Did Grandma Remember Her Pills? This Dispenser Tells You!

Everything has to be smart these days, and while smartening things up is a good incentive to tip your own toes into the whole IoT field, many of these undertakings are oftentimes just solutions looking for a problem. Best case, however, you actually make someone’s life easier with it, or help a person in need. For [Guli Morad] and [Dekel Binyamin], it was a bit of both when they built their automated pill dispenser: help people dependent on taking medication, and ease the mind of those worrying whether they actually remembered to.

Using an ESP8266 and a rather simple construct comprised of a set of servos with plastic sheets attached, and a plastic tube with strategically placed cuts for each pill type, a predefined amount of each of the pills can be automatically dispensed into a box — either at a given time, or on demand — using a Node-RED web interface. A reed switch mounted on the box then monitors if it was actually opened within a set time, and if not, informs emergency contacts about it through the Telegram app. Sure, a tenacious medication recipient might easily fool the system, but not even adding a precision scale to make sure the pills are actually taken out could counter a pill-reluctant patient of such kind, so it’s safe to assume that this is primarily about preventing simple forgetfulness.

Their proof of concept is currently limited to only two different types of pills, but with enough PWM outputs to control the servos, this should be easily scalable to any amount. And while the built may not be as sophisticated as some pill dispensers we’ve seen entering the Hackaday Prize a few years back, it still gets its main task done. Plus, when it comes to people’s health, a good-enough solution is always better than a perfect idea that remains unimplemented.

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Ultra-Cheap Microcontroller Powers Addressable 7-segment Display

Since their being revealed to our community over a year ago, the various ultra-cheap microcontrollers in the sub-ten-cent price range have attracted a lot of interest but not so many projects. Their slightly annoying programming and PIC12-derived architectures present a barrier not mitigated by their price, when picking up an Atmel or other processor represents a much easier choice. That’s not to say that they aren’t slowly making an appearance though, and a cracking example comes from [Tim], who’s used a Padauk microcontroller to make an addressable 7-segment display. If you’re used to addressable multi-colour LEDs, this extends the idea into the world of numerical information.

The result is a PCB little bigger than the 7-segment display it serves, with interlocking 0.1″ pin connectors allowing daisy-chaining of modules. The extreme low cost of the parts makes it an attractive solution. Software wise it’s driven in a similar manner to addressable LEDs, and he goes into significant detail on its protocol. The firmware can be found in a GitHub repository. He directs readers to the Easy PDK programmer and the Small Device C compiler, which should be of interest to anyone tempted by these processors.

PCB Jewelry Never Looked So Good

[Gautchh] wanted to make something nice for his girlfriend. Being the DIY enthusiast he is, he thought a hand-made gift would resonate with her better than something he could pick up from the store. Enter NeckLight, a glow in the dark PCB necklace. He was first inspired by another project he ran across on Instructables, then decided to put his own little spin on the design. It’s cool how that works. Interestingly enough, it was his first time using Fusion 360, but you probably wouldn’t know that if you took a look at the results.

Aside from soldering, the trickiest part of this project was trying to get the LED intensities just right. [Gautchh] found the best way to do this was experimentally by testing each LED color with a series of resistors. He wanted to ensure he could get the color intensity and the LED current just right. Finally, with a touch of acetone, he was done (though he might want to try some alternatives to acetone next time).

[Gautchh] also thinks that this project would be a really nice way for beginners to learn surface mount (SMD) soldering. We’ve seen a few cool SMD LED projects before. Who could forget those competitive soldering challenges over at DEF CON?

Anyway. Thanks, [Gautchh]. We hope your girlfriend, and your dog, enjoyed their gifts.

CNC Plasma Cutter Filter Gets The Slag Out

No matter what kind of tools and materials you use in your shop, chances are pretty good that some process is going to release something that you don’t want to breathe. Table saw? Better deal with that wood dust. 3D-printer? We’ve discussed fume control ad nauseam. Soldering? It’s best not to inhale those flux fumes. But perhaps nowhere is fume extraction more important than in the metal shop, where vaporized bits of metal can wreak respiratory havoc.

Reducing such risks was [Shane Wighton]’s rationale behind this no-clean plasma cutter filter. Rather than a water table to collect cutting dross, his CNC plasma cutter is fitted with a downdraft table to suck it away. The vivid display of sparks shooting out of the downdraft fans belied its ineffectiveness, though. [Shane]’s idea is based on the cyclonic principle common to woodshop dust collectors and stupidly expensive vacuum cleaners alike. Plastic pipe sections, split in half lengthwise and covered in aluminum tape to make them less likely to catch on fire from the hot sparks, are set vertically in the air path. The pipes are arranged in a series of nested “S” shapes, offering a tortuous path to the spark-laden air as it exits the downdraft.

The video below shows that most of the entrained solids slow down and drop to the bottom of the filter; some still pass through, but testing with adhesive sheets shows the metal particles in the exhaust are much reduced. We like the design, especially the fact that there’s nothing to clog or greatly restrict the airflow.

Looking for more on CNC plasma cutter builds? We’ve got you covered, from just the basics to next-level.

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All About That Bass – Marble Machine X Keeps Growing

We’re okay if you call out Not A Hack™ on this one, because “hack” really doesn’t do justice to the creations of [Martin] from [Wintergatan]. You’re probably familiar with the Marble Machine that went viral a few years ago, and while it was impressive as-is back then, and most people would have declared the project finished at that point, it has turned into a seemingly never-ending work-in-progress project that has certainly come a long way ever since. Its latest addition: the Cyber Capos as upgrade for the bass, and you can find out all about it in its build video — also embedded below.

If you play a string instrument and ever used a capo — the clamping little helper device to smack the pitch up — you may have found yourself wishing that you could use it on any arbitrary fret on each string. Sure, there are partial capos and the spider capo to select individual strings, but you’re still limited to transpose along a single fret. Well, [Martin]’s Cyber Capos, a mechanical construct of four arms sliding along the neck, serve exactly that purpose, which allows him to free up his hands for other things while the marbles keep bouncing.

But you don’t have to be a bass player, or any musician really, to appreciate [Martin]’s build videos. We praised his general attitude and hacker-like spirit already the first time we mentioned the Marble Machine, and just watching him getting excited about his work and the appreciation for people supporting and assisting in the project, while embracing his mistakes, is a genuine delight.

Needless to say that [Martin] likes some uniqueness in music instruments, and the bass with its separate volume control and output for each string qualifies on its own for that. If you’re curious about more on that, there’s another video about it embedded after the break. And for the really impatient ones, you can see the capos in action in the first video around the 12:35 mark.

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Is It A Toy? A Prototype? It’s A Hack!

Some of the coolest hacks do a lot with a little. I was just re-watching a video from [Homo Faciens], who after building a surprisingly capable CNC machine out of junk-bin parts and a ton of ingenuity, was accidentally challenged by Hackaday’s own [Dan Maloney] to take it a step further. [Dan] was only joking when he asked “Can anyone build a CNC machine out of cardboard and paperclips?”, but then [Homo Faciens] replied: cardboard and paperclip CNC plotter. Bam!

My favorite part of the cardboard project is not just the clever “encoder wheel” made of a bolt dipped in epoxy, with enough scraped off that it contacts a paperclip once per rotation. Nor was it the fairly sophisticated adjustable slides and ways that he built to mimic the functionality of the real deal. Nope.

My favorite part of this project is [Norbert] explaining that the machine has backlash here, and it’s got play there, due to frame flex. It is a positive feature of the machine. The same flaws that a full-metal machine would have are all present here, but due to the cheesy construction materials, you can see them with the naked eye instead of requiring a dial indicator. Because it wiggles visible tenths of an inch where a professional mill would wiggle invisible thousandths, that helps you build up intuition for the system.

This device isn’t a “prototype” because there’s no way [Norbert] intends it for serious use. But it surely isn’t just a “toy” either. “Instructional model” makes it sound like a teaching aid, created by a know-it-all master, intended to be consumed by students. If anything, there’s a real sense of exploration, improvisation, and straight-up hacking in this project. I’m sure [Norbert] learned as much from the challenge as we did from watching him tackle it. And it also captures the essence of hacking: doing something unexpected with tech.

Surprise us!

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A Pulse Oximeter From Very Little

Against the backdrop of a global respiratory virus pandemic, it’s likely that more than a few readers have been thinking about pulse oximeters. You may even have looked at one closely and seen that it’s little more than a device which shines light through your finger, and wondered how they work. It’s something [Giulio Pons] has done, and to show us how it’s done he’s created a working pulse oximeter of his own.

He started with an infra-red heartbeat sensor module, which is revealed as nothing more than an IR LED and a photodiode. Sampling the output from the photodiode allows measurement of heartbeat, but gives not clue as to oxygen saturation. The interesting part comes via the property of red light in that it’s transmission through flesh varies with oxygen saturation, so adding a red LED and alternately measuring from the IR and red illuminations allows a saturation figure to be derived.

Commercial pulse oximeters are pretty cheap, so many of us will no doubt simply order one from the usual sources and call it good. But it’s always interesting to know how any device works, and this project reveals something simpler than we might have expected. If pulse oximeters interest you, compare it with this one we featured a few years ago.