Tiny Laser Cutter Puts Micro Steppers To Work

The influx of cheap laser cutters from China has been a boon to the maker movement, if at the cost of a lot of tinkering to just get the thing to work. So some people just prefer to roll their own, figuring that starting from scratch means you get exactly what you want. And apparently what [Mike Rankin] wanted was a really, really small laser cutter.

The ESP32 Burninator, as [Mike] lovingly calls his creation, is small enough to be in danger of being misplaced accidentally. The stage relies on tiny stepper-actuated linear drives, available on the cheap from AliExpress. The entire mechanical structure is two PCBs — a vertical piece that holds the ESP32, an OLED display, the X-axis motor, and the driver for the laser, which comes from an old DVD burner; a smaller bottom board holds the Y-axis and the stage. “Stage” is actually a rather grand term for the postage-stamp-sized working area of this cutter, but the video below shows that it does indeed cut black paper.

The cuts are a bit wonky, but this is surely to be expected given the running gear, and we like it regardless. It sort of reminds us of that resin 3D-printer small enough to fit in a Christmas ornament that [Sean Hodgins] did a while back. We’d suggest not trying to hang this on a tree, though.

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Machine Learning Takes The Embarrassment Out Of Videoconference Wardrobe Malfunctions

Telecommuters: tired of the constant embarrassment of showing up to video conferences wearing nothing but your underwear? Save the humiliation and all those pesky trips down to HR with Safe Meeting, the new system that uses the power of artificial intelligence to turn off your camera if you forget that casual Friday isn’t supposed to be that casual.

The following infomercial is brought to you by [Nick Bild], who says the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek but we sense a certain degree of “necessity is the mother of invention” here. It’s true that the sudden throng of remote-work newbies certainly increases the chance of videoconference mishaps and the resulting mortification, so whatever the impetus, Safe Meeting seems like a great idea. It uses a Pi cam connected to a Jetson Nano to capture images of you during videoconferences, which are conducted over another camera. The stream is classified by a convolutional neural net (CNN) that determines whether it can see your underwear. If it can, it makes a REST API call to the conferencing app to turn off the camera. The video below shows it in action, and that it douses the camera quickly enough to spare your modesty.

We shudder to think about how [Nick] developed an underwear-specific training set, but we applaud him for doing so and coming up with a neat application for machine learning. He’s been doing some fun work in this space lately, from monitoring where surfaces have been touched to a 6502-based gesture recognition system.

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Fighter Jet’s Gyro Stays Upright Before It Self-Destructs

Aviation instruments are highly interesting pieces of engineering, and it is quite satisfying to watch the often over-engineered mechanisms behind them. If you are into that sort of thing it is worthwhile to check out [Erik Baigar]’s video where he explains the working principle of the attitude indicator from a Tornado jet.

The attitude indicator or artificial horizon of an airplane is one of the most important instruments, especially during poor sight. The ADI42-124 used in the Tornado jet is completely standalone and only needs a DC power supply which is why [Erik Baigar] can show it off while standing on his balcony. At the heart of this instrument is a gyroscope which consists of a spinning disc attached to a gimbal mount. Due to the conservation of angular momentum, the spin axis will always keep its orientation when the instrument is rotated. However, mechanical gyroscopes tend to drift over time and therefore include a mechanism to keep the spin axis upright with respect to the direction of gravity. The ADI42-124 uses an entirely mechanical mechanism for this based on free swiveling weights. Forget everything we said earlier about overengineering as [Erik Baigar] also uncovers a fatal design flaw which leads to the instrument’s self-destruction as shown in the picture here. Unfortunately, this will render most of the units you can buy on eBay useless.

Be sure to check out [Erik Baigar]’s webpage which is nerd paradise for vintage computer and avionics fans or watch another gyroscope teardown.

Video after the break.

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When A Bike Sharing Startup Goes Away, What Do You Do With The Bikes?

Part of the detritus of many cities over the last few years has been the ubiquitous bicycles and scooters of the various companies that offer them for hourly hire via a smartphone app. They’re annoying when left randomly on pavements by their users, and they sometimes appear to outnumber riders many times over. In 2018 for many cities outside China they became a little less numerous, as the Chinese bike sharing service Ofo contracted its operations and pulled its distinctive yellow machines from the streets. A couple of years later those Ofo bikes that were sold off or simply abandoned by the company and never recovered are still with us. They can be used if their lock is dismantled, but to do that is to ignore the potential of the lock. [Aladds] has written a firmware for Ofo locks that allows them to be unlocked by a code entered upon its buttons.

Onboard the lock are an nRF51822, 4G radio, and of course the lock mechanism itself. The battery is likely to be flat by now, and though he doesn’t tell us what it is it’s worth our pointing out that similar designs sometimes use hazardous LiSOCl2 chemistry which any hacker should be very cautious with. He gives us full instructions for finding the programming connections for the chip, which can either have its stock firmware downloaded for examination, or be wiped for insertion of the new version. To show the code in action there is also a short YouTube video that we’ve put below the break. Meanwhile we’ve peered inside an Ofo lock before, back in 2018.

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Hackaday Prize And UCPLA Are Driving Assistive Technology Forward

Take a second to imagine all the people in your life. Your family, friends, coworkers. Your buddies down at the hackerspace, and anyone you chat with on IO and over the airwaves. Statistically speaking, one in four of these people has a disability of some kind, and needs help doing everyday things that you might not think twice about — simple things like opening doors or interacting with computers. Or maybe that one in four is you.

For the past 75 years, United Cerebral Palsy of LA (UCPLA) have been helping people with various developmental and intellectual disabilities to live independently with dignity. They work directly with members of the disabled community to develop assistive technology that is both affordable and dependable. UCPLA helps the disabled community with everything from employment to providing a creative outlet, and gives them the tools to do these things and more. Their mission is to help people be as independent as possible so they can feel good about themselves and enjoy a life without limits.

The people behind this non-profit are all about inclusion, access, and opportunity, and this is why we are proud to partner with UCPLA for the 2020 Hackaday Prize. With the world in upheaval, there is no better time to build a better future for everyone. You never know when you might need assistive technology. In addition to the open challenge that calls for everyone to work on a design, this year there is also a Dream Team challenge which offers a $3,000 per month stipend over the next two months to work on a team addressing one specific challenge. Apply for that asap!

What kind of challenges has UCPLA outlined for the Hackaday Prize? Let’s dive in and find out, and we’ll also hear from the UCPLA team in a Q&A video at the end of the article.

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Surviving The Pandemic As A Hacker: Peering Behind The Mask

We’re now several months into the global response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with most parts of the world falling somewhere on the lockdown/social distancing/opening up path.

It’s fair to say now that while the medical emergency has not passed, the level of knowledge about it has changed significantly. When communities were fighting to slow the initial spead, the focus was on solving the problem of medical protection gear and other equipment shortages at all costs with some interesting yet possibly hazardous solutions. Now the focus has moved towards protecting the general public when they do need to venture out, and as society learns to get life moving again with safety measures in place.

So, we all need masks of some sort. What type to do you need? Is one type better than another? And how do we all get them when everyone suddenly needs what was once a somewhat niche item?

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Arduino Car HUD Does The Job

Many cars these days come with a basic Heads Up Display, or HUD. Typically, these display speed, though some also throw in a tachometer or navigational graphics too. Of course, if your car doesn’t have one of these stock, hacking in your own is always an option.

[PowerBroker2] developed this HUD in a somewhat circuitous way, but it’s effective nonetheless. An ELM327 Bluetooth OBD-II reader is hooked up to the car, collecting data on speed and RPM. This data is passed to an ESP-32 and Teensy 3.5. From reading the code, it appears the Teensy is responsible for logging data from the CAN bus on an SD card, and running a small OLED display. The ESP32 is then charged with running the LED display that actually forms the HUD. It’s then combined with a 3D-printed housing, some plexiglass, and reflective windshield film to complete the effect.

It’s a build that probably packs in more hardware than is strictly needed to get the job done, but it does indeed get the job done. Other builds we’ve seen use LED strips as a quick and tidy way to get the job done. Video after the break. Continue reading “Arduino Car HUD Does The Job”