Summer vacation home for the indoor cats

Throw your indoor cat a bone (or a tuna steak as it were) this year by building them a summer vacation spot. Since [Travis Brown] lives on a busy street he worries that his cat would get hit by a car if allowed to roam outside. He and a friend found a suitable alternative with this outdoor cat enclosure.

The centerpiece of the build is a platform that overlooks the back yard. It’s got a couple of different levels which lets the cat see over the deck railing, and provides a bit of shade from the sun during the day. Chicken wire encloses the entire structure to make sure our feline friends don’t go off on their own, but the gang-plank that connects the platform to the house lets them decide when to go outside or come back in. The entrance to the house is an open window covered with plywood and fitted with a cat door. This is a nice touch since the cat door can be locked to keep them in a night.

Between this for summer and the heated bed for winter you’re going to have the most spoiled cat on the block.

MIT Students take Tetris to a grand scale

Careful, this hack might foster doubts about the level of fun you’re having at you own Computer Science department. Last weekend a group of students at MIT pulled off a hack of great scale by turning a building into a Tetris game board.

The structure in question is the Green Building on the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Campus. It houses the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences Departments, but was chose based on the size and regularity of the grid formed by the windows on one side. The group hasn’t provided much in the way of details yet, but the video after the break shows the game play and start-up screen. The middle portion of the building is used as a scrolling marquee to display the word “Tetris” before the game pieces start falling. We’re only guessing (and we hope you will add your conjecture in the comments section) but we’d bet they assembled a set of wireless RGB LED lamps and set one on the sill of each window. There does seem to be a number of ‘dead’ pixels, but it doesn’t diminish the fun of the overall effect.

If you don’t have your own building to play on, you should go small-scale and implement Tetris on a character display.

[Read more...]

Sustainability Hacks: Automatic window control

Sometimes, changing one little bit of a green hack turns it into a build that wastes as much energy as our gaming rig. [Dr. West]‘s automatic window controller is one of these builds. The good news is the window controller can be easily modified to cut energy costs in the fall and spring.

[Dr. West] doesn’t have any control over the heat in his apartment and for the entire Canadian winter, his apartment gets really hot. He doesn’t pay for his heat, so he does what any of us would do – crack a window. Inspired by this post, he put a linear actuator in the frame of his kitchen window. [Dr. West] didn’t want to damage the window frame, so he attached the actuator to a piece of square aluminum tubing that mounts to the existing screw holes.

The electronics, [Dr. West] used a Rabbit 2000 dev board, LCD display and keypad, and built an H-bridge circuit on a bit of breadboard. Because of a port conflict and admitted laziness, an Arduino is used to read the thermistor. The display shows the current and desired temperature, and the Rabbit opens and closes the window accordingly. All the source code is posted in the forum post.

While it’s not the most ‘green’ idea to dump heat from a building’s HVAC system out into a frozen tundra, this would be a great build to automatically open and close windows in the more temperate seasons. Open windows during the day, close them at night and you’ll have no more problems coming home to a house that’s either too hot or too cold. Check out a video of the automatic window after the break.

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Material of choice: felt pen on glass

If you’re paying big bucks for those floor-to-ceiling windows why not make them into a canvas for your art as well. Der Kritzler is a motorized plotter that can make this into a reality. It’s a laser-cut pen holder suspended from a pair belt pulleys. Those belts have counterweights, which make it easier for the stepper motors to move the pen jig smoothly. The firmware running on the Arduino that controls Der Kritzler has some very precise setup requirements. Since there is no feedback for the Arduino to sense the position of the pen, the two stepper motors must be exactly 1500 mm apart with 1060mm of toothed belt between the carriage and each stepper motor when the power is turned on.

Input images are converted to code for the device using a processing sketch. So far [Alex] has tried out a couple of different effects, starting with a vector graphic, or using some open source tools to convert bitmaps to vector graphics. Don’t miss his video demonstration embedded after the break.

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Window curtain moves to screen pedestrians

[Niklas Roy] built a motorized window curtain to screen out foot traffic in front of his window. When you hear “motorized curtain” you may think that this will move up and down but it doesn’t. Instead, the small curtain move horizontally to cover passersby as they travel down the sidewalk. This is accomplished using a camera in conjunction with some motion sensing software. In the video after the break you can see that the software also anticipates the movement, and ends up doing a good job of keeping the target covered. That’s thanks to the Processing sketch working in conjunction with a rotary encoder on the hardware setup. Details for both are available on the page linked above.

This harkens to other community involvement hacks we’ve seen like the subway stair piano, or the bottle recycling video game. It’s fun and quirky, which is not too much of a surprise as we saw a glimpse of that when we looked at [Niklas'] public fountain hydropower generator.

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Network enabled window air conditioner

It’s no secret that the central US is feels like a very humid oven right now. [Erik's] window AC hack might help you out if you’re coping with triple-digit temperatures. He added network connectivity to the unit above but the picture is a bit deceiving. The blue CAT-5 cable that enters the bottom isn’t connecting directly to the network, but extends the up and down button connections for the unit to an external relay board. From there he uses an SNMP board to connect it to the network and uses PHP commands to reset the temperature. The unit has a working range of 66-88 degrees Fahrenheit so he cycles enough button press to reach the maximum or minimum level, then sets the desired temperature (avoiding the need to know what temperature the unit is currently set at).

If you’ve got an AC unit with a remote control you could always use an IR device to patch into the system for similar functionality.

Virtual windows that track a viewer’s position

Winscape will let you replace that garbage-strewn ally view with just about anything you want. The two windows above are actually plasma screen televisions. In between them you can spot a Nintendo Wii Remote that is used to track an IR badge worn by the person in the room. As they move, the images on the screens are changes to simulate the change in perspective you would see out of a real-world window. Take a look at the video after the break. This is unfortunately not an open source project but the software is available for trial and we find the concept interesting. If you can write video processing algorithms you may be able to take the Wii Remote Whiteboard concept and turn it into a Winscape clone. [Read more...]

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