Simple “Computer” From The ’60s Now 3D Printed

Now is an amazing time to be involved in the hobby electronics scene. There are robots to build, cheap microcontrollers which are easy to program, and computers themselves are able to be found for very low prices. That wasn’t the case in the 1960s though, where anyone interested in “electronics” might have had a few books about ham radios or some basic circuits. If you were lucky though, you may have found a book from 1968 that outlined the construction of a digital computer made out of paperclips that [Mike Gardi] is hoping to replicate.

One of the first components that the book outlines is building an encoder, which can convert a decimal number to binary. In the original book the switches were made from paper clips and common household parts, but [Mike] is using a more reliable switch and some 3D prints to build his. The key of the build is the encoder wheel and pegs, which act as the “converter” between decimal and binary and actually performs the switching.

It’s a fairly straightforward build, but by working through the rest of the book the next steps are to build two binary encoders and hook all of them up to an ALU which will give him most of a working computer from long lost 1960s lore. He’s been featured recently for building other computers from this era as well.

Thanks to [DancesWithRobots] for the tip!

Long Live Jibo, Our Adorable Robot Companion

Jibo, the adorable robot made by Jibo, Inc., was getting phased out, but that didn’t stop [Guilherme Martins] from using his robot companion for one last hack.

When he found out that the company would be terminating production of new Jibos and shutting down their servers, he wanted to replace the brain of the robot so that it would continue to live on even after all of its software had become deprecated. By the time the project started, the SDK downloads had already been removed the from developer’s site, so they looked at other options for controlling Jibo.

The first challenge was to not break the form factor in order to disassemble Jibo. They only managed to remove the battery from the bottom, realizing that the glass frame held the brain room. From within the robot, they were able to find the endless rotation joint for the head and the heart of the electronics. Jibo uses a DC motor, encoder, and IR sensor at each of three distinct levels to detect reference points.

They decided to use Phidgets modules to interface with these devices. While the DC motor controller handles 2A and has an encoder port, the Phidgets are able to provide software with the encoder and PID built-in. The 4x Digital Input Module was used for detecting the IR switch and connecting the modules to the computer.

[Martins] decided to use LattePanda, a hackable Windows 10 development board, for the brain of the new Jibo. The board was luckily able to fit inside the compartment for Jibo, but since it requires more power the unit is powered with 12V regulated to 5V in order to have less current passing through the wires. The DC motors, meanwhile, run at 12V and the IR switches and encoders at 5V.

A program developed in Unity3D plays the eye animations, and a C# program interfaces with the Phidgets. The final configuration was to fit Jibo onto a robotic arm to augment its behaviors. We previously wrote about Toppi, the robotic arm artist, that was used as the base for Jibo’s new home.

You can check out the result in the video below.

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2D-Scanner Records Surfboard Profiles For Posterity

[Ryan Schenk] had a problem: he built the perfect surfboard. Normally that wouldn’t present a problem, but in this case, it did because [Ryan] had no idea how he carved the gentle curves on the bottom of the board. So he built this homebrew 2D-scanner to make the job of replicating his hand-carved board a bit easier.

Dubbed the Scanbot 69420 – interpretation of the number is left as an exercise for the reader, my dude – the scanner is pretty simple. It’s just an old mouse carrying a digital dial indicator from Harbor Freight. The mouse was gutted, with even the original ball replaced by an RC plane wheel. The optical encoder and buttons were hooked to an Arduino, as was the serial output of the dial indicator. The Arduino consolidates the data from both sensors and sends a stream of X- and Z-axis coordinates up the USB cable as the rig slides across the board on a straightedge. On the PC side, a Node.js program turns the raw data into a vector drawing that represents the profile of the board at that point. Curves are captured at various points along the length of the board, resulting in a series of curves that can be used to replicate the board.

Yes, this could have been done with a straightedge, a ruler, and a pencil and paper – or perhaps with a hacked set of calipers – but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. And we can certainly see applications for this far beyond the surfboard shop.

Upgrading A MIDI Controller With An FPGA

While the “M” in MIDI stands for “musical”, it’s possible to use this standard for other things as well. [s-ol] has been working on a VJ setup (mixing video instead of music) using various potentiometer-based hardware and MIDI to interface everything together. After becoming frustrated with drift in the potentiometers, he set out to outfit the entire rig with custom-built encoders.

[s-ol] designed the rotary-encoder based boards around an FPGA. It monitors the encoder for changes, controls eight RGB LEDs per knob, and even does capacitive touch sensing on the aluminum knob itself. The FPGA communicates via SPI with an Arduino master controller which communicates to a PC using a serial interface. This is [s-ol]’s first time diving into an FPGA project and it looks like he hit it out of the park!.

Even if you’re not mixing video or music, these encoders might be useful to any project where a standard analog potentiometer isn’t accurate or precise enough, or if you just need something that can dial into a specific value quickly. Potentiometers fall short in many different ways, but if you don’t want to replace them you might modify potentiometers to suit your purposes.

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Billiard Ball Finds A New Home In Custom Trackball Mouse

They walk among us, unseen by polite society. They seem ordinary enough on the outside but they hide a dark secret – sitting beside their keyboards are trackballs instead of mice. We know, it’s hard to believe, but that’s the wacky world we live in these days.

But we here at Hackaday don’t judge based on alternate input lifestyles, and we quite like this billiard ball trackball mouse. A trackball aficionado, [Adam Haile] spotted a billiard ball trackball in a movie and couldn’t resist the urge to make one of his own, but better. He was hoping for a drop-in solution using an off-the-shelf trackball, but alas, finding one with the needed features that fit a standard American 2-1/4″ (57.3 mm) billiard ball. Besides, he’s in the thumb control camp, and most trackballs that even come close to fitting a billiard ball are designed to be fiddled with the fingers.

So he started from the ground up – almost. A 1980s arcade-style trackball – think Centipede or Missile Command – made reinventing the trackball mechanism unnecessary, and was already billiard ball compatible. [Adam] 3D-printed a case that perfectly fit his hand, with the ball right under his thumb and arcade buttons poised directly below his fingers. A palm swell rises up to position the hand naturally and give it support. The case, which contains a Teensy to translate the encoder signals into USB commands, is a bit on the large side, but that’s to be expected for a trackball.

Still curious about how the other half lives? We’ve got plenty of trackball hacks for you, from the military to the game controller embedded to the strangely organic looking.

Crisp Clean Shortcuts

People always tell us that their favorite part about using a computer is mashing out the exact same key sequences over and over, day in, day out. Then, there are people like [Benni] who would rather make a microcontroller do the repetitive work at the touch of a stylish USB peripheral. Those people who enjoy the extra typing also seem to love adding new proprietary software to their computer all the time, but they are out of luck again because this dial acts as a keyboard and mouse so they can’t even install that bloated software when they work at a friend’s computer. Sorry folks, some of you are out of luck.

Rotary encoders as computer inputs are not new and commercial versions have been around for years, but they are niche enough to be awfully expensive to an end-user. The short BOM and immense versatility will make some people reconsider adding one to their own workstations. In the video below, screen images are rotated to get the right angle before drawing a line just like someone would do with a piece of paper. Another demonstration reminds of us XKCD by cycling through the undo and redo functions which gives you a reversible timeline of your work.

If you like your off-hand macro enabler to have more twists and buttons, we have you covered, or maybe you only want them some of the time.

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Manual 3D Digitizer Works A Bit Like 3-Dimensional Measuring Tape

Digitizing an object usually means firing up a CAD program and keeping the calipers handy, or using a 3D scanner to create a point cloud representing an object’s surfaces. [Dzl] took an entirely different approach with his DIY manual 3D digitizer, a laser-cut and 3D printed assembly that uses rotary encoders to create a turntable with an articulated “probe arm” attached.

Each joint of the arm is also an encoder, and by reading the encoder values and applying a bit of trigonometry, the relative position of the arm’s tip can be known at all times. Manually moving the tip of the arm from point to point on an object therefore creates measurements of that object. [Dzl] successfully created a prototype to test the idea, and the project files are available on GitHub.

We remember the earlier version of this project and it’s great to see how it’s been updated with improvements like the addition of a turntable with an encoder. DIY 3D digitizing takes all kinds of approaches, and one example was this unit that used four Raspberry Pi Zeros and four cameras to generate high quality 3D scans.