The history of Microsoft Kinect has been of a technological marvel in search of the perfect market niche. Coming out of Microsoft’s Build 2018 developer conference, we learn Kinect is making another run. This time it’s taking on the Internet of Things mantle as Project Kinect for Azure.
Kinect was revolutionary in making a quality depth camera system available at a consumer price point. The first and second generation Kinect were peripherals for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. They wowed the world with possibilities and, thanks in large part to an open source driver bounty spearheaded by Adafruit, Kinect found an appreciative audience in robotics, interactive art, and other hacking communities. Sadly its novelty never translated to great success in its core gaming market and Kinect as a gaming peripheral was eventually discontinued.
For its third-generation, Kinect retreated from gaming and found a role in Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset running “backwards”: tracking user’s environment instead of user’s movement. The high cost of a HoloLens put it out of reach of most people, but as a head-mounted battery-powered device, it pushed Kinect technology to shrink in physical size and power consumption.
This upcoming fourth generation takes advantage of that evolution and the launch picture is worth a thousand words all on its own: instead of a slick end-user commercial product, we see a populated PCB awaiting integration. The quoted power draw of 225-950mW is high by modern battery-powered device standards but undeniably a huge reduction from previous generations’ household AC power requirement.
Microsoft’s announcement heavily emphasized how this module will work with their cloud services, but we hope it can be persuaded to run independently from Microsoft’s cloud just as its predecessors could run independent of game consoles. This will be a big factor for adoption by our community, second only to the obvious consideration of price.
While robots have been making our lives easier and our assembly lines more efficient for over half a century now, we haven’t quite cracked a Jetsons-like general purpose robot yet. Sure, Boston Dynamics and MIT have some humanoid robots that are fun to kick and knock over, but they’re far from building a world-ending Terminator automaton.
But not every robot needs to be human-shaped in order to be general purpose. Some of the more interesting designs being researched are modular robots. It’s an approach to robotics which uses smaller units that can combine into assemblies that accomplish a given task.
We’ve been immersing ourselves in topics like this one because right now the Robotics Module Challenge is the current focus of the Hackaday Prize. We’re looking for any modular designs that make it easier to build robots — motor drivers, sensor arrays, limb designs — your imagination is the limit. But self contained robot modules that themselves make up larger robots is a fascinating field that definitely fits in with this challenge. Join me for a look at where modular robots are now, and where we’d like to see them going.
When he was but a wee hacker, [WhiskeyDrinker] loved to play with the big console stereo his grandparents had. The idea of a functional piece of furniture always appealed to him, and he decided that when he grew up and had a place of his own he’d get a similar stereo. Fast forward to the present, and a Craigslist ad for a working Penncrest stereo seemed to be a dream come true. Until it wasn’t.
The final result really does look like some kind of alternate timeline piece of consumer electronics: where chunky physical buttons and touch screens coexisted in perfect harmony. The vintage stereo aficionados will probably cry foul, but let them. [WhiskeyDrinker] did a fantastic job of blending old and new, being respectful to the original hardware and aesthetic where it made sense, and clearing house where only nostalgia had lease.
A HiFiBerry DAC+ Pro is used to get some decent audio out of the Raspberry Pi, and the touch screen interface is provided by Volumio. [WhiskeyDrinker] mentions that it even has a GPIO plugin which he successfully used to handle getting the physical buttons to play nice with their digital counterparts.
If you’ve been on the Earth for a couple of decades or more, or have just grown up riding around in some older metal, you’d know that cars can be incredibly noisy. If you’re unfamiliar, buy yourself a nice car like a 2000 Honda Civic, strip out all the carpet and interior panels, and go for a drive. Huge amounts of research and development have gone into making modern cars as quiet and comfortable as possible. Through the correct use of sound deadening materials and techniques, a car can be made much quieter and audio quality from the sound system can be improved too. [camerajack21] decided to get to work on their Volkswagen to see what could be done.
The project in question pays special attention to the door panels. These are where the primary speakers are housed, and there were issues with rattles if the speakers were allowed to operate at frequencies below 100 Hz. Weather stripping, foam, and improved fasteners were pressed into service to reduce this issue.
Think of a musical bell. If you touch a small part of the bell with just your finger, it no longer can ring true. You don’t need to wrap your entire hand around a bell to keep it from ringing. Your finger is not absorbing sound, just preventing the bell from ringing.
Focus then moved to the body panels. Special sound deadening material (in this case, Silent Coat brand) was then applied to the insides of the doors and trunk to bring the sound level down. The key to effective application of such materials is not to waste money covering entire panels – the Reddit comments are particularly enlightening here. It only takes a small amount of material to stop a panel from vibrating, with most testing suggesting anymore than 30% coverage of a panel brings diminishing returns.
With your car’s sound environment tidily improved, you might be looking for ways to improve your sound system. There’s plenty of ways to go about it – you can even use guitar effects.