Many of us in the United States frequently browse the shelves of Toys R Us for things to hack on. Sadly that era will soon end with the chain’s closing. In the meantime, the entire store becomes the clearance shelf as they start liquidating inventory. Depending on store, the process may begin as soon as Thursday, March 22. (Warning: video ads on page.)
While not as close to hacker hearts as the dearly departed Radio Shack or Maplin, Toys R Us has provided the hacker community with a rich source of toys we’ve repurposed for our imagination. These toys served various duties including chassis, enclosure, or parts donor. They all had low prices made possible by the high volume, mass market economics that Toys R Us helped build. Sadly it was not able to keep its head above water in the low margin cutthroat competition of retail sales in America.
As resourceful consumers, we will find other project inspirations. Many projects on this site have sourced parts from Amazon. In commercial retail, Target has started popping up in increasing frequency. And no matter where new toys are sold, wait a few years and some fraction will end up at our local thrift store.
We’ll always have some nostalgia for Geoffrey the Giraffe, but toy hacking must go on.
Lightning storm detectors have been around for a surprisingly long time. The early designs consisted of a pair of metal bells and a pendulum. When there was a charge applied, for example by connecting one bell to the ground and the other to a lightning rod, the bells would ring when a lightning storm was close by. In the mid 18th century, these devices were only practical for demonstration and research purposes, but very likely represent the earliest devices that convert electrostatic charge to mechanical force. A bit over a hundred years later, the first lightning detector was considered by some as the first radio receiver as well.
We wager you haven’t you heard the latest from ultrasonics. Sorry. [Lindsay Wilson] is a Hackaday reader who wants to share his knowledge of transducer tuning to make tools. The bare unit he uses to demonstrate might attach to the bottom of an ultrasonic cleaner tank, which have a different construction than the ones used for distance sensing. The first demonstration shows the technique for finding a transducer’s resonant frequency and this technique is used throughout the video. On the YouTube page, his demonstrations are indexed by title and time for convenience.
For us, the most exciting part is when a tuned transducer is squeezed by hand. As the pressure increases, the current drops and goes out of phase in proportion to the grip. We see a transducer used as a pressure sensor. He later shows how temperature can affect the current level and phase.
Sizing horns is a science, but it has some basic rules which are well covered. The basic premise is to make it half of a wavelength long and be mindful of any tools which will go in the end. Nodes and antinodes are explained and their effects demonstrated with feedback on the oscilloscope.
Looking for ideas for your haptics projects? [Destin] of the Smarter Every Day YouTube channel got a tour from the engineers at HaptX of their full-featured VR glove with amazing haptic feedback both with a very fine, 120-point sense of touch, force feedback for each finger, temperature, and motion tracking.
In hacks, we usually stimulate the sense of touch by vibrating something against the skin. With this glove, they use pneumatics to press against the skin. A single fingertip has multiple roughly 1/8 inch air bladders in contact with it. Each bladder is separately pneumatically controlled by pushing air into it. The air pressure can vary continuously so that the bladders can push lightly, harder or anywhere in between. The glove has 120 of these bladders spread out over the fingers and the palm. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow him to see the valves controlling the pneumatics, but if you are looking for a low-frequency, low-cost way to actuate valves you might consider using syringes. The engineers do tell [Destin] that if your VR scene shows something pressing against your virtual finger, as long as your haptics push against your real finger within around 1/8th of a second, your brain won’t notice the delay.
They’re also working on using hot and cold fluids to give a sense of temperature within a glove. This is demonstrated in the first video below when [Destin] feels heat while a dragon in the VR world breathes fire on his hand. Fortunately one of the engineers mentions that our sense of temperature is one of the slower ones, it can handle longer latencies than even touch. We can see implementing this in a hack using a bladder pressing against the skin while tubes circulate different temperature fluids through it. But maybe there’s a way to do it electrically, possibly with thermoelectric modules as is done with this drinks cooler? Though safety issues might prohibit that.
Other features mentioned are force feedback for each finger, and their custom motion tracking which uses both magnetic and optical means to track fingertips. But we’ll leave the rest to the videos below. The first is the technical tour and the second is the glove being used in the VR world.