Arcade Style Computer Hotkeys

Prolific maker [Sean Hodgins] has taken the wraps off of his latest one-day build, and as usual, it takes the kind of spare parts most people reading Hackaday will have in their parts bins and turns it into something fun and useful. This time around, he takes a bunch of spare arcade-style buttons he had from a previous project and combines them with an Adafruit Trinket (SAMD21 flavor) to make a USB input device for his computer.

[Sean] uses 1/4 inch acrylic to make the case, though he does mention that it could just as easily be 3D printed. But using the acrylic is easy and gives a nice glossy look to the final hardware. With a saw and a drill press you can make some very professional cases out of acrylic, which goes to show that you don’t necessarily need to have a high end 3D printer to create great looking enclosures.

As explained in the video, the Adafruit Trinket is not strictly necessary for this build, it’s just what [Sean] had lying around. Any microcontroller that can present itself to the operating system as a USB Human Interface Device (HID) will work fine for a project like this.

Software wise, a modified Arduino demo program is used to equate the states of the digital pins to pre-defined key combinations to be sent to the computer. In this simple example the key combinations are hard-coded into the Trinket’s source code, but a future enhancement could be adding a method of setting up new key combinations with a configuration tool.

We’ve covered our fair share of non-traditional USB input devices, all operating on largely the same principle. As it turns out, hackers have quite a pension for making oddball input devices.

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Geocache Locator Is The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Depending on how you look at things, the holidays could be seen as either an excuse to spend money or an excuse to get creative. We imagine many Hackaday readers would rather head to their workbench than the mall when it comes time for gift giving, and [Sean Hodgins] is no different. He came up with the idea of hiding geocaches around his nephew’s neighborhood and building him a locator device to find them. The locator itself is intended to grow with his nephew, allowing him to reprogram it or use its parts for something completely different down the road.

The main components tucked inside of the 3D printed case of the locator are an Adafruit Trinket, a GPS receiver, and a compass module. The Adafruit NeoPixel Ring is of course front and center, serving as the device’s display. To power the device there’s an old battery, a LiPo charger circuit, and a 5V converter.

One of the goals for the project was that it could be constructed out of things [Sean] already had laying around, so some concessions had to be made. The Trinket ended up having too few pins, the compass lacks an accelerometer, and the switches and buttons are a bit clunky for the build. But in the end it comes together well enough to get the job done, and at least he was able to clear some stuff out of his parts bins.

To allow its owner to disassemble and potentially rebuild it into something else later, no soldered joints were used in the construction of the locator. Everything is done with jumper wires, which lead to some interesting problem solving such as using a strip of pin header as a bus bar of sorts. A bit of heat shrink over the bundle holds everything together and prevents shorts.

Location-aware gadgets happen to be an extremely popular gift choice among the hacker crowd. We’ve covered everything from devices cobbled together from trash to hardware which could pass for a commercial product.

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Building a Skyrim Quest Marker

I’m working on a Skyrim quest marker. You probably know what this is even if you never have played the game. When a character or location in the game relates to a quest, an arrow floats over it so you don’t miss it. If it’s a book, the book has the arrow floating over it. If it’s a person, it floats over that character’s head. It is that quest marker I aim to re-create.

I sat down in front of my sketchbook and drew the basic parameters. I wanted it to be approximately to scale to the human/elf/orc heads it usually floats above. I ended up going with around 9 inches from top to bottom. In terms of thickness, any amount of blatant dimensionality is bad, as the game element exists in only 2 dimensions. That said, I will be re-creating this thing in the real world, and LEDs and acrylic and plywood and other things need to go inside.

I decided to make it around 1.25 inches thick, which would include enough space for a 9V battery if I so chose, plus a proto board and microcontroller.

Designing the Electronics

Before I finalized the dimensions I had to design the circuit. Originally I looked at Adafruit’s backlight LED panels, but I felt it would be too hard to fit into the pointy parts of the enclosure, both physically and in terms of light distribution. Instead I went with a strand of cold white LEDs, not individually addressable but only require power and GND to light up. However, the strand is WAY too bright straight from the battery. Fortunately, the strand is PWMable so I am using an Adafruit Trinket ATtiny85 breakout to dim it down somewhat.

I chose a TIP-120 for the switching, a part highly recommended by our own [Adam Fabio]. Power supply will be my wall wart; if I were to take it out into the wild, I could put a 9V battery inside the enclosure — there’s room — but I think I’ll just have it at home this time around.

Designing the Enclosure

I decided to be flexible with my design. I was going use the laser cutter to cut each layer of the marker out of eighth-inch material. The front will have a bezel holding the acrylic in place, while the back is just a blank piece of plywood. The interior layers, of unknown quantity (as I designed it) would determine the overall thickness of the marker.

I opened up Inkscape and went to work designing the layers. I did everything in a single Inkscape file with each layer corresponding with a similar layer on the design.

Closer to lasering, when I have a good sense of the projects’s final parameters, I’ll distribute the layers on a series of 12”x12” Inkscape canvases, and I’ll print directly from these. This will allow me to cut some filler projects in the unused portion of the boards, because I’m cheap like that.

The topmost bezel was easy — it’s supposed to look a specific way. I dropped a GIF from the ‘nets into Inkscape and traced it. I duplicated that layer and made the bottom plate, which is basically just a filled-in version of the bezel. There needed to be the vinyl for the light-emitting part, with some sort of bezel keeping it in place. There also needed to be a board for the LEDs, and beneath the LED board there needed to be room for a small circuit board.

I ended up making the whole thing 10 layers thick: Beginning from the top: the outer bezel; then the acrylic and its carrier, which nestle together — I didn’t want any light escaping from the sides. The third layer is an “under bezel” which lifts the acrylic up 1/8” because the LED strips are covered in a little “hill” of plastic. Fourth, the LED plate, painted white with lengths of LED strip attached to it.

I consider those four layers to be the top of the project. The next six are the bottom, consisting of five identical layers making up the electronics compartment, with the back plate, which also has a hole for the power supply and also mounts the protoboard. Each layer is 1/8″ thick, for an overall thickness of 1.25″ — not too bad. It’s somewhat on the heavy side. (By the way, you can find the Inkscape file in the project page.)

Lasering

The first fifteen minutes of lasering was hell, as I got all the settings figured out. But once I got everything dialed in, it was a breeze.

The layers were split onto 12″x12″ sheets, with two layers per. So I imported 1″x2″ rectangles with horse shapes on them, and you can see them on the right. We use these in my gaming group for horses, with a figure sitting on top of it to show he or she is mounted.

Once I got dialed into my favorite settings, the lasering went quite well. The wood was about one notch lower in terms of quality than what I’m used to, and I felt like the glue was just a little more refractory or whatever. Still, most of the parts came out perfectly.

I was mostly worried about the acrylic. I took a chance with some translucent white acrylic I found on Amazon. Having never used it before, or had a clear understanding (sorry) of how translucent it was, I bought it sight unseen. Furthermore, I had enough real estate on my 12″x12″ sheet for maybe 3 cuts, so I wanted to get the right settings ASAP.

It worked better than I could have hoped. Someone at the hackerspace had written the best ratio of speed and power on the laser cutter room’s whiteboard walls — 15 speed, 8 power. I ran it through twice to be sure, but it came out perfect, and slid into place like a charm.

The Build

I glued the bottom six layers right there in the hackerspace, as well as the two-layer carrier for the acrylic. All I needed to do was paint the thing, add the electronics, and bolt it together.

Originally I’d envisioned a battery pack inside a harness of some sort, with a black-painted PVC pipe hoisting the marker overhead. That seems like a lot to tackle between now during my first run at the project, so I converted the idea to a tabletop version that uses a wall wart.

When I was prototyping the electronics it had occurred to me that I might be a little ridiculous about the Trinket — what if it didn’t need to be PWMed down? Oh, but it does. LED strips run at full brightness are awfully bright, and that cold white that has all the subtlety of a klieg light. They definitely need to be PWMed down.

The strip comes with a 3M adhesive backing, which was great, However, the solder pads that were most accessible were on the underside, as the top is covered in a plastic bubble that is hard to cut away, even with a sharp knife.

For  the future development, I plan to swap in an ESP and use it as a Twitter alert. In addition, the enclosure was hastily designed and lacked a certain polish. For instance, I would like to use trapped nuts on the top three layers to secure the front bezel from behind, so it doesn’t have those intrusive socket heads showing — or at least inset them somehow.

But all in all I’m happy to have the enclosure work out so well the first try. After countless lasered projects with every grade of success from “abject debacle” on up, maybe I’m starting to get a hang of it! Check out the project page on Hackaday.io.

Trinket Chills Your Drinks

Who wants warm drinks? Well, coffee drinkers, we guess. Other than them, who wants warm drinks? Tea drinkers, sure. How about room temperature drinks? No one, that’s who. It’s silly to buy a refrigerator to cool down a single drink, so what option are you left with? Ice cubes? They’ll dilute your drink. Ice packs and a cooler? Sure, they’ll keep your drinks cold, but they’re hardly cool are they? No, if you want a cold drink the cool way, you build a thermoelectric cooler. And if you want to build one, you’re in luck, because [John Park] has a tutorial to do just that up on AdaFruit.

The parts list includes an AdaFruit Trinket M0, a more powerful version of AdaFruit’s Trinket line. The Trinket is used to control the main part in this build, a Peltier thermoelectric cooler, as well as the temperature display and switches. The other part controlled by the microcontroller is a peristaltic pump, which is used to do the dispensing of the liquid. The code to control everything is written in Python as the Trinket M0 comes with AdaFruit’s CircuitPython by default. Also included in the tutorial are the files for the stand, should you want to 3D print it or cut it with a CNC or laser cutter.

After the break, you can watch as [John] goes over the project and builds it, or go to the AdaFruit website and follow the instructions to build your own. As [John] says, there might be better ways to chill your drinks, but this is “definitely one of the more science-y and interesting ones.” For more projects using the Peltier Effect, try this one that uses the effect in sous-vide cooking, or this one, a Peltier cooled micro-fridge!

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Modern Strongman Games Test Your Speed Instead

Step right up! What would a Makerfaire be without some carnival games? And being a Makerfaire, they could of course be modernized versions. In [avishorp]’s case, he made a series of games that test your speed and look very much like the old strongman game, aka high striker or strength tester.

In the strongman game, you smash a lever with all your might using a hammer. A puck on the other end of the lever then shoots up a tower, hopefully high enough to hit a bell, winning you a prize. In [avishorp]’s games the puck, tower and bell are all replaced with an LED strip. In the swipe game, the faster you swipe your hand sideways over two optical proximity sensors, the higher the LEDs light up. In the drum game, the speed with which you drum on a rubber disk with embedded accelerometer, the higher the LEDs light up. The chase and response games both involve buttons that you have to rapidly hit, to similar effect.

For the brains, each game is controlled by an Adafruit Trinket board. [Avishorp] chose to use the PlatformIO IDE instead of the Arduino IDE to write them, preferring its modern editor, but he didn’t like that it doesn’t print and that it doesn’t tell you the final file size. The latter issue caused him to overwrite the bootloader, something that he understandably considered a major inconvenience.

Check out his page for more details, Fritzing diagrams, links to code, and all game videos. Meanwhile we’ve included clips of the drum and swipe games below.

And if it’s more carnival games you’re looking for, how about this adult-sized Sit ‘n Spin made using a rear differential and axle assembly out of an old car or truck. Or maybe you prefer something less likely to make you woozy, in which case you can try fishing with the Bass Master 3000.

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Dedicated Button for Toggling Screens

Anyone who regularly presents to an audience these days has known the pain of getting one’s laptop to work reliably with projection hardware. It’s all the more fraught with pain when you’re hopping around from venue to venue, trying desperately to get everything functioning on a tight schedule. [Seb] found that the magic keystrokes they used to deal with these issues no longer worked on the Macbook Pro Touchbar, and so a workaround was constructed in hardware.

The build itself is simple – an Adafruit Trinket serves as the brains, with a meaty 12mm tactile button used for input. The Trinket emulates a USB keyboard and sends the Cmd-F1 keypress to the computer when the button is pressed. The button’s even mounted in a tidy deadbugged fashion.

While it’s not at all complicated from a build standpoint, the key to this project is that it’s a great example of using the tools available to solve real-life problems. When you’re in a rush with 300 people waiting for your talk to start, the last thing you need to be worrying about is a configuration issue. [Seb] now has a big red button to mash to get out of trouble and get on with the job at hand. It does recall this much earlier hack for emulating a USB keyboard with an Arduino Uno or Mega. It’s a useful skill to have!

 

USB Volume Control

If you buy expensive computer speakers, they often have a volume knob you can mount somewhere on your desk so you aren’t dependent on the onboard volume control. [Kris S] decided to build his own version of the remote volume control. Not surprisingly, it uses an Arduino-compatible Digispark board and a rotary controller. The Digispark (that [Kris S] bought for $2) is compatible with the Adafruit Trinket. This is key because the Trinket libraries are what make it easy to send media keys over the USB (using the HID interface) to control the volume.

Really, though, the best part of the build is the good looking knob made out of a pill bottle (see the video below). The micro Digispark is small enough to fit in the lid of the pill bottle, and some wax and pellets add some heft to the volume control. Continue reading “USB Volume Control”