iCufflinks – nice

Adafruit industries is quickly becoming one of my favorite resources for electronics and in particular for electronics related knowledge.

They also make stuff. Like these nifty LED cufflinks – iCufflinks – that they’ve just released. The LED inside pulses just like your mac’s sleep indicator, which they say is “reverse engineered.” I admire anybody who admits to reverse engineering Apple tech without worrying about Steve Jobs’ long arm of the lawyer…

Anyway they’re the first tasteful example of wearable electronics. Period.

via Crunchgear

Trash Hack

I’ve been away from the blog for a bit – been doing some nifty stuff which I’ll relate when I can. In the meantime this is one thing I did over the weekend:

Sometimes I even make things for my own home. I’ve been slowly renovating our new apartment in Brooklyn, including making all the kitchen cabinetry. In a small kitchen its a challenge to design for best space use, and the question “what to do with all those friggin corner cabinets?” always comes up. After long debate I put a lazy susan in one and a slide-out trashcan in the other. See how fancy that drawer is? Yes there will be a front finish panel over it (maybe white – or a shade of red…)

For some reason we got a trash can that has an infrared lid opener. This was partly because it fit PERFECTLY and partly because a friend has one and after thinking it a bit silly we decided it was kind of nifty. So we ordered one from Amazon – a Nine Stars DZT-42-1. (as an aside I would like to mention how expensive simple trash cans can be if you need very particular dimensions to fit in cabinets – so I didn’t feel bad with the price of this one)

Trash can worked right out of the box fine & dandy – wave your hand in front and the lid opens smartly (inside is an IR distance sensor with circuitry). Only problem was (and I have to say I anticipated this) that when it is put in the drawer and slid closed, the electronics senses the cabinet closing around it and tries to open the lid. Well, nothing is easy so out comes my Arduino and assorted electronics gear to try to fix this. Its really a simple problem so I was able to come up with several working ideas which are not worth going into but my basic premise is as it always is when I do a project:

Find the simplest solution that will look awesome.

So first of all, it has to be all contained in the lid of the trash can. No wires coming out, nothing to get caught or broken when changing trash bags. Also – it has to work from the 6V battery pack in the trash unit. And of course power consumption should be kept to a minimum and it should look seamless.

The more I thought about it the more I was over-designing with the Arduino. Why use 600,000 – 1 MILLION transistors to do the job that ONE transistor can do? So I threw it away (not really!) and turned to a good old analog circuit. The most basic thing straight out of a Forrest Mims electronics workbook from my childhood: a simple light sensitive switch with a few resistors, a diode, a photoresistor and an NPN Transistor. Pull out the drawer, light hits the can and turns on the hand sensor with a relay. Bada bing:

Wilsonbuilt Trash Hack Detail

See the photoresistor to the left of the interface. There is also a hole in the side to adjust a trim pot for light/dark sensitivity.

I’d be very happy if I was doing this for a client, simple solution and seamless integration.

Awesome USB Interfacing


It is not easy to create a seamless USB interface device using the Arduino environment. From my somewhat limited experience with Arduino (and Mac OS X in my case), any USB interfacing you do will be read as a serial device, making it a clunky method to create devices as essential as keyboards or game controllers.

It looks like those days may be over though.  There’s an awesome example over at the Make website of a new development/interface board called  Teensy USB. They hacked the Staples “Easy” button to insert synonyms to the word “awesome” in any document being written.

Both models have an AVR ATMEGA processor, and it looks to be quite compatible with the Arduino environment and many software platforms. Arduino compatability is achieved through the Teensyduino add-on  and the microcode loading software –  Teensy Loader – is available for Mac OS X, Linux, Win XP & Win 7/Vista.

Sadly I have not yet been able to try this but I can already think of a few projects in which I WOULD have used it.  More soon….

(via slashdot)

Paper Battery


Stanford University researcher Yi Cui has developed a battery that is made by depositing an ink containing carbon nanotubes & silver nanowires on paper. He has previously done battery research using plastics but recently he’s found that the chemicals adhere much better to paper. The resulting battery or supercapacitor can then be folded, bent, rolled, and still work through about 40,000 charge cycles – twice the effectiveness of your standard Lithium Ion batteries.

via designboom

Bokode – the next Barcode?

There are just a few technologies for tracking object-tagged items: Barcode and RFID are at the top of the list. Each has its strengths & weaknesses but the biggest problem is that they can only be scanned at close range. (Note that some long-distance RFID solutions exist such as those used for car toll systems like EZ-Pass but these are expensive and require large, self-powered tags)

Some new work coming out of MIT’s Media Lab may change this. Called Bokode, the system uses the Bokeh optical effect which maps how rays entering an out-of-focus camera lens will converge onto the camera’s sensor.

To see the details, you’ll have to watch the attached video, but in essense the “tag” consists of an LED with an encoded optical pattern and a small cheap lens. An out-of-focus camera will see the data on the tag’s pattern, whether it is a digital code, an image, text or whatever. What’s more, the camera can also determine the angle of the object by doing some tricky optical calculations (which I don’t understand yet).

The tech is still in the development stage, but there is a development WIKI to exchange information among those interested in working more with it. Give it a read – looks like really fun stuff!

LED Necklace

A few months ago I put together a LED string for an award designed by Largent Studios. I liked the way the LEDs connected & thought they might look good just like that. This necklace is my first attempt. Neat thing is, the LEDs are powered by coin batteries that are just slipped in between the + and – LED terminals.

LED Necklace LED Necklace Detail