2D-Scanner Records Surfboard Profiles For Posterity

[Ryan Schenk] had a problem: he built the perfect surfboard. Normally that wouldn’t present a problem, but in this case, it did because [Ryan] had no idea how he carved the gentle curves on the bottom of the board. So he built this homebrew 2D-scanner to make the job of replicating his hand-carved board a bit easier.

Dubbed the Scanbot 69420 – interpretation of the number is left as an exercise for the reader, my dude – the scanner is pretty simple. It’s just an old mouse carrying a digital dial indicator from Harbor Freight. The mouse was gutted, with even the original ball replaced by an RC plane wheel. The optical encoder and buttons were hooked to an Arduino, as was the serial output of the dial indicator. The Arduino consolidates the data from both sensors and sends a stream of X- and Z-axis coordinates up the USB cable as the rig slides across the board on a straightedge. On the PC side, a Node.js program turns the raw data into a vector drawing that represents the profile of the board at that point. Curves are captured at various points along the length of the board, resulting in a series of curves that can be used to replicate the board.

Yes, this could have been done with a straightedge, a ruler, and a pencil and paper – or perhaps with a hacked set of calipers – but that wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. And we can certainly see applications for this far beyond the surfboard shop.

Tinker Pilot Project Cranks Cockpit Immersion To 11

One of the more interesting ideas being experimented with in VR is 1:1 mapping of virtual and real-world objects, so that virtual representations can have physically interaction in a normal way. Tinker Pilot is a VR spaceship simulator project by [LLUÍS and JAVI] that takes this idea and runs with it, aiming for the ability to map a cockpit’s joysticks, switches, and other hardware to real-world representations. What does that mean? It means a virtual cockpit with flight sticks, levers, and switches that have working physical versions that actually exist exactly where they appear to be.

A few things about the project design caught our eye. One is the serial communications protocol intended to interface easily with microcontrollers, allowing for feedback between the program and any custom peripherals. (By the way, this is the same approach Kerbal Space Program took with KSPSerialIO, which enables custom mission control hardware at whatever level of complexity a user may wish to implement.)

The possibilities are demonstrated starting around 1:09 in the teaser trailer (embedded below) in which a custom controller is drawn up in CAD, then 3D-printed and attached to an Arduino, and finally the 3D model is imported into the cockpit as a 1:1 representation of the actual working unit, with visual positional feedback.

Unlike this chair experiment we saw which attached a Vive Tracker to a chair, there is no indication of needing positional trackers on individual controls in Tinker Pilot. In a cockpit layout, controls can be reasonably expected to remain in fixed positions relative to the cockpit, meaning that they can be set up as 1:1 representations of a physical layout and otherwise left alone. The kind of experimentation that is available today even to individual developers or small teams is remarkable, and it’s fascinating to see the ideas being given some experimentation.

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Hacked Calipers Make Automated Measurements A Breeze

Now, digital calipers with wired interfaces to capture the current reading are nothing new. But the good ones are expensive, and really, where’s the fun in plugging a $75 cable into a computer? So when [Max Holliday] was asked to trick out some calipers for automating data capture, he had to get creative.

[Max] found that cheap Harbor Freight digital calipers have the telltale door that covers a serial connector, making them a perfect target for hacking. A little Internet sleuthing revealed the pinout for the connector as well as some details on the serial protocol used by most digital calipers: 24-bit packets is six four-bit words. [Max] used his SAM32, a neat open-source board with both a SAMD51 and an ESP32 that can run CircuitPython. An inverting buffer interfaces the serial lines to the board, which is just the right size to mount on the back of the caliper head. It’s hard to tell how [Max] is triggering readings, but the SAM32 is mounted as a USB device and sends keystrokes directly to a spreadsheet – yes, with the ESP32 it could have been wireless, but his client specifically requested a wired setup. Taking multiple readings is easy now that the user never has to swap calipers for a pen.

Cheap calipers like these are pretty hackable – you can add Bluetooth, turn them into DROs for a milling machine, or even make them talk.

Vintage Speech Synthesizer Croons The Oldies

If you listened to the National Weather Service Weather Radio in the US about 25 years ago, you’ll no doubt remember [Perfect Paul], one of the synthesized voices used to read current conditions and weather forecasts. The voice came from a DECtalk DTC01, a not inexpensive voice synthesizer first made in 1984 that also gave voice to [Stephen Hawking] for many years.

Long obsolete, the DECtalk boxes have a devoted following with hobbyists who like to stretch what the device can do. Some even like to make it sing, after a fashion, and [Michael] decided that making a DECtalk sing “Xanadu”, the theme song from the 1980 [Olivia Newton-John] musical extravaganza, was a good idea. Whether it actually was is debatable, and we’ll take exception with having that particular ditty stuck in our head as a result, but we don’t judge except on the merits of the hack.

It’s actually easy if you have a DECtalk; the song is a straight ASCII file with remarkably concise instructions on which phonemes the box needs to generate. Along with inflection, tone, and timing instructions, the text file looks almost completely unlike English while still somehow being readable. The DECtalk accepts the file over RS-232, which would be easy enough to do with a modern computer, but [Michael] upped his game a bit by using a TRS-80 Model 100 computer as a serial terminal. The synthesized song is in the video below, with the original included for reference by those who didn’t experience endure the late disco-era glory days.

DECtalks seem pretty rare in the wild, so we appreciate this glimpse at what they can do. There are other retro speech synthesizer hacks, though: the simulated walnut goodness of the Votrax and the MicroVox come to mind, as does the venerable TI Speak and Spell.

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SerialPlot Does Exactly What You Think It Does

The serial port remains a hacker staple, being one of the easiest ways to move a little bit of data from one machine to another. All manner of projects use the interface, and often, sensors are connected and their data read over such connections. In these cases, it can be useful to plot said data, and SerialPlot is a tool that can do just that.

SerialPlot is capable of reading data over several serial ports at once, and plotting it for your viewing pleasure. It’s capable of interpreting data in a variety of integer and float formats, and plotting multiple channels in a synchronised manner. It’s also capable of sending basic commands out over the serial port, which can be used to trigger or control attached equipment.

Overall, it’s a useful utility for anyone with an array of sensor’s connected over the most classic of interfaces. Of course, if you’re having trouble keeping track of all your serial ports, there’s a utility to help with that, too.

Windows Utility Helps ID Serial Ports

The humble serial interface has been around for a very long time, and will stay with us in one form or other for the foreseeable future. It was easy enough to keep track of back in the days when a computer only had one, or perhaps two COM ports. However, in this day and age of USB-programmable microcontrollers, it’s likely you’ve got COMs coming out the wazoo. Thankfully, [Amr Bekhit] has put together a utility to help solve this problem.

[Amr’s] utility is called Serial Port Monitor, and it does what it says on the tin. When new serial ports are enumerated in Device Manager, a system tray notification pops up noting the number of the newly attached COM port. Additionally, it maintains a list of ports sorted in order of the newest first, and also features a right-click menu that allows the launching of various terminal programs.

It’s a useful tool to keep in your back pocket that can prove particularly so when programming many devboards at once, or any other time when you find yourself dealing with a mess of serial devices.

Incidentally, if you find yourself having continual headaches with USB-to-Serial adapters on Windows, this might just be your problem. Happy hacking.

Footnote: In light of this article, the author would like to formally apologise to [Cosmos2000] for permanently disabling COM1 on his main programming rig. Sorry, friend.

Vintage Terminal Converted For Galactic Use In Time For May The Fourth

“Not as clumsy or random as Windows. An elegant terminal, for a more civilized age.” [Ben Kenobi] might well have said that about the Hewlett-Packard 264x-series of serial terminals, in use starting at just about the time the original installment of the Star Wars franchise was released.  With their wide-screen CRTs and toaster-oven aesthetic, they were oddballs in the terminal market, and [CuriousMarc] has gone and made one even odder by converting an H-P 2645A to display the Aurebesh character set from the movies.

A look under the hood of this lovely bit of retrocomputing history makes one think the designers almost foresaw the need to add support for a made-up language nearly half a century later. The terminal has a backplane and bus for pluggable cards, one of which carries the ROMs that [Marc] extracted and reprogrammed with the Aurebesh characters. He had a little trouble at first, needing to bodge the chip select and forgetting that he had made other “special modifications” to the terminal. The video below shows the results, along with some fatherly mortification of his daughters and a suitable tribute to the lately late [Peter Mayhew], he who donned the Wookiee suit and made a seven-foot space Sasquatch lovable.

Need more for you “May the Fourth” fix? How about a clumsy and random blaster, a cosplay speeder bike, or a fleet of droids?

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