Electromagnetic Field: A Hacked Knitting Machine, Knitting the Universe

A large hacker camp attracts attendees from all over the world, and at the recent Electromagnetic Field in the UK there were certainly plenty of international visitors. Probably one of those with the longest journey was [Sarah Spencer] from Australia, and she deserves our admiration not just for her work but also for devoting much of her meagre luggage space to the installation she’d brought over for the event. In the lounge tent you could find the Knitted Universe, a map of the night sky with light-up Neopixel constellations covering an entire wall, and among the talks you could find her in-depth description of how  she created it by hacking a 1980s Brother knitting machine into a network printer.

She starts with a potted history of knitting machine hacking, leading to the use of an emulated floppy drive replacing the mechanical item used to store scanned designs on the original hardware. She took an existing hack for a 16-bit Brother knitting machine and re-wrote it for her later 32-bit model, and then created a web interface for it called Octoknit which runs upon a Raspberry Pi. We’re then taken through the operation of a knitting machine and her further adventures in reverse engineering the file format. She ends up with a dithered 4-colour image, but there remains a problem. On the Brother, colour changes are performed by pressing a button, so something to automate the process was required. This task was taken on by her husband, who created an Arduino-driven mechanical button-presser in what had become a team effort. With this in place her only manual task became a periodic adjustment of the weight that preserves the tension in the finished knit.

Finally she moves on to the Knitted Universe itself, which at that point had become something of a viral sensation.  Those of us who have created hacker camp installations will appreciate the volume of work that went into the piece, and she truly deserves the applause at the end of the talk. Watch it below the break, it’s a fascinating half-hour.

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Bike-Driven Scarf Knitter is an Accessory to Warmth

Despite all our technological achievements, humans still spend a lot of time waiting around for trains. Add a stiff winter breeze to the injury of commuting, and you’ve got a classic recipe for misery. [George Barratt-Jones] decided to inject some warmth into this scene by inviting people to knit a free scarf for themselves by riding a bike.

All a person has to do is ride the Cyclo-Knitter for five minutes and marvel at their handiwork. By the time the scarf is finished, they’ve cycled past being cold, and they have something to hold in the warmth. Cyclo-Knitter is essentially an Addi Express knitting machine being belt-driven by a stationary bike. Power is transferred from the bike through large, handmade wooden gears using old bike tire inner tubes as belts. [George] built a wooden tower to hold the machine and give the growing scarf a protected space to dangle.

We love the utility of this project as much as the joy it inspires in everyone who tries it. Check out their scarves and their reactions after the break. We haven’t seen people this happy to see something they weren’t expecting since that billboard that kills Zika mosquitoes.

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Hackaday Links: April 2, 2017

Toorcamp registration is open. It’s June 20-24th on Orcas Island, Washington.

Hey, you. The guy still using Mentor Graphics. Yeah, you. Siemens has acquired Mentor Graphics.

CNC knitting machines are incredibly complicated but exceptionally cool. Until now, most CNC knitting machines are actually conversions of commercial machines. Beginning with [Travis Goodspeed] and  [Fabienne Serriere] hack of a knitting machine, [Becky Stern]’s efforts, and the Knitic project, these knitting machines are really just brain transplants of old Brother knitting machines. A few of the folks from the OpenKnit project have been working to change this, and now they’re ready for production. Kniterate is a project on Kickstarter that’s a modern knitting machine, and basically a 2D woolen printer. This is an expensive machine at about $4500, but if you’ve ever seen the inside of one of these knitting machines, you’ll know building one of these things from scratch is challenging.

There was a time when a Macintosh computer could play games. Yes, I know this sounds bizarre, but you could play SimCity 2000, Diablo, and LucasArts adventure games on a machine coming out of Cupertino. [Novaspirit] wanted to relive his childhood, so he set up a Mac OS 7 emulator on a Raspberry Pi. He’s using Minivmac, beginning with an install of OS 7.1, upgrading that to 7.5.3, then upgrading that to 7.5.5. It should be noted the utility of the upgrade to 7.5.5 is questionable — the only real changes from 7.5.3  to 7.5.5 are improved virtual memory support (just change some emulator settings to get around that) and networking support (which is difficult on an emulator). If you’re going to upgrade to 7.5.5, just upgrade to 8.1 instead.

It’s getting warmer in the northern hemisphere, and you know what that means: people building swamp coolers. And you know what that means: people arguing about the thermodynamics of swamp coolers. We love these builds, so if you have a swamp cooler send it on in to the tip line.

The Prusa edition of Slic3r is out. The improvements? It’s not a single core app anymore (!), so slicing is faster. It’s got that neat variable layer slicing. Check out all the features.

It takes at least a week to delete your Facebook account. In the meantime, you can lawyer up and hit the gym. Additionally, we’re not really sure Facebook actually deletes your profile when you disable your account. Robots to the rescue. [anerdev] built a robot to delete all his content from Facebook. It’s a pair of servos with touchpad-sensitive pens. Add an Arduino, and you have a Facebook deleting machine.

Turning Television Into A Simple Tapestry

Teleknitting, the brainchild of Moscow artist [vtol], is an interesting project. On one hand, it doesn’t knit anything that is useful in a traditional sense, but on the other, it attempts the complex task of deconstructing broadcasted media into a simpler form of information transmission.

Teleknitting’s three main components are the processing and display block — made up of the antenna, Android tablet, and speaker — the dyeing machine with its ink, sponges, actuators, and Arduino Uno, and the rotating platform for the sacrificial object. A program running on the tablet analyzes the received signal and — as displayed on its screen — gradually halves the number of pixels in the image until there is only one left with a basic representation of the picture’s colour. From there, thread passes over five sponges which dye it the appropriate colour, with an armature that responds to the broadcast’s volume directing where the thread will bind the object.

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Netflix and Chill – and Socks?

Waking up to spoilers in the last episode after falling asleep during the first episode of a Netflix binge-watching session ranks right up there on the list of first-world problems. Luckily there’s a solution in the form of a pair of Netflix enabled socks, which looks like a pretty neat wearable IoT project.

To be sure, calling these socks Netflix enabled is a bit of a stretch. Aside from the sock designs, which are based on popular Netflix original series, there’s nothing about the electronics that’s specific to the popular streaming service. These socks, with their Arduino Pro Trinket and accelerometer, detect when you stop moving and send an IR signal to do your bidding – pause the movie, kill the TV, or whatever. The electronic side of the build is pretty approachable – it’s just a couple of modules soldered together. The fiber arts side of the project might be a little outside the wheelhouse of the typical hardware hacker, but you can either team up with someone who knits – an experienced knitter, as socks are not a beginner’s pattern – or just slip the felt-clad hardware into your favorite comfy socks. We’d be a bit concerned about ESD protection for the hardware in the wooly environment, though.

“Netflix and chill” is the current version of last century’s “Watching the submarine races,” and as such the need for special socks or a custom Netflix switch for the occasion is a bit puzzling. Still, the underlying wearables idea is pretty good, with plenty of possibilities for expansion and repurposing.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Circular Knitting Machines

Deep in the recesses of a few enterprising hackerspaces, you’ll find old electronic knitting machines modified for use with modern computers. They’re cool, and you can knit colorful designs, but all of these machines are ultimately based on old equipment, and you’ll have a hard time building one for yourself.

For their entry to the Hackaday Prize, [Mar] and [Varvara] is building a knitting machine from scratch. Not only is it a 3D printed knitting machine anyone can build given enough time and plastic, but this machine is a circular knitting machine, something no commercial offering has yet managed.

We saw [Mar] and [Varvara]’s Circular Knitic last January, but this project has quite the pedigree. They originally started on their quest for a modern knitting machine by giving a new brain to old Brother machines. This was an incredible advancement compared to earlier Brother knitting machine hacks; before, everyone was emulating a floppy drive on a computer to push data to the machine. The original Knitic build did away with the old electronics completely, replacing it with a homebrew Arduino shield.

While the Circular Knitic isn’t completely 3D printed, you can make one in just about any reasonably equipped shop. It’s a great example of a project that’s complex and can be replicated by just about anyone, and a perfect example of a project for The Hackaday Prize.

Check out the video of the Circular Knitic below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Making Mittens For A Smartphone

For those of us in the slightly inhospitable parts of the northern hemisphere, it’s freaking cold outside. Spring can’t come sooner, and smartphones won’t work if you’re wearing normal gloves. Smartphones will work if you sew a few bits of conductive thread into your gloves, but if you prefer mittens, you’re out of luck. That’s alright, because [Becky] at Adafruit has great guide for knitting your own smart phone mittens.

Intellectually, the concept of weaving fabric is fairly simple – it’s just interlaced threads that form a flexible sheet. Sewing, too, is fairly straightforward. Knitting, on the other hand, is weird. It’s a single string tied to itself that forms a 3D shell. If you’ve ever picked up a pair of knitting needles, you’ll soon realize whoever invented knitting is perhaps the greatest forgotten genius in all of human history. Lucky, then, that [Becky] has a lot of links that go through how to knit, and how to turn yarn into a pair of mittens with this pattern.

To make these mittens work with a smartphone, [Becky] is using a stainless conductive yarn stitched into the thumb and fingertips of the mitten. It works, and now you can use your touchscreen device no matter how cold it is.

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