Master Video Call Control Panel Is Made Of PCBs

[memestra] is a teacher whose life has become a series of videoconferences over the last year or so. With all the classes and meetings, they spend the whole day switching between either Zoom, Teams, or Meet. If anyone needs a single piece of hardware to control them all, it’s [memestra]. Well, and every other teacher out there.

The hardware — an Arduino Pro Micro and some buttons — should come as no surprise, except for maybe [memstra]’s use of a resistor network for the LEDs. Still, there’s a lot to like about this little box, starting with the enclosure. That’s not milled or laser-cut metal — each side is a PCB, and they’re all soldered together into a box.

We especially like the top panel, which fits down over the PCB that all the components are soldered to. Each of the non-volume buttons has multiple functions that are accessed by pressing, long pressing, or double pressing. But even the volume buttons do double duty: press them together to mute and un-mute. If [memestra] ever forgets which button does what and how, there’s a handy reference table silkscreened on the bottom panel.

In true teacher fashion, [memestra] has written comprehensive instructions for anyone looking to build a similar device. The heavily-commented code should make it a cinch to drop in keyboard shortcuts for Discord or anything else you might be using, though it’s worth noting that this box is optimized for the desktop apps and not the browser-based versions.

Just looking for a fun way to end video calls? Pull chains are pretty fun.

A Pull Chain To End Your Zoom Pain

Yay! Another videoconference call is in the books, so that must mean that it’s time to fumble around awkwardly for the hang-up button with a fading smile. [lanewinfield] knew there had to be a better way, and looked to the pull chain switch for salvation. Sure, this could just as easily be a button, but what’s the fun in that? Besides, few buttons would be as satisfying as pulling a chain to a Zoom call.

The pull chain switch is connected to an Adafruit Feather nRF52840 Express that’s emulating a Bluetooth keyboard. Firmware-wise it sends command + F6, which triggers an AppleScript that manually exits and and all Zoom calls and kills Chrome tabs pointed to He’s using Apple’s hotkey wizard Alfred, but this could be handled just as easily with something like AutoHotKey.

Pull chain switches are neat little mechanisms. The chain is connected to a cam that engages a wheel with copper contacts on half the outside. When you pull the chain, the wheel moves 90° and the wheel contacts connect up with the fixed contacts inside the housing to make a connection. Pulling the chain again moves the wheel which slides to the half without the contacts. Check it out in the video below.

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Hackaday Links: June 14, 2020

You say you want to go to Mars, but the vanishingly thin atmosphere, the toxic and corrosive soil, the bitter cold, the deadly radiation that sleets down constantly, and the long, perilous journey that you probably won’t return from has turned you off a little. Fear not, because there’s still a way for you to get at least part of you to Mars: your intelligence. Curiosity, the Mars rover that’s on the eighth year of its 90-day mission, is completely remote-controlled, and NASA would like to add some self-driving capabilities to it. Which is why they’re asking for human help in classifying thousands of images of the Martian surface. By annotating images and pointing out what looks like soil and what looks like rock, you’ll be training an algorithm that one day might be sent up to the rover. If you’ve got the time, give it a shot — it seems a better use of time than training our eventual AI overlords.

We got a tip this week that ASTM, the international standards organization, has made its collection of standards for testing PPE available to the public. With titles like “Standard Test Method for Resistance of Medical Face Masks to Penetration by Synthetic Blood (Horizontal Projection of Fixed Volume at a Known Velocity)”, it seems like the standards body wants to make sure that that homebrew PPE gets tested properly before being put into service. The timing of this release is fortuitous since this week’s Hack Chat features Hiram Gay and Lex Kravitz, colleagues from the Washington University School of Medicine who will talk about what they did to test a respirator made from a full-face snorkel mask.

There’s little doubt that Lego played a huge part in the development of many engineers, and many of us never really put them away for good. We still pull them out occasionally, for fun or even for work, especially the Technic parts, which make a great prototyping system. But what if you need a Technic piece that you don’t have, or one that never existed in the first place? Easy — design and print your own custom Technic pieces. Lego Part Designer is a web app that breaks Technic parts down into five possible blocks, and lets you combine them as you see fit. We doubt that most FDM printers can deal with the fine tolerances needed for that satisfying Lego fit, but good enough might be all you need to get a design working.

Chances are pretty good that you’ve participated in more than a few video conferencing sessions lately, and if you’re anything like us you’ve found the experience somewhat lacking. The standard UI, with everyone in the conference organized in orderly rows and columns, reminds us of either a police line-up or the opening of The Brady Bunch, neither of which is particularly appealing. The paradigm could use a little rethinking, which is what Laptops in Space aims to do. By putting each participant’s video feed in a virtual laptop and letting them float in space, you’re supposed to have a more organic meeting experience. There’s a tweet with a short clip, or you can try it yourself. We’re not sure how we feel about it yet, but we’re glad someone is at least trying something new in this space.

And finally, if you’re in need of a primer on charlieplexing, or perhaps just need to brush up on the topic, [pileofstuff] has just released a video that might be just what you need. He explains the tri-state logic LED multiplexing method in detail, and even goes into some alternate uses, like using optocouplers to drive higher loads. We like his style — informal, but with a good level of detail that serves as a jumping-off point for further exploration.

Machine Learning Takes The Embarrassment Out Of Videoconference Wardrobe Malfunctions

Telecommuters: tired of the constant embarrassment of showing up to video conferences wearing nothing but your underwear? Save the humiliation and all those pesky trips down to HR with Safe Meeting, the new system that uses the power of artificial intelligence to turn off your camera if you forget that casual Friday isn’t supposed to be that casual.

The following infomercial is brought to you by [Nick Bild], who says the whole thing is tongue-in-cheek but we sense a certain degree of “necessity is the mother of invention” here. It’s true that the sudden throng of remote-work newbies certainly increases the chance of videoconference mishaps and the resulting mortification, so whatever the impetus, Safe Meeting seems like a great idea. It uses a Pi cam connected to a Jetson Nano to capture images of you during videoconferences, which are conducted over another camera. The stream is classified by a convolutional neural net (CNN) that determines whether it can see your underwear. If it can, it makes a REST API call to the conferencing app to turn off the camera. The video below shows it in action, and that it douses the camera quickly enough to spare your modesty.

We shudder to think about how [Nick] developed an underwear-specific training set, but we applaud him for doing so and coming up with a neat application for machine learning. He’s been doing some fun work in this space lately, from monitoring where surfaces have been touched to a 6502-based gesture recognition system.

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BAMF2010: QB Goes To Meetings, Shoots Lasers From Eyes

No, it’s not an extra from Wall-E. “QB” is the latest telepresence robot from Silicon Valley firm Anybots. QB combines two-way videoconferencing with a Segway-style self-balancing platform. The idea is to provide mobility and more natural interaction than desktop-tethered conferencing can provide.

The 35 pound robot’s battery runs for six to eight hours, and the telescoping head allows the eye level to be adjusted to match the user’s natural viewpoint. What looks like stereo vision is actually a single camera on the left eye and a steerable laser pointer on the right.

Shipping this October for $15,000, QB will appeal mostly to businesses with specific telepresence needs. This is half the price of their prior QA model — and in time the technology may reach the mass-market level. Until then, we’ll just have to amuse ourselves by remotely attending meetings with our ankle-nipping Rovio robots.