Around these parts, we see plenty of plotter builds. They’re a great way to learn about CNC machines and you get to have fun making pictures along the way. [Ben Lucy] was undertaking just such a build of his own, but wanted to do something standalone that served a purpose. The result is the impressive Portable Portrait Painter.
What sets [Ben]’s project apart is how complete it is. Unlike other plotters that simply follow G-code instructions or process external images, the Portable Portrait Painter is a completely standalone machine. Fitted out with an OV7670 camera, hooked up to an Arduino, it’s capable of taking its own photos and then drawing them out as well.
Through some clever code from [Indrek Luuk], the Arduino Mega2560 is able to display a 20fps video preview on a color LCD screen. When the user presses a button, the current frame is captured and sent to the pen plotter. The plotting algorithm is particularly impressive, with images first processed with histogram compensation to maximise contrast. The pen is then drawn across the page line by line, and pressed into the page by varying amounts depending on the color value of each pixel. The darker the pixel, the thicker the stroke made by the pen. This more analog approach produces a much more detailed image than more basic plotters which either leave a mark or don’t.
The portraits produced by the plotter are impressive, and we like the edge-of-page artifacts, which add a little style to the final results. The Portrait Painter would make a great conversation piece at any Maker Faire or hackerspace night.
Since Galileo began observing celestial objects with a telescope, an almost uncountable number of improvements have been made to his designs and methods. Telescopes can now view anything from radio waves to gamma waves, come in a wide range of sizes and shapes, and some are also fairly accessible to hobbyists as well. In fact, several homemade telescopes are specifically designed for ease of use, portability, and minimum cost, like this portable ball telescope. (Google Translate from Italian)
The telescope was designed and built by [andrea console] and features a ball-shaped mount for the mirror which was built from a bowl. Ball designs like this are easier to orient than other telescopes since the ball allows for quick repositioning in any direction, but the main focus of this project was to investigate focal length with various accessories while also being as portable as possible. To that end, the mount for the eyepiece is on a lattice that assembles and disassembles quickly, and the ball and other equipment are easily packed. This makes transportation quick and easy and reduces weight compared to a more traditional, or even Dobsonian, telescope.
This build is impressive not just from having an extremely portable telescope, but also from [andrea console]’s documentation of the optics in his build. It includes some adjustable parts which can increase the magnification and has detailed notes on all of the finer points of its operation. The ball telescope is a popular build, and we’ve recently seen others made out of parts from IKEA as well.
With how expensive thermal cameras are, why not build your own? This is the goal with which [Dan Julio] set out a while ago, covering the project in great detail. While the ultimate goal is to create a stand-alone solution, with its own screen, storage and processing, the TCam-Mini is an interesting platform. Using the 160×120 pixel FLIR Lepton 3.5 thermal sensor, and combining it with a custom PCB and ESP32 module for wireless, he created a wireless thermal camera called the TCam-Mini along with accompanying software that can display the radiometric data.
The project is available on GitHub, as well as as a GroupGets crowd-funding campaign, where $50 gets one a TCam-Mini board, minus the $199 Lepton 3.5 sensor. Not cheap, but quite a steal relative to e.g. the FLIR One Pro camera add-on module. Compared to the aforementioned FLIR One Pro, there’s a definite benefit in having a more portable unit that is not reliant on a smartphone and accompanying FLIR app. Being able to load the radiometric data directly into a desktop application for processing makes it a closer match to the professional thermal cameras which [Dan] states that he’d like to get as close to in terms of features as possible.
Recently [Dan] has also begun to further characterize these Lepton sensors, in order to see whether their accuracy can be improved from the rated +/- 5-10 °C. For this he repurposed an old in-ear thermometer calibration device. Along with tweaking the ESP32 firmware, there is still a lot that can be done with the TCam-Mini, but it sure looks like a fun project to tinker with if one is into Leptons.
Good coffee is nice to have, sure, but frankly, caffeine is caffeine and we’ll take it any way we can get it. That includes freeze-dried, if that’s all you’ve got. We won’t judge anyone for their taste in caffeinated beverages, and to call this coffee dispenser ‘totally useless’ is just patently untrue. It clearly has a use, and even if you don’t like freeze-dried coffee, you could sacrifice one jar worth of Nescafe and fill it with Skittles or anything else that will fit in the little collector basket.
In this machine, the cup is the trigger — the 3D-printed plate underneath activates a micro switch embedded in the scrap wood base, and this triggers a micro:bit around back to actuate the stepper motor that twirls the collector basket around. Although [smogdog] has provided all the files, you’d have to come up with your own connector to suspend the thing over the cup and carve your own base.
We love it when we can see what a machine is doing, so not only is it useful, it’s beautiful. And it worked, at least for a little while. For some reason, it keeps burning out stepper motors. Check it out in proof-of-concept action after the break.
[Emil Smith] is an electronic music producer in the Greater London area. He spent a lot of time commuting in and out of central London, so he decided to put together COVERT-19, a portable music production studio. After making a couple of prototypes, [Emil] settled on what he needed from his portable studio: a sampler, a sequencer, a synthesizer, a mixer, and a way to record his work.
[Emil] didn’t overlook any details with his mechanical design. Taking the beautiful London weather into account, he designed a laser-cut plywood case that has a neoprene foam gasket to keep water out when closed and put all of the inputs and outputs on the interior of the case. Inside the case, he opted for machine screws with threaded inserts so he could disassemble and reassemble his creation as often as he liked, and he included gas springs to keep the studio open while he’s making music. [Emil] even thought to include ventilation slots to keep the built-in PC cool!
A portable studio is useless without a power supply, so [Emil] taught himself some circuit theory and bought his first soldering iron in order to create the custom power delivery system. Power is supplied by a battery of twelve 18650 cells with switching converters to supply the three different voltages his studio needs. Even with all of his music-making gear, he manages to get about four hours of battery life!
The music-making gear consists of a sequencer and synthesizer as well as a touch-screen NUC PC running Xubuntu. The built-in PC runs software that allows him to mix the audio, apply extra effects, record his creations, and save his patches when he’s done working. The system even has an extra MIDI output and audio input to allow it to incorporate an external synthesizer.
If you’re interested in getting started with MIDI synthesizers, but you’re more interested in building than buying, check out the KELPIE.
Meanwhile up there in orbit there have been found on the ISS some strains of bacteria previously unknown to scientists on Earth, but it’s not yet time to panic about Mutant Bugs From Space. It seems these bacteria are of a type that is essential in the growing of plants, so it’s likely they originally hitched a ride up with one of the several plant-growing experiments that have taken place over the station’s lifetime. Staying on the ISS, astronauts visiting the station have been at the centre of a recently published study looking at loss of bone density over long periods in space. The bone experts found that bone density could still be lost despite the astronauts’ in-flight exercise programs, and concluded that exercise regimes pre-flight should be taken into account for future in-orbit exercise planning.
Further away from Earth, the ESA Mars Express satellite has been used for a multi-year study of water loss to space from the Martian atmosphere. The ESA scientists identified the seasonal mechanism that leads to the planet’s upper atmosphere having an excess of water and in particular the effect of the periodic planet-wide dust storms on accelerating water loss, but failed to account for the water that they estimate Mars must have lost over its history. From a study of water-created surface features they can estimate how much liquid the planet once had, yet the atmospheric losses fail to account for it all. Has it disappeared underground? More studies are required before we’ll have an answer.
The exciting news over the coming days will no doubt be the Ingenuity Martian helicopter, which we have seen slowly unfolding itself prior to unloading from the belly of the Perseverence rover. If all goes according to plan the little craft will be set down before the rover trundles off to a safe distance, and the historic flight will take place on April 8th. We’ll be on the edges of our seats, and no doubt you will be, too.
Of all our senses, the sense of touch is perhaps the most underappreciated. We understand and accept the tragedy that attends loss of vision or hearing, and the impact on the quality of life resulting from olfactory and gustatory sensations can be severe. But for some reason, we don’t give a second thought to our sense of touch, which is indeed strange given that we are literally covered with touch sensors. That’s a bit of a shame, since touch can reveal so much about the world around us, and our emotional well-being is so tightly tied to the tactile senses that those deprived of it in infancy can be scarred for life.
Haptics is the technology of tactile feedback, which seeks to leverage the human need for tactile experiences to enrich the experience of dealing with the technological world. Haptic feedback devices are everywhere now, and have gone far beyond the simple off-balance motor used since the days when a pager was a status symbol. To help us sort out what’s new in the haptics world, Tim and Kyle from Nanoport Technology will stop by the Hack Chat. Nanoport is a company on the cutting edge of haptics, so they’ll have a wealth of details about what haptics are, where the field is going, and how you can start thinking about making touch a part of your projects.