Putting More Tech Into More Hands: The Robin Hoods of Hackaday Prize

Many different projects started with the same thought: “That’s really expensive… I wonder if I could build my own for less.” Success is rewarded with satisfaction on top of the money saved, but true hacker heroes share their work so that others can build their own as well. We are happy to recognize such generosity with the Hackaday Prize [Robinhood] achievement.

Achievements are a new addition to our Hackaday Prize, running in parallel with our existing judging and rewards process. Achievements are a way for us to shower recognition and fame upon creators who demonstrate what we appreciate from our community.

Fortunately there is no requirement to steal from the rich to unlock our [Robinhood] achievement, it’s enough to give away fruits of price-reduction labor. And unlocking an achievement does not affect a project’s standings in the challenges, so some of these creators will still collect coveted awards. The list of projects that have unlocked the [Robinhood] achievement will continue to grow as the Hackaday Prize progresses, check back regularly to see the latest additions!

In the meantime, let’s look at a few notable examples that have already made the list:

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Programmable Air Makes Robotics A Breeze

[Amitabh] was frustrated by the lack of options for controlling air pressure in soft robotics. The most promising initiative, Pneuduino, seemed to be this close to a Shenzhen production run, but the creators have gone radio silent. Faced with only expensive alternatives, he decided to take one for Team Hacker and created Programmable Air, a modular system for inflatable and vacuum-based robotics.

The idea is to build the cheapest, most hacker-friendly system he can by evaluating and experimenting with all sorts of off-the-shelf pumps, sensors, and valves. From the looks of it, he’s pretty much got it dialed in. Programmable Air is based around $9 medical-grade booster pumps that are as good at making vacuums as they are at providing pressurization. The main board has two pumps, and it looks like one is set to vacuum and the other to spew air. There’s an Arduino Nano to drive them, and a momentary to control the air flow.

Programmable Air can support up to 12 valves through daughter boards that connect via right-angle header. In the future, [Amitabh] may swap these out for magnetic connections or something else that can withstand repeated use.

Blow past the break to watch Programmable Air do pick and place, control a soft gripper, and inflate a balloon. The balloon’s pressurization behavior has made [Amitabh] reconsider adding a flow meter, but so far he hasn’t found a reasonable cost per unit. Can you recommend a small flow meter that won’t break the bank? Let us know in the comments.

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DARPA Enlisting Nemo and Dory to Find You

The ocean is a hostile environment for man-made equipment, no matter its purpose. Whether commercial fishing, scientific research, or military operations, salt water is constantly working to break them all down. The ocean is also home to organisms well-adapted to their environment so DARPA is curious if we can leverage their innate ability to survive. The Persistent Aquatic Living Sensors (yes, our ocean PALS) program is asking for creative ideas on how to use sea life to monitor ocean activity.

Its basic idea is simple: everyday business of life in the ocean are occasionally interrupted by a ship, a submarine, or some other human activity. If this interruption can be inferred from sea life response, getting that data could be much less expensive than building sensors to monitor such activity directly. Everyone who applies to this research program will have the chance to present their own ideas on how to turn this idea into reality.

The program announced it will “study natural and modified organisms” (emphasis ours.) Keeping an open mind to bio-engineering ideas will be interesting, but adding biohacking to the equation also adds to the list of potential problems. While PALS will keep its research within contained facilities, any future military deployment obviously will not. Successful developments in this area will certainly raise eyebrows and face resistance against moving beyond the lab.

But such possibilities are still far away in a future that many never arrive, as is common with DARPA initiatives. Very recently we talked about their interest in brain stimulation and we’ve been fascinated by many DARPA initiatives before that. If PALS takes off, their living sensor nodes might end up face to face with the open-source underwater glider project that won this year’s Hackaday prize.

[via Engadget]

Small Jet Engine Model From Students Who Think Big

We love to highlight great engineering student projects at Hackaday. We also love environment-sensing microcontrollers, 3D printing, and jet engines. The X-Plorer 1 by JetX Engineering checks all the boxes.

This engineering student exercise took its members through the development process of a jet engine. Starting from a set of requirements to meet, they designed their engine and analyzed it in software before embarking on physical model assembly. An engine monitoring system was developed in parallel and integrated into the model. These embedded sensors gave performance feedback, and armed with data the team iterated though ideas to improve their design. It’s a shame the X-Plorer 1 model had to stop short of actual combustion. The realities of 3D printed plastic meant airflow for the model came from external compressed air and not from burning fuel.

Also worth noting are the people behind this project. JetX Engineering describe themselves as an University of Glasgow student club for jet engine enthusiasts, but they act less like a casual gathering of friends and more like an aerospace engineering firm. The ability of this group to organize and execute on this project, including finding sponsors to fund it, are skills difficult to teach in a classroom and even more difficult to test with an exam.

After X-Plorer 1, the group has launched two new project teams X-Plorer 2 and Kronos. They are also working to expand to other universities with the ambition of launching competitions between student teams. That would be exciting and we wish them success.

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Get You an E-Textiles Sensor That Can Do Both

[Admar] is a software developer who was introduced to e-textiles in 2011. The bug firmly took hold, and these days he gives e-textile workshops at Eindhoven University of Technology. Here, students learn to build a single e-textile sensor that detects both presence and pressure. The workshop presentations are available on his site, which is itself a window into his e-textile journey.

Over the years, [Admar] has discovered that any e-textile project requiring more than a few connections is ripe for some kind of textile-friendly multi-point connector. Through trial and error, he designed a robust solution for use with an embroidery machine. The wires are made from conductive thread and soldered to a row of male header pins to make the transition out of fiber space. This transition requires solder, which quickly gets interesting when coupled with a fabric substrate and no solder mask. We wonder if spraying on mask beforehand would help, or if it would just soak in and stain and get in the way.

You can see the connector in practice in [Admar]’s capacitive multi-touch demo video after the break. He has stacked two pieces of fabric, each with a wire bus made of conductive threads, with the traces at right angles. Both sensors are wired to a Cypress PSoC5 to create a sensor matrix, and then to a laptop for visualization purposes. As his fingers approaches the fabric, the bar graphs roar upward to show increased capacitance. Once he makes contact, each finger appears as a yellow dot illustrating pressure.

E-textile projects aren’t limited to traces sewn by hand or embroidery machine. Circuit boards can be knitted, too.

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Pocket Woodwind MIDI Controller Helps You Carry a Tune

It’s easy to become obsessed with music, especially once you start playing. You want to make music everywhere you go, which is completely impractical. Don’t believe me? See how long you can get away with whistling on the subway or drumming your hands on any number of bus surfaces before your fellow passengers revolt. There’s a better way, and that way is portable USB MIDI controllers.

[Johan] wanted a pocket-sized woodwind MIDI controller, but all the existing ones he found were too big and bulky to carry around. With little more than a Teensy and a pressure sensor, he created TeensieWI.  It uses the built-in cap sense library to read input from the copper tape keys, generate MIDI messages, and send them over USB or DIN. Another pair of conductive pads on the back allow for octave changes. [Johan] later added a PSP joystick to do pitch bends, modulation, and glide. This is a simple build that creates a versatile instrument.

You don’t actually blow air into the mouthpiece—just let it escape from the sides of your mouth instead. That might take some getting used to if you’ve developed an embouchure. The values are determined by a pressure sensor that uses piezoresistivity to figure out how hard you’re blowing. There’s a default breath response value that can be configured in the settings.

TeensiWI should be easy to replicate or remix into any suitable chassis, though the UV-reactive acrylic looks pretty awesome. [Johan]’s documentation on IO is top-notch and includes a user guide with a fingering chart. For all you take-my-money types out there, [Johan] sells ’em ready to rock on Tindie. Check out the short demo clips after the break.

We saw a woodwind MIDI controller a few years ago that was eventually outfitted with an on-board synthesizer. Want to build a MIDI controller ? , like this beautiful build that uses hard drive platters as jog wheels.

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Gravity Defying Drips of a Bike Pump Controlled Fountain

People love to see a trick that fools their senses. This truism was in play at the Crash Space booth this weekend as [Steve Goldstein] and [Kevin Jordan] showed off a drip fountain controlled by a bike pump.

These optical illusion drip fountains use strobing light to seemingly freeze dripping water in mid-air. We’ve seen this before several times (the work of Hackaday alum [Mathieu Stephan] comes to mind) but never with a user input quite as delightful as a bike pump. It’s connected to an air pressure sensor that is monitored by the Arduino that strobes the lights. As someone works the pump, the falling droplets appear to slow, stop, and then begin flowing against gravity.

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