A More Conspicuous Computer Assistant

Back in the last century, especially in the ’40s to the ’60s, one of the major home decor trends was to install various home appliances, like the television or stereo, into its own piece of furniture. These were usually bulky, awkward, and incredibly heavy. And, since real life inspires art, most of the futuristic sci-fi technology we saw in movies and TV of the time was similarly conspicuous and physical. Not so with modern technology, though, where the trend now is to hide it out of the way and forget it exists. But [dermbrian] wanted some of his modern technology to have some of the mid-century visibility aesthetic so he made some modifications to his Amazon Echo.

The Echo itself remains largely unmodified, other than placing it inside a much larger cookie tin with some supporting electronics. For that, [dermbrian] found a relay board with a built-in microphone which switches the relay off when it detects sound so that when the Echo is activated, the sound from its speaker activates the module. From there it drives a series of blinkenlights which mimic the 60s computer aesthetic. Some custom fabrication and light diffusion methods were needed to get it to look just right, and a switch on the outside can disable the mechanism if it is getting triggered by background noise like music from his stereo.

While the appeal of this style may be lost on anyone who wasn’t a fan of the original Lost in Space, Star Trek, or Jetsons, it certainly holds a special significance for those who grew up in that era. It’s certainly not the first project we’ve seen to take a look back at the aesthetics of bygone eras, either. Take a look at this project which adds lenses to modern displays to give them the impression of antiquated CRT displays.

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A glass plate holds a translucent set of silver electrodes. The plate appears to be suspended across two petri dishes, so the scale must be small.

Hydrogels For Bioelectronic Interfaces

Interfacing biological and electrical systems has traditionally been done with metal electrodes, but something flexible can be more biocompatible. One possible option is 3D-printed bioelectric hydrogels.

Electrically conductive hydrogels based on conducting polymers have mechanical, electrical, and chemical stability properties in a fully organic package that makes them more biocompatible than other systems using metals, ionic salts, or carbon nanomaterials. Researchers have now found a way to formulate bi-continuous conducting polymer hydrogels (BC-CPH) that are a phase-separated system that can be used in a variety of manufacturing techniques including 3D printing.

To make the BC-CPH, a PEDOT:PSS electrical phase and a hydrophilic polyurethane mechanical phase are mixed with an ethanol/water solvent. Since the phase separation occurs in the ink before deposition, when the solvent is evaporated, the two phases remain continuous and interspersed, allowing for high mechanical stability and high electrical conductivity which had previously been properties at odds with each other. This opens up new avenues for printed all-hydrogel bioelectronic interfaces that are more robust and biocompatible than what is currently available.

If you want to try another kind of squishy electrode gel, try growing it.

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Hackaday Links: June 25, 2023

Is it really a dystopian future if the robots are radio-controlled? That’s what came to mind reading this article on a police robot out of Singapore, complete with a breathless headline invoking Black Mirror, which is now apparently the standard by which all dystopias are to be judged. Granted, the episode with the robo-dogs was pretty terrifying, but it seems like the Singapore Police Force has a way to go before getting to that level. The bot, which has been fielded at Changi Airport after extensive testing and seems to be completely remote-controlled, is little more than a beefy telepresence robot. At 5.5 feet (1.7 meters) tall, the bot isn’t terribly imposing, although it apparently has a mast that can be jacked up another couple of feet, plus there are lights, sirens, and speakers that can get the message across. Plus cameras, of course; there are always cameras. The idea is to provide extra eyes to supplement foot patrols, plus the potential to cordon off an incident until meatspace officers arrive. The buzzword game here is weak, though; there’s no mention of AI or machine learning at all. We have a feeling that when the robots finally rise up, ones like this will be left serving the drinks.

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Watch Hides Gesture Controls In Wristband

Over the last five to ten years, smart watches have become fairly ubiquitous, with the Apple Watch being among the most prominent of them. Not everyone wants or needs all of the capabilities of these devices, though; plenty are still opting for simpler devices which only have a few functions built into them. [Josh] has been working on one of these devices but takes a major design cue from their smart counterparts with the addition of gesture controls for the watch built into the wristband instead of relying on a more traditional button interface.

The watch hosts most of the functionality of a non-smart digital watch, with a timer, alarms, and a stop watch built-in. To change the time or access any of these functions, a combination of resistive and capacitive touch sensors are built into the wristband near the watch face. The combination of sensors aims to use the benefits of either type of sensor, with the capacitive sensors being used for precision and gesture recognition and the resistive sensors being used for pressure sensitivity. Placing these sensors in the band instead of the watch face improves visibility as well, since the screen won’t be obscured by the user touching the screen.

[Josh] originally intended this type of watch to be used for those with prosthetics or other disabilities which would limit the ability to use standard watch buttons or interact with a touch screen on the watch face itself. The device is working quite well as can be seen in the video linked below, but is still in the prototyping phase and under active development. For finishing up the final versions, we’d recommend taking a look at the design of these open-source smart watches for their high quality fit and finish.

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This Camera Does Not Exist

Blender is a professional-grade 3D-rendering platform and much more, but it suffers sometimes from the just-too-perfect images that rendering produces. You can tell, somehow. So just how do you make a perfectly rendered scene look a little more realistic? If you’re [sirrandalot], you take a photograph. But not by taking a picture of your monitor with a camera. Instead, he’s simulating a colour film camera in extraordinary levels of detail within Blender itself.

The point of a rendering package is that it simulates light, so it shouldn’t be such a far-fetched idea that it could simulate the behaviour of light in a camera. Starting with a simple pinhole camera he moves on to a meniscus lens, and then creates a compound lens to correct for its imperfections. The development of the camera mirrors that of the progress of real cameras over the 20th century, simulating the film with its three colour-sensitive layers and even the antihalation layer, right down to their differing placements in the focal plane. It’s an absurd level of detail but it serves as both a quick run-down of how a film camera and its film work, and how Blender simulates the behaviour of light.

Finally we see the camera itself, modeled to look like a chunky medium format Instamatic, and some of its virtual photos. We can’t say all of them remove the feel of a rendered image, but they certainly do an extremely effective job of simulating a film photograph. We love this video, take a look at it below the break.

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Automate Away The Drudgery Of CNC Manufacturing

One of the keys to making money with manufacturing is to find something that you can make a lot of. Most small manufacturers have one or two “bread and butter” items that can be cranked out in quantity, which of course has a quality all its own. The problem with that approach, though, is that it runs the risk of being boring. And what better way to avoid that than by automating your high-volume job, with something like this automated  CNC work cell?

Looks like money.

[Maher Lagha] doesn’t offer too much in the way of build details, but the video below pretty much tells the tale. The high-volume items in this case are customized wooden coasters, the kind a restaurant would buy for their bar or a business would give away as swag. The small 3-axis CNC router at the center of the work cell is the perfect choice for making these — one at a time. With no desire to be tied to the machine all day to load raw stock and unload completed coasters, [Maher] came up with automated towers that hold stacks of pallets. Each pallet, which acts as a fixture for the workpiece through multiple operations, moves from the input stack into the router’s work envelope and to the output stack using a combination of servos and pneumatics. The entire work cell is about a meter on a side and contains everything needed for all the operations, including air for the pneumatics and dust extraction.

Each coaster requires two tools to complete — one for surfacing and one for lettering — and [Maher] has two ways to tackle that. The first is to allow a stack of coasters to go through the first operation, change tools, and switch the roughed-in stock back to the input stack for the second round of machining. The other is just to build another work cell dedicated to lettering, which seems to be in progress. In fact, it looks as if there’s a third work cell in the works in [Maher]’s shop. The coaster business must be pretty good.

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Flying Submarine Documentary Is A Story Of Defied Assumptions

Donald Reid had a passion for applying himself to challenging problems, and in many ways his life’s work was that of developing a prototype submersible aircraft — or flying submarine — for which his son Bruce was a test pilot. [Jesse Moody] brought to our attention a fantastic documentary he created (with a short teaser trailer here) in which he interviews Bruce, and in the process teaches us all about a story that spanned decades and formed an important part of aviation history. Bruce experienced his share of hair-raising moments while testing the craft, but still has all of his fingers and limbs. Still, in his own words, “you wouldn’t be doing that kind of testing today!”

In many ways, the story revolves around defying assumptions. Without context, a “flying submarine” project might sound like a lone kook’s obsession, but Donald Reid was nothing of the sort. He was a brilliant engineer who was able solve problems by applying his skill and intellect with a laser-like focus. And it turns out that getting a submerged vehicle to successfully transition from waterbound craft to airborne is a source of numerous and novel problems that were not trivial to solve. In fact, these problems needed to be solved in order to develop the Tomahawk cruise missile, which is launched by submarine. And that brings us to the lawsuit that bookended it all.

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