Hackaday Links: April 16, 2017

Guess what’s going on at the end of the month? The Vintage Computer Festival Southeast is happening April 29th and 30th. The event is being held at the Computer Museum of America and is, by all accounts, a really cool show.

Walk into any package sorting facility or Amazon fulfillment center and you’ll find a maze of conveyor belts, slides, and ramps that move boxes from one point to another. Conveyor belts are so last century, so here’s a fleet of robots.

In 2017, the CITES treaty — an international treaty for the protection of endangered species — changed a lot. While the original treaty protected individual species, in 2017, enforcement of this treaty on tropical hardwoods changed to an entire genus. This is a problem when it comes to rosewood; previously only Dalbergia nigra was covered under CITES, now the entire Dalbergia genus is covered. This sucks for guitar makers, but a Dutch guy is making guitars out of newspaper. We’re probably looking at some sort of micarta thing here, but it sounds acceptable.

Where did Apple’s Spinning Beach Ball of Death come from? 1984, or thereabouts. The ubiquitous Apple ‘wait’ cursor is from the first versions of the Macintosh Toolbox, and it has remained mostly unchanged all this time. This is Apple Wait, a demonstration of this first spinny ball of death. It’s a Raspberry Pi connected to an Apple monochrome monitor that just displays a spinny wait logo. Check out the video.

How do you make strips of RGB LEDs turn a corner? Wire, usually. Here are some corner pieces for WS2812B LED strips. It looks very handy if you’re building a gigantic RGB LED matrix.

SHA2017 is an outdoor hacker conference that’s happening this summer. They’re working on a badge, but they need some help. They’re looking for some funding for their ESP32-powered, touch controller, sunlight-readable ePaper badge. If you have a job that likes to sponsor stuff like this, it’s a worthy cause.

A Wordsearch Twist on the Word Clock

We love seeing new takes on existing ideas, and [Danny] certainly took the word clock concept in an unusual direction with his Wordsearch Clock. Instead of lighting up words to spell out the time, [Danny] decided to embrace the fact that the apparent jumble of letters on the clock face resembles a word search puzzle.

In a word search puzzle, words can be found spelled forward or backward with letters lined up horizontally, diagonally, or vertically. All that matters is that the correct letters are in a line and sequentially adjacent to one another. [Danny]’s clock lights up the correct letters and words one after the other, just as if it were solving a word search puzzle for words that just happen to tell the correct time. You can see it in action in the video, embedded below.

[Danny] went the extra mile in the planning phase. After using a word search puzzle generator tool to assist in designing the layout, he wrote a Processing sketch to simulate the clock’s operation. Visually simulating the clock allowed him to make tweaks to the layout, identify edge cases to address, and gain insight into the whole process. If you’re interested in making your own, there is a GitHub repository for the project.

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Build Your Own Animated Turn Signals

Automotive lighting used to be strictly controlled, particularly in the United States — anyone remember sealed beam headlamps? These days, pretty much anything goes. You can even have an animated turn signal, because a simple flash isn’t fancy enough these days. You can get a scanning-LED turn signal on your new model Audi, among others. [Shravan] wanted this on their Mazda and set about building an animated turn signal and daytime running lights setup for their car.

It’s not a complicated build by any means; an off-the-shelf WS2812B strip provides the blinkums, an Arduino Nano the smarts. Using a modified library to drive the LEDs allowed [Shravan] to get things running with a minimum of fuss. We’d love to see a little more of the gritty reality of this build — how the Nano is getting directional signals from the car, and how it’s all wired up and bolted on. When you’re installing custom hardware onto a vehicle, the devil really is in the details. It’s supremely difficult to create something that looks tidy and functions well.

It’s amazing to think about how far we’ve come. When high-brightness LEDs first came on to the market in the 1990s, you would have been on the hook for wiring your own loom to connect the 20+ LEDs, building your own driver circuitry, and likely etching a custom PCB — all the while you programmed a PIC in assembly as it dangled off a parallel-port programmer. But then again, our cave-dwelling ancestors didn’t even have matches. Time marches on. Use today’s technology to build the very best things you can.

We love seeing car mods, particularly those that are well executed. Check out [Dave]’s interior lighting mods to the Nissan Juke — a car this writer has weighty opinions about. Video after the break.

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Enter the Space Tunnel

What’s better than 1 string of LED lights? 96. That’s how many. Each string of the 96 has 60 ws2812b LEDs, for a total of 5760 individually addressable RGB LEDs.  That’s not the cool part of [jaymeekae]’s Space Tunnel installation, the cool part is that they’re interactive.

Starting out with some PVC piping, dark cloth was used as a backdrop and the LED strips were attached to it. Several power supplies are used to supply the voltage necessary and each strip controlled by FadeCandy chips which connect to, in this case, a Windows PC via USB. Initially, computer power supplies were used, but they couldn’t supply the current necessary. [jaymeekae] used them for the first installation, but switched to better power supplies for further installations.

Once the lights were up and powered, [jaymeekae] started work on the interface to control them. Starting with a used bureau, [jaymeekae] cut out a section for the touchscreen, and installed the controlling computer in the bottom half. Processing is used to interface with the FadeCandy controllers and HTML is used for a user interface. Each mode runs a different Processing program for different effects, including audio visualization, a space tunnel mode (hence the name) and a cool drawing app where the user draws on the touchscreen and sees the results in the lights overhead.

Over several iterations, the Space Tunnel has evolved, with better power supplies and a better interface. It’s a great art installation and [jaymeekae] takes it to festivals, including one in Spain and one in the UK. There are some other LED string projects at Hack-a-Day, including this one with ping-pong balls, and this one that involves drinking a lot of beer first.

[via Reddit]

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Beautiful Linear RGB Clock

Yup, another clock project. But here, [Jan] builds something that would be more at home in a modern art museum than in the dark recesses of a hacker cave. It’s not hard to read the time at all, it’s accurate, and it’s beautiful. It’s a linear RGB LED wall clock.

7512951486134540347You won’t have to learn the resistor color codes or bizarre binary encodings to tell what time it is. There are no glitzy graphics here, or modified classic timepieces. This project is minimal, clean, and elegant. Twelve LEDs display the hours, six and nine LEDs take care of the minutes in add-em-up-coded decimal. (It’s 3:12 in the banner image.)

The technical details are straightforward: WS2812 LEDs, an Arduino, three buttons, and a RTC. You could figure that out by yourself. But go look through the log about building the nice diffusing plexi and a very clean wall-mounting solution. It’s the details that separate this build from what’s hanging on our office wall. Nice job, [Jan].

Cheap LCD TV gets cheaper fix

Most hacks need some fair bit of skill and knowledge if you want to come out successful at the other end. Others, you just plunge in blindly with a “heck, it’s already broken so I can’t make it any worse” attitude. Throwing caution to the wind, you dive in, rip things up, and see if you can manage to catch the bull by the horns.

[Jim]’s cheap LCD TV, barely a few years old, died. It was purchased from the store whose blue polo-shirted cashiers can drive you nuts with their incessant questions. [Jim] just rolled up his sleeves and rather haphazardly managed to fix his TV while adding an extra feature along the way.

His initial check confirmed that the LCD panel worked. Using a flashlight, he could see that the panel was displaying video which meant it was the backlight that wasn’t working. Opening up the TV, he located the LED driver board whose output turned out to be zero volts. [Jim] happened to have a lot of WS2812B strips lying around, along with their power supplies and RGB color controllers. The obvious solution was to ditch the existing LEDs and power supply and use the WS2812B strips.

Surprisingly, the original backlight consisted of just 21 LEDs arranged in three rows. He ripped those out, put in the WS2812B strips, and taped the jumble of wires out of sight. After putting it back together, [Jim] was happy to see it worked, although the new strips were not as bright as the old ones, causing some uneven light bands. He solved this by adding a few more strips of LEDs. It took him a couple of hours to fix his TV, but by the end of it, he had a TV whose backlight could be adjusted to any color using the external color controllers — although we’re not too sure what good that would be.

Huge Interactive Crossword

Give kids some responsible and challenging tasks, and you’d be surprised at the results. The “Anything Goes” exhibit at the National Museum in Warsaw was aimed as a museological and educational experiment. A group of 69 children aged 6–14 was divided into teams responsible for preparing the main temporary exhibition at the museum. Over six months, they worked on preparing the exhibition during weekly four-hour meetings. They prepared scripts, provided ideas for multimedia presentations, and curated almost 300 works for display. One of those was [Robert Mordzon]’s Giant Interactive Crossword.

The build is in two parts. The letter tiles, which have embedded RFID tags, obviously look like the easiest part of the build. The table, looking at the video (after the break), probably needed a lot more effort and labour. It is built in two halves to make construction easier. There are a 130 boxes that need to be filled in with the right letters to complete the crossword. Each box contains a bunch of electronics consisting of an Arduino Nano, a RFID Reader and a bunch of sixteen WS2812B LEDs, all assembled on a custom PCB. Do the math, and you’ll figure out that there’s 2080 LEDs, each capable of sipping 60 mA at full brightness. That’s a total current requirement of almost 125 amps at 5 V. Add in all the Arduino’s, and [Robert] needed a beefy 750 W of power, supplied via four switch mode power supplies.

Each Arduino Nano is a slave on the I²C bus. The I²C master is an Arduino Mega 2560, which in turn communicates with a computer over serial. When a box is empty, the LEDs are dim, when a wrong letter is placed, they turn Red, and when the right letter is placed, they turn Green. If a word gets completed, a special word animation is played. This information is also passed on to the computer, which then projects an animation related to the word on a giant wall screen. Upon the crossword getting completed, the table erupts in to a sound (via the computer) and light “disco” show and also reveals the main motto of this section of the exhibit – “Playing the Hero”.

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