Vektor Kollektor Inspector

With the world opening up again, [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] have been busy making a public and collaborative project. Meet the Vektor Kollektor, a portable drawing machine experience, complete with a chip-tune soundtrack. It’s great to see public art meet the maker community with zero pretension and a whole lot of fun!

The build started with an HP7475A pen plotter from the 80s, one that was DOA (or was fried during initial testing). [Niklas] and [Kati] kept the mechanism but rebuilt the controls allowing for easy integration with an Arduino Nano and to be powered with a motorcycle battery.

The magic seems to be less in the junk-bin build (which is great) and more in the way this team extended the project. Using a joystick with arcade buttons as an input, they carted Vektor Kollektor to public parks and streets where they invited others to make art. The Kollekted drawings are available on a gallery website in a very cool animated form, freely available for download, on t-shirts, 3D prints, and on coffee mugs because, why not?

Some select drawings are even spray-painted on walls using a large plotter, and we really hope [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] share details on that build soon. Of course this comes hot on the heels of the workshop window cyborg we saw from these two hardware artists.

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Spooky USB Baby Types Out Messages From Beyond

You might think it’s a bit early for us to be running Halloween hacks, but don’t worry. While this microcontroller-equipped doll that mimics a USB keyboard to type out messages in the creepiest way possible might seem like a gag gift you’d get after attending somebody’s bone-chilling holiday bash, creator [Jonathan] actually put it together for a friend’s wedding. So not only is it an interesting piece of hacked together hardware, but it’s also a great reminder about the importance of having a wedding registry.

Even if this seems like a rather unusual wedding gift from an outsider’s perspective (for the record, pranks involving this “haunted doll” have been a running gag between them since their school days), we can’t help but be impressed with the way [Jonathan] implemented it. An ATtiny85-powered Digispark is hidden inside the doll, along with a simple USB 2.0 hub that supposedly eases some teething issues the diminutive development board has with newer USB 3.0 ports. Through the use of V-USB, this lets the baby type out messages once plugged into the recipient’s computer.

Soldering the Digispark to a cheap USB hub keeps newer computers happy.

Now he could have just stopped there, but [Jonathan] wanted this to be an interactive experience. Specifically, he wanted the baby to present the newlyweds with a personally test of sorts, and that meant taking user input. He came up with the clever user interface demonstrated in the video below, which responds to changes in the system’s “Caps Lock” state.

This platform-agnostic solution lets the user navigate the doll’s menu system by tapping a single key, although the Chromebook users out there will have to break out the Alt key to play along. It’s a neat trick for getting two-way communication going between a MCU and a computer without any client-side software, and worth filing away mentally for future non-haunted projects. It’s also worth checking out the effort [Jonathan] put into optimizing everything to fit into the chip’s paltry 6012 bytes of flash.

Incidentally, this is a good a time as any to remind readers that our Halloween Hackfest contest is live right now and taking entries until October 11th. If you’ve got any cursed bar mitzvah gifts you’ve been putting the finishing touches on, we’d love to see them.

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One Man’s Quest To Build A Baby Book With Brains

Regular readers will know that Hackaday generally steers clear of active crowdfunding campaigns. But occasionally we do run across a project that’s unique enough that we feel compelled to dust off our stamp of approval. Especially if the campaign has already blasted past its funding goal, and we don’t have to feel bad about getting you fine folks excited over vaporware.

It’s with these caveats in mind that we present to you Computer Engineering for Babies, by [Chase Roberts]. The product of five years of research and development, this board book utilizes an internal microcontroller to help illustrate the functions of boolean logic operations like AND, OR, and XOR in an engaging way. Intended for toddlers but suitable for curious minds of all ages, the book has already surpassed 500% of its funding goal on Kickstarter at the time of this writing with no signs of slowing down.

The electronics as seen from the rear of the book.

Technical details are light on the Kickstarter page to keep things simple, but [Chase] was happy to talk specifics when we reached out to him. He explained that the original plan was to use discreet components, with early prototypes simply routing the button through the gates specified on the given page. This worked, but wasn’t quite as robust a solution as he’d like. So eventually the decision was made to move the book over to the low-power ATmega328PB microcontroller and leverage the MiniCore project so the books could be programmed with the Arduino IDE.

Obviously battery life was a major concern with the project, as a book that would go dead after sitting on the shelf for a couple weeks simply wouldn’t do. To that end, [Chase] says his code makes extensive use of the Arduino LowPower library. Essentially the firmware wakes up the ATmega every 15 ms to see if a button has been pressed or the page turned, and updates the LED state accordingly. If no changes have been observed after roughly two minutes, the chip will go into a deep sleep and won’t wake up again until an interrupt has been fired by the yellow button being pressed. He says there are some edge cases where this setup might misbehave, but in general, the book should be able to run for about a year on a coin cell.

[Chase] tells us the biggest problem was finding a reliable way to determine which page the book was currently turned to. In fact, he expects to keep tinkering with this aspect of the design until the books actually ship. The current solution uses five phototransistors attached to the the MCU’s ADC pins, which receive progressively more light as fewer pages are laying on top of them. The first sensor is exposed when the second page of the book is opened, so for example, if three of the sensors are seeing elevated light levels the code would assume the user is on page four.

Opening to the last page exposes all five light sensors.

The books and PCBs are being manufactured separately, since as you might expect, finding a single company that had experience with both proved difficult. [Chase] plans on doing the final assembly and programming of each copy in-house with the help of family members; given how many have already been sold this early in the campaign, we hope he’s got a lot of cousins.

So what do you do with an Arduino-compatible book when Junior gets tired of it? That’s what we’re particularly interested in finding out. [Chase] says he’s open to releasing the firmware as an open source project after the dust settles from the Kickstarter campaign, which would give owners a base to build from should they want to roll their own custom firmware. Obviously the peripheral hardware of the book is fairly limited, but nothing is stopping you from hanging some sensors on the I2C bus or hijacking the unused GPIO pins.

If you end up teaching your copy of Computer Engineering for Babies some new tricks, we’ve love to hear about it.

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Pandemic Gives Passersby A Window On Cyborg Control

What’s this? Another fabulous creation from [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] that combines art and electronics with our zeitgeist and a lot of recycled bits and bobs? You got it. Their workshop in eastern Berlin used to be a retail shop and has a large display window as a result. This seems perfect for a pair of artists in a pandemic, because they can communicate with the community through the things they display in the window. Most recently, it was this interactive cyborg baby we are choosing to call Cybaby.

You might recognize Cybaby as one of the very hackable Robosapien robots, but with a baby doll head. (It also has a single red eye that really pulls its look together.) In the window, Cybaby comes alive and toddles around against a backdrop that grew and evolved over several weeks this spring and summer. Passersby were able to join the network and control Cybaby from outside with their smartphone to make it walk around, press various buttons that change its environment, and trigger a few sensors here and there. Robosapien has been around for about 20 years, so there is already Arduino code out there that essentially simulates its R/C signals. [Niklas] and [Kati] used a NodeMCU (ESP12-E) to send pulses to the IR input of the robot.

Back on the zany zeitgeist front, there’s a hair salon, a convenience store, and a nightclub for dancing that requires a successful trip through the testing center first (naturally). Oh, and there’s a lab next door to the nightclub that can’t be accessed by Cybaby no matter what it tries or how it cries. Check it out after the break.

There’s a dearth of Robosapien posts for some reason, so here’s what [Niklas] and [Kati] had in their window before the World of Cybaby — a really cool pen plotter that prints out messages sent by people walking by.

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Three-Stage Thrust Vectoring Model Rocket With Tiny Flight Computers

Flying a thrust-vectoring rocket can be a challenge, and even more so if you stack multiple stages and a minimalist flight computer on top of it all. But [Joe Barnard] is not one to shy away from such a challenge, so he built a three stage actively guided rocket named Shreeek.

[Joe] is well known for his thrust-vectoring rockets, some of which have came within a hair’s breadth of making a perfect powered landing. Previous rockets have used larger, more complex flight computers, but for this round, he wanted to go as small and minimalist as possible. Each stage of the rocket has its own tiny 16 x 17 mm flight computer and battery. The main components are a SAM21 microcontroller running Arduino firmware, an IMU for altitude and orientation sensing, and a FET to trigger the rocket motor igniter. It also has servo outputs for thrust vector control (TVC), and motor control output for the reaction wheel on the third stage for roll control. To keep it simple he omitted a way to log flight data, a decision he later regretted. Shreeek did not have a dedicated recovery system on any of the stages, instead relying on its light weight and high drag to land intact

None of the four launch attempts went as planned, with only the first two stages functioning correctly in the test with the best results. Thanks to the lack of recorded flight data, [Joe] had to rely on video footage alone to diagnose the problems after each launch. Even so, his experience diagnosing problems certainly proved its worth, with definitive improvements. However, we suspect that all his future flight computers will have data logging features included.

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Pi Pico Emulates ROM For Speedy Retro Hacking

If you’ve ever worked on a system that loads its software from a ROM or EPROM, you know how much of a hassle it can be to make frequent changes to the code. Pulling the chip, flashing it, and sticking it back into the socket each time you change a line isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. Which is why [Nick Bild] has come up with the PicoROM, a way to emulate a ROM chip using the Raspberry Pi Pico.

With the Pi Pico standing in for the original ROM, updating firmware takes a fraction of the time and doesn’t require you to actually disconnect any of the hardware. [Nick] had done something similar with FPGAs in the past, but the far cheaper and easier to work with Pi Pico makes this version particularly appealing. The secret to getting it to work is the overclocking potential of the Pico, which he says has been pushed to 400 MHz for this particular application.

PicoROM on a breadboard.

The downside is that you can’t access the Pico’s onboard flash when the chip is running that fast. To get around that limitation, all of the code is loaded into the microcontroller’s RAM. With a healthy 264 KB of memory this isn’t really a problem when emulating 32 KB chips, but [Nick] says his method would quickly fall apart for larger ROMs.

Beyond the Pi Pico itself, [Nick] is using a trio of 74LVC245AN 8-bit logic level shifters so the chip can talk to the 5 V logic of his homebrew 6502 computer. With everything wired up on a simple breadboard, PicoROM has no trouble serving up the operating system as it hums along at 2 MHz.

Of course, a modern high-performance microcontroller isn’t strictly necessary. In the past we’ve covered devices that could emulate an EPROM using 1990s era silicon.

SYPHCOM, the compact CO2 sensor

Compact Sensor Keeps You Safe By Watching CO2 Levels

Remember when work meetings were just a bunch of people filling up a small, poorly ventilated room with their exhaled breath? Back in the good old days, all you had to worry about was being lulled to sleep by a combination of the endless slide deck and the accumulation of carbon dioxide. Now? Well, the stakes may just be a little bit higher.

In either situation, knowing the CO2 level in a room could be a handy data point, which is where a portable CO2 sensor like this one could be useful. Or at least that’s [KaRMaN]’s justification for SYPHCOM, the “simple yet powerful handheld carbon dioxide meter.” The guts of the sensor are pretty much what you’d expect — an Arduino Pro Micro, a SenseAir S8 CO2 sensor board, and the necessary battery and charging circuits. But the build does break the mold in a couple of interesting places. One is in the choice of display — a 1980s-era LED matrix display. The HDSP2000 looks like it belongs in a nice bench meter, and is surprisingly legible without a filter. It looks like it flickers a bit in the video below, but chances are that’s just a camera artifact.

The other nice part of this build is the obvious care [KaRMaN] put into making it as small as possible. The layout of boards and components is very clever, making this a solid, compact package, even without an enclosure. We’ve seen CO2 sensors with more features, but for a quick check on air quality, SYPHCOM looks like a great tool.

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