Thomas The Terrifying Karaoke Robot

The junk bin can be a great source of inspiration, unless you’re too familiar with the contents to be imaginative with them. But thrift stores are another matter, like giant junk bins that are constantly replenished by underappreciated elves. You never know what kinds of goodies they will pile on the shelves, so it’s easy to become a fixture and visit them once or thrice a week.

[Hunter Irving] haunts a few choice thrift stores in his neighborhood, and a few months ago he found a knockoff Thomas the Tank Engine with an articulated face. It uses a simple mechanism to produce an impressive amount of movement, especially for a cheap knockoff toy. Both of its eyes slide sideways and its mouth opens, resulting in a very animated (and terrifying) range of expressions. Sensing an opportunity to turn his animatronic robot dreams into karaoke-singing nightmare fuel for the rest of us, he forked over a few bucks and took it home.

As luck would have it, a 9g micro servo fit perfectly in the back of the frightening little face. [Hunter] designed an axle to transfer motion to the face mechanism, but it broke almost immediately. We applaud his Plan B, though, which consists of a mounting block for the servo, and a cable tie armature connected with screws. Once that was sorted, [Hunter] designed a bulbous body for it in Blender.

This terrifying train-faced toy uses an Arduino Leonardo to read MIDI note-on and -off messages, and opens his mouth when appropriate to sing hit favorites in a smooth, speech-synthesized contralto. Pour yourself a strong beverage and enjoy the build/demo video after the break.

Interested in making your own? [Hunter] has all the files up on his Patreon page. For just $1, you can access the code, synth files, and STL files. While you’re there, you can also get the scoop on his Nintendo LABO waveform cards.

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Sushi-Snarfing Barbie Uses Solenoid to Swallow

The view from America has long seen French women as synonymous with thin and/or beautiful. France is well-known for culinary skill and delights, and yet many of its female inhabitants seem to view eating heartily as passé. At a recent workshop devoted to creating DIY amusements, [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] built an electro-mechanical sushi-eating game starring Barbie, American icon of the feminine ideal. The goal of the game is to feed her well and inspire a happy relationship with food.

Built in just three days, J’ai faim! (translation: I’m hungry!) lets the player satiate Barbie one randomly lit piece of sushi at a time. Each piece has a companion LED mounted beneath the surface that’s connected in series to the one on the game board. Qualifying sushi are determined by a photocell strapped to the underside of Barbie’s tongue, which detects light from the hidden LED. Players must race against the clock to eat each piece, taking Barbie up the satisfaction meter from ‘starving’ to ‘well-fed’. Gobble an unlit piece, and the score goes down.

The game is controlled with a lovely pink lollipop of a joystick, which was the main inspiration for the game. Players move her head with left and right, and pull down to engage the solenoid that pushes her comically long tongue out of her button-nosed face. Barbie’s brain is an Arduino Uno, which also controls the stepper motor that moves her head.

[Niklas] and [Kati] wound up using cardboard end stops inside the box instead of trying to count the rapidly changing steps as she swivels around. The first motor they used was too weak to move her head. The second one worked, but the game’s popularity combined with the end stops did a number on the gears after a day or so. Click past the break to sink your teeth into the demo video.

Barbie can do more than teach young girls healthy eating habits. She can also teach them about cryptography.

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Dog-Or-Catapult Controls The Speed Of The Feed

[NathanKing] has a cute, rambunctious pupper who eats way too fast for her own good. He’s tried various distribution methods intended to get her to slow down, but she’s just too excited to eat. [Nathan]’s latest solution is to launch the food piece by piece using a catapult. The dog loves the gamified feeding method, which is sort of like one-way fetch. She gets a bit of exercise, and everyone is amused for the half hour it takes to fling 1.5 cups of food one piece at a time.

Electronics-wise, this food flinger doesn’t use much more than three servos and an Arduino Uno. Servo #1 pulls the arm back until it hits a limit switch. Servo #2 holds the arm down , and servo #3 rotates the food tube until it drops a unit of kibble into the spoon. Then servo #2 lets the arm go, and the tasty morsel flies about 30 feet (10 meters).

[Nathan] doesn’t offer step-by-step instructions, but there is more than enough detail to replicate this project. He used what he had on hand, such as scrap aluminium from another project for the frame. Future plans include swapping out the 6V lantern battery for rechargeable AAs, and downsizing to a Nano. We’ve fetched a couple of videos for you and thrown them in after the break. Go get ’em, reader!

Pets need plenty of water, especially during the summer. Here’s a no-sweat automatic watering solution we saw a few years ago.

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Intuitive Musical Books Accompany Alzheimer’s Patients’ Memories

If you have a loved one with Alzheimer’s, you know how difficult it can be to hold a conversation with them that doesn’t constantly go in circles. A good way to keep them focused is to use conversation pieces like pictures and familiar objects from their past. Something particularly poignant might uncork a flood of memories.

Adding familiar music to these images can be doubly beneficial. [Annelle] found this out when she showed her mother a musical children’s book that plays nursery rhymes. Her mother’s face lit up with joy when she heard those well-known tunes, and her reaction inspired [Annelle] to explore the idea.  After a fruitless search for more mature musical books, [Annelle] and her husband [Mike] got to work making their own using hymns, spirituals, and pictures from [Annelle]’s travels with her mother.

Alzheimer’s is a pretty tough test for intuitive interfaces. Because of this, [Annelle] and [Mike] designed around the constraints of buttons and switches. Instead, the book uses light-dependent resistors mounted inside the back cover, and an increasing number of holes in each page. These photo cells are all wired to an Adafruit sound board, which figures out the active page based on the input voltage and plays the corresponding song.

Tilt switches inside the 3D-printed enclosure negate the need for a power button. The book is turned off when lying flat on a table, but it’s ready to rock in any other position. Turn past the break for an overview video and another that covers the page detection scheme.

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GTA: San Andreas Radio Earns Six-Star Wanted Level

[Raphaël Yancey] wanted to be able to jam to Bounce FM and Radio:X all the time, without having to steal a car or a street sweeper in San Andreas. As people who like to put on the sad piano building music from The Sims and write Hackaday posts, we can totally relate.

But this isn’t just another one of those jam-a-Pi-into-a-vintage-radio-and-call-it-a-sandwich projects (not that there’s anything wrong with those). This thing acts like a real radio. All the stations play continuously whether you’re tuned in or not, and they bleed into each other as you go up and down the dial.

After much trial and error, [Raphaël] found a Python mixer that would work, but it was no longer maintained. He forked it, squashed a bug or two, and wrote a module for KY040 rotary encoders to make them play nice with the Pi. The snake charming doesn’t stop there: the rock star of this project is [Raphaël]’s virtual radio software, which handles the audio blending as he tunes between stations. A step-by-step tutorial is coming soon, so watch [Raphaël]’s site for updates. Tune past the break to give it a listen.

Adventures in Raspi radio-ing don’t have to be one-way. Here’s how you can turn one into an AM/FM+ transmitter using a DVB-T dongle and SDR.

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Build a Wi-Fi Smart Scale

There are plenty of ways to monitor changes in your weight. You can get a vague idea from the fit of your pants or the notch on your belt. But anyone who’s serious about getting or staying in shape must step on the scale to get the cold, hard truth in pounds or kilograms.

Instead of just buying one, [igorfonseca83] decided to burn a few calories and build his own smart scale that uses IFTTT to send weight data to his fitness tracker. It’s made from four 50kg load cells that are sandwiched between two pieces of plywood. An HX711 sensor module reads the load cells, and a FireBeetle ESP8266 uploads the data to Adafruit IO. His weight is simultaneously displayed on a FireBeetle LED matrix.

We applaud [igorfonseca83]’s efforts to make this an easy, educational project that anyone can replicate. The instructions are great, the pictures are clear, and there’s even a CAD animation of all the pieces coming together. Jog past the break to see the build video, and weigh in down below.

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Bucky Glow: Have a Ball While You Practice Coding

About a year ago, [Jonathan Bumstead] built a giant, touch-sensitive, interactive RGB LED geodesic dome that somehow escaped our attention entirely. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, he’s designed a smaller version that’s just as awesome, but a lot faster and easier to build.

The Bucky Glow is great way for hackers of all ages to expand their coding and problem solving skills. This interactive dodecahedron consists of 11 RGB LEDs and a Nano inside 12-sided laser-cut MDF sculpture. The breakout header means you’re free to add interactive bits like a DIY capacitive touch keyboard, IR sensor/emitter pairs, motors, or whatever you want.

When it’s time to relax, Bucky Glow puts on a light show. It comes ready to party without any programming necessary, but if you wanna put on some Pink Floyd and get your hands dirty, [Jonathan]’s custom Processing app makes it easy to program complex light shows.

[Jonathan] is currently working on some different Bucky Glow dissemination methods, such as a kit version. For now, you can buy a fully assembled Bucky Glow through the One Bit Kit store. Interact with the break to try it before you buy it.

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