Steam Bike Rocks It Old-School

Petrol engines dominate the world of the automobile, while electric propulsion races to take an ever larger market share. Despite this, some still hold a flame for steam power. Such aficionados would hold this build in high regard, from the recent past of 2014.

In steampunk, finish is everything.

The bike is of a recumbent design, featuring a relaxed riding position well suited to the sophisticated nature of a steam-powered vehicle. Sporting a wooden frame, the build carries a strong steampunk aesthetic. The flash boiler packs 100 feet of copper pipe, and there’s an electric pump and controller to handle water delivery from the stylish brass tank. The setup is capable of producing steam within 30 seconds of startup. Motive power is courtesy of a 1.5 inch bore single-cylinder steam engine, connected to the rear wheel via a belt drive.

There’s something intoxicating about the sounds and smells of a working steam engine, though the threat of catastrophic burns does temper the excitement just a touch. Steam power isn’t going away any time soon – and it’s not just limited to transport applications, either. Video after the break.

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Meccano Max Gets Hacked

There are plenty of “smart” toys out in the marketplace, some with more features than others. Nevertheless, most makers desire complete control over a platform, something that’s often lacking in any commercial offering. It was just this desire that motivated [MrDreamBot] to start hacking the Meccano Max.

Meccano Max is a small-statured companion robot, at about 30 centimeters high. Not content with the lack of an API, [MrDreamBot] decided to first experiment with creating an Arduino library to run Max’s hardware. With this completed, work then began on integrating a Hicat Livera devboard into the hardware. This is an embedded Linux system with Arduino compatibility, as well as the ability to stream video and connect over WiFi. Thus far, it’s possible to control Max through a browser, while viewing a live video feed from the ‘bot. It’s also possible to customize the expressions displayed on Max’s face.

Oftentimes, it pays to replace stock hardware rather than try and work with the limitations of the original setup, and this project is no exception. With that said, we’re still hoping someone out there will find a way to get Jibo back online. Look after your robot friends! Video after the break.

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RGB Lamp With Micro:Bit Powered Gesture Control

The Micro:bit is a very neat piece of hardware that, frankly, we don’t see enough of. Which made us all the more interested when [Manoj Nathwani] wrote in to tell us about the gorgeous 3D printed RGB LED lamp he created that uses the BBC-endorsed microcontroller to perform basic gesture detection. Purists will likely point out that an Arduino Pro Mini is tagging along to handle interfacing with the LEDs, but it’s still a good example of how quick you can get a project up and running with MicroPython on the Micro:bit.

[Manoj] used eight NeoPixel Sticks, a NeoPixel Ring, and a few scraps of perfboard to construct a three dimensional “bulb” to fill the void inside the printed diffuser. They’re chained together so all the elements appear as a single addressable strip, which made the rest of the project a bit easier to implement. It might not be pretty, but it gets the job done and it’s not like you’ll ever see it again once installed in the lamp anyway.

The Micro:bit and Arduino co-pilot live in the base of the lamp, and the single USB cable to provide power (and the ability to update the device’s firmware) is run out the bottom to give the whole thing a clean and professional look. For those wondering why the Arduino has tagged along, [Manoj] says he couldn’t get the NeoPixel libraries to play nicely with the Micro:bit so he’s using the Arduino essentially as a mediator.

Right now the only gesture that’s detected on the Micro:bit is a simple shake, which tells the Arduino to toggle the light show on and off. But in the future, [Manoj] plans to implement more complex gestures which will trigger different animations. As he explains in the blog post, gesture recognition with the Micro:bit is incredibly simple, so it should be easy to come up with a bunch of unique ways to interface with the lamp.

Color changing LED lamps are a favorite project of hackers, and we’ve seen examples built with everything from glass and copper to laser-cut pieces of wood and veneer. While you might prefer to skip the gesture control for an ESP8266 and UDP, we think this project is another strong entry into this popular genre.

Fitness Tracker Hacked Into Optical Density Meter

What do fitness trackers have to do with bacterial cultures in the lab? Absolutely nothing, unless and until someone turns a fitness band into a general-purpose optical densitometer for the lab.

This is one of those stories that shows that you never know from where inspiration is going to come. [Chinna Devarapu] learned that as a result of playing around with cheap fitness bands, specifically an ID107HR. A community has built up around hacking these bands; we featured a similar band that was turned into an EEG. With some help, [Chinna] was able to reflash the microcontroller and program it in the Arduino IDE, and began looking for a mission for the sensor-laden platform.

He settled on building a continuous optical densitometer for his biology colleagues. Bacterial cultures become increasingly turbid as the grow, and measuring the optical density (OD) of a culture is a common way to monitor its growth phase. This is usually done by sucking up a bit of the culture to measure, but [Chinna] and his team were able to use the hacked fitness band’s heartrate sensor to measure the OD on the fly. The tracker fits in a 3D-printed holder where an LED can shine through the growing culture; the sensor’s photodiode measures the amount of light getting through and the raw data is available via the tracker’s Bluetooth. The whole thing can be built for less than $20, and the plans have been completely open-sourced.

We really like the idea of turning these fitness bands into something completely different. With the capabilities these things pack into such a cheap and compact package, they should start turning up in more and more projects.

A Stylish Home For Your Next ESP Project

The ESP8266 and ESP32 are fast becoming the microcontroller of choice for, well, everything. But one particular area we’ve seen a lot of activity in recently is home automation; these boards make it so incredibly easy and cheap to get your projects online that putting together your own automation system is far more appealing now than it’s ever been. Capitalizing on that trend, [hwhardsoft] has been working on a ESP enclosure that’s perfect for mounting on the living room wall.

Of course, there’s more to this project than an admittedly very nice plastic box. The system also includes a ILI9341 2.4 inch touch screen LCD, an integrated voltage regulator, and even a section of “perfboard” that gives you a spot to easily wire up ad-hoc circuits and sensors. You don’t even need to switch over to the bare modules either, as the PCB is designed to accommodate common development boards such as the Wemos D1 Mini and NodeMCU.

Despite its outward appearance, this project is very much beginner friendly. Utilizing through hole components, screw down terminals, and a impeccably well-labeled silkscreen, you won’t need to be a hardware expert to produce a very slick gadget the whole family can appreciate.

Much like the HestiaPi project we covered a few months back, this project takes a cheap and readily available development board and turns it into something that has all the trappings of a commercial offering. These projects are reminders that the line between built and bought is only getting blurrier as time goes on.

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Hackaday Podcast 036: Camera Rig Makes CNC Jealous, Become Your Own Time Transmitter, Pi HiFi With 80s Vibe, DJ Xiaomi

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys work their way through a fantastic week of hacks. From a rideable tank tread to spoofing radio time servers and from tune-playing vacuum cleaners to an epic camera motion control system, there’s a lot to get caught up on. Plus, Elliot describes frequency counting while Mike’s head spins, and we geek out on satellite optics, transistor-based Pong, and Jonathan Bennett’s weekly security articles.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

Direct download (54 MB)

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Homemade Wall Stops Roomba And Other Vacuum Tricks

If you have a Roomba, you know they are handy. However, they do have a habit of getting into places you’d rather they avoid. You can get virtual walls which are just little IR beacons, but it is certainly possible to roll your own. That’s what [MKme] did and it was surprisingly simple, although it could be the springboard to something more complicated. You can see a video about the build below.

As Arduino projects go, this could hardly be more simple. An IR LED, a resistor and a handfull of code that calls into an IR remote library. If that’s all you wanted, the Arduino is a bit overkill, although it is certainly easy enough and cheap.

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