Lost in Space Gets 3D Printing Right

When it has become so common for movies and television to hyper-sensationalize engineering, and to just plain get things wrong, here’s a breath of fresh air. There’s a Sci-Fi show out right now that wove 3D printing into the story line in a way that is correct, unforced, and a fitting complement to that fictional world.

With the amount of original content Netflix is pumping out anymore, you may have missed the fact that they’ve recently released a reboot of the classic Lost in Space series from the 1960’s. Sorry LeBlanc fans, this new take on the space traveling Robinson family pretends the 1998 movie never happened, as have most people. It follows the family from their days on Earth until they get properly lost in space as the title would indicate, and is probably most notable for the exceptional art direction and special effects work that’s closer to Interstellar than the campy effects of yesteryear.

But fear not, Dear Reader. This is not a review of the show. To that end, I’ll come right out and say that Lost in Space is overall a rather mediocre show. It’s certainly gorgeous, but the story lines and dialog are like something out of a fan film. It’s overly drawn out, and in the end doesn’t progress the overarching story nearly as much as you’d expect. The robot is pretty sick, though.

No, this article is not about the show as a whole. It’s about one very specific element of the show that was so well done I’m still thinking about it a month later: its use of 3D printing. In Lost in Space, the 3D printer aboard the Jupiter 2 is almost a character itself. Nearly every member of the main cast has some kind of interaction with it, and it’s directly involved in several major plot developments during the season’s rather brisk ten episode run.

I’ve never seen a show or movie that not only featured 3D printing as such a major theme, but that also did it so well. It’s perhaps the most realistic portrayal of 3D printing to date, but it’s also a plausible depiction of what 3D printing could look like in the relatively near future. It’s not perfect by any means, but I’d be exceptionally interested to hear if anyone can point out anything better.

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High-Effort Streaming Remote for Low-Effort Bingeing

There’s no limit to the amount of work some people will put into avoiding work. For instance, why bother to get up from your YouTube-induced vegetative state to adjust the volume when you can design and build a remote to do it for you?

Loath to interrupt his PC streaming binge sessions, [miroslavus] decided to take matters into his own hands. When a commercially available wireless keyboard proved simultaneously overkill for the job and comically non-ergonomic, he decided to build a custom streaming remote. His recent microswitch encoder is prominently featured and provides scrolling control for volume and menu functions, and dedicated buttons are provided for play controls. The device reconfigures at the click of a switch to support Netflix, which like YouTube is controlled by sending keystrokes to the PC through a matching receiver. It’s a really thoughtful design, and we’re sure the effort [miroslavus] put into this will be well worth the dozens of calories it’ll save in the coming years.

A 3D-printed DIY remote is neat, but don’t forget that printing can also save a dog-chewed remote and win the Repairs You Can Print contest.

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Save Your Thumbs with This Netflix Password Sender

Chances are anyone who has an entry-level to mid-range smart TV knows that setting them up with your streaming account credentials is a royal pain. Akin to the days of texting on a flip phone, using the number pad or arrow keys to compose your user name and password seems to take forever.  So why not avoid the issue with this automated Netflix logger-inner?

As if the initial setup wasn’t bad enough, when [krucho5]’s LG smart TV started asking for his Netflix credentials every few days, he knew something needed to be done. An Arduino to send “keystrokes” was the obvious solution, but when initial attempts to spoof the HID on the set proved fruitless, [krucho5] turned to the IR remote interface. He used an IR receiver module to capture the codes sent while entering user name and password, and an IR LED plays it back anytime the TV ask for it. The video below shows how much easier it is now, and the method should work just fine for any other online service accounts.

We like [krucho5]’s build, but the fit and finish are a little rough. Perhaps slipping them into a pair of Netflix-enabled socks would be a nice touch?

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Shed Pounds and Inches while Binge Watching Netflix

Feel like breaking out of your streaming-induced vegetative state but can’t seem to break the binge-watching cycle? Maybe you’re a candidate for this exercise bike that controls how much Netflix you watch.

The concept behind [Roboro]’s anti-couch potato build is simple — just keep pedaling and you get to keep watching. The details are pretty simple too and start with an Arduino monitoring the signal coming from a jack thoughtfully provided by the manufacturer of his exercise bike. The frequency of the square wave is translated into a speed which a Python script on a PC reads over USB. Once a Netflix stream is started, dropping below the user-defined speed pauses the movie. The video below shows it doing its thing.

Improvements readily spring to mind, like adding a speed buffer so that pedaling faster lets you bank some streaming time and earn a rest. Maybe it could somehow integrate with these Netflix-enabled socks, or even with the Netflix and Chill button. But those sort of defeat the purpose a bit.

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The Long Tail of DIY Electronics

These are the Golden Years of electronics hacking. The home DIY hacker can get their hands on virtually any part that he or she could desire, and for not much money. Two economic factors underlie this Garden of Electronic Eden that we’re living in. Economies of scale make the parts cheap: when a factory turns out the same MEMS accelerometer chip for hundreds of millions of cell phones, their setup and other fixed costs are spread across all of these chips, and a $40 million factory ends up only costing $0.50 per unit sold.

But the unsung hero of the present DIY paradise is how so many different parts are available, and from so many different suppliers, many of them on the other side of the globe. “The Internet” you say, as if that explains it. Well, that’s not wrong, but it’s deeper than that. The reason that we have so much to choose from is that the marginal cost of variety has fallen, and with that many niche products and firms have become profitable where before they weren’t.

So let’s take a few minutes to sing the praises of the most important, and sometimes overlooked, facet of the DIY economy over the last twenty years: the falling marginal cost of variety.

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Netflix and Chill – and Socks?

Waking up to spoilers in the last episode after falling asleep during the first episode of a Netflix binge-watching session ranks right up there on the list of first-world problems. Luckily there’s a solution in the form of a pair of Netflix enabled socks, which looks like a pretty neat wearable IoT project.

To be sure, calling these socks Netflix enabled is a bit of a stretch. Aside from the sock designs, which are based on popular Netflix original series, there’s nothing about the electronics that’s specific to the popular streaming service. These socks, with their Arduino Pro Trinket and accelerometer, detect when you stop moving and send an IR signal to do your bidding – pause the movie, kill the TV, or whatever. The electronic side of the build is pretty approachable – it’s just a couple of modules soldered together. The fiber arts side of the project might be a little outside the wheelhouse of the typical hardware hacker, but you can either team up with someone who knits – an experienced knitter, as socks are not a beginner’s pattern – or just slip the felt-clad hardware into your favorite comfy socks. We’d be a bit concerned about ESD protection for the hardware in the wooly environment, though.

“Netflix and chill” is the current version of last century’s “Watching the submarine races,” and as such the need for special socks or a custom Netflix switch for the occasion is a bit puzzling. Still, the underlying wearables idea is pretty good, with plenty of possibilities for expansion and repurposing.

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The Netflix and Chill Button

While the people at Netflix were busy killing weekends around the world with marathon viewings of 90s sitcoms, they also found time to release the Netflix Switch. It’s a small device with a single button that will control your TV, turn off the lights, and order a pizza. Remember, time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time.

netflixThe Netflix Switch is a relatively simple device powered by a Particle Core, an Arduino-compatible development board with on-board WiFi. Also in this box is a LiPo battery, a few LEDs, and an IR transmitter that will send the same IR signal as the Netflix button on your TV remote, should your remote have a Netflix button.

In an unprecedented break from reality, this astute corporate branding of electronics tinkering also has design files, schematics, and real instructions that come along with it. Netflix released all of the mechanical files for their switch in Solidworks format; for the low, low price of only $4000 per Solidworks license, you too can Netflix and Chill.

Although Netflix’ implementation of tapping into a DIY electronics movement that has been around for 100 years is lacking, the spirit of the build is laudable. A single button connected to the Internet is a universal tool, and whether you want to order a pizza or make a ‘do not disturb’ button for your phone, the only limitation for the Netflix and Chill button is your imagination.