Slipping Sheets Map Multiple Bends In This Ingenious Flex Sensor

When thoughts turn to measuring the degree to which something bends, it’s pretty likely that strain gauges or some kind of encoders on a linkage come to mind. Things could be much simpler in the world of flex measurement, though, if [Fereshteh Shahmiri] and [Paul H. Dietz]’s capacitive multi-bend flex sensor catches on.

This is one of those ideas that seems so obvious that you don’t know why it hasn’t been tried before. The basic idea is to leverage the geometry of layered materials that slip past each other when bent. Think of the way the pages of a hardbound book feather out when you open it, and you’ll get the idea. In the case of the ShArc (“Shift Arc”) sensor, the front and back covers of the book are flexible PCBs with a series of overlapping pads. Between these PCBs are a number of plain polyimide spacer strips. All the strips of the sensor are anchored at one end, and everything is held together with an elastic sleeve. As the ShArc is bent, the positions of the electrodes on the top and bottom layers shift relative to each other, changing the capacitance across them. From the capacitance measurements and the known position of each pad, a microcontroller can easily calculate the bend radius at each point and infer the curvature of the whole strip.

The video below shows how the ShArc works, as well as several applications for the technology. The obvious use as a flex sensor for the human hand is most impressive — it could vastly simplify [Will Cogley]’s biomimetic hand controller — but such sensors could be put to work in any system that bends. And as a bonus, it looks pretty simple to build one at home.

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Simple Seismic Sensor Makes Earthquake Detection Personal

When an earthquake strikes, it’s usually hard to miss. At least that’s the case with the big ones; the dozens or hundreds of little quakes that go largely unnoticed every day are interesting too, and make sense to track. That’s usually left to the professionals, with racks of sensitive equipment and a far-flung network of seismic sensors. That doesn’t mean you can’t keep track of doings below your feet yourself, with something like this DIY seismograph.

Technically, what [Alex] built is better called a “seismic detector” since it’s not calibrated in any way. It’s just a simple sensor for detecting ground vibrations, whether they be due to passing trucks or The Big One. [Alex] lives in California, wedged between the Hayward, Calaveras, and San Andreas faults in San Jose, so there is plenty of opportunity for testing his device. The business end is a simple pendulum sensor, with a heavy metal bob hanging from a long wire inside a length of plastic pipe. Positioned close to the bob is a copper plate; the bob and the plate form an air-dielectric variable capacitor that controls the frequency of a simple 555 oscillator. The frequency is measured by a PIC microcontroller and sent to a Raspberry Pi, which displays the data on a graph. You can check in on real-time seismic activity in San Jose using the link above, or check out historical quakes, like the 7.1 magnitude Ridgecrest quake in July. [Alex]’s sensor is sensitive enough to pick up recent quakes in Peru, Fiji, and Nevada, and he even has some examples of visualizing the Earth’s core using data from the sensor. How cool is that?

We’ve seen other seismic detectors before, like this piezo-based device, or even one made from toilet parts. We like the simplicity of the capacitive sensor [Alex] used, though.

Door Springs And Neopixels Demonstrate Quantum Computing Principles

They may be out of style now, and something of a choking hazard for toddlers, but there’s no denying that spring doorstops make a great sound when they’re “plucked” by a foot as you walk by. Sure, maybe not on a 2:00 AM bathroom break when the rest of the house is sleeping, but certainly when used as sensors in this interactive light show.

The idea behind [Robin Baumgarten]’s “Quantum Garden” is clear from the first video below: engaging people through touch, sound, and light. Each of the 228 springs, surrounded by a Neopixel ring, is connected to one of the 12 inputs on an MPR121 capacitive touch sensor. The touch sensors and an accelerometer in the base detect which spring is sproinging and send that information to a pair of Teensies. A PC then runs the simulations that determine how the lights will react. The display is actually capable of some pretty complex responses, including full-on games. But the most interesting modes demonstrate principles of quantum computing, specifically stimulated Raman adiabatic passage (STIRAP), which describes transfers between quantum states. While the kids in the first video were a great stress test, the second video shows the display under less stimulation and gives a better idea of how it works.

We like this because it uses a simple mechanism of springs to demonstrate difficult quantum concepts in an engaging way. If you need more background on quantum computing, [Al Williams] has been covering the field for a while. Need the basics? Check out [Will Sweatman]’s primer.

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Send Smooches Over Skype With The Kiss Interface

This project of [Nathan]’s certainly has a playful straightforwardness about it. His Skype ‘Kiss’ Interface has a simple job: to try to create a more intuitive way to express affection within the limits of using Skype. It all came about from a long distance relationship for which the chat program was the main means of communicating. Seeking a more intuitive and personal means of expressing some basic affection, [Nathan] created a capacitive touch sensor that, when touched with the lips, sends the key combination for either a kissy face emoji or the red lips emoji, depending on the duration.

Capacitive touch sensing allows for triggering the sensor without actually physically touching one’s lips to the electrodes, which [Nathan] did by putting a clear plastic layer over the PCB traces. His board uses an STM32 microcontroller with software handling the USB HID and STM’s TSC (Touch Sensing Controller) functionality. As a result, the board has few components and a simple interface, which was in keeping with the goal of rejecting feature creep and focusing on a simple task.

Clearly the unit works; but how well does it actually fulfill its intended purpose? We don’t know that yet, but we do know that [Nathan] seems to have everything he needs in order to find out. Either way, it’s a fun project that definitely fits the spirit of the Human-Computer Interface Challenge of The Hackaday Prize.

A Low Cost, Dead Tree Touch Screen

Remember the “paperless office”? Neither do we, because despite the hype of end-to-end digital documents, it never really happened. The workplace is still a death-trap for trees, and with good reason: paper is cheap, literally growing on trees, and it’s the quickest and easiest medium for universal communication and collaboration. Trouble is, once you’re done scribbling your notes on a legal pad or designing the Next Big Thing on a napkin, what do you do with it?

If you’re anything like us, the answer to that question is misplacing or destroying the paper before getting a chance to procrastinate transcribing it into some useful digital form. Wouldn’t paper that automatically digitizes what you draw or write on it be so much better? That’s where this low-cost touch-sensitive paper (PDF link) is headed, and it looks like it has a lot of promise. Carnegie-Mellon researchers [Chris Harrison] and [Yang Zhang] have come up with cheap and easy methods of applying conductive elements to sheets of ordinary paper, and importantly, the methods can scale well to the paper mill to take advantage of economies of scale at the point of production. Based on silk-screened conductive paints, the digitizer uses electrical field tomography to locate touches and quantify their pressure through a connected microcontroller. The video below shows a prototype in action.

Current cost is 30 cents a sheet, and if it can be made even cheaper, the potential applications range from interactive educational worksheets to IoT newspapers. And maybe if it gets really cheap, you can make a touch-sensitive paper airplane when you’re done with it.

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This Radio Gets Pour Reception

When was the last time you poured water onto your radio to turn it on?

Designed collaboratively by [Tore Knudsen], [Simone Okholm Hansen] and [Victor Permild], Pour Reception seeks to challenge what constitutes an interface, and how elements of play can create a new experience for a relatively everyday object.

Lacking buttons or knobs of any kind, Pour Reception appears an inert acrylic box with two glasses resting on top. A detachable instruction card cues the need for water, and pouring some into the glasses wakes the radio.

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Custom Sensor Head Turns 3D Printer Into Capacitive Scanner

The best thing about owning a 3D printer or CNC router may not just be what you can additively or subtractively create with it. With a little imagination you can turn your machine into a 3D scanner, and using capacitive sensors to image items turns out to be an interesting project.

[Nelson]’s scanner idea came from fiddling with some capacitive sensors at work, and with a high-resolution capacitance-to-digital sensor chip in hand, he set about building a scan head for his printer. In differential mode, the FDC2212 sensor chip uses an external LC tank circuit with two plain sensor plates set close to each other. The sensor plates form an air-dielectric variable capacitor, and the presence of an object can be detected with high sensitivity. [Nelson]’s custom sensor board and controller ride on a 3D-printed bracket and scan over the target on the printer bed. Initial results were fuzzy, but after compensating for room temperature variations and doing a little filtering on the raw data, the scans were… still pretty fuzzy. But there’s an image there, and it’s something to work with.

Need a slightly more approachable project to get your feet wet with capacitive sensors? Maybe you should use your phone’s touchscreen as a 2D-capacitive scanner.

[via r/electronics]