DIY Puff-Suck Interface Aims for Faster Text Input

Puff and Suck (or Sip and Puff) systems allow people with little to no arm mobility to more easily interact with computers by using a straw-like unit as an input device. [Ana] tells us that the usual way these devices are used to input text involves a screen-based keyboard; a cursor is moved to a letter using some method (joystick, mouse emulator, buttons, or eye tracking) and that letter is selected with a sip or puff into a tube.

[Ana] saw such systems as effective and intuitive to use, but also limited in speed because there’s only so fast that one can select letters one at a time. That led to trying a new method; one that requires a bit more work on the user’s part, but the reward is faster text entry. The Puff-Suck Interface for Fast Text Input turns a hollow plastic disk and a rubber diaphragm into bipolar pressure switch, able to detect three states: suck, puff, and idle. The unit works by having an IR emitter and receiver pair on each side of a diaphragm (one half of which is shown in the image above). When air is blown into or sucked out of the unit, the diaphragm moves and physically blocks one or the other emitter-receiver pair. The resulting signals are interpreted by an attached Arduino.

How does this enable faster text input? By throwing out the usual “screen keyboard” interface and using Morse code, with puffs as dots and sucks as dashes. The project then acts as a kind of Morse code keyboard. It does require skill on the user’s part, but the reward is much faster text entry. The idea got selected as a finalist in the Human-Computer Interface Challenge portion of the 2018 Hackaday Prize!

Morse code may seem like a strange throwback to some, but not only does the bipolar nature of [Ana]’s puff-suck switch closely resemble that of Morse code input paddles, it’s also easy to learn. Morse code is far from dead; we have pages of projects and news showing its involvement in everything from whimsical projects to solving serious communication needs.

See the Fabulous Workmanship in this Smart Pressure Regulator

For many projects that require control of air pressure, the usual option is to hook up a pump, maybe with a motor controller to turn it on and off, and work with that. If one’s requirements can’t be filled by that level of equipment and control, then it’s time to look at commercial regulators. [Craig Watson] did exactly that, but found the results as disappointing as they were expensive. He found that commercial offerings — especially at low pressures — tended to leak air, occasionally reported incorrect pressures, and in general just weren’t very precise. Out of a sense of necessity he set out to design his own electronically controlled, closed-loop pressure regulator. The metal block is a custom manifold with valve hardware mounted onto it, and the PCB mounted on top holds the control system. The project logs have some great pictures and details of the prototyping and fabrication process.

This project was the result of [Craig]’s work on a microfluidics control system, conceived because he discovered that much of the equipment involved in these useful systems is prohibitively expensive for small labs or individuals. In the course of developing the electronic pressure regulator, he realized it could have applications beyond microfluidics control, and created it as a modular device that can easily be integrated into other systems and handle either positive or negative pressure. It’s especially well-suited for anything with low air requirements and a limited supply, but with a need for precise control.

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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