From Cop Car Data Terminal, To Retro Computer

It is possible that you will have lived your life without ever coming into contact with a Motorola MDT9100-T. The data terminal of choice for use in police cars across the globe was a computer with a full-sized QWERTY keyboard, a small CRT display, a mainboard sporting an Intel 386SX processor, and a custom version of Windows 3.1. [Trammell Hudson] and some friends from NYC Resistor scored some MDT9100s in an online auction and found them to be just too good an opportunity not to crack them open and see what could be done.

The custom Windows install could be bypassed with a DOS prompt for some period demoscene action, but [Trammell] wanted more. The 386SX wasn’t even quick when it was new, and this computer deserved the power of a BeagleBone! A custom cape was created on a prototyping cape to interface with the MDT9100 header carrying both keyboard and video. A bit of detective work revealed the display to be a 640×480 pixel mono VGA. The ‘Bone’s LVDS output can drive VGA through a resistor ladder DAC with the aid of an appropriate device tree overlay. The keyboard was then taken care of with a Teensy working as a USB device, resulting in a working Linux computer in the shell of an MDT9100.

It’s always good to see old technology brought up to date. Amusingly a couple of years ago we reported on the death of VGA, but retro projects like this one mean it’ll be a long time before we’ve heard the last of it.

Control a Swarm of RC Vehicles with ESP8266

Over at RCgroups, user [Cesco] has shared a very interesting project which uses the ever-popular ESP8266 as both a transmitter and receiver for RC vehicles. Interestingly, this code makes use of the ESP-Now protocol, which allows devices to create a mesh network without the overhead of full-blown WiFi. According to the Espressif documentation, this mode is akin to the low-power 2.4GHz communication used in wireless mice and keyboards, and is designed specifically for persistent, peer-to-peer connectivity.

Switching an ESP8266 between being a transmitter or receiver is as easy as commenting out a line in the source code and reflashing the firmware. One transmitter (referred to as the server in the source code) can command eight receiving ESP8266s simultaneously. [Cesco] specifically uses the example of long-range aircraft flying in formation; only coming out of the mesh network when it’s time to manually land each one.

[Cesco] has done experiments using both land and air vehicles. He shows off a very hefty looking tracked rover, as well as a quickly knocked together quadcopter. He warns the quadcopter flies like “a wet sponge”, but it does indeed fly with the ESP’s handling all the over the air communication.

To be clear, you still need a traditional PPM-compatible RC receiver and transmitter pair to use his code. The ESPs are simply handling the over-the-air communication. They aren’t directly responsible for taking user input or running the speed controls, for example.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen an ESP8266 take the co-pilot’s seat in a quadcopter, but the maniacal excitement we feel when considering the possibility of having our very own swarm of flying robots gives this particular project an interesting twist.

Visible Light CT Scanner Does Double Duty

If you’ve ever experienced the heartbreak of finding a seed in your supposedly seedless navel orange, you’ll be glad to hear that with a little work, you can protect yourself with an optical computed tomography scanner to peer inside that slice before popping it into your mouth.

We have to admit to reading this one with a skeptical eye at first. It’s not that we doubt that a DIY CT scanner is possible; after all, we’ve seen examples at least a couple of times before. The prominent DSLR mounted to the scanning chamber betrays the use of visible light rather than X-rays in this scanner — but really, X-ray is just another wavelength of light. If you choose optically translucent test subjects, the principles are all the same. [Jbumstead]’s optical CT scanner is therefore limited to peeking inside things like slices of tomatoes or oranges to look at the internal structure, which it does with impressive resolution.

This scanner also has a decided advantage over X-ray CT scanners in that it can image the outside of an object in the visible spectrum, which makes it a handy 3D-scanner in addition to its use in diagnosing Gummi Bear diseases. In either transmissive or reflective mode, the DSLR is fitted with a telecentric lens and has its shutter synchronized to the stepper-driven specimen stage. Scan images are sent to Matlab for reconstruction of CT scans or to Photoscan for 3D scans.

The results are impressive, although it’s arguably more useful as a scanner. Looking to turn a 3D-scan into a 3D-print? Photogrammetry is where it’s at.

Continue reading “Visible Light CT Scanner Does Double Duty”

Capacitive And Resistive Touch Sensors For Wearables

When you look at switching solutions for electronic wearables, your options are limited. With a clever application of conductive fabric and thread, you can cobble together a simple switch, but the vast array of switch solutions is much more than that. This one is different. The zPatch from [Paul Strohmeier], [Jarrod Knibbe], [Sebastian Boring], and [Kasper Hornæk] at the Human-Centred Computing Section at the University of Copenhagen gives eTextiles capacitive and resistive input. It’s a force sensor, a pressure sensor, and a switch, all made completely out of fabric.

The design of this fabric touch sensor is based around a non-woven resistive fabric made by Eeonyx. This fabric is piezo-resistive when compressed. This material is sandwiched between two layers of silver-plated polyamide fabric, which is then connected to the analog input of a microcontroller. On top of all this is a polyester mesh, with everything held together with iron-on sheets.

Reading this sensor with a microcontroller is extremely similar to a capacitive touch sensor made out of copper and FR4. All the code is available in a repo, and all the materials to reproduce this work can be found in the various links provided by the team. That last point — reproducibility — is huge for an academic work. Not only did the team manage to come up with something interesting, they actually provided enough documentation to reproduce their build.

In the video below, you can see how this sensor can be used to sense a hand hovering, a light touch, a hard press, or anything in between. Only two analog pins are required for each sensor, making the routing and layout of this eTextile should be relatively easy to integrate into clothing. It’s a great build, and we can’t wait to see the community pick up on these really cool sensors.

Continue reading “Capacitive And Resistive Touch Sensors For Wearables”

3D Printed Stethoscope Makes the Grade

On the off chance that initiatives like the Hackaday Prize didn’t make it abundantly clear, we believe strongly that open designs can change the world. Putting technology into the hands of the people is a very powerful thing, and depending on where you are or your station in life, can quite literally mean the difference between life and death. So when we saw that not only had a team of researchers developed a 3D printable stethoscope, but released everything as open source on GitHub, it’s fair to say we were pretty interested.

The stethoscope has been in development for several years now, but has just recently completed a round of testing that clinically validated its performance against premium brand models. Not only does this 3D printed stethoscope work, it works well: tests showed its acoustic performance to be on par with the gold standard in medical stethoscopes, the Littmann Cardiology III. Not bad for something the researchers estimate can be manufactured for as little as $3 each.

All of the 3D printed parts were designed in OpenSCAD (in addition to a Ruby framework called CrystalSCAD), which means the design can be evaluated, modified, and compiled into STLs with completely free and open source tools. A huge advantage for underfunded institutions, and in many ways the benchmark by which other open source 3D-printable projects should be measured. As for the non-printed parts, there’s a complete Bill of Materials which even includes links to where you can purchase each item.

The documentation for the project is also exceptional. It not only breaks down exactly how to print and assemble the stethoscope, it even includes multi-lingual instructions which can be printed out and distributed with kits so they can be assembled in the field by those who need them most.

From low-cost ultrasounds to truly personalized prosthetics, the future of open source medical devices is looking exceptionally bright.

[Thanks to Qes for the tip]

Balloons and Bubbles Make for Kid-Friendly Robot Deathmatch

Because nothing says “fun for kids” like barbed wire and hypodermic needles, here’s an interactive real-world game that everyone can enjoy. Think of it as a kinder, gentler version of Robot Wars, where the object of the game is to pop the balloon on the other player’s robot before yours get popped. Sounds simple, but the simple games are often the most engaging, and that sure seems to be the case here.

The current incarnation of “Bubble Blast” stems from a project [Niklas Roy] undertook for a festival in Tunisia in 2017. That first version used heavily hacked toy RC cars controlled with arcade joysticks. It was a big hit with the crowd, so [Niklas] built a second version for another festival, and incorporated lessons learned from version 1.0. The new robots are built from scratch from 3D-printed parts. Two motors drive each bot, with remote control provided by a 433-MHz transceiver module. The UI was greatly improved with big trackballs, also scratch built. The game field was expanded and extra obstacles were added, including a barbed wire border as a hazard to the festooned bots. And just for fun, [Niklas] added a bubble machine, also built from scratch.

The game looks like a ton of fun, and seems like one of those things you’ve got to shoo the adults away from so the kids can enjoy it too. But if you need more gore from your robot deathmatch than a limp balloon, here’s a tabletop robot war that’s sure to please.

Continue reading “Balloons and Bubbles Make for Kid-Friendly Robot Deathmatch”