An In-Depth Look at Dexter, the Robotic Arm

Dexter, a really great robot arm project, just won top honors in the 2018 Hackaday Prize, and walked away with $50,000 toward continuing their project. As a hat tip to Hackaday and the community, Haddington Dynamics, the company behind Dexter, agreed to open-source their newest version of Dexter as well. As James Newton said when accepting the trophy during the award ceremony, “because of your faith in us, because of this award, we have been moved to open-source the next generation of Dexter.” Some very clever work went into producing Dexter, and we can’t wait to see what further refinements have been made!

Dexter isn’t the only robotic arm in town, by any means. But in terms of hobbyist-level robotics, it’s by far the most complete robot arm that we’ve seen, and it includes a couple of design features that make both its positional accuracy and overall usability stand out above the rest. This is a robot arm with many of the bells and whistles of a hundred-thousand dollar robot, but on a couple-thousand dollar budget. Continue reading “An In-Depth Look at Dexter, the Robotic Arm”

Redesigning the Musical Keyboard with Light-Up Buttons

A piano’s keyboard doesn’t make sense. If you want to want to play an F major chord, just hit an F, an A, and a C — all white keys, all in a row. If you want to play a B major chord, you hit B, a D#, and an F#. One white key, then two black ones. The piano keyboard is not isomorphic, meaning chords of the same quality have different shapes. For their entry into the Hackaday Prize, [CSCircuits] and their crew are working on a keyboard that makes chords intuitive. It’s called the Kord Kontroller, and it’s a device that would also look good hooked up to Ableton.

The layout of the Kord Kontroller puts all the scale degrees arranged in the circle of fifths in the top of the keyboard. To play 90% of western music, you’ll hit one button for a I chord, move one button to the left for a IV chord, and two buttons to the right for a V chord. Chord quality is determined by the bottom of the keyboard, with buttons for flat thirds, fourths, ninths, elevenths and fourteenths replacing or augmenting notes in the chords you want to play. Since this is effectively a MIDI controller, there are buttons to change octaves and modes.

As far as hardware goes, this keyboard is constructed out of Adafruit Trellis modules that are a 4×4 grid of silicone buttons and LEDs that can be connected together and put on a single I2C bus. The enclosure wraps these buttons up into a single 3D printed grid of button holes, and with a bit of work and hot glue, everything looks as it should.

It’s an interesting musical device, and was named as a finalist in the Musical Instrument Challenge. You can check out a demo video with a jam sesh below.

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TouchYou: Wearable Touch Sensor and Stimulator

Some of us might never know the touch of another human, but this project in the Hackaday Prize might just be the solution. It’s TouchYou, [Leonardo]’s idea for a wearable device that allows anyone to send tactile and multi-sensorial stimulation across the Internet. It’s touching someone over the Internet, and yes, this technology is right here today.

Inside the TouchYou is an Arduino Pro Mini connected to a Bluetooth module. This Arduino communicates with force sensors and touch sensors and also has an output for a small vibration motor. With that Bluetooth module, the TouchYou becomes an Internet of Things thing, capable of communicating to other TouchYous across the world. It’s an interconnected, worldwide touching experience, and one of the best examples of Human-Computer Interaction we’ve ever seen.

A project like this demands large touch sensors, and if you’re not aware, these are slightly expensive. That’s okay, because [Leonardo] came up with a way to create large flexible touch sensors cheaply. The process begins much like how you would make a PCB at home — print off two sides of a design in a laser printer, then wrap it around a copper foil and Kapton laminate. From there, it’s just a little bit of etching in ferric chloride and carefully soldering the flex PCB connections to fine wires.

From a great idea to some rather impressive work in building DIY flex PCBs, this is one of the better projects in the Hackaday Prize and was named as a finalist in the Human-Computer Interface Challenge.

Voice Controlled Glasses and Magnifying Lens

If you’re reading Hackaday, you’re probably intimately familiar with really small parts. 0201 resistors are tiny, and even smaller parts aren’t unheard of. The screws that go in your phone are minuscule, and a magnifying glass is really handy if you want to check out the detail on your 3D prints. While this is easy if you have good eyesight and you’re young, a lot of us don’t have that luxury and instead must rely on magnifying glasses and loupes. [Mauro]’s project for the Hackaday Prize makes wearing these loupes and lenses even easier by adding a voice-controlled servo.

The basic idea behind this device is simple — just mount a standard hobby servo to a pair of glasses and put a pair of loupes on a hinge. With a Raspberry Pi Zero W, controlling this servo is easy. The real trick here is adding voice control, and for that [Mauro] is using the Watson Speech to Text service. Moving a pair of loupes away from your eyes is as simple as setting up an account with the Watson Speech to Text service, and sending out API calls using NodeJS.

In addition to magnifying glasses, [Mauro] also has a few other ideas in mind on how to make this device even more useful. It could be used for welding goggles, for removing sunglasses as you’re driving through a tunnel, or it could even be adapted as an improved version of those crazy straws that suck liquid around the rim of plastic glasses. The potential here is almost limitless, and this is one of the better projects in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

You can see a video of these glasses in action (without the voice activation) after the break.

Continue reading “Voice Controlled Glasses and Magnifying Lens”

Analog Synth, But In Cello Form

For one reason or another, electronic synthesizing musical instruments are mostly based around the keyboard. Sure, you’ve got the theremin and other oddities, but VCAs and VCFs are mostly the domain of keyboard-style instruments, and have been for decades. That’s a shame, because the user interface of an instrument has a great deal to do with the repertoire of that instrument. Case in point: [jaromir]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize. It’s an electronic analog synth, in cello form. There’s no reason something like this couldn’t have been built in the 60s, and we’re shocked it wasn’t.

Instead of an electrified cello with a piezo on the bridge or some sort of magnetic pickup, this cello is a purely electronic instrument. The fingerboard is metal, and the strings are made of kanthal wire, the same wire that goes into wire-wound resistors. As a note is fingered, the length of the string is ‘measured’ as a value of resistance and used to control an oscillator. Yes, it’s weird, but we’re wondering why we haven’t seen anything like this before.

How does this cello sound? Remarkably like a cello. [jaromir] admits there are a few problems with the build — the fingerboard is too wide, and the fingerboard should probably be curved. That’s really an issue with the cellist, not the instrument itself, though. Seeing as how [jaromir] has never even held a cello, we’re calling this one a success. You can check out a video of this instrument playing Cello Suite No. 1 below. It actually does sound good, and there’s a lot of promise here.

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These Are The 100 Finalists In The Hackaday Prize

The Hackaday Prize is the greatest hardware competition on the planet. It’s the Academy Awards of Open Hardware, and over the last few years we’ve been doing it, we’ve seen literally tens of projects that have gone from an idea to a prototype to a finished project to a saleable product. It’s the greatest success story the Open Hardware community has.

Over the last eight months, we’ve been deep in the weeds with this year’s Hackaday Prize. It’s five challenges, with twenty winners per challenge. That’s one hundred projects that will make it to the semifinals in the hopes of becoming the greatest project this year. Only one will make it, but truthfully they all deserve it. These are the one hundred finalists in the Hackaday Prize, all truly awesome projects but only one will walk home with the Grand Prize. Continue reading “These Are The 100 Finalists In The Hackaday Prize”

The Portable, Digital, Visual Theremin

The theremin is, for some reason, what people think of first when they think of electronic musical instruments. Maybe that’s because it was arguably the first purely electronic musical instrument, or because there’s no mechanical analog to something that makes sound simply by waving your hand over it. This project takes that idea and cranks it up to eleven. It’s a portable synthesizer that’s controlled by IR reflectors. Just wave your hand in front of it, and that’s what pitch is going to sound.

The audio hardware for this synth is, like so many winners in the Musical Instrument Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize, based on the Teensy and its incredible Audio library. The code consists of two oscillators and a pink noise generator. Pressing down button one activates the oscillators, and the frequency is determined by the IR sensor. Button two cycles through various waveforms, while the third and fourth buttons shift the octaves up and down. The output is I2S, and from there everything is out to an amplifier and speaker.

Of course, it’s really not a musical instrument unless it looks cool, and that’s where this project is really great. It’s a fully 3D printed enclosure that actually looks good. There’s an 8×8 LED array to display the current waveform, and this is something that could actually be a product instead of a project. It’s a great synth, and we’re happy to have it in the running for the Hackaday Prize.

Continue reading “The Portable, Digital, Visual Theremin”