Introduce Yourself To a PocketBeagle With BaconBits

The PocketBeagle single-board computer is now a few months old, and growing fast like its biological namesake. An affordable and available offering in the field of embedded Linux computing, many of us picked one up as an impulse buy. For some, the sheer breadth of possibilities can be paralyzing. (“What do I do first?”) Perhaps a development board can serve as a starting point for training this young puppy? Enter the BaconBits cape.

When paired with a PocketBeagle, everything necessary to start learning embedded computing is on hand. It covers the simple basics of buttons for digital input, potentiometer for analog input, LEDs for visible output. Then grow beyond the basics with an accelerometer for I²C communication and 7-segment displays accessible via SPI. Those digging into system internals will appreciate the USB-to-serial bridge that connects to PocketBeagle’s serial console. This low-level communication will be required if any experimentation manages to (accidentally or deliberately) stop PocketBeagle’s standard USB network communication channels.

BaconBits were introduced in conjunction with the E-ALE (embedded apprentice Linux engineer) training program for use in hands-on modules. The inaugural E-ALE session at SCaLE 16X this past weekend had to deal with some last-minute hiccups, but the course material is informative and we’re confident it’ll be refined into a smooth operation in the near future. While paying for the class will receive built hardware and in-person tutorials to use it, all information – from instructor slides to the BaconBits design – is available on Github. Some of us will choose to learn by reading the slides, others will want their own BaconBits for independent experimentation. And of course E-ALE is not the only way to learn more about PocketBeagle. Whichever way people choose to go, the embedded Linux ecosystem will grow, and we like the sound of that!

LED Illusion Makes Colorful Water Drops Defy Gravity

The 60s and 70s were a great time for kitschy lighting accessories. Lava lamps, strobes, color organs, black light posters — we had it all. One particularly groovy device was an artificial rain display, where a small pump dripped mineral oil over vertical monofilament lines surrounding a small statue, with the whole thing lighted from above in dramatic fashion. If it sounds appalling, it was, and only got worse as the oil got gummy by accumulating dust and debris.

While this levitating water drops display looks somewhat similar, it has nothing to do with that greasy lamp of yore. [isaac879]’s “RGB time fountain” is actually a lot more sophisticated and pretty entrancing to watch. The time fountain idea is simple — drip water from a pump nozzle to a lower receptacle along a path that can be illuminated with flashing LEDs. Synchronizing the flashes to the PWM controlling pump speed can freeze the drops in place, or even make them appear to drip up. [isaac879] took the time fountain idea a step further by experimenting with RGB illumination, and he found that all sorts of neat effects are possible. The video below shows all the coolness, like alternating drops of different colors that look like falling — or rising — paint drops, and drops that merge together to form a new color. And behold, the mysterious antigravity cup that drips up and yet gets filled!

Allowances must be made for videos of projects that use strobes, of course. The effect of this time fountain and similar ones we’ve featured before is hard to capture, but this one still looks great to us.

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Interactive Plant Lamps for Quiet Spaces

If you’ve spent any serious time in libraries, you’ve probably noticed that they attract people who want or need to be alone without being isolated. In this space, a kind of silent community is formed. This phenomenon was the inspiration [MoonAnchor23] needed to build a network of connected house plants for a course on physical interaction and realization. But you won’t find these plants unleashing their dry wit on twitter. They only talk to each other and to nearby humans.

No living plants were harmed during this project—the leaves likely wouldn’t let much light through, anyway. The plants are each equipped with a strip of addressable RGB LEDs and a flex sensor controlled by an Arduino Uno. Both are hot glued to the undersides of the leaves and hidden with green tape. By default, the plants are set to give ambient light. But if someone strokes the leaf with the flex sensor, it sends a secret message to the other plant that induces light patterns.

Right now, the plants communicate over Bluetooth using an OpenFrameworks server on a local PC. Eventually, the plan is use a master-slave configuration so the plants can be farther apart. Stroke that mouse button to see a brief demo video after the break. [MoonAnchor23] also built LED mushroom clusters out of silicone and cling wrap using a structural soldering method by [DIY Perks] that’s also after the break. These work similarly but use force-sensing resistors instead of flex-sensing.

Networking several plants together could get expensive pretty quickly, but DIY flex sensors would help keep the BOM costs down. Continue reading “Interactive Plant Lamps for Quiet Spaces”

RC Car Hacked Into Paintball Shooting Tank

What’s more fun, driving RC cars around on rugged terrain, or having a paintball battle? How about doing both at the same time by making an RC controlled, paintball firing tank? [Nate] from the King of Random YouTube channel did just that by mounting a modified paintball gun to a stripped-down RC car, adding an RC trigger to remotely fire the gun, and covering it all in EVA foam armor in the shape of a tank. And then he did it again so that he’d have someone to battle against.

RC car with paintball gun attached
RC car with paintball gun attached

He walks through the full build in the first video below, but here are some things that stood out for us. It took some fiddling to get a servo to pull the gun trigger but how could he remotely control the servo? For that, he took over the car’s RC receiver signal for controlling audio and made it turn on and off the servo instead. We also like his use of aluminum bar. This stuff is available in the hardware section at stores like Home Depot and is easy to cut and bend. You can see it used here for mounting Wimshurst machine parts to a bicycle, and in this hack, [Nate] used it to mount the paintball gun rigidly to the car frame. He did surprise us when he used rivets instead of nuts and bolts to hold the frame together. That’s not something you see often, and it worked great.

As we said, he made two of them. In the second video below, watch the tanks in action as [Nate] and fellow YouTuber [Stuart Edge] have a tank battle in the desert.

Continue reading “RC Car Hacked Into Paintball Shooting Tank”

Incremental Sheet Forming with a CNC Machine

If you want to form a piece of sheet metal into a shape, you’ll probably think about using a die. That’s certainly a great way to do it, but it presupposes you can create or purchase the die, which may be a showstopper for small projects. [Dardy-7] has worked out how to use a lesser-used technique — incremental sheet forming — to get similar results with a CNC machine. The idea is to trace out the form on the sheet metal with a round blunt tool.

He got good results using an inexpensive dapping tool, although he’s seen other use heated titanium ball bearings. In addition, he’s worked out how to adapt existing tool paths, like the ones you might download from the Internet, to use with this technique. You can see a video of the workflow below.

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Teardown: “The Oregon Trail” Handheld

If you were a school-age child in the 1980’s or 1990’s, you almost certainly played The Oregon Trail. Thanks to its vaguely educational nature, it was a staple of school computers until the early 2000’s, creating generations of fans. Now that those fans are old enough to have disposable incomes, we are naturally seeing a resurgence of The Oregon Trail merchandise to capitalize on one of humanity’s greatest weaknesses: nostalgia.

Enter the Target-exclusive The Oregon Trail handheld game. Priced at $24.99 USD and designed to look like the classic beige-box computers that everyone of a certain age remembers from “Computer Class”, it allows you to experience all the thrills of dying from dysentery on the go. Naturally there have been versions of the game for mobile devices in the past, but how is that going to help you when you want to make your peers at the coffee shop jealous?

But we’re not here to pass judgement on those who hold a special place for The Oregon Trail in their hearts. Surely, there’s worse things you could geek-out on than interactive early American history. No, you’re reading this post because somebody has put out a handheld PC-looking game system, complete with a simplified keyboard and you want to know what’s inside it. If there was ever a cheap game system that was begging to be infused with a Raspberry Pi and some retro PC games, this thing is it. Continue reading “Teardown: “The Oregon Trail” Handheld”

Stephen Hawking’s Legacy Includes Making His Work Widely Approachable

We are saddened by the passing of physicist Stephen Hawking. One of the great minds of our time, Hawking’s work to apply quantum theory to black holes launched his career and led to his best known theoretical discovery that black holes emit radiation, aptly known as Hawking radiation.

Thinking back on Stephen Hawking’s contributions to humanity, it strikes us that one of his most important is his embrace of pop culture. While his scientific discoveries and writings are what will stand the test of time, in our own age it is remarkable that Stephen Hawking is a household name around the world.

Hawking’s first book, A Brief History of Time, has sold more than 10 million copies and for many readers was their introduction into the way physicists view space and time. It was written for general consumption and not reserved for those who were already bathed in the jargon of theoretical physics. It sent the message that contemplating science is something that is fun to do in your spare time. This work continued with his more recent mini-series Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking created for the Discovery Channel.

A fan of the series, Hawking appeared in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1993 and made subsequent, often repeat, appearances on The SimpsonsFuturama, and The Big Bang Theory. This was great fun for all science geeks who knew of his work, but it has a far more profound effect of normalizing interaction with a world-class scientist. Appearing on these shows told the story that the pursuit of knowledge is cool.

Having scientists in the public light is crucial to research and advancement. It lets the general public know what kind of frontiers are being pursued, and why that matters. This trickles both up and down, inspiring the next generation of scientists by introducing deep topics at an early age, and ensuring funding and opportunities for this upcoming wave of researchers has widespread support.

Stephen Hawking showed us some incredibly complicated secrets of the cosmos both through his discovery, and through his ambassadorship of scientific knowledge. He will be greatly missed but leaves behind an admirable legacy which we can all strive to live up to.

[Main image by Martin Pope via The Telegraph]