Tiny Mechanical Keyboard, Powered By Pi Pico

For some applications, smaller is better and that is precisely the thinking behind a diminutive keyboard like the PiPi Gherkin, which is designed to use the Raspberry Pi Pico as its controller. This keyboard may have only 30 keys in total, but they are full-sized for comfort and don’t let the scant layout mislead you. It has more functionality than it would seem to at first glance; the entire bottom row acts as dual function tap/hold keys, allowing the keyboard to shift layers on the fly.

This keyboard definitely has a a thoughtful layout, and we’re not just talking about the tap/shift functionality. We especially like the way the Pi Pico is tucked neatly underneath the main PCB, taking up very little room while exposing its USB connector between two standoffs for easy access without requiring an adapter, or wiring a separate plug.

If the Gherkin sounds familiar, we’ve seen it before as part of this lunchbox cyberdeck build, where the small size allowed it to take up impressively little room. The shifting might take a little getting used to, but it’s a clean design that uses full sized keys, so when it comes to small keyboards one could certainly do worse.

Soldering Iron Plus Camera Gimbal Helps Cancel Out Hacker’s Hand Tremors

Soldering requires steady hands, so when [Jonathan Gleich] sadly developed a condition called an essential tremor affecting his hands, soldering became much more difficult. But one day, while [Jonathan] was chatting with a friend, they were visited by the Good Ideas Fairy and in true hacker fashion, he ended up repurposing a handheld camera stabilizing gimbal to hold a soldering iron instead of a camera or smartphone. Now instead of the gimbal cancelling out hand movements to keep a camera steady, it instead helps keep a soldering iron steady.

While the inner workings of the cheap gimbal unit didn’t need modification, there were a couple of things that needed work before the project came together. The first was to set up a way to quickly and easily connect and disconnect the soldering iron from the gimbal. Thanks to a dovetail-like connector, the iron can be safely stored in its regular holster and only attached when needed.

The other modification is more subtle. The stabilizer motors expect to be managing something like a smartphone, but a soldering iron is both lighter and differently balanced. That meant that the system worked, but not as well as it needed to. After using some small lead weights to tweak the mass and center of gravity of the soldering iron — making it feel and move a bit more like an iPhone, as far as the gimbal was concerned — results were improved.

The soldering iron stabilizer works well enough for now, but we don’t doubt that [Jonathan] already has further tweaks in mind. This is a wonderful repurposing of a consumer device into an assistive aid, so watch it in action in the short video embedded below.

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Putting LEDs In Motorcyle Tail Light Shows How Trivial Becomes Tough

[Maarten Tromp]’s replacement of his motorcycle’s tail light with LED equivalents is a great example of something that every hacker learns sooner or later: interfacing to and working around existing parts can turn a trivial-seeming task into a much bigger job than expected. The more one has to work within the constraints of an existing system, the more opportunities there are for roadblocks and surprise issues to stall progress, and this project is a great example of that.

[Maarten]’s 1999 Honda ST1100 Pan European motorcycle had no aftermarket options for an LED rear light assembly, and he wasn’t too keen on just installing a generic module to replace the original. Instead, he resolved to purchase and disassemble a used factory assembly, and replace the incandescent lamps with some equivalent LEDs. Replacing bulbs with LEDs sounds easy, but doing the job right took [Maarten] almost two weeks in the end.

Problems started early with simple things like how to open up the light assembly itself. The unit isn’t user-serviceable and isn’t intended to be opened, and the parts are sealed shut with a waxy substance. Fortunately, heat does the trick. Another early hitch was the curved base of the light assembly, which made mounting flat perfboard or veroboard a challenge. In the end, [Maarten] settled on a triangular grid of high-brightness LEDs,  driven with LM317 regulators configured as constant-current supplies, mounted on some protoboard cut to fit the unique curve of the assembly. The result accepts the wide voltage range of the motorcycle’s battery (from 10.5 V to 14.5 V) and can still function even if some individual LEDs stop working.

The project has one more example of how working around existing hardware can be a pain. [Maarten] had originally intended to swap out the turn signal lamps for LEDs as well, but there is a glitch. The motorcycle’s turn signal relay will do a fast blink pattern if burnt-out turn signal lamps are detected. Since LEDs consume considerably less current than the original bulbs, the relay will remain stuck in the fault condition. There are a few different ways around this, but it’s a problem for another day. For now, the tail light LED replacement is a success.

Working around existing hardware frequently brings unexpected challenges, but when safety systems (such as lights on a vehicle) are involved, it’s extra-important to make sure things are done right.

Simple MicroPython Game Is A 30 Minute Game Dev Course

Sometimes, it’s really useful to watch a project’s parts come together one piece at a time in order to get a complete understanding and mental picture of the whole, and we found that to be the case with this simple, retro-inspired sample game from [ezContents]. (Video, embedded below.) The code is on GitHub but if you’re at all interested in what goes on behind the scenes in a game like that, don’t miss the video.

In the video, each game element and function is illustrated, showing exactly what gets done and why. This part is collision detection (click to enlarge.)

These sprite-based games are mostly about moving a small graphical object (a sprite) around a screen in response to user input, and managing what happens when collisions are detected between the player’s sprite and other sprites like enemies, projectiles, and so forth. The development process is wonderfully documented and demonstrated in a video, as each separate part of functionality gets built and explained one piece at a time.

The simple game is made using ArduPy (which is MicroPython combined with Arduino APIs) using Seeed Studios’ Wio Terminal, a small microcontroller development board with integrated screen, sensors, and button inputs including a little directional clicker that [ezContents] uses as a joystick.

The video of the whole process is embedded below; give it a watch and you’ll maybe come away with inspiration, but you’ll definitely have a much better understanding of how these types of games are developed, even if you’re not using the same hardware or development environment.

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Iridescent Rainbow Chocolate, Just Add Diffraction Grating!

Chocolate plus diffraction grating equals rainbow chocolate

Here’s a great picture from [Jelly & Marshmallows] that shows off the wild effects of melted chocolate poured onto a diffraction grating. A diffraction grating is a kind of optical component whose micro-features act to disperse and scatter light. Diffraction gratings are available as thin plastic film with one side that is chock full of microscopic ridges, and the way light interacts with these ridges results in an iridescent, rainbow effect not unlike that seen on a CD or laserdisc.

It turns out that these micro-ridges can act as a mold, and pouring chocolate over a diffraction grating yields holo-chocolate. These photos from [Jelly & Marshmallows] show this effect off very nicely, but as cool as it is, we do notice that some of the letters seem a wee bit hit-or-miss in how well they picked up the diffraction grating pattern.

Fortunately, we know just what to suggest to take things to the next level. If you want to know more about how exactly this effect can be reliably accomplished, you’ll want to check out our earlier coverage of such delicious optics, which goes into all the nitty-gritty detail one could ever want about getting the best results with either melted sugar, or dark chocolate.

Omnibot From The 80s Gets LED Matrix Eyes, Camera

[Ramin assadollahi] has been busy rebuilding and improving an Omnibot 5402, and the last piece of hardware he wanted to upgrade was some LED matrix eyes and a high quality Raspberry Pi camera for computer vision. An Omnibot was something most technical-minded youngsters remember drooling over in the 80s, and when [ramin] bought a couple of used units online, he went straight to the workbench to give the vintage machines some upgrades. After all, the Omnibot 5402 was pretty remarkable for its time, but is capable of much more with some modern hardware. One area that needed improvement was the eyes.

The eyes on the original Omnibot could light up, but that’s about all they were capable of. The first upgrade was installing two 8×8 LED matrix displays to form what [ramin] calls Minimal Expressive Eyes (MEE), powered by a Raspberry Pi. With the help of a 3D-printed adapter and some clever layout, the LED matrix displays fit behind the eye plate, maintaining the original look while opening loads of new output possibilities.

Adding a high quality Raspberry Pi camera with wide-angle lens was a bit more challenging and required and extra long camera ribbon connector, but with the lens nestled just below the eyes, the camera has a good view and isn’t particularly noticeable when the eyes are lit up. Having already upgraded the rest of the hardware, all that remains now is software work and we can’t wait to see the results.

Two short videos of the hardware are embedded below, be sure to give them a peek. And when you’re ready for more 80s-robot-upgrading-action, check out the Hero Jr.

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Retro ISA Card Means Old, Slow Computers No Longer Need Old, Heavy Monitors

One thing about vintage computers is that they depend greatly on whether or not one can plug a compatible monitor into them. That’s what’s behind [Tube Time]’s Graphics Gremlin, a modern-design retro ISA video card that uses an FPGA to act just like a vintage MDA or CGA video card on the input end, but provides a VGA port for more modern display output options. (Actually, there is also an RGBI connector and a composite video out, but the VGA is probably the most broadly useful.)

Handy silkscreen labels make everything crystal clear. Click to enlarge.

Why bother making a new device to emulate an old ISA video card when actual vintage video cards are still plentiful? Because availability of the old cards isn’t the bottleneck. The trouble is that MDA or CGA monitors just aren’t as easy to come across as they once were, and irreplaceable vintage monitors that do still exist risk getting smashed during shipping. Luckily, VGA monitors (or at least converters that accept VGA input) are far more plentiful.

The board’s design files and assembly notes are all on the project’s GitHub repository along with plenty of thoughtful detail about both assembly and troubleshooting, and the Verilog code has its own document. The Graphics Gremlin is still under development, but you can also watch for the latest on [Tube Time]’s Twitter feed.

Thanks to [NoxiousPluK] for the tip!