This Light-Up Sorter Is A Bright Idea

Sorting out a mountain of screws and other workbench detritus by hand is a task that only appeals to a select few of us. [AdrienR] is not one of those people. He believes the job is better suited to a robot, so he built an intelligent and good-looking machine that does just that.

[Adrien]’s sorting bot is capable of organizing a hodgepodge of parts quickly and effectively. He simply scatters the parts on the light box work surface, illuminates it, and takes a picture with a downward-facing web cam. An algorithm studies the parts and their positions using OpenCV image processing, and sends the triangulation back to the arm so it can pick and place the parts into laser cut boxes using a home brew electromagnet.

[Adrien] calls this a work in progress. He plans to control it with a Raspberry Pi so it can be a standalone unit, and will probably move the parts boxes to the outside curve. Drop yourself past the break to see it sort.

If delta robots are more your sort, this one has balls. Colored balls.

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Love Songs To The Microphone

A biographer of Frank Sinatra once commented that for singers like Sinatra, their instrument is the microphone. We tend to think of microphones as ideal transducers, picking up sound faithfully. But like most electronic components, microphones are imperfect. They have a varying frequency response. They pick up popping noises when we say words like “popcorn” that are normally lost to someone listening live.

[Cheddar] has an interesting video (see below) that covers how performers like Sinatra, Bing Crosby, and Billie Holiday learned to use the microphone to their advantage. They suggest that the microphone changed the way humans sing, and they are right.

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Freeform Wire Frame Tulip Blooms To The Touch

Holidays are always good for setting a deadline for finishing fun projects, and every Valentine’s Day we see projects delivering special one-of-a-kind gifts. Why buy a perishable bulk-grown biological commodity shipped with a large carbon footprint when we can build something special of our own? [Jiří Praus] certainly seemed to think so, his wife will receive a circuit sculpture tulip that blooms when she touches it.

via @jipraus

This project drew from [Jiří]’s experience with aesthetic LED projects. His Arduino-powered snowflake, with LEDs mounted on a custom PCB, is a product available on Tindie. For our recent circuit sculpture contest, his entry is a wire frame variant on his snowflake. This tulip has 7 Adafruit NeoPixel in the center and 30 white SMD LEDs in the petals, which look great. But with the addition of mechanical articulation, this project has raised the bar for all that follow.

We hope [Jiří] will add more details for this project to his Hackaday.io profile. In the meantime, look over his recent Tweets for more details on how this mechanical tulip works. We could see pictures and short videos of details like the wire-and-tube mechanism that allowed all the petals to be actuated by a single servo, and the components that are tidily packaged inside that wooden base.

Need more digital expressions of love? We have no shortage of hearts. Animated LED hearts, illuminated acrylic hearts, and talking hearts. We’re a little short on flower projects, but we do have X-ray of a rose among others to accompany [Jiří]’s tulip.

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Every Digital Clock Is Made Of Analog Components

In 2008, an art studio out of Stockholm released the ClockClock, a digital clock with an analog heart. The ClockClock used 24 individual analog clocks — hour and minute hands and all — to display time digitally. The world went crazy, Pinterest blew up, and everyone wanted a digital analog clock until the next interesting project distracted the masses.

This was ten years ago, and for a project that’s neck deep in stepper motors, timekeeping, and 3D printed parts, we haven’t seen a DIY project that puts these tools together to build a clone of the ClockClock. Until now, that is. [Wojtek] was inspired by the ClockClock and decided to make his own.

For the plastic bits, each of the 24 analog clocks are printed out of PLA. So far, it’s exactly what we would expect. The trick to the ClockClock is moving the hour and minute hand of each analog clock independently. This is done with a double shaft — just like a real clock — and two stepper motors. Each of the stepper motors are controlled by a single PCB in each analog clock with two 360° stepper drivers, a dual motor driver, and an ATMega328pb microcontroller. As a group, the individual analog clocks are controlled over I2C, with a single ‘satellite’ board serving as the master.

While there are a few details missing from this build, specifically how to attach the hands to the stepper motors, this is an amazing project. Someone finally built a ClockClock, and it didn’t cost thousands of dollars as the original did. You can check out some videos of the Analog/Digital clock below.

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Toilet Seat Could Save Your Ass

Our morning routine could be appended to something like “breakfast, stretching, sit on a medical examiner, shower, then commute.” If we are speaking seriously, we don’t always get to our morning stretches, but a quick medical exam could be on the morning agenda. We would wager that a portion of our readers are poised for that exam as they read this article. The examiner could come in the form of a toilet seat. This IoT throne is the next device you didn’t know you needed because it can take measurements to detect signs of heart failure every time you take a load off.

Tracking heart failure is not just one test, it is a buttload of tests. Continuous monitoring is difficult although tools exist for each test. It is unreasonable to expect all the at-risk people to sit at a blood pressure machine, inside a ballistocardiograph, with an oximeter on their fingers three times per day. Getting people to browse Hackaday on their phones after lunch is less of a struggle. When the robots overthrow us, this will definitely be held against us.

We are not sure if this particular hardware will be open-source, probably not, but there is a lesson here about putting sensors where people will use them. Despite the low rank on the glamorous scale, from a UX point of view, it is ingenious. How can we flush out our own projects to make them usable? After all, if you build a badass morning alarm, but it tries to kill you, it will need some work and if you make a gorgeous clock with the numbers all messed up…okay, we dig that particular one for different reasons.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

EF50: the Tube that Changed Everything

From today’s perspective, vacuum tubes are pretty low tech. But for a while they were the pinnacle of high tech, and heavy research followed the promise shown by early vacuum tubes in transmission and computing. Indeed, as time progressed, tubes became very sophisticated and difficult to manufacture. After all, they were as ubiquitous as ICs are today, so it is hardly surprising that they got a lot of R&D.

Prior to 1938, for example, tubes were built as if they were light bulbs. As the demands on them grew more sophisticated, the traditional light bulb design wasn’t sufficient. For one, the wire leads’ parasitic inductance and capacitance would limit the use of the tube in high-frequency applications. Even the time it took electrons to get from one part of the tube to another was a bottleneck.

There were several attempts to speed tubes up, including RCA’s acorn tubes, lighthouse tubes, and Telefunken’s Stahlröhre designs. These generally tried to keep leads short and tubes small. The Philips company started attacking the problem in 1934 because they were anticipating demand for television receivers that would operate at higher frequencies.

Dr. Hans Jonker was the primary developer of the proposed solution and published his design in an internal technical note describing an all-glass tube that was easier to manufacture than other solutions. Now all they needed was an actual application. While they initially thought the killer app would be television, the E50 would end up helping the Allies win the war.

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Putting an Out of Work iPod Display to Good Use

[Mike Harrison] produces so much quality content that sometimes excellent material slips through the editorial cracks. This time we noticed that one such lost gem was [Mike]’s reverse engineering of the 6th generation iPod Nano display from 2013, as caught when the also prolific [Greg Davill] used one on a recent board. Despite the march of progress in mobile device displays, small screens which are easy to connect to hobbyist style devices are still typically fairly low quality. It’s easy to find fancier displays as salvage but interfacing with them electrically can be brutal, never mind the reverse engineering required to figure out what signal goes where. Suffice to say you probably won’t find a manufacturer data sheet, and it won’t conveniently speak SPI or I2C.

After a few generations of strange form factor exploration Apple has all but abandoned the stand-alone portable media player market; witness the sole surviving member of that once mighty species, the woefully outdated iPod Touch. Luckily thanks to vibrant sales, replacement parts for the little square sixth generation Nano are still inexpensive and easily available. If only there was a convenient interface this would be a great source of comparatively very high quality displays. Enter [Mike].

Outer edge of FPGA and circuit

This particular display speaks a protocol called DSI over a low voltage differential MIPI interface, which is a common combination which is still used to drive big, rich, modern displays. The specifications are somewhat available…if you’re an employee of a company who is a member of the working group that standardizes them — there are membership discounts for companies with yearly revenue below $250 million, and dues are thousands of dollars a quarter.

Fortunately for us, after some experiments [Mike] figured out enough of the command set and signaling to generate easily reproduced schematics and references for the data packets, checksums, etc. The project page has a smattering of information, but the circuit includes some unusual provisions to adjust signal levels and other goodies so try watching the videos for a great explanation of what’s going on and why. At the time [Mike] was using an FPGA to drive the display and that’s certainly only gotten cheaper and easier, but we suspect that his suggestion about using a fast micro and clever tricks would work well too.

It turns out we made incidental mention of this display when covering [Mike]’s tiny thermal imager but it hasn’t turned up much since them. As always, thanks for the accidental tip [Greg]! We’re waiting to see the final result of your experiments with this.