MIT Scratch 3.0 Opens New Doors For Users And Builders Alike

We typically feature projects from people sharing what they’ve learned while building something for themselves. But our community has a healthy contingent who deploy their skills for the benefit of future generations, developing a child’s natural curiosity for play into interest in understanding the technical world they will grow up in. This field is where MIT’s release of Scratch 3.0 can open up interesting possibilities.

Scratch is a block-based programming language designed for elementary school children, letting them learn fundamental concepts while experimenting in an environment filled with visual and audible feedback. In an effort to make Scratch more widely available, version 2.0 in 2013 moved to the web. But it was built using interactive web technology of the time: Adobe Flash. As Flash has fallen out of favor and scheduled to be phased out in 2020, Scratch 3.0 used React to make the shift to HTML5.

The most immediate benefit is that Scratch can now be used on tablets, which all have modern browsers but very few of which have Flash. Another common educational hardware platform is the Raspberry Pi, which supported Scratch 2 via a convoluted software stack that was far from ideal. Now any hardware with a modern browser can run Scratch, no Flash binaries or custom wrappers are required. The Raspberry Pi foundation certainly seemed excited about this change.

But a more exciting and longer term benefit is Scratch extensions, a mechanism for Scratch programs to communicate with external hardware and online resources. This has evolved in parallel with Scratch 2.0 under the experimental ScratchX umbrella and version 3.0 brings it into core. The launch featured a few official extensions (for connecting to micro:bit, LEGO Mindstroms EV3, etc.) with the promise that custom third-party extensions will soon be possible. This will significantly streamline building a Scratch interface for kid-friendly programmable hardware. Something we’ve seen done for a drone, for exploring SDR, and even for a dollhouse. We’ll be keeping an eye out for the official release of Scratch 3.0 custom extension API, but anyone not afraid of working with fluid pre-release code are certainly welcome to dive in right now.

Portable Photo Booth Named Buzz

We’re all used to posing for a picture — or a selfie — but there’s something about photo booths that make getting your photo taken an exciting and urgent affair. To make this experience a bit easier to tote about, Redditor [pedro_g_s] has laboriously built, from the ground up, a mobile photo booth named Buzz.

He needed a touchscreen, a Raspberry Pi, almost definitely a webcam, and a 3D printer to make a case — although any medium you choose will do — to build this ‘booth.’ That said, he’s built the app in a way that a touchscreen isn’t necessary, but carting around a mouse to connect to and operate your portable photo booth seems a bit beside the point. On the back end, he used Electron to code the photo booth app, React helped him build a touchscreen UI, and Yarn kept the necessary dependencies in order.

Operation is simple, and every time a photo is taken it is sent to and collated within a previously set-up email service. To set it up, [pedro_g_s] is here to guide you through the process.

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MagicShifter 3000: An Over-Engineered POV Stick With A 15-Year Journey

3 hackers, 16 LEDs, 15 years of development, one goal: A persistence of vision display stick that fits into your pocket. That’s the magicShifter 3000. When waved, the little, 10 cm (4 inches) long handheld device draws stable images in midair using the persistence of vision effect. Now, the project has reached another milestone: production.

The design has evolved since it started with a green LED bargraph around 2002. The current version features 16 APA102 (aka DotStar) RGB LEDs, an ESP-12E WiFi module, an NXP accelerometer/magnetometer, the mandatory Silabs USB interface, as well as a LiPo battery and charger with an impressive portion of power management. An Arduino-friendly firmware implements image stabilization as well as a React-based web interface for uploading and drawing images.

After experimenting with Seeedstudio for their previous prototypes, the team manufactured 500 units in Bulgaria. Their project took them on a roundtrip through hardware manufacturing. From ironing out minuscule flaws for a rock-solid design, over building test rigs and writing test procedures, to yield management. All magicShifter enclosures are — traditionally — 3D printed, so [Overflo] and [Martin] are working in shifts to start the 500 prints, which take about 50 minutes each to complete. The printers are still buzzing, but assembled units can be obtained in their shop.

Over all the years, the magicShifter has earned fame and funding as the over-engineered open hardware pocket POV stick. If you’re living in Europe, chances are that you either already saw one of the numerous prototype units or ran into [Phillip Tiefenbacher] aka [wizard23] on a random hacker event to be given a brief demo of the magicShifter. The project always documented the status quo of hardware hacking: Every year, it got a bit smaller, better, and reflected what parts happened to be en vogue.

magicshifter-timeline

The firmware and 3D-printable enclosure are still open source and the schematics for the latest design can be found on GitHub. Although, you will search in vain for layout or Gerber files. The risk of manufacturing large batches and then being put out of business by cheap clones put its mark on the project, letting the magicShifter reflect the current, globalized status of hardware hacking once more. Nevertheless, we’re glad the bedrock of POV projects still persists. Check out the catchy explanatory video below.

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