The 2019 Hackaday Prize, which was announced last week, is very much on everyone’s mind, so much so that we’ve already gotten a great response with a lot of really promising early entries. As much as we love that, the Prize isn’t the only show in town, and we’d be remiss to not call attention to our other ongoing contest: The Flexible PCB Contest.
The idea of the Flexible PCB Contest is simple: design something that needs a flexible PCB. That’s it. Whether it’s a wearable, a sensor, or a mechanism that needs to transmit power and control between two or more moving elements, if a flexible PCB solves a problem, we want to know about it.
We’ve teamed up with Digi-Key for this contest, and 60 winners will receive free fabrication of three copies of their flexible PCB design, manufactured through the expertise of OSH Park. And here’s the beauty part: all you need is an idea! No prototype is necessary. Just come up with an idea and let us know about it. Maybe you have a full schematic, or just a simple Fritzing project. Heck, even a block diagram will do. Whatever your idea is for a flexible PCB project, we want to see it.
To get the creative juices going, here’s a look at a few of the current entries
The great irony of the social media revolution is that it’s not very social at all. Users browse through people’s pictures in the middle of the night while laying in bed, and tap out their approval with all the emotion of clearing their spam folder. Many boast of hundreds or thousands of “friends”, but if push came to shove, they probably couldn’t remember when they had last seen even a fraction of those people in the real world. Assuming they’ve even met them before in the first place. It’s the dystopian future we were all warned about, albeit a lot more colorful than we expected.
Every social action requires that a specific and deliberate physical interaction be performed, which have largely been designed to mimic normal human contact. A pat on the shoulder signifies you want to follow the wearer, and adding them as a friend is as easy as giving a firm handshake. These interactions bring more weight to the decisions users make. For example, if somebody wants to remove you as a friend, they’ll need to muster up the courage to look you in the eye while they hit the button on your chest.
The jacket uses an Arduino to handle the low level functions, and a Raspberry Pi to not only provide the slick visuals of the touch screen display, but record video from the front and rear integrated cameras. That way you’ve even got video of the person who liked or disliked you. As you might expect, there’s a considerable energy requirement for this much hardware, but with a 5200 mAh LiPo battery in the pocket [Tuang] says she’s able to get a run time of 3 to 4 hours.
Considering how much gadgetry is packed into it, the whole thing looks remarkably wearable. We wouldn’t say it’s a practical piece of outerwear when fully decked out, but most of the electronic components can be removed if you feel like going low-key. [Tuang] also points out that for a garment to be functional it really needs to be washable as well, so being able to easily strip off the sensitive components was always an important part of the design in her mind.
Are you bored of your traditional bow tie? Do you wish it had RGB LEDs, WiFi, and a web interface that you could access from your smartphone? If you’re like us at Hackaday…maybe not. But that hasn’t stopped [Stephen Hawes] from creating the Glowtie, an admittedly very slick piece of open source electronic neckwear that you can build yourself or even purchase as an assembled unit. Truly we’re living in the future.
While we’re hardly experts on fashion around these parts (please see the “About” page for evidence), we can absolutely appreciate the amount of time and effort [Stephen] has put into its design. Especially considering his decision to release the hardware and software as open source while still putting the device up on Kickstarter. We seen far too many Kickstarters promising to open the source up after they get the money, so we’re always glad to see a project that’s willing to put everything out there from the start.
For the hardware, [Stephen] has gone with the ever popular ESP8266 module and an array of WS2812B LEDs around the edge of the PCB. There’s also a tiny power switch on the bottom, and a USB port for charging the two 1S 300mAh lipo batteries on the backside of the Glowtie. The 3D printed rear panel gives the board some support, and features an integrated bracket that allows it to clip onto the top button of your shirt. For those that aren’t necessarily a fan of the bare PCB look or blinding people with exposed LEDs, there’s a cloth panel that covers the front of the Glowtie to not only diffuse the light but make it look a bit more like a real tie.
To control the Glowtie, the user just needs to connect their smartphone to the device’s WiFi access point and use the web-based interface. The user can change the color and brightness of the LEDs, as well as select from different pre-loaded flashing and fading patterns. The end result, especially with the cloth diffuser, really does look gorgeous. Even if this isn’t the kind of thing you’d wear on a daily basis, we have no doubt that you’ll be getting plenty of attention every time you clip it on.
Pivots for e-textiles can seem like a trivial problem. After all, wires and fabrics bend and flex just fine. However, things that are worn on a body can have trickier needs. Snap connectors are the usual way to get both an electrical connection and a pivot point, but they provide only a single conductor. When [KOBAKANT] had a need for a pivoting connection with three electrical conductors, they came up with a design that did exactly that by using a flexible circuit board integrated to a single button snap.
This interesting design is part of a solution to a specific requirement, which is to accurately measure hand movements. The photo shows two strips connected together, which pivot as one. The metal disk near the center is a magnet, and underneath it is a Hall effect sensor. When the wrist bends, the magnet is moved nearer or further from the sensor and the unit flexes and pivots smoothly in response. The brief videos embedded below make it clear how the whole thing works.
The effect is achieved with specially designed jacket patches. Nylon fabric is lasercut with artwork or lettering, and then placed over an electroluminescent panel. The fabric acts as a mask and is glued onto the EL panel, and the assembly is then attached to the back of the jacket with velcro.
It’s a build that focuses on more than just a cool visual effect. The attention to detail pays off in robustness and usability – wires are neatly fed through the lining of the jacket, and special strain relief devices are used to avoid wires breaking off the EL panels. The extra effort means this is a jacket that can withstand real-world use, rather than falling apart in the middle of a posed photo shoot.
Everything is well documented, from artwork creation to final assembly, so there’s no reason you can’t replicate this at home – and the final results are stunning. Our take is that electroluminescent technology is the way to go for retro and cyberpunk looks, but LEDs can be fun too – like in this high-powered Burning Man build.
Head-mounted displays range from cumbersome to glass-hole-ish. Smart watches have their niche, but they still take your eyes away from whatever you are doing, like driving. Voice assistants can read to you, but they require a speaker that everyone else in the car has to listen to, or a headset that blocks out important sound. Ignoring incoming messages is out of the question so the answer may be to use a different sense than vision. A joint project between Facebook Inc. and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have a solution which uses the somatosensory reception of your forearm.
A similar idea came across our desk years ago and seemed promising, but it is hard to sell something that is more difficult than the current technique, even if it is advantageous in the long run. In 2013, a wearer had his or her back covered in vibrator motors, and it acted like the haptic version of a spectrum analyzer. Now, the vibrators have been reduced in number to fit under a sleeve by utilizing patterns. It is being developed for people with hearing or vision impairment but what drivers aren’t impaired while looking at their phones?
Patterns are what really set this version apart. Rather than relaying a discrete note on a finger, or a range of values across the back, the 39 English phenomes are given a unique sequence of vibrations which is enough to encode any word. A phenome phoneme is the smallest distinct unit of speech. The video below shows how those phonemes are translated to haptic feedback. Hopefully, we can send tweets without using our hands or mouths to upgrade to complete telepathy.
Some of us might never know the touch of another human, but this project in the Hackaday Prize might just be the solution. It’s TouchYou, [Leonardo]’s idea for a wearable device that allows anyone to send tactile and multi-sensorial stimulation across the Internet. It’s touching someone over the Internet, and yes, this technology is right here today.
Inside the TouchYou is an Arduino Pro Mini connected to a Bluetooth module. This Arduino communicates with force sensors and touch sensors and also has an output for a small vibration motor. With that Bluetooth module, the TouchYou becomes an Internet of Things thing, capable of communicating to other TouchYous across the world. It’s an interconnected, worldwide touching experience, and one of the best examples of Human-Computer Interaction we’ve ever seen.
A project like this demands large touch sensors, and if you’re not aware, these are slightly expensive. That’s okay, because [Leonardo] came up with a way to create large flexible touch sensors cheaply. The process begins much like how you would make a PCB at home — print off two sides of a design in a laser printer, then wrap it around a copper foil and Kapton laminate. From there, it’s just a little bit of etching in ferric chloride and carefully soldering the flex PCB connections to fine wires.