Pi Pico Project Plays Pong Perfectly

Even as technology keeps progressing, we find ourselves coming back to the classics again and again. Pong is quite possibly the classic game, and the Raspberry Pi Pico is one of the latest microcontrollers. So [Nick Bild] combined them expertly in his Pico Pong project, which includes gesture controls and a custom VGA output.

Rolling your own VGA signal is no simple feat, and this project takes full advantage of the Pico’s features to pull it off. Display data is buffered in memory, while a Programmable I/O (PIO) program reads straight from the buffer via Direct Memory Access (DMA) and writes straight to the display. This allows for nanosecond-precision while leaving the CPU free to handle inputs and run the game. Even with the display work offloaded, the ARM processor had to be massively overclocked at 258 MHz, well over its 133 MHz specs, to make things run smoothly. And still [Nick] found himself limited to a 640×350 resolution and serendipitously-retro-accurate monochrome color scheme.

Gesture controls come from a pair of IR light beams hooked up to the GPIO. IR LEDs shine up toward reflectors, and the light bounces back down to detectors. Blocking one of the beams causes your paddle to move up or down, which looks pretty responsive in the video (embedded below).

We’ve seen [Nick] play Pong before, though at that time it was handheld and based on the venerable 6502. And just recently we wrote about the Raspberry Pi Pico powering another classic game: Snake.

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Disney Imagineering’s “Project Kiwi” Bears Groot

Some days, we might be forgiven for believing Boston Dynamics has cornered the market on walking robots. They (and other players) are making incredible progress in their field, but three years ago Disney, trying to create autonomous, free-walking robotic actors for some of their more diminutive film characters, found none of the existing platforms were appropriate. So they set their Imagineering department to work on “Project Kiwi”, and we are now seeing the fruits of those efforts.

Research on bipedal robots has amassed over the years, and as the saying goes, if these Imagineers saw further it was by standing on the shoulders of larger robotic platforms. However, the Project Kiwi designers have made a laundry list of innovations in their process of miniaturization, from the “marrow conduit” cooling system which forces air through hollow bones, to gearing that allows actuators to share motors even across joints. The electronics are distributed around the skeleton on individual PCBs with ribbon flex cables to reduce wiring, and almost every component is custom fabricated to meet the complex size and weight requirements.

Even in this early prototype, Disney’s roots in life-like animatronics are evident. Groot’s movements are emotive, if a bit careful, and software can express a variety of personalities through his gaits and postures. The eyes and face are as expressive as we’ve come to expect (though a keen eye for seams puts off some definite Westworld vibes). Reportedly, this version can handle gentle shoves and contact, but we do spot a safety cable still attached to the head. So there’s probably some way to go before we’ll see this interacting with the general public in a park.

Disney’s Imagineering department has been doing some amazing work with robotics and they continue to make significant innovations in the more traditional fields of animatronics. It certainly looks like one of the coolest places to work right now, and now we’re itching to build our own bipedal friends to play with.

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Large Format Lego Camera Is A Bit Near-Sighted

Photography doesn’t have to be expensive, something that’s especially true in the realm of film photography, where the imperfections of the medium can be half the appeal. There are many DIY plans and kits available for analog cameras, but [bhiga143] had couple spare components and a pile of small, colorful bricks lying around, so he decided to build a functional 4×5″ film camera out of Lego.

Details are light for this build, but with a little knowledge about camera structure we can guess at what’s going on inside. Simplicity makes for robust design, and what we have here is in effect a box with a lens on one side and photographic film on the other. The center section of the front, which actually supports the lens, is capable of sliding in and out to adjust focus. On the far side (not pictured) is a slot just wide enough to insert a standard film holder.

The camera really is a hack. [bhiga143] stayed true to the “Lego” part of Lego camera, so there is no glue, no black paper lining, and no frills. The tripod is whatever stack of books lay underneath it. The lens is, quote, “barely functional”. There are light leaks galore, and it can’t focus beyond about 3 feet (1 meter). But every one of those points just makes us love it more. Every nugget of imperfection is a few words added to the story each picture tells. And we honestly can’t wait to see more pictures.

Other Lego cameras we’ve seen have been smaller and less colorful, but using a simple pinhole lens can reduce the overall cost. Of course, you’re not limited to Lego if you want to build your own pinhole camera. Although, the ubiquitous plastic bricks can also be useful in later stages of the film photography process.

NASA’s Lucy Stretches Its Wings Ahead Of Trojan Trek

The good news about using solar power to explore space is there are no clouds to block your sunlight. Some dust and debris, yes, but nowhere near what we have to deal with on planets. The bad news is, as you wander further and further out in the solar system, your panels capture less and less of the sunlight you need for power. NASA’s Lucy spacecraft will be dependent on every square inch, so we’re happy to hear technicians have successfully tested its solar panel deployment in preparation for an October 2021 launch.

An animation of Trojan asteroids and inner planets in orbit around the Sun.
Trojan asteroids (in green) orbit the Sun ahead of and behind Jupiter.

Lucy’s 12-year mission is to examine one Main Belt asteroid and seven so-called Trojans, which are asteroids shepherded around the Sun in two clusters at Lagrange points just ahead and behind Jupiter in its orbit. The convoluted orbital path required for all those visits will sling the spacecraft farther from the sun than any solar-powered space mission has gone before. To make up for the subsequent loss of watts per area, the designers have done their best to maximize the area. Though the panels fold up to a package only 4 inches (10 centimeters) thick, they open up to an enormous diameter of almost 24 feet (7.3 meters); which is enough to provide the roughly 500 watts required at literally astronomical distances from their power source.

Near-Earth asteroids are exciting targets for exploration partly because of the hazards they pose to our planet. Trojan asteroids, thought to be primordial remnants of the same material that formed the outer planets, pose no such danger to us but may hold insights about the early formation of our solar system. We’re already eagerly anticipating the return of OSIRIS-REx’s sample, and Hayabusa2 continues its mission after so many firsts. An extended tour of these farther-off objects will keep us watching for years to come. Check out the video embedded below for Lucy’s mission overview.

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Flight Of The Pterothopter: A Jurassic-Inspired Ornithopter

Ornithopters look silly. They look like something that shouldn’t work. An airplane with no propeller and wings that go flappy-flappy? No way that thing is going to fly. There are, however, a multitude of hobbyists, researchers, and birds who would heartily disagree with that sentiment, because ornithopters do fly. And they are almost mesmerizing to watch when they do it, which is just one reason we love [Hobi Cerdas]’s build of the Pterothopter, a rubber band-powered ornithopter modeled after a pterodactyl.

All joking aside, the science and research behind ornithopters and, relatedly, how living organisms fly is fascinating in itself — which is why [Lewin Day] wrote that article about how bees manage to become airborne. We can lose hours reading about this stuff and watching videos of prototypes. While most models we can currently build are not as efficient as their propeller-powered counterparts, the potential of evolutionarily-perfected flying mechanisms is endlessly intriguing. That alone is enough to fuel builds like this for years to come.

As you can see in the video below, [Hobi Cerdas] went through his own research and development process as he got his Pterothopter to soar. The model proved too nose-heavy in its maiden flight, but that’s nothing a little raising of the tail section and a quick field decapitation couldn’t resolve. After a more successful second flight, he swapped in a thinner rubber band and modified the wing’s leading edge for more thrust. This allowed the tiny balsa dinosaur to really take off, flying long enough to have some very close encounters with buildings and trees.

For those of you already itching to build your own Pterothopter, the plans come from the Summer 2017 issue of Flapping Wings, the official newsletter of the Ornithopter Society (an organization we’re so happy to learn about today). You can also find more in-depth ornithopter build logs to help you get started. And, honestly, there’s no reason to limit yourself to uncontrolled flight; we’ve come across some very impressive RC ornithopters in the past.

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Giant Nintendo Switch Is Actually Playable

The Nintendo Switch has been a hugely successful console for the century-old former playing card manufacturer. At least part of that success has come from its portability, of which [Michael Pick] has probably lost a bit with his 65-pound giant Nintendo Switch built for St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital. (Video, embedded below.) What he’s lost in portability has been more than made up in coolness-factor, though, and we’re sure the kids will appreciate that they can still play the monster gaming machine.

From its plywood body to the 3D-printed buttons, the supersized build looks solid. Docked inside the left Joy-Con is the actual console powering its big brother. Perhaps the biggest surprise, however, is that tiny (well, normal-sized) Joy-Cons are also hidden inside. These are manipulated via servos for the buttons and a direct pass-through setup for the joysticks to control games on the Switch.

While the Joy-Cons are unmodified and completely removable, [Michael] does recognize this isn’t necessarily the ideal solution. But he was certain it was a hack he could make work in the time he had, so he went for it. He’s looked into the controller emulation possible with Teensys and would probably use that solution for any giant Switch projects in the future. Of course, with this build, players can still pair regular Joy-Cons and pro controllers for more practical gaming.

Most Nintendo mods we see attempt to make the console smaller, not larger, so this is an eye-catching change of pace. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see the colossal console in action after it was installed, only some stills of hospital staff wheeling it in the front doors. But we can imagine that the children’s smiles are at least as big as ours were when we saw it.

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The Word Clock You Can Feel

By this point, pretty much everyone has come across a word clock project, if not built one themselves. There’s just an appeal to looking at a clock and seeing the time in a more human form than mere digits on a face. But there are senses beyond sight. Have you ever heard a word clock? Have you ever felt a word clock? These are questions to which Hackaday’s own [Moritz Sivers] can now answer yes, because he’s gone through the extreme learning process involved in designing and building a haptic word clock driven with the power of magnets.

Individual letters of the display are actuated by a matrix of magnetic coils on custom PCBs. These work in a vaguely similar fashion to LED matrices, except they generate magnetic fields that can push or pull on a magnet instead of generating light. As such, there are a variety of different challenges to be tackled: from coil design, to driving the increased power consumption, to even considering how coils interact with their neighbors. Inspired by research on other haptic displays, [Moritz] used ferrous foil to make the magnets latch into place. This way, each letter will stay in its forward or back position without powering the coil to hold it there. Plus the letter remains more stable while nearby coils are activated.

Part of the fun of “ubiquitous” projects like word clocks is seeing how creative hackers can get to make their own creations stand out. Whether it’s a miniaturized version of classic designs or something simple and clean, we  love to see them all. Unsurprisingly, [Moritz] himself has impressed us with his unique take on word clocks in the past. (Editor’s note: that’s nothing compared to his cloud chambers!)

Check out the video below to see this display’s actuation in action. We’re absolutely in love with the satisfying *click* the magnets make as they latch into place.

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