Tree Of Life Branches Out With A Twist

In the middle of 2020, [charlie] challenged himself to conceive of and finish one project every month for the next twelve. Here we are a year later with [charlie]’s last project of the challenge: a tree of life with a bit of a twist to it.

The idea was to build a tree with lights that would represent the leaves and change as the tree went through the seasons. After a lot of searching, he found a really elaborate model meant for CNC carving, but the model maker converted it to an STL. [charlie]’s original plan was to poke the LEDs through the print. After consulting a wise woman, he decided to take the two-color approach and make the background translucent so that the 16 RGB LEDs can shine through.

So, what’s the twist? Well, over time, the tree will develop dementia. One by one, the leaves will lose awareness and go through the seasons backward, or slow down their cycle, or speed up. Eventually, the entire tree recedes into a rainbow of confusion. Sadly beautiful, isn’t it?

No printer? No problem. Trees of life come in all forms, including free-form.

One Giant Button To Mute Them All

The second round of this year’s Hackaday Prize is coming to a close, and we asked you to come up with ways of refreshing work-from-home life. Well here’s one we probably all could use — a large emergency mute button that can also turn off video with an extra click. You know, in case your kid or your roommate decides to walk around in their birthday suit.

[Colin Russell-Conway]’s software-agnostic mute button uses a Seeeduino Xiao and rotary encoder, plus three momentaries that give it a second function as a media controller. Two chunks of LED strip go blinky blinky when the mute is on, and are otherwise solidly lit and color-coded by videoconference type — blue for Zoom and Starleaf, green for Webex, and purple for Teams.

The companion app that [Colin] created is using the Windows Management Instrumentation (WMI) to check which program is control of the microphone. Whenever the mute button is pressed, the app makes note of the current program in focus, switches to the active videoconference, mutes it, and then switches back to reddit or twitch or whatever you had in focus when the kid started screaming for you from the bathroom. Check out the demo after the break.

Some of us like to celebrate a little when videoconferences are over. For those people, there is the pull-chain exit.

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Linear Pong Loses A Dimension But Remains Challenging

When Pong hit the scene in the early 70s, there was something about the simplicity of the 2D monochrome tennis game that made it engaging enough that enthusiastic proto-gamers shorted-out machines by stuffing their coin boxes to overflowing.  But even with the simplicity of Pong’s 2D gameplay, the question becomes: could it by made simpler and still be playable?

Surprisingly, if this one-dimensional Pong game is any indication, it actually seems like it can. Where the original Pong made you line up your paddle with the incoming ball, with the main variable being the angle of the carom from your opponent, [mircemk]’s version, limited to a linear game field, makes the ball’s speed the variable. Players take control of the game with a pair of buttons at the far ends of a 60-LED strip of WS2812s. The ball travels back and forth along the strip, bouncing off a player’s paddle only if they push their button at the exact moment the ball arrives. Each reflection back to the opponent occurs at a random speed, making it hard to get into a rhythm. To add some variety, each player has a “Boost” button to put a little spice on their shot, and score is kept by LEDs in the center of the play field. Video of the game play plus build info is below the break.

With just a Neopixel strip, an Arduino Nano, and a small handful of common parts, it should be easy enough to whip up your own copy of this surprisingly engaging game. But if the 2D-version is still more your speed, maybe you should check out the story of its inventor, [Ted Dabney]. Or, perhaps building a clock that plays Pong with itself to idle the days away is more your speed.

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Smart Power Delivery For Long LED Strips

Addressable LED strips, most commonly using the WS2812B, have revolutionized the pursuit of the glowiest and flashiest of builds. No longer does a maker have to compromise on full RGB color or number of LEDs due to the limitations of their chosen microcontroller, or fuss around with multiplexing schemes. However, the long strips of bright LEDs do have an issue with voltage drop on long runs, leading to dimming and color irregularities. Thankfully, [Jan Mrázek] has come up with a useful solution in the form of the Neopixel Booster.

The device consists of a small PCB which packs a 5 volt regulator capable of putting out up to 4 amps. It’s designed with pads that match typical Neopixel strips, such that it can be neatly soldered in every 50cm or every 60 LEDs or so. Each booster PCB is fed with a set of fat power wires, at between 6-18 volts. This allows electricity to be fed to the full length of the strip at higher voltage, and thus lower current, greatly reducing resistive power losses. By having several regulators along the length of the strip, it helps guarantee that the whole length of a long run is receiving plenty of voltage and current and can light up the correct color as desired.

It’s a well thought out solution to a frustrating problem, and [Jan’s] efforts on the design front mean that a 5 meter long waterproof strip can be converted in around about an hour. We can imagine this could be manufactured into strips in future, too. If you’re wondering what to do with all those LEDs, consider making yourself a custom display.

Weather Note Tells You What You Need To Know, And No More

Smartphones are portals to an overwhelming torrent of information. Yes, they’re a great way to find out the time, your bus schedule, and the weather, but they’re also full of buzzers and bells going off every three minutes to remind you that your uncle has reposted a photo of the fish he caught ten years ago. Sometimes, it’s better to display just the essentials, and that’s what Weather Note does.

It’s built around the Adafruit Feather Huzzah, a devboard built around the venerable ESP8266. It’s a great base for an Internet of Things project like this one, with WiFi built-in and ready to go. The Weather Note talks to a variety of online platforms to scrape weather data and helpful reminders, with the assistance of If This Then That, or IFTTT. Reminders to walk the dog or get some milk are displayed on a small OLED screen, while there’s also a bunch of alphanumeric displays for other information. WS2812 LEDs are used behind a shadowbox to display weather conditions, with cute cloud, rain, and sun icons. It’s all wrapped up in a tidy frame perfect for the mantlepiece or breakfast table.

It’s a great build to learn about programming for the Internet of Things, and with those bright LED displays, it’s probably a viable nightlight too. It’s a rare project that can both tell you about the weather and keep you from stubbing your toe in the kitchen, after all. Those desiring a stealthier build should consider going down the smart mirror route instead. Video after the break.

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Electronic Connect Four Has No Pieces To Lose

Recreating classic games in software is a great way to get better at coding or learn to code in the first place. If you do it in hardware though, you’ll gain a lot more than coding skills. Just ask [Kelly] and [Jack] did, when they built this Arduino-based electronic Connect Four for a school project.

We love that their interpretation manages to simplify game play and make it more fun than the original version. All the players have to do is turn it on and start pushing the arcade buttons along the bottom to choose the column where they want to make a play. The LEDs animate from top to bottom to imitate the plastic disc dropping down through the board. If a win is detected — four in a row of the same color going any direction — the board fills up with the winning color and the game starts over.

The state machine doesn’t currently do anything about tie situations, so there’s a reset button hidden on the side. As [Kelly] and [Jack] explain in their walk-through video after the break, that is something they would like to address in the future, along with making it possible to choose whatever battle color you want. We think a reset animation that mimics the look of the discs spilling out the bottom would be cool, too.

If you’ve never implemented a game on hardware before, something like this might be a bit daunting. May we suggest a game of 4×4 Tic Tac Toe instead?

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The Three Shell Mystery Finally Solved!

While we certainly acknowledge the valuable contributions of the open hardware community that help to mitigate the coronavirus crisis, we are also looking forward to the days when people start going back to building other things than 3D-printed face shields, pandemic trackers, and automatic soap dispensers. However, this handwash timer by [Agis Wichert] is a very creative version that also tries to solve the long outstanding mystery of how to use the three seashells. Unfortunately, in contrast to those in the original movie, these three seashells do not replace toilet paper which many people are seemingly so desperate in need of at the moment.

The build is quite simple and requires only a few off-the-shelf components including a Neopixel strip, IR proximity sensor, and an Arduino Nano. The plastic seashells were taken from the classic German “Schleckmuschel” candy, thereby giving the project an extra retro twist. As shown in the video embedded below, the timer works by consecutively dimming the LEDs located under each seashell until the recommended duration of 20 seconds has elapsed which is indicated by shortly flashing all LEDs.

Handwash timer projects do not always have to be visual as this one playing your favorite Spotify tunes proves. What we really would like to see though is someone building a toilet paper dispenser that is triggered by swearwords.

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