Teaching Science With An Empty Soda Bottle

Creating the next generation of scientists and engineers starts by getting kids interested in STEM at an early age, but that’s not always so easy to do. There’s no shortage of games and movies out there to entertain today’s youth, and just throwing a text book at them simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. Modern education needs to be engrossing and hands-on if it’s going to make an impact.

Which is exactly what the Institute of Science and Technology Austria hopes to accomplish with the popSCOPE program. Co-founded by [Dr. Florian Pauler] and [Dr. Robert Beattie], the project uses off-the-shelf hardware, 3D printed parts, and open source software to create an engaging scientific instrument that students can build and use themselves. The idea is to make the experience more personal for the students so they’re not just idle participants sitting in a classroom.

The hardware in use here is quite simple, essentially just a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a camera module, a Pimoroni Blinkt LED module, and a few jumper wires. It all gets bolted to a 3D printed frame, which features a female threaded opening that accepts a standard plastic soda (or pop, depending on your corner of the globe) bottle. You just cut a big opening in the side of the bottle, screw it in, and you’ve saved yourself a whole lot of time by not printing an enclosure.

So what does the gadget do? That obviously comes down to the software it’s running, but out of the box it’s able to do time-lapse photography which can be interesting for biological experiments such as watching seeds sprout. There’s also a set of 3D printable “slides” featuring QR codes, which the popSCOPE software can read to show images and video of real microscope slides. This might seem like cheating, but for younger players it’s a safe and easy way to get them involved.

For older students, or anyone interested in homebrew scientific equipment, the Poseidon project offers a considerably more capable (and complex) digital microscope made with 3D printed parts and the Raspberry Pi.

HoloLens Brings Video Game Kart Racing To Life

There aren’t a lot of video game experiences we can easily recreate in the physical realm. You’ll quickly find that jumping on mushrooms in the real world doesn’t have nearly the same appeal as it does in Super Mario, and we won’t even get into the dangers of trying to recreate Frogger on your local multi-lane. But video game style go-kart racing? We have all the technology to pull that off, somebody just has to put all the pieces together.

Which is precisely what [Ian Charnas] is trying to do with his latest project. Using Microsoft’s HoloLens augmented reality headset, electric go-karts, 433 MHz wireless transceivers, and some Arduinos sprinkled in, he’s created the closest thing to Mario Kart that us flesh and blood mortals are likely to experience anytime soon.

The HoloLens headset worn by each driver overlays the necessary graphical elements like pickups and weapon effects, as well as puts over-the-top cartoon heads on the other racers. But of course, that’s only half of the story. Seeing the pickups and gadgets doesn’t do you any good if they don’t have any effect on the actual race.

To that end, [Ian] has come up with a way to control the performance of the go-karts using an electronic “backpack” that mounts to each kart. So speed boosting pickups actually make the kart go faster, and if a driver gets hit with a weapon fired at them, they get slowed down.

That’s the high-level version, anyway. There’s obviously a lot going on behind the scenes, some of which are detailed on the Hackaday.io page. One of the interesting notes is that the HoloLens needs visual markers to orient itself, which in the video after the break can be seen as black and white posters dotting the walls alongside the track. As the project progresses, [Ian] is hoping that these can be camouflaged in creative ways (such as being made to look like audience members or checkered flags) to make the overall experience more immersive.

According to [Ian], the next step is to find partners who want to help elevate this from a one-off project to something that you might actually see at an amusement park. We wish him luck, if for no other reason than we really want to play the thing ourselves. In the meantime, we’ll have to settle for racing hacked Power Wheels.

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Prusa Unveils Their Own Line Of PLA Filament

There’s little debate that the Original Prusa i3 MK3 by Prusa Research is just about the best desktop 3D printer you can buy, at least in its price bracket. It consistently rates among the highest machines in terms of print quality and consistency, and offers cutting edge features thanks to its open source iterative development. Unless you’re trying to come in under a specific budget, you really can’t go wrong with a Prusa machine.

But while the machine itself can be counted on to deliver consistent results, the same can’t always be said for the filament you feed into it. In a recent blog post, [Josef Prusa] explains that his team was surprised to see just how poor the physical consistency was on even premium brands of 3D printer filament. As a company that prides itself with keeping as much of the 3D printing experience under their control as possible, they felt they had an obligation to do better for their customers. That’s why they’ve started making their own filament which they can hold to the same standards as the rest of their printer.

Their new filament, which is aptly called “Prusament”, is held to higher physical standards of not only diameter but ovality. Many manufacturers simply perform spot checks on the filament’s diameter, but this can miss bulges or changes in its cross-sectional shape. On your average 3D printer this might cause some slightly uneven extrusion and a dip in print quality, but likely not a failure. But the Prusa i3 MK3, specifically with the Multi Material upgrade installed, isn’t most printers. During testing even these slight variations were enough to cause jams.

But you won’t have to take their word for it. Every spool of Prusament will have a QR code that points to a page which tells you the exact production date, length, percent ovality, and standard diameter deviation of that particular roll. An interactive graph will even allow you to find the filament’s diameter for a specific position in the spool, as well as determine how much filament is remaining for a given spool weight. It should be very interesting to see what the community will do with this information, and we predict some very interesting OctoPrint plugins coming down the line.

Prusament is currently only available in PLA, but PETG and ASA variants are coming soon. You can order it now directly from Prusa Research in Prague for $24.99 per kilogram, but it will also be available on Amazon within the month for help keep the shipping costs down.

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Making QR Codes In Google Docs

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[Jordi] sent us this great tip on how to generate QR codes inside Google Docs. This can be super handy if you ever need to make a lot of them at one time, plus they update on the fly!

In his example he set up the code to create vCards so he could transfer contacts to his phone quickly and easily. The code pulls in a Google API QR generator and provides you with a QR code as an image! The following is his code, which can be easily modified to suit your needs:

=image("https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=200x200&cht=qr&chl=BEGIN:VCARD%0AN:" & A2 & "%20" & B2 & "%0ATEL;CELL:" & C2 & "%0AEMAIL:" & D2 & "%0AEND:VCARD")

Or if you just want the bare bones:

=image("https://chart.googleapis.com/chart?chs=200x200&cht=qr&chl=<strong>YOUR CELL</strong>")

And if you need a full walkthrough, there is a video after the break. Those wanting to tinker around with more QR code hijinks will enjoy forming images from QR codes and milling QR codes into your copper layers.

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Hackaday Links: October 3, 2012

Cheap ergonomic mouse

If your had keeps cramping while using the computer mouse why not grab a hunk of wood and a couple of buttons to make your own ergonomic input device?

C# GUI for Arduino testing

Here’s a Windows GUI for controlling Arduino. [Rohit] put it together using C#. It should make development very simple as you have control of almost everything before you need to worry about writing your own server-side software.

Networked strip lighting replaces the office overheads

[Jeremy] got tired of replacing the halogen bulbs in his office. He upgraded to ten meters of RGB LED strips. We can’t think they do as well at lighting up the room. But he did add network control so they can flash or change colors depending on what type of alert they’re signalling.

Woven QR codes

Now that [Andrew Kieran] proved you can weave a working QR code into textiles do you think we’ll see garments that have a QR code leading to care instructions? We could never figure out what all those strange icons stood for.

World’s largest QR code in a corn maze

The world’s largest QR code was cut out of this field of corn. It’s at the Kraay Family Farm in Alberta, Canada. Gizomodo called it “Stupidly Pointless”. But we figure if it got them a world record and put their website on the front page of Giz and Hackaday they’re doing okay. Plus, we whipped out our Android and it read the QR code quite easily.

QArt Codes, The Better Way To Put Picture In A QR Code

[Russ Cox], current Googler and formerly of Bell Labs, posted an awesome guide to putting images in a QR code. Unlike this terrible attempt I wrote last August, [Russ]’s method does much more than simply paste an image into a QR code and hope the error correction passes. This new method generates a unique URL to be encoded for each QR code. In other words, the embedded image is actually part of the QR code and not just a copy and paste attempt.

The basis of [Russ]’ hack is the ability to change the message contained in a QR code to be made of either ASCII/UTF-8 or decimal numbers coded as binary. By appending an anchor tag (i.e. http://swtch.com/pjw/#123456789...) to the URL that will be encoded, [Russ] can change a whole bunch of pixels in a QR code to make just about any image.

With a few tricks like building new Reed-Solomon encoded blocks, [Russ] can change where in the pixels required by the QR code are placed. This allows for the full-width image of PJW’s binary likeness to be displayed in the QR code.

[Russ] put up a QArt coder that allows anyone to put a pixelated image in any QR code. [Luke Shumaker] (thanks for sending this in, [Luke]) took this tool and put the ‘ol skull ‘n wrenches inside a QR code pointing to hackaday.com. Very nice work from [Russ], and puts my work to shame. I’ll go cry in a corner now.

Keeping Christmas Present Hunters Guessing With QR Code Gift Tags

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[Thadd Brooks] is a geeky dad of the highest degree. His kids are constantly trying to figure out what mom and dad bought them for Christmas, while he continues to think up ways to stymie their progress. He certainly could have put a few prank presents under the tree, but he opted to go a different route, confusing his smartphone-wielding kids with QR codes.

Each gift under the tree bears no name tag, rather they are adorned with a single QR code sticker which [Thadd] printed out. When scanned, the code brings his children to a page on his web server stating who the gift is for.

The catch? Well, the codes bring up a random page each time, attributing the gift to every member of the family along the way. There’s no chance that any of the kids will be able to correctly identify their gifts before Christmas Eve, when [Thadd] flips a switch on the server and reveals the actual gift recipients.

It’s certainly a clever, yet frustrating, way to keep his family on their toes, and we think it’s a pretty awesome idea.

If you’d like to see some of the pages he has created to confuse his kids, just click the “Search” button on the link above.