Hackaday Prize Entry: Vibhear

Hearing impairment, either partial or total, is a serious problem afflicting a large number of people. Almost 5% of the global population has some form of hearing disorder. For those affected by this disability from birth, it further impacts the development of language and speech abilities. In recent years, cochlear implants are increasingly being used to address this problem. These implants consist of two parts – the receiver and electrode array are implanted under the skin near the ear (with the electrode array terminating inside the Cochlea), while the microphone, electronics, transmitter and power source are attached on the outside. Often, the external unit has to be removed – for example, when the person needs to sleep. This is particularly so in the case of young children. The external unit is fairly large compared to their head and causes discomfort during sleep. And parents are worried that the expensive device could get damaged when the child is sleeping. This leads to the alarming situation where the child is asleep and has no audio sensory inputs being received from the surroundings. Not only can they not hear morning alarms, but also cannot react when there is an emergency situation such as a smoke alarm going off.

[Srdjan Pavlovic] came across this problem first hand when he visited his friend and learned about their six-year-old son with hearing loss since birth. The parents said their child will not be disturbed by loud noises at night since the external unit of his cochlear implant is removed each night. [Srdjan] then started work on building the Vibhear – an assistive hearing device to be used when the main hearing aid is removed or not working. It is a low-cost arm-band that provides a vibratory signal in response to high ambient noises.

The main components are a microphone, amplifier, microcontroller and vibration motor powered by a LiPo battery through a boost converter/charger. An RTC module allows setting up daily wake up alarms. It’s currently prototyped around the Arduino, but the next iteration will use a specialized DSP which can be programmed to perform signal processing operations on input sound. This will allow identification of specific sounds such as car horns, barking dogs, smoke alarms or emergency sirens.

[Srdjan] is in the process of choosing components for his next iteration, so if you have any recommendations to help him choose the microcontroller, power supply controller or other parts, do let him know via comments below.

Impressive Drawing Machine For One Made So Simply

Not all of us have CNC machines, laser cutters and 3D printers, and I’ll bet most of us didn’t start out that well equipped. The low-cost drawing machine that [jegatheesan] made for his daughter reminds us that you can prototype, and then make a functioning mechanical Da Vinci with very basic materials and mostly hand tools. He also wrote his own drawing software, with an interface that has its own simplicity.

There really are a lot of things to like about [jegatheesan]’s project. He first works out the math himself by doing something the likes of which we’ve all enjoyed, digging out the old school trigonometry and algebra books for a refresher. Then he got started on his prototype, made using a cardboard tube for the main support and straws and safety pins for the drawing arms. He already had a motor shield for his Arduino but it supported only 2 servos, so he made his own 3-servo shield. In the end, the prototype told him he had to redo some calculations, allowing him to move on to the final machine.

One thing we can say about the final machine is that hot glue must truly be the maker’s connect-all — you won’t find many screws here. Even the servos are held in place with copious quantities of glue. And the mechanism for lifting the pen is also quite clever. The whole thing is mounted on two vertical guide rods, so that it can easily slide up and down. To get it to actually move up and down, he glued a toy car wheel off-center on a servo arm. When the servo turns, the off-center wheel acts like a cam, pushing down on the wooden base to either lift the machine up or lower it down, depending on where the wheel is in its rotation.

See his hackaday.io page for the full step-by-step development process. But first check out the videos below to see how impressive such a simply made machine is in action.

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A BluePill for Arduino Dependence

Arduinos are helpful but some applications require more than what Arduinos can provide. However, it’s not always easy to make the switch from a developed ecosystem into the abyss that is hardware engineering. [Vadim] noticed this, which prompted him to write a guide to shepherd people on their quest for an Arduino-free environment, one BluePill at a time.

With an extended metaphor comparing Arduino use and physical addiction, [Vadim’s] writing is a joy to read. He chose to focus on the BluePill (aka the next Arduino Killer™) which is a $1.75 ARM board with the form factor of an Arduino Nano. After describing where to get the board and it’s an accompanying programmer, [Vadim] introduces PlatformIO, an alternative to the Arduino IDE. But wait! Before the Arduino die-hards leave, take note that PlatformIO can use all of the “Arduino Language,” so your digitalWrites and analogReads are safe (for now). Like any getting started guide, [Vadim] includes the obligatory blinking an LED program. And, in the end, [Vadim] sets his readers up to be comfortable in the middle ground between Arduino Land and the Wild West.

The debate for/against Arduino has been simmering for quite some time, but most agree that Arduino is a good place to start: it’s simpler and easier than jumping head first. However, at some point, many want to remove their “crippling Arduino dependency” (in the words of [Vadim]) and move on to bigger and better things. If you’re at this point, or still cling to your Uno, swing on over and give Vadim’s post a read. If you’re already in the trenches, head on over and read our posts about the BluePill and PlatformIO which are great complements for [Vadim’s].

Dumb STB gets smart

[Vincent Deconinck] gave a fresh lease of life to an old set top box by adding a few Euro’s worth of hardware and some software smarts. The device in question is an old VOOcorder – a Cisco set-top box provided by VOO, his cable service provider in Belgium.

The VOOcorder doesn’t have any WiFi hardware or browser / app based interfaces. It’s a simple device controlled either via an IR remote or front panel buttons. [Vincent] added an ESP8266 and hooked it up to the IR receiver on the set-top box. He also set it up as an SPI slave to the front panel VFD display controller and connected it to the debug serial interface of the VOOcorder as well. The software, on the other hand, required a lot more work consisting of code running on the ESP itself, several HTML pages and JavaScript code for the browser front end, and a few scripts running in the background.

The result was bidirectional interactivity from within a browser, allowing him to send commands and receive status information as well as providing a user-friendly search interface. Further, his browser interface was integrated with information from the service providers website letting him do scheduling and recording of programs. The stuff that interested us is how he sniffed out the IR signals, figured out the SPI protocol used by the front panel controller, and implemented SPI-slave mode for the ESP8266. [Vincent] was surprised that such a cheap device could handle three distinct web servers while parsing two message streams without a hitch.

It’s a great hack showing us how to use super cheap electronics to upgrade and modernize old hardware. Check out the two videos after the break – showing a demo of the hack in action, and a walk through of the hardware modifications.

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Follow the Bouncing Ball of Entropy

When [::vtol::] wants to generate random numbers he doesn’t simply type rand() into his Arduino IDE, no, he builds a piece of art. It all starts with a knob, presumably connected to a potentiometer, which sets a frequency. An Arduino UNO takes the reading and generates a tone for an upward-facing speaker. A tiny ball bounces on that speaker where it occasionally collides with a piezoelectric element. The intervals between collisions become our sufficiently random number.

The generated number travels up the Rube Goldberg-esque machine to an LCD mounted at the top where a word, corresponding to our generated number, is displayed. As long as the button is held, a tone will continue to sound and words will be generated so poetry pours forth.

If this take on beat poetry doesn’t suit you, the construction of the Ball-O-Bol has an aesthetic quality that’s eye-catching, whereas projects like his Tape-Head Robot That Listens to the Floor and 8-Bit Digital Photo Gun showed the electronic guts front and center with their own appeal.

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Fail Of The Week: Arduino Sand Matrix Printer

NYC beaches are where tropical beaches addicted to meth go to die. So says [Vije Miller] in his write-up for his Arduino sand matrix printer. It’s a clever idea, five servo-operated cardboard plungers that indent a pattern of dots in the sand as the device is pulled forward, resulting in something not unlike a dot matrix printer that can write messages in the sand.

He’s submitted it to us as a Fail Of The Week, because it doesn’t do a very good job of writing in the sand, and it’s burned out a servo. But we feel this isn’t entirely fair, because whether or not it has delivered the goods it’s still an excellent build. Cardboard isn’t a material we see much of here at Hackaday, but in this case he’s mastered it in a complex mechanism that while it may have proved a little too flexible for the job in hand is nevertheless a rather impressive piece of work.

You can see a brief video below the break showing it in action. He tells us his motivation has waned on this project, and expresses the hope that others will take up the baton and produce a more viable machine.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: ESPMetric, a Simple and Easy Matrix

There’s a lot you can do with a bunch of LEDs connected to the Internet. You can display the time, the weather, the bus schedule, or any one of a number of important data points in your life. Custom matrices are a pain in the butt to set up, which is why we like to see one looking rather polished and clean. [Faire-soi-meme] prettied up an 8×32 NeoPixel matrix with some diffusers and a grid bezel. It’s the ESPMetric, and it’s also an entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The NeoPixel matrix is controlled by a NodeMcu using elements from [squix78]’s ESP82666 weather station code as well as Adafruit’s NeoMatrix library. There is a photoresistor to control brightness as well as 3 buttons to control its various modes. Tapping the buttons brings you by various settings like the time, WiFi status, stock market, and so on.

If you parlez-vous français–or enjoy the Google Translate experience–[Faire-soi-meme] has detailed the build steps on his blog, though you can also download his code from his GitHub repository. There’s a great video of this build, you can check that out below.

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