A Violin Bow Lightsaber

[Bithead942]’s ten-year-old niece is a huge Star Wars fan, and also a violinist. Which of course has led her to learn to play some of the music from the film franchise, and then to ask her uncle to make her violin bow light up like a lightsaber.

His solution might seem fairly straightforward at first sight, simply attach a strip of DotStar addressable LEDs to a bow and drive them from an Arduino Pro Mini to gain the required animation of a saber power-up. But of course, there’s another dimension to this project. Not only does the bow have to do its lightsaber trick, it also has to be a playable bow. The electronics must not impede the musician by being too heavy or intrusive, but the result must have enough power in reserve to keep the lights burning for the duration of a performance.

After experimentation with AAA cells and CR2032s the power requirement was satisfied by a tiny Li-po cell attached to the top of the end of the bow with industrial Velcro, and the LED strip was glued and further secured using tiny rubber bands of the type used by orthodontists.

A short demonstration of the bow’s lightsaber action is shown below the break, we’re sure it’ll impress the young violinist’s audience.

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Paper Toy Can Save Lives

Although there is a lot of discussion about health care problems in big countries like the United States, we often don’t realize that this is a “first world” problem. In many places, obtaining health care of any kind can be a major problem. In places where water and electricity are scarce, a lot of modern medical technology is virtually unobtainable. A team from Standford recently developed a cheap, easily made centrifuge using little more than paper, scrap material like wood or PVC pipe, and string.

A centrifuge is a device that spins samples to separate them and–to be effective–they need to spin pretty fast. Go to any medical lab in a developed country and you’ll find at least one. It will be large, heavy, expensive, and it will require electricity. Some have tried using hand-operated centrifuges using mechanisms like an egg beater or a salad spinner, but these don’t really move fast enough to work well. At the least, it takes a very long time to get results with a slow centrifuge.

[M. Saad Bhamla] and his colleagues at Stanford started brainstorming on this problem. They thought about toys that rotate, including a yo-yo. Turns out, those don’t spin all that fast, either. Then they considered a whirligig. We had forgotten what those are, but it is the real name for a toy that has a spinning disk and (usually) a string. When you pull on the string, the disk spins and the more you pull, the faster the disk spins. These actually have an ancient origin appearing in medieval tapestries and almost 2,500 years ago in China.

[Bhamla] found that how the toy worked was poorly understood (from a scientific standpoint)  and took pictures of one in operation with a high-speed camera. The team was able to create the “paperfuge”, a human-powered centrifuge that would spin at 125,000 RPM, enough to separate plasma from blood in under two minutes and isolate malaria parasites in 15. Some versions of the device could cost as little as twenty cents and don’t require anything more exotic than paper and string. You can see a video about the paperfuge, below.

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Hackaday Links: January 22, 2017

What is a 1971 Ford Torino worth? It depends, but even a 2-door in terrible condition should fetch about $7 or $8k. What is a 1971 Ford Torino covered in 3D printed crap worth? $5500. This is the first ‘3D printed car’ on an auction block. It looks terrible and saying ‘Klaatu Varada Nikto’ unlocks the doors.

Old Apple IIs had a DB19 connector for external floppy drives. Some old macs, pre-PowerPC at least, also had a DB19 connector for external floppy drives. These drives are incompatible with each other for reasons. [Dandu] has a few old macs and one old Apple II 3.5″ external floppy drive. This drive can be hacked so it works with a Mac Classic. The hack is simply disconnecting one of the boards in the drive, and it only reads 400 and 800kB disks, but it does work.

The US Army is working on a hoverbike. Actually, it’s not a hoverbike, because it doesn’t have a saddle or a seat, but it could carry 300 pounds at 60 mph. That’s 136,000 grams at 135 meters per second for the rest of the world out there. This ‘hoverbike’ will be used for very quick resupply, and hopefully a futuristic form of jousting.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen a few new microcontrollers built around the RISC-V core. The first is the HiFive1, a RISC-V on an Arduino-shaped board. The Open-V is another RISC-V based microcontroller, and now it too supports the Arduino IDE. That may not seem like much, but trust me: setting up the HiFive1 toolchain takes at least half an hour.

The NAMM show has been going on for the last few days, which means new electronic musical gear, effects pedals, and drum machines. This is cool, but somewhat outside our editorial prerogative. This isn’t. It’s a recording studio using a Rasberry Pi. Tracktion is working on a high-quality digital audio input and output add-on for the Pi 3. This is really cool, and you only need to look back at MPCs and gigantic Akai samplers from 15 years ago to see why.

Hey LA peeps. Sparklecon is next weekend. What’s Sparklecon? The 23B hackerspace pulls out the grill, someone brings a gigantic Tesla coil, we play hammer Jenga, and a bunch of dorks dork around. Go to Sparklecon! Superliminal advertising! Anyone up for a trip to the Northrop ham meetup next Saturday?

Ping Pong Ball-Juggling Robot

There aren’t too many sports named for the sound that is produced during the game. Even though it’s properly referred to as “table tennis” by serious practitioners, ping pong is probably the most obvious. To that end, [Nekojiru] built a ping pong ball juggling robot that used those very acoustics to pinpoint the location of the ball in relation to the robot. Not satisfied with his efforts there, he moved onto a visual solution and built a new juggling rig that uses computer vision instead of sound to keep a ping pong ball aloft.

The main controller is a Raspberry Pi 2 with a Pi camera module attached. After some mishaps with the planned IR vision system, [Nekojiru] decided to use green light to illuminate the ball. He notes that OpenCV probably wouldn’t have worked for him because it’s not fast enough for the 90 fps that’s required to bounce the ping pong ball. After looking at the incoming data from this system, an algorithm extracts 3D information about the ball and directs the paddle to strike the ball in a particular way.

If you’ve ever wanted to get into real-time object tracking, this is a great project to look over. The control system is well polished and the robot itself looks almost professionally made. Maybe it’s possible to build something similar to test [Nekojiru]’s hypothesis that OpenCV isn’t fast enough for this. If you want to get started in that realm of object tracking, there are some great projects that make use of that piece of software as well.

Newton’s Cradle for Those Too Lazy to Procrastinate

Desk toys are perfect for when you don’t want to work. There’s a particularly old desk toy called the Newton’s cradle. If you don’t know the name, you’d still recognize the toy. It is some ball bearings suspended in midair on strings. If you pull back, say, two balls and let them swing to impact the other balls, the same number of balls on the other side will fly out. When they return, the same number will move on the other side and this repeats until friction wears it all down.

We think [JimRD] might be carried away on procrastination. You see, he not only has a Newton’s cradle, he has automated it with an Arduino. According to [Jim], this is his third attempt at doing so. You can see the current incarnation in the video, below.

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An Eight Inch Floppy For Your Retrocomputer

For people under a certain age, the 8 inch floppy disk is a historical curiosity. They might just have owned a PC that had a 5.25 inch disk drive, but the image conjured by the phrase “floppy disk” will be the hard blue plastic of the once ubiquitous 3.5 inch disk. Even today, years after floppies shuffled off this mortal coil, we still see the 3.5 inch disk as the save icon in so many of our software packages.

For retro computing enthusiasts though, there is an attraction to the original floppy  from the 1970s. Mass storage for microcomputers can hardly come in a more retro format. [Scott M. Baker] evidently thinks so, for he has bought a pair of Qume 8 inch floppy drives, and interfaced them to his CPM-running RC2014 Z80-based retrocomputer.

He goes into detail on the process of selecting a drive as there are several variants of the format, and interfacing the 50 pin Shuggart connector on these drives with the more recent 34 pin connector. To aid in this last endeavour he’s created an interface PCB which he promises to share on OSH Park.

The article provides an interesting insight into the control signals used by floppy drives, as well as the unexpected power requirements of an 8 inch drive. They need mains AC, 24VDC, and 5VDC, so for the last two he had to produce his own power supply.

He’s presented the system in a video which we’ve put below the break. Very much worth watching if you’ve never seen one of these monsters before, it finishes with a two-drive RC2014 copying files between drives.

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The Impressive Z80 Computer With The Unfortunate Name

We’ve seen a lot of retro builds around the Z80. Not many are as neatly done or as well-documented as [dekeNukem’s] FAP80 project. Before you rush to the comments to make the obvious joke, we’ll tell you that everyone has already made up their own variation of the same joke. We’ll also tell you the name is a cross between an old design from [Steve Ciarcia] called the ZAP80 and a reference to the FPGA used in this device.

[dekeNukem] says his goal was to create a Z80 computer without all the baggage of using period-correct support chips. You can argue about the relative merits of that approach versus a more purist build, but the FAP80 has a 5 slot backplane, VGA output, a PS/2 keyboard port and more. You can see one of many videos showing the machine below.

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