Making A Birthday Party Magical With Smart Wands

Visitors to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios are able to cast “spells” by waving special interactive wands in the air. Hackers like us understand that there must be some unknown machinations happening behind the scenes to detect how the wands are moving, but for the kids wielding them, it might as well be real magic. So when his son asked to have a Harry Potter themed birthday party, [Adam Thole] decided to try recreating the system used at Universal Studios in his own home.

Components used in the IR streaming camera

The basic idea is that each wand has a reflector in the tip, which coupled with strong IR illumination makes them glow on camera. This allows for easy gesture recognition using computer vision techniques, all without any active components in the wand itself.

[Adam] notes that you can actually buy the official interactive wands from the Universal Studios online store, and they’d even work with his system, but at $50 USD each they were too expensive to distribute to the guests at the birthday party. His solution was to simply 3D print the wands and put a bit of white prismatic reflective tape on the ends.

With the wands out of the way, he turned his attention to the IR imaging side of the system. His final design is a very impressive 3D printed unit which includes four IR illuminators, a Raspberry Pi Zero with the NoIR camera module. [Adam] notes that his software setup specifically locks the camera at 41 FPS, as that triggers it to use a reduced field of view by essentially “zooming in” on the image. If you don’t request a FPS higher than 40, the camera will deliver a wider image which didn’t have any advantage in this particular project.

The last part of the project was taking the video stream from his IR camera and processing it to detect the bright glow of a wand’s tip. For each frame of the video the background is first removed and then any remaining pixel that doesn’t exceed a set brightness level if ignored. The end result is an isolated point of light representing the tip of the wand, which can be fed into Open CV’s optical flow function to show [Adam] what shape the user was trying to make. From there, his software just needs to match the shape with one of the stock “spells”, and execute the appropriate function (such as changing the color of the lights in the room) with Home Assistant.

Overall, it’s an exceptionally well designed system considering the goal was simply to entertain a group of children for a few hours. We almost feel bad for the other parents in the neighborhood; it’s going to take more than a piñata to impress these kids after [Adam] had them conjuring the Dark Arts at his son’s party.

It turns out there’s considerable overlap between hacker types and those who would like to have magic powers (go figure). [Jennifer Wang] presented her IMU-based magic wand research at the 2018 Hackaday Superconference, and in the past we’ve even seen other wand controlled light systems. If you go all the way back to 2009, we even saw some Disney-funded research into interactive wand attractions for their parks, which seems particularly prescient today.

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Weatherproof Pi Looks Up So You Don’t Have To

Skywatching is a fascinating hobby, but does have the rather large drawback of needing to be outside staring at the sky for extended periods of time. Then there’s the weather to contend with, even if you’ve got yourself a nice blanket and it isn’t miserably cold, there might be nothing to see if cloud cover or light pollution is blocking your view.

Highly scientific testing procedure.

To address these issues, [Jason Bowling] decided to put a Raspberry Pi in a weatherproof enclosure and use it as a low-cost sky monitoring device. His setup uses the No-IR camera coupled with a cheap wide-angle lens designed for use with smartphone camera. The whole setup is protected from the elements by a clear acrylic dome intended for a security camera, and a generous helping of gasket material. Some experiments convinced [Jason] to add a light pollution filter to the mix, which helped improve image contrast in his less than ideal viewing area.

The software side is fairly straightforward: 10 second exposures are taken all night long, which can then be stitched together with ffmpeg into a timelapse video. [Jason] was concerned that the constant writing of images to the Pi’s SD card would cause a premature failure, so he set it up to write to a server in the house over SSHFS. Adding a USB flash drive would have accomplished the same thing, but as he wanted to do the image processing on a more powerful machine anyway this saved the trouble of having to retrieve the storage device every morning.

This isn’t the first time [Jason] has used a Pi to peer up into the heavens, and while his previous attempts might not be up to par with commercial offerings, they definitely are very impressive considering the cost of the hardware.

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FruitNanny: The Raspberry Pi Baby Monitor For Geeks

Having a child is perhaps the greatest “hack” a human can perform. There’s no soldering iron, no Arduino (we hope), but in the end, you’ve managed to help create the most complex piece of machinery in the known galaxy. The joys of having a child are of course not lost on the geekier of our citizens, for they wonder the same things that all new parents do: how do we make sure the baby is comfortable, how many IR LEDs do we need to see her in the dark, and of course the age old question, should we do this with a web app or go native?

If you’re the kind of person who was frustrated to see that “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” didn’t even bother to mention streaming video codecs, then you’ll love FruitNanny, the wonderfully over-engineered baby monitor created by [Dmitry Ivanov]. The product of nearly two years of development, FruitNanny started as little more than a Raspberry Pi 1n a plastic lunch box. But as [Dmitry] details in his extensive write-up, the latest iteration could easily go head-to-head with products on the commercial market.

[Dmitry] gives a full bill of materials on his page, but all the usual suspects are here. A Raspberry Pi 3 paired with the official NoIR camera make up the heart of the system, and the extremely popular DHT22 handles the environmental monitoring. A very nice 3D printed case, a lens intended for the iPhone, and a dozen IR LEDs round out the build.

The software side is where the project really kicks into high gear. Reading through the setup instructions [Dmitry] has provided is basically a crash course in platform-agnostic video streaming. Even if a little bundle of joy isn’t on your development roadmap, there’s probably a tip or two you can pick up for your next project that requires remote monitoring.

It probably won’t surprise you that geeky parents have been coming up with ways to spy on their kids for some time now, and if you can believe it, some don’t even include a Raspberry Pi.

Recording Time Lapse of Endangered Reptiles Hatching

The tuatara is a reptile native to New Zealand, and thanks to the descendants of stowaway rats on 17th century ships, these little lizards are critically endangered. [Warren] was asked if he could film one of these hatchlings being born and pulled out a Raspberry Pi to make it happen.

[Warren] constructed a small lasercut box to house the incubating egg, but he hit a few snags figuring out how to properly focus the Raspi camera board. The original idea was to use a Nikkor macro lens, without any kind of adapter between it and the camera board. A bit of googling lead [Warren] to this tutorial for modifying the focus on the Raspi camera, giving him a good picture.

The incubator had no windows and thus no light, making an IR LED array the obvious solution to the lighting problem. Time was of the essence, so an off-the-shelf security camera provided the IR illumination. After dumping the video to his computer, [Warren] had a video of a baby tuatara hatching. You can check that out below.

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