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.

Dexter Robotic Arm Wins the 2018 Hackaday Prize

Dexter, an open-source, high-precision, trainable robotic arm has just been named the Grand Prize winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize. The award for claiming the top place in this nine-month global engineering initiative is $50,000. Four other top winners were also named during this evening’s Hackaday Prize Ceremony, held during the Hackaday Superconference in Pasadena, California.

This year’s Hackaday Prize featured challenges with five different themes. Entrants were asked to show their greatest Open Hardware Design, to build a Robotics Module, to design a Power Harvesting Module, to envision a Human Computer Interface, or to invent a new Musical Instrument. Out of 100 finalists, the top five are covered below. Over $200,000 in cash prizes have been distributed as part of this year’s initiative where thousands of hardware hackers, makers and artists compete to build a better future.

Dexter: High Precision Robotic Arm

Dexter is the Grand Prize winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize. This remarkable robotic arm design brings many aspects of high-end automation to an open source design which you can utilize and adapt for your own needs. In addition to impressive precision, the design is trainable — you can move the joints of the arm and record the motion for playback.

The image here shows position data from one arm being moved by a human, controlling another arm in real time. Each joint utilizes a clever encoder design made up of a wheel with openings for UV sensors. Sensing is more than merely “on/off”. It tracks the change in light intensity through each opening for even greater granularity. The parallel nature of an FPGA is used to process this positioning data in real time.

Hack a $35 Wearable to Build Mental Health Devices

Manufacturing custom electronics is a tricky, costly, and time-consuming process. What if you could sidestep most of that by starting with a powerful, proven consumer good that is modified to your specifications? This project takes existing fitness trackers and customizes the hardware and software to become sensor suites for mental health research. Dig into this one and see how they can help patients become aware of unconscious behaviors (like trichotillomania which is compulsive hair pulling) and change them over time.

Portal Point Generator

This project focuses on an alternative power source for times when traditional infrastructure is not functioning or simply not available. You may be familiar with generators made using DC motors. The Portal Point Generator replicates that simplicity, but goes beyond with instructions for building the generator itself for far greater efficiency. A winding jig is used to make the coils which are placed inside of the 3D printed generator parts along with permanent magnets to complete the build. Here you can see it in testing as a wind generator in Antarctica, but it is easily adapted to other applications like using water wheels.


There is a body of research that suggest a link between cardiac cycle and anxiety-producing visuals; you may have a different emotional reaction to the things you see based on what part of a heartbeat is occurring when your brain process information from your eyes. This could have profound implications in areas like PTSD research. EmotiGlass uses LCD screens to selectively block the wearer’s vision. This can be synchronized with heat beat, avoiding the instant where a negative emotional response is most likely. Think of them as 3D shutter glasses for mental health research.

PR-Holonet: Disaster Area Emergency Comms

Recovering from natural disasters is an enormous challenge. The infrastructure that supports the community is no longer in place and traditional communications simply cease to exist. PR-Holonet was inspired by the recovery process after hurricanes in Puerto Rico. It leverages the availability of commercial electronics, solar power sources, and enclosures to build a communications system that can be deployed and operated without the need for specialized training. Once in place, local devices using WiFi can utilize text-based communications transferred via satellite.

Congratulations to all who entered the 2018 Hackaday Prize. Taking time to apply your skill and experience to making the world better is a noble pursuit. It doesn’t end with the awarding of a prize. We have the ability to change lives by supporting one another, improving on great ideas, and sharing the calling to Build Something that Matters.

Competitive Soldering Gets Heated at Hackaday Superconference

The Hackaday Superconference is in full swing, and in addition to the greatest hardware hackers, a great gathering of tinkerers, awesome talks, badge hacking, and so much more, we’ve also got competitive soldering. This year, we’re making soldering competitive with the SMD Solder Challenge. It began Friday morning as hackers go heat to head, hand soldering frustratingly tiny parts.

The rules are simple: you’re given a light, a magnifying glass, some solder, wick, flux, and the standard Hakko soldering iron (with the standard tip). The task is to solder up our own special version of the SMD Challenge Kit from MakersBox that includes an SOIC8 ATtiny85 to drive LED/resistor pairs in 1206, 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201 packages. Scoring is based on time, completion, functionality, neatness, and solder joint quality. May the steadiest hands and sharpest eyes win.

Already, we’ve gone through a few heats of the SMD Soldering Challenge where six hackers sit down, are given five minutes of inspection time, and then whip out their irons. All of this is run by our very own [Al Williams], who serves as the ultimate arbiter of what good soldering is. It’s an amazing competition, and if you don’t think 0201 packages are hand-solderable, you haven’t seen the attendees at the Hackaday Supercon. The top times, by the way, are between 20-30 minutes to complete the entire challenge, with [Sprite_tm] currently at the top of the leaderboard.

You can check out all the talks from the Hackaday Superconference over on our live stream, where we’ll (eventually) be announcing the winners of the SMD Soldering Challenge and the winners of the badge hacking competition later on. Don’t miss the announcement of the winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize later on this evening!

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.

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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”