RCA TV Gets New Life As Interactive Atltvhead

TVs are usually something you sit and passively watch. Not so for [Nate Damen’s] interactive, wearable TV head project, aka Atltvhead. If you’re walking around Atlanta, Georgia and you see him walking around with a TV where his head should be, introduce yourself! Or sign into Twitch chat and take control of what’s being displayed on the LEDs which he’s attached to the screen. Besides being wearable technology, it’s also meant to be an interactive art piece.

For this, his third version, the TV is a 1960’s RCA Victor Portable Television. You can see some of the TVs he found for previous versions on his hackaday.io page. They’re all truly vintage. He gutted this latest one and attached WS2812 LED strips in a serpentine pattern inside the screen. The LEDs are controlled by his code and the FastLED library running on an ESP8266. Power comes from four NiMH AA-format batteries, giving him 5 V, which he regulates down to 3.3 V. His phone serves as a WiFi hotspot.

[Nate] limits the commands so that only positive things can be displayed, a heart for example. Or you can tweak what’s being displayed by changing the brightness or make the LEDs twinkle. Judging by the crowds we see him attracting in the first video below, we’d say his project was a huge success. In the second video, Nate does a code walkthrough and talks about some of his design decisions.

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Is That a Tweet on Your Belt Buckle or Are You Just Happy to See Me?

What a time to be alive! The range of things you never knew you needed but absolutely must have expands at a breakneck pace, such that it’s now possible to pick up a belt buckle with an embedded LED matrix to scroll messages. We have no idea what the use case for something like this is, but some people will buy anything.

One such person was a friend of [Brian Moreau], who doubled down after being gifted the glowing bauble by turning it into a WiFi enabled Tweet-scrolling belt buckle. It appears to be a just for fun project, and to be honest one would need a heck of a belt for the buckle after his mods. He added an ESP8266 to take care of monitoring his Twitter account and driving the display on the belt buckle, a non-trivial task given that the thing is programmed with only two buttons that scroll through characters to compose a message. The microcontroller might have fit inside the original buckle or only added a little to its bulk, but [Brian] decided to replace the two coin cells powering it with an external 6-volt battery pack. That required a buck converter to power the ESP, so the whole thing ended up being thrown in a case and acting more like a neat display than a flashy fashion statement.

We’d bet some tradeoffs could be made to reduce the bulk and get that buckle back where it belongs, though. Once it does, maybe it’ll be part of a complete LED-laden ensemble, from head to toe.

Hacked Fitness Trackers Aim to Improve Mental and Physical Health

We all know that the mind can affect the body in dramatic ways, but we tend to associate this with things like the placebo effect or psychosomatic illnesses. But subtle clues to the mind-body relationship can be gleaned from the way the body moves, and these hacked fitness monitors can be used to tease data from the background noise of everyday movements to help treat mental health issues.

Over the last few years, [Curt White] of the Child Mind Institute has been able to leverage an incredibly cheap but feature-packed platform, the X9 Pro Sports Bracelet, a fitness band that looks more or less like a watch. Stuffed with an ARM Cortex processor, OLED screen, accelerometer, pulse sensor, and a ton of other stuff, the $35 wearable is a hacker’s dream. And hack it he did. One version of the bracelet is called Tingle, which is used to detect and avert body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), compulsive disorders that can result in self-harm through pulling at hair or pinching. The Tingle is trained to recognize the motions associated with these behaviors and respond with haptic feedback through the vibration motor. Another hacked X9 was attached to a dental retainer and equipped with sensors to monitor respirations intraorally, in an attempt to detect overdoses. It’s fascinating stuff, and the things [Curt] has done with these cheap fitness bands is mighty impressive.

This project is yet another entry in the 2018 Hackaday Prize, which is currently in the Robot Modules phase. Got an idea for something to make robots easier to build? Start a project page on Hackaday.io and get entered. Maybe your module will even feature a hacked fitness tracker.

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Be the Electronic Chameleon

If you want to work with wearables, you have to pay a little more attention to color. It is one thing to have a 3D printer board colored green or purple with lots of different color components onboard. But if it is something people will wear, they are going to be more choosy. [Sdekon] shows us his technique of using Leuco dye to create items that change color electrically. Well, technically, the dye is heat-sensitive, but it is easy to convert electricity to heat. You can see the final result in the video, below.

The electronics here isn’t a big deal — just some nichrome wire. But the textile art processes are well worth a read. Using a piece of pantyhose as a silk screen, he uses ModPodge to mask the screen. Then he weaves nichrome wire with regular yarn to create a heatable fabric. Don’t have a loom for weaving? No problem. Just make one out of cardboard. There’s even a technique called couching, so there’s lots of variety in the textile arts used to create the project.

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Color Organ Dress, A Wearable With Audio Feedback

There is a huge amount of interest among our community in wearable electronics, but it is fair to say that it is a technology that has a way to go at our level in terms of its application. Some twinkly LEDs are all very well, but unless you have the arrived-on-a-spaceship-from-the-future aesthetic of someone like [Naomi Wu] to carry them off they get old rather quickly.

What the sew-on LED sector of wearable electronics is waiting for are some applications, wearable lights that do something rather than just look pretty. And [Moko] has a project that takes them in that direction, with her color organ dress, a garment whose LEDs react to ambient sound with the aid of a MEMS microphone and an Adafruit Gemma M0 microcontroller board. The LEDs form a color wheel which rotates, and stops at a point proportional to the sound level at the time.

The write-up is an interesting one, going into a little detail as it does in the images on the construction of an electronically-enhanced piece of clothing. Wiring everything up is one thing, but there are other considerations such as the incorporation of extra panels to protect them from mechanical stress, and from sweat. From a dressmaker’s perspective it’s a well constructed garment in its own right with an attractive PCB-style pattern (Where did she get that fabric? Or did she print it herself?) and it appears that she’s the fortunate owner of a serger (overlocker).

Well-assembled clothing has made it here before, for example an impressive jellyfish skirt or this laser-cut arcsin dress. And should you wish to make a garment for your next wearable project, you’ll be sure to need a well-stocked textile bench.

34C3: Fitbit Sniffing and Firmware Hacking

If you walked into a gym and asked to sniff exercise equipment you would get some mighty strange looks. If you tell hackers you’ve sniffed a Fitbit, you might be asked to give a presentation. [Jiska] and [DanielAW] were not only able to sniff Bluetooth data from a run-of-the-mill Fitbit fitness tracker, they were also able to connect to the hardware with data lines using test points etched right on the board. Their Fitbit sniffing talk at 34C3 can be seen after the break. We appreciate their warning that opening a Fitbit will undoubtedly void your warranty since Fitbits don’t fare so well after the sealed case is cracked. It’s all in the name of science.

There’s some interesting background on how Fitbit generally work. For instance, the Fitbit pairs with your phone which needs to be validated with the cloud server. But once the cloud server sends back authentication credentials they will never change because they’re bound to to the device ID of the Fitbit. This process is vulnerable to replay attacks.

Data begin sent between the Fitbit and the phone can be encrypted, but there is a live mode that sends the data as plain text. The implementation seemed to be security by obscurity as a new Bluetooth handle is used for this mode. This technique prevents the need to send every encrypted packet to the server for decryption (which would be for every heartbeat packet). So far the fix for this has been the ability to disable live mode. If you have your own Fitbit to play with, sniffing live mode would be a fun place to start.

The hardware side of this hack begins by completely removing the PCB from the rubber case. The board is running an STM32 and the team wanted to get deep access by enabling GDB. Unfortunately, the debug pins were only enabled during reset and the stock firmware disables them at startup (as it should). The workaround was to rewrite the firmware so that the necessary GPIO remain active and there’s an interesting approach here. You may remember [Daniel Wegemer] from the Nexmon project that reverse engineered the Nexus 5 WiFi. He leveraged the binary patching he used on Nexmon to patch the Fitbit firmware to enable debugging support. Sneaky!

For more about 34C3 we have a cheatsheet of the first day and for more about Fitbit security, check out this WAV file.

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Anouk Wipprecht: Robotic Dresses and Human Interfaces

Anouk Wipprecht‘s hackerly interests are hard to summarize, so bear with us. She works primarily on technological dresses, making fashion with themes inspired by nature, but making it interactive. If that sounds a little bit vague, consider that she’s made over 40 pieces of clothing, from a spider dress that attacks when someone enters your personal space too quickly to a suit with plasma balls that lets her get hit by Arc Attack’s giant musical Tesla coils in style. She gave an inspiring talk at the 2017 Hackaday Superconference, embedded below, that you should really go watch.

Anouk has some neat insights about how the world of fashion and technology interact. Technology, and her series of spider dresses in particular, tends to evolve over related versions, while fashion tends to seek the brand-new and the now. Managing these two impulses can’t be easy.

For instance, her first spider was made with servos and laser-cut acrylic, in a construction that probably seems familiar to most Hackaday readers. But hard edges, brittle plastic, and screws that work themselves slowly loose are no match for human-borne designs. Her most recent version is stunningly beautiful, made of 3D printed nylon for flexibility, and really nails the “bones of a human-spider hybrid” aesthetic that she’s going for.

The multiple iterations of her drink-dispensing “cocktail dress” (get it?!) show the same progression. We appreciate the simple, press-button-get-drink version that she designed for a fancy restaurant in Ibiza, but we really love the idea of being a human ice-breaker at parties that another version brings to the mix: to get a drink, you have to play “truth or dare” with questions randomly chosen and displayed on a screen on the wearer’s arm.

Playfulness runs through nearly everything that Anouk creates. She starts out with a “what if?” and runs with it. But she’s not just playing around. She’s also a very dedicated documenter of her projects, because she believes in paying the inspiration forward to the next generation. And her latest project does something really brilliant: merging fashion, technology, and medical diagnostics.

It’s a stripped-down EEG that kids with ADHD can wear around in their daily lives that triggers a camera when their brains get stimulated in particular ways. Instead of a full EEG that requires a child to have 30 gel electrodes installed, and which can only be run in a medical lab, stripping down the system allows the child to go about their normal life. This approach may collect limited data in comparison to the full setup, but since it’s collected under less intimidating circumstances, the little data that it does collect may be more “real”. This project is currently in progress, so we’ll just have to wait and see what comes out. We’re excited.

There’s so much more going on in Anouk’s presentation, but don’t take our word for it. Go watch Anouk’s talk right now and you’ll find she inspires you to adds a little bit more of the human element into your projects. Be playful, awkward, or experimental. But above all, be awesome!

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