Assembly lines for electronics products are complicated beasts, often composed of many custom tools and fixtures. Typically a microcontroller must be programmed with firmware, and the circuit board tested before assembly into the enclosure, followed by functional testing afterwards before putting it in a box. These test platforms can be very expensive, easily into the tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, this project uses a set of 12 Raspberry Pi Zero Ws in parallel to program, test, and configure up to 12 units at once before moving on to the next stage in assembly.
[Esther Rietmann] and colleagues built a Telepresence Robot to allow work at home teammates to have a virtual, but physical presence in the office. A telepresence robot is like a tablet mounted on a Roomba, providing motion capability in addition to an audio/video connection. Built during a 48 hour hackathon, it is a bit crude under the hood and misses out on some features, such as a bidirectional video feed. But overall, it pretty much does what is expected from such a device.
The main structure is build from cheap aluminium profiles and sheets. A Raspberry Pi is at the heart of the electronics hardware, with a servo mounted Pi-camera and speaker-microphone pair taking care of video and audio. The two DC motors are driven by H-bridges controlled from the Pi and an idle swivel caster is attached as the third wheel. The whole thing is powered by a power bank. The one important thing missing is an HDMI display which can show a video feed from the remote laptop camera. That may have been due to time constraints, but this feature should not be too difficult to add as a future upgrade. It’s important for both sides to be able to see each other.
The software is built around WebRTC protocol, with the WebRTC Extension from UV4L doing most of the heavy lifting. The UV4L Streaming Server not only provides its own built-in set of web applications and services, but also embeds a general-purpose web server on another port, allowing the user to run and deploy their own custom web apps. This allowed [Esther Rietmann]’s team to build a basic but functional front-end to transmit data from the remote interface for controlling the robot. The remote computer runs a Python control script, running as a system service, to control the drive motors and camera servo.
The team also played with adding basic object, gesture and action recognition features. This was done using PoseNet – a machine learning model, which allows for real-time human pose estimation in the browser using TensorFlowJS – allowing them to demonstrate some pose detection capability. This could be useful as a “follow me” feature for the robot.
Another missing feature, which most other commercial telepresence robots have, is a sensor suite for collusion avoidance, object detection and awareness such as micro switches, IR / ultrasonic detectors, time of flight cameras or LiDAR’s. It would be relatively easy to add one or several sensors to the robot.
If you’d like to build one for yourself, check out their code repository on Github and the videos below.
You’ve got to hand it to marketers – they really know how to make you want something. All it takes is a little parental guilt, a bit of technical magic, and bam, you’re locked into a product you never knew you needed.
This prototype flight tracking nightlight for kids is a great example. Currently under development by Canadian airline WestJet, the idea is to provide a way for traveling parents to let kids know how long it is until Mommy or Daddy gets home from their trip. The prototype shows a stylized jet airliner with Neopixel lighting in the base. A pair of projectors in the wings shine an animated flight path on the child’s darkened bedroom ceiling, showing them when the wayward parent will return. Get past the schmaltz in the video below, and perhaps get over your jealousy of parents with kids who still eagerly await their return, and it’s actually a pretty good idea.
Now for the ask: how would you go about building something like this? And more importantly, how would you make it work for any plane, train, or automobile trip, and not just a WestJet flight? A look at the “How it will work” section of the page shows several photos of the prototype, which suggests the hardware end is dead easy. A Raspberry Pi Zero W features prominently, and the projectors appear to be TI’s DLP2000EVM, which we’ve featured before, mounted to a riser card. The Neopixels, a 3D-printed case, and the superfluous flashlight fuselage would be pretty easy, too.
On the software side, a generic version that tracks flight from any airline would need an interface for the traveler to define a flight, and something to check an API like FlightAware’s, or similar ones for whatever mode of transportation you’re using.
Seems like a pretty straightforward project. WestJet claims they’ll have their Flight Light ready sometime this summer; think we can beat them to it?
Those who have children of their own might argue that the youth of today are getting far too much internet time. [Nick] decided to put an emergency stop to it and made this ingenious internet kill switch to threaten teenagers with. Rather unassuming on the outside, the big red button instantly kills all network traffic as soon as you push it down, doing its label justice. Reset the toggle button, and the connection is restored, simple as that.
In order to achieve this, [Nick] fit inside the enclosure a Raspberry Pi Zero W, along with a battery and a wireless charging circuit for portability and completely wireless operation. The button is wired into the Pi’s GPIO and triggers a command to the router via SSH over WiFi, where a script listening to the signal tells it to drop the network interfaces talking to the outside world. It’s simple, it’s clean, and you can carry it around with you as a warning for those who dare disobey you. We love it.
We’re not sure about the name of this Nixie tube filament meter that [Scott M. Baker] built. He calls it a “filadometer”, perhaps a portmanteau of “filament” and “odometer”, in which case it makes sense. It may not flow trippingly from the tongue and we can’t come up with anything better, but whatever moniker you use it’s actually a pretty cool build.
The filadometer started life as something completely different and utterly typical for Nixie tube projects – a temperature and humidity gauge. [Scott] decided to recycle the eight-tube display to keep track of his Prusa, and in doing so he reveals a pretty remarkable degree of forethought in his design process. The original Nixie display has all the usual trappings – the driver chips, the shift registers, and the high voltage power supply. What stands out is the modularity of his design: the tube sockets and drivers live on a backplane PCB, with a Raspberry Pi and a separate HV supply board plugging into it. The original display had a Model B Pi, so there was plenty of room for a new Zero W. A new printed case and a little programming to capture the filament use from Octoprint is all it took to put this nifty little build back in action. The video below shows the details.
We’re always excited to see new videos from [Scott] because we learn so much from looking over his virtual shoulder. If you haven’t checked out his stuff, take a look at his homage to the 8″ floppy or his dual-port memory hack for retro gaming.
In the time before smartphones for on-the-go visual entertainment, there were portable TVs. You might think of a portable TV as a luggable device, but the really cool ones were pocket-sized. Perhaps if you are familiar with pocket TVs you’ll be thinking of a Citizen or a Casio with a matchbox-sized LCD, but before those devices reached the market there was an earlier generation that featured tiny CRTs. These were simply the coolest electronics that an ’80s kid could lust after, and [Nick Reynolds] is lucky enough to have one. It’s a Sony Watchman from some time in the first half of that decade, and because it’s useless in the age of digital broadcasts he’s upgraded it by installing a Raspberry Pi in its case.
The unlikely inspiration for the project came from the 1970s British sci-fi TV series Space 1999, in which portable CRT-based communicators were a prop. They were typical of the sci-fi vision of the future in shows of the period, one that got so much right but didn’t quite see the smartphone coming.
The Watchman features Sony’s angled CRT, and fitting a Pi Zero W into the limited space behind it called for some careful insulation of its parts with Kapton tape. He’s even included a Pi camera module with a contorted run of flexible cable, placing it beneath the screen where a tuning indicator once sat. He has no sound as yet, but is able to demonstrate a working videophone using Ekiga as a client. He has a few more Watchmen, and has plans for a suite of retro videophones, and a Pi 3 based model.
Surprisingly this isn’t the only Sony Watchman that’s had this kind of treatment, previously we’ve brought you one that hosted a Pong game.
Everyone has heard of a computer mouse before, but what about a mouse computer?
Granted, [Electronic Grenade]’s all-in-one computer in an oversized mouse-shaped case is almost without practical value. But that’s hardly the point, which was just to do something cool. Inspiration came from keyboards stuffed with a Raspberry Pi to make a mostly-all-in-one machine; this Rodent of Unusual Size is the next logical step. With a Pi Zero W and a LiPo battery alongside a mouse mechanism inside the 3D-printed case – alas, no real mouse currently on the market would house everything – the computer sports not only a tiny and nearly-usable LCD display, but also a slide-out Bluetooth keyboard. The ergonomics of a keyboard at right angles to the display gives us pause, but again, usability is not the point. And don’t expect much in the performance department – the rig barfs after a few seconds of playing Minecraft.
Still, for all its limitations, this mouse computer has a certain charm. We always enjoy “just because I can” projects, whether they be a Gameboy ukelele or a fire-breathing animatronic duck. Such projects are often valuable not for what they produce, but for pushing into areas where no one has gone before.