Robot Maps Rooms with Help From iPhone

The Unity engine has been around since Apple started using Intel chips, and has made quite a splash in the gaming world. Unity allows developers to create 2D and 3D games, but there are some other interesting applications of this gaming engine as well. For example, [matthewhallberg] used it to build a robot that can map rooms in 3D.

The impetus for this project was a robotics company that used a series of robots around their business. The robots navigate using computer vision, but couldn’t map the rooms from scratch. They hired [matthewhallberg] to tackle this problem, and this robot is a preliminary result. Using the Unity engine and an iPhone, the robot can perform in one of three modes. The first is a user-controlled mode, the second is object following, and the third is 3D mapping.

The robot seems fairly easy to construct and only carries and iPhone, a Node MCU, some motors, and a battery. Most of the computational work is done remotely, with the robot simply receiving its movement commands from another computer. There’s a lot going on here, software-wise, and a lot of toolkits and software packages to install and communicate with one another, but the video below does a good job of showing what you’ll need and how it all works together. If that’s all too much, there are other robots with a form of computer vision that can get you started into the world of computer vision and mapping.

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Mademoiselle Pinball Table Gets Rock ‘n Roll Makeover

Once upon a time, there was a music venue/artist collective/effects pedal company that helped redefine industry in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. That place was called Death By Audio. In 2014, it suffered a death by gentrification when Vice Media bought the building that DBA had worked so hard to transform. From the ashes rose the Death By Audio Arcade, which showcases DIY pinball cabinets made by indie artists.

Their most recent creation is called A Place To Bury Strangers (APTBS). It’s built on a 1959 Gottlieb Mademoiselle table and themed around a local noise/shoegaze band of the same name that was deeply connected to Death By Audio. According to [Mark Kleeb], this table is an homage to APTBS’s whiz-bang pinball-like performance style of total sensory overload. Hardly a sense is spared when playing this table, which features strobe lights, black lights, video and audio clips of APTBS, and a fog machine. Yeah.

[Mark] picked up this project from a friend, who had already cut some wires and started hacking on it. Nearly every bit of the table’s guts had to be upgraded with OEM parts or else replaced entirely. Now there’s a Teensy running the bumpers, and another Teensy on the switches. An Arduino drives the NeoPixel strips that light up the playfield, and a second Uno displays the score on those sweet VFD tubes. All four micros are tied together with Python and a Raspi 3.

If you’re anywhere near NYC, you can play the glow-in-the-dark ball yourself on July 15th at Le Poisson Rouge. If not, don’t flip—just nudge that break to see her in action. Did we mention there’s a strobe light? Consider yourself warned.

Want to get into DIY pinball on a smaller scale? Build yourself a sandbox and start playing.

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Supersize DIY R/C Servos From Windscreen Wipers

We’re all familiar with the experience of buying hobby servos. The market is awash with cheap clones which have inflated specs and poor performance. Even branded servos often fail to deliver, and sometimes you just can’t get the required torque or speed from the small form factor of the typical hobby servo.

Enter [James Bruton] and his DIY RC servo from a windscreen wiper motor. Windscreen wiper motors are cheap as chips, and a classic salvage. The motor shaft is connected to a potentiometer via a pulley and some string, providing the necessary closed-loop feedback. Instead of using the traditional analog circuitry found inside a servo, an Arduino provides the brains. This means PID control can be implemented on the ‘duino, and tuned to get the best response from different load characteristics. There’s also the choice of different interfacing options: though [James]’ Arduino code accepts PWM signals for a drop-in R/C servo replacement, the addition of a microcontroller means many other input signal types and protocols are available. In fact, we recently wrote about serial bus servos and their numerous advantages.

We particularly love this because of the price barrier of industrial servomotors; sure, this kind of solution doesn’t have the precision or torque that off-the-shelf products provide, but would be sufficient for many hacks. Incidentally, this is what inspired one of our favourite open source projects: ODrive, which focuses on harnessing the power of cheap brushless motors for industrial use.

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3D Printed Arduino Bot is Limbo Master

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about in regards to the coming robot uprising, [Ali Aslam] of Potent Printables has recently wrapped up work on a 3D printed robot that can flatten itself down to the point it can fit under doors and other tight spaces. Based on research done at UC Berkeley, this robot is built entirely from printed parts and off the shelf hardware, so anyone can have their own little slice of Skynet.

On display at East Coast RepRap Festival

The key to the design are the folding “wings” which allow the robot to raise and lower itself on command. This not only helps it navigate tight spaces, but also gives it considerable all-terrain capability when it’s riding high. Rather than wheels or tracks, the design uses six rotors which look more like propellers than something you’d expect to find on a ground vehicle. These rotors work at the extreme angles necessary when the robot has lowered itself, and allow it to “step” over obstructions when they’re vertical.

For the electronics, things are about what you’d expect. An Arduino Pro Mini combined with tiny Pololu motor controllers is enough to get the bot rolling, and a Flysky FS-X6B receiver is onboard so the whole thing can be operated with a standard RC transmitter. The design could easily be adapted for WiFi or Bluetooth control if you’d rather not use RC gear for whatever reason.

Want to build your own? All of the STL files, as well as a complete Bill of Materials, are available on the Thingiverse page. [Ali] even has a series of videos on YouTube videos walking through the design and construction of the bot to help you along. Outside of the electronics, you’ll need a handful of screws and rods to complement the 50+ printed parts. Better start warming up the printer now.

As an interesting aside, we got a chance to see this little critter first hand at the recent East Coast RepRap Festival in Maryland, along with a number of other engineering marvels.

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Build Your Own Portable Arduino Soldering Iron

At this point you’ve almost certainly seen one of these low-cost portable soldering irons, perhaps best exemplified by the TS100, a pocket-sized temperature controlled iron that can be had for as little as $50 USD from the usual overseas suppliers. Whether or not you’re personally a fan of the portable irons compared to a soldering station, the fact remains that these small irons are becoming increasingly popular with hackers and makers that are operating on a budget or in a small workspace.

Believing that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, [Electronoobs] has come up with a DIY portable soldering iron that the adventurous hacker can build themselves. Powered by an ATMega328p pulled out of an Arduino Nano, if offers the same software customization options of the TS100 but at a considerably lower price. Depending on where you source your components, you should be able to build one of these irons for as little as $15.

The iron features a custom PCB and MAX6675 thermocouple amplifier to measure tip temperature. A basic user interface is provided by two tactile buttons on the PCB as well as an 128×32 I2C OLED display. In a future version, [Electronoobs] says he will look into adding some kind of sensor to detect when the iron is actually being used and put it to sleep when inactive.

The tip is sourced from a cheap soldering station replacement iron, and according to [Electronoobs], is probably the weakest element of the entire build. He’s looking into using replacement TS100 tips, but says he’ll need to redesign his electronics to make it compatible. The case is a simple 3D printed affair, which looks solid enough, but seems likely to be streamlined in later versions.

We’ve seen a number of attempts at DIY soldering irons over the years, but we have to say, this one is probably the most professional we’ve ever seen. It will be interesting to see how future revisions improve on this already strong initial showing.

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RGB Sensor’s New Job: Cryptocurrency Trade Advisor

[XenonJohn] dabbles in cryptocurrency trading, and when he saw an opportunity to buy an RGB color sensor, his immediate thought — which he admitted to us would probably not be the immediate thought of most normal people — was that he could point it to his laptop screen and have it analyze the ratio of green (buy) orders to red (sell) orders being made for crypto trading. In theory, if at a given moment there are more people looking to buy than there are people looking to sell, the value of a commodity could be expected to go up slightly in the short-term. The reverse is true if a lot of sell orders coming in relative to buy orders. Having this information and possibly acting on it could be useful, but then again it might not. Either way, as far as out-of-left-field project ideas go, promoting an RGB color sensor to Cryptocurrency Trading Advisor is a pretty good one.

Since the RGB sensor only sees what is directly in front of it, [XenonJohn] assembled a sort of simple light guide. By enclosing the area of the screen that contains orders in foil-lined cardboard, the sensor can get a general approximation of the amount of red (sell orders) versus green (buy orders). The data gets read by an Arduino which does a simple analysis and sends alerts when a threshold is crossed. He dubbed it the Crypto-Eye, and a video demo is embedded below.

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A Unique Microphone Preamp

We live in a world in which nearly any kind of gadget or tool you can imagine is just a few clicks away. In many respects, this has helped fuel the maker culture over the last decade or so; now that people aren’t limited to the hardware that’s available locally, they’re able to create bigger and better things than ever before. But it can also have a detrimental effect. One has to question, for instance, why they should go through the trouble of building something themselves when they could buy it, often for less than the cost of the individual components.

The critic could argue that many of the projects that grace the pages of Hackaday could be supplanted with commercially available counterparts. We don’t deny it. But the difference between buying a turn-key product and building an alternative yourself is that you can make it exactly how you want it. That is precisely why [Sam Izdat] created this truly one of a kind microphone preamplifier. Could he have bought one online for cheaper? Probably. Could he have saved himself an immense amount of time and effort? Undoubtedly. Do we care? Not in the slightest.

The amplifier is based on the Texas Instruments INA217 chip, with an Arduino Nano and 128×64 OLED display providing the visualization. [Sam] was able to find a bare PCB for a typical INA217 implementation on eBay for a few bucks (see what we mean?), which helped get him started and allowed him to spend more time on the software side of things. His visualization code offers a number of interesting display modes, uses Fast Hartley Transforms, and very nearly maxes out the Arduino.

But perhaps no element of this build is as unique as the case. The rationale behind the design is that [Sam] wanted to compartmentalize each section of the device (power supply, amplifier, visualization) to avoid any interference. The cylindrical shapes were an issue of practicality: the compartments were constructed by using a hole saw to make wooden discs, which were then glued together and hollowed out. The case was stained and coated with polyurethane, but due to some slightly overzealous use of glue and fillers, the coloring isn’t uniform. This gives the final piece a somewhat weathered look, in sharp contrast to the decidedly high-tech looking display.

Overall, this build reminds us of the modular 3D printed amplifier we saw earlier in the year combined with these speaker-integrated Arduino VU meters.

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