Plasma Globe Reveals Your Next Clue

If you like solving puzzles out in the real world, you’ve probably been to an escape room before, or are at least familiar with its concept of getting (voluntarily) locked inside a place and searching for clues that will eventually lead to a key or door lock combination that gets you out again. And while there are plenty of analog options available to implement this, the chances are you will come across more and more electronics-infused puzzles nowadays, especially if it fits the escape room’s theme itself. [Alastair Aitchison] likes to create such puzzles and recently discovered how he can utilize a USB powered plasma globe as a momentary switch in one of his installations.

The concept is pretty straightforward, [Alastair] noticed the plasma globe will draw significantly more current when it’s being touched compared to its idle state, which he measures using an INA219 current shunt connected to an Arduino. As a demo setup in his video, he uses two globes that will trigger a linear actuator when touched at the same time, making it an ideal multiplayer installation. Whether the amount of fingers, their position on the globe, or movement make enough of a reliable difference in the current consumption to implement a more-dimensional switch is unfortunately not clear, but definitely something worth experimenting with.

In case you’re planning to build your own escape room and are going for the Mad Scientist Laboratory theme, you’ll obviously need at least one of those plasma globes sparking in a corner anyway, so this will definitely come in handy — maybe even accompanied by something slightly larger? And for all other themes, you can always resort to an RFID-based solution instead.

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Enforce Speed Limits With A Rusty Bike

They say you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and that certainly held true in the case of this bicycle that was used to measure the speed of cars in one Belgian neighborhood. If we understand the translation from Dutch correctly, the police were not enforcing the speed limit despite complaints. As a solution, the local citizenry built a bicycle with a radar gun that collected data which was then used to convince the police to enforce the speed limit on this road.

The bike isn’t the functional part of this build, as it doesn’t seem to have been intended to move. Rather, it was chosen because it is inconspicuous (read: rusty and not valuable) and simply housed the radar unit and electronics in a rear luggage case. The radar was specially calibrated to have less than 1% error, and ran on a deep cycle lead acid battery for around eight days. Fitting it with an Arduino-compatible shield and running some software (provided on the github page) is enough to get it up and running.

This is an impressive feat of citizen activism to provide the local police with accurate data to change a problem in a neighborhood. Not only was the technology put to good use, but the social engineering involved with hiding expensive electronics in plain sight with a rusty bicycle is a step beyond what we might have thought of as well.

Thanks to [Jo_elektro] for the tip!

Surfing Diorama Makes For A Neat Desk Toy

In 1994, Weezer famously said that “you take your car to work, I’ll take my board”. Obviously, for the office-bound, surfing is simply out of the question during the working day.  That doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun with a desk toy inspired by the waves.

The crux of the build is a watery diorama, which interacts with a faux-surfboard. The diorama consists of a tank constructed out of plexiglas, sealed together to be watertight. It’s then filled with blue-dyed water, and topped off with baby oil. The tank is then mounted on a cam controlled by a servo, which rocks the tank back and forth to create waves. This is controlled by the motion of the rider on the plywood surfboard, which can be rocked to and fro on the floor thanks to its curved bottom. An Arduino built into the board monitors a three-axis accelerometer, and sends this information to the Arduino controlling the tank.

By riding the board, the user can shake the tank. Get the motion just right, and smooth rolling waves are your reward. Jerk around with no real rhythm, and you’ll just get messy surf. We reckon it would be even better with a little surfer floating in the tank, too. It’s a fun build, and one that might help stave off the negative health effects of sitting at a desk all day. You might prefer a more shocking desk toy, however. Video after the break.

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Stylish Alarm Clock Rocks A VFD

There are a great many display technologies available if you wish to make a digital clock. Many hackers seem to have a penchant for the glowier fare from the Eastern side of the Berlin Wall. [ChristineNZ] is one such hacker, and managed to secure some proper Soviet kit for an alarm clock build.

The clock employs an IV-27M vacuum fluorescent display, manufactured in the now-defunct USSR. Featuring 13 seven-segment digits, it’s got that charming blue glow that you just don’t get with other technologies. A MAX6921AWI chip is used to drive the VFD, and an Arduino Mega is the brains of the operation. There’s also an HD44780-compliant LCD that can display further alphanumeric information, and a 4×4 keypad for controlling the device.

The best part of the build though is the enclosure. The VFD is encased in a glass tube, and supported at either end by 90-degree copper pipe couplers. These hold the VFD aloft, and also act as a conduit for the wires coming off each end of the tube. It’s all built on top of a wooden base that holds the rest of the electronics.

It’s an attractive build, and we love the floating look created by the glass tube construction. It’s not the first time we’ve seen old Russian VFDs, and we doubt it will be the last. Video after the break.

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Hackaday Links: June 9, 2019

The Chicago Pile led to the Manhattan Project, which led to the atomic bomb. In Germany, there were similar efforts with less success, and now we have physical evidence from the first attempted nuclear reactor in Germany. In Physics Today, there’s a lovely historical retrospective of one of the ‘fuel cubes’ that went into one of Germany’s unsuccessful reactor experiments. This is a five-centimeter cube that recently showed up in the hands of a uranium collector. In the test reactor, six hundred of these cubes were strung along strings and suspended like a chandelier. This chandelier was then set inside a tub surrounded by graphite. This reactor never reached criticality — spectroscopy tells us the cube does not contain fission products — but it was the best attempt Germany made at a self-sustaining nuclear reaction.

The biggest failing of the Arduino is the pinout. Those header pins aren’t all on 0.1″ centers, and the board itself is too wide to fit on a single solderless breadboard. Here’s the solution to that problem. It’s the BreadShield, an Arduino Uno-to-Breadboard adapter. Plug an Uno on one end, and you get all the pins on the other.

There’s a new listing on AirBnB. this time from NASA. They’re planning on opening the space station up to tourism, starting at $35,000 USD per night. That’s a cool quarter mil per week, launch not included. The plan appears to allow other commercial companies (SpaceX and whoever buys a Boeing Starliner) to accept space tourists, the $35k/night is just for the stop at the ISS. Costs for launch and landing are expected to be somewhere between $20 and $60 Million per flight. Other space tourists have paid as much: [Dennis Tito], the first ‘fee-paying’ space tourist, paid $20M for a trip to the ISS in 2001. [Mark Shuttleworth] also paid $20M a year later. Earlier space ‘tourists’ paid a similar amount; Japanese journalist [Toyohiro Akiyama] flew to Mir at a cost of between $12M and $37M. Yes, the space station is now an AirBnB, but it’s going to cost twenty million dollars for the ride up there.

We’re getting into conference season, and there are two hardware cons coming up you should be aware of. The first is Hardwear.io, keynoted by [Christopher Tarnovsky], famous for DirecTV hacks. There will be other talks by [@TubeTimeUS] on cloning the Sound Blaster and [John McMaster] on dropping acid. All of this is going down this week at The Biltmore in Santa Clara, CA. The second upcoming conference of note is Teardown, the hardware conference put on by Crowd Supply. That’s in Portland, June 21-23, with a presence from the Church of Robotron.

Dead Bug Arduino Is Lively And Shield-Compatible

Microcontroller demo boards such as the Arduino UNO are ubiquitous on Hackaday as the brains of many a project which inevitably does something impressive or unusual. Sometime someone builds a particularly tiny demo board, or an impressively large one. In the case of the board featured here, the Arduino is a gorgeous labor of love which can’t really be called a board since there is no PCB. Instead of the traditional fiberglass, [Jiří Praus] formed brass bars into the circuitry and held it together with solder.

This kind of dedication to a project leaves an impression. His notes show he saw the barest way to operate an ATMega328, built it, tested, and moved on to the power supply to make it self-sustaining, then onto the communication circuit, and finally the lights. The video below shows a fully-functional Arduino happily running the blink program. He plans to encase the brass portion in resin to toughen it up and presumably keep every bump from causing a short circuit. The components are in the same position due to a custom jig which means a standard shield will fit right into place.

The Arduino started far less flashy yet nearly as fragile, and it has grown. And shrunk.

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Drag And Drop Files On Select Arduino Boards

Historically, getting files on to a microcontroller device was a fraught process. You might have found yourself placing image data manually into arrays in code, or perhaps repeatedly swapping SD cards in and out. For select Arduino boards, that’s no longer a problem – thanks to the new TinyUSB library from Adafruit (Youtube link, embedded below).

The library is available on Github, and is compatible with SAMD21 and SAMD51 boards, as well as Nordic’s NRF52840. It allows the Arduino board to appear as a USB drive, and files can simply be dragged and dropped into place. The library can set up to use SPI flash, SD cards, or even internal chip memory as the storage medium.

Potential applications include images, audio files, fonts, or even configuration files. Future plans include porting the TinyUSB library to the ESP32-S2 as well. Being able to drag a settings file straight on to a board could make getting WiFi boards online much less of a hassle.

We’ve seen other nifty USB libraries before, VUSB is a great option if you need USB on your AVR microcontroller. Video after the break.

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