Alma The Talking Dog Might Win Some Bar Bets

Students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have a brain-computer interface that can measure brainwaves. What did they do with it? They gave it to Alma, a golden labrador, as you can see in the video below. The code and enough info to duplicate the electronics are on GitHub.

Of course, the dog doesn’t directly generate speech. Instead, the circuit watches her brainwaves via an Arduino and feeds the raw data to a Raspberry Pi. A machine learning algorithm determines Alma’s brainwave state and plays prerecorded audio expressing Alma’s thoughts.

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The MiniITX Retro System

There are hundreds of modern, retrocomputing projects out there that put ancient CPUs and chips in a modern context. The Neon816 from [Lenore] is perhaps one of the most impressive projects like this we’ve seen. It’s a classic system in a modern form factor, with modern video output, mashed together into a MiniITX motherboard.

The powerhouse of this computer is the Western Design Center W65C816 CPU. This is the second generation of the venerable 6502 CPU, the same chip found in everything from the Commodore 64 to the Apple II to the Nintendo Entertainment System. The 65816 is a 6502 at start-up until you flip a bit in a register, at which time the signalling on the address bus becomes much weirder. We’ve seen some single board computers based on the 65816 before and The 8-Bit Guy has a few ideas to build a computer around this CPU, but for the foreseeable future work on that will be trapped in development hell.

Of note, the Neon816 will feature DVI output (I guess technically you can just run the analog signals through the connector), a PS/2 Joystick input, two Atari / Sega joystick ports, MIDI in and out, a PC-style floppy disc connector, and a Commodore serial bus. It’s a hodge-podge of classic retrotainment, all in a single MiniITX motherboard.

The key other feature of the Neon816 is an FPGA, specifically a Lattice XP2 8000 LUT chip that is used for video and audio. This is combined with 1MB of main RAM (looks like a simple SRAM) and 128k of Flash storage for the ROM. There’s also an SD card in there for storage.

Right now, [Lenore] is populating the first prototype board, and we can’t wait to see some video generated with this impressive little system.

The Enlightenment Turns Light And Noise Into Sound

We’re all familiar with the subtle sounds of electrical equipment present in daily life. There’s the high-pitched whine of a CRT, the mains hum of a poorly isolated audio amplifier, and the wailing screams of inductors. Typically these sounds go unnoticed unless something is malfunctioning or otherwise wrong. However, Quiet Ensemble decided to capture these noises and turned them into a performance they call The Enlightenment.

The basic setup consists of a series of lights, most of which are theatrical in nature. There are spotlights, a series of neons, and even a few bright strobes. Copper coils are used to pick up the stray electrical noises generated by these lights in operation. These noises are then fed to mixers, amplifiers, and other audio equipment to allow the performers to control the audio as they wish.

The end result is a mechanical, and at times, brutal soundscape that wouldn’t sound out of place on the¬†Homeworld¬†soundtrack. Flashing strobes contribute rhythm while the rest of the lights lend their droning and whining to fill out the ensemble.

If it’s a little too niche for your tastes, the Triforium may be more to your liking. Video after the break.

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Printable Filament Spool Hub Skips The Bearings

When you really start fine-tuning your 3D printer, you might start to notice that even the smallest things can have a noticeable impact on your prints. An open window can cause enough of a draft to make your print peel up from the bed, and the slightly askew diameter of that bargain basement filament can mess up your extrusion rate. It can be a deep rabbit hole to fall down if you’re not careful.

One element that’s often overlooked is the filament spool; if it’s not rotating smoothly, the drag it puts on both the extruder and movement of the print head can cause difficult to diagnose issues. For his custom built printer, [Marius Taciuc] developed a very clever printable gadget that helps the filament roll spin using nothing but the properties of the PLA itself. While the design might need a bit of tweaking to work on your own printer, the files he’s shared should get you most of the way there.

All you need to do is print out the hubs which fit your particular filament spools (naturally, they aren’t all a standard size), and snap them on. The four “claws” of the hub lightly contact a piece of 8 mm rod enough to support the spool while limiting the surface area as much as possible. The natural elasticity of PLA helps dampen the moment that would result if you just hung the hub-less spool on the rod.

The STL files [Marius] has provided for his low-friction hubs should work fine for anyone who’s interested in trying out his design, but you’ll need to come up with your own method of mounting the 8 mm rod in a convenient place. The arms he’s included are specifically designed for his customized Prusa Mendel, which is pretty far removed from contemporary desktop 3D printer design. Something to consider might be a piece of 8 mm rod suspended over the printer, with enough space that you could put a couple spools on for quick access to different colors or materials.

Hackers have been trying to solve the spool friction issue for years, and as you might expect we’ve seen some very clever designs in the past. But we especially like how simple [Marius] has made this design, and the fact that you don’t need to source bearings to build it. If you’re thinking of giving this new design a shot, be sure to leave a comment so we know how it worked out for you.

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Tweetbot Expresses Twitter Emotions

When reading textual communications, it can be difficult to accurately acertain emotional intent. Individual humans can be better or worse at this, with sometimes hilarious results when it goes wrong. Regardless, there’s nothing a human can do that a machine won’t eventually do better. For just this purpose, Tweetbot is here to emotionally react to Twitter so you don’t have to.

The ‘bot receives tweets over a bluetooth link, handled by a PIC32, which also displays them on a small TFT screen. The PIC then analyses the tweet for emotional content before sending the result to a second PIC32, which displays emotes on a second TFT screen, creating the robot’s face. Varying LEDs are also flashed depending on the emotion detected – green for positive emotions, yellow for sadness, and red for anger.

The final bot is capable of demonstrating 8 unique emotional states, far exceeding the typical Facebook commenter who can only express unbridled outrage. With the ‘bot packing displays, multiple microcontrollers, and even motor drives, we imagine the team learned a great deal in the development of the project.

The project was the product of [Bruce Land]’s ECE 4760 course, which has shown us plenty of great hacks in the past – Bike Sonar being one of our favorites. Video after the break.

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A Soap Film Photography How-To

Blowing bubbles is a pastime enjoyed by young and old alike. The pleasant motion and swirling colors of the bubbles can be remarkably relaxing. With the right tools and techniques, it’s possible to take striking photos of these soap film phenomena, and that’s exactly what [Eric] and [Travis] did.

Adding sugar to the soap solution increases the resilience of the film significantly. With enough added, the film no longer pops, but instead breaks and fails in interesting ways.

After beginning with a robotic arm and a computer fan blowing bubbles, the project moved towards a simple stepper motor setup. A thin frame is lowered into a solution of soapy water, then brought back up by the stepper motor. The resulting soap film is held in front of a black background and carefully lit with a softbox light.

Lens selection is critical for this sort of work – in this case, a TS-E 50mm Macro f/2.8 lens was the order of the day. [Eric] shares other tips for taking great shots, such as adding sugar to the solution to make the soap film last longer, and using a modified speaker to help “paint” the surface of the films.

The resulting images are beautiful examples of the art, showing vibrant colors from the interference patterns created by the light. [Eric] has done a great job of clearly documenting the development process and the final results, making it possible for others to recreate the project elsewhere.

We’ve seen other soapy projects before, like this automatic bubble blowing machine. Video after the break.

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An Airbag Charge To Launch A Projectile

It’s not particularly easy to buy small explosive charges. At least, it’s not in the UK, from where [Turbo Conquering Mega Eagle] hails. But it is surprisingly easy to get your hands on one because most people drive around with one right in front of them in the form of their car airbag. In a burst of either genius or madness, we can’t decide which, he decided to use an airbag charge to launch a projectile.

As you can see in the video below, he launches straight into dismantling the centre of a Renault steering wheel before seemingly abandoning caution and taking a grinder to the charge inside. It’s a fascinating deconstruction though, because it reveals not one but two differently sized charges separated by a space which appears to contain some kind of wadding.

His projectile is a piece of steel tube with a turned steel point, spigot launched over a tube placed in front of a breech in which he places the charge. The launch tube has a piece of metal welded within it, he tells us to render it legal by being unable to launch a projectile from within it. Upon firing at a scrap jerry can it has enough energy to easily pass through both its steel walls, so it’s quite a formidable weapon.

He assures the viewer that with the spigot-launched design he’s not breaking the law, but we’re not sure we’d like to have to explain that one to a British policeman. He does make the point though that while it’s an impressive spectacle it’s also quite a dangerous device, so maybe don’t do this at home.

If ripping airbags to pieces isn’t your thing, how about making one from scratch?

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