ESP8266 and Sensors Make for a Brainy NERF Ball

For his final project in UCLA’s Physics 4AL program, [Timothy Kanarsky] used a NodeMCU to smarten up a carefully dissected NERF football. With the addition to dual MPU6050 digital accelerometers and some math, the ball can calculate things like the distance traveled and angular velocity. With a 9 V alkaline battery and a voltage regulator board along for the ride it seems like a lot of weight to toss around; but of course nobody on the Hackaday payroll has thrown a ball in quite some time, so we’re probably not the best judge of such things.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in refining your throw, there’s a lot of fascinating science going on in this project; complete with fancy-looking equations to make you remember just how poorly you did back in math class.

As [Timothy] explains in the write-up, the math used to find velocity and distance traveled with just two accelerometers is not unlike the sort of dead-reckoning used in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Since we’ve already seen model rockets with their own silos, seems all the pieces are falling into place.

The NodeMCU polls the accelerometers every 5 milliseconds, and displays the data on web page complete with scrolling graphs of acceleration and angular velocity. When the button on the rear of the ball is pressed, the data is instead saved to basic Comma Separated Values (CSV) file that’s served up to clients with a minimal FTP server. We might not know much about sportsball, but we definitely like the idea of a file server we can throw at people.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an instrumented football. Back in 2011 it took some pretty elaborate hardware to pull this sort of thing off, and it’s fascinating to see how far the state-of-the-art has progressed.

Posted in ESP8266, football, mpu6050, nerf, physics, science, sensors, sports, toy hacks | Leave a comment

Infinite Flying Glider

If you’ve exhausted your list of electronics projects over the past several weeks of trying to stay at home, it might be time to take a break from all of that and do something off the wall. [PeterSripol] shows us one option by building a few walkalong gliders and trying to get them to fly forever.

Walkalong gliders work by following a small glider, resembling a paper airplane but made from foam, with a large piece of cardboard. The cardboard generates an updraft which allows the glider to remain flying for as long as there’s space for it. [PeterSripol] and his friends try many other techniques to get these tiny gliders, weighing in at around half a gram, to stay aloft for as long as possible, including lighting several dozen tea candles to generate updrafts, using box fans, and other methods.

If you really need some electricity in your projects, the construction of the foam gliders shows a brief build of a hot wire cutting tool using some nichrome wire attached to a piece of wood, and how to assemble the gliders so they are as lightweight as possible. It’s a fun project that’s sure to be at least several hours worth of distraction, or even more if you have a slightly larger foam glider and some spare RC parts.

Posted in airplane, fan, foam, glider, hot-wire, nichrome, paper airplane, toy, toy hacks, updraft, walkalong, wire cutter | Leave a comment

Teaching Science With An Empty Soda Bottle

Creating the next generation of scientists and engineers starts by getting kids interested in STEM at an early age, but that’s not always so easy to do. There’s no shortage of games and movies out there to entertain today’s youth, and just throwing a text book at them simply isn’t going to cut it anymore. Modern education needs to be engrossing and hands-on if it’s going to make an impact.

Which is exactly what the Institute of Science and Technology Austria hopes to accomplish with the popSCOPE program. Co-founded by [Dr. Florian Pauler] and [Dr. Robert Beattie], the project uses off-the-shelf hardware, 3D printed parts, and open source software to create an engaging scientific instrument that students can build and use themselves. The idea is to make the experience more personal for the students so they’re not just idle participants sitting in a classroom.

The hardware in use here is quite simple, essentially just a Raspberry Pi Zero W, a camera module, a Pimoroni Blinkt LED module, and a few jumper wires. It all gets bolted to a 3D printed frame, which features a female threaded opening that accepts a standard plastic soda (or pop, depending on your corner of the globe) bottle. You just cut a big opening in the side of the bottle, screw it in, and you’ve saved yourself a whole lot of time by not printing an enclosure.

So what does the gadget do? That obviously comes down to the software it’s running, but out of the box it’s able to do time-lapse photography which can be interesting for biological experiments such as watching seeds sprout. There’s also a set of 3D printable “slides” featuring QR codes, which the popSCOPE software can read to show images and video of real microscope slides. This might seem like cheating, but for younger players it’s a safe and easy way to get them involved.

For older students, or anyone interested in homebrew scientific equipment, the Poseidon project offers a considerably more capable (and complex) digital microscope made with 3D printed parts and the Raspberry Pi.

Posted in digital microscope, Educational, QR codes, science, soda bottle, upcycled | Leave a comment

The ATtiny Series Is A Great Companion In Isolation

As a consequence of the social distancing and self isolation, many a maker has been searching for ways to cure boredom. So what happens when you put a maker in a closed space with electronics parts. The answer is a bunch of random microcontroller projects that help beat boredom. [Danac1886] posts a video with a bunch of experiments with the ATtiny series of microcontrollers which can be a source of time-killing inspiration for these tough days of solitude.

The video is based upon a variety of controllers ranging from the ATtiny85 to the ATtiny84 and even includes the ATtiny2313. There is also a project with the ATtiny10, an SMD SOT23-6 package that is quite amazing to behold. All the devices can be programmed using the Ardino as an ISP so all you need is another Arduino lying around in case you do not have an AVR ICSP.

As for the projects themselves, there is an assortment of things that start with the basic blinking LED, adding an I2C LCD and then moving on to a 7 segment display counting up with variable speed controlled with a pot. We really loved how much these tiny projects inspire and can help someone get started with basic electronics and programming.

If you are looking to get started, have a look at the Jumbo LED with the Attiny10 and we assure you, it will brighten your day.

Posted in attiny, ATtiny Hacks, breadboard, making, projects | Leave a comment

DIY ESP32 Alarm System Leverages 433 MHz Sensors

There’s a huge market for 433 MHz alarm system hardware out there, from PIR motion detectors to door and window sensors. If you want to put them to work, all you need is a receiver, a network-enabled microcontroller, and some code. In his latest video, [Aaron Christophel] shows how easy it can be.

In essence, you connect a common 433 MHz receiver module to an ESP32 or ESP8266 microcontroller, and have it wait until a specific device squawks out. From there, the code on the ESP can fire off using whatever API works for your purposes. In this case [Aaron] is using the Telegram API to send out messages that will pop up with a notification on his phone when a door or window is opened. But you could just as easily use something like MQTT, or if you want to go old-school, have it toggle a relay hooked up to a loud siren.

Even if you aren’t looking to make your own makeshift alarm system, the code and video after the break are a great example to follow if you want to get started with 433 MHz hardware. Specifically, [Aaron] walks the viewer through the process of scanning for new 433 MHz devices and adding their unique IDs to the list the code will listen out for. If you ever wondered how quickly you could get up and running with this stuff, now you’ve got your answer.

In the past we’ve seen the Raspberry Pi fill in as an RF to WiFi gateway for these type of sensors, as well as projects that pulled them all together into a complete home automation system on the cheap.

Posted in 433 mhz, arduino alarm system, ESP32, home alarm system, home automation, home hacks, Microcontrollers, telegram, wireless hacks | Leave a comment

Particle Sniffer For Pollution Point Sources

When measuring air quality, particulate matter is an important metric to watch. The PM2.5 rating refers to particulate matter that has a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers. While it’s often measured by authorities on a city-wide basis, [rabbitcreek] wanted a way to track down point sources indoors.

The tool [rabbitcreek] built is in a similar form factor to a typical infrared workshop thermometer. Inside, it packs a Honeywell HPMA115S0-TIR laser particle sensor, hooked up to an ESP32 which runs the show. The sensor chosen makes things easy, with the device already set up with a blower and inlet and outlet ports for taking accurate readings.. Results are displayed on an SSD1306 OLED screen. It’s all wrapped up in a 3D printed case with a trigger grip, and a dog nose on the front which hints at the devices true purpose.

In testing, the device proves capable of detecting point sources of atmospheric particulates like flowers and a toaster. It’s something we’re sure would prove handy to those working in HVAC and environmental assessment industries. We’ve seen other rigs for monitoring particulates before, too. Video after the break.

Posted in misc hacks, particulate, particulate analysis, particulates, pm2.5 | Leave a comment

Using the Steam Controller with LEGO Motors

While Valve’s Steam Controller was ultimately a commercial failure, there’s no denying it’s an interesting piece of hardware. With dual trackpads, a wealth of buttons, and Bluetooth capability, it could be the ideal way to control your next build. Thanks to a recent project by [geggo], now you’ve even got an example you can follow.

A custom PCB holding an ESP32 and DRV8833 dual H-bridge motor controller is used to interface with standard LEGO motors using their stock block-like connectors. That means the board is a drop-in upgrade for whatever motorized creation you’ve already built.

Since the ESP32 obviously has WiFi in addition to Bluetooth, that also means this little board could be used to control LEGO projects over the local network or even Internet with some changes to the firmware.

Interestingly, while Valve officially enabled Bluetooth on the Steam Controller back in 2018, it sounds like some undocumented poking and reverse engineering was necessary to get it working here. That’s great for those of us who like a good hack, but if you’re more interested in just getting things working, [geggo] has been good enough to release the source code to get you started.

If you’re not interested in Bluetooth but want to get your creation up and moving, we’ve recently covered how one hacker used the ESP8266 to bring his LEGO train to life by integrating it into his smart home.

Posted in bluetooth, ESP32, h-bridge motor controller, lego, Microcontrollers, Steam Controller, toy hacks | Leave a comment

Teaching Robots Workplace Etiquette

Most often, humans and robots do not have to work directly together, instead working on different parts in a production pipeline or with the robot performing tasks instead of a human. In such cases any human-robot interaction (HRI) will be superficial. Yet what if humans and robots have to work alongside each other? This is a question which a group of students at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) have recently studied some answers to.

In their paper on human-robot collaborative tasks (PDF), they cover the three possible models one can use for this kind of interaction: there can be no communication (‘silent’), the communication can be pre-programmed (state machine), or in this case a Markov model-based system. This framework which they demonstrate is called CommPlan and it uses observation data from human subjects to construct a Markov model that can integrate sensor data in order to decide on its next action.

In the experiment they performed (the preparation of a meal; see the embedded video after the break), human subjects had to work alongside a robot. Between the three different approaches, the CommPlan one was the fastest, using voice interaction only when it deemed it to be necessary. The experiment’s subjects expressed hereby a preference for bidirectional communication, much as would occur between human workers.

The principles of HRI and human-human interaction are essentially the same: for optimal team work each member needs to receive and provide the information which they or other team members need at the right time. Too early or too late causes friction, omitting information can cause delays and worse. Redundant information can also cause frustration:

The goal of the CommPlan framework thus is to use its sensors and model of the human mind state (what would be appropriate in a given situation) to only give the information that its human partner expects and appreciates:

The benefit of having a framework like CommPlan is thus two-fold: not only does it improve the overall efficiency of the process, it also makes the interaction go smoother, with fewer points of friction and frustration. Whether our team mates are warmblooded humans or servo-actuated robotic arms, at the end of the day the humans at the very least prefer to feel content about the team effort.

Here’s to the day when our robotic friends will give their human partner a hi-five to celebrate the collaborative solving of a particular difficult task.

Posted in commplan, CSAIL, hri, human-robot interaction, machine learning, markov model, mit, news, robots hacks | Leave a comment

Making PCBs With A Vinyl Cutter

You might assume that you need a lot of expensive stuff to make your own PCBs, but that isn’t the case: you can do it with a vinyl cutter and a few common chemicals and tools. [Emiliano Valencia] has laid out the entire process. While we’ve seen plenty of make your own PCB guides before, this one goes a bit further as it covers using the vinyl cutter to make solder masks, so you can use it for surface mount designs.

The end result of the process that [Emilano] lays out is the tinyDice, a cute little electronic die that can fit on a keyring. The whole process is very well written up, and even experienced PCB makers will probably find a few useful tricks here.

The really interesting part for us was using the vinyl cutter to make three parts of the process: the etching mask, the solder mask that protects the traces and the solder stencil that applies the solder to the pads for surface mounting.

That is possible because the solder mask uses Kapton tape which is tough enough to stand the heat of the reflow process, and is a lot easier to use than the UV resins that are generally used. The etching and solder stencils are made from the vinyl material that is most commonly used in these cutters, but the solder mask is made from thin Kapton tape which is attached to a vinyl backing but then transferred onto the PCB. It does sound a bit fiddly in places, but there are plenty of photos to show how it is done.

Kudos to [Emiliano] for also coming up with a neat way to make the solder stencil out of vinyl by stacking four vinyl cutouts on top of each other. That gives the applied solder enough thickness that it should melt and flow without problems, but also gives nice clean solder pads. Now, if only he could work out how to make a pick & place out of sticky-back plastic and popsicle sticks, we would be sorted…

We’ve covered plenty of other ways to make PCBs, from expensive mills to using the same vinyl cutter to make PCBs on glass. What tips do you have for making PCBs out of common household materials?

Posted in cnc hacks, pcb, surface mount, vinyl cutter | Leave a comment

A Digital Pitch Pipe Gets You In Tune

Some humans are blessed with perfect pitch, an ability that comes in handy when pursuing the musical arts. For many others though, a little help is often appreciated. A pitch pipe is a handy way to find the starting note of a performance, and [Isaac] decided to build his own in the digital realm.

The project is based on the Adafruit Circuit Playground express, which packs in all the peripherals needed right on board. The buttons are used to select the pitch required, with the LEDs used to display the selected note. Blue means flat, green means natural, and red means sharp. A 3D printed outer ring is clipped on to the board to denote the pitches for the user. To play the note, the user simply blows on the pitch pipe. The onboard MEMS microphone detects this and plays the note on the onboard speaker.

It’s a tidy little project that is a great way to get one’s feet wet with embedded programming and working with audio. We’ve seen the Circuit Express pop up before too, such as in this pizza-box DJ mixer. Video after the break.

Posted in Circuit Playground Express, music, musical hacks, pitch pipe | Leave a comment