Leapcast as a Chromecast device. It gave us a tutorial overlay mentioning the new share icon on the interface. Pressing that icon during playback launched an Incognito window which played the video. [dz0ny] links to a device config JSON file in the README. If you check it out you’ll notice that Netflix is listed as “external” while the others are not. This is because the Chromecast protocol uses a binary for Netflix. The others do it with local websockets or a cloud proxy so they work just fine with this setup.

WebSockets, Raspis, and GPIO


A while back, [Blaise] tried his hand at getting the WebSocket protocol working with PIC microcontrollers, WiFi adapters, and a few pots, knobs, and switches. It was an excellent project for its time, but now [Blaise] has a Raspberry Pi, and the associated GPIO pins and Ethernet connection. He decided it was time to upgrade his build to the Pi, this time with a project he calls PiIO.

The basic idea of [Blaise]’s project requires a Pi, a server, and a computer running a browser for the end user. On the Pi side of the build, [Blaise] connected a Microchip MCP3008 eight input, 10-bit ADC via the SPI bus. The Pi takes the ADC sensor values from pots, buttons, or any other analog source and sends them to a server with the WebSocket protocol.

The server hosts a web site written with Django, Autobahn, and Python to communicate with the Pi and host the web page for the data received from the Pi. There’s support for multiple Pis in [Blaise]’s build, making complicated projects we can’t even conceive very possible.

[Blaise] put up an awesome demo video of PiIO up; you can check that out after the break.

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gifsockets: WebSockets using animated GIF files


Using animated GIF images as a crude WebSocket is an idea we’ve never come across before, but it actually makes a lot of sense. Not in terms of it’s overall usefulness, but just for the fact that the animated files work in a similar way. The nature of these animated containers is what makes it work. A GIF doesn’t tell the browser how many frames to expect, so the connection is kept open until the “hey this is the last frame” command is received. This can be used to stream data to anything that can play the animations.

The demonstration after the break shows this in action. Hello World and a couple of other test messages are pushed to the browser without refreshing the page. In our mind that’s what’s useful — real time updates without a refresh or any underlying client-side code structure. But we haven’t looked into the particulars like does this eat bandwidth even when nothing new is being sent?

When [Hans] wrote into us about this gif hack he referenced this discussion panel on WebSockets. We didn’t watch the whole thing yet, but apparently someone calls the gif trick the WebSocket of the ’90s.

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Using WebSocket with PIC microcontrollers

[Blaise Jarrett] has been grinding away to get the WebSocket protocol to play nicely with PIC microcontrollers. Here he’s using the PIC 18F4620 along with a Roving Networks RN-XV WiFi module to get the device on the network. He had started with a smaller processor but ran into some RAM restrictions so keep that in mind when choosing your hardware.

This project was spawned after seeing the mBed feature a few days back which combined that board along with a WebSocket library and HTML5 to pull off some pretty amazing stuff. [Blaise] doesn’t have quite as much polish on the web client yet, but he has recreated the data transfer method and improved on that project by moving to the newer version 13 of WebSockets. The protocol is kind of a moving target as it is still in the process of standardization.

The backend is a server called AutoBahn which is written in python. It comes along with client-side web server examples which gave him a chance to get up and running quickly. From there he got down to work with the WebSocket communications. They’re a set of strings that look very much like HTML headers. He outlines each command and some of the hangups one might run into with implementation. After reading what it takes to get this going it seems less complicated than we thought, but it’s obvious why you’ll need a healthy chunk of RAM to pull it off.

Wicked use of HTML5 to display sensor data

This project shows you one possible way to use HTML5 to fully integrate sensor data from a microcontroller into our technological lives. Now, when we saw this tip come through our inbox we thought it would be an interesting example to learn from but we weren’t ready for how truly cool the setup is. Take a look at the video after the break and you’ll see that scanning the QR code on the project box will immediately start a 10ms resolution live stream of the accelerometer data. Furthermore, the browser page that the phone loads allows you to send what you’re currently viewing to the main frame of a browser running on a different computer with the touch of a button. In this way you can build a dashboard of streaming sensor data. Talk about the future of home automation. Imagine a QR code on your thermostat that allows you gain access to your home’s heating, air conditioning, humidifier, and water heater performance and controls just by snapping a pic? The sky’s the limit on this one so let us know what you’d use it for by leaving a comment.

In this case an mbed microcontroller is handling the data acquisition and pushing that to a server via a WiFly module using the WebSockets library. This data is pushed in the form of a JSON packet which is distributed by the server as a data stream. Clients can access it via a browser through a page that makes use of JavaScript.

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