Christmas Bauble is neither spherical nor runs Arduino

[Jordan Wills] was tasked by his company, Silicon Labs, to build some Christmas Baubles to give away to co-workers. While the commissioned units were designed to be simple battery and LED affairs, he decided to make one of his own with bells and whistles. His Mario themed Christmas Ornament uses a Silicon Labs FM972 micro controller, capacitive sensing, PWM controlled 8 bit audio, and blinky lights.

The interesting part is some of the construction techniques that he used. The finger-joint style cube is built from circuit boards. Electrical connections between panels were routed using solder wicking copper braid. That’s a interesting trick which we’ll keep in mind along with some of our favorite creative structural uses of PCB.

The top of the cube has four LED’s which light up the Mario “Question Mark” symbols on the four sides of the cube while the base contains all of the electronics. The outside of the base piece was a large copper plane to act as the capacitive sensing element. This meant all electronics needed to be surface mounted with tracks laid out on one side – which posed some layout challenges. Adding the Capacitive sense function was a cinch thanks to support from the in-house design team. PWM output from the micro controller takes care of audio, and the output is routed through a buffer to boost the signal. A bandpass filter then cleans up the PWM output before feeding it to the speaker.

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Build Some Entertainment for Young Holiday Guests

Need a good excuse to duck out on the family over the holidays and spend a few hours in your shop? [Jens] has just the thing. He built a color-mixing toy that looks great and we’d bet you have everything on-hand necessary to build your own version.

The body of the toy is an old router case. Who doesn’t have a couple might-be-broken-but-I-kept-it-anyway routers sitting around? Spray painted red, it looks fantastic! The plastic shell hosts 6 RGB LEDs, 3 toggle switches, and 2 buttons. [Jens] demonstrates the different features in the demo video below. They include a mode to teach counting in Binary, color mixing using the color knobs, and a few others.

Everything is driven by an Arduino Pro Mini. The lights are APA106 LEDs; a 4-pin through-hole package version of the WS2812 pixels. You could easily substitute these for the surface mount varieties if you just hot glue them to the underside of the holes in the panel. We’d love to see some alternate arrangements for LEDs and a couple more push buttons for DIY Simon Says.

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A Nerdy Xmas Tree

Celebrating his first Christmas with his three-year-old daughter after separating with his wife, [Alec] decided to finally get a tree. He’s not religious or anything, but it’s a fun holiday for kids, so he decided to get in the spirit. But he had to make his own LED ornaments.

He started out buying a plastic Christmas tree and immediately regretted his decision. So he returned it and got a live Norfolk pine tree instead — one that if you keep it in a pot, will last year round as a houseplant. Didn’t have to deal with the plastic-vs-murder dilemma many people celebrating Christmas have to deal with.

His first step was wiring up the tree with DC power to allow him to connect his future ornaments. For now, he’s only made three — but the intention is as his daughter gets older (and hopefully likes tinkering), will make new ones with him in the years to come!

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Beer Kegs Make Excellent Resin Dispensers

[Josh Updyke] woke up one morning and found himself in a sticky situation. The demand for his modular robotic track system was outgrowing his ability to produce. One of the bottlenecks was weighing out resin. It’s a slow, monotonous process that must be done with accuracy. The free market did not have any affordable solutions to the problem. So like any hacker worth his weight in 2N2222 transistors, he made his own by re-purposing some used beer kegs.

The resin comes in two parts – the resin itself and a hardener. Each must be weighted out on a scale before mixing to ensure proper proportions. It was a trial-by-error learning process before [Josh] was able to settle on a final solution. First he tried some garden sprayers, which worked OK at first. But the resin was taking too long to exit the sprayers, and he had to pressurize them by manually pumping them with air. He ended up with a much better method that used some Cornelius Kegs.

Be sure to check out his io page for more details.

Comparing Movies between Rottentomatoes and IMDB

Well, it’s the holiday season! Which means two things. Long, sometimes uncomfortable gatherings with family, and our favorite — free time. So if you’re looking to catch up on some movies, [Rajesh Verma] has you covered. He’s compiled a database that aggregated data from both Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB!

That means you can very easily sort through based on critic’s favorite, audience favorite, IMDB favorite, underrated, overrated, year, etc. He started by dabbling with aggregation scripts with just Rotten Tomatoes, and after he released one showing both Audience and Critic scores, Rotten Tomatoes updated their site to include that sorting method! Coincidence? Maybe.

Either way, it broke his original script when the site was updated — so he’s come back with something even better — a list for both IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes.

He started the project thanks to [Michael] at Meta Film List, who had the idea of making movie databases more accessible. Without further ado, you can check out the list on Google Docs.

Let Alexa Control Your Life; Guide to Voice-Enable Everything

Let’s face it, automation doesn’t feel quite as futuristic unless you can just say what you want out loud and have the machines flawlessly obey. That is totally possible now — and on the cheap. Well, cheap as far as money goes. It can be an expensive learning curve to get it all working. This will help. [Lindo St. Angel] has put together a guide to navigate voice control of hardware using Amazon’s Alexa SDK.

We previously reported that Amazon’s AI had escaped its hardware prison in the form of the Alexa Skills Kit. Yes, calling it the Alexa SDK above is wrong it’s actually the ASK but nobody knows what that acronym is while most recognize the gist of an SDK. It gives you the hooks and the documentation necessary to leverage the functionality in your own applications. The core functionality of Alexa is voice recognition. Even so, it’s still a tall hill to climb.

[Lindo] has broken down the problem into a very manageable example. The Amazon Voice Service (part of ASK) is used for voice recognition and control. Amazon’s Lambda service connects the ASK to your piece of hardware; in this case he’s using a Raspberry Pi as the server. The final step is to connect your hardware to the Pi. [Lindo] is interfacing a keypad-based home automation system with the Pi but the sky’s the limit at this point.

With all the authentication and connectivity laid bare, this is a lot more approachable. The question is no longer can you connect everything to voice control. The question becomes should you give control of everything over to one single online service?

Project Giant Robot Arm

[Antoniopenamaria] is working on a giant robot arm. The beauty is, he’s posting a step-by-step guide (translated) of his entire journey from start to finish.

Why does he want to build a giant robot arm? Well, the idea originally came to him a few years ago when he was soldering something together and thought, “Man, I could really use another hand!”. So he got out a Meccano set, and built a mini robot arm. Nothing fancy, but it worked. From there, he decided to program it, and was able to teach it to move things from point A to point B… as he continued to expand on his little project, the vision grew, and now he’s working on project D.I.M.E.R. — a giant robot arm.

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