A Low Budget DIY Vibrotactile Stimulator For Experimental CRS

Modern techniques of Coordinated Reset Stimulation (CRS), which is usually administered with invasive deep brain stimulation, can have a miraculous effect on those suffering from Parkinson’s disease. However, the CRS technique can also apparently be administered via so-called vibrotactile CRS (vCRS) which essentially means vibrating certain nerve endings corresponding to brain regions that have a large cortical representation.

An example is vibrating the tips of the fingers using special gloves. This is a medical technique and as such is governed by the FDA. With ongoing trials, patients all around the world will simply have to wait. [HackyDev] has been working with a group of people on developing an open source vCRS glove.

This neuromodulation technique seems so promising, that this upfront effort by hackers around the world is simply a joy to see. Patents be dammed; we can work around them. Interested parties can follow the (very long, tricky-to-follow) thread here.

The hardware [HackyDev] put together uses a nodeMCU as the controller, driving eight motor coils via MOSFETS. The finger-mounted actuators are constructed by ripping the electromagnet out of a relay and mounting it in a 3D printed frame, with a magnet suspended on a spring. This part is mounted on each finger. The nodeMCU presents a simple web form that enables the configuration of the pulse parameters.

A permanent magnet is housed in the spring’s top section

The way the gloves appear to work is due to the way the body perceives sensory input, with a massive bias towards the hands and mouth region, referred to as the cortical homunculus. Each finger has an individual haptic element, which is actuated in a specific sequence with a carefully formed pulse at approx. 250 Hz.

This appears to activate similar in-brain effects as traditional (and invasive) DBS therapy by effectively de-synchronizing certain over-synchronized brain pathways and alleviating the overactive ß-wave activity in the brain. And this calms the tremors as well as many other PD symptoms. It’s all very exciting stuff, and we’ll be following this story closely.

For more on the backstory check out the 2017 paper by Peter A. Tass, as well as this later one, and this one. We’ve seen some recent success with diagnosing or at least detecting PD, by smell as well as via audio, so the future might look a little brighter for quite a number of people.

A wooden box sits on a darker wooden table. The box has a red, glowing number 8 on it.

Ambient Display Tells You If Borealis Is Coming To Town

For those times when you’d rather not get sucked down another internet rabbit hole when you really just wanted the weather, an ambient display can be great. [AlexanderK106] built a simple ambient display to know the probability the Northern Lights would visit his town.

Starting with a NodeMCU featuring the ESP8266, [AlexanderK106] walks us through a beginner-friendly tutorial on how to do everything from configure the Arduino IDE, the basics of using a breadboard. finding a data source and parsing it, and finally sticking everything into an enclosure.

The 7-segment display is taped and set into the back of the 1/4″ pine with enough brightness to shine through the additional layer of veneer on top. The display is set to show one digit and then the next before a three second repeat. A second display would probably make this easier to use day-to-day, but we appreciate him keeping it simple for this tutorial.

Looking for more ambient displays? Checkout the Tempescope or this clock that lets you feel the temperature outside!

Automated Blinds Can Be A Cheap And Easy Build

Blinds are great for blocking out the sun, but having to get up to open and close them grows tiresome in this computationally-advanced age. [The Hook Up] decided to automate his home blinds instead, hooking them up to the Internet of Things with some common off-the-shelf parts.

The basic idea was to use stepper motors to turn the tilt rod which opens and closes the blinds. An early attempt to open blinds with unipolar stepper motors proved unsuccessful, when the weak motors weren’t capable of fully closing the blinds when running on 5 volts. Not wanting to throw out the hardware on hand, the motors were instead converted to bipolar operation. They were then hooked up to DRV8825 driver boards and run at 12 volts to provide more torque.

With the electromechanical side of things sorted out, it was simple to hook up the motor drivers to a NodeMCU, based on the ESP8266. The IoT-ready device makes it easy to control the motors remotely via the web.

The build came in at a low cost of around $10 per blind. That’s a good saving over commercial options which can cost hundreds of dollars in comparison. We’ve seen other work from [The Hook Up] before too, like his creative Flex Seal screen build. Video after the break.

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IoT toilet paper sheet counter

Keep Track Of Toilet Paper Usage With This IoT Roll Holder

Remember the Great Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020? We sure do, and it looks like our old friend [Vije Miller] does as well, while seemingly harboring a somewhat morbid fascination about how much paper every bathroom visitor is consuming. And to that end, we present his IoT toilet sheet tracker.

His 3D printed roll holder has a Hall effect sensor that counts revolutions of the roll and sends it to a NodeMCU. The number of sheets per roll is entered when the roll is changed, so some simple math yields the number of sheets each yank consumes. Or at least a decent estimate — [Vije] admits that there’s some rounding necessary. The best part of the build is the connection to Thingspeak, where sheet usage is plotted and displayed. Go ahead and check it out if you dare; at the time of writing, there was an alarming spike in sheet usage — a sudden need for 68 sheets where the baseline usage is in single digits. We shudder to think what might have precipitated that. The video below is — well, let’s just say there’s a video.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen bathroom-based projects from [Vije Miller]. A few years back there was an attempt to freshen the air with plasma, and his IoT shower valve controller probably never scalded anyone accidentally.

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wifi scanner

Visualizing WiFi With A Converted 3D Printer

We all know we live in a soup of electromagnetic radiation, everything from AM radio broadcasts to cosmic rays. Some of it is useful, some is a nuisance, but all of it is invisible. We know it’s there, but we have no idea what the fields look like. Unless you put something like this 3D WiFi field strength visualizer to work, of course.

Granted, based as it is on the gantry of an old 3D printer, [Neumi]’s WiFi scanner has a somewhat limited work envelope. A NodeMCU ESP32 module rides where the printer’s extruder normally resides, and scans through a series of points one centimeter apart. A received signal strength indicator (RSSI) reading is taken from the NodeMCU’s WiFi at each point, and the position and RSSI data for each point are saved to a CSV file. A couple of Python programs then digest the raw data to produce both 2D and 3D scans. The 3D scans are the most revealing — you can actually see a 12.5-cm spacing of signal strength, which corresponds to the wavelength of 2.4-GHz WiFi. The video below shows the data capture process and some of the visualizations.

While it’s still pretty cool at this scale, we’d love to see this scaled up. [Neumi] has already done a large-scale 3D visualization project, using ultrasound rather than radio waves, so he’s had some experience in this area. But perhaps a cable bot or something similar would work for a room-sized experiment. A nice touch would be using an SDR dongle to collect signal strength data, too — it would allow you to look at different parts of the spectrum.

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Pandemic Gives Passersby A Window On Cyborg Control

What’s this? Another fabulous creation from [Niklas Roy] and [Kati Hyyppä] that combines art and electronics with our zeitgeist and a lot of recycled bits and bobs? You got it. Their workshop in eastern Berlin used to be a retail shop and has a large display window as a result. This seems perfect for a pair of artists in a pandemic, because they can communicate with the community through the things they display in the window. Most recently, it was this interactive cyborg baby we are choosing to call Cybaby.

You might recognize Cybaby as one of the very hackable Robosapien robots, but with a baby doll head. (It also has a single red eye that really pulls its look together.) In the window, Cybaby comes alive and toddles around against a backdrop that grew and evolved over several weeks this spring and summer. Passersby were able to join the network and control Cybaby from outside with their smartphone to make it walk around, press various buttons that change its environment, and trigger a few sensors here and there. Robosapien has been around for about 20 years, so there is already Arduino code out there that essentially simulates its R/C signals. [Niklas] and [Kati] used a NodeMCU (ESP12-E) to send pulses to the IR input of the robot.

Back on the zany zeitgeist front, there’s a hair salon, a convenience store, and a nightclub for dancing that requires a successful trip through the testing center first (naturally). Oh, and there’s a lab next door to the nightclub that can’t be accessed by Cybaby no matter what it tries or how it cries. Check it out after the break.

There’s a dearth of Robosapien posts for some reason, so here’s what [Niklas] and [Kati] had in their window before the World of Cybaby — a really cool pen plotter that prints out messages sent by people walking by.

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It Ain’t Broke, But Should I Fix It?

Five years ago, I wrote a series on getting started with your own MQTT-based home information/automation network. Five years is a long while in Hackaday time. Back then, the ESP8266 was a lot newer, and the 8266 Arduino port wasn’t fully in shape yet, and the easiest software framework to get MQTT up and running was NodeMCU; so that’s what I used for the article series, and as a consequence a handful of devices around my house run minor modifications of that basic “hello world”, but doing useful stuff.

Since then, NodeMCU has changed a bunch of its libraries and the ESP32 has replaced the ESP8266 in my parts drawer. If you tried to run my code, you’d find that it won’t run on an ESP8266 without porting or compiling an old version of NodeMCU for yourself anyway, and it won’t run on an ESP32 at all. When [Chris Lott] tried to follow my guide, he discovered that Micropython is probably a better language choice in 2021. To minimize lines of code, I’d agree, although the Arduino and Espressif’s own native IDF have grown into the job just about as well. In short, anything but NodeMCU.

Built in an hour, survived for five years.

But my home automation system doesn’t care. Those little guys are running 24/7, flipping bits like it was still 2016. Thermometers, light sensors, and power meters haven’t changed much in five years, and although I’ve revamped the databasing, display, and user control a number of times since then, using a fixed communication transport protocol means that they’re still talking the same language. Indeed, even if NodeMCU is dead to me, the MQTT content of my original series is all still valid, and installing a broker on a Raspberry Pi has only become easier in the intervening five years.

So I’ve got a bunch of legacy code running within the walls of my own home, and it makes me nervous. If the devices fail, or maybe when they eventually fail, it’s not going to be “just flash another ESP8266 and replace it”, because even though I have some ancient NodeMCU binaries sitting around, I know when to throw in the towel. But there’s no good reason to pull them down and start reflashing either. Except that it makes me a little bit itchy, just knowing that there’s orphaned, dead-end code running all around me. Surrounding me. Staring deep into my hacker’s heart.

I know better than to tear down a running system, even though I could do it one device at a time, and each module would surely be a simple, independent fix; even though I’d love the excuse to play around with Micropython and its MQTT implementation on the ESP8266, or maybe even swap some of them out for ESP32s; even though these were all temporary quick hacks that have somehow served for five (5!) years. I certainly know better, right? (Right?)