Jump Like Mario With This Weighted Wearable

Virtual reality has come a long way in the past decade, with successful commercial offerings for gaming platforms still going strong as well as a number of semi-virtual, or augmented, reality tools that are proving their worth outside of a gaming environment as well. But with all this success they still haven’t quite figured out methods of locomotion that feel natural like walking or running. One research group is leaping to solve one of these issues with JumpMod: a wearable device that enhances the sensation of jumping.

The group, led by [Pedro Lopes] at the University of Chicago, uses a two-kilogram weight worn on the back to help provide the feeling of jumping or falling. By interfacing it with the virtual reality environment, the weight can quickly move up or down its rails when it detects that the wearer is about to commit to an action that it thinks it can enhance. Wearers report feeling like they are jumping much higher, or even smashing into the ground harder. The backpack offers a compact and affordable alternative to the bulky and expensive hardware traditionally used for this purpose.

With builds like these, we would hope the virtual reality worlds that are being created become even more immersive and believable. Of course that means a lot more work into making other methods of movement in the virtual space feel believable (like walking, to start with) but it’s an excellent piece of technology that shows some progress. Augmenting the virtual space doesn’t always need bulky hardware like this, though. Take a “look” at this device which can build a believable virtual reality space using nothing more than a webcam.

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PCB Gets Weighty Assignment

[Curious Scientist] tried building an integrated strain gauge on a PCB, but ran into problems. Mainly, the low resistance of the traces didn’t show enough change under strain to measure easily. Even placing a proper strain gauge on the PCB had limitations. His new design uses a bridge design to make the change in the gauges usefully large. You can see a video of the project below.

Bridging strain gauges isn’t a new idea. However, the novelty of this design is that the PCB has cantilever beams that facilitate the weighing. Standoffs mount a plate to the beams so that weight on the plate cause deformation on the beam that the strain gauges can measure.

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Does This Lead Make My Car Look Fat?

When looking at the performance of a vehicle, weight is one of the most important factors in the equation. Heavier vehicles take more energy to accelerate and are harder to stop. They’re also more difficult to control through the corners. Overall, anything that makes a vehicle heavier typically comes with a load of drawbacks to both performance and efficiency. You want your racecar as light as possible.

However, now and then, automakers have found reason to intentionally add large weights to vehicles. We’ll look at a couple of key examples, and discuss why this strange design decision can sometimes be just what the engineers ordered.

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IBM Cheese Cutter Restoration

For a while now, Mac Pro towers have had the nickname “cheese grater” because of their superficial resemblance to this kitchen appliance. Apple has only been a company since the 70s, though, and is much newer than one of its historic rivals, IBM. In fact, IBM is old enough to have made actual cheese-related computers as far back as the 1910s, and [Hand Tool Rescue] recently obtained one of these antique machines for a complete restoration.

The tool arrived to the restoration workshop in a state so poor that it was difficult to tell what many of the parts on the machine did except for the large cleaver at the top. The build starts with a teardown to its individual parts, cleaning and restoring them to their original luster, machining new ones where needed, and then putting it all back together. The real mystery of this build was what the levers on the underside of the machine were supposed to do, but after the refurbishment it was discovered that these are the way that portions the cheese wheel would be accurately sized and priced before a cut was made.

By placing a section of a wheel of cheese on the machine and inputting its original weight with one of the levers, the second lever is adjusted to the weight of cheese that the customer requested, which rotates the wheel of cheese to the correct position before a cut is made. To us who are spoiled with a world full of electronic devices, a mechanical computer like this seems almost magical, especially with how accurate it is, but if your business in the 1910s involved cheese, this would have been quite normal. In fact, it would be 50 more years before IBM created the machines that they’re more commonly known for.

Thanks to [Jasper Jans] for the tip!

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Occam’s Razor: Gardening Edition

While the impulse to solving problems in complex systems is often to grab a microcontroller and some sensors to automate the problem away, interfacing with the real world is often a lot more difficult than it appears. Measuring soil moisture, for example, seems like it would be an easy way of ensuring plants get the proper amount of water, but soil is a challenging environment for electronics and this solution often causes more problems than it solves. [Kevin] noticed this problem with soil moisture sensors and set about solving this problem with a much simpler, though indirect, method of monitoring his plants electronically.

Rather than relying on soil conductivity for testing soil moisture levels, he has developed an alternate method of determining if the plants need to be watered simply by continuously weighing them. The hypothesis that he had was that a plant that needs water will weigh less as the available water respirates out of the plant or evaporates from the soil. This means that using a reliable sensor like a load cell to measure weight rather than an unreliable one like a soil moisture sensor will result in more reliable data he can use to automate his plants’ watering.

[Kevin]’s build is based around an ESP32 and a commercially-available load cell which are all built into the base of the plant’s pot. The design hides all of the electronics in a pleasant enclosure and is able to communicate relevant info wirelessly as well. The real story here, however, isn’t a novel use of an ESP32 chip, but rather out-of-the-box problem solving by using an atypical sensor to solve this problem. That’s not to say that you can’t ever use other sensors to directly monitor your garden and automate its health, though.

Current Sensor Makes Intriguing Use Of Concrete

Getting a product to market isn’t all about making sure that the product does what it’s supposed to. Granted, most of us will spend most of our time focusing on the functionality of our projects and less on the form, fit, or finish of the final product, especially for one-off builds that won’t get replicated. For those builds that do eventually leave the prototyping phase, though, a lot more effort goes into the final design and “feel” of the product than we might otherwise think. For example, this current sensor improves its feel by making use of cast concrete in its case.

The current sensor in this build is not too much out of the ordinary. [kevarek] built the sensor around the MCA1101-50-3 chip and added some extra features to improve its electrostatic discharge resistance and also to improve its electromagnetic compatibility over and above the recommended datasheet specifications. The custom case is where this one small detail popped out at us that we haven’t really seen much of before, though. [kevarek] mixed up a small batch of concrete to pour into the case simply because it feels better to have a weightier final product.

While he doesn’t mention building this current sensor to sell to a wider audience, this is exactly something that a final marketable product might have within itself to improve the way the device feels. Heavier things are associated, perhaps subconsciously, with higher quality, and since PCBs and plastic casings don’t weigh much on their own many manufacturers will add dummy weights to improve the relationship between weight and quality. Even though this modification is entirely separate from the function of the product, it’s not uncommon for small changes in design to have a measurable impact on performance, even when the original product remains unmodified.

Thanks to [Saabman] for the tip!

Cheap Lab Balance Needs Upgrades, Gets Gutted Instead

What is this world coming to when you spend seven bucks on a digital scale and you have to completely rebuild it to get the functionality you need? Is nothing sacred anymore?

Such were the straits [Jana Marie] found herself in with his AliExpress special, a portable digital scale that certainly looks like it’s capable of its basic task. Sadly, though, [Jana] was looking for a few more digits of resolution and a lot more in the way of hackability. And so literally almost every original component was ripped out of the scale, replaced by a custom PCB carrying an STM32 microcontroller and OLED display. The PCB has a complicated shape that allows the original lid to attach to it, as well as the stainless steel pan and load cell. [Jana] developed new firmware that fixes some annoying traits, for example powering down after 30 seconds, and adds new functionality, such as piece-counting by weight. The video below shows some of the new features in action.

Alas, [Jana] reports that even the original load cell must go, as it lacks the accuracy her application requires. So she’ll essentially end up building the scale from scratch, which we respect, of course. At this rate, she might even try to build her own load cell from SMD resistors too.

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