Machine Vision Keeps Track Of Grubby Hands

Can you remember everything you’ve touched in a given day? If you’re being honest, the answer is, “Probably not.” We humans are a tactile species, with an outsized proportion of both our motor and sensory nerves sent directly to our hands. We interact with the world through our hands, and unfortunately that may mean inadvertently spreading disease.

[Nick Bild] has a potential solution: a machine-vision system called Deep Clean, which monitors a scene and records anything in it that has been touched. [Nick]’s system uses Jetson Xavier and a stereo camera to detect depth in a scene; he built his camera from a pair of Raspberry Pi cams and a Pi 3B+, but other depth cameras like a Kinect could probably do the job. The idea is to watch the scene for human hands — OpenPose is the tool he chose for that job — and correlate their depth in the scene with the depth of objects. Touch a doorknob or a light switch, and a marker is left on the scene. The idea would be that a cleaning crew would be able to look at the scene to determine which areas need extra attention. We can think of plenty of applications that extend beyond the current crisis, as the ability to map areas that have been touched seems to be generally useful.

[Nick] has been getting some mileage out of that Xavier lately — he’s used it to build an AI umpire and shades that help you find lost stuff. Who knows what else he’ll find to do with them during this time of confinement?

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Learn PDP-11 Assembly For Fun But Probably No Profit

Learning a new skill is fun, especially one that could land you a new job. We don’t think you’ll find too much demand for PDP-11 assembly language programmers, but if it still interests you, check out [ChibiAkumas’s] video that starts a series on that subject for “absolute beginners.”

The PDP-11 is a venerable computer, but you can still find simulators ranging from SIMH to browser-based virtual devices with front panels. If you want real hardware, there is a PDP-11 on a chip that is still around (or you can score the real chips, sometimes) and there are some nice hardware simulations, too.

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PCB Mill Turns Out Stylish Necklace

When needing a custom PCB, most of us will whip up design files and send them off to a board house. Prices are low and turnaround times are bearable, with quality that’s difficult to replicate at home. The old methods still have some value however, as [Bantam Tools] demonstrate with this attractive glowing hummingbird necklace.

The back side of the pendant neatly hides a button cell battery and a small SMD switch.

The necklace is made of copper-clad board, the type typically used by those who would etch their own PCBs at home. In this case, the board is placed on a [Bantam Tools] mill, which removes copper strategically and cuts out the final shape. This creates a series of traces on the back for a battery, LEDs and a small swtich, while creating areas on the other side of the board for light to shine through.

With a battery installed, the LEDs on the back side of the necklace glow through the fiberglass for a beautiful effect. With a PCB mill and a reflow oven, it’s remarkably easy to make, too. Of course, if you like your parts density a little higher, these FPGA earrings might be more your speed!

Simon Says, But With Servos

How much easier would life be if you could just grab hold of whatever mechanism you wanted to manipulate, move it like you want, and then have it imitate your movements exactly? What if you could give a servo MIDI-like commands that tell it to move to a certain location for a specific duration? Wonder no more, because [peterbiglab] has big-brained the idea into fruition.

With just one wire, an Arduino, and some really neat code, [peter] can get this servo to do whatever he wants. First he tells the Arduino the desired duration in frames per second. Then he grabs the horn and moves it around however he wants — it can even handle different speeds. The servo records and then mimics the movements just as they were made.

The whole operation is way simpler than you might think. As [peterbiglab] demonstrates in the video after the break, the servo knows its position thanks to an internal potentiometer on the motor’s rotor. If you locate the pot output pin on the control board and run a wire from there into an Arduino, you can use that information to calibrate and control the servo’s position pretty easily. There are a ton of possibilities for this kind of control. What would you do with it? Let us know in the comments.

If you want to try this with a bunch of servos at once, might as well build yourself a little testing console.

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BINA-VIEW: A Fascinating Mechanical Interference Display

[Fran Blanche] tears down this fascinating display in a video teardown, embedded below.

These displays can support up to 64 characters of the buyer’s choosing which is controlled by 6 bits, surprisingly only requiring 128 mW per bit to control; pretty power-light for its day and age. Aside from alphanumeric combinations the display also supported “color plates” which we found quite fascinating. The fully decked model would only cost you $1,206 US dollars per unit in today’s money or five rolls of toilet paper at latest street price. And that’s just one digit.

If you dig through the documents linked here, and watch her video you can get an idea of how this display works. There are six solenoids attached to rods at the rear of the device. A lamp shines through a lens onto the back of a plate assembly. Each plate is a strategically perforated grid. When the solenoids activate the selected plates tilt interfering with a stationary grid. This causes the light to be blocked in some regions only.

It seems clear why this never took off. Aligning these seems like a production nightmare compared to things like flip displays and Nixie tubes. Still, the characters have quite a lot of charm to them. We wouldn’t mind seeing a 3D printable/laser cut version of this display type. Get working!

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Linux Fu: Tracing System Calls

One of the nice things about Linux and similar operating systems is that you can investigate something to any level you wish. If a program has a problem you can decompile it, debug it, trace it, and — if necessary — even dig into the source code for the kernel and most of the libraries the program is probably using. However, the tools to do this aren’t ones you use every day. One very interesting tool is strace. Using it you can see what system calls any program makes and that can sometimes give you important clues about how the program works or, probably more often, why it doesn’t work.

Let’s consider the least complex use of the command. Suppose you want to make symlink from testxmit.grc to the /tmp directory. That command is simple:

ln -sf testxmit.grc /tmp

But if you tell strace to run it, the command becomes:

strace ln -sf testxmit.grc /tmp

You might want to redirect the output to a file using the shell or the -o option, though. Some commands generate a lot and often the first page or two of output isn’t really what you care about anyway. Continue reading “Linux Fu: Tracing System Calls”

Nixie Clock Turns Boombox

With all the Nixie Clock projects out there, it is truly difficult to come up with something new and unique. Nevertheless, [TheJBW] managed to do so with his Ultimate Nixie Internet Alarm Clock (UNIAC) which definitely does not skimp on cool features.

Although the device does tell time, it is actually a portable boombox that streams music from Spotify using a Raspberry Pi Zero running Mopidy. The housing made from smoked acrylic, together with the IN-12A Nixie Tubes, an IN-13 VU meter, and illuminated pushbuttons give this boombox kind of a 70s/90s mashup retro look. The acrylic housing is special since it consists of only two plates which were bent into shape, resulting in smooth edges in contrast to the often used finger or T-slot design.

For his project [TheJBW] designed a general-purpose Nixie display that can not only show time and date but also the elapsed or remaining track time. He also came up with a Python generated artificial voice that reads you the current playlist. The only problem [TheJBW] has run into was when trying to design a suitable battery system for the device, as the high current draw during start-up can easily cause brownouts. Due to time constraints, he ended up with a MacGyver-style solution by taping a 12 V battery pack from Amazon to the back of the unit.

Among the large variety of Nixie projects we don’t think we have ever seen them in an audio player before except for some attempts of using them as an amplifier. However, it is known that IN-13 tubes make a great VU meter.

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