Talk about playing on hard mode! The news this week was rife with stories about Palmer Luckey’s murder-modified VR headset, which ostensibly kills the wearer if their character dies in-game. The headset appears to have three shaped charges in the visor pointing right at the wearer’s frontal lobe, and would certainly do a dandy job of executing someone. In a blog post that we suspect was written with tongue planted firmly in cheek, Luckey, the co-founder of Oculus, describes that the interface from the helmet to the game is via optical sensors that watch the proceeding on the screen, and fire when a certain frequency of flashing red light is detected. He’s also talking about ways to prevent the removal of the headset once donned, in case someone wants to tickle the dragon’s tail and try to quickly rip off the headset as in-game death approaches. We’re pretty sure this isn’t serious, as Luckey himself suggested that it was more of an office art thing, but you never know what extremes a “three commas” net worth can push someone to.
There’s light at the end of the Raspberry Pi supply chain tunnel, as CEO Eben Upton announced that he foresees the Pi problems resolving completely by this time next year. Upton explains his position in the video embedded in the linked article, which is basically that the lingering effects of the pandemic should resolve themselves over the next few months, leading to normalization of inventory across all Pi models. That obviously has to be viewed with some skepticism; after all, nobody saw the supply chain issues coming in the first place, and there certainly could be another black swan event waiting for us that might cause a repeat performance. But it’s good to hear his optimism, as well as his vision for the future now that we’re at the ten-year anniversary of the first Pi’s release.
[Uri]’s project was The Skull CTF, an electronic hardware puzzle that came in the shape of a PCB skull, and his detailed look behind the scenes covers just about every angle, from original concept to final wrap-up, along with his thoughts and feedback at every stage. His project reached its funding goal, got manufactured and shipped, and in the end was a success.
[Uri] started with a working project, but beyond that was virtually a complete novice when it came to crowdfunding. He eventually settled on using Crowd Supply to make his idea happen, and his writeup explains in great detail every stage of that process, including dollar amounts. What’s great to see is that not only does [Uri] explain the steps and decisions involved, but explains the research that went into each, and how he feels each of them ended up working out.
The entire thing is worth a read, but [Uri] summarizes the experience of crowdfunding a hardware project thus: an excellent way to test out the demand for an idea and bring a product into existence, but be aware that unless a project is a runaway success it probably won’t be much of an income generator at that stage. It was a great learning experience, but involved a lot of time and effort on his part as well.
Regular readers will know that Hackaday generally steers clear of active crowdfunding campaigns. But occasionally we do run across a project that’s unique enough that we feel compelled to dust off our stamp of approval. Especially if the campaign has already blasted past its funding goal, and we don’t have to feel bad about getting you fine folks excited over vaporware.
It’s with these caveats in mind that we present to you Computer Engineering for Babies, by [Chase Roberts]. The product of five years of research and development, this board book utilizes an internal microcontroller to help illustrate the functions of boolean logic operations like AND, OR, and XOR in an engaging way. Intended for toddlers but suitable for curious minds of all ages, the book has already surpassed 500% of its funding goal on Kickstarter at the time of this writing with no signs of slowing down.
Technical details are light on the Kickstarter page to keep things simple, but [Chase] was happy to talk specifics when we reached out to him. He explained that the original plan was to use discreet components, with early prototypes simply routing the button through the gates specified on the given page. This worked, but wasn’t quite as robust a solution as he’d like. So eventually the decision was made to move the book over to the low-power ATmega328PB microcontroller and leverage the MiniCore project so the books could be programmed with the Arduino IDE.
Obviously battery life was a major concern with the project, as a book that would go dead after sitting on the shelf for a couple weeks simply wouldn’t do. To that end, [Chase] says his code makes extensive use of the Arduino LowPower library. Essentially the firmware wakes up the ATmega every 15 ms to see if a button has been pressed or the page turned, and updates the LED state accordingly. If no changes have been observed after roughly two minutes, the chip will go into a deep sleep and won’t wake up again until an interrupt has been fired by the yellow button being pressed. He says there are some edge cases where this setup might misbehave, but in general, the book should be able to run for about a year on a coin cell.
[Chase] tells us the biggest problem was finding a reliable way to determine which page the book was currently turned to. In fact, he expects to keep tinkering with this aspect of the design until the books actually ship. The current solution uses five phototransistors attached to the the MCU’s ADC pins, which receive progressively more light as fewer pages are laying on top of them. The first sensor is exposed when the second page of the book is opened, so for example, if three of the sensors are seeing elevated light levels the code would assume the user is on page four.
The books and PCBs are being manufactured separately, since as you might expect, finding a single company that had experience with both proved difficult. [Chase] plans on doing the final assembly and programming of each copy in-house with the help of family members; given how many have already been sold this early in the campaign, we hope he’s got a lot of cousins.
So what do you do with an Arduino-compatible book when Junior gets tired of it? That’s what we’re particularly interested in finding out. [Chase] says he’s open to releasing the firmware as an open source project after the dust settles from the Kickstarter campaign, which would give owners a base to build from should they want to roll their own custom firmware. Obviously the peripheral hardware of the book is fairly limited, but nothing is stopping you from hanging some sensors on the I2C bus or hijacking the unused GPIO pins.
We’ve all spent the last year or more under the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, and though some of us may have been vaccinated or come through its various waves it remains far from over. One of the hardest-hit parts of the world at the moment is in India, where health services are struggling to maintain adequate oxygen supply such is the demand for it from sick patients.
The oxygen concentrator project builds on Makers Asylum’s experience last year as part of an extremely successful network of makerspaces producing PPE, which demonstrates that they have the resources, logistics, and ability to take on a project of this size. The OxiKit is no hare-brained contraption but an established and successful design that is already at work, so we believe that this project has a good chance of success. It’s close to home for Hackaday too, and one of the people involved with it is our colleague [Anool Mahidharia].
In a global pandemic only a global response can overcome the incredible challenges before us. For that reason we’d like to urge you to take a look at the Makers Asylum page wherever you are, and if you can, support it.
[Teaching Tech] has been interested in adding a tool changer to his 3D printer. E3D offers a system that allows you to switch print heads or even change out a hot end for a laser or a (probably) light-duty CNC head. The price of the entire device, though, is about $2,500, which put him off. But now he’s excited about a product from PrinterMods called XChange. This is a kit that will allow rapid tool changes on many existing printers and costs quite a bit less. Preorder on KickStarter is about $150, but that probably won’t be the final price.
Not all printers are compatible. It appears the unit attaches to printers that have linear rails and there is an adapter for printers that have V rollers in extrusions. Supposedly, there is an adapter in the works for printers that use rods and bearings.
Cameras are getting smarter and more capable than ever, able to run embedded machine vision algorithms and pull off tricks far beyond what something like a serial camera and microcontroller board would be capable of, and the upcoming Vizy aims to be even smarter and easier to use yet. Vizy is the work of Charmed Labs, and this isn’t their first foray into accessible machine vision. Charmed Labs are the same folks behind the Pixy and Pixy 2 cameras. Vizy’s main goal is to make object detection and classification easy, with thoughtful hardware features and a browser-based interface.
The usual way to do machine vision is to get a USB camera and run something like OpenCV on a desktop machine to handle the processing. But Vizy leverages a Raspberry Pi 4 to provide a tightly-integrated unit in a small package with a variety of ready-to-run applications. For example, the “Birdfeeder” application comes ready to take snapshots of and identify common species of bird, while also identifying party-crashers like squirrels.
The demonstration video on their page shows off using the built-in high-current I/O header to control a sprinkler, repelling non-bird intruders with a splash of water while uploading pictures and video clips. The hardware design also looks well thought out; not only is there a safe shutdown and low-power mode for the Raspberry Pi-based hardware, but the lens can be swapped and the camera unit itself even contains an electrically-switched IR filter.
The National Videogame Museum in Sheffield, UK, houses a unique collection celebrating all decades of video games and their culture, and as the lockdown has brought with it a crisis threatening its very existence, has launched a crowdfunding campaign with a video we’ve placed below the break. As a relatively young organisation, they have yet to build up the financial buffer that a more established one would have. It’s important that this and other heritage sites live to open again another day, so we’d urge you to take a look.
On their website they’re providing a page of activities for the bored youngster in your life, but to whet your appetite should you wish to visit them in the future they also have a selection of pages about the rest of their exhibition.
One of the sad features of living through a pandemic comes in knowing that some of the businesses and organisations we hold dear might not make it through the crisis. We’ve put in a few orders to smaller suppliers over the last week or two to shove a bit of extra business their way, and no doubt you have too. What is not so easy however, is when the threatened organisation is a visitor attraction; we can’t make the trip during a lockdown. The NVM is unlikely to be the only such attraction facing the pinch, so we’d urge you to look out for those that are close to you as well.