Dad Makes Xbox And Nintendo Work Together To Bridge The Accessibility Gap

In the last few years, console and controller manufacturers have been making great strides in accessibility engineering in order to improve the inclusiveness of people with different motor disabilities into the gaming world. One such example is the Xbox Adaptive Controller, which [Rory Steel] has used to build his daughter a fully customized controller to allow her to play Breath of the Wild on the Nintendo Switch.

His build plan is outlined in just a few Twitter videos, and sadly we don’t have a detailed walkthrough on how to build our own just yet, though he mentions plans on making such guide in the future. In the mean time, it’s not too hard to speculate on some specifics. The Adaptive Controller can use USB-C for communication, as the Switch also does with its Pro controller in wired mode. Interfacing the two is as simple as using an adapter to bridge the gap between the two vendors.

The joysticks are each wired into generic gamepads which act as the left and right sticks, each one being a separate USB input into the Adaptive Controller, while each one of the button inputs is broken out to 3.5mm jacks on its back, making them dead simple to wire to the sixteen arcade buttons surrounding the sticks. The layout might look unconventional to us, and [Rory] mentions this is simply a prototype that will be improved upon in the future after real-world testing. The size of his daughter’s smile tells us this is already a success in her eyes.

This is not the first time we’ve seen a build with the Xbox Adaptive Controller, and it’s nice to see just how well it enables parents to build their kids controllers they can use more easily, seeing as how before its introduction these kinds of controllers usually required the expertise for tearing expensive official controllers apart in ways the manufacturers never expected. We can only hope that going forward, this sort of accessibility becomes more the norm and less the exception.

[via Kotaku, thanks Itay for the tip!]

[Eric] Talks Crystal Radios

The AM broadcast band doesn’t have a lot of mainstream programming on it across much of the United States today. That’s a shame because a lot of kids got their first taste of radio and electronics by building simple crystal radios. [Eric Wrobbel] has a well-done page discussing some of the crystal radio kits and toys that have been around.

[Eric] should know, as he’s written two books on toy crystal radios. The pictures range from a 1945-era “Easy Built Radio Kit” which looks like a piece of masonite with a coil, some Fahnestock clips, and a cat whisker, to a very slick looking Tinymite from 1949. Honestly, though, the one we really want is the X-50 Space Helmet Radio that comes in a box marked “For Young Moon Travelers.”

Continue reading “[Eric] Talks Crystal Radios”

ESP32-Cam Does Time Lapse

Just a few years ago, had someone asked you how much a digital camera with WiFi would cost, you probably wouldn’t have said $6. But that’s about how much [Bitluni] paid for an ESP32-CAM. He wanted to try making the little camera do time lapse, and it turns out that’s pretty easy to do.

Of course, the devil is in the details. The camera starts out needing configuration on the USB interface and that enables the set up of Arduino integration and WiFi configuration. Because it stores each frame of the image on an SD card, the board can’t take rapid-fire pictures. [Bitluni] reports a 3-second delay was about the shortest he could manage, but for most purposes, he was using at least ten seconds.

The program has a live preview window to help you set up the shot, but before your recordings start that should be turned off so as not to overload the little processor and the I/O buses. The result is a bunch of JPG images that you can easily convert to a video on a PC if you wish.

This might be a good way to fit a camera on a 3D printer, especially if the time lapse effect was desired. Otherwise, you might sync to a layer change. Now all [bitluni] needs is an orbital rig.

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Flicker Detector Lets You Hear What You Can’t See

Have you ever looked at modern LED lighting and noticed, perhaps on the very edge of your perception, that they seemed to be flickering? Well, that’s because they probably are. As are the LEDs in your computer monitor, or your phone’s screen. Pulse width modulation (PWM) is used extensively with LEDs to provide brightness control, and if it’s not done well, it can lead to headaches and eyestrain.

Looking to quantify just how much flashing light we’re being exposed to, [Faransky] has created a simple little gadget that essentially converts flashing light into an audio tone the human ear can pick up. Those LEDs might be blinking on and off fast enough to fool our eyes, but your ears can hear frequencies much higher than those used in common PWM solutions. In the video after the break, you can see what various LED light sources sound like when using the device.

The electronics here are exceptionally simple. Just connect a small solar panel to an audio amplifier, in this case the PAM8403, and listen to the output. To make it a bit more convenient to use, there’s an internal battery, charger circuit and USB-C port; but you could just as easily run the thing off of a 9 V alkaline if you wanted to build one from what’s already in the parts bin.

Who knows? If you carry this thing around long enough, you might even hear the far less common binary code modulation in action (but probably not).

Continue reading “Flicker Detector Lets You Hear What You Can’t See”

Factory Laptop With IME Disabled

Unfortunately not all consumers place high value on the security of their computers, but one group that tends to focus on security are businesses with a dedicated IT group. When buying computers for users, these groups tend to have higher demands, like making sure the Intel Management Engine (IME) has been disabled. To that end, Reddit user [netsec_burn] has outlined a pretty simple method to where “normal people” can purchase one of these IME-disabled devices for themselves.

For those unfamiliar with the IME, it is a coprocessor on all Intel devices since around 2007 that allows access to the memory, hard drive, and network stack even when the computer is powered down. Intel claims it’s a feature, not a bug, but it’s also a source of secret, unaudited code that’s understandably a desirable target for any malicious user trying to gain access to a computer. The method that [netsec_burn] outlined for getting a computer with the IME disabled from the factory is as simple as buying a specific Dell laptop, intended for enterprise users, and selecting the option to disable the IME.

Of course Dell warns you that you may lose some system functionality if you purchase a computer with the IME disabled, but it seems that this won’t really effect users who aren’t involved in system administration. Also note that this doesn’t remove the management engine from the computer. For that, you’ll need one of only a handful of computers made before Intel made complete removal of the IME impossible. In the meantime, it’s good to see that at least one company has a computer available that allows for it to be disabled from the factory.

RF Modulation: Crash Course For Hackers

When you’re looking to add some wireless functionality to a project, there are no shortage of options. You really don’t need to know much of the technical details to make use of the more well-documented modules, especially if you just need to get something working quickly. On the other hand, maybe you’ve gotten to the point where you want to know how these things actually work, or maybe you’re curious about that cheap RF module on AliExpress. Especially in the frequency bands below 1 GHz, you might find yourself interfacing with a module at really low level, where you might be tuning modulation parameters. The following overview should give you enough of an understanding about the basics of RF modulation to select the appropriate hardware for your next project.

Three of the most common digital modulation schemes you’ll see in specifications are Frequency Shift Keying (FSK), Amplitude Shift Keying (ASK), and LoRa (Long Range). To wrap my mechanically inclined brain around some concepts, I found that thinking of RF modulation in terms of pitches produced by a musical instrument made it more intuitive.

And lots of pretty graphs don’t hurt either. Signals from two different RF dev boards were captured and turned into waterfall and FFT plots using a $20 RTL-SDR dongle. Although not needed for wireless experimentation, the RTL-SDR is an extremely handy debugging tool, even to just check if a module is actually transmitting. Continue reading “RF Modulation: Crash Course For Hackers”

Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, January 29 at noon Pacific for the Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat with Tarek Loubani!

In most of the developed world, when people go to see a doctor, they’re used to seeing the latest instruments and devices used. Most exam rooms have fancy blood pressure cuffs, trays of shiny stainless steel instruments, and a comfortable exam table covered by a fresh piece of crisp, white paper. Exams and procedures are conducted in clean, quiet places, with results recorded on a dedicated PC or tablet.

Such genteel medical experiences are far from universal, though. Many clinics around the world are located in whatever building is available, if they’re indoors at all. Supplies may be in chronically short supply, and to the extent that the practitioners have the instruments they need to care for patients, they’ll likely be older, lower-quality versions.

Tarek Loubani is well-versed in the practice of medicine under conditions like these, as well as far worse situations. As an emergency physician and researcher in Canada, he’s accustomed to well-appointed facilities and ample supplies. But he’s also involved in humanitarian relief, taking his medical skills and limited supplies to places like Gaza. He has seen first-hand how lack of the correct tools can lead to poor outcomes for patients, and chose to fight back by designing a range of medical devices and instruments that can be 3D-printed. His Glia Project┬áhas free plans for a high-quality stethoscope that can be built for a couple of dollars, otoscopes and pulse oximeters, and a range of surgical tooling to make the practice of medicine under austere conditions a little easier. Continue reading “Open-Source Medical Devices Hack Chat”