Giant LEDs, Ruby Lasers, Hologram Displays, And Other Cool Stuff Seen At Maker Faire Rome

Hackers from all over Europe descended upon Rome last weekend for the Maker Faire that calls itself the “European Edition”. This three-day event is one of the largest Maker Faires in the world — they had 27,000 school students from all over Italy and Europe attend on Friday alone.

This was held at Fiera Roma, a gigantic conference complex two train stops south of the Rome airport — kind of in the middle of nowhere. I was told anecdotally that this is the largest event the complex hosts but have no data to back up that claim. One thing’s for certain, three days just wasn’t enough for me to enjoy everything at the show. There was a huge concentration of really talented hardware hackers on hand, many who you’ll recognize as creators of awesome projects regularly seen around Hackaday.

Here’s a whirlwind tour of some of my favorites. On that list are a POV holographic display, giant cast-resin LEDs, an optical-pump ruby laser built out of parts from AliExpress, blinky goodness in cube-form, and the Italian audience’s appreciation for science lectures (in this case space-related). Let’s take a look.

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A Visual Infrared Thermometer That Runs Off Your Laptop

A common measurement for circuits is heat dissipation inspection. While single point thermometers do the trick, they can be quite annoying to use. Meanwhile, a thermal imaging camera is often out of the budget for hobbyists. How about building your own visual thermometer for cheap? That’s what [Thomas Fischl] decided to do, using an infrared thermal sensor array (MLX90640) connected through a PIC16LF1455 to a host computer. The computer handles the temperature calculation and visualization of hot spots, gathered from data collected by the IR pixel.

The interface board, USB2FIR, has full access to MLX90640 memory and can handle bulk transfer for faster data transmission of the raw sensor data collected by the pixel. A USB driver is needed to access the board – once the data is fetched, the visualizations can be created from a Matplotlib and TKinter GUI showing frame data and a real time heat map with minimum, maximum, and central temperature.

The hardware isn’t complicated, since the board relies on several ICs for processing the sensor data and immediately sends over the data to be processed externally. With some modifications – a 3D-printed enclosure, for instance – this can easily be made into a discreet tool for heat detection.

Hackaday Podcast 037: Two Flavors Of Robot Dog, Hacks That Start As Fitness Trackers, Clocks That Wound Themselves, And Helicopter Chainsaws

Hackaday Editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams take a look at the latest hacks from the past week. We keep seeing awesome stuff and find ourselves wanting to buy cheap welders, thermal camera sensors, and CNC parts. There was a meeting of the dog-shaped robots at ICRA and at least one of them has super-fluid movements. We dish on 3D printed meat, locking up the smartphones, asynchronous C routines, and synchronized clocks.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Getting The Heat On With A Thermal Camera

Need a quick way to tell your temperature before work tomorrow? Student maker [The Marpe] recently fashioned a sleek home-use thermal camera that even looks like a point and shoot. It works as an Android hardware add-on by integrating the readings from a MLX90640 far-infrared (FIR) thermal sensor with a STM32F042F6Px microcontroller. All this connects to an Android application via USB (MicroUSB or Type C).

On the app, users are able to view, take photos, and display the resulting thermal images from the open thermal camera. The code for the open Android application is also available on his GitHub.

The FIR sensors contain a small array of IR pixels, integrated to measure the ambient temperature of the internal chip, and supply sensor to measure the VDD. Each pixel on the sensor array responds to the IR energy focused on it to produce an electronic signal, which is processed by the camera processor to create a map of the apparent temperature of the object. The outputs of the sensors and VDD are stored in an internal RAM and are accessible through 3.3V I2C. They’re not only low-cost and fairly high resolution, but also available by order on Digi-Key.

The microcontroller is based on the STM32 platform, with 32-bit performance, low-power operation (at 2V to 3.6V and 48 MHz) and is fairly low-cost. The custom-designed PCBs are fitted inside a 3D-printed casing with M2.5 inserts to ease assembly. [The Marpe] used an Esra soldering iron to create a heat insert tool for easier assembly and more consistent results with the heat inserts, which made for a nicer overall finish.

The project has since been presented at the Ljublana Mini Maker Faire in Slovenia and the Trieste Mini Maker Faire in Italy. Here, the open thermal camera is being tested out on a faulty PCB with a shorted component, showing the location of the short on the Android application’s thermal camera display.

Other uses for the camera could be home insulation inspection, water leakage detection, wildlife observation, or even figuring out if your soldering iron is hot enough to use. We’ll say it’s a pretty useful DIY project!

The Easiest Thermal Camera Build You’ll Ever See

Thermal cameras are one of those tools that we all want, but just can’t justify actually buying. You don’t really know what you would do with one, and when even the cheap ones are a couple hundred dollars, it’s a bit out of the impulse buy territory. So you just keeping waiting and hoping that eventually they’ll drop to the price that you can actually own one yourself.

Well, today might be the day you were waiting for. While it might not be the prettiest build, we think you’ll agree it can’t get much easier than what [vvkuryshev] has put together. His build only has two components: a Raspberry Pi and a thermal camera module he picked up online for about $80 USD. There isn’t even any wiring involved, the camera fits right on the Pi’s GPIO header.

Of course, you probably wouldn’t be seeing this on Hackaday if all he had to do was just buy a module and solder it to the Pi’s header. As with most cheap imported gadgets, the GY-MCU90640 module that [vvkuryshev] bought came with some crusty Windows software which wasn’t going to do him much good on the Raspberry Pi. But after going back and forth a bit with the seller, he was able to get some documentation for the device that put him on the right track to writing a Python script which got it working under Linux.

The surprisingly simple Python script reads a frame from the camera four times a second over serial and run it through OpenCV. It even adds some useful data like the minimum and maximum temperatures in the frame to the top of the image. Normally the script would output to the Pi’s primary display, but if you want to use it remotely, [vvkuryshev] says he’s had pretty good luck running it over VNC. In fact, he says that with a VNC application on your phone you could even use this setup on the go, though the setup is a bit awkward for that in its current incarnation.

This isn’t the first DIY thermal camera build we’ve seen, and it isn’t even the first one we’ve seen that leveraged a commercially available imaging module. But short of buying a turn-key camera, we don’t see how it could get any easier to add heat vision to your bag of tricks.

Who Said Thermal Cameras Weren’t Accessible To The Masses?

Thermal cameras hold an enduring fascination as well as being a useful tool for the engineer. After all, who wouldn’t want to point one at random things around the bench, laughing with glee at finding things warmer or colder than expected? But they’ve always been so expensive, and a lot of the efforts that have sought to provide one for little outlay have been rather disappointing.

This has not deterred [Offer] though, who has made an extremely professional-looking thermal camera using an M5Stack ESP32-based computer module and an AMG8833 thermal sensor array module in a 3D-printed case that copies those you’d find on a commercial unit. The modular approach makes it a simple prospect for the constructor, the software can be found on GitHub, and the case files are hosted on Thingiverse. You’ll be finding warm and cold things on your bench in no time, as the video below shows.

Most of the thermal cameras we’ve seen have centred upon the FLIR Lepton module, but that’s a component that remains expensive. This project shows us that thermal cameras are a technology that is slowly becoming affordable, and that greater things are to come.

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Using A Thermal Camera To Spot A Broken Wrist

Chemist and Biochemist [Thunderf00t] has shown us a really interesting video in which you can spot the wrist he broke 10 years ago using a thermal camera.

He was on an exercise bike while filming himself on a high-resolution thermal camera, As his body started to heat up he noticed that one hand was not dumping as much heat as the other. In fact one was dumping very little heat. Being a man of science he knew there must be some explanation for this. He eventually came to the conclusion that during a nasty wrist breaking incident about 10 years ago it must have affected the blood-flow to that hand, Which would go on to produce these type of results on a thermal camera while exercising.

Using thermal camera’s to spot fractures in the extremities is nothing new as it has the benefit of eliminating radiation exposure for patients, But it’s not as detailed as an X-ray or as cool as fluoroscopy and is only useful for bones near the surface of the skin.  It’s still great that you can visualize this for yourself and even after 10 years still notice a significant difference.

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