Rey’s Blaster Shoots Glow-in-the-Dark Bullets

Youtuber and rubber band enthusiast [JoergSprave] is a big fan of Star Wars, and he loved the look of the blaster that Han Solo gave to Rey. He’d seen a few replicas of Rey NN-14 gun, but hadn’t seen any that actually fired anything, so he set out to make one that did.

The build itself is from plywood, with a paint job to make it look like an old blaster. What makes the build really cool is the bullets used: glow sticks! [Joerg] created space in the magazine for three glow sticks, so you’ve got a couple of shots before you have to reload. Crack ’em, load them up and then fire away!

The glow sticks give the blaster fire a great look (especially in the dark!) and it’s really easy to find the shots after you’ve fired them. We’ve featured [Joerg]’s builds a few times on the site, and his build videos are a lot of fun. Check out his compressed air crossbow bolt gatling gun, or his machete shooting slingshot.

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Ears To You: Sensing Facial Expressions with an Ear Plug

Electronics keep getting smaller, but human fingers don’t. This leads to a real challenge with highly-embedded wearable computers. Sure, voice command has come a long way, but it has its own challenges. You might not want to verbally command your Borg implants in some situations. Maybe you need to be quiet. Or perhaps you are worried about accidentally triggering the device. Researchers in Germany want to monitor facial expressions instead. So to snap a picture, you might wink and to fast forward your movie playing on the inside of your eyelids, perhaps you’d look to the right twice. You can see a video presentation about the paper, below.

The paper looks at several different methods to read facial movements. Some were pretty intrusive. However, a promising technique used Ear Field Sensing (EarFS). An earplug with an electrode senses electrical changes in the ear canal resulting from facial muscle movement. Other techniques examined included electromyography, capacitive sensing, and a different form of electrical field sensing.

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Headlight Mod For An Audi A3

If you have a car that is getting on in years, it may be missing some of the latest frills and features that the latest models sport. [Muris] has a slightly dated Audi A3 8P which did not have an AUTO setting for the headlights. In the newer models, this feature turns on the headlights when the ambient light falls below a threshold level (overcast conditions or when going through a tunnel), or when the windshield wipers are turned on. The light sensor is integrated behind the rear view mirror in a special mount, requiring an expensive windshield upgrade if he were to opt for the factory retrofit. Instead, he decided to build his own Automatic Headlights Sensor upgrade for his Audi A3.

His local regulations require the car headlights to be on all the time when the vehicle is in motion. So adding this feature may seem moot at first sight. But [Muris] programmed the headlights to be powered at 70% during daytime conditions and switch to 100% when his sensor detects low ambient light conditions. In the power save mode, all of the other non-essential lights (number plate, tail light) are also turned off to hopefully extend their life. He achieved this by using the VCDS (VAG-COM Diagnostic System) – a widely used aftermarket diagnostics tool for VW-Audi Group vehicles. His tiny circuit switches the lights between the two power settings.

His plan was to install the device without disturbing the original wiring or light switch assembly in any way. The low-powered device consists of a PIC micro-controller, an LDR (light dependent resistor) for light sensing and a low current relay which switches between the two modes. Setting the threshold at which the circuit switches the output is adjusted by a variable trimpot acting as a voltage divider with the LDR. [Muris] wired up a short custom harness which let him install this circuit between the default light switch and the car electronics. After switching on power, he has 15 seconds to enable or disable his unit by toggling the light switch five times, and that status gets stored in memory. The tiny board is assembled using SMD parts and is protected with a heatshrink sleeve. The circuit would work equally well with a lot of other cars, so If you’ve got one which could do with this feature upgrade, then [Muris] has the Eagle CAD files and code available for download on his blog.

Check out the video below where he runs a demo, describes his circuit in detail and then proceeds to assemble the PCB without using a vise or a third hand to hold the PCB. That’s a fancy watch he’s sporting at 00:50 s down the video.

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Animated Bluetooth Bike Turn Signals

Tired of risking his life every time he had to signal a turn using his hands while riding his bicycle in rainy Vancouver, [Simon Wong] decided he needed something a bit higher tech. But rather than buy something off the shelf, he decided to make it into his first serious Arduino project. Given the final results and the laundry list of features, we’d say he really knocked this one out of the park. If this is him getting started, we’re very keen to see where he goes from here.

So what makes these turn signals so special? Well for one, he wanted to make it so nobody would try to steal his setup. He wanted the main signal to be easily removable so he could take it inside, and the controls to be so well-integrated into the bike that they wouldn’t be obvious. In the end he managed to stuff a battery pack, Arduino Nano, and an HC-05 module inside the handlebars; with just a switch protruding from the very end to hint that everything wasn’t stock.

On the other side, a ATMEGA328P microcontroller along with another HC-05 drives two 8×8 LED matrices with MAX7219 controllers. Everything is powered by a 18650 lithium-ion battery with a 134N3P module to bring it up to 5 VDC. To make the device easily removable, as well as keep the elements out, all the hardware is enclosed in a commercial waterproof case. As a final touch, [Simon] added a Qi wireless charging receiver to the mix so he could just pull the signal off and drop it on a charging pad without needing to open it up.

It’s been some time since we’ve seen a bike turn signal build, so it’s nice to see one done with a bit more modern hardware. But the real question: will he be donning a lighted helmet for added safety?

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Programmable Air Makes Robotics A Breeze

[Amitabh] was frustrated by the lack of options for controlling air pressure in soft robotics. The most promising initiative, Pneuduino, seemed to be this close to a Shenzhen production run, but the creators have gone radio silent. Faced with only expensive alternatives, he decided to take one for Team Hacker and created Programmable Air, a modular system for inflatable and vacuum-based robotics.

The idea is to build the cheapest, most hacker-friendly system he can by evaluating and experimenting with all sorts of off-the-shelf pumps, sensors, and valves. From the looks of it, he’s pretty much got it dialed in. Programmable Air is based around $9 medical-grade booster pumps that are as good at making vacuums as they are at providing pressurization. The main board has two pumps, and it looks like one is set to vacuum and the other to spew air. There’s an Arduino Nano to drive them, and a momentary to control the air flow.

Programmable Air can support up to 12 valves through daughter boards that connect via right-angle header. In the future, [Amitabh] may swap these out for magnetic connections or something else that can withstand repeated use.

Blow past the break to watch Programmable Air do pick and place, control a soft gripper, and inflate a balloon. The balloon’s pressurization behavior has made [Amitabh] reconsider adding a flow meter, but so far he hasn’t found a reasonable cost per unit. Can you recommend a small flow meter that won’t break the bank? Let us know in the comments.

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VCF East: The Desktop ENIAC

The ENIAC, or Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer, is essentially the Great Great Grandfather of whatever device you’re currently reading these words on. Developed during World War II for what would be about $7 million USD today, it was designed to calculate artillery firing tables. Once word got out about its capabilities, it was also put to work on such heady tasks as assisting with John von Neumann’s research into the hydrogen bomb. The success of ENIAC lead directly into the development of EDVAC, which adopted some of the now standard computing concepts such as binary arithmetic and the idea of stored programs. The rest, as they say, is history.

But ENIAC wasn’t just hugely expensive and successful, it was also just plain huge. While it’s somewhat difficult for the modern mind to comprehend, ENIAC was approximately 100 feet long and weighed in at a whopping 27 tons. In its final configuration in 1956, it contained about 18,000 vacuum tubes, 7,000 diodes, 70,000 resistors, 10,000 capacitors, and 6,000 switches. All that hardware comes with a mighty thirst for power: the ENIAC could easily suck down 150 kW of electricity. At the time this all seemed perfectly reasonable for a machine that could perform 5,000 instructions per second, but today an Arduino would run circles around it.

This vast discrepancy between the power and size of modern hardware versus such primordial computers was on full display at the Vintage Computer Festival East, where [Brian Stuart] demonstrated his very impressive ENIAC emulator. Like any good vintage hardware emulator, his project not only accurately recreates the capabilities of the original hardware, but attempts to give the modern operator a taste of the unique experience of operating a machine that had its heyday when “computers” were still people with slide rules. Continue reading “VCF East: The Desktop ENIAC”

Hackaday Belgrade 2018 is Sold Out: We Can’t Wait for Saturday

Greetings from beautiful Belgrade! With the Hackaday crew arriving over the last couple of days, preparations are in full swing, and the excitement is building for Hackaday Belgrade 2018 on Saturday. Here’s all the news you need to know.

If you haven’t gotten tickets yet, you can’t say we didn’t warn you! We’ve sold out. But don’t despair: there’s a waitlist, so get your name in now if you still want to get in.

If you’re looking for something to do in town this weekend, don’t miss [Brian Benchoff]’s Ode to Belgrade and especially some great local info in the comments. From which taxis to take, to finding a hardware store, to touring monuments of brutalist architecture, this post has it all.

And last but not least, the badges are in the final stages of production.  [Voja] and [Mike] are temporarily distracted by watching themselves on N1, the Serbian CNN affiliate, for which they were interviewed this morning about hacker culture, and about building badge hardware and writing the firmware for it. They’ll get back to epoxying speakers and writing code any time now.

In short, Hackaday Belgrade is a sold-out, unstoppable force of nature. We’re so excited to be here and can’t wait to see you all on Saturday!