Inspect The RF Realm With Augmented Reality

Intellectually, we all know that we exist in a complex soup of RF energy. Cellular, WiFi, TV, public service radio, radar, ISM-band transmissions from everything from thermometers to garage door openers — it’s all around us. It would be great to see these transmissions, but alas, most of us don’t come from the factory with the correct equipment.

Luckily, aftermarket accessories like RadioFieldAR by [Manahiyo] make it possible to visualize RF signals. As the name suggests, this is an augmented reality system that lets you inspect the RF world around you. The core of the system is a tinySA, a pocket-sized spectrum analyzer that acts as a broadband receiver. A special antenna is connected to the tinySA; unfortunately, there are no specifics on the antenna other than it needs to have a label with an image of the Earth attached to it, for antenna tracking purposes. The tinySA is connected to an Android phone — one that supports Google’s ARCore — by a USB OTG cable, and a special app on the phone runs the show.

By slowly moving the antenna around in the field of view of the phone’s camera, a heat map of signal strength at a particular frequency is slowly built up. The video below shows it in action, and the results are pretty cool. If you don’t have a tinySA, fear not — [Manahiyo] has a version of the app that supports a plain old RTL-SDR dongle too. That should make it easy for just about anyone to try this out.

And if you’re feeling deja vu about this, you’re probably remembering the [Manahiyo]’s VR spectrum analyzer, upon which this project is based.

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Image from the paper with items a-d. a) Schematic of the EC navigation system integrated with a smart contact lens consisting of GPS receiver module, Arduino UNO as a processor, and PB display. b) Photograph of contact lens placed on the 3D printed replica eyeball. c) Camera setup of the navigation system on the dashboard of a car. d) Driving schemes updating the direction signal: (1–4) images show the four cases of operational principles used in the navigation system. Based on 0.2 V applied to the common pin, 0 V (off-state) and 0.7 V (on-state) are applied alternately in 5 WEs, and operating voltages with relative voltages of −0.2 V and 0.5 V are obtained (From the figure reads left to right: the name of 6 pins used in the system, their on–off status, the applied voltage, and relative voltage). Scale bar is 2 mm.

Smart Contact Lenses Tell You Where To Go

Augmented Reality (AR) promises to relieve us from from the boredom of mundane reality and can also help you navigate unfamiliar environments. Current AR tech leaves something to be desired, but researchers at the Korea Electrotechnology Research Institute have brought AR contact lenses closer to actual reality.

The researchers micro-printed FeFe(CN)6 ink onto the contact substrate and thermally reduced it at 120˚C for nine seconds to form Prussian Blue, an electrochromic pigment. By confining the material with the meniscus of the ink, resolution was better than previous techniques to display data on contact lenses. While the ability to reversibly change from clear to blue faded after 200 cycles, the researchers were targeting a disposable type of smart contact lens, so degradation of the display wasn’t considered a deal breaker.

Since voltages applied were constant, it seems this isn’t a true bi-stable display like e-ink where power is only required to change states. The on condition of a section required 0.5 V while off was -0.2 V. The researchers printed a contact with straight, left, and right arrows as well as STOP and GO commands. Connected to a GPS-equipped Arduino Uno, they used it to navigate between ten different checkpoints as a demonstration. Only a 3D printed eyeball was brave enough (or had IRB approval) to wear the contact lens, so watching the state change through a macro lens attached to a smartphone camera had to do.

With more AR devices on the way, maybe it’s time to start embedding household objects with invisible QR codes or cleaning your workshop to get ready for your AR workbench.

A PCB with several points highlighted by a projection system

Augmented Reality Workbench Helps You To Debug Your Boards

No matter how advanced your design skills, the chances are you’ll need to spend some time chasing bugs in your boards after they come back from the assembly house. Testing and debugging a PCB typically involves a lot of cross-checking between the board, the layout and the schematic, which quickly becomes tiresome even for mildly complex designs. To make this task a bit easier, [Ishan Chatterjee] and colleagues at the University of Washington have designed the Augmented Reality Debugging Workbench, or ARDW for short.

The ARDW is a setup consisting of a lab workbench with an antistatic mat, a selection of measurement instruments and a PC. You can simply place your board on the bench, open the schematic and layout in KiCAD and start measuring and debugging your design as you normally would, but the real magic happens when you select a new icon in KiCAD that exports the schematic and layout to the ARDW system. From that moment, you can select components in your schematic and have them highlighted not only on the layout, but on the physical board in front of you as well. This is perhaps best demonstrated visually, as the team members do in the video embedded below.

The real-life highlighting of components is achieved thanks to a set of cameras that track the motion of everything on the desk as well as a video projector that overlays information on top of the PCB. All of this enables a variety of useful debugging features: for example, there’s an option to highlight pin one on all components, enabling a simple visual check of each component’s orientation. You can select all Do Not Populate (DNP) instances and immediately see if all highlighted pads are empty. If you’re not sure which component you’re looking at, just point at it with your multimeter probe and it’s highlighted on the schematic and layout. You can even place your probes on a net and automatically log the voltage for future reference, thanks to a digital link between the multimeter and the ARDW software.

In addition to designing and building the ARDW, the team also performed a usability study using a group of human test subjects. They especially liked the ability to quickly locate components on crowded boards, but found the on-line measurement system a bit cumbersome due to its limited positional accuracy. Future work will therefore focus on improving the resolution of the projected image and generally making the system more compact and robust. All software is freely available on the project’s GitHub page, and while the current system looks a little complex for hobbyist use, we can already imagine it being a useful tool in production environments.

It’s not even the first time augmented reality has been used for PCB debugging: we saw a somewhat similar system at the 2019 Hackaday Superconference. AR can also come in handy during the design and prototyping phase, as demonstrated by this AR breadboard.

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Hackaday Prize 2022: Hedge Watcher Aims To Save Precious Bird Life

Hedges aren’t just a pretty garden decoration. They’re also a major habitat for many species of insects, birds, and other wildlife. In some areas, a lot of hedge trimming goes during the time that local birds are raising their fledglings, which causes harm at a crucial time. Thus, [Johann Elias Stoetzer] and fellow students were inspired to create Hedge Watcher.

Birds can easily blend in with their surroundings, but thermal cameras are a great way to spot them.

The concept is simple – using thermal vision to spot birds inside a hedge when they may not otherwise be easily visible. Many species blend in with their surroundings in a visual manner, so thermal imaging is a great way to get around this. It can help to avoid destroying nests or otherwise harming birds when trimming back hedges. The idea was sourced from large-scale agricultural operations, which regularly use thermal cameras mounted on drones to look for wildlife before harvesting a field.

However, staring at a thermal camera readout every few seconds while trimming hedges isn’t exactly practical. Instead, the students created an augmented reality (AR) monocular to allow the user to trim hedges at the same time as keeping an eye on the thermal camera feed. Further work involved testing a binocular AR headset, as well as a VR headset. The AR setups proved most useful as they allowed for better situational awareness while working.

It’s a creative solution to protecting the local birdlife, and is to be applauded. There’s plenty of hubris around potential uses for augmented reality, but this is a great example of a real and practical one. And, if you’re keen to experiment with AR yourself, note that it doesn’t have to break the bank either!


Smart Contact Lenses Put You Up Close To The Screen

Google Glass didn’t take off as expected, but — be honest — do you really want to walk around with that hardware on your head? The BBC recently covered Mojo, a company developing smart contact lenses that not only correct vision but can show a display. You can see a video from CNET on the technology below.

The lenses have microLED displays, smart sensors, and solid-state batteries similar to those found in pacemakers. The company claims to have a “feature-complete prototype” and are going to start testing, according to the BBC article. We imagine you can’t get much of a battery crammed into a contact lens, but presumably, that’s one of the things that makes it so difficult to develop this sort of tech.

The article mentions other smart contacts under development, too, including a University of Surrey lens that can monitor eye health using various sensors integrated into the lens. You have to wonder how this would be in real life. Presumably, the display turns off and you see nothing, but it is annoying enough having your phone beep constantly without getting messages across your field of vision all the time.

It seems like this is a technology that will come, of course. If not this time, then sometime in the future. While we usually think the hacker community should lead the way, we aren’t sure we want to hack on something that touches people’s eyeballs. Not everyone can say that, though. For us, we’ll stick with headsets.

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A Microcontroller Friendly AR Headset On The Cheap

Generating the real-time images required for augmented reality (AR) goggles usually requires a fair amount of processing power, to the point that DIY efforts based around the Raspberry Pi often have trouble keeping up. But what if your AR aspirations don’t require fancy high-resolution graphics? If text and the occasional icon is enough to get the job done, then these lo-fi AR goggles from [bobricius] might be the ideal solution.

As with previous homebrew AR rigs we’ve seen, this one starts with an affordable headset designed to project the display of a smartphone onto a pair of curved optical combiners. But instead of tucking a phone into the headset, [bobricius] is using a custom PCB that holds a pair of ST7789 1.3 inch 240 x 240 IPS displays. Connected over SPI and supported by just about any microcontroller you’d care to use, tossing some textual data over your field of vision can be accomplished in just a few lines of code.

[bobricius] has actually put together a couple different versions of the PCB for this project. One uses his custom ATSAMD21E18-based “ArmaBrain” module that packs the MCU and an array of common components onto a 28 mm square board that can be easily dropped into other projects. If you’d rather roll your own solution, the second version of the board that simply holds the two displays in the appropriate position and routes the SPI lines to a convenient header should do nicely.

We’ve seen augmented reality displays using microcontrollers like the ESP32 before, but those were essentially just remote displays for a more powerful system. We like this simplified approach, as there are plenty of applications where just getting a few lines of text or some low-resolution images would be more than sufficient for the task at hand. Plus, the commercially-made headset this project is based on certainly looks better than some of the other donor goggles we’ve contemplated modifying in the past.

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3D Printed Smart Glasses Put Linux In Your Face

Unimpressed by DIY wearables powered by dinky microcontrollers, [Teemu Laurila] has been working on a 3D printed head-mounted computer that puts a full-fledged Linux desktop in your field of view. It might not be as slim and ergonomic as Google Glass, but it more than makes up for it in terms of raw potential.

Featuring an overclocked Raspberry Pi Zero W, a ST7789VW 240×240 IPS display running at 60 Hz, and a front-mounted camera, the wearable makes a great low-cost platform for augmented reality experiments. [Teemu] has already put together an impressive hand tracking demonstration that can pick out the position of all ten fingers in near real-time. The processing has to be done on his desktop computer as the Zero isn’t quite up to the task, but as you can see in the video below, the whole thing works pretty well.

Precision optics, courtesy of a hacksaw

Structurally, the head-mounted unit is made up of nine 3D printed parts that clip onto a standard pair of glasses. [Teemu] says the parts will probably need to be tweaked to fit your specific frames, but the design is modular enough that it shouldn’t take too much effort. He’s using 0.6 mm PETG plastic for the front reflector, and the main lens was pulled from a cheap pair of VR goggles and manually cut down into a rectangle.

The evolution of the build has been documented in several videos, and it’s interesting to see how far the hardware has progressed in a relatively short time. The original version made [Teemu] look like he was cosplaying as a Borg drone from Star Trek, but the latest build appears to be far more practical. We still wouldn’t try to wear it on an airplane, but it would hardly look out of place at a hacker con.

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