The Internet of Non-Electronic Things

The bill of materials for even the simplest IoT project is likely to include some kind of microcontroller with some kind of wireless module. But could the BOM for a useful IoT thing someday list only a single item? Quite possibly, if these electronics-less 3D-printed IoT devices are any indication.

While you may think that the silicon-free devices described in a paper (PDF link) by University of Washington students [Vikram Iyer] and [Justin Chan] stand no chance of getting online, they’ve actually built an array of useful IoT things, including an Amazon Dash-like button. The key to their system is backscatter, which modulates incident RF waves to encode data for a receiver. Some of the backscatter systems we’ve featured include a soil sensor network using commercial FM broadcasts and hybrid printable sensors using LoRa as the carrier. But both of these require at least some electronics, and consequently some kind of power. [Chan] and [Iyer] used conductive filament to print antennas that can be mechanically switched by rotating gears. Data can be encoded by the speed of the alternating reflection and absorption of the incident WiFi signals, or cams can encode data for buttons and similar widgets.

It’s a surprisingly simple system, and although the devices shown might need some mechanical tune-ups, the proof of concept has a lot of potential. Flowmeters, level sensors, alarm systems — what kind of sensors would you print? Sound off below.

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An Awesome Open Mechanical Keyboard

Who doesn’t want a little added functionality to their  lives? Feeling a few shortcut keys would make working in Eagle a bit smoother, [dekuNukem] built his own programmable mechanical keypad: kbord.

It sports vibrant RGB LED backlight effects with different animations, 15 keys that execute scripts — anything from ctrl+c to backdoors — or simple keystrokes, up to 32 profiles, and a small OLED screen to keep track of which key does what!

kbord is using a STM32F072C8T6 microcontroller for its cost, speed, pins, and peripherals, Gateron RGB mechanical keys — but any clear key and keycaps with an opening for the kbord’s LEDs will do — on a light-diffusing switch plate, and SK6812 LEDs for a slick aesthetic.

Check out the timelapse video tour of his build process after the break! (Slightly NSFW, adolescent humor for a few seconds of the otherwise very cool video. Such is life.)

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Camera Slide Pans and Tilts Camera Mechanically

A camera slider is a popular and simple project — just a linear slide, a stepper, and some sort of controller. Adding tilt and pan axes ups the complexity until you’ve got three motors, a controller, and probably a pretty beefy battery pack to run everything. Why not simplify with an entirely mechanical pan-tilt camera slider and leave all that heavy stuff at home?

There’s more than one way to program motion control, and [Enza3D]’s design uses adjustable rails to move the gimballed pan-tilt head through two axes of motion. One rail adjusts vertically to control tilt, while the other adjusts in and out relative to the slider to control pan. Arms ride on each rail and connect to the gimbals to swivel the camera in both dimensions while it travels down the manually cranked slide. It’s pretty clever and results in some clean, dynamic shots as in the video below.

Our quibble is that the “program” is only linear since the control rails are straight lengths of aluminum extrusion; seems to us that some sort of flexible control rails might make for more interesting shots. [Enza3D] has amply documented the build and is looking for feedback, so comment away. And if you don’t have a 3D printer to make the parts, wood works for a slider too.

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A Mechanical Laser Show with 3D-Printed Cams and Gears

Everyone knows how to make a POV laser display — low-mass, first-surface mirrors for the X- and Y-axes mounted on galvanometers driven rapidly to trace out the pattern. [Evan Stanford] found a simpler way, though: a completely mechanical laser show from 3D-printed parts.

The first 10 seconds of the video below completely explains how [Evan] accomplished this build. A pair of custom cams wiggles the laser pointer through the correct sequences of coordinates to trace the desired pattern out when cranked by hand through a 1:5 ratio gear train. But what’s simple in concept is a bit more complicated to reduce to practice, as [Evan] amply demonstrates by walking us through the math he used to transfer display shapes to cam profiles. If you can’t follow the math, no worries — [Evan] has included all the profiles in his Thingiverse collection, and being a hand model software guy by nature, he’s thoughtfully developed a program to automate the creation of cam profiles for new shapes. It’s all pretty slick.

Looking for more laser POV goodness? Perhaps a nice game of laser Asteroids would suit you.

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Robotic Arms Controlled By Your….. Feet?

The days of the third hand’s dominance of workshops the world over is soon coming to an end. For those moments when only a third hand is not enough, a fourth is there to save the day.

Dubbed MetaLimbs and developed by a team from the [Inami Hiyama Laboratory] at the University of Tokyo and the [Graduate School of Media Design] at Keio University, the device is designed to be worn while sitting — strapped to your back like a knapsack — but use while standing stationary is possible, if perhaps a little un-intuitive. Basic motion is controlled by the position of the leg — specifically, sensors attached to the foot and knee — and flexing one’s toes actuates the robotic hand’s fingers. There’s even some haptic feedback built-in to assist anyone who isn’t used to using their legs as arms.

The team touts the option of customizeable hands, though a soldering iron attachment may not be as precise as needed at this stage. Still, it would be nice to be able to chug your coffee without interrupting your work.

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Mitosis: Anatomy of a Custom Keyboard

Ergonomic. Wireless. Low-latency. Minimalist. Efficient. How far do you go when you design your own open-source keyboard? Checking off these boxes and providing the means for others to do so, Redditor [reverse_bias] presents the Mitosis keyboard, and this thing is cool.

The custom, split– as the namesake implies — mechanical keyboard has 23 keys on each 10 cm x 10 cm half, and, naturally, a custom keymapping for optimal personal use.

Upper and lower PCBs host the keys and electronic circuits respectively, contributing to the sleek finished look. Key caps and mechanical switches were ripped from sacrificial boards: two Waveshare core51822 Bluetooth modules are used for communication, with a third module paired with a Pro Micro make up the receiver. Continue reading “Mitosis: Anatomy of a Custom Keyboard”

Simple Marble Machine Captivates the Eyes

Marble machines are the kind of useless mechanisms that everybody loves. Their sole purpose is to route marbles through different paths for your viewing pleasure. They can be extremely complicated contraptions, and sometimes that is the precisely the point. However, even a simple mechanism can be delightful to watch. [Denha] just uploaded his latest creation, using a spring as elevator and a simple zig-zag path.

The construction is relatively simple, a spring with the appropriate pitch for the steel balls size is used as an elevator. The spring is driven by a small electric motor via a couple of gears, and a wooden zig-zag path for the marbles lies next to the spring. The marbles go up with the spring and return in the wooden path in an endless journey.

We believe that a serious hacker should build a marble machine at least once in their life. We have posted several of them, from simple ones to other more complicated designs that require careful craftsmanship. [Denha]’s Youtube channel is full of good ideas to inspire your first project. In any case, watching a marble machine at work is quite a nice, relaxing experience.

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