Teardown: Box of Pain (Gom Jabbar Sold Separately)

I immediately felt uncomfortable when I realized this thing is called the “Breo iPalm520 Acupressure Hand Massager”. You’re supposed to stick your hand into it, and through unknown machinations it performs some kind of pressure massage complete with heating action. It’s like one of those pain boxes from Dune. It’s all the more disturbing when you realize the red button on the thing is an emergency release. That’s right, once your hand is in this contraption you can’t take it out until the thing has had its way with you or you tap out.

Press to administer the Gom Jabbar

At least once a week I try to get to the local thrift store to look for interesting things. I’d like to be more specific than “interesting things”, but truth be told, I never really know what I’m looking for until I see it. Sure there’s the normal consumer electronics kind of stuff, but I’ve also found some very nice laboratory equipment, computer parts, software, technical books, etc. You just have to go regularly and keep an eye out for the occasional needle amongst the hay.

I want you to know, Dear Readers, that I did briefly summon the courage to put my hand into this thing and turn it on. Now I am not what one might call an overly brave man, and perhaps that might explain my personal experience. But when it started to hum and heat up, constricting around my hand to the point I couldn’t move my fingers, I screamed like a child and mashed the emergency button as if I was a pilot trying to eject from a mortally wounded aircraft. As far as Frank Herbert is concerned, I’m no human at all.

In an effort to better understand this torture device, lets open it up and see what lurks beneath that futuristic exterior.

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Battery-Powered Watering Timer Converted to Solar on the Cheap

Watering the garden or the lawn is one of those springtime chores that is way more appealing early in the season than later. As the growing season grinds along, a chore that seemed life-giving and satisfying becomes, well, just another chore, and plants often suffer for it.

Automating the watering task can be as simple as buying a little electronic timer valve that turns on the flow at the appointed times. [A1ronzo] converted his water hose timer to solar power. Most such timers are very similar, with a solenoid-operated pilot valve in line with the water supply and an electronic timer of some sort. The whole thing is quite capable of running on a pair of AA batteries, but rather than wasting money on new batteries several times a season, he slipped a LiPo pack and a charge controller into the battery case slot and connected a small solar panel to the top of the controller.

The LiPo is a nominal 3.7-volt pack, so he did a little testing to make sure the timer would be OK with the higher voltage. The solar panel sits on top of the case, and the whole thing should last for years. And bonus points for never having to replace a timer that you put away at the end of the season with batteries still in it, only to have them leak. Ask us how we know.

Like the best of hacks, this one is quick, easy and cheap — $15 in parts, aside from the timer. There are more complicated irrigation solutions, of course, one of which even won the Hackaday Prize once upon a time. But this one has us ordering parts to build our own right now.

Cams and Pushrods Improve 3D-Printed Compressed Air Engine

Some folks just can’t leave well enough alone, and that often ends up being a good thing. Such is the case with this 3D-printed compressed air engine, which just keeps getting better.

The design has changed a lot since we first covered [Tom Stanton]’s attempts at reviving the powerplant from the glory days of the Air Hogs line of toys, which he subsequently built a plane around. The engine was simple, with a ball valve that admitted air into the cylinder when a spring mounted to the top of the piston popped it out of the way. That spring has always bothered [Tom], though, compelling him to go back to the drawing board. He wanted to replace the ball valve with one actuated by a cam and pushrod. This would increase the complexity of the engine quite a bit, but with the benefit of eliminating the fail point of the spring. With a few iterations in the design, he was able to relocate the ball valve, add a cam to the crankshaft, and use a pushrod to open the valve. The new design works much better than the previous version, sounding more like a lawnmower than a 3D-printed engine should. Check out the design process and some tests in the video below.

And speaking of lawnmowers that run on compressed air

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Auto-Tracking Sentry Gun Gives Deer a Super Soaking

Things rarely go well when humans mix with wildlife. The problems are exacerbated in the suburbs, where bears dine on bird feeders and garbage cans, raccoons take up residence in attics, and coyotes make off with the family cat. And in the suburbs, nuisance wildlife can be an intractable problem because the options for dealing with it are so limited.

Not to be dissuaded in the battle to protect his roses, [dlf.myyta] built this motion-activated sentry gun to apply some watery aversion therapy to marauding deer. Shown in action below against a bipedal co-conspirator, the sentry gun has pretty much what you’d expect under the hood — Raspberry Pi, NoIR camera, a servo for aiming and a solenoid valve to control the water. OpenCV takes care of locating the intruders and swiveling the nozzle to center mass; since the deer are somewhat constrained by a fence, there’s no need to control the nozzle’s elevation. Everything is housed nicely in a plastic ammo can for portability and waterproofing. Any target that stands still for more than three seconds gets a hosing; we assume this is effective, but alas, no snuff films were provided.

We’re not sure if [dlf.myyta]’s code can discern friend from foe, and in this litigious world, hosing the neighbor’s kid could be a catastrophe. Perhaps version 2.0 can include image recognition for target verification.

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The Miracle of Injection Molding: How Does it Work?

Pretty much any household item nowadays has an involved, extremely well-thought-out manufacturing method to it, whether it’s a sheet of paper, an electrical outlet, a can of tuna, or even the house itself. Some of the stories of how these objects came to be are compelling, though, as one of the recent videos from [This Old Tony] shows as he takes a deep dive into a $5 ball valve, and uses it to talk about all of the cool things you can do with injection molding.

Injection molding is the process of casting molten plastic into more useful pieces of plastic. In this case it’s a plumbing valve which might seem simple on the surface, but turns out to be much more involved. These ball valves are extremely reliable but have a very small price tag, meaning that a lot of engineering must have gone into their design. What is unearthed in the video is that injection molding allows parts to be cast into the molds of other parts, and the means by which those parts don’t all melt together, and how seals can be created within the part itself. All of this happens with a minimal number of parts and zero interaction from a human, or from any robot that isn’t the injection mold itself.

The video goes into exceptional detail on these valves specifically but also expounds on various techniques in injection molding. Similar to the recognition the seemingly modest aluminum can deserves, the injection molded ball valve deserves a similar amount of respect. While [This Old Tony] usually focuses on metalworking, he often tackles other interesting topics like this and this video is definitely worth checking out.

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Automated Chamber Passes Just the Right Gas

It sounds like an overly complicated method a supervillain would use to slowly and painfully eliminate enemies — a chamber with variable oxygen concentration. This automated environmental chamber isn’t for torturing suave MI6 agents, though; rather, it enables cancer research more-or-less on the cheap.

Tasked with building something to let his lab simulate the variable oxygen microenvironments found in some kinds of tumors, [RyanM415] first chose a standard lab incubator as a chamber to mix room air with bottled nitrogen. With a requirement to quickly vary the oxygen concentration from the normal 21% down to zero, he found that the large incubator took far too long to equilibrate, and so he switched to a small acrylic box. Equipped with a mixing fan, the smaller chamber quickly adjusts to setpoints, with an oxygen sensor providing feedback and controlling the gas valves via a pair of Arduinos. It’s quite a contraption, with floating ball flowmeters and stepper-actuated variable gas valves, but the results are impressive. If it weren’t for the $2000 oxygen sensor, [RyanM145] would have brought the whole project in for $500, but at least the lab can use the sensor elsewhere.

Modern biology and chemistry labs are target-rich environments for hacked instrumentation. From DIY incubators to cheap electrophoresis rigs, we’ve got you covered.

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Spray Paint Goes DIY Virtual with a Vive Tracker

Here is a virtual spray painting project with a new and DIY twist to it. [Adam Amaral]’s project is an experiment in using the Vive Tracker, which was released earlier this year. [Adam] demonstrates how to interface some simple hardware and 3D printed parts to the Tracker’s GPIO pins, using it as a custom peripheral that is fully tracked and interactive in the Vive’s VR environment. He details not only the custom spray can controller, but also how to handle the device on the software side in the Unreal engine. The 3D printed “spray can controller” even rattles when shaken!

There’s one more trick. Since the Vive Tracker is wireless and completely self-contained, the completed rattlecan operates independently from the VR headset. This means it’s possible to ditch the goggles and hook up a projector, then use the 3D printed spray can to paint a nearby wall with virtual paint; you can see that part in action in the video embedded below.

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