A Hackable Keyboard That Even Has Screens

There are a huge number of available keyboards out in the world these days, catering to all of the plainest and the most advanced desires. However, if you want something that’s just right, sometimes it pays to build your own. [Zach] did just that.

One of the key features of [Zach]’s build is that it diverges away from the Cherry MX switch form factor. The design uses low-profile switches instead, which help with keeping the keyboard low enough to avoid it causing wrist problems. The keyboard also uses IO expanders to hook up all the key switches, helping to reduce the incidence of ghost keys. The board can also be split in half, allowing it to be repurposed as a smaller macropad when desired.

It’s all wrapped up in a cool 3D printed case, and there are even three OLED displays on the right-hand side. They’re soldered to the PCB on special cutouts that allow the displays to flex and trigger tactile switches, acting as giant pressable buttons.

[Zach] does a great job explaining all the nifty engineering decisions he made to cram maximum functionality into the design. We’ve seen some other great DIY ergonomic designs too. Video after the break.

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Handwriting Robots Are Sending Snail Mail

As a kid, you might remember taking a whole fistful of markers or crayons, gently lining them all up for maximum contact, mashing them into the paper, and marveling at the colorful multitude of lines. It seemed like an easy way to write many times more things with less effort. While not quite the same idea but in a similar vein, [Aaron Francis] shared an experience of creating handwriting robots to write thousands of letters.

Why did [Aaron] need to write thousands of letters? Direct mailing, of course! If you were sending someone a letter, if it looked handwritten they’re much more likely to open it. What better way to make it look handwritten than to use a pen rather than a printer? They started off with Axidraw, a simple plotter made by EMSL. Old laptops controlled a few plotters and they started to make progress. As with most things, scale became tricky. Adding more plotters just means more paper to replace and machines to restart. An automated system of replacing paper is fiendishly difficult so they went for a batching system. A sheet of plywood that can hold dozens of sheets of paper became the basis of a new mega-plotter. 3D printers and laser cutters helped make adapters and homing teeth. A Raspberry Pi replaced the old laptops and they scaled up to a few machines.

All in all, a pretty impressive build. If you’re looking to dip your toes into the plotting water, this pen plotter is about as simple as you can get.

This Smart Watch Keeps An Eye On Ambient CO2 Levels

Human respiration takes in oxygen and in turn, we exhale carbon dioxide. Thus, an uptick of carbon dioxide levels around us can indicate we’re in the presence of other humans, and also, perhaps, the pathogens they carry. To explore this phenomenon, [C Scott Ananian] developed a mod for the Watchy open-source smartwatch, which lets it detect carbon dioxide.

The idea behind the build is simple. If you’re around increased CO2 levels, it may be because you’re surrounded by people, and thus more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. To detect CO2, the watch relies on a Sensiron SCD40 or SCD41 sensor. This is read by the Watchy’s ESP32 microcontroller, and results are graphed on the watch’s e-Paper display. The Watchy is also given a nice new aluminum case to fit the additional hardware.

It’s cool having a graph on your wrist of the ambient concentration of CO2, and at the very least, it could make a good talking point next time you’re at a particularly boring party. You’ll also be more than ready to advise other partygoers if the carbon dioxide level is reaching dangerous levels.

We’ve seen similar builds before, which are useful not only for pandemic safety but also for monitoring if you have any leaks from CO2 storage in the house. If you’ve been working on your own ways to track dangerous gases, be sure to drop us a line!

magnetic toggle swtches

Modified Toggle Switches Grace Hyper-Detailed Cockpit Simulator Panels

In the world of the cockpit simulator hobby, no detail is too small to obsess over. Getting the look and feel of each and every cockpit control just right is important, and often means shelling out for cockpit-accurate parts. But not always, as these DIY magnetically captured toggle switches show.

Chances are good you’ve seen [The Warthog Project]’s fantastically detailed A-10 Thunderbolt II cockpit simulator before; we’ve featured it recently, and videos from the ongoing build pop up regularly in our feeds. The sim addresses the tiniest of details, including the use of special toggle switches that lock into place automatically using electromagnets. They’re commercially available, but only for those with very deep pockets — depending on the supplier, up to several thousand dollars per unit!

The homebrew substitute is mercifully cheap and easy to build, though — a momentary DPST toggle switch is partially gutted, with a length of nail substituted for one of its poles. The nail sticks out of the back of the switch, where a bracket holds a small electromagnet. When energized, the electromagnet holds the nail firmly when the switch is toggled on; the simulated pilot can still manually toggle the switch off, or it can be released automatically by de-energizing the coil. Each switch cost less than $20 to make, including the MOSFETs needed to drive the coils and the Arduino to provide the logic. The panels they adorn look fantastic, and the switches add a level of functional detail that’s just right for the whole build.

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ESP32 Internet Radio Is No Game

More than once, we’ve looked at a cool board like the TTGO T-Display and thought, “What can we build with this?” If you’re [Danko Bertović], the answer is the tiny Internet radio you can see in the Volos Projects video below.

Of course, the core Internet streaming code would be useful with any ESP32, but the display makes for a good-looking unit. The code is available on GitHub. With judicious use of network and audio libraries, the player only takes a few hundred lines of code. Pretty impressive considering it even shows a visualization on the tiny display screen.

What we’d really like to see is a nice case, power supply, and speaker option to make a tiny and portable unit. With a 3D printer, it is easy to make very professional-looking projects, as we often see. On the other hand, it does look better than the breadboard version you can see towards the end of the video. It is, though, a neatly done breadboard.

If you want a larger screen, you might enjoy the ESP32 internet radio we looked at before. Probably our favorite case for an Internet radio was this globe.

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Dream Bigger, Predict The Future

I’d love to tell you that I’m never wrong, but I’ve been wrong a lot. Remember the Arduino? When it was brand new, I thought it was some silly collection of libraries and a drop-down menu for people who are too lazy to just type out their own #include statements. Needless to say, it launched about a million hacks and brought microcontroller programming into the mainstream. Oops.

Similarly, about fifteen years ago, I saw an educational project out of MIT’s Media Lab. It consisted of a bunch of blocks that had LCD screens on them and would interact with each other when put together. The real hook, though, was that each block had an accelerometer inside, so you could “pour water” out of one block into another, for instance.

At that time, accelerometers were expensive, even in quantities. Even one of these cubes must have cost $100 at the time, much less a whole set. Accelerometers were so expensive that I wouldn’t have thought about incorporating one into a project, much less a dozen, so I ignored them for hacker purposes. Then came the cellphone and economies of scale. Today, even in chip shortage times, they’re readily available for around $2 each, making them useful for exactly this kind of “frivolous” use.

From the Arduino experience, I learned to never underestimate the impact of what seem to me to be “small” conveniences. (And maybe more so, the value of the tremendous common effort from the community.) From the MIT accelerometer story, the moral is that some parts will get drastically cheaper in the future, so you shouldn’t necessarily exclude the cool new sensor from your design repertoire. After all, ten years ago, nobody would have thought that we’d have laser time-of-flight rangefinders for less than a hamburger.

What new components are fantastically useful, or full of potential, that might be cheap enough in the future to make them also worth looking into? Swing by Hackaday tomorrow morning and join in the conversation!

Skeleton Watches You Intensely Because It’s Halloween, Okay

If you’ve ever seen a painting in which the eyes follow you around the room, you might have found that a bit uneasy. [CuriousInventor] has taken that concept further with a skeleton that literally holds a gaze on anyone in its field of view. 

The heart of the system is a Raspberry Pi Zero, fitted with a Pi Camera. Running OpenCV, code is set up to track humans and turn the skeleton’s head to face any that are detected. This is achieved via a servo in the skeleton’s neck. A servo bonnet is used to drive the servos without unnecessarily straining the Raspberry Pi.

The skeleton itself doesn’t look modified in any way, though most of the electronics are mounted inside a pretty obvious plastic box. We’d love to see a version 2 with all the hardware housed neatly inside the skull.

It’s a fun hack that makes for an enjoyable Halloween decoration. OpenCV can do other useful things, too, however, like spotting weeds. Video after the break.

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