Add Scroll Wheels And Buttons To Smartphones With 3D-Printed Widgets Read By Accelerometer

The first LED digital wristwatches hit the market in the 1970s. They required a button push to turn the display on, prompting one comedian to quip that giving one to a one-armed man would be in poor taste. While the UIs of watches and other wearables have improved since then, smartphones still present some usability challenges. Some of the touch screen gestures needed to operate a phone, like pinching, are nigh impossible when one-handing the phone, and woe unto those with stubby thumbs when trying to take a selfie.

You’d think that the fleet of sensors and the raw computing power on board would afford better ways to control phones. And you’d be right, if the modular mechanical input widgets described in a paper from Columbia University catch on. Dubbed “Vidgets” by [Chang Xiao] et al, the haptic devices are designed to create characteristic acceleration profiles on a phone’s inertial measurement unit (IMU) when actuated. Vidgets take various forms, from push buttons to scroll wheels, each of a similar size and shape and designed to dock into one of eight positions on the back of a 3D-printed phone case. Once trained, the algorithm watches for the acceleration signature caused by actuating a Vidget, and sends commands to the phone to mimic the corresponding gestures. The video below demonstrates a couple of use cases, of which the virtual saxophone is our favorite.

This is really clever stuff, and ventures deep into “Why didn’t I think of that?” territory. Need to get ahead of the curve on IMUs to capitalize on what they can do? You could start with [Al Williams]’ primer on micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS.

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Storm Chasers Score Bullseye On Tornado With Instrument-Packed Rocket

Model rockets are a heck of a lot of fun, and not a few careers in science and engineering were jump-started by the thrilling woosh and rotten-egg stench of an Estes rocket launch. Adding simple instrumentation to the rocket doubles the fun by allowing telemetry to be sent back, or perhaps aiding in recovery of a lost rocket. Sending an instrument-laden rocket into a tornado is quite a few notches past either of those scenarios, and makes them look downright boring by comparison.

A first and hopefully obvious point: just don’t do this. [ChasinSpin] and [ReedTimmer] are experienced storm chasers, and have a small fleet of purpose-built armored vehicles at their disposal. One such vehicle, the Dominator, served as a mobile launch pad for their rocket as they along with [Sean Schofer] and [Aaron Jayjack] chased what developed into an EF4 monster tornado near Lawrence, Kansas on May 28. They managed to score a direct hit on the developing tornado, only 100 feet (30 meters) away at the time, and which took the rocket to 35,000 ft (10.6 km) and dragged it almost 30 miles (42 km) downrange. They lost touch with it but miraculously recovered it from a church parking lot.

They don’t offer a lot of detail on the rocket itself, but honestly it looks pretty much off-the-shelf, albeit launched from an aimable launchpad. [ChasinSpin] does offer a few details on the instrument package, though – a custom PCB with GPS, IMU, a temperature/humidity/barometric pressure sensor, and a LoRa link to send a data packet back every second. The card also supported an SD card for high-resolution measurements at 10 times per second. Check out the launch in the video below, and be sure to mouse around to get a look at the chaotic environment they were working in.

Even if this isn’t as cool as sending a sounding rocket into an aurora, it’s still really cool. We’re looking forward to seeing what kind of data this experiment collected, and what it reveals about the inner workings of these powerful storms.

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Teardown Of A Luxury Bluetooth Nightlight

If you had asked us yesterday what peak nightlight technology looked like, we might have said one of those LED panels that you stick in the outlet. At least it beats one of those little wimpy light bulbs behind the seashell, anyway. But after looking at a detailed teardown of the “Glow Light” from Casper, we’ve learned a lot about the modern nightlight. Such as the fact that there are adults who not only sleep with nightlights, but are willing to pay $89 USD for one.

But more importantly, as [Tyler Mincey] demonstrates in his excellent look inside one of these high-end nightlights, they are gorgeous pieces of engineering. Even if a nightlight next to the bed has long since gone the way of pajamas with feet on them for you personally, we think you’ll be impressed just how much technology has gone into these softly glowing gadgets.

On the outside they might look like marshmallows, but the insides look far more like what you’d expect from an expensive piece of consumer gear. It’s based on the Nordic nRF52832 Bluetooth SoC which is becoming an increasingly common sight in consumer gadgets, and uses an inertial measurement unit (IMU) to detect when it’s moved or twisted and adjusts the light output accordingly. If you’ve got the disposable income for two of these things, they’ll even synchronize so that twisting one will dim its counterpart.

The teardown that [Tyler] did on the Glow Light is quite frankly one of the best we’ve ever seen, and while it might be a bit light on the gritty technical details, it more than makes up for that with the fantastic pictures that are about as close to actual hardware porn as you can get. The only question we have now is, how long until a hacker replicates this design with a 3D printed enclosure and an ESP?

[Thanks to Adrian for the tip.]

Piezoelectric Gyro Shows How They Rolled Back In The Day

There’s no doubting the wonders that micro-electromechanical systems (MEMS) technology have brought to the world. With MEMS chips, your phone can detect the slightest movement, turning it into a sensitive sensor platform that can almost anticipate what you’re going to do next. Actually, it’s kind of creepy when you think about it.

But before nano-scale MEMS inertial sensing came along, lots of products needed to know their ups from their downs, and many turned to products such as this vibrating piezoelectric gyroscope that [Kerry Wong] found in an old camcorder. The video below shows a teardown of the sensor, huge by MEMS standards but still a marvel of micro-engineering. The device is classified as a Coriolis vibratory gyroscope (CVG) which, as the name implies, uses the Coriolis effect to sense rotation. In this device, [Kerry] found that a long, narrow piezoelectric element spans the long axis of the sensor, suspended from what appears to be four flexible arms. [Kerry] probed the innards of the sensor while powered up and discovered a 22 kHz signal on the piezo element; this vibrates the bar in one plane so that when it rotates, it exerts a force on the support arms that can be detected. Indeed, [Kerry] hooked the output of the sensor to a wonderfully old-school VOM whose needle wiggled with the slightest movement of the sensor.

Sadly, MEMS made this kind of sensor obsolete, but we appreciate the look under the hood. And really, MEMS chips are using the same principle to detect motion, just on a much smaller scale. Want the MEMS basics? [Al] has you covered.

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Adaptive Spoon Helps Those With Parkinson’s

There are a lot of side effects of living with medical conditions, and not all of them are obvious. For Parkinson’s disease, one of the conditions is a constant hand tremor. This can obviously lead to frustration with anything that involves fine motor skills, but also includes eating, which can be even more troublesome than other day-to-day tasks. There are some products available that help with the tremors, but at such a high price [Rupin] decided to build a tremor-compensating utensil with off the shelf components instead.

The main source of inspiration for this project was the Liftware Steady, but at around $200 this can be out of reach for a lot of people. The core of this assistive spoon has a bill of material that most of us will have lying around already, in order to keep costs down. It’s built around an Arduino and an MPU6050 inertial measurement unit with two generic servo motors. It did take some 3D printing and a lot of math to get the utensil to behave properly, but the code is available on the project site for anyone who wants to take a look.

This project tackles a problem that we see all the time: a cost-effective, open-source solution to a medical issue where the only alternatives are much more expensive. Usually this comes up around prosthetics, but can also help out by making biological compounds like insulin directly for less than a medical company can provide it.

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Microcontroller And IMU Team Up For Simple Flight Sim Controls

Classes are over at Cornell, and that means one thing: the students in [Bruce Land]’s microcontroller design course have submitted their final projects, many of which, like this flight control system for Google Earth’s flight simulator, find their way to the Hackaday tips line.

We actually got this tip several days ago, but since it revealed to us the previously unknown fact that Google Earth has a flight simulator mode, we’ve been somewhat distracted. Normally controlled by mouse and keyboard, [Sheila Balu] decided to give the sim a full set of flight controls to make it more realistic. The controls consist of a joystick with throttle, rudder pedals, and a small control panel with random switches. The whole thing is built of cardboard to keep costs down and to make the system easy to replicate. Interestingly, the joystick does not have the usual gimbals-mounted potentiometers to detect pitch and roll; rather, an IMU mounted on the top of the stick provides data on the stick position. All the controls talk to a PIC32, which sends the inputs over a serial cable to a Python script on the PC running Google Earth; the script simulates the mouse and keyboard commands needed to fly the sim. The video below shows [Sheila] taking an F-16 out for a spin, but despite being a pilot herself since age 16, she was curiously unable to land the fighter jet safely in a suburban neighborhood.

[Bruce]’s course looks like a blast, and [Sheila] clearly enjoyed it. We’re looking forward to the project dump, which last year included this billy-goat balancing Stewart platform, and a robotic ice cream topping applicator.

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Magic Wand Learns Spells Through Machine Learning And An IMU

Jennifer Wang likes to dress up for cosplay and she’s a Harry Potter fan. Her wizarding skills are technological rather than magical but to the casual observer she’s managed to blur those lines. Having a lot of experience with different sensors, she decided to fuse all of this together to make a magic wand. The wand contains an inertial measurement unit (IMU) so it can detect gestures. Instead of hardcoding everything [Jennifer] used machine learning and presented her results at the Hackaday Superconference. Didn’t make it to Supercon? No worries, you can watch her talk on building IMU-based gesture recognition below, and grab the code from GitHub.

Naturally, we enjoyed seeing the technology parts of her project, and this is a great primer on applying machine learning to sensor data. But what we thought was really insightful was the discussions about the entire design lifecycle. Asking questions to scope the design space such as how much money can you spend, who will use the device, and where you will use it are often things we subconsciously answer but don’t make explicit. Failing to answer these questions at all increases the risk your project will fail or, at least, not be as successful as it could have been.

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