Useless Machine Is A Clock

Useless machines are a fun class of devices which typically turn themselves off once they are switched on, hence their name. Even though there’s no real point, they’re fun to build and to operate nonetheless. [Burke] has followed this idea in spirit by putting an old clock he had to use with his take on a useless machine of sorts. But instead of simply powering itself off when turned on, this useless machine dislodges itself from its wall mount and falls to the ground anytime anyone looks at it.

It’s difficult to tell if this clock was originally broken when he started this project, or if many rounds of checking the time have caused the clock to damage itself, but either way this project is an instant classic. Powered by a small battery driving a Raspberry Pi, the single-board computer runs OpenCV and is programmed to recognize any face pointed in its general direction. When it does, it activates a small servo which knocks it off of its wall, rendering it unarguably useless.

[Burke] doesn’t really know why he had this idea, but it’s goofy and fun. The duct tape that holds everything together is the ultimate finishing touch as well, and we can’t really justify spending too much on fit and finish for a project that tosses itself around one’s room. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more refined useless machine, we have seen some that have an impressive level of intricacy.

Thanks to [alchemyx] for the tip!

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Fail Of The Week: Roboracer Meets Wall

There comes a moment when our project sees the light of day, publicly presented to people who are curious to see the results of all our hard work, only for it to fail in a spectacularly embarrassing way. This is the dreaded “Demo Curse” and it recently befell the SIT Acronis Autonomous team. Their Roborace car gained social media infamy as it was seen launching off the starting line and immediately into a wall. A team member explained what happened.

A few explanations had started circulating, but only in the vague terms of a “steering lock” without much technical detail until this emerged. Steering lock? You mean like The Club? Well, sort of. While there was no steering wheel immobilization steel bar on the car, a software equivalent did take hold within the car’s systems.  During initialization, while a human driver was at the controls, one of the modules sent out NaN (Not a Number) instead of a valid numeric value. This was never seen in testing, and it wreaked havoc at the worst possible time.

A module whose job was to ensure numbers stay within expected bounds said “not a number, not my problem!” That NaN value propagated through to the vehicle’s CAN data bus, which didn’t define the handling of NaN so it was arbitrarily translated into a very large number causing further problems. This cascade of events resulted in a steering control system locked to full right before the algorithm was given permission to start driving. It desperately tried to steer the car back on course, without effect, for the few short seconds until it met the wall.

While embarrassing and not the kind of publicity the Schaffhausen Institute of Technology or their sponsor Acronis was hoping for, the team dug through logs to understand what happened and taught their car to handle NaN properly. Driving a backup car, round two went very well and the team took second place. So they had a happy ending after all. Congratulations! We’re very happy this problem was found and fixed on a closed track and not on public roads.

[via Engadget]

Cardboard Wall Is Surprisingly Well Built

We all built cardboard forts when we were kids. [Paintingcook] has taken it into adulthood with a hand built cardboard wall. He and his wife leased a loft apartment. Lofts are great — one giant space to work with. Plans changed a bit when they found out they had a baby on the way. A single living, working, and sleeping space definitely wouldn’t be good for a newborn, so the couple set about separating a section of the room with a wall.

Sheetrock and steel or wood lumber would be the normal path here. They instead decided to recycle their cardboard moving boxes into a wall. The boxes were formed into box beams, which created the framework of the wall. The two pillars were boxed in and incorporated into the wall itself. The skin of the wall is a random patchwork of cardboard pieces. Most of the construction is completed with 3/8 ” screws and masking tape. Tape won’t last forever, but this is a temporary wall after all.

You might be wondering about fire hazards — sure, cardboard burns more readily than gypsum board, but the apartment is outfitted with sprinklers, which should help on this front. A few commenters on [Paintingcook’s] Reddit thread asked about formaldehyde and other gasses emitting from the cardboard. Turns out he’s an inorganic chemist by trade. He says any outgassing happens shortly after the cardboard is manufactured. It should be safe for the baby.

Cardboard is a great material to work in. You can build anything from robots to computers to guns with it. So get hop the couch, grab that Amazon box, and get hacking!

What’s The Weather Like For The Next Six Hours?

The magic glowing orb that tells the future has been a popular thing to make ever since we realized we had the technology to bring it out of the fortune teller’s tent. We really like [jarek319]’s interpretation of the concept.

Sitting mystically above his umbrella stand, with a single black cord providing the needed pixies for fortune telling, a white cube plays an animation simulating the weather outside for the next six hours. If he sees falling drops, he knows to grab an umbrella before leaving the house. If he sees a thunderstorm, he knows to get the umbrella with the fiberglass core in order to prevent an intimate repeat of Mr. Franklin’s early work.
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Thousands Of Physical Pixels Turn These Walls Into A Huge Display

The scale of this project is daunting. Each of the three white walls seen in the image above is made up of thousands of oblong square blocks. The blocks move independently and turn the room into an undulating 3D display.

If it had only been the demonstration video we might have run this as a “Real or Fake” post, but we’re certain this is real. Each pixel is made of what looks like a foam block mounted on a stepper-motor-driven linear actuator. So basically this must have set the world record for the CNC machine with the most axes. The motors make for very accurate and smooth motion, and the control software lets them draw shapes, words, animated objects, and the like. But the one side effects that we absolutely adore is the sound all of these motors make when running. After the break you can see a demo video and a ‘making of’ clip.

The installation is the work of the Jonpasang art collective and is installed as a Hyundai exhibit at an expo in Korea.

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Painting A Wall With Light Using Water As Ink

This art installation uses a fantastic concept. The wall can be painted using water as ink which lights up a huge grid of white LEDs. This offers a very wide range of interactive possibilities since water can be applied in so many ways. Grab a paint brush, wet your finger, use a squirt gun, or mist with a spray bottle and the lights will tell you where you hit the wall.

We’re hoping a reader who speaks both French and English might help out by posting a translation as a comment on the prototyping video. In it, [Antonin Fourneau] shows off the various prototypes that led to the final product and we’d love to know what he’s saying. But by seeing the prototypes, then watching the English promo video after the break we can make a pretty good guess.  The boards have a hole that fits the flat-lens LEDs perfectly. This creates a mostly water tight seal to keep the liquid on one side while the leads are safe on the other. The water side has squiggly pads which allow droplets of water to complete an electrical connection.

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Rotary Wall Plug From Scrap

Rotary tools such as a Dremel are useful to have around for all sorts of tasks in a workshop, including cutting, polishing, and grinding. [Konstantin] sent us in his home made wall mount rotary tool based off of parts from a blender and an old bench top jigsaw. Unlike a Dremel where the motor is in the hand held part of the tool, this setup hides the blender motor (which provides the power) behind a wall panel, and is controlled via the blender’s speed settings buttons. We could see this configuration allowing for more delicate work due to the reduction of weight in hand, as well as the added bonus of a near impossibility of losing this tool. Overall an excellent re-purposing of leftover parts, be sure to check out [Konstantin]’s blog for more build info and photos.