Something To Look Forward To: MCH2021 Call For Participation

As we stare dejectedly at our screens and consider what might have been during the 2020 summer that didn’t quite happen, here’s a little something to look forward to in a future where the COVID-19 pandemic will with any luck be much less of a threat. We have have had precious little in the way of events in 2020, but the call for participation has been announced for one of the largest planned for 2021. MCH2021 will be big European summer camp of next year, and is scheduled for the 6th to the 10th of August at Scoutinglandgoed Zeewolde in the Netherlands province of Flevoland. It will be the latest in a long line of such events going back to 1989, and with such a track record we know it’s going to be a good one.

We know that among our community are many people who’ll be interested in going to MCH, and that each and every one of you will have some fascinating insights that others would love to hear about. The challenge of the MCH orga is to bestow upon you the courage to stand up in front of your peers and talk about it, and from our experience here at Hackaday we’d say that an event such as this one makes for a very good place to give speaking a try. As always they’re interested in all the cool stuff that comes from our diverse community, but to help you along they’ve suggested a theme. Recent events have it’s fair to say presented a challenge to the world, and in that light they state that “we are especially looking for content that is about our ability to recover from extreme events of whatever nature”. We look forward to seeing you there.

Sudden Death Rainbow Sorting Game Reveals Your True Colors

When [marzsman]’s eight-year-old daughter thought up a game they could play together involving rainbows, he was all ears. She is a certified rainbow expert, after all. They had a few R&D sessions and came up with a rainbow sorting speed trial game that looks fun to play and fairly easy to build.

Press that blue button on the side, and the RGB LEDs along the top are put in randomized order. The object of this game is simple — just sort the rainbow before the other player by pressing each LED’s corresponding arcade button. Whoever sorts faster is rewarded with a rainbow animation behind their set of way-cool clear buttons.

Inside the laser-cut box is an Espruino, which is a handy little microcontroller that speaks JavaScript. All of the arcade buttons are wired up as a key matrix. The astute among you have noticed there is six of everything, and that’s because indigo light is too hard to distinguish from blue. Check out the intense gameplay after the break.

If [marzsman]’s daughter wants to learn computer science, rainbows are good for that, too.

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Hackaday Links: August 30, 2020

Tech history is rife with examples of bizarre product demos, but we’ve got to think that Elon Musk’s Neuralink demo this week will have to rank up there with the weirdest of them. Elon’s job here was to sell the proposition that having a quarter-sized plug removed from your skull by a surgical robot and having it plunge 1,024 tiny wires into your gray matter will be totally normal and something that all the cool kids will be doing someday. We watched the 14-minute supercut of the demo, which went on for considerably longer than that due to the realities of pig wrangling, and we remain unsold on the technology. Elon selling it as “a Fitbit in your skull, with tiny wires” probably didn’t help, nor did the somewhat terrifying appearance of the surgical robot needed to do the job. On the other hand, Gertrude the Bionic Pig seemed none the worse for her implant, which was reportedly wired to her snout and sending data wirelessly. The demonstration of reading joint positions directly from the brain was honestly pretty neat. If you want to dive deeper into Neuralink, check out Maya’s great article that separates fact from science fiction.

Jerry Carr, NASA astronaut and commander of the third and final crewed Skylab mission, passed away this week at the age of 88. Carr’s Skylab 4 mission was record-breaking in 1974, with the three astronauts living and working in the orbiting workshop for 84 days. The mission contributed a vast amount of information on space medicine and the human factors of long-duration spaceflight. Carr retired from NASA in 1977 and had a long career as an engineer and entrepreneur. It’s sad to lose yet another of the dwindling number of heroes remaining from NASA’s manned-flight heyday.

Speaking of spaceflight, the closest most of us DIYers can get to space is likely courtesy of a helium-filled balloon. If you’ve ever considered sending something — or someone — aloft, you’ll find this helium balloon calculator an invaluable tool. Just plug in the weight of your payload, select from a few common balloon sizes, and the calculator will tell you how many you need and how much gas it will take to fill them. It’s got a second section that tells you how many more balloons it’ll take to get to a certain altitude, should merely getting off the ground not be enough for you.

If 2020 has proven anything, it’s that time is, at best, a negotiable concept. Improbably, September is only a day away, after an August that somehow took forever to go by in the blink of an eye. With that in mind,  October is OSHWA’s Open Hardware Month, with this year’s theme being “Label and Certify”. We’re a little bit in love with the Open Hardware Facts generator, which takes your open-source hardware, software, and documentation license and generates a USDA “Nutrition Facts”-style label for your product. They’ve also added tools to make it easier to get OSHWA certification for your project.

And finally, what would it be like to pilot a giant exoskeleton? Like, a 9,000 pound (4,100 kg), quadrupedal all-terrain beast of a mech? Turns out you can (theoretically) find out for yourself courtesy of Furrion Exo-Bionics and their monster mech, dubbed Prosthesis. The machine has been in development for a long time, with the vision of turning mech racing into the next big thing in sports entertainment. Their Alpha Mech Pilot Training Program will allow mere mortals to learn how to pilot Prosthesis at the company’s proving ground in British Columbia. Details are sparse, so caveat emptor, but it sure looks like fun.

Solar Satellite Glows At Night

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If we were going to imitate one of master circuit sculptor Mohite Bhoite’s creations, we’d probably pick the little blinky solar satellite as a jumping off point just like [richardsappia] did. It’s cute, it’s functional, and it involves solar power and supercapacitors. What more could you want?

SATtiny is a pummer, which is BEAM robotics speak for a bot that soaks up the sun all day and blinks (or ‘pumms’, we suppose) for as long as it can throughout the night on the juice it collected. This one uses four mini solar panels to charge up a 4 F supercapacitor.

At the controls is an ATtiny25V, which checks every eight seconds to see if the supercapacitor is charging or not as long as there is enough light. Once night has fallen, the two red LEDs will pumm like a pair of chums until the power runs out. Check out the brief demo after the break.

Would you rather have something more nightstand-friendly? Here’s a mini night light sculpture with a friendly glow. If you haven’t started your entry into our Circuit Sculpture Challenge, there’s still plenty of time — the contest runs until November 10th.

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A PIN Pad Blasting UV Sanitizer

Retailers have instituted enhanced cleaning procedures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, with an aim to keep frequently touched surfaces as clean as possible. Certainly one of the most commonly handled objects in the entire store is the payment terminal by the register, and the PIN pad specifically. Which is why [Josh Starnes] is working on a UV sterilizer that mounts onto a standard credit card terminal.

It’s a simple enough idea, but as is often the case, figuring out how to properly execute it is where things get tricky. [Josh] has already moved through several design iterations for his 3D printed enclosure in an attempt to make something that’s unobtrusive enough to be practical. The goal is to make something that the user won’t mistake for some kind of skimming device, which can certainly be tricky.

The skeptics in the audience will be happy to hear that [Josh] isn’t bothering with an LED UV source, either. We’ve all seen the pitfalls of trying to sanitize using UV LEDs, so this design goes old school with a small 12 volt UV bulb. That does mean it will need a dedicated power source however, which it seems like he’ll be addressing in the next phase of the project.

 

OCR Reads Old Newspapers So We Don’t Have To

Plenty of people don’t bother to read the current newspaper, let alone editions that were published over 100 years ago. But there’s a wealth of important historical information buried in these dusty old publications, assuming you can find a way to reliably digitize and index it all. You might think the solution is as simple as running images of the paper through optical character recognition (OCR) software, but as [John Scancella] explains, the problem is a bit more complicated than that.

Stretching the text vertically highlights the columns.

Ultimately, the issue largely comes down to formatting. The OCR software reasonably assumes all the text is in orderly horizontal lines, because in the vast majority of cases, it would be. That’s how you’re reading these words now. But as anyone who’s seen an old time newspaper knows, that’s not how things were necessarily written back then. Pages consisted of multiple narrow columns of stories separated by vertical lines; if the OCR tries to read the page from left to right, the resulting text is a mishmash of several unrelated topics.

The answer is to break all those articles into their own images, but doing that manually at any sort of scale simply isn’t an option. So [John] has been working on a system that uses OpenCV to identify the columns of text and isolate them. He details the multi-step process down in his write-up, and even provides the Python code should you want to give it a spin. But the short version is that the image is converted to grayscale and the OpenCV dilate function is used to stretch the text in the Y dimension. This produces big blobs of white that can easily be picked out with findContours() and snipped into individual images.

It’s not a perfect solution, and there are still a few pitfalls. For one, the name of the paper needs to be removed from the front page before the stretching operation happens. But it’s clearly a step in the right direction, and the results certainly look very promising. Anything that makes OCR more accurate or easier to implement is a win in our book, so we’re excited to see where [John] takes this concept.

Olaf Lets An ESP32 Listen To The Music

The joys of overengineering a simple gift. [Joren] wanted to create a dress for his daughter’s fourth birthday that would react with lights in sequence for a song from Frozen. The dress and an LED strip, along with a digital microphone and a battery were easy to procure. But how to make it all work? An ESP32 did the trick.

While the project’s name–Olaf–sounds like it was from Frozen, according to the GitHub page it actually means Overly Lightweight Acoustic Fingerprinting. Right. However, as the name implies, it can learn to identify any sound you want.

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