Electric Dreams Help Cows Survive The Desert Of The Real

Pictures of a cow wearing a pair of comically oversized virtual reality goggles recently spread like wildfire over social media, and even the major news outlets eventually picked it up. Why not? Nobody wants to read about geopolitical turmoil over the holidays, and this story was precisely the sort of lighthearted “news” people would, if you can forgive the pun, gobble up.

But since you’re reading Hackaday, these images probably left you with more questions than answers. Who made the hardware, what software is it running, and of course, why does a cow need VR? Unfortunately, the answers to the more technical questions aren’t exactly forthcoming. Even tracking the story back to the official press release from the Ministry of Agriculture and Food of the Moscow Region doesn’t tell us much more than we can gather from the image itself.

But it does at least explain why somebody went through the trouble of making a custom bovine VR rig: calm cows produce more milk. These VR goggles, should they pass their testing and actually be adopted by the Russian dairy industry, will be the newest addition to a list of cow-calming hardware devices that farmers have been using for decades to get the most out of their herds.

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Giant Analog CO2 Meter Sweeps Away Doubt

Most of us are aware that trees turn CO₂ into oxygen, but we’d venture to guess that many people’s knowledge of this gas ends there. Is it feast or famine out there for the trees? Who can say? We admire [rabbitcreek]’s commitment to citizen science because he’s so focused on making it easy for people to understand their environment. His latest offering, a giant analog CO₂ meter, might be our favorite so far.

The brains of the operation is an Adafruit Feather Adalogger. It reads the CO₂ sensor that’s mounted close to the business end of the nautilus, and becomes the quill that writes the CO₂ value to a FeatherWing e-ink screen. For the giant needle, this lovely meter uses one of those fiberglass poles you mark your driveway with so you can find it under a blanket of snow. The needle is counter-balanced with washers encased in printed plastic.

As you can see in the GIF, there’s a decent delay between the CO₂ blast and the needle response — we like to imagine the CO₂ spiraling slowly through the nautilus like a heavy, ill wind on its way to gravely move the needle.

Want a way to monitor air quality that’s a bit more discreet? Slip this portable meter into your pocket.

Tool Rolls, The Fabric Design Challenge That Can Tidy Up Any Workshop

You’ve designed PCBs. You’ve cut, drilled, Dremeled, and blow-torched various objects into project enclosurehood. You’ve dreamed up some object in three dimensions and marveled as the machine stacked up strings of hot plastic, making that object come to life one line of g-code at a time. But have you ever felt the near-limitless freedom of designing in fabric?

I don’t have to tell you how satisfying it is to make something with your hands, especially something that will get a lot of use. When it comes to that sweet cross between satisfaction and utility, fabric is as rewarding as any other medium. You might think that designing in fabric is difficult, but let’s just say that it is not intuitive. Fabric is just like anything else — mysterious until you start learning about it. The ability to design and implement in fabric won’t solve all your problems, but it sure is a useful tool for the box.

WoF? Fat quarter? How much is a yard of fabric, anyway?

To prove it, I’m going to take you through the process of designing something in fabric. More specifically, a tool roll. These two words may conjure images of worn, oily leather or canvas, rolled out under the open hood of a car. But the tool roll is a broad, useful concept that easily and efficiently bundles up anything from socket wrenches to BBQ utensils and from soldering irons to knitting needles. Tool rolls are the best in flexible, space-saving storage — especially when custom-designed for your need.

In this case, the tools will be pens, notebooks, and index cards. You know, writer stuff. But the same can just as easily organize your oscilloscope probes. It’s usefully and a great first foray into building things with fabric if this is your first time.

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GymCam Knows Exactly What You’ve Been Doing In The Gym

Getting exact statistics on one’s physical activities at the gym, is not an easy feat. While most people these days are familiar with or even regularly use one of those motion-based trackers on their wrist, there’s a big question as to their accuracy. After all, it’s all based on the motions of just one’s wrist, which as we know leads to amusing results in the tracker app when one does things like waving or clapping one’s hands, and cannot track leg exercises at the gym.

To get around the issue of limited sensor data, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, USA) developed a system based around a camera and machine vision algorithms. While other camera solutions that attempt this suffer from occlusion while trying to track individual people as accurately as possible, this new system instead doesn’t try to track people’s joints, but merely motion at specific exercise machines by looking for repetitive motion in the scene.

The basic concept is that repetitive motion usually indicates forms of exercise, and that no two people at the same type of machine will ever be fully in sync with their motions, so that merely a handful of pixels suffice to track motion at that machine by a single person. This also negates many privacy issues, as the resolution doesn’t have to be high enough to see faces or track joints with any degree of accuracy.

In experiments at the university’s gym, the accuracy of their system over 5 days and 42 hours of video. Detecting exercise activities in the scene was with a 99.6% accuracy, disambiguating between simultaneous activities was 84.6% accurate, while recognizing exercise types was 93.6% accurate. Ultimately repetition counts for specific exercises were within 1.7 counts.

Maybe an extended version of this would be a flying drone capturing one’s outside activities, giving one finally that 100% accurate exercise account while jogging?

Thanks to [Qes] for sending this one in!

These Tips Make Assembling A Few Hundred PCBs Easier

There are a few common lessons that get repeated by anyone who takes on the task of assembling a few hundred PCBs, but there are also unique insights to be had. [DominoTree] shared his takeaways after making a couple hundred electronic badges for DEFCON 26 (that’s the one before the one that just wrapped up, if anyone’s keeping track.) [DominoTree] assembled over 200 Telephreak badges and by the end of it he had quite a list of improvements he wished he had made during the design phase.

Some tips are clearly sensible, such as adding proper debug and programming interfaces, or baking an efficient test cycle into the firmware. Others are not quite so obvious, for example “add a few holes to your board.” Holes can be useful in unexpected ways and cost essentially zero. Even if the board isn’t going to be mounted to anything, a few holes can provide a way to attach jigs or other hardware like test fixtures.

[DominoTree] ended up having to attach multiple jumper wires to reprogram boards after assembly, and assures us that “doing this a bunch of times really sucked.”
Other advice is more generic but no less important, as with “eliminate as many steps as possible.” Almost anything adds up to a significant chunk of time when repeated hundreds of times. To the basement hacker, something such as pre-cut and pre-tinned wires might seem like a shameful indulgence. But cutting, stripping, tinning, then hand-soldering a wire adds up to significant time and effort by iteration number four hundred (that’s two power wires per badge) even if one isn’t staring down a looming deadline.

[DominoTree] also followed up with additional advice on making assembly easier. Our own [Brian Benchoff] has also shared his observations on the experience of developing and assembling a large number of Hackaday Superconference badges, including what it took to keep things moving along when inevitable problems surfaced.

You don’t need to be making batches of hundreds for these lessons to pay off, so keep them in mind and practice them on your next project.

High Voltage Protects Low Denominations

How do you keep people out of your change jar? If you didn’t say with a 3D printed iris mechanism and high-voltage spark gap, then clearly you aren’t [Vije Miller]. Which is probably for the best, as we’re not sure we actually want to live in a world where there are two of these things.

Regular Hackaday readers will know that [Vije] has a way of using electromechanical trickery to inject a bit of excitement, and occasionally a little danger, into even the most mundane aspects of life. His latest project is an automated change jar that uses a pinpad to authenticate users, while everyone else gets the business end of a spark gap if the PIR sensor detects them getting to close.

You can see a demonstration of the jar in the video after the break, where he shows the jar’s ability to stop…himself, from getting access to it. Hey, nobody said it was meant to keep out real intruders. Though we do think a similar gadget could be a fun way to keep the kids out of the cookie jar before dinner, though we’d strongly suggest deleting the high-voltage component from the project before deploying it with a gullet full of Keebler’s best.

[Vije] was able to adapt a printable iris design he found on Thingiverse to fit over the mouth of the jar, and uses servos in the base to rotate the whole assembly around and open it up. The internal Arduino Nano handles reading from the pinpad, controlling the stepper, and of course firing up the spark generator for 1000 milliseconds each time the PIR sensor detects somebody trying to be cute. Just the sound of the arc should be enough to get somebody to reconsider the value of literal pocket change.

Some of the design elements used in this change jar’s high voltage components were influenced by the lessons learned when [Vije] was building his plasma-powered toilet air freshener. There’s a sentence we bet you never expected to read today.

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Hack Your Brain To Stop Overeating

Sometimes the easiest advice can be the hardest to follow. For example: if you want to lose weight, you must eat right and exercise. You can avoid both and still lose weight by simply eating less, but that takes willpower.

Losing weight is one of the hardest things a person can do, because we have to eat to survive. That leaves the problem of stopping when we’re full. Here in the united states of high-fat foods and huge portions, that can be really, really difficult, as evidenced by the obesity statistics. But no matter where you live, it’s easy to ignore the ‘stomach full’ signal. It’s kind of slow, anyway. So how do you get yourself tuned into the signal? All it takes is a little classical conditioning.

Slim Band is simple, but effective. Basically, it’s a pack of breath-freshening strips strapped to a timer PCB and set into a watchband. Set the five-minute timer when you start eating, and when it goes off, take out a strip and mintify your mouth. By the time the minty-ness wears off, you should feel full enough to push your plate away. The convenience factor is a big plus—there’s no getting the phone out to set an alarm, or digging for mints in your pocket or purse.

Though the idea began as a personal improvement project, [Chaz] would like to see it widely adopted as a way of fighting obesity and evening out the world’s food distribution in the longer term. We would, too.