Springs And Things Wrap Into A Polyhedron Of Interactive LED Art

Any resemblance between The Wobble Sphere and a certain virus making the rounds these days is purely coincidental. Although as yet another project undertaken during the COVID-19 lockdowns, we can see where the inspiration came from.

Wobble Sphere is another work of interactive art from the apparently spring-driven imagination of [Robin Baumgarten], whose Quantum Garden piece graced our pages last year. The earlier, flatter version used a collection of spring door stops — the kind that sound awesome when plucked by a passing foot — each of which is surrounded by a Neopixel ring. The springs act as touch sensors that change the patterns and colors on the LED rings in endlessly fascinating ways.

For Wobble Sphere, [Robin] took the same spring and LED units, broke them into a collection of hexagonal and pentagonal PCBs, and wrapped the whole thing up into a 72-sided polyhedron. There’s some impressive mechanical and electrical engineering involved in the transition from 2D to 3D space, not least of which is solving the problem of how to connect everything while providing pluck-friendly structural support. The former was accomplished with a ton of ribbon cables, while the latter was taken care of with a combination of a 3D-printed skeleton and solder connections between adjacent PCBs. The result is a display that invites touch and rewards it with beautiful patterns of light chasing around the sphere. See it in action in the video after the break.

Lest anyone think springs are the only tool in [Robin]’s box, we mustn’t forget that he once set a knife-wielding Arduino-powered game on an unsuspecting public. Check it out; it’s way more fun than it sounds.

Continue reading “Springs And Things Wrap Into A Polyhedron Of Interactive LED Art”

Vintage Aircraft Controls Turned USB Button Box

The Gables Engineering G-2789 audio selector panels aren’t good for much outside of the aircraft they were installed in, that is, until [MelkorsGreatestHits] replaced most of the internals with a Teensy 3.2. Now they are multi-functional USB input devices for…well, whatever it is you’d do with a bunch of toggle switches and momentary push buttons hanging off your computer.

Tracing wires from the panel switches.

With the Teensy going its best impression of a USB game controller, the host operating system has access to seven momentary buttons, twelve toggles, and one rotary axis for the volume knob.

Right now [MelkorsGreatestHits] says the code is set up so the computer sees a button press on each state change; in other words, the button assigned to the toggle switch will get “pressed” once when it goes up and again when it’s flicked back down. But of course that could be modified depending on what sort of software you wanted to interface the device with.

As we’ve seen with other pieces of vintage aircraft instrumentation, lighting on the G-2789 was provided by a series of incandescent bulbs that shine through the opaque front panel material. [MelkorsGreatestHits] replaced those lamps with white LEDs, but unfortunately the resulting light was a bit too harsh. As a quick fix, the LEDs received a few coats of yellow and orange paint until the light was more of an amber color. Using RGB LEDs would have been a nice touch, but you work with what you’ve got.

This isn’t the first time that [MelkorsGreatestHits] has turned an old aircraft cockpit module into a USB input device, and we’re certainly interested in seeing what the next project will look like. Though we’re perhaps more interested in finding out where all all these old school airplane parts are coming from…

The ABCs Of Adding QMK To A WASD Keyboard

[Oleg] is a software engineer who appreciates a good keyboard, especially since coming over to the dark side of mechanical keebs. It’s true what they say — once you go clack, you never go back.

Anyway, before going full nerd with an ortholinear split ergo keyboard, [Oleg] had a nice little WASD with many upsides. Because the ErgoDox is oh so customizable, his use of the WASD had fallen by the wayside.

That’s because the ErgoDox can run QMK firmware, which allows the user to customize every key they see and add layers of functionality. Many people have converted all kinds of old keebs over to QMK by swapping out the native controller for a Teensy, and [Oleg] was sure it would work for the WASD.

[Oleg] got under the hood and found that the controller sits on a little removable board around the arrow keys and talks to the main PCB through two sets of double-row header pins. After some careful probing with a ‘scope, the controller board revealed its secrets and [Oleg] was able to set up a testing scheme to reverse engineer the keyboard matrix by connecting each row to an LED, and all the columns to ground. With next to no room for the Teensy, [Oleg] ended up strapping it to the back of the switch PCB and wiring it quite beautifully to the header pins.

With Teensy and QMK, it’s easy to make a keyboard any way you want, even if you’re all thumbs.

Unique Musical Instrument Defies Description

Since the first of our ancestors discovered that banging a stick on a hollow log makes a jolly sound, we hominids have been finding new and unusual ways to make music. We haven’t come close to tapping out the potential for novel instruments, but then again it’s not every day that we come across a unique instrument and a new sound, as is the case with this string-plucking robot harp.

Named “Greg’s Harp” after builder [Frank Piesik]’s friend [Gregor], this three-stringed instrument almost defies classification. It’s sort of like a harp, but different, and sort of like an electric guitar, but not quite. Each steel string has three different ways to be played: what [Frank] calls “KickUps”, which are solenoids that strike the strings; an “eBow” coil stimulator; and a small motor with plastic plectra that pluck the strings. Each creates a unique sound at the fundamental frequency of the string, while servo-controlled hoops around each string serve as a robotic fretboard to change the notes. Sound is picked up by piezo transducers, and everything is controlled by a pair of Nanos and a Teensy, which takes care of MIDI duties.

Check out the video below and see if you find the sound both familiar and completely new. We’ve been featuring unique instruments builds forever, from not-quite-violins to self-playing kalimbas to the Theremincello, but we still find this one enchanting.

Continue reading “Unique Musical Instrument Defies Description”

Data Glove Gets A Grip On Gesture Input

If we really want wearable computing to take off as a concept, we’re going to need lightweight input devices that can do some heavy lifting. Sure, split ergo keyboards are awesome. But it seems silly to restrict the possibilities of cyberdecks by limiting the horizons to imitations of desk-bound computing concepts.

What we really need are things like [Zach Freedman]’s somatic data glove. This fantastically futuristic finger reader is inspired by DnD spells that have a somatic component to them — a precise hand gesture that must be executed perfectly while the spell is spoken, lest it be miscast. The idea is to convert hand gestures to keyboard presses and mouse clicks using a Teensy that’s housed in the wrist-mounted box. You are of course not limited to computing on the go, but who could resist walking around the danger zone with this on their wrist?

Each finger segment contains a magnet, and there’s a Hall effect sensor in each base knuckle to detect when gesture movement has displaced a magnet. There’s a 9-DoF IMU mounted in the thumb that will eventually allow letters to be typed by drawing them in the air. All of the finger and thumb components are housed in 3D-printed enclosures that are mounted on a cool-looking half glove designed for weightlifters. [Zach] is still working on gesture training, but has full instructions for building the glove up on Instructables.

It’s true: we do love split ergo keyboarded cyberdecks, and this one is out of this world.

Robotic Ball Bouncer Uses Machine Vision To Stay On Target

When we first caught a glimpse of this ball juggling platform, we were instantly hooked by its appearance. With its machined metal linkages and clear polycarbonate platform, its got an irresistibly industrial look. But as fetching as it may appear, it’s even cooler in action.

You may recognize the name [T-Kuhn] as well as sense the roots of the “Octo-Bouncer” from his previous juggling robot. That earlier version was especially impressive because it used microphones to listen to the pings and pongs of the ball bouncing off the platform and determine its location. This version went the optical feedback route, using a camera mounted under the platform to track the ball using OpenCV on a Windows machine. The platform linkages are made from 150 pieces of CNC’d aluminum, with each arm powered by a NEMA 17 stepper with a planetary gearbox. Motion control is via a Teensy, chosen for its blazing-fast clock speed which makes for smoother acceleration and deceleration profiles. Watch it in action from multiple angles in the video below.

Hats off to [T-Kuhn] for an excellent build and a mesmerizing device to watch. Both his jugglers do an excellent job of keeping the ball under control; his robotic ball-flinger is designed to throw the ball to the same spot every time.

Continue reading “Robotic Ball Bouncer Uses Machine Vision To Stay On Target”

Restoring The Coolest Laptop Ever

Well-seasoned readers will no doubt remember GRiD laptops, the once and always tacti-cool computers that dominated the military market for decades. GRiDs were the first laptops to go to space, and they were coveted for their sleek (for the time) good looks and reputation as indestructible machines.

The GRiDs went through many iterations, and even though their military roots make them nearly unobtanium, [Simon] scored a GRiD laptop and set about restoring it. His theme was the 1986 movie Aliens, which featured a few GRiD Compass computers as props. [Simon]’s 1550SX came a little later than the Compass 2, but documents with the machine reveal it was a Royal Air Force machine that had been deemed unserviceable for reasons unknown.

[Simon] carefully tore it down – pay close attention to the video below and you’ll hear the telltale plink of the magnesium case parts rather than the dull thud of plastic; they don’t make them like that anymore – and cleaned it up. He replaced the original display with a PiMoroni 10″ retro game display to keep the original 4:3 aspect ratio. A Raspberry Pi 4 went inside, along with a Teensy to take care of adapting the GRiD keyboard to USB and lighting up some front-panel LEDs. A second Teeny allows the original IsoPoint mouse to be used, which is a real gem. With the addition of appropriate graphics, the machine looks like it would be at home on a Colonial Marines dropship.

We love the retro feel of [Simon]’s build, and the movie nostalgia. We’re just glad he didn’t include a LiPo battery, which might not get along with the magnesium case. Game over, man!

Continue reading “Restoring The Coolest Laptop Ever”