The Egyptian Coin Box ‘Trick’

[James Stanley] likes to spend time making puzzles and gadgets for escape rooms, and decided for a change to try their hand at a bit of magic. The idea was to construct a ‘magic box’, in which a coin can be placed in one of a number of slots, and then be able to remotely be able to determine the slot by means unseen. Obviously, this is an electronics hack, with a neat package of sensor and radio comms hidden inside a stack of CNC-milled wood. Coin locations are transmitted via Bluetooth to a Bangle.js smartwatch, which vibrates according to the slot occupied, allowing [James] to predict where the coin was placed. Continue reading “The Egyptian Coin Box ‘Trick’”

3D printed Hagrid's lantern with a magic wand

Micro:bit Brings 3D Printed Magic Lanterns To Life

[Elenavercher] loves engaging her primary school students, inspiring their imagination as well as teaching them the design thinking process. She has found that the very accessible rapid prototyping culture of 3D printing, micro:bit, and the like are perfect for teaching her students problem-solving and teamwork, and is always coming up with new lessons that will catch their attention. That brings us to her latest design, an interactive lantern and wand, which you could say is of the wizarding variety.

The lantern and the wand each have an integrated micro:bit serving as their brains. When the user shakes the wand, releasing a spell, the micro:bit in the wand, sends a user-defined number to the micro:bit in the lantern. The lantern has NeoPixels built-in, which then turn on, illuminating the lantern. When the user presses a button on the micro:bit instead of shaking it, the wand sends a signal to the lantern that tells it to “turn off.” Pretty simple, right?

The design itself is something any seasoned hacker could recreate; however, the magic in this build is how [Elenavercher] beautifully engages her elementary-aged students in the engineering design process. She starts off by encouraging her students to prototype the lantern and wand using paper which is a very inexpensive way to help them visualize the final product before investing too much time into the 3D design, a critical engineering design step — prototype fast and cheap with whatever you have on hand.

She then helps them design the lantern and wand in Tinkercad, a very beginner-friendly, yet increasingly capable CAD program. We really appreciate her detailed steps for the design as well as for navigating Tinkercad, both of which will help teach any tiny tikes in your life how to recreate the design. What’s really handy about Tinkercad is you can do mechanical CAD as well as write code for the micro:bit all within the same program. But [Elenavercher] also provides the final .hex file if you’d rather just get the build up and running.

Continue reading “Micro:bit Brings 3D Printed Magic Lanterns To Life”

Too Many Pixels

Sometimes simpler is more impressive than complicated, and part of this is certainly due to Arthur C. Clarke’s third law: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”. It’s counter-intuitive, though, that a high-tech project would seem any less amazing than a simpler one, but hear me out.

I first noticed this ages ago, when we were ripping out the blue laser diodes from Casio XJ-A130 laser projectors back when this was the only way to get a powerful blue laser diode. Casio had bought up the world’s supply of the 1.5 W Nichias, and was putting 24 of them in each projector, making them worth more dead than alive, if you know what I mean. Anyway, we were putting on a laser show, and the bright blue diode laser was just what we needed.

RGB Laser show
A sweeter setup than mine, but you get the idea. 

Color laser setups take three or more different lasers, combine the beams, and then bounce them off of mirrors attached to galvos. Steer the mirrors around, and you can project vector images. It’s pretty cool tech, and involves some serious fine-tuning, but the irony here is that we were tearing apart a device with 788,736 microscopic DLP mirrors to point the lasers through just two. And yet, a DIY laser show is significantly cooler than just putting up your powerpoint on the office wall.

The same thing goes for 2D plotting machines like the AxiDraw. The astonishing tech behind any old laser printer is mind-numbing. Possibly literally. Why else would we think that art drawn out by a pen in the hands of a stepper-powered robot is cooler than the output of a 1600 DPI unit coming from HP’s stable? I mean, instead of running an hours-long job to put ink on paper with a pen, my Laserjet puts out an image in ten seconds. But it’s just not as much fun.

So here we are, in an age where there’s so darn much magic all around us, in the form of sufficiently advanced technology, that comprehensible devices are actually more impressive. And my guess is that it’s partly because it’s not surprising when a device that’s already magic does something magical. I mean, that’s just what it’s supposed to do. Duh!

But when something beautiful emerges from a pair of mirrors epoxied to shafts on springs turned by copper coils, that’s real magic.

Performing Magic With A Little High-Tech Help

Doing magic with cards involves a lot of precise dexterity to know which card is where. For plenty of tricks, this is often knowledge and control of a single card or a small number of cards. But knowing the exact position of every single card in the deck could certainly be helpful, so the Nettle Magic Project was created to allow magicians to easily identify the location of cards in the deck.

The system works through the use of computer vision to identify a series of marks on the short edge of a stack of cards. The marks can be printed in IR- or UV-sensitive ink to make them virtually invisible, but for demonstration these use regular black ink. Each card has landmarks printed on either side of a set of bit markers which identify the cards. A computer is able to quickly read the marks and identify each card in order while the deck is still stacked, aiding the magician in whichever trick they need to perform.

The software only runs on various Apple devices right now, including iPhones and iPads, but the software is readily available fore experimentation if you are a magician looking to try something like this out. Honestly, we don’t see too many builds focusing on magic, sleight-of-hand or otherwise, and we had to go back over a decade to find a couple of custom magical builds from a magician named [Mario].

Thanks to [Tim] for the tip!

accelerometer, oled, and PocketBeagle create a gesture-controlled calculator

The Calculator Charm: Calculatorium Leviosa!

Have you ever tried waving your hand around like a magic wand and summoning a calculator? We would guess not since you’d probably look a little silly doing so. That is unless you had [Andrei’s] cool gesture-controlled calculator. [Andrei] thought it would be helpful to use a calculator in his research lab without having to take his gloves off and the results are pretty cool.

His hardware consists of a PocketBeagle, an OLED, and an MPU6050 inertial measurement unit for capturing his hand motions using an accelerometer and gyroscope. The hardware is pretty straightforward, so the beauty of this project lies in its machine learning implementation.

[Andrei] first captured a few example datasets to train his algorithm by recreating the hand gestures for each number, 0-9, and recording the resulting accelerometer and gyroscope outputs. He processed the data first with a wavelet transform. The intent of the transform was two-fold. First, the transform allowed him to reduce the number of samples in his datasets while preserving the shape of the accelerometer and gyroscope signals, the key features in the machine learning classification. Secondly, he was able to increase the number of features for the classification since the wavelet transform resulted in both approximation and detailed coefficients which can both be fed into the algorithm.

Because he had a small dataset, he used the Stratified Shuffle Split technique instead of the test train split method which is generally more suited for larger datasets. The Stratified Shuffle Split ensured approximately the same number of train and test samples for each gesture. He was also very conscious of optimizing his model for running on a portable processing unit like the PocketBeagle. He spent some time optimizing the parameters of his algorithm and ultimately converted his model to a TensorFlowLite model using the built-in “TFLiteConverter” function within TensorFlow.

Finally, in true open-source fashion, all his code is available on GitHub, so feel free to give it a go yourself. Calculatorium Leviosa!

Continue reading “The Calculator Charm: Calculatorium Leviosa!”

Magic In VR That Depends On Your Actual State Of Mind

[Cangar]’s excitement is palpable in his release of a working brain-computer interface (BCI) mod for Skyrim VR, in which the magic system in the game is modified so that spell effectiveness is significantly boosted when the player is in a focused mental state. [Cangar] isn’t just messing around, either. He’s a neuroscientist whose research focuses on assessing mental states during task performance. Luckily for us, he’s also an enthusiastic VR gamer, and this project of his has several interesting aspects that he’s happy to show off in a couple of videos.

User wearing VR headset
The Muse 2 fits under the VR headset easily.

It all starts with the player wearing a Muse 2 meditation device; a type of passive, off-the-shelf electroencephalography (EEG) unit aimed primarily at guiding a user towards better relaxation and focus. [Cangar] reads data using the Brainflow library and processes it into a final value on a scale between “not focused” and “focused”. [Cangar] makes a point of explaining that his system ultimately has the goal of modeling the player’s state of mind, which is different from modeling just the brain activity. As such, motion data is considered as well, and holding still confers a small bonus to the process.

How is this data actually used in the game? In VR, this “focus” value is shown as a small bar on the player’s wrist, and spell effectiveness (for example, damage for attack spells) scales along with the size of the bar. When the bar is full a player would be very powerful, with spells doing double damage. If the bar is empty, spells will do little to no damage.

[Cangar] demonstrates the mod in two videos (both embedded below), but you won’t see him blasting enemies with fireballs. Presumably, VR gamers already know what that looks like, so what he does instead is explain how the system looks and works (first video, cued to 4:12), and in the second, he video demonstrates how the focus meter changes depending on his activity and mental state.

The results look exciting, and the potential uses of a system like this are pretty interesting to think about. Taking a few deep breaths and calming one’s body and mind before launching a magical attack will have a tangible effect in the world, and because things rarely go according to plan, there is also a clear survival benefit to learning to focus while under pressure. But if a brain monitor isn’t your cup of tea, maybe consider a leisurely bike ride through Skyrim, instead.

Continue reading “Magic In VR That Depends On Your Actual State Of Mind”

The Magic Flute Of Rat Mind Control Aims To Mix Magic And Science

Well this is unusual. Behold the Magic Flute of Rat Mind Control, and as a project it is all about altering the response to the instrument, rather than being about hacking the musical instrument itself. It’s [Kurt White]’s entry to the Musical Instrument Challenge portion of The Hackaday Prize, and it’s as intriguing as it is different.

The Raspberry-Pi controlled, IoT Skinner box for rats, named Nicodemus.

[Kurt] has created a portable, internet-connected, automated food dispenser with a live streaming video feed and the ability to play recorded sounds. That device (named Nicodemus) is used as a Skinner Box to train rats — anywhere rats may be found — using operant conditioning to make them expect food when they hear a few bars of Black Sabbath’s Iron Man played on a small recorder (which is a type of flute.)

In short, the flute would allow one to summon hordes of rats as if by magic, because they have been trained by Nicodemus to associate Iron Man with food.

Many of the system’s elements are informed by the results of research into sound preference in rats, as well as their ability to discriminate between different melodies, so long as the right frequencies are present. The summoning part is all about science, but what about how to protect oneself from the hordes of hungry rodents who arrive with sharp teeth and high expectations of being fed? According to [Kurt], that’s where the magic comes in. He seems very certain that a ritual to convert a wooden recorder into a magic flute is all the protection one would need.

Embedded below is something I’m comfortable calling the strangest use case video we’ve ever seen. Well, we think it’s a dramatized use case. Perhaps it’s more correctly a mood piece or motivational assist. Outsider Art? You decide.

Continue reading “The Magic Flute Of Rat Mind Control Aims To Mix Magic And Science”