Gyro Controlled RGB Blinky Ball Will Light up Your Life

[James Bruton], from the XRobots YouTube channel is known for his multipart robot and cosplay builds. Occasionally, though, he creates a one-off build. Recently, he created a video showing how to build a LED ball that changes color depending on its movement.

The project is built around a series of 3D printed “arms” around a hollow core, each loaded with a strip of APA102 RGB LEDs. An Arduino Mega reads orientation data from an MPU6050 and changes the color of the LEDs based on that input. Two buttons attached to the Mega modify the way that the LEDs change color. The Mega, MPU6050, battery and power circuitry are mounted in the middle of the ball. The DotStar strips are stuck to the outside of the curved arms and the wiring goes from one end of the DotStar strip, up through the middle column of the ball to the top of the next arm. This means more complicated wiring but allows for easier programming of the LEDs.

Unlike [James’] other projects, this one is a quickie, but it works as a great introduction to programming DotStar LEDs with an Arduino, as well as using an accelerometer and gyro chip. The code and the CAD is up on Github if you want to create your own. [James] has had a few of his projects on the site before; check out his Open Dog project, but there’s also another blinky ball project as well.

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Building an Electric Scooter That’s Street Legal, Even in Germany

Sometimes a successful project isn’t only about making sure all the electrons are in the right place at the right time, or building something that won’t collapse under its own weight. A lot of projects involve a fair amount of social engineering to be counted as a success, especially those that might result in arrest and incarceration if built as originally planned. Such projects are often referred to as “the fun ones.”

For the past few months, we’ve been following [Bitluni]’s DIY electric scooter build, which had been following the usual trajectory for these things – take a stock unpowered scooter, replace the rear wheel with a 250 W hub motor, add an ESC, battery, and throttle, and away you go. Things took a very interesting turn, however, when his street testing ran afoul of German law, which limits small electric vehicles to a yawn-inducing 6 kph. Unwilling to bore himself to death thus, [Bitluni] found a workaround: vehicles that are only assisted by an electric motor have a much more reasonable speed limit of 25 kph. So he added an Arduino with a gyro and accelerometer module and wrote a program to only power the wheel after the rider has kicked the scooter along a few times – no throttle needed. The motor stops after a bit, needing another push or two to kick it back on. A brake lever kills the motor, as does laying the scooter on its side. It’s quite a clever design, and while it might not keep the Polizei at bay, you can’t say he didn’t try.

[Bitluni] has quite a range of builds, from software-defined television to bad 3D-scanners to precision wine glass whacking. You should check out his stuff. Continue reading “Building an Electric Scooter That’s Street Legal, Even in Germany”

Junk Bin Self Balancing Bot With ESP8266

As we all know, sometimes the projects we plan simply never materialize. You have an idea, maybe even buy some of the parts you need, and then…nothing. Maybe you changed your mind, or maybe the idea was never that good to begin with. In any event, time marches on, the parts pile up, and the ideas come and go. Such is the life of the hacker.

[Andrius Mikonis] writes in to tell us how his graveyard of abandoned projects ended up providing exactly what he needed to embark on a project he’s been fascinated with for years: the two-wheel self balancing robot. He started with a motor and wheel set that was originally intended to be part of a rover, added an accelerometer, and tied the whole thing together with an ESP-01 he had lying around. The final result certainly looks the part, and goes to show that projects don’t always need to be 1000 hour labors of love to accomplish their goals.

The construction of this little bot is simple in the extreme. A piece of plywood makes up the primary structure, with the wheels glued to the bottom and the electronics taking up residence in the top. It’s powered by two lithium battery cells that were salvaged out of an old laptop, with a DC-DC buck converter to provide a stable 3.3 VDC for the ESP-01 and MPU6050 accelerometer. To control the motors themselves, [Andrius] is using a cheap L293 controller that he found on eBay.

For interactive control, [Andrius] is making use of the ESP’s Wi-Fi to provide a web-based interface. This lets you control the bot from essentially any device that has a browser, rather than having to use a dedicated hardware transmitter.

Self-balancing robots of various levels of complexity are a relatively common project in the hacker world. There’s just something magical about the way they scoot around, seeming to defy gravity.

The Solid State Weather Station

Building personal weather stations has become easier now than ever before, thanks to all the improvements in sensors, electronics, and prototyping techniques. The availability of cheap networking modules allows us to make sure these IoT devices can transmit their information to public databases, thereby providing local communities with relevant weather data about their immediate surroundings.

[Manolis Nikiforakis] is attempting to build the Weather Pyramid — a completely solid-state, maintenance free, energy and communications autonomous weather sensing device, designed for mass scale deployment. Typically, a weather station has sensors for measuring temperature, pressure, humidity, wind speed and rainfall. While most of these parameters can be measured using solid-state sensors, getting wind speed, wind direction and rainfall numbers usually require some form of electro-mechanical devices.

The construction of such sensors is tricky and non-trivial. When planning to deploy in large numbers, you also need to ensure they are low-cost, easy to install and don’t require frequent maintenance. Eliminating all of these problems could result in more reliable, low-cost weather stations to be built, which can then be installed in large numbers at remote locations.

[Manolis] has some ideas on how he can solve these problems. For wind speed and direction, he plans to obtain readings from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and compass in an inertial sensor (IMU), possibly the MPU-9150. The plan is to track the motion of the IMU sensor as it swings freely from a tether like a pendulum. He has done some paper-napkin calculations and he seems confident that it will provide the desired results when he tests his prototype. Rainfall measurement will be done via capacitive sensing, using either a dedicated sensor such as the MPR121 or the built-in touch capability in the ESP32. The design and arrangement of the electrode tracks will be important to measure the rainfall correctly by sensing the drops. The size, shape and weight distribution of the enclosure where the sensors will be installed is going to be critical too since it will impact the range, resolution, and accuracy of the instrument. [Manolis] is working on several design ideas that he intends to try out before deciding if the whole weather station will be inside the swinging enclosure, or just the sensors.

If you have any feedback to offer before he proceeds further, let him know via the comments below.

Wireless Protocol Reverse Engineered to Create Wrist Wearable Mouse

We’ve seen a few near-future sci-fi films recently where computers respond not just to touchscreen gestures but also to broad commands, like swiping a phone to throw its display onto a large flat panel display. It’s a nice metaphor, and if we’re going to see something like it soon, perhaps this wrist-mounted pointing device will be one way to get there.

The video below shows the finished product in action, with the cursor controlled by arm movements. Finger gestures that are very much like handling a real mouse’s buttons are interpreted as clicks. The wearable has a Nano, an MPU6050 IMU, and a nRF24L01 transceiver, all powered by some coin cells and tucked nicely into a 3D-printed case. To be honest, as cool as [Ronan Gaillard]’s wrist mouse is, the real story here is the reverse engineering he and his classmate did to pull this one off.

The road to the finished product was very interesting and more detail is shared in their final presentation (in French and heavy with memes). Our French is sufficient only to decipher “Le dongle Logitech,” but there are enough packet diagrams supporting into get the gist. They sniffed the packets going between a wireless keyboard and its dongle and figured out how to imitate mouse movements using an NRF24 module. Translating wrist and finger movements to cursor position via the 6-axis IMU involved some fairly fancy math, but it all seems to have worked in the end, and it makes for a very impressive project.

Is sniffing wireless packets in your future? Perhaps this guide to Wireshark and the nRF24L01 will prove useful.

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IoTP: The Internet of Toilet Paper

Our first impression of this IoT toilet paper roll was that somebody was pulling our leg. Watching the infomercial-esque video below is alternately hilarious and horrifying, but it leaves you with the unmistakable feeling that this is all a joke, and a pretty good one at that.  Right up until you get to the big Kimberly-Clark logo at the end, that is, and you realize that the international paper concern must be looking at this seriously.

When you read [zvizvi]’s Instructables post, you find out that this project is indeed a legitimate attempt to meld an Amazon Dash button with your toilet paper dispenser. For his proof-of-concept build, [zvizvi] started with a gag “talking TP” roll off eBay, designed to play back a voice clip when the paper is used. It had all the right guts, and being just the size for a Wemos Mini and an accelerometer for motion detection was a bonus. The smart spindle can tally the amount of paper used, so you’ll never be caught without a square to spare. And of course, critical TP usage parameters are uploaded to a cloud server, so that more toilet paper can be rushed to your door when you’re getting low.

The whole idea, including justification based on monitoring TP use as a proxy for bowel health, seems ridiculous, but we suspect there may be some brilliance here. Joke if you will, but in the end it’s probably better than an Internet of Farts.

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Hi-Tech Tool For Measuring Your Kid’s Height

Sure we can have our kids back up against a wall, force them to stand up straight, and use a ruler on their head to mark their height on the wall, but what kind of hacker would we be? There isn’t a single microcontroller or any electronic component involved! The DIY-family that calls themselves [HomeMadeGarbage] stood tall and came up with a high-tech tool to measure their kid’s height.

In place of the ruler they got a small wooden box to place on the head. Under the box, at the rear end facing down, they mounted a VL53L0X laser ranging sensor. With a range of 2 meters it’s sure to work with any child. But the box has to be sat level on the child’s head, otherwise the laser will be pointing down at an angle. To handle that they put an MPU6050 6-axis motion sensor in the box along with an Arduino Nano to tie it all together. A LCD display, measurement push-button and LED are mounted outside the box on the rear facing side.

To use it, a parent sits the box on the child’s head, making sure the laser sensor isn’t blocked and can see the floor. The LCD shows the height, along with the acceleration in the x and y directions. The LED is red if the box isn’t level and green if it is. Holding the measurement button pressed puts the tool in measurement mode and when it’s level, the LED turns blue and the LCD display freezes so you can make a note of the height. You’re good for a while, depending on your child’s age. See it being used to measure a child after the break as well as an additional clip showing what the output looks like when waving a hand up and down below it.

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