Purpose-Built Plotter Pitches In To Solve Wordblitz On Your Phone

It seems like most hackers have never played a game without at least wondering how to cheat at it. It’s not that we’re a dishonest lot, at least not as a rule. It’s more that most games hold less challenge for us than does figuring out how to reverse engineer the game’s mechanics. We don’t intend to cheat; it just sort of happens.

Or at least that’s the charitable way to look at such smartphone game cheats as this automated word-search puzzle solver. The game is Wordblitz, which is basically an implementation of classic Boggle along with extra features to release more dopamine and keep you playing. Not one to fall for that trick, [ghettobastler] whipped up a quick X-Y gantry from MDF using a laser cutter, added a stylus in the form of a cotton swab tipped with aluminum foil, and a vision system based on a simple web camera. The bed of the gantry has a capacitive plate so the stylus can operate the phone, along with a frame of ArUco fiducial marker to aid in locating the phone.

A Raspberry Pi handles the machine vision part of the process, which uses OpenCV to estimate the phone’s location and extract the current game tiles. The words in the game field are located by a solver that [ghetto] had previously written; a script then streams G-code to the plotter to peck out the answers at blazing speed, or at least faster than even [Peggy Hill] could manage. See the video below for a sample game being solved.

One word of warning if you choose to build this: [ghettobastler]’s puzzle-solving algorithm is based on a French dictionary, so you’ll have to re-teach it for other languages. But whatever language it’s in, this reminds us a bit of some of the Wordle solvers we’ve seen recently.

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Custom 40% Model F Keyboard Is 100% Awesome

Look closely at this beauty. No, that’s not a chopped IBM Model M or anything — it’s a custom 40% capacitive buckling spring keyboard with an ortholinear layout made by [durken]. Makes it easy to imagine an alternate reality where IBM still exists as IBM and has strong keyboard game, or one where Unicomp are making dreams come true for those who don’t need anywhere near 101 or 104 keys.

Buckling what now? This lovely board uses capacitive buckling spring switches from an old IBM Model F. Basically, every time you press a key, a little spring is bent over (or buckled) in the name of connectivity. In the capacitive version, the spring pushes a hammer onto a pair of plates, causing a change in capacitance that gets recognized as a key press. In this case, those key presses are read by a TH-XWhatsit controller.

Using a Model F XT’s PCB as a guide, [durken] made a field of capacitive pads on one PCB, and made a second, ground plane PCB to avoid interference. In a true homage to these keyboards, [durken] decided to curve the PCB slightly, which naturally complicated almost everything, especially the barrel plate.

The solution was to make a separate barrel plate that slides into the case and gets screwed to the top via mounting bracket. For an extra bit of fun, [durken] mounted an SKCL lock switch under the IBM logo which enables solenoid mode. Be sure to check that out in the (updated!) video after the break.

One of the best things about a buckling spring keyboard is that each key sounds slightly different. Not so in solenoid mode, unless you were to use multiple solenoids.

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Learn To Play Guitar, Digitally

Learning to play a musical instrument takes a major time commitment. If you happened to be stuck inside your home at any point in the last two years, though, you may have had the opportunity that [Dmitriy] had to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Rather than stick with a traditional guitar, though, [Dmitriy] opted to build his own digital guitar which is packed with all kinds of features you won’t find in any Fender or Gibson.

The physical body of this unique instrument is entirely designed by [Dmitriy] out of 3D printed parts, and uses capacitive touch sensors for each of the notes on what would have been the guitar’s fretboard. The strings are also replaced with a set of six switches that can be strummed like a regular guitar, and are used to register when to play a note. After a few prototypes, everything was wired onto a custom PCB. The software side of this project is impressive as well; it involved creating custom firmware to register all of the button presses and transmit the information to a MIDI controller so that the guitar can communicate digitally with anything that supports MIDI.

To finish off the project, [Dmitriy] also added a wireless device as well as some other bonus features like an accelerometer, which can be used to augment the sound of the guitar in any way he can think of to program them. It’s one of the most innovative guitars we’ve seen since the prototype Noli smart guitar was unveiled last year, and this one is also on its way from prototype to market right now.

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Guitar Pickguard Adds MIDI Capabilities

For a standard that has been in use since the 1980s, MIDI is still one of the most dominant forces on the musical scene even today. It’s fast, flexible, and offers a standard recognized industry-wide over many different types of electronic instruments. Even things which aren’t instruments can be turned into musical devices like the infamous banana keyboard via the magic of MIDI, and it also allows augmentation of standard instruments with other capabilities like this guitar with a MIDI interface built into the pick guard.

[Ezra] is the creator of this unique musical instrument which adds quite a few capabilities to his guitar. The setup is fairly straightforward: twelve wires run to the pick guard which are set up as capacitive sensors and correspond with a note on the chromatic scale. Instead of using touchpads, using wires allows him to bend away the “notes” that he doesn’t need for any particular piece of music. The wires are tied back to an Adafruit Feather 32u4 microcontroller behind the neck of the guitar which also has a few selectors for changing the way that the device creates tones. He can set the interface to emit single notes or continuously play notes, change the style, can change their octave, and plenty of other features as well.

One of the goals of this project was to increase a guitar player’s versatility when doing live performances, and we would have to agree that this gives a musician a much wider range of abilities without otherwise needing a lot of complex or expensive equipment on stage. We’ve seen a few other MIDI-based builds focused on live performances lately, too, like this one which allows a band to stay in sync with each other.

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A MetaSense joystick

3D-Printing Complex Sensors And Controls With Metamaterials

If you’ve got a mechatronic project in mind, a 3D printer can be a big help. Gears, levers, adapters, enclosures — if you can dream it up, a 3D printer can probably churn out a useful part for you. But what about more complicated parts, like sensors and user-input devices? Surely you’ll always be stuck buying stuff like that from a commercial supplier. Right?

Maybe not, if a new 3D-printed metamaterial method out of MIT gets any traction. The project is called “MetaSense” and seeks to make 3D-printed compliant structures that have built-in elements to sense their deformation. According to [Cedric Honnet], MetaSense structures are based on a grid of shear cells, printed from flexible filament. Some of the shear cells are simply structural, but some have opposing walls printed from a conductive filament material. These form a capacitor whose value changes as the distance between the plates and their orientation to each other change when the structure is deformed.

The video below shows some simple examples of monolithic MetaSense structures, like switches, accelerometers, and even a complete joystick, all printed with a multimaterial printer. Designing these structures is made easier by software that the MetaSense team developed which models the deformation of a structure and automatically selects the best location for conductive cells to be added. The full documentation for the project has some interesting future directions, including monolithic printed actuators.

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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.