Augmented Reality On The Cheap With ESP32

Augmented reality (AR) technology hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of attention as VR, and seriously lags in terms of open source development and accessibility.  Frustrated by this, [Arnaud Atchimon] created CheApR, an open source, low cost AR headset that anyone can build at home and use as a platform for further development

[Arnaud] was impressed by the Tilt Five AR goggles, but the price of this cutting edge hardware simply put it out of reach of most people. Instead, he designed and built his own around a 3D printed frame, ESP32, cheap LCDs, and lenses from a pair of sunglasses. The electronics is packed horizontally in the top of the frame, with the displays pointed down into a pair of angled mirrors, which reflect the image onto the sunglasses lenses and into the user’s eyes. [Arnaud] tested a number of different lenses and found that a thin lens with a slight curve worked best. The ESP32 doesn’t actually run the main software, it just handles displaying the images on the LCDs. The images are sent from a computer running software written in Processing. Besides just displaying images, the software can also integrate inputs from a MPU6050 IMU and  ESP32 camera module mounted on the goggles. This allows the images to shift perspective as the goggles move, and recognize faces and AR markers in the environment.

All the design files and software is available on GitHub, and we exited to see where this project goes. We’ve seen another pair of affordable augmented reality glasses that uses a smartphone as a display, but it seems the headset that was used are no longer available.

Purdue Meta-AR-App Allows Instructors And Students To Build Their Own AR Learning Content

Augmented reality (AR) in the classroom has garnered a bit of interest over the years, but given the increased need for remote and virtual learning these days, it might be worth taking a closer look at what AR can offer. Purdue University’s C Design Lab thinks they’ve found a solution in their Meta-AR platform. The program allows an instructor to monitor each student’s work in real-time without being in the same classroom as the student. Not only that, but the platform allows students to collaborate in real-time with each other giving each other tips and feedback while also being able to interact with each other’s work, no matter where they may be physically located.

What we find really cool is the real-time feedback the software provides to the students. The system can sense what the students are touching and can help students in their given task, providing real-time feedback on what they are doing, how things should fit together, and what type of outcomes the students can expect given their trajectory. It also appears the system isn’t limited to AR markers but provides a very expansive toolbox for instructors and students to build on. C Design Lab is doing quite a bit of user feedback studies, continually incorporating input from students to further the platform. That’s definitely critical to ensuring the system is user-friendly.

We can easily see how something like this might scale to an industrial setting for training people how to use complex machinery, to a medical school to help prepare students to do surgery or to help develop molecular diagnostics tools. Check out the other learning tools C Design Lab is developing.

Hackaday Links: May 3, 2020

In a sign of the times, the Federal Communications Commission has officially signed off on remote testing sessions for amateur radio licensing in the United States. Testing in the US is through the Volunteer Examiner Coordinator program, which allows teams of at least three Volunteer Examiners to set up in-person testing sessions where they proctor amateur radio licensing exams. The VEs take their jobs very seriously and take pride in offering exam sessions on a regular schedule, so when social distancing rules made their usual public testing venues difficult to access, many of them quickly pivoted to remote testing using teleconferencing applications. Here’s hoping that more VEs begin offering remote testing sessions.

Another aspect of life changed by COVID-19 and social distancing rules has been the simple pleasure of a trip to the museum. And for the museums themselves, the lack of visitors can be catastrophic, both in terms of fulfilling their educational and research missions and through the lack of income that results. To keep the flame alive in a fun way, Katrina Bowen from The Centre for Computing History in Cambridge has recreated her museum in loving detail in Animal Crossing: New Leaf. For being limited to what’s available in the game, Katrina did a remarkable job on the virtual museum; we especially like the Megaprocessor wallpaper. She even managed to work in that staple last stop of every museum, the gift shop.

To the surprise of few, “spatial computing” startup Magic Leap has announced that it is laying off half its workforce as it charts a new course. The company, which attracted billions in funding based on its virtual retinal display technology, apparently couldn’t sell enough of their Magic Leap One headsets to pay the bills. The company is swiveling to industrial users, which honestly seems like a better application for their retinal display technology than the consumer or gaming markets.

And finally, as if 2020 hasn’t been weird enough already, the Department of Defense has officially released videos of what it calls “unidentified aerial phenomena.” These videos, taken from the head-up displays of US Navy fighter jets, had previously been obtained by private parties and released to the public. Recorded between 2004 and 2015, the videos appear to show objects that are capable of extremely high-speed flight and tight maneuvers close to the surface of the ocean. We find the timing of the release suspicious, almost as if the videos are intended to serve as a distraction from the disturbing news of the day. We want to believe we’re not alone, but these videos don’t do much to help.

The Smallest Large Display Is Projected Straight Onto Your Retina

For most of human history, the way to get custom shapes and colors onto one’s retinas was to draw it on a cave wall, or a piece of parchment, or on paper. Later on, we invented electronic displays and used them for everything from televisions to computers, even toying with displays that gave the illusion of a 3D shape existing in front of us. Yet what if one could just skip this surface and draw directly onto our retinas?

Admittedly, the thought of aiming lasers directly at the layer of cells at the back of our eyeballs — the delicate organs which allow us to see — likely does not give one the same response as you’d have when thinking of sitting in front of a 4K, 27″ gaming display to look at the same content. Yet effectively we’d have the same photons painting the same image on our retinas. And what if it could be an 8K display, cinema-sized. Or maybe have a HUD overlay instead, like in video games?

In many ways, this concept of virtual retinal displays as they are called is almost too much like science-fiction, and yet it’s been the subject of decades of research, with increasingly more sophisticated technologies making it closer to an every day reality. Will we be ditching our displays and TVs for this technology any time soon?

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PCB Bring-Up Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, April 15 at noon Pacific for the PCB Bring-Up Hack Chat with Mihir Shah and Liam Cadigan!

The printed circuit design process is pretty unique among manufacturing processes. Chances are pretty good that except for possibly a breadboard prototype, the circuit that sits before you after coming back from assembly has only ever existed in EDA software or perhaps a circuit simulator. Sure, it’s supposed to work, but will it?

You can — and should — do some power-off testing of new boards, but at some point you’re going to have to flip the switch and see what happens. The PCB bring-up process needs to be approached carefully, lest debugging any problems that crop up become more difficult than need be. Mihir and Liam from inspectAR will discuss the bring-up process in depth, offering tips and tricks to make things go as smoothly as possible, as well as demonstrating how the inspectAR platform can fit into that process, especially with teams that are distributed across remote sites. If your board releases the Magic Smoke, you’ll want to know if it’s your design or an assembly issue, and an organized bring-up plan can be a big help.

Note: Liam will be doing a simulcast web demo of inspectAR via Zoom. ​

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, April 15 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

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Oscilloscope And Microscope Augmented With Ghosts

Augmented reality saw a huge boom a few years ago, where an image of the real world has some virtual element layer displayed on top of it. To get this effect to work, however, you don’t need a suite of software and smart devices. [elad] was able to augment a microscope with the output from an oscilloscope, allowing him to see waveforms while working on small printed circuit boards with the microscope.

The build relies on a simplified version of the Pepper’s Ghost illusion. This works by separating two images with a semi-transparent material such as glass, placed at an angle. When looking through the material, the two images appear to blend together. [elad] was able to build a box that attaches to the microscope with a projection of the oscilloscope image augmented on the view of the microscope.

This looks like it would be incredibly useful for PCBs, especially when dealing with small SMD components. The project is split across two entries, the second of which is here. In one demonstration the oscilloscope image is replaced with a visual of a computer monitor, so it could be used for a lot more applications than just the oscilloscope, too. There aren’t a lot of details on the project page though, but with an understanding of Pepper’s Ghost this should be easily repeatable. If you need more examples, there are plenty of other builds that use this technique.

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Augmented Reality Aids In The Fight Against COVID-19

“Know your enemy” is the essence of one of the most famous quotes from [Sun Tzu]’s Art of War, and it’s as true now as it was 2,500 years ago. It also applies far beyond the martial arts, and as the world squares off for battle against COVID-19, it’s especially important to know the enemy: the novel coronavirus now dubbed SARS-CoV-2. And now, augmented reality technology is giving a boost to search for fatal flaws in the virus that can be exploited to defeat it.

The video below is a fascinating mix of 3D models of viral structures, like the external spike glycoproteins that give coronaviruses their characteristic crown appearance, layered onto live video of [Tom Goddard], a programmer/analysts at the University of California San Francisco. The tool he’s using is called ChimeraX, a molecular visualization program developed by him and his colleagues. He actually refers to this setup as “mixed reality” rather than “augmented reality”, to stress the fact that AR tends to be an experience that only the user can fully appreciate, whereas this system allows him to act as a guide on a virtual tour of the smallest of structures.

Using a depth-sensing camera and a VR headset, [Tom] is able to manipulate 3D models of the SARS virus — we don’t yet have full 3D structure data for the novel coronavirus proteins — to show us exactly how SARS binds to its receptor, angiotensin-converting enzyme-2 (ACE-2), a protein expressed on the cell surfaces of many different tissue types. It’s fascinating to see how the biding domain of the spike reaches out to latch onto ACE-2 to begin the process of invading a cell; it’s also heartening to watch [Tom]’s simulation of how the immune system responds to and blocks that binding.

It looks like ChimeraX and similar AR systems are going to prove to be powerful tools in the fight against not just COVID-19, but in all kinds of infectious diseases. Hats off to [Tom] and his team for making them available to researchers free of charge.

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