Hackaday Prize Entry: MappyDot, a Micro Smart LiDAR Sensor

[Blecky]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize is MappyDot, a tiny board less than a square inch in size that holds a VL53L0X time-of-flight distance sensor and can measure distances of up to 2 meters.

MappyDot is more than just a breakout board; the ATMega328PB microcontroller on each PCB provides filtering, an easy to use  I2C interface, and automatically handles up to 112 boards connected in a bus. The idea is that one or a few MappyDots can be used by themselves, but managing a large number is just as easy. By dotting a device with multiple MappyDots pointing in different directions, a device could combine the readings to gain a LiDAR-like understanding of its physical environment. Its big numbers of MappyDots [Blecky] is going for, too: he just received a few panels of bare PCBs that he’ll soon be laboriously populating. The good news is, there aren’t that many components on each board.

It’s great to see open sourced projects and tools in which it is clear some thought has gone into making them flexible and easy to use. This means they are easier to incorporate into other work and helps make them a great contestant for the Hackaday Prize.

Don’t Miss Watching this Solar Eclipse High Altitude Balloon Online

[Dan Julio] let us know about an exciting project that he and his team are working on at the Solid State Depot Makerspace in Boulder: the Solar Eclipse High Altitude Balloon. Weighing in at 1 kg and bristling with a variety of cameras, the balloon aims to catch whatever images are able to be had during the solar eclipse. The balloon’s position should be trackable on the web during its flight, and some downloaded images should be available as well. Links for all of that are available from the project’s page.

High altitude balloons are getting more common as a platform for gathering data and doing experiments; an embedded data recorder for balloons was even an entry for the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

If all goes well and the balloon is able to be recovered, better images and video will follow. If not, then at least a post-mortem of what the team thinks went wrong will be posted. Launch time in Wyoming is approximately 10:40 am Mountain Time (UTC -07:00) Mountain Daylight Time (UTC -06:00) on Aug 21 2017, so set your alarm!

Live Stream to YouTube by Pointing a Box and Pressing a Button

YouTube has the ability to do live streaming, but [Tinkernut] felt that the process could be much more straightforward. From this desire to streamline was born the Raspberry Pi based YouTube live streaming camera. It consists of a Raspberry Pi with some supporting hardware and it has one job: to make live streaming as simple as pointing a box and pressing a button. The hardware is mostly off-the-shelf, and once all the configuration is done the unit provides a simple touchscreen based interface to preview, broadcast live, and shut down. The only thing missing is a 3D printed enclosure, which [Tinkernut] says is in the works.

Getting all the software configured and working was surprisingly complex. Theoretically only a handful of software packages and functionality are needed, but there were all manner of gotchas and tweaks required to get everything to play nice and work correctly. Happily, [Tinkernut] has documented the entire process so others can benefit. The only thing the Pi is missing is a DIY onboard LED lighting and flash module.

A Great Way to Make Quick and Easy Knobs

Here’s a great way to quickly and easily make attractive and functional knobs with no tools required. All you need is some casting resin (epoxy would do in a pinch), a silicone mold intended for candy, and some socket head bolts. With the right preparation and a bit of careful placement and attention, smooth and functional knob ends are only minutes away. Embedded below is a short video demonstrating the process.

These may not replace purpose-made knobs for final products, but for prototypes or to use around the shop on jigs, clamps, or furniture they certainly fit the bill. With a layer of adhesive fabric or rubber, they might even make serviceable adjustable feet for low-stress loads.

This technique could be extended to reproducing broken or missing dakaware or bakelite knobs. This, of course, would require an original, unbroken knob and a small silicone mold, but it’s still a project that’s well within the capabilities of the garage-bound hacker.

While we’re on the subject of knobs, don’t forget we’ve seen an excellent method of repairing knobs as well.

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GuitarBot Brings Together Art and Engineering

Not only does the GuitarBot project show off some great design, but the care given to the documentation and directions is wonderful to see. The GuitarBot is an initiative by three University of Delaware professors, [Dustyn Roberts], [Troy Richards], and [Ashley Pigford] to introduce their students to ‘Artgineering’, a beautiful portmanteau of ‘art’ and ‘engineering’.

The GuitarBot It is designed and documented in a way that the three major elements are compartmentalized: the strummer, the brains, and the chord mechanism are all independent modules wrapped up in a single device. Anyone is, of course, free to build the whole thing, but a lot of work has been done to ease the collaboration of smaller, team-based groups that can work on and bring together individual elements.

Some aspects of the GuitarBot are still works in progress, such as the solenoid-activated chord assembly. But everything else is ready to go with Bills of Materials and build directions. An early video of a strumming test proof of concept used on a ukelele is embedded below.

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Clever Battery Holder Hack Makes Brilliant Earrings

A ‘googly eye’ with hole for LED leads on one side, slot for coin cell on the other. Black disk for pupil removed.

We love seeing a thing get used effectively for other than its intended purpose, and this DIY LED Earrings project is a great example. [IdunnGoddess] liked the idea of making light-up LED earrings powered by a small coin cell, but an enclosure and power connection for the battery were sticking points. The solution? A googly eye after a few minor modifications turned out to be perfect.

A googly eye resembles a thin, flat, hollow plastic bulb. Choose one that’s just a bit bigger than the coin cell, and cut a slot in one end and a small hole in the other. The LED leads go into the hole, and the coin cell slides into the slot. The result? A lightweight battery holder for an attached LED, and as a bonus the hacked googly eye is a clean and super smooth surface that can easily be painted or decorated to make it part of the design. The video embedded below demonstrates the process and showcases a few sample designs.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: FabDoc is Version Control for Project Images

FabDoc is an interesting concept that attempts to tackle a problem many of us didn’t realize we had. There are plenty of version control systems for software, but many projects also have a hardware element or assembly process. Those physical elements need to be documented, but that process does not easily fit the tools that make software development and collaboration easier. [Kevin Cheng] sums FabDoc up as “a system to capture time-lapse pictures as pre-commits.”

With FabDoc a camera automatically records the physical development process, allowing the developer to focus on work and review later. The images from the camera are treated as pre-commits. Upon review, the developer selects relevant key images (ignoring dead ends or false starts) and commits them. It’s a version control and commit system for the physical part of the development process. The goal is to remove the burden of stopping the work process in order to take pictures, automatically record the development process and attach it to a specific project, and allow easy management of which images to commit.

The current system uses a Raspberry Pi Zero with a camera mounted on safety glasses, and some support software. Some thought has certainly gone into making the system as easy to use and manage as possible; after setting up a repository, scanning a QR code takes care of telling the system what to do and where to put it. The goal is to make FabDoc fast and easy to use so that it can simply work unattended.

We saw a visual twist on version control some time ago with a visual diff for PCBs, which was a great idea to represent changes between PCB designs visually, diff-style. It’s always exciting to see someone take a shot at improving processes that are easy to take for granted.