The bill of materials for even the simplest IoT project is likely to include some kind of microcontroller with some kind of wireless module. But could the BOM for a useful IoT thing someday list only a single item? Quite possibly, if these electronics-less 3D-printed IoT devices are any indication.
While you may think that the silicon-free devices described in a paper (PDF link) by University of Washington students [Vikram Iyer] and [Justin Chan] stand no chance of getting online, they’ve actually built an array of useful IoT things, including an Amazon Dash-like button. The key to their system is backscatter, which modulates incident RF waves to encode data for a receiver. Some of the backscatter systems we’ve featured include a soil sensor network using commercial FM broadcasts and hybrid printable sensors using LoRa as the carrier. But both of these require at least some electronics, and consequently some kind of power. [Chan] and [Iyer] used conductive filament to print antennas that can be mechanically switched by rotating gears. Data can be encoded by the speed of the alternating reflection and absorption of the incident WiFi signals, or cams can encode data for buttons and similar widgets.
It’s a surprisingly simple system, and although the devices shown might need some mechanical tune-ups, the proof of concept has a lot of potential. Flowmeters, level sensors, alarm systems — what kind of sensors would you print? Sound off below.
Blinky LED projects: we just can’t get enough of them. But anyone who’s stared a WS2812 straight in the face knows that the secret sauce that takes a good LED project and makes it great is the diffuser. Without a diffuser, colors don’t blend and LEDs are just tiny, blinding points of light. The ideal diffuser scrambles the photons around and spreads them out between LED and your eye, so that you can’t tell exactly where they originated.
We’re going to try to pay the diffuser its due, and hopefully you’ll get some inspiration for your next project from scrolling through what we found. But this is an “Ask Hacakday”, so here’s the question up front: what awesome LED diffusion tricks are we missing, what’s your favorite, and why?
Standing waves are one of those topics that lots of people have a working knowledge of, but few seem to really grasp. A Ham radio operator will tell you all about the standing wave ratio (SWR) of his antenna, and he may even have a meter in the shack to measure it. He’ll know that a 1.1 to 1 SWR is a good thing, but 2 to 1 is not so good. Ask him to explain exactly what a standing wave is, though, and chances are good that hands will be waved. But [Allen], a Ham also known as [W2AEW], has just released an excellent video explaining standing waves by measuring signals along an open transmission line.
To really understand standing waves, you’ve got to remember two things. First, waves of any kind will tend to be at least partially reflected when they experience a change in the impedance of the transmission medium. The classic example is an open circuit or short at the end of an RF transmission line, which will perfectly reflect an incoming RF signal back to its source. Second, waves that travel in the same medium overlap each other and their peaks and troughs can be summed. If two waves peak together, they reinforce each other; if a peak and a trough line up, they cancel each other out.
We’ve all seen holograms in movies, and occasionally we see various versions of the effect in real life. The idea of having a fully three-dimensional image projected magically into space is appealing, but we haven’t quite mastered it yet. [Steven] hasn’t let that stop him, though. He’s built himself a very simple device to display a sort of hologram.
His display relies on reflections. The core of the unit is a normal flat screen LCD monitor laid on its back. The other component looks like a four-sided pyramid with the top cut off. The pyramid is made from clear plastic transparency sheets, held together with scotch tape. It’s placed on top of the LCD with the narrow end facing down.
[Steven] then used the open source Blender program to design a few 3D animations. Examples include a pterodactyl flying and an approximation of the classic Princess Leia hologram from Star Wars Episode 4. The LCD screen displays the animation from four different angles at once. The images are displayed up and onto the transparency sheet, which then get reflected to your eyes. The result is an image that looks almost as if it’s floating in space if viewed from the proper angle. If you move around the screen you can see the image from all four sides, which helps to sell the effect. Not bad for a few dollars worth of parts. Continue reading “Dead Simple Hologram Effect”→
Chances are, you take color for granted. Whether or not you give it much thought, color is key to distinguishing your surroundings. It helps you identify fire, brown recluse spiders, and the right resistor for the job.
In the spotlight this week is a 1950s educational film called “This is Color“. It also happens to be a delightful time capsule of consumer packaging from the atomic age. This film was made by the Interchemical Corporation, an industrial research lab and manufacturer of printing inks. As the narrator explains, consistent replication of pigments is an essential part of mass production. In order to conjure a particular pigment in the first place, one must first understand the nature of color and the physical properties of visible light.
Each color that makes up the spectrum of visible rays has a particular wavelength. The five principal colors—red, yellow, green, blue, and violet—make possible thousands of shades and hues, but are only a small slice of the electromagnetic spectrum.
When light encounters a transparent material more dense than air, such as water or glass, it has to change direction and is bent by the surface. This is known as refraction. A straw placed in a glass of water will appear bent below the surface because the air and the water have different refractive indices. That is, the air and water will bend or refract different percentages of the light that permeates them. Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Turn On the Magic of Colored Light”→
[Matthias] recently published a paper he worked on, in which he details how his group managed to reconstruct a hidden scene using a wall as a mirror in a reasonably priced manner. A modified time-of-flight camera (PMD CamBoard Nano) was used to precisely know when short bursts of light were coming back to its sensor. In the picture shown above the blue represents the camera’s field of view. The green box is the 1.5m*1.5m*2.0m scene of interest and we’re quite sure you already know that the source of illumination, a laser, is shown in red.
As you can guess, the main challenge in this experience was to figure out where the three-times reflected light hitting camera was coming from. As the laser needed to be synchronized with the camera’s exposure cycle it is very interesting to note that part of the challenge was to crack the latter open to sniff the correct signals. Illumination conditions have limited impact on their achieved tolerance of +-15cm.
If you know your way around a pool table you should be able to apply those skills to improving the sound of your home theater. [Eric Wolfram] put together a post that discusses the issues caused by unwanted sound reflections and shows how to position acoustic tiles to solve the problem.
This is a companion post to his guide on building your own acoustic tiles. Don’t worry if you haven’t gotten around to doing that yet. With just a wood frame, dense fiberglass, and some fabric they’re simple to build. They’re also easy to hang but until now you might have just guessed on where they should go.
Once you have all of your speakers and seats in position grab a mirror and some post-it notes. Take a seat as the viewer and have a friend operate the mirror as seen above. With it flat against the wall, mark each spot with a sticky-note where you can see a reflection of one of the speakers. Finding the reflection points is just like lining up a bank shot in Billiards. With five speakers (5.1 Surround Sound) and six surfaces (walls, ceiling, and floor) you should be able to mark 30 reflections points. Now decide how wild you plan to go with the project. The best result will address all 30 reflection points, but you can get by with just the front marks if you’re a bit more conservative.