Augmented Reality On The Cheap With ESP32

Augmented reality (AR) technology hasn’t enjoyed the same amount of attention as VR, and seriously lags in terms of open source development and accessibility.  Frustrated by this, [Arnaud Atchimon] created CheApR, an open source, low cost AR headset that anyone can build at home and use as a platform for further development

[Arnaud] was impressed by the Tilt Five AR goggles, but the price of this cutting edge hardware simply put it out of reach of most people. Instead, he designed and built his own around a 3D printed frame, ESP32, cheap LCDs, and lenses from a pair of sunglasses. The electronics is packed horizontally in the top of the frame, with the displays pointed down into a pair of angled mirrors, which reflect the image onto the sunglasses lenses and into the user’s eyes. [Arnaud] tested a number of different lenses and found that a thin lens with a slight curve worked best. The ESP32 doesn’t actually run the main software, it just handles displaying the images on the LCDs. The images are sent from a computer running software written in Processing. Besides just displaying images, the software can also integrate inputs from a MPU6050 IMU and  ESP32 camera module mounted on the goggles. This allows the images to shift perspective as the goggles move, and recognize faces and AR markers in the environment.

All the design files and software is available on GitHub, and we exited to see where this project goes. We’ve seen another pair of affordable augmented reality glasses that uses a smartphone as a display, but it seems the headset that was used are no longer available.

Taking Over The Amazing Control Panel Of A Vintage Video Switcher

Where does he get such wonderful toys? [Glenn] snagged parts of a Grass Valley Kalypso 4-M/E video mixer switcher control surface from eBay and since been reverse engineering the button and display modules to bend them to his will. The hardware dates back to the turn of the century and the two modules would have been laid out with up to a few dozen others to complete a video mixing switcher console.

[Glenn’s] previous adventures delved into a strip of ten backlit buttons and gives us a close look at each of the keyswitches and the technique he used to pull together his own pinout and schematic of that strip. But things get a lot hairier this time around. The long strip seen above is a “machine control plane” module and includes a dozen addressible character displays, driven by a combination of microcontrollers and FPGAs. The square panel is a “Crosspoint Switch Matrix” module include eight individual 32 x 32 LCDs drive by three dedicated ICs that can display in red, green, or amber.

[Glen] used an STM8 Nucleo 64 to interface with the panels and wrote a bit of code to help map out what each pin on each machine control plane connector might do. He was able to stream out some packets from the plane that changed as he pressed buttons, and ended up feeding back a brute-force of that packet format to figure out the LED display protocols.

But the LCDs on the crosspoint switch were a more difficult nut to crack. He ended up going back to the original source of the equipment (eBay) to get a working control unit that he could sniff. He laid out a man-in-the-middle board that has a connector on either side with a pin header in the middle for his logic analyzer. As with most LCDs, the secret sauce was the initialization sequence — an almost impossible thing to brute force, yet exceedingly simple to sniff when you have a working system. So far he has them running under USB control, and if you are lucky enough to have some of this gear in your parts box, [Glen] has painstakingly recorded all of the details you need to get them up and running.

Over-the-Top Cyberdeck Is Really A Geiger-Deck

If you like it when a hack has a little backstory, then you’re going to love this cyberdeck build log, the first half of which reads like a [Tom Clancy] novel. And the build itself looks the part, like something that fell off a military helicopter as the Special Forces operators were fast-roping into a hot LZ. Or something like that.

The yarn that [Paul Hoets] spins around his cyberdeck, dubbed RATIS for Remote Assault and Tactical Intelligence System, is pretty good reading and pretty imaginative. The cyberdeck itself looks very much the part, built into a Pelican-style air travel case as such things usually are. Based on a Raspberry Pi 4, the lid of the case serves as a housing for keyboard and controls, while the body houses the computer, an LCD display, and an unusual peripheral: a Geiger counter, which is very much in keeping with the device’s “mission profile”. The handheld pancake probe and stout coiled cord with its MILSPEC connectors really sell the look, too.

Imaginative backstory aside, the construction method here is what really shines. Lacking access to a 3D-printer to produce the necessary greebling, [Paul] instead used a laser cutter to make acrylic panels with cutouts. The contrast between the black panels and the yellow backgrounds makes it all look official, and it’s a technique to keep in mind for builds of a more serious nature, too.

Feel free to look through our fine collection of cyberdeck builds. Some have a fanciful backstory like [Paul]’s, others are intended for more practical purposes. Build whatever you want, just make sure to tip us off when you’re done.

Prism Lighting – The Art Of Steering Daylight

The incandescent light bulb was one of the first early applications of electricity, and it’s hard to underestimate its importance. But before the electric light, people didn’t live in darkness — they thought of ways to redirect sunlight to brighten up interior spaces. This was made possible through the understanding of the basic principles of optics and the work of skilled glassmakers who constructed prism tiles, deck prisms, and vault lights. These century-old techniques are still being applied today for the diffusion of LEDs or for increasing the brightness of LCD displays.

Semantics First!

People in optics are a bit sloppy when it comes to the definition of a prism. While many of them are certainly not geometric prisms, Wikipedia defines it as a transparent optical element with flat, polished surfaces of which at least one is angled. As can be seen in the pictures below some of the prisms here do not even stick to this definition. Browsing the catalog of your favorite optics supplier you will find a large variety of prisms used to reflect, invert, rotate, disperse, steer, and collimate light. It is important to point out that we are not so much interested in dispersive prisms that split a beam of white light into its spectrum of colors, although they make great album covers. The important property of prisms in this article is their ability to redirect light through refraction and reflection.

A Safe Way to Bring Light Under Deck

A collection of deck lights used to direct sunlight below deck in ships. Credit:

One of the most important uses of prism lighting was on board ships. Open flames could have disastrous consequences aboard a wooden ship, so deck prisms were installed as a means to direct sunlight into the areas below decks. One of the first patents for deck lights “THE GREAT AND DURABLE INCREASE OF LIGHT BY EXTRAORDINARY GLASSES AND LAMPS” was filed by Edward Wyndus as early as 1684. Deck prisms had typical sizes of 10 to 15 centimeters. The flat top was installed flush with the deck and the sunlight was refracted and directed downward from the prism point. Because of the reversibility of light paths (“If I can see you, you can see me”) deck prisms also helped to spot fires under deck. Continue reading “Prism Lighting – The Art Of Steering Daylight”

Classical Poultry Conditioning Is A Bird-Brained Scheme

A while back, [Kutluhan Aktar] was trying to hack their chickens, quails, and ducks for higher egg production and faster hatching times by using a bit of classical conditioning. That is, feeding them at the same time every day while simultaneously exposing them to sound and light. Once [Kutluhan] slipped enough times, they hatched a plan to build an automatic feeder.

This fun rooster-shaped bird feeder runs on an Arduino Nano and gets its time, date, and temperature info from a DS3231 RTC. All [Kutluhan] has to do is set the daily feeding time. When it comes, a pair of servos and a pan-tilt kit work together to invert a Pringles can filled with food pellets. A piezo buzzer and a green LED provide the sound and light to help with conditioning. Scratch your way past the break to see it in action.

If [Kutluhan] gets tired of watching the birds eat at the same time every day, perhaps a trash-for-treats training program could be next on the list.

Continue reading “Classical Poultry Conditioning Is A Bird-Brained Scheme”

Greeking Out With Arduinos

Learning a new language is hard work, but they say that the best way to learn something is to teach it. [Angeliki Beyko] is learning Greek, and what better way to teach than to build a vocabulary flash-card game from Arduinos, color screens, 1602 text screens, and arcade buttons? After the break, we have a video from the creator talking about how to play, the hardware she chose, and what to expect in the next version.

Pegboard holds most of the hardware except the color screens, which are finicky when it comes to their power source. The project is like someone raided our collective junk drawers and picked out the coolest bits to make a game. Around the perimeter are over one hundred NeoPixels to display the game progress and draw people like a midway game. Once invested, you select a category on the four colored arcade buttons by looking at the adjacent LCD screens’ titles. An onboard MP3 shield reads a pseudo-random Greek word and displays it on the top-right 1602 screen in English phonetics. After that, it is multiple choice with your options displaying in full-color on four TFT monitors. A correct choice awards you a point and moves to the next word, but any excuse to mash on arcade buttons is good enough for us.

[Angeliki] does something we see more often than before, she’s covering what she learned, struggled with, would do differently, and how she wants to improve. We think this is a vital sign that the hacker community is showcasing what we already knew; hackers love to share their knowledge and improve themselves.

Typing Greek with a modern keyboard will have you reaching for an alt-code table unless you make a shortcut keyboard, and if you learn Greek, maybe you can figure out what armor they wore to battle.

Continue reading “Greeking Out With Arduinos”

Over-Engineered Single Button Timer

Feature creep is typically something to be avoided, since watching a relatively simple project balloon into a rat’s nest of complexity often leads to ineffective, or even abandoned, projects. On the other hand, if you can maintain a tight focus, it’s not always a bad thing. [cbm80Amiga] shows us how to drill down and add specific features in this single-button timer without losing focus on what the original project was all about.

The timer is based on an Arduino Pro Mini and an HX1230 LCD with a simple piezo speaker for audible alerts. A single button controls operation of the timer, with short presses incrementing each digit and long presses moving on to the next digit. Controlling button presses this finely is a project in its own, but then [cbm80Amiga] moves on to other features such as backlight control, low power modes which allow it to operate for around two years on a single battery charge, preset times for various kitchen uses, and different appearance settings.

Honestly we aren’t sure how you could cram any more features on this timer without fundamentally altering the designed simplicity. It doesn’t fall into the abyss of feature creep while being packed with features, and it’s another example of how keeping things simple is often a recipe for success.

Thanks to [Hari] for the tip!

Continue reading “Over-Engineered Single Button Timer”