Hackaday Podcast 066: The Audio Overdub Episode; Tape Loop Scratcher, Typewriter Simulator, And Relay Adder

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys stomp through a forest full of highly evolved hardware hacks. This week seems particularly plump with audio-related projects, like the thwack-tackular soldenoid typewriter simulator. But it’s the tape-loop scratcher that steals our hearts; an instrument that’s kind of two-turntables-and-a-microphone meets melloman. We hear the clicks of 10-bit numbers falling into place in a delightful adder, and follow it up with the beeps and sweeps of a smartphone-based metal detector.

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New Part Day: Raspberry Pi Camera Gets Serious With 12 Megapixels & Proper Lenses

The Raspberry Pi Foundation have slipped out a new product, a $50 camera module with a larger sensor that increases the resolution from the 8 megapixels of its predecessor to a Sony IMX477R stacked, back-illuminated 12.3 megapixel sensor, and most interestingly adds a mounting ring for a C mount lens (the kind used with CCTV equipment) in place of the tiny fixed focus lenses of past Pi cameras. In addition there is a standard threaded tripod mount on the module, and an adapter ring for CS mount lens types. The camera cannot be used without a lens, but there are a few options available when ordering, like 16mm telephoto or 6mm wide angle lenses, if you do not already have a suitable lens on hand.

It’s an exciting move for photography experimenters, because for the first time it offers an affordable way into building custom cameras with both a higher quality sensor and a comprehensive selection of interchangeable lenses. We can imagine that the astronomers and microscopists among us will be enthusiastic about this development, as will those building automated wildlife cameras. For us though the excitement comes in the prospect of building decent quality cameras with custom form factors that break away from the conventional, because aside from a period when consumer digital cameras were in their infancy they have stuck rigidly to the same form factor dictated by a 35mm film canister. It’s clear that this module will be made into many different projects, and we are looking forward to featuring them.

At the time of writing the camera is sold out from all the usual suppliers, which follows the trend for Raspberry Pi products on their launch day. We didn’t manage to snag one, but perhaps with such an expensive module it’s best to step back for a moment and consider the project it will become part of rather than risking it joining the unfinished pile. While waiting for stock then perhaps the next best thing is to 3D print a C mount adapter for your existing Pi camera, or maybe even hook it up to a full-sized SLR lens.

Getting 1000 FPS Out Of The Raspberry Pi Camera

The Raspberry Pi camera has become a de facto standard for many maker projects, making things like object recognition and remote streaming a breeze. However, the Sony IMX219 camera module used is capable of much more, and [Gaurav Singh] set out to unlock its capabilities.

After investigating the IMX219 datasheet, it became clear that it could work at higher bandwidths when configured to use all four of its MIPI CSI lanes. In the Raspberry Pi module, only two MIPI lanes are used, limiting the camera’s framerate. Instead, [Gaurav] developed a custom IMX219 breakout module allowing the camera to be connected to an FPGA using all four lanes for greater throughput.

With this in place, it became possible to use the camera at framerates up to 1,000 fps. This was achieved by wiring the IMX219 direct to an FPGA and then to a USB 3.0 interface to a host computer, rather than using the original Raspberry Pi interface. While 1,000 fps is only available at a low resolution of 640 x 80, it’s also possible to shoot at 60 fps at 1080p, and even 15 fps at 3280 x 2464.

While it’s probably outside the realm of performance required for the average user, [Gaurav] ably demonstrates that there’s often capability left on the table if you really need it. Resources are available on Github for those eager to delve deeper. We’ve seen others use advanced techniques to up the frame rate of the IMX219, too. Video after the break.

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Robotic Skin Sees When (and How) You’re Touching It

Cameras are getting less and less conspicuous. Now they’re hiding under the skin of robots.

A team of researchers from ETH Zurich in Switzerland have recently created a multi-camera optical tactile sensor that is able to monitor the space around it based on contact force distribution. The sensor uses a stack up involving a camera, LEDs, and three layers of silicone to optically detect any disturbance of the skin.

The scheme is modular and in this example uses four cameras but can be scaled up from there. During manufacture, the camera and LED circuit boards are placed and a layer of firm silicone is poured to about 5 mm in thickness. Next a 2 mm layer doped with spherical particles is poured before the final 1.5 mm layer of black silicone is poured. The cameras track the particles as they move and use the information to infer the deformation of the material and the force applied to it. The sensor is also able to reconstruct the forces causing the deformation and create a contact force distribution. The demo uses fairly inexpensive cameras — Raspberry Pi cameras monitored by an NVIDIA Jetson Nano Developer Kit — that in total provide about 65,000 pixels of resolution.

Apart from just providing more information about the forces applied to a surface, the sensor also has a larger contact surface and is thinner than other camera-based systems since it doesn’t require the use of reflective components. It regularly recalibrates itself based on a convolutional neural network pre-trained with data from three cameras and updated with data from all four cameras. Possible future applications include soft robotics, improving touch-based sensing with the aid of computer vision algorithms.

While self-aware robotic skins may not be on the market quite so soon, this certainly opens the possibility for robots that can detect when too much force is being applied to their structures — the machine equivalent sensation to pain.

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DIY Video Microscopy

Owning a Microscope is great fun as a hobby in general, but for hackers, it is a particularly useful instrument for assembly and inspection, now that we are building hardware with “grain of sand” sized components in our basements and garages. [voidnill] was given an Eduval 4 microscope by a well-meaning friend during a holiday trip. This model is pretty old, but it’s a Carl Zeiss after all, made in Jena in the erstwhile GDR. Since an optical microscope was of limited use for him, [voidnill] set about digitizing it.

He settled on the Raspberry-Pi route. The Pi and a hard disk were attached directly to the frame of the microscope, and a VGA display connected via a converter. Finally, the Pi camera was jury-rigged to one of the eyepieces using some foam. It’s a quick and dirty hack, and not the best solution, but it works well for [voidnill] since he wanted to keep the original microscope intact.

The standard Pi camera has a wide angle lens. It is designed to capture a large image and converge it on to the small sensor area. Converting it to macro mode is possible, but requires a hack. The lens is removed and ‘flipped over’, and fixed at a distance away from the sensor – usually with the help of an extension tube. This allows the lens to image a very small area and focus it on the (relatively) large sensor. This hack is used in the “OpenFlexure” microscope project, which you can read about in the post we wrote earlier this year or at this updated link. If you want even higher magnification and image quality, OpenFlexure provides a design to mate the camera sensor directly to an RMS threaded microscope objective. Since earlier this year, this open source microscope project has made a lot of progress, and many folks around the world have successfully built their own versions. It offers a lot of customisation options such as basic or high-resolution optics and manual or motorised stages, which makes it a great project to try out.

If the OpenFlexure project proves to be an intimidating build, you can try something easier. Head over to the PublicLab where [partsandcrafts] shows you how to “Build a Basic Microscope with Raspberry Pi”. It borrows from other open source projects but keeps things simpler making it much easier to build.

In the video embed below, [voidnill] gives a brief overview (in German) of his quick hack. If you’ve got some microscope hacks, or have built one of your own, let us know in the comments section.

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660 FPS Raspberry Pi Video Captures The Moment In Extreme Slo-Mo

Filming in slow-motion has long become a standard feature on the higher end of the smartphone spectrum, and can turn the most trivial physical activity into a majestic action shot to share on social media. It also unveils some little wonders of nature that are otherwise hidden to our eyes: the formation of a lightning flash during a thunderstorm, a hummingbird flapping its wings, or an avocado reaching that perfect moment of ripeness. Altogether, it’s a fun way of recording videos, and as [Robert Elder] shows, something you can do with a few dollars worth of Raspberry Pi equipment at a whopping rate of 660 FPS, if you can live with some limitations.

Taking the classic 24 FPS, this will turn a one-second video into a nearly half-minute long slo-mo-fest. To achieve such a frame rate in the first place, [Robert] uses [Hermann-SW]’s modified version of raspiraw to get raw image data straight from the camera sensor to the Pi’s memory, leaving all the heavy lifting of processing it into an actual video for after all the frames are retrieved. RAM size is of course one limiting factor for recording length, but memory bandwidth is the bigger problem, restricting the resolution to 64×640 pixels on the cheaper $6 camera model he uses. Yes, sixty-four pixels height — but hey, look at that super wide-screen aspect ratio!

While you won’t get the highest quality out of this, it’s still an exciting and inexpensive way to play around with slow motion. You can always step up your game though, and have a look at this DIY high-speed camera instead. And well, here’s one mounted on a lawnmower blade destroying anything but a printer.

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Raspberry Pi Catches The Early Bird

If you live in an area with high bird activity, setting up a bird feeder and watching some hungry little fellows visit you can be a nice and relaxing pastime. Throw in a Raspberry Pi with some sensors and it can also be the beginning of your next IoT project, as it was the case for [sbkirby] with his Bird Feeder Monitor project.

To track the arrival and departure times of his avian visitors, [sbkirby] attached a set of capacitive touch sensors to each side of his bird feeder, and hooked them up to a Raspberry Pi Zero W via a CAP1188 breakout board. The data is published via MQTT to another Raspberry Pi that serves as backend and stores the data, as well as to an optional additional camera-equipped Pi that will take a picture of each guest along the way. Taking into account that precipitation might affect the sensor readings, he also checks the current weather situation to re-calibrate the sensors if necessary, and also to observe a change in the birds’ presence and eating behavior based on weather conditions.

It seems that sensor-based animal feeding will always serve as inspiration for some new projects, whether feeding the animal itself is the goal, like most recently this fish feeder has shown, or whether the eating behavior is monitored and used for further research such as this squirrel-based weather forecast system.