Hackaday Prize Entry: FLipMouse

The theme of the last Hackaday Prize challenge was Assistive Technologies, and with this comes technical solutions for people with severe motor restriction. One of the best we’ve seen is a device designed to use a sip and puff interface and buttons to control a cursor through USB. The almost too clever name for a device meant to be used via fingers or lips is the FLipMouse, and right now it’s in the running for the finals in the Hackaday Prize.

The FLipMouse isn’t so much a mouse as it is a very long and very sensitive joystick. The main method of interaction is a long, hollow tube wrapped with force sensors. These force sensors, like those seen in the Nintendo Power Glove or this other Hackaday Prize entry, turn the tube into an exceptionally sensitive joystick, meant to be gripped by the user’s lips. This tube is hollow, too, so a sip-and-puff interface is used to register right and left clicks. Of course, there are a few external buttons that may be remapped to anything.

How useful is it? This mouth-based mouse seems to be exceptionally capable. In the video below, [Harry Hötzinger] plays a synthesizer live on stage using a step sequencer and a mouse-controlled synth interface. It’s all highly optimized for the specific piece of music, but it is an incredible display of what you can do with a laser cutter and a Digikey BOM.

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Raspberry Pi Want a Cracker?

If you watch the old original Star Trek, you’ll notice that the computers on board the Enterprise don’t look much like our computers (unless you count the little 3.5 inch floppies that looked pretty close to the real thing). Then again, the Enterprise didn’t need keyboards and screens since the computers did a pretty good job of listening and speaking to humans.

We aren’t quite to the point where you can just ask the computer some fuzzy open-ended question like Captain Kirk did, but we do have things like Echo, Siri, and Google Now that do a fair job of listening to you and replying. In fact, Google provides an API that can do speech recognition and generation. [Giulio] used some common Python libraries to add speech I/O to a Raspberry Pi.

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Counting Eggs With A Webcam

You’ll have to dig out your French dictionary (or Google translate) for this one, but it is worth it. [Nicolas Giraud] has been experimenting with ways to use a webcam to detect the number of eggs chickens have laid in a chicken coop. This page documents these experiments using a number of different algorithms to automatically detect the number of eggs and notify the owner. The system is simple, built around a Pi running Debian Jesse Lite and a cheap USB webcam. An LED running off one of the GPIO pins illuminates the eggs, and the camera then captures the image for analysis.

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Microwave Ovens Turn You into Spiderman

Want to climb a wall like Spiderman? No problem – just whip up a climbing rig with microwave oven transformers. And find a steel building. And rewrite the canon so that Peter Parker is bitten by an electromagnetic spider instead of a radioactive one.

Back in the reality-based world, you’d probably be taking you life in your hands if you use [Make It Extreme]’s rig to get more than a dozen feet above the ground. The basics are pretty sound, but the devil is in the details. Four MOTs are cut and stripped of their secondary coils and attached to fixtures for the feet and hands. A backpack full of gel cell batteries powers the rig, and simple normally closed switches in the handholds control both the foot and hand magnets on a side.  A click of a switch releases the magnets on one side, allowing the climber to reach up.

And therein lies our safety beef: what happens when you make a mistake and push both buttons at the same time? Seems like this build is screaming for some control circuitry that prevents this most obvious failure mode. We’re not ones to throw an Arduino at every problem, but in this case it may make sense, especially when it could monitor your time left before cratering the charge remaining in the battery pack.

Still, like most dangerous stunts, this looks really cool. If you’ve got any ideas for improvements in the controls, leave them in the comments below. And if you’re interested in transforming yourself into a superhero, learn from a guy who’s actually doing it – our own [James Hobson]. Check out some of his builds, like the Captain America shield or his car-lifting exoskeleton.

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Graphene Refractions

Researchers recently observed negative refraction of electrons in graphene PN junctions. The creation of PN junctions in graphene is quite interesting, itself. Negative refraction isn’t a new idea. It was first proposed in 1968 and occurs when a wave bends–or refracts–the opposite way at an interface compared to what you would usually expect. In optics, for example, this can allow for refocusing divergent waves and has been the basis for some proposed invisibility cloaking devices.

In theory, negative refraction for electrons should be easy to observe at PN junctions, but in practice, the band gap voltage causes most electrons to reflect at the junction instead of refract. However, a graphene PN junction has no band gap voltage, so it should be ideal. However, previous attempts to find negative refraction in graphene were not successful.

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Program Your Brain, Hack Your Way to Productivity

Most people wish they were more productive. Some buckle down and leverage some rare facet of their personality to force the work out. Some of them talk with friends. Some go on vision quests. There are lots of methods for lots of types of people. Most hackers, I’ve noticed, look for a datasheet. An engineer’s reference. We want to solve the problem like we solve technical problems.

It's got the cover equivalent of click-bait, but the centimeter thick bibliography listing research sources at the back won me over.
It’s got the cover equivalent of click-bait, but the centimeter thick bibliography listing research sources at the back won me over.

There were three books that gave me the first hints at how to look objectively at my brain and start to hack on it a little. These were The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Flow By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Getting Things Done By David Allen.

I sort of wandered into these books in a haphazard path. The first I encountered was The Power of Habit which I found to be a bit of a revelation. It presented the idea of habits as functions in the great computer program that makes up a person. The brain sees that you’re doing a task over and over again and just learns to do it. It keeps optimizing and optimizing this program over time. All a person needs to do is trigger the habit loop and then it will run.

For example: Typing. At first you either take a course or, if your parents left you alone with a computer for hours on end, hunt-and-peck your way to a decent typing speed. It involves a lot of looking down at the keyboard. Eventually you notice that you don’t actually need to look at the keyboard at all. Depending on your stage you may still be “t-h-i-n-k-i-n-g”, mentally placing each letter as you type. However, eventually your brain begins to abstract this away until it has stored, somewhere, a combination of hand movements for every single word or key combination you typically use. It’s only when you have to spell a new word that you fall back on older programs.

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Pulley Lamp Stands Up With You

Standing desks are either the best thing since sliced bread, or the fastest way to make your legs tired and get you ridiculed by your coworkers in the bargain. This leads some folks to compromise and make standing desks that can be re-lowered to sitting height when you need to take a break. But now the distance from your desktop to the light source that illuminates it has changed. We can’t have that!

fo6i703itw44bt1-medium[John Culbertson] came up with a very elegant solution to the “problem”. He made lights that are suspended on pulleys that raise and lower with the desk itself. We’re not sure that you’re in the same situation he is, but we’re sure that you’ll agree that he did a nice job.

Besides the pulley mechanism, the light shades are a work of art. [John] clearly wanted a retro feel, so he used low-voltage lightbulbs, but augmented them with LED strips to pump out the lumens. All in all, there’s a tremendous attention to detail in the project, and it shows.

Disclaimer: your humble author is writing you this missive from a standing desk. Ours is just a regular desk put up on bricks — a temporary solution that’s become permanent. We’re always keeping our eyes out for mechanisms to make the desk convertible, but everything that we’ve seen is either overkill or ridiculously overpriced or both. It’s hard to beat 24 bricks at $0.35 apiece. Anyone have any suggestions?

Of course, with an adjustable desk come the problems of moving your lighting along with it, but [John] has solved that one for us.