Invisible 3D Printed Codes Make Objects Interactive

An interesting research project out of MIT shows that it’s possible to embed machine-readable labels into 3D printed objects using nothing more than an FDM printer and filament that is transparent to IR. The method is being called InfraredTags; by embedding something like a QR code or ArUco markers into an object’s structure, that label can be detected by a camera and interactive possibilities open up.

One simple proof of concept is a wireless router with its SSID embedded into the side of the device, and the password embedded into a different code on the bottom to ensure that physical access is required to obtain the password. Mundane objects can have metadata embedded into them, or provide markers for augmented reality functionality, like tracking the object in 3D.

How are the codes actually embedded? The process is straightforward with the right tools. The team used a specialty filament from vendor 3dk.berlin that looks nearly opaque in the visible spectrum, but transmits roughly 45% in IR.  The machine-readable label gets embedded within the walls of a printed object either by using a combination of IR PLA and air gaps to represent the geometry of the code, or by making a multi-material print using IR PLA and regular (non-IR transmitting) PLA. Both provide enough contrast for an IR-sensitive camera to detect the label, although the multi-material version works a little better overall. Sadly, the average mobile phone camera by itself isn’t sufficiently IR-sensitive to passively read these embedded tags, so the research used easily available cameras with no IR-blocking filters, like the Raspberry Pi NoIR.

The PDF has deeper details of the implementation for those of you who want to know more, and you can see a demonstration of a few different applications in the video, embedded below. Determining the provenance of 3D printed objects is a topic of some debate in the industry, and it’s not hard to see how technology like this could be used to covertly identify objects without compromising their appearance.

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This beaded QR code tells a story when scanned.

Beaded QR Code Bracelets Weave A Storytelling Interface

For centuries, people have been using patterns to communicate information in an eye-catching way. QR codes are no different, although they require a barcode scanner to decode rather than a knowledge of Navajo Native American history.

November is National Native American Heritage Month, and as part of their celebration, [ngaskins] and their students are making seed bead bracelets with QR codes. When scanned, each QR triggers a story written by the student in the form of an audio file, a video clip, or an animation. [ngaskins] says that this project was inspired by eyeDazzler, a beadwork tapestry made with software that generates Navajo weaving patterns.

The students started by designing their bracelets on graph paper, software, or a virtual loom before getting the seed beads and the tweezers out, and decided whether they would use a static or dynamic QR code. Aside from the aesthetics of beadwork, the bead loom is good for teaching math and computational ideas because the beads are laid out in rows and columns. It’s also a good tool for teaching lines of symmetry.

QR codes can hold quite a bit of information. In fact, there’s enough room in a version 40 QR for an executable version of Snake.

A Raspberry Pi-based COVID Green Pass validator verifies a QR code on a phone.

COVID Green Pass Validator With Raspberry Pi

It seems like every nation is dealing with the plague a little differently. In June, the EU instated a COVID Green Pass which comes in the form of a paper or digital QR code. It was designed to grease the wheels of travel throughout Europe and allow access to nursing homes. As of early August, the Green Pass is now required of those 12 and older in Italy to gain access to bars and restaurants, museums, theaters, etc. — anywhere people gather in sizeable groups. The Green Pass shows that you’ve either been vaccinated, have had COVID and recovered, or you have tested negative, and there are different half-lives for each condition: nine months for vaccinated, six for recovered, and just forty-eight hours for a negative test.

[Luca Dentella] has built a Green Pass validator using a Raspberry Pi and a Raspi camera. Actual validation must be done through the official app, so this project is merely for educational purposes. Here’s how it works: the user data including their status and the date/time of pass issuance are encoded into a JSON file, then into CBOR, then it is digitally signed for authenticity. After that, the information is zipped up into a base-45 string, which gets represented as a QR code on your phone. Fortunately, [Luca] found the Minister of Health’s GitHub, which does the hard work of re-inflating the JSON object.

[Luca]’s Pi camera reads in the QR and does complete validation using two apps — a camera client written in Python that finds QRs and sends them to the validation server, written in Node.js. The validation server does formal verification including verifying the signature and the business rules (e.g. has it been more than 48 hours since Karen tested negative?) Fail any of these and the red LED lights up; pass them all and you get the green light. Demo video is after the break.

Are you Canadian? Then check this out, eh?

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Nokia LCD Goes Transparent For Hands-Free Reminders

These days everyone’s excited about transparent OLED panels, but where’s the love for the classic Nokia 5110 LCD? As the prolific [Nick Bild] demonstrates in his latest creation, all you’ve got to do is peel the backing off the the late 90s era display, and you’ve got yourself a see-through cyberpunk screen for a couple bucks.

View through the modified LCD.

In this case, [Nick] has attached the modified display to a pair of frames, and used an Adafruit QT Py microcontroller to connect it to the ESP32 powered ESP-EYE development board and OV2640 camera module. This lets him detect QR codes within the wearer’s field of vision and run a TensorFlow Lite neural network right on the hardware. Power is provided by a 2000 mAh LiPo battery running through an Adafruit PowerBoost 500.

The project, intended to provide augmented reality reminders for medical professionals, uses the QR codes to look up patient and medication information. Right now the neural network is being used to detect when the wearer has washed their hands, but obviously the training model could be switched out for something different as needed. By combining these information sources, the wearable can do things like warn the physician if a patient is allergic to the medication they’re currently looking at.

Relevant information and warnings are displayed on the Nokia LCD, which has been placed far enough away from the eye that the user can actually read the text; an important design consideration that [Zach Freedman] demonstrated with his (intentionally) illegible wearable display a few weeks back. That does make the design a bit…ungainly, but at least you don’t have to worry about hand-cutting your optics

Retro Useless Clock Eventually Shows You The Time

It’s true; hackers like clocks. And hackers like useless machines. But would they like an intersection of the two? We’re thinking yes, probably, though we would argue that this QR clock was at no point fully useless. Yes, a QR clock as in, whip out your phone and, ignoring the conveniently-available phone time, open the bar code reader so you can check the time on this thing. So, it’s semi-useless. But at least it doesn’t detect cameras and then hide the QR code. That would be evil.

This project started life as a display piece for the hex wall down at [megardi]’s hackerspace, but, state of the world being what it is, [megardi] hasn’t made it down there yet. And meanwhile this little guy was looking cuter and cuter, so [megardi] decided to make him more useful and freestanding. The ESP32 inside gets the official time from NIST and displays it on the 1.5″ OLED screen. It also has a single alarm now, along with some other non-QR code clock faces that display the time in various ways.

We really like the look of this clock. Honestly, with those uniform tics around the edge, it sort of reminds us of the doomsday clock — you know, the ‘minutes to midnight’ quarter clock face that shows the current perceived threat level of how close we are to destroying the world with the technologies we’ve created. That clock is kind of cute, too, which is a little bit weird considering what it represents.

Speaking of our delicate planet, here’s a gorgeous little Earth clock that casts a shadow on whatever slice of the planet is currently shrouded in darkness.

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Hackaday Links: May 9, 2021

Well, that de-escalated quickly. It seems like no sooner than a paper was announced that purported to find photographic evidence of fungi growing on Mars, that the planetary science and exobiology community came down on it like a ton of bricks. As well they should — extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, and while the photos that were taken by Curiosity and Opportunity sure seem to show something that looks a lot like a terrestrial puffball fungus, there are a lot of other, more mundane ways to explain these formations. Add to the fact that the lead author of the Martian mushroom paper is a known crackpot who once sued NASA for running over fungi instead of investigating them; the putative shrooms later turned out to be rocks, of course. Luckily, we have a geobiology lab wandering around on Mars right now, so if there is or was life on Mars, we’ll probably find out about it. You know, with evidence.

If you’re a fan of dystopic visions of a future where bloodthirsty robots relentlessly hunt down the last few surviving humans, the news that the New York Police Department decided to stop using their “DigiDog” robot will be a bit of a downer. The move stems from outrage generated by politicians and citizens alike, who dreamt up all sorts of reasons why the NYPD shouldn’t be using this tool. And use it they apparently did —  the original Boston Dynamics yellow showing through the many scuffs and dings in the NYPD blue paint job means this little critter has seen some stuff since it hit the streets in late 2020. And to think — that robot dog was only a few weeks away from filing its retirement papers.

Attention, Commodore fans based in Europe: the Commodore Users Europe event is coming soon. June 12, to be precise. As has become traditional, the event is virtual, but it’s free and they’re looking for presenters.

In a bid to continue the grand Big Tech tradition of knowing what’s best for everyone, Microsoft just announced that Calibri would no longer be the default font in Office products. And here’s the fun part: we all get to decide what the new default font will be, at least ostensibly. The font wonks at Microsoft have created five new fonts, and you can vote for your favorite on social media. The font designers all wax eloquent on their candidates, and there are somewhat stylized examples of each new font, but what’s lacking is a simple way to judge what each font would actually look like on a page of English text. Whatever happened to “The quick brown fox” or even a little bit of “Lorem ipsum”?

And finally, why are German ambulances — and apparently, German medics — covered in QR codes? Apparently, it’s a way to fight back against digital rubberneckers. The video below is in German, but the gist is clear: people love to stop and take pictures of accident scenes, and smartphones have made this worse, to the point that emergency personnel have trouble getting through to give aid. And that’s not to mention the invasion of privacy; very few accident victims are really at their best at that moment, and taking pictures of them is beyond rude. Oh, and it’s illegal, punishable by up to two years in jail. The idea with the QR codes is to pop up a website with a warning to the rubbernecker. Our German is a bit rusty, but we’re pretty sure that translates to, “Hey idiot, get back in your frigging car!” Feel free to correct us on that.

[Editor’s note: “Stop. Rubbernecking kills”.]

Quality Control, Done Anywhere

Modern society has brought us all kinds of wonders, including rapid intercontinental travel, easy information access, and decreased costs for most consumer goods thanks to numerous supply chains. When those supply chains break down as a result of a natural disaster or other emergency, however, the disaster’s effects can be compounded without access to necessary supplies. That’s the focus of Field Ready, a nonprofit that sets up small-scale manufacturing in places without access to supply chains, or whose access has been recently disrupted.

As part of this year’s Hackaday Prize, a each of our four nonprofit partners outline specific needs that became the targets of a design and build challenge. Field Ready was one of those nonprofits, and for the challenge they focused on quality control for their distributed manufacturing system. We took a look at Field Ready back in June to explore some of the unique challenges associated with their work, which included customers potentially not knowing that a product they procured came from Field Ready in the first place, leading to very little feedback on the performance of the products and nowhere to turn when replacements are needed.

The challenge was met by a dream team whose members each received a $6,000 microgrant to work full time on the project. The’ve just made their report on an easier way of tracking all of the products produced, and identifying them even for those not in the organization. As a result, Field Ready has a much improved manufacturing and supply process which allows them to gather more data and get better feedback from users of their equipment. Join us after the break for a closer look at the system and to watch the team’s presentation video.

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