Building A Cyberpunk Multi-Touch Input Device

This multi-touch touch panel built by [thiagesh D] might look like it came from the retro-futuristic worlds of Blade Runner or Alien, but thanks to a detailed build video and a fairly short list of required parts, it could be your next weekend project.

The build starts with a sheet of acrylic, which has a grid pattern etched into it using nothing more exotic than a knife and a ruler. Though if you do have access to some kind of CNC router, this would be a perfect time to break it out. Bare wires are then laid inside the grooves, secured with a healthy application of CA glue, and soldered together to make one large conductive array. This is attached to a capacitive sensor module so it’ll fire off whenever somebody puts a finger on the plastic.

With RGB LED strips added to the edges, you could actually stop here and have yourself a very cool looking illuminated touch sensitive panel. But ultimately, it would just be a glorified button. There’s plenty of interesting applications for such a gadget, but it’s not going to be terribly useful attached to your computer.

To turn this into a viable input device, [thiagesh D] is using a Raspberry Pi and its camera module to track the number and position of fingertips from the other side of the acrylic with Python and OpenCV. His code will even pick up on specific gestures, like a three finger drag which changes the colors of the LEDs accordingly in the video below. The camera’s field of view unfortunately means the box the panel gets mounted to has to be fairly deep, but if recessed into the surface of a desk, we think it could look incredible.

Custom multi-touch panels have been a favorite project of hackers for years now, and we’ve got examples going all the way back to the old black and white days. But larger and more modern incarnations like this one have the potential to change how we interface with technology on a daily basis.

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Interactive LED Dome Glows With The Best Of Them

With the price and availability of components these days, it’s easier than ever to throw a whole pile of LEDs at a build and get them flashing away. The hard part is doing it well. [Amy Goodchild] is an artist, and has a knack for producing rather beautiful LED projects. The When in Dome installation is no exception.

The build is based around a large geodesic dome, fitted with LED panels that glow and react to the occupants inside. Using the Microsoft Kinect as a sensor enables the dome to map out what’s happening in 3D space, and use this data to guide its animations. WS2812B LED strips were used, in combination with a Fadecandy controller along with Processing. This is a powerful combination which makes designing attractive LED effects easier, without forcing users to go to the effort of writing their own libraries or optimizing their microcontroller code.

For those more interested in the dome itself, you’ll be happy to know that [Amy] doesn’t skimp on the details there either. The build actually started as a commercially available kit, though there’s still plenty of manual cutting, screwing, and painting required. She does an excellent job documenting the dome build through a series of videos, and walks the reader through some of the design decisions she made (and would remake, if given the chance).

People love geodesic domes at the best of times; adding an interactive LED installation just takes things to the next level. We’ve seen them used as greenhouses too, and they make a great hackerspace project as well. Video after the break.

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RGB Lamp With Micro:Bit Powered Gesture Control

The Micro:bit is a very neat piece of hardware that, frankly, we don’t see enough of. Which made us all the more interested when [Manoj Nathwani] wrote in to tell us about the gorgeous 3D printed RGB LED lamp he created that uses the BBC-endorsed microcontroller to perform basic gesture detection. Purists will likely point out that an Arduino Pro Mini is tagging along to handle interfacing with the LEDs, but it’s still a good example of how quick you can get a project up and running with MicroPython on the Micro:bit.

[Manoj] used eight NeoPixel Sticks, a NeoPixel Ring, and a few scraps of perfboard to construct a three dimensional “bulb” to fill the void inside the printed diffuser. They’re chained together so all the elements appear as a single addressable strip, which made the rest of the project a bit easier to implement. It might not be pretty, but it gets the job done and it’s not like you’ll ever see it again once installed in the lamp anyway.

The Micro:bit and Arduino co-pilot live in the base of the lamp, and the single USB cable to provide power (and the ability to update the device’s firmware) is run out the bottom to give the whole thing a clean and professional look. For those wondering why the Arduino has tagged along, [Manoj] says he couldn’t get the NeoPixel libraries to play nicely with the Micro:bit so he’s using the Arduino essentially as a mediator.

Right now the only gesture that’s detected on the Micro:bit is a simple shake, which tells the Arduino to toggle the light show on and off. But in the future, [Manoj] plans to implement more complex gestures which will trigger different animations. As he explains in the blog post, gesture recognition with the Micro:bit is incredibly simple, so it should be easy to come up with a bunch of unique ways to interface with the lamp.

Color changing LED lamps are a favorite project of hackers, and we’ve seen examples built with everything from glass and copper to laser-cut pieces of wood and veneer. While you might prefer to skip the gesture control for an ESP8266 and UDP, we think this project is another strong entry into this popular genre.

Tiny LED Cube Packs Six Meters Of Madness

When [Freddie] was faced with the challenge of building a sendoff gift for an an LED-loving coworker he hatched a plan. Instead of making a display from existing video wall LED panels he would make a cube. But not just any cube, a miniature desk sized one that wasn’t short of features or performance. We’d be over the moon if someone gifted us with this itty-bitty Qi coil-powered masterpiece of an RGB cube.

Recently we’ve been blessed with a bevy of beautiful, animated RGB cubes but none hit quite this intersection of size and function. The key ingredient here is tiny but affordable RGB LEDs which measure 1 mm on a side. But LEDs this small are dwarfed by the otherwise minuscule “2020” package WS2812’s and APA102s of the world. Pushing his layout capabilities to the max [Freddie] squeezed each package together into a grid with elements separated by less than 1 mm, resulting in a 64 LED panel that is only 16 mm x 16 mm panel (with test points and controller mounted to the back). Each of these four-layer PCBs that makes up the completed cube contains an astonishing 950 mm of tracking, meaning the entire cube has nearly six meters of traces!

How do you power such a small device with no obvious places to locate a connector? By running magnet wire through a corner and down to a Qi coil of course. Not to let the cube itself outshine the power supply [Freddie] managed to deadbug a suitably impressive supply on the back of the coil itself. Notice the grain of rice in the photo to the left! The only downside here is that the processor – which hangs diagonally in the cube on a tiny motherboard – cannot be reprogrammed. Hopefully future versions will run programming lines out as well.

Check out the video of the cube in action after the break, and the linked photo album for much higher resolution macro photos of the build. While you’re there take a moment to admire the layout sample from one of the panels! If this sets the tone, we’re hoping to see more of [Freddie]’s going-away hacks in the future!

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Faux-Neon Sign Says What?, Auf Deutsch

To a speaker of English, a sign asking ‘Was?” may not make much sense. In German, however, the question is a more thought-provoking “What?” That’s exactly the point of this faux-neon sign created by [noniq]. The sign uses silicone-enclosed “neon-like” LED strips to spell out the question for all to see — and ponder.

While true neon aficionados will bristle at even calling such LED strips “faux neon” (check the comments below for examples), we really like them for sign projects like this. They’re great-looking, inexpensive, easy to work with, and available with RGB LEDs for variable colors. In this case, they were mounted on 3 mm polystyrene plate glued to a wooden frame made from 22 mm square beams.

One of the things that caught our eye about this build is the use of a CNC mill to create a prototype. With the strokes milled out of a foam board, the final effect could be visualized before committing to the design. This board later served as a template for cutting the LED strips to length — clever! We suspect this could also be done with a hobby knife and a liberal dose of patience by those without access to a CNC mill.

Of course, this type of project doesn’t always turn out perfect the first time. The sign was missing a dot for the question mark, light leakage from ends of the individual segments was creating distracting bright spots on the base, areas where the silicone had been removed to connect the LEDs were noticeably darker, and the letters looked too thin. We’re looking forward to the promised second post, in which [noniq] describes the solution to these issues.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen these LED strips used for sign-making, like in this logo build last Spring.

The Gorgeous Hardware We Can’t Take Our Eyes Away From

High resolution digital cameras are built into half of the devices we own (whether we want them or not), so why is it still so hard to find good pictures of all the incredible projects our readers are working on? In the recently concluded Beautiful Hardware Contest, we challenged you to take your project photography to the next level. Rather than being an afterthought, this time the pictures would take center stage. Ranging from creative images of personal projects to new ways of looking at existing pieces of hardware, the 100+ entries we received for this contest proved that there’s more beauty in a hacker’s parts bin than most of them probably realize.

As always, it was a struggle to narrow down all the fantastic entries to just a handful of winners. But without further adieu, let’s take a look at the photos that we think truly blurred the line between workbench and work of art:

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This WiFi Spoofing Syringe Is For External Use Only

A browse through his collected works will tell you that [El Kentaro] loves to build electronics into interesting enclosures, so when he realized there’s enough room inside a 150 ml plastic syringe to mount an ESP8266, a battery, and a copious amount of RGB LEDs, the “Packet Injector” was the inescapable result.

Granted, the current incarnation of this device doesn’t literally inject packets. But [El Kentaro] wasn’t actually looking to do anything malicious, either. The Injector is intended to be a fun gag for him to bring along to the various hacker cons he finds himself at, like his DEAUTH “bling” necklace we saw at DEF CON 26, so having any practical function is really more icing on the cake than a strict requirement.

In the end, the code he came up with for the Adafruit Feather HUZZAH that uses the FakeBeaconESP8266 library to push out fictitious networks on demand. This is a trick we’ve seen used in the past, and makes for a relatively harmless prank as long as you’re not pumping out any particularly unpleasant SSIDs. In this case, [El Kentaro] punctuates his technicolor resplendency with beacons pronouncing “The WiFi Doctor is Here.”

But the real hack here is how [El Kentaro] controls the device. Everything is contained within the syringe chamber, and he uses a MPL3115A2 I2C barometric pressure sensor to detect when it’s being compressed. If the sensor reads a pressure high enough over the established baseline, the NeoPixel Ring fires up and the fake beacon frames start going out. Ease up on the plunger, and the code detects the drop in pressure and turns everything back off.

If this build has piqued your interest, [El Kentaro] gave a fascinating talk about his hardware design philosophy during the WOPR Summit that included how he designed and built some of his “greatest hits”; including a Raspberry Pi Zero enclosure that was, regrettably, not limited to external use.