Bucky Glow: Have a Ball While You Practice Coding

About a year ago, [Jonathan Bumstead] built a giant, touch-sensitive, interactive RGB LED geodesic dome that somehow escaped our attention entirely. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, he’s designed a smaller version that’s just as awesome, but a lot faster and easier to build.

The Bucky Glow is great way for hackers of all ages to expand their coding and problem solving skills. This interactive dodecahedron consists of 11 RGB LEDs and a Nano inside 12-sided laser-cut MDF sculpture. The breakout header means you’re free to add interactive bits like a DIY capacitive touch keyboard, IR sensor/emitter pairs, motors, or whatever you want.

When it’s time to relax, Bucky Glow puts on a light show. It comes ready to party without any programming necessary, but if you wanna put on some Pink Floyd and get your hands dirty, [Jonathan]’s custom Processing app makes it easy to program complex light shows.

[Jonathan] is currently working on some different Bucky Glow dissemination methods, such as a kit version. For now, you can buy a fully assembled Bucky Glow through the One Bit Kit store. Interact with the break to try it before you buy it.

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Energy Harvesting Design Doesn’t Need Sleep

Every scrap of power is precious when it comes to power harvesting, and working with such designs usually means getting cozy with a microcontroller’s low-power tricks and sleep modes. But in the case of the Ultra Low Power Energy Harvester design by [bobricius], the attached microcontroller doesn’t need to worry about managing power at all — as long as it can finish its job fast enough.

The idea is to use solar energy to fill a capacitor, then turn on the microcontroller and let it run normally until the power runs out. As a result, a microcontroller may only have a runtime in the range of dozens of microseconds, but that’s just fine if it’s enough time to, for example, read a sensor and transmit a packet. In early tests, [bobricius] was able to reliably transmit a 16-bit value wirelessly every 30 minutes using a small array of photodiodes as the power supply. That’s the other interesting thing; [bobricius] uses an array of BPW34 photodiodes to gather solar power. The datasheet describes them as silicon photodiodes, but they can be effectively used as tiny plastic-enclosed solar cells. They are readily available and can be arranged in a variety of configurations, while also being fairly durable.

Charging a capacitor then running a load for a short amount of time is one of the simplest ways to manage solar energy, and it requires no unusual components or fancy charge controllers. As long as the load doesn’t mind a short runtime, it can be an effective way to turn even indoor light into a figuratively free power source.

Dual Brushed Motor Controller Doesn’t Care How It Receives Commands

The simple DC brushed motor is at the heart of many a robotics project. For making little toy bots that zip around the house, you can’t beat the price and simplicity of a pair of brushed motors. They’re also easy to control; you could roll your own H-bridge out of discrete transistors, or pick up one of the commonly used ICs like the L298N or L9110S.

But what if you want an all-in-one solution? Something that will deliver enough current for most applications, drive dual motors, and deal with a wide range of input voltages. Most importantly, something that will talk to any kind of input source.  For his Hackaday prize entry, [Praveen Kumar] is creating a dual brushed motor controller which can handle a multitude of input types. Whether you’re using an IR remote, a Pi communicating over I2C, an analog output or Bluetooth receiver, this driver can handle them all and will automatically select the correct input source.

The board has an ATmega328p brain, so Arduino compatibility is there for easy reprogramming if needed. The mounting holes and header locations are also positioned to allow easy stacking with a Pi, and there’s a status LED too. It’s a great module that could easily find a place in a lot of builds.

If you need even more control over your brushed motor, you can soup up its capabilities by adding a PID loop for extra smarts.

SPINES Design Makes for Modular Energy Harvesting

The SPINES (Self-Powered IoT Node for Environmental Sensing) Mote is a wireless IoT environmental sensor, but don’t let the neatly packed single PCB fool you into thinking it’s not hackable. [Macro Yau] specifically designed SPINES to be highly modular in order to make designing an energy harvesting sensor node an easier task. The way [Macro] sees it, there are two big hurdles to development: one is the energy harvesting itself, and the other is the software required to manage the use of every precious joule of that harvested energy.

[Macro] designed the single board SPINES Mote in a way that the energy harvesting portion can be used independently, and easily integrated into other designs. In addition, an Arduino library is being developed to make it easy for the power management to be done behind the scenes, allowing a developer to concentrate on the application itself. A solar-powered wireless sensor node is one thing, but helping people get their ideas up and running faster in the process is wonderful to see.

3D Printer Guardian Watches for Worst-case Failures

Some devices have one job to do, but that job can have many facets. To [jmcservv], an example of this is the job of protecting against worst-case failures in a 3D printer, and it led him to develop the 3D Printer Watchdog Guardian. When it comes to fire, secondary protection is the name of the game because it’s one thing to detect thermal runaway and turn off a heater, but what if that isn’t enough? The MOSFET controlling the heater could have failed closed and can no longer be turned off in a normal sense. In such cases, some kind of backup is needed. Of course, a protection system should also notify an operator of any serious problem, but what’s the best way to do that? These are the kinds of issues that [jmcservv] is working to address with his watchdog, which not only keeps a careful eye on any heating elements in the system, but can take a variety of actions as a result.

Some outcomes (like fire) are bad enough that it’s worth the extra work and cost of additional protection, and that’s the thinking that has led [jmcservv] to submit his watchdog system for The Hackaday Prize.

Human-Computer Interface Challenge: Change How We Interact with Computers, Win Prizes

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It’s a quote from the Wizard of Oz but also an interesting way to look at our interactions with electronics. The most natural interactions free us from thinking about the ones and zeros behind them. Your next challenge is to build an innovative interface for humans to talk to machines and machines to talk to humans. This is the Human-Computer Interface Challenge!

The Next Gen of HCI

A Human-Computer Interface (or HCI) is what we use to control computers and what they use to control us get information to us. HCIs have been evolving since the beginning. The most recent breakthroughs include touchscreens and natural-language voice interaction. But HCI goes beyond the obvious. The Nest thermostat used a novel approach to learning your habits by observing times and days that people are near it, and when the temperature setting is changed. This sort of behavior feels more like the future than having to program specific times for temperature control adjustments. But of course we need to go much further.

You don’t need to start from scratch. There are all kinds of great technologies out there offering APIs that let you harness voice commands, recognize gestures, and build on existing data sets. There are chips that make touch sensing a breeze, and open source software suites that let you get up and running with computer vision. The important thing is the idea: find something that should feel more intuitive, more fun, and more natural.

The Best Interfaces Have Yet to Be Dreamed Up

No HCI is too simple; a subtle cue that makes sure you don’t miss garbage collection day can make your day. Of course no idea is too complex; who among you will work on a well-spoken personal assistant that puts Jarvis to shame? We just saw that computers sound just like people if you only tell them to make random pauses while speaking. There’s a ton of low-hanging fruit in this field waiting to be discovered.

An HCI can be in an unexpected place, or leverage interactions not yet widely used like olfactory or galvanic responses.  A good example of this is the Medium Machine which is pictured above. It stimulates the muscles in your forearm, causing your finger to press the button. The application is up to you, and we really like it that Peter mentions that Medium Machine reaches for something that wouldn’t normally come to mind when you think about these interfaces; something that hasn’t been dreamed up yet. Get creative, get silly, have some fun, and show us how technology can be a copilot and not a dimwitted sidekick.

You have until August 27th to put your entry up on Hackaday.io. The top twenty entries will each get $1,000 and go on to the finals where cash prizes of $50,000, $20,000, $15,000, $10,000, and $5,000 await.

Harvesting Power From Microwave Popcorn

One of the challenges in this year’s Hackaday Prize is Power Harvesting where we’re asking everybody to create something that harvests energy from something. It could be solar, it could be harvesting energy from a falling weight. If you’d like to give a TED talk, it could be harvesting energy from sound waves. It could be harvesting energy from ambient RF, and where’s the best place to harvest ambient RF? That’s right, next to a microwave.

[Jurist]’s entry for the Power Harvesting Challenge in this year’s Hackaday Prize is a simple device that mounts to the front door of a microwave. The design uses a simple PCB antenna to harvest energy, an LTC3108 DC/DC converter that was lying around in a junk drawer, and a bunch of passives to suck down some photons escaping from a microwave. The idea for this whole device is to use the harvested power to send off a message over Bluetooth (or whatever) when the microwave is done. Really, though, this falls right into the ‘because I can’ category of weird builds.

So, does this power harvesting PCB work? The initial tests were iffy because there was no trimming of the antenna and no tuning of the circuit. However, after [Jurist] connected the board to a voltmeter and cooked some beans, he was seeing an entire volt across the circuit. It’s a start, and the beginning of a truly ‘smart’ microwave add-on. Really, though, it’s just cool to see a circuit harvest power from a leaking Faraday cage.