Tiniest Control Board Fits Inside an N-Gauge Model Train

[kodera2t] discovered the VL53L0X Time of Flight sensor and thought it would make a great way to control the operation of a model train without touching it. He explains it in his own words in the demo video.

The sensor was small enough for an N-gauge train, which translates to 1:148 scale or about 9mm from rail to rail. His idea was to build a tiny control board that could fit inside the locomotive: 10mm by 40mm. His board consists of the ToF sensor, an ATMega328P-MMH, USB-serial, and a Texas Instruments DRV8830 motor driver. he powers the board via the 6V running through the track.

Right now [kodera2t]’s using the ToF as sort of a gestural controller to get the train to start rolling, but one could imagine the sensor could be incorporated into more advanced programming, like having the train speed up on straightaways and slow down on a curve, based on the height of the bridge over it.

We’ve published a bunch of [kodera2t]’s tiny circuit board projects here on Hackaday, including the smallest basic computer, his minimal frequency counter, and his VFD amplifier.

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A Table From Beyond Infinity

Infinity mirrors are some far-out table mods and make a great centerpiece. Instructables user [bongoboy23] took a couple steps beyond infinity when designing this incredible table tailor-made for our modern age.

Poplar and pine wood make up the framing, and red oak — stained and engraved — make for a chic exterior. Programmed with Arduino and run on a Teensy 3.1, the tabletop has 960 LEDs in forty sections. There are, four USB ports hidden behind sliding panels, as well as a two-port AC outlet and an inductive charging pad and circuit.  A hidden Adafruit TFT touchscreen display allows the user to control the table’s functions. Control is limited to changing lighting functions, but Pac-Man, Snake, and text features are still to come!

Weighing in at $850, it’s not a cheap build, but it looks amazing.

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Interfacing a Retro Controller using the USBASP

An ISP dongle is a very common piece of equipment on a maker’s bench. However, its potential as a hackable device is generally overlooked. The USBASP has an ATmeg8L at its heart and [Robson] decided that this humble USB device could be used as an interface between his PC and a SNES Joypad.

A SNES controller required three pins to communicate with a host: clock, data and latch. In his hack, [Robson]  connects the controller to the ISP interface using a small DIY adaptor and programs the AVR using the V-USB library. V-USB is a software USB library for small microcontrollers and comes in pretty handy in this instance.

[Robson] does a pretty good job of documenting the entire process of creating the interface which includes the USB HID code as well as the SNES joypad serial protocol. His hack works on both Windows and Linux alike and the code is available on GitHub for download.

Simple implementation like this project are a great starting point for anyone looking to dip their toes in the DIY USB device pool. Veterans may find a complete DIY joystick more up their alley and will be inspired by some plastic techniques as well.

You’re the Only One not Playing with Unity

It wasn’t too long ago that one could conjecture that most hackers are not avid video game players. We spend most of our free time taking things apart, tinkering with microcontrollers and reading the latest [Jenny List] article on Hackaday.com. When we do think of video games, our neurons generally fire in the direction of emulating a console on a single board computer, such as a Raspberry Pi or a Beaglebone. Or even emulating the actual console processor on an FPGA. Rarely do we venture off into 3D programs meant to make modern video games. If we can’t export an .STL with it, we’re not interested. It’s just not our bag.

Oculus Rift changed this. The VR headset was originally invented for 3D video games, but quickly became a darling to hackers the world over. Virtual Reality technology is far bigger than just video games, and brings opportunity to many fields such as real estate, construction, product visualization, education, social interaction… the list goes on and on.

The Oculus team got together with the folks over at Unity in the early days to make it easy for video game makers to make content for the Rift. Unity is a game engine designed with a shallow learning curve and is available for free for non-commercial use. The Oculus Rift can be integrated into a Unity environment with the check of a setting and importing a small package, available on the Oculus site. This makes it easy for anyone interested in VR technology to get a Rift and start pumping out content.

Hackers have taken things a step further and have written scripts that allow Unity to communicate with an Arduino. VR is fun. But VR plus physical reality is just down right exciting! In this article, we’re going to walk you through setting up your Oculus Rift and Unity game engine to communicate with the outside world via an Arduino.

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Codebender Rises from the Ashes

If you were sad that Codebender had bit the dust, cheer up. A site called codeanywhere has acquired the online Arduino development environment and brought it back to life. In addition to the main Codebender site, the edu and blocks sites are also back on the air.

Not only is this great news, but it also makes sense. The codeanywhere site is a development IDE in the cloud for many different programming languages. The downside? Well, all the people who said they’d be glad to pay to keep Codebender alive will get a chance to put their money where their mouth is.

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Fight a Minotaur with this Gorgeous Handheld

[Jason Carlson]’s favorite game as kid was 1983’s Treasure of Tarmin by Intellivision, a maze game that eventually came to be called Minotaur. As an adult there was only one thing he could do: remake it on a beautiful Arduino-based handheld.

[Jason] built the handheld out of a small-footprint Arduino Mega clone, a 1.8” LCD from Adafruit, a 5 V booster, a 1” speaker and vibe motor for haptic feedback. There are some nice touches, like the joystick with a custom Sugru top and a surprisingly elegant 2 x AA battery holder — harvested from a Yamaha guitar.

The maze maps are all the same as the original game, which [Jason] found online, but he stored the maps as bytes in an array to speed up the game—there was a flicker in the refresh already. However he added a progress map so players could see every area that was explored. In addition to Minotaur [Jason] also added remakes of Tetris, Simon and Snake, simpler games he wrote to test out the hardware.

We’ve published a bunch of handheld gaming projects over the years, including putting a Pi Zero in a GameBoy, building a throwback handheld, and playing Ocarina of Time on a N64 handheld.

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DIY Shortcut Keyboard

Working with CAD programs involves focusing on the task at hand and keyboard shortcuts can be very handy. Most software packages allow the user to customize these shortcuts but eventually, certain complex key combination can become a distraction.

[awende] over at Sparkfun has created a Cherry MX Keyboard which incorporates all of the Autodesk Eagle Shortcuts to a single 4×4 matrix. The project exploits the Arduino Pro Mini’s ability to mimic an HID device over USB thereby enabling the DIY keyboard. Pushbuttons connected to the GPIOs are read by the Arduino and corresponding shortcut key presses are sent to the host machine.

Additional functionality is implemented using two rotary encoders and the Teensy encoder library. The first knob functions as a volume control with the push-button working as a mute button. The encoder is used to control the grid spacing and the embedded button is used to switch between imperial and metric units. The entire code, as well as the schematic, is available on GitHub for your hacking pleasure. It’s a polished project just ready for you to adapt.

The project can be extended to be used with other computer software such as Gimp and the keys may be replaced by capacitive touch sensors making it more sturdy. Bluetooth can be added to make things wireless and you can check out the Double Action Keyboard to extend functionality further. Continue reading “DIY Shortcut Keyboard”