Immersive Augmented Reality on a Budget

By now we’ve all seen the cheap headsets that essentially stick a smartphone a few inches away from your face to function as a low-cost alternative to devices like Oculus Rift. Available for as little as a few dollars, it’s hard to beat these gadgets for experimenting with VR on a budget. But what about if you’re more interested in working with augmented reality, where rendered images are superimposed onto your real-world view rather than replacing it?

As it turns out, there are now cheap headsets to do that with your phone as well. [kvtoet] picked one of these gadgets up for $30 USD on AliExpress, and used it as a base for a more capable augmented reality experience than the headset alone is capable of. The project is in the early stages, but so far the combination of this simple headset and some hardware liberated from inexpensive Chinese smartphones looks to hold considerable promise for delivering a sub-$100 USD development platform for anyone looking to jump into this fascinating field.

On their own, these cheap augmented reality headsets simply show a reflection of your smartphone’s screen on the inside of the lenses. With specially designed applications, this effect can be used to give the wearer the impression that objects shown on the phone’s screen are actually in their field of vision. It’s a neat effect to be sure, but it doesn’t hold much in the way of practical applications. To turn this into a useful system, the phone needs to be able to see what the wearer is seeing.

To that end, [kvtoet] relocated a VKWorld S8 smartphone’s camera module onto the front of the headset. Beyond its relatively cost, this model of phone was selected because it featured a long camera ribbon cable. With the camera on the outside of the headset, an Android application was created which periodically flashes a bright LED and looks for reflections in the camera’s feed. These reflections are then used to locate objects and markers in the real world.

In the video after the break, [kvtoet] demonstrates how this technique is put to use. The phone is able to track a retroreflector laying on the couch quickly and accurately enough that it can be used to adjust the rendering of a virtual object in real time. As the headset is moved around, it gives the impression that the wearer is actually viewing a real object from different angles and distances. With such a simplistic system the effect isn’t perfect, but it’s exciting to think of the possibilities now that this sort of technology is falling into the tinkerer’s budget.

If you don’t want to go the DIY route, Leap Motion has been teasing an open source augmented reality headset which has us quite excited. We’re still waiting on the hardware, but that hasn’t stopped hackers from coming up with some fascinating AR applications in the meantime.

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How Do You Etch Something You Can’t Move?

We probably don’t need to tell this to the average Hackaday reader, but we’re living in a largely disposable society. Far too many things are built as cheaply as possible, either because manufacturers know you won’t keep it for long, or because they don’t want you to. Of course, the choice if yours if you wish to you accept this lifestyle or not.

Like many of us, [Erik] does not. When the painted markings on his stove become so worn that he couldn’t see them clearly, he wasn’t about to hop off to the appliance store to buy a new one. He decided to take things into his own hands and fix the poor job the original manufacturers did in the first place. Rather than paint on new markings, he put science to work and electroetched them into the metal.

Whether or not you’ve got a stove that needs some sprucing up, this technique is absolutely something worth adding to your box of tricks. Using the same methods that [Erik] did in his kitchen, you could etch an awesome control panel for your next device.

So how did he do it? Despite the scary multisyllabic name, it’s actually quite easy. Normally the piece to be etched would go into a bath of salt water for this process, but obviously that wasn’t going to work here. So [Erik] clipped the positive clamp of a 12 V battery charger to the stove itself, and in the negative clamp put a piece of gauze soaked in salt water. Touching the gauze to the stove would then eat away the metal at the point of contact. All he needed to complete the project were some stencils he made on a vinyl cutter.

We’ve previously covered using electricity to etch metal in the workshop, as well as the gorgeous results that are possible with acid etched brass. Next time you’re looking to make some permanent marks in a piece of metal, perhaps you should give etching a try.

[via /r/DIY]

Is That A Word Clock In Your Pocket?

Word clocks are one of those projects that everyone seems to love. Even if you aren’t into the tech behind how they work, they have a certain appealing aesthetic. Plus you can read the time without worrying about those pesky numbers, to say nothing of those weird little hands that spin around in a circle. This is the 21st century, who has time for that?

Now, thanks to [Gordon Williams], these decidedly modern timepieces just got a lot more accessible. His word clock is not only small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but it’s the easiest-to-build one we’ve ever seen. If you were ever curious about these gadgets but didn’t want to put in the the time and effort required to build a full scale version, this diminutive take on the idea might be just what Father Time ordered.

The trick is to attach the microcontroller directly to the backside of an 8 x 8 LED matrix. As demonstrated by [Gordon], the Bluetooth-enabled Espruino MDBT42Q fits neatly between the rows of pins, which need only a gentlest of persuasions to get lined up and soldered into place. Since the time can be set remotely over Bluetooth, there’s not even so much as an additional button required. While driving the LEDs directly off of the digital pins of a microcontroller is never recommended, the specifics of this application (only a few of the LEDs on at a time, and not for very long) means he can get away with it.

Of course, that just gets you an array of square LEDs you blink. It wouldn’t be much of a word clock without, you know, words. To that end, [Gordon] has provided an overlay which you can print on a standard inkjet printer. While it’s not a perfect effect as the light still comes through the ink, it works well enough to get the point across. One could even argue that the white letters on the gray background helps with visibility compared to just the letters alone lighting up.

If you’re not in the market for a dollhouse-sized word clock, fear not. We’ve got no shortage of adult sized versions of these popular timepieces for your viewing pleasure.

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Building a Semiautomatic Swag Launcher

Regular readers of Hackaday have certainly seen the work of [Jeremy Cook] at this point. Whether you remember him from his time as a writer for this fine online publication, or recognize the name from one of his impressive builds over the last few years, he’s a bona fide celebrity around these parts. In fact, he’s so mobbed with fans at events that he’s been forced to employ a robotic companion to handle distributing his personalized buttons for his own safety.

Alright, that might be something of a stretch. But [Jeremy] figured it couldn’t hurt to have an interesting piece of hardware handing out his swag at the recent Palm Bay Mini Maker Faire. Anyone can just put some stickers and buttons in a bowl on a table, but that’s hardly the hacker way. In the video after the break, he walks viewers through the design and construction of this fun gadget, which takes a couple unexpected turns and has contains more than a few useful tips which are worth the cost of admission alone.

Outwardly the 3D printed design is simple enough, and reminds us of those track kits for Matchbox cars. As you might expect, getting the buttons to slide down a printed track was easy enough. Especially when [Jeremy] filed the inside smooth to really get them moving. But the goal was to have a single button get dispensed each time the device was triggered, but that ended up being easier said than done.

The first attempt used magnets actuated by two servos, one to drop the button and the other to hold up the ones queued above it. This worked fine…at first. But [Jeremy] eventually found that as he stacked more buttons up in the track, the magnets weren’t strong enough to hold them back and they started “leaking”. This is an excellent example of how a system can work perfectly during initial testing, but break down once it hits the real world.

In this case, the solution ended up being relatively simple. [Jeremy] kept the two servos controlled by an Arduino and a capacitive sensor, but replaced the magnets with physical levers. The principle is the same, but now the system is strong enough to hold back the combined weight of the buttons in the chute. It did require him to cut into the track after it had already been assembled, but we can’t blame him for not wanting to start over.

Just like the arcade inspired candy dispenser, coming up with a unique way of handing out objects to passerby is an excellent way to turn the ordinary into a memorable event. Maybe for the next iteration he can make it so getting a button requires you to pass a hacker trivia test. Really make them work for it.

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Juicing Up the Chevy Volt with Raspberry Pi

While Chevrolet’s innovative electric hybrid might officially be headed to that great big junkyard in the sky, the Volt will still live on in the hearts and minds of hackers who’d rather compare amp hour than horsepower. For a relatively low cost, a used Volt offers the automotive hacker a fascinating platform for upgrades and experimentation. One such Volt owner is [Jared Stafford], who’s recently made some considerable headway on hacking his hybrid ride.

In an ongoing series on his blog, [Jared] is documenting his efforts to add new features and functions to his Volt. While he loves the car itself, his main complaint (though this is certainly not limited to the Volt) was the lack of tactile controls. Too many functions had to be done through the touch screen for his tastes, and he yearned for the days when you could actually turn a knob to control the air conditioning. So his first goal was to outfit his thoroughly modern car with a decidedly old school user interface.

Like most new cars, whether they run on lithium or liquefied dinosaurs, the Volt makes extensive use of CAN bus to do…well, pretty much everything. Back in the day it only took a pair of wire cutters and a handful of butt splice connectors to jack into a car’s accessory systems, but today it’s done in software by sniffing the CAN system and injecting your own data. Depending on whether you’re a grease or a code monkey, this is either a nightmare or a dream come true.

Luckily [Jared] is more of the latter, so with the help of his Macchina M2, he was able to watch the data on the CAN bus as he fiddled with the car’s environmental controls. Once he knew what data needed to be on the line to do things like turn on the fan or set the desired cabin temperature, he just needed a way to trigger it on his terms. To that end, he wired a couple of buttons and a rotary encoder to the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi, and wrote some code that associates the physical controls with their digital counterparts.

That’s all well and good when you need to mess around with the AC, but what’s the Pi supposed to do the rest of the time? [Jared] decided a small HDMI display mounted to the dash would be a perfect way for the Raspberry Pi to do double duty as information system showing everything from battery charge to coolant temperature. It also offers up a rudimentary menu system for vehicle modifications, and includes functions which he wanted quick access to but didn’t think were necessarily worth their own physical button.

In the video after the break, [Jared] walks the viewer through these modifications, as well as some of the other neat new features of his battery powered bow tie. What he’s already managed to accomplish without having to do much more than plug some electronics into the OBD-II port is very impressive, and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Today there are simply too many good electric cars for hybrids like the Chevy Volt and its swankier cousin the Cadillac ELR to remain competitive. But thanks to hackers like [Jared], we’re confident this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this important milestone in automotive history.

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Be Ready To Roll With Universal Electronic Dice

There are applications you can download for your smartphone that can “roll” an arbitrary number of dice with whatever number of sides you could possibly want. It’s faster and easier than throwing physical dice around, and you don’t have to worry about any of them rolling under the couch. No matter how you look at it, it’s really a task better performed by software than hardware. All that being said, there’s something undeniably appealing about the physical aspect of die rolling when playing a game.

Luckily, [Paul Klinger] thinks he has the solution to the problem. His design combines the flexibility of software number generation with the small form factor of a physical die. The end result is a tiny gadget that can emulate anything from a 2 to 64 sided die with just 6 LEDs while remaining as easy to operate as possible. No need to tap on your smartphone screen with Cheetos-stained hands when you’ve got to make an intelligence check, just squeeze the Universal Electronic Die and off you go. Granted you’ll need to do some binary math in your head, but if you’re the kind of person playing D&D with DIY electronic dice, we think you’ll probably be able to manage.

The 3D printed case that [Paul] came up with for his digital die is very clever, though it did take him awhile to nail it down. As shown in the video after the break, it took seven iterations before he got the various features such as the integrated button “flaps” right. There’s also a printed knob to go on the central potentiometer, to make it easier to select how many sides your virtual die will have.

In terms of the electronics, the design is actually quite simple. All that lives on the custom PCB is a ATtiny1614 microcontroller, the aforementioned LEDs, and a couple of passive components. A CR2032 coin cell powers the whole operation, and it should provide enough juice for plenty of games as it’s only turned on when the user is actively “rolling”.

We’ve seen a number of very impressive electronic dice projects over the years, and it doesn’t look like the trend is slowing down anytime soon. Of course, if you absolutely must hear those physical dice rolling, we can help you with that too.

The Empire Strikes Back With The ESP8266

Like many of us, [Matthew Wentworth] is always looking for a reason to build something. So when he found a 3D model of the “DF.9” laser turret from The Empire Strikes Back intended for Star Wars board games on Thingiverse, he decided it was a perfect excuse opportunity to not only try his hand at remixing an existing 3D design, but adding electronics to it to create something interactive.

As the model was originally intended for a board game, it was obviously quite small. So the first order of business was scaling everything up to twice the original dimensions. As [Matthew] notes, the fact that it still looks so good when expanded by such a large degree is a credit to how detailed the original model is. Once blown up to more useful proportions, he modified the head of the turret as well as the barrel to accept the electronics he planned on grafting into the model.

He created a mount for a standard nine gram servo inside the head of the turret which allows it to rotate, and the barrel got an LED stuck in the end. Both of which are controlled with a NodeMCU ESP8266 development board, allowing [Matthew] to control the direction and intensity of the pew-pew over WiFi. He mentions that in the future he would like to add sound effects that are synchronized to the turret rotation and LED blinking.

For the software side of the project, he used Blynk to quickly build a smartphone interface for the turret. This is the first time he had used Blynk, and reports that outside of a little trial and error, it was some of the easiest code he’s ever written for the Arduino. This is a sentiment we’ve been seeing a lot of recently towards Blynk, and it’s interesting to see how often it shows up in ESP8266 projects now.

Looking ahead [Matthew] says he wants to paint and detail the turret, as the bright orange color scheme probably wouldn’t do terribly well on Hoth. If he can manage the time, he’d also like to add it to the long list of OpenCV-powered turrets that hackers love harassing their friends and family with.

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