Old Laptop? Mobile x86 Game System!

Between smartphones and tablets, computing is becoming increasingly mobile in nature. It used to be that everyone had a desktop computer, then laptops became the norm, and now many people don’t have anything beyond their mobile device. Unless you’re the kind of person who actually needs the power and versatility offered by a “real” computer, mobile devices are simply a more convenient option to browse the web and consume content.

But what if your needs are somewhere in the middle? You want an x86 computer and full operating system, but you also want something that’s more mobile than a tablet? If you’re like [mnt], you take an old Atom laptop that’s on its last legs and rebuild it as the Hacktop.

[mnt] describes the Hacktop as an “Emergency Gaming/Hacking Station”, and says he uses it everywhere he goes. Inspired by his Nintendo DSi, gaming controls are front-and-center on the Hacktop and he uses the machine to play everything from Half-Life to classic emulators.

But the Hacktop is capable of more than just playing Amiga games. The hand-soldered QWERTZ keyboard can be used with his thumbs, and the D-Pad doubles as the cursor keys. There’s a laptop touch pad on the back of the case, and the ten-inch LCD display is a touch screen as well. Definitely no shortage of input devices on this thing. It’s also packing some interesting special features, such as integrated RTL-SDR and LIRC hardware for mobile exploration and experimentation. [mnt] says the nine-cell battery should keep it alive and kicking for twelve hours or so, but it of course depends on what kind of stuff he gets into while out and about.

Hackers have been building their own mobile devices for a long time, and we’re always struck by the creative approaches individuals take compared to the rather cookie-cutter world of mobile consumer technology.

ESP8266 Keeps Tabs on the Kid’s Tablets

Assuming you have a child and it’s no longer womb-bound, there’s a fairly high chance they’ve already had some experience with the glowing beauty that is the LCD display; babies of only a few months old are often given a tablet or smartphone to keep them occupied. But as the child gets to the age where they are capable of going outside or doing something more constructive, staring slack-jawed and wide-eyed at their tablet becomes a concern for many parents.

[Richard Garsthagen] is one such parent. He wanted a way to monitor and control how much time his children were using their iPad, so he came up with an automated system based on the ESP8266. Not only does it keep track of how long the tablet is being used, it even includes a reward system which allows the parent to add extra usage time for good behavior.

At the most basic level, the device is a sort of “holster” for the child’s tablet. When the tablet is placed in the slot, it presses a microswitch at the bottom of the cavity which stops the timer. When the switch is open, the LED display on the front of the device counts down, and the ESP8266 pushes notifications about remaining time to the child’s device via IFTTT.

Time can be added to the clock by way of RFID cards. The cards are given out as a reward for good behavior, completion of chores, etc. The child only needs to pass the card in front of the system to redeem its value. Once the card has been “spent”, the parent can reset it with their own special card.

It’s a very slick setup, making perfect use of the ESP8266. Reading the RFID cards, updating the timer, and using IFTTT’s API keeps the little board quite busy; [Richard] says it’s completely maxed out.

You might be wondering what happens when the clock reaches zero. Well, according to the video after the break…nothing. Once the time runs out, a notification simply pops up on the tablet telling them to put it away. Some might see this as a fault, but presumably it’s the part of the system where humans take over the parenting and give the ESP8266 a rest.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a microcontroller used to get the little hackers on schedule. At least (so far) none of them have gone full Black Mirror and started tracking when the kiddos are watching it.

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Walking Through MRIs With A Vive

If you were to make a list of the most important technological achievements of the last 100 years, advanced medical imaging would probably have to rank right up near the top. The ability to see inside the body in exquisite detail is nearly miraculous, and in some cases life-saving.

Navigating through the virtual bodies generated by the torrents of data streaming out of something like a magnetic resonance imager (MRI) can be a challenge, though. This intuitive MRI slicer aims to change that and makes 3D walkthroughs of the human body trivially easy. [Shachar “Vice” Weis] doesn’t provide a great deal of detail about the system, but from what we can glean, the controller is based on a tablet and Vive tracker. The Vive is attached to the back of the tablet and detects its position in space. The plane of the tablet is then interpreted as the slicing plane for the 3D reconstruction of the structure undergoing study. The video below shows it exploring a human head scan; the update speed is incredible, with no visible lag. [Vice] says this is version 0.1, so we expect more to come from this. Obvious features would be the ability to zoom in and out with tablet gestures, and a way to spin the 3D model in space to look at the model from other angles.

Interested in how the machine that made those images works? We’ve covered the basics of MRI scanners before. And if you want to go further, you could always build your own.

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Why Won’t This Darn Thing Charge?

What is more fun than plugging in your phone and coming back to find your battery on empty? Stepping on a LEGO block with bare feet or arriving hungry at a restaurant after closing probably qualify. [Alex Sidorenko] won’t clean your floors or order you a pizza, but he can help you understand why cheap chargers won’t always power expensive devices. He also shows how to build an adapter to make them work despite themselves.

The cheapest smart device chargers take electricity from your home or car and convert it to five volts of direct current. That voltage sits on the power rails of a USB socket until you plug in a cable. If you’re fortunate, you might get a measly fuse.

Smart device manufacturers don’t make money when you buy an off-brand charger, and they can’t speak to the current protection of them, so they started to add features on their own chargers to protect their components and profit margins. In the case of dedicated chargers, a simple resistor across the data lines tells your phone it is acceptable power. Other devices are more finicky, but [Alex Sidorenko] shows how they work and provides Eagle files to build whatever flavor you want. Just be positive that your power supply is worthy of the reliability these boards promise to the device.

Now you know why connecting a homemade benchtop power supply to a USB cable seems good on paper but doesn’t always get the job done. Always be safe when you make your own power supplies.

IoT Doorman: Eye-Controlled Door for a Girl with Cerebral Palsy

Kyleigh has an eye-controlled computer on her wheelchair but something as simple as her bedroom door was still beyond her reach… until now! [Bill Binko], recently filmed a demo of an automatic, IoT door opener built for the young girl with cerebral palsy. [Bill] is a co-founder of ATMakers, an organization that enables makers interested in assistive technologies to collaborate with users to improve quality of life.

Using her eye tracking tablet (PRC Device), Kyleigh has two new icons that make the relevant call to a website, pushing a simple command to either open or close her bedroom door. The device attached to the door uses an Adafruit M0 WiFi Feather board, a DC stepper motor and wheel, a UBEC buck converter, and a potentiometer.

Since other family members are also going to be opening and closing the door, there’s potentiometer which measures the door position for proper operation next time Kyleigh wishes to use the door. The installation also maintains a fairly inconspicuous profile for the assistance it gives — the ‘brain’ is enclosed in a small box on the door, with the motor only slightly larger on the door’s base.

[Bill] believes the project has a few quibbles and wants to work out a smaller wait before the open/close process is executed and optimizing the open/close speed. You have to check out the video below to see that it works really really. We’re also excited to see Kyleigh using her gaze control to talk to an Amazon Echo. [Bill] foresee a door control improvement that links it to Alexa. And how much did it cost to improve the quality of life for this young girl? $70.

We love seeing makers help people, and cannot wait to see what 2018 will bring! If you’re looking for more inspiration, don’t miss the eye-controlled wheelchair project called Eyedrivomatic which won the 2015 Hackaday Prize. There’s also the top Assistive Technology projects from the Hackaday Prize.

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Inexpensive Display Jumps to Life

If you’ve ever been to a local fair or amusement park, chances are you’ve seen an illusion known as Pepper’s Ghost. To perform the illusion, essentially all that’s needed is a thin sheet of plastic or one-way mirror and a light source. Get it right, and you’ll have apparitions popping up in all kinds of interesting places. With just the right software, though, one of those places could be in your own 3D display.

Using just a tablet and a sheet of plastic rolled into a cone, a three-person team was able to create a 3D display using the Pepper’s Ghost illusion. Using special software that the team developed, an image is altered so that when it reflects off of the plastic cone the image appears as a 3D rendering of the original picture. The rendering is perspective-correct and offers a novel way to interact with a 3D model without needing expensive equipment or special glasses.

If you do have some fancy equipment sitting around, like a computer monitor and some plexiglass, similar 3D displays have been made which utilize similar effects. Right now the team that developed this one haven’t made their code open yet, but have promised to release it soon so that others can build their own displays.

Thanks to [bmsleight] for the tip!

Tricked-Out Tablet Becomes Workbench Tool

The workbench of the typical electronics hobbyist today would probably be largely recognizable by Heathkit builders back in the 60s and 70s. But where the techs and tinkerers of yesteryear would have had a real dead-tree SAMS Photofact schematic spread out on the bench, today you’ll get more use out of a flat-screen display for data sheets and schematics, and this handy shop Frankentablet might be just the thing to build.

Tablets like the older Nexus 9 that [enginoor] used as the basis for this build have a little bit of a form-factor problem because unlike a laptop, a tablet isn’t very good at standing up on its own. To fix that, they found a suitable silicone skin for the Nexus, and with some silicone adhesive began bedazzling the back of the tablet. A bendy tripod intended for phones was added, and with the tablet able to stand on its own they maximized the USB port with a right angle adapter and a hub. Now the tablet has a USB drive, a mouse, and a keyboard, ready for perusing data sheets online. And hackers of a certain age will appreciate the eyeball-enhancing potential of the attached USB microscope.

[enginoor]’s bench tablet is great, but we’ve seen full-fledged bench PCs before too. Take your pick — wall mounted and floating, or built right into the workbench.

Thanks to [ccvi] for the tip.