Battlezone Played on Vector Display with Hand-Wound Yoke

We’ve been admirers of the work [Eric] and friends have been doing over at TubeTime for years. One of the earliest we can remember is the decatron kitchen timer, and we still tell the story of [Eric] purposely leaving out button debouncing in order to make his vector flappy bird even harder.

TubeTime is back at it this year and we had the opportunity to speak with them at Bay Area Maker Faire. The group specializes in working with old tube displays and this year’s offering was spectacular in many ways. First off, the software side of things is an emulator running on an STM32 F4 Discovery board. The chips on these boards have a pair of 12-bit DACs which are driving the X and Y of the vector displays. Code to run the original ROMs was ported from existing projects, but the audio for the games was kind of a hack to get working.

This particular display is where things get really fascinating. The tube itself was originally manufactured as test equipment for television repairmen. What’s fascinating about this is that [Eric] had to rewind the deflection yokes himself to get it working again. Luckily he documented quite a bit about his initial research into this process and his experiments to remedy some distortion issues he encountered once it was working.

Make sure to head on over to TubeTime and read their overview of the Battlezone machine. After the break we’ve also embedded a few of our own pictures as well as the interview at BAMF.

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My Robot Army @ Maker Faire

For a few years now I’ve been developing an interactive army of delta robots. This ongoing project is fueled by my desire to control many mechanical extremities like an extension of my body (I’m assuming I’m not the only one who fantasizes about robots here).

IMG_1846Since my army doesn’t have a practical application… other than producing pretty light patterns and making the user feel extremely cool for a minute, I guess you’d call it art. In the past I’ve held a Kickstarter to fund the production of my art which I can now happily show at cool events with interesting people; Maker Faire being one of them.

Interactivity and Sprawling Crowds

Last year, for our debut at the big Bay Area Maker Faire, my collaborator, [Mark], and I displayed a smaller sampling of 30 robots for our installation. We also decided to create an interactive aspect for others to experience. After the end of our crowdfunding period last March, we had a little over a month to do any development before the big event, so our options were slim. The easy solution was to jam our delta code into the hand tracking demo which comes with the Xbox Kinect’s Open NI within Processing. This was cool enough to exhibit, but we hadn’t really anticipated how it would go over in an environment as densely packed as the dark room at Maker Faire.

We should have known better. Both of us were aware that there would be many, many children… all with micro hands to confuse and bewilder the Kinect, but we did it anyway. Our only resolve was to implement the feature that would force the Kinect to track one hand at a time, only after being waved at in a very particular fashion. After needing to explain this stipulation to every person who stopped by our booth over the course of the weekend, we decided never to use the Kinect for crowds ever again; lesson learned.

Delta Robots and DMX

Over the past year since that experience, we’ve tripled the size of the installation and brainstormed some better demo ideas. As of now, the robots are all individually addressable over an RS485 bus, and we use the DMX protocol over a CAT5 cable to send commands. If you aren’t familiar with it, DMX is used in show production to control stage lighting… to which there is a super neat and free application called QLC+ that allows you to effectively orchestrate the motion and color of many individual light units; perfect for our cause.

qlcDeltasFunctionally, each of the 84 delta robots in the installation believes that it is a stage light (robots with identity issues). We mapped the X and Y axis of the end effector to the existing pan and tilt values, and the z axis to the beam focus value. The RGB of the LED mounted in the end effector of each delta maps directly to the RGB value of the stage light.

By using the sliders in the QLC+ GUI, I could select groups of robots and create presets for position and color. This was great, someone like me who doesn’t really write a lot of code could whip up impressive choreography with little sweat. Additionally, the program comes with a nice visualizer, where you can layout virtual nodes and view your effects as you develop them.

This is the layout of our installation mapped in QLC+. The teal and purple sliders around each light represent pan and tilt (or in our case X and Y):

QLCdelta

Lighting control was an interesting solution. Having autonomous robots this year changed how people responded to them, as they were less like an army you’d command and more of a hypnotic field of glowing grass.

[Mark] and I are considering picking up some flex sensors and maybe playing with the Leap or an EEG headset as a means to reintroduce the interactive aspect. Bottom line, I have this cool new toy that I can’t wait to play with over the summer!

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Interactive Robot: Project Naughty Ball

A month before the Bay Area Maker Faire, there were ominous predictions the entire faire would be filled with BB-8 droids, the cute astromech ball bot we’ll be seeing more of when The Force Awakens this December. This prediction proved to be premature. There were plenty of R2 units droiding around the faire, but not a single BB-8. Perhaps at the NYC Maker Faire this September.

skeletonRegarding ball bots, we did have one friendly rolling companion at Maker Faire this year. It was a project by UC Davis students [Henjiu Kang], [Yi Lu], and [Yunan Song] that rolls around, seeking out whoever is wearing an infrared ankle strap. They team is calling it Project Naughty Ball, but we’re going to call it the first step towards a miniature BB-8 droid.

The design of the Naughty Ball is somewhat ingenious; it’s set up as a two-wheel balancing bot inside a clear plasic sphere. A ton of batteries work well enough as the ballast, stepper motors and machined plastic wheels balance and steer the ball bot, and the structure on the top hemisphere of the ball houses all the interesting electronics.

There is a BeagleBone Black with WiFi adapter, a few motor drivers, an IMU, and a very interesting 3D printed mount that spins the robot’s eyes – infrared cameras that spin around inside the ball and track whoever is wearing that IR transmitting ankle band.

As far as robotics project go, you really can’t do better at Maker Faire than a semi-autonomous ball bot that follows its owner, and the amount of work these guys have put into this project sends it to the next level. You can check out a video description of their project below.

Hackaday BAMF Meetup Reaches Critical Mass and Overflows Awesome

I love the Hackaday crowd. Despite a long day standing at a booth or crawling the fairgrounds as a spectator, everyone still made it on Saturday night to the 2nd Annual Hackaday BAMF meetup and made it one for the annals of hacker history. Just look at that crowd… I see a couple of Hackaday Prize Judges, a friend I met in Germany (who I actually found out I first met at this same event last year), and many many more great people. I don’t want to spoil the fun so check out the full size over on [Rich Hogben’s] photo log and see how many you can identify.

We started this gathering last year as a come-as-you-are and bring-what-you’re-proud-of after party to Bay Area Maker Fair. We don’t rent out the bar — O’Neil’s Irish Pub in San Mateo — but we had a handshake agreement for drink tickets (thank you to Supplyframe for buying the first round for everyone) with the bartenders. The place feels like the perfect size, and before long we were packed into every available space. The ramp to the restroom area in the back was a gauntlet of conversation — enough room to walk by but you felt like you were interrupting people talking to those across from them.

The amount of hardware on hand was spectacular. Taking pictures of it was tough in the tight quarters. I got a look at the first prototype of the Pebble smart strap. I really enjoyed seeing OSHChip (pictured above) which is an ARM Cortex-M0 chip and BLE rolled into a DIP-16 form factor. [Sophi’s] HeartBeat Boombox was a big hit; it uses the heartrate and blood oxygen sensors seen above to drive a drumbeat. Those blinky glasses should look familiar. [Garrett Mace] and his colleague [Jason] were on hand. These Macetech glasses are from a couple of years back but don’t worry, they were sporting the newest RGB flavor which I’m told will have black solder mask and integrated controller among other tasty goodies.

Perhaps the best way to tell the success of the night is that there were a lot of friends in the room that I never realized were even there. The next day I met up with [Sarah Petkus] and [Mark Koch] and was surprised to find they had been at the Hackaday meetup and I missed them. The same thing happened when I looked at [Rich’s] album from the night and saw [Trey German] was there too. I wasn’t hiding and I wasn’t stuck in one conversation, it was just that kind of a party that makes the room feel like a TARDIS but somehow the night doesn’t last forever.

It’s hard to imagine BAMF without this Saturday gathering. If you missed it this year, add it to your calendar for next.

Interview with the Creators of CHIP, a $9 Single-Board Computer

Single-board computing is hot on the DIY scene right now and riding that knife edge is C.H.I.P., a project currently in crowd-funding which prices the base unit at just $9. I was happy to run into the crew from Next/Thing Company who developed C.H.I.P. They were happy because, well, the project’s reception has been like a supernova. Right now they’re at about $1.5M of their original $50k goal. We spoke about running Linux on the board, what connectors and pinout headers are available, as well as the various peripheral hardware they have ready for the board.

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Tin Spider is 13-foot Rideable Strandbeest

Arguably our best find at Bay Area Maker Faire this year was the Tin Spider built by [Scott Parenteau]. He constructed the 13-foot tall vehicle to take with him on his very first trip to Burning Man back in 2012. There’s very little information available online so we were excited that [Scott] spent some time speaking with us on Saturday.

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Setup Day at the Faire is a Glorious Time!

The Bay Area Maker Faire starts today, but the Hackaday crew rolled in early for something new this year. Friday has traditionally been just for exhibitor setup but this year a few extra groups were on site to see everything come together. Most notably, school field trips. How awesome is it to skip the normal class schedule and hang out at the fair? Also able to get in are media and industry.

I had a great time. Watching everything get setup is often more interesting that seeing the finished display. It’s also much quieter, many fewer bodies (Saturday afternoon is usually a mad press of people) and people haven’t yet lost their voices or the fallen into the monotony of voicing the same explanation over and over again.

Above you can see a few of the friends I ran into. [Windell Oskay] is one of the 2015 Hackaday Prize Judges. He had a freshly minted copy of his new book which I first heard about when visiting Evil Mad Scientist Labs last fall. I also ran into [Kevin] who is the creator of the Arduboy. I first met him at BAMF last year and this year he makes a triumphant return with the new version of Arduboy which overshot it’s Kickstarter by an order of magnitude in just a few days. And who else should I bump into but [Brian Benchoff]. He lives in Pennsylvania and I in Wisconsin so we look forward to hanging out when Hackaday hits the road. I also said a quick hello to [Caleb Kraft] who was slinging veggie paella all evening.

[Brian], [Sophi], [Matt], [Jasmine], [Rich], and I will all be at tonight’s Hackaday Meetup. Anyone in the area won’t want to miss this one. There are a ton of awesome hackers already planning to clink glasses starting at 7pm. All you need to do to join in is RSVP.

Back to the action; I made a quick Friday first pass which still took about three hours. The setup changes just a bit each year… generally things are in the same places but of course returning exhibitors have made a year of upgrades and there’s always a lot of fresh and new on hand. I don’t remember seeing the probability machine last year. It has reservoir of marbles at the top which are being steadily dropped into the “Plinko” style peg-board showing a distribution which has a higher probability toward the center.

Here are just a few more favorites. The Kijani Grows booth has a couple of full aquaponics setups that are worth checking out. I spent some time with the Firepick Delta guys. Sand plotters are always fun and there’s a giant one in one of the booths. I may try my hand at lock picking in The OPen Organization of Lockpickers tent today. And [Louis] of SmartMatrix is launching his Kickstarter to bring fully-assembled versions to people who don’t want to solder the one available in our store.

That’s all for now, I’m off to see as much as is humanly possible. If you’re at the Faire today or tomorrow track us down for some stickers and other swag, and don’t forget tonight’s meetup that I mentioned above!