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Articles from 2014 In October


9 Inventions Provide Frightful Fun for Halloween

What partygoer doesn’t want a photo taken in his or her Halloween costume? Well the Halloween Scream and Picture Taker obliges with a twist by taking a photo just at the moment it also scares someone with a frightening scream. The motion-activated device

Halloween isn't just a time for creative costumes. Thanks to the element14 online design community, the holiday this year also brings us a number of creative electronic device design ideas aimed at making your Halloween party a unique experience.

The community sponsored a Halloween Pi Project and asked engineers to come up with Halloween-themed devices based on the Raspberry Pi computer platform. Element14 shared the results with Design News.

The designs are varied but are generally party-oriented, giving people different ways to provide music, entertainment, decoration, tongue-in-cheek frights, or even serve drinks at their Halloween parties.

Click on the photo below to see a slideshow of some of the entries of the contest. An element14 Web page also features videos showing how each invention works.

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9 Inventions Provide Frightful Fun for Halloween

9 Inventions Provide Frightful Fun for Halloween

Halloween isn't just a time for creative costumes. Thanks to the element14 online design community, the holiday this year also brings us a number of creative electronic device design ideas aimed at making your Halloween party a unique experience.

The community sponsored a Halloween Pi Project and asked engineers to come up with Halloween-themed devices based on the Raspberry Pi computer platform. Element14 shared the results with Design News.

The designs are varied but are generally party-oriented, giving people different ways to provide music, entertainment, decoration, tongue-in-cheek frights, or even serve drinks at their Halloween parties.

Click on the photo below to see a slideshow of some of the entries of the contest. An element14 Web page also features videos showing how each invention works.

Related posts:

Gadget Freak Case #267: What Happens When You Combine Arduino and iOS?

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Gadget Freak Case #267: What Happens When You Combine Arduino and iOS?

 Gadget Freak Case #267: What Happens When You Combine Arduino and iOS?

The Arduino is great for connecting with hardware but has a limited user interface. Apple's iOS devices have a great user interface but are limited when connecting with hardware.

I combined an Arduino and iOS using the DTMF audio signals established 50 years ago for touch-tone telephone dialing. I send tones from iOS using the headphone jack and receive tones sent from the Arduino on the iOS microphone line. The dual-audio tones used for communications are simple enough to be both generated and decoded on the Arduino.

The iOS audio lines are non-proprietary and resistant to signal noise. By avoiding a specialized data port, the data transfer protocol is not limited to iOS devices. Any computing device that can send and receive audio tones can use this system.

The video below shows an Arduino being controlled with signals from several different sources, including a custom app generating DTMF tones, a standard phone-dialing app, and an analog phone handset.

Each tone encodes only 4 bits. To transfer a 32-bit value requires eight tones, plus three identification tones. One storage bit is used to distinguish integer and floating point numbers, leaving 31 bits for representing the value. Integer values are transferred using fewer tones to save transfer time when the value can be represented with 8, 16, or 24 bits. All numbers are stored in the Arduino memory as 4-byte, 32-bit values.

I've created programs for the Arduino that control a small CNC mill. Using a custom-built iOS app, I can reset parameters and customize the software settings without needing to reprogram the Arduino. Feed rates, stroke lengths, and repetition counts are a few examples of the parameters that can be reset.

Click here to view Table 1.

Click here to view Table 2.

Do you have a Gadget Freak project you would like the world to see? Send a brief description of your gadget and a photo to Executive Editor Jennifer Campbell.

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Check out the Best of Gadget Freak -- Volume 2 Technology Roundup to see some of the best gadgets that your peers have created.

When you are finished, be sure to check out Best of Gadget Freak: Vol. 1.

HP Finally Reveals 3D Printing Plans

HP Finally Reveals 3D Printing Plans

After a year or so of missteps, false starts, retractions, and postponements, inkjet office printer giant Hewlett-Packard has finally revealed just what it plans to do in 3D printing.

The apparent hesitation and late-to-the-party foot dragging of the company that invented digital inkjet printing (along with Epson and Canon) surprised a lot of people in the 3D-printing industry. As the market exploded over the last couple of years, many have hypothesized that HP would be entering it any day. Perhaps the company was waiting until after it figured out how and when it would divide itself in half, which it announced earlier this month.

Not surprisingly, HP's Multi Jet Fusion printers, which won't roll out until 2016, will be based on the company's thermal inkjet technology. The technology will use imaging of a wider build envelope, up to 40 inches, to boost speeds 10 times over existing SLS and FDM part build times. Arrays of thermal inkjets will apply liquid agents to increase uniform part strength.

Parts will also have greater accuracy and finer details, while part and material properties will be much more customizable. Initially, plastics will be printed, but HP is also investigating metals and ceramics. HP says its 3D printers will also reduce energy consumption, running time and waste to improve their economics, as well as using a new file format. Until broader distribution, HP will be working out the kinks with certain partners and customers.

The company also announced the Sprout 3D Immersive Computing workstation, which integrates a scanner, 3D depth sensor, camera, projector, touchscreen display, and touch-sensitive mat. The Sprout is the first product in HP's "Blended Reality" ecosystem.

Here's the full story on our sister pub EETimes, including photos of printed objects and a link to a whitepaper about Multi Jet Fusion printers: HP Tiptoes Into 3D Printers

NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission: Innovative or a Waste of Time?

NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission: Innovative or a Waste of Time?

On April 15, 2010, President Barack Obama gave a major speech at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, announcing that the US would send astronauts to Mars by the mid-2030s. But in order to do so, NASA would first need to ramp up its capabilities through missions directed toward "a series of increasingly demanding targets," i.e. asteroids.

The President outlined a plan to send astronauts to an astroid for the first time by 2025. The vehicle for this historic mission would be the Orion spacecraft, originally designed as part of President Bush's vision for space exploration. The spacecraft would be launched aboard a heavy-lift vehicle, designated as the Space Launch System (SLS).

However, since most known asteroids reside in the asteroid belt between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter, reaching one of these asteroids would actually be a longer journey than reaching Mars. The SLS-Orion combination would not be capable of such a long journey. A smaller, but sizable, number of asteroids have orbits that bring them close to Earth. However, finding a suitable asteroid whose orbit would cross Earth's sometime in the 2020s was a difficult task.

Instead, NASA experts came up with a novel concept: a robotic mission to capture a small asteroid, then put it in orbit around the moon, where astronauts will visit it and return samples to Earth.

The Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM) is the brainchild of Dr. John Brophy, a principal engineer at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Dr. Brophy led the team that developed the ion drive system that powers NASA's Dawn spacecraft (currently en route to the dwarf planet Ceres after visiting the asteroid Vesta in 2011). The ion drive uses electricity from solar arrays to ionize and accelerate an inert gas. Ion drives generate much less thrust than traditional rocket engines. In fact, Dawn's engines produce less than a third of an ounce of thrust. However, they are much more efficient, as measured in terms of specific impulse: Dawn's engines have a specific impulse of 3,100 seconds, compared to 452 seconds for the space shuttle's main engines. By providing a small but steady thrust over a long period of time, ion drives can produce a velocity change equal to that of much larger rocket engines, while using less propellant.

Dr. Brophy realized that a similar system could be used, not just to visit an asteroid, but to actually change its trajectory. Working with a small group of colleagues at NASA, he determined that retrieving a small near-Earth asteroid and bringing it to the International Space Station would be feasible. A follow-up study by the Keck Institute of Space Studies recommended putting an asteroid in lunar orbit instead.

As currently envisioned, the first stage of the ARM would consist of a robotic spacecraft, equipped with an advanced ion drive, to be launched before the end of this decade. In Option A the robotic spacecraft would capture an asteroid inside a gigantic inflatable plastic bag:

In Option B, the robotic spacecraft would snatch a boulder from the surface of a larger asteroid:

In either case, the spacecraft would carry the asteroid (or boulder) into orbit around the moon. An SLS-Orion spacecraft will then bring a crew of astronauts on a nine-day journey around the far side of the moon to rendezvous with the asteroid. The astronauts will leave their spacecraft to collect samples from the asteroid, then return to the spacecraft and head back to Earth.

Does this remind you a little of the 1998 films Deep Impact and Armageddon? Although the asteroids that are likely targets of the ARM are too small to present any threat to the Earth (about 30 ft in diameter), NASA says that the ARM will provide an opportunity to test technologies that could be used to defend our planet against much larger asteroids. In the boulder-retrieval option, the spacecraft will test an "enhanced gravity tractor" technique -- orbiting the asteroid for several months, during which time the spacecraft's gravitational pull will gently nudge the asteroid's trajectory.

The mission will also be an opportunity to test technologies that would be needed for a long-range space mission, such as a trip to Mars. For example, the ion drive used to power the robotic spacecraft could also be used for robotic cargo vessels that would resupply Mars-bound astronauts.

The ARM has come in for some harsh criticism. In an editorial for The Hill , US Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Science Committee, called the plan "costly and uninspiring." NASA's own Small Bodies Assessment Group has called the idea "very interesting and entertaining," but "not considered to be a serious proposal." And, in a 286-page report, the National Research Council says the mission is a dead end that won't lead humanity to Mars.

However, the mission also has many defenders. In an editorial astronaut Tom Jones and Planetary Society co-founder Louis Friedman argued that the ARM is a "challenging and innovative" mission that "may do much to restore near-term public interest in space exploration."

What do you think? Is the Asteroid Redirect Mission a good idea or a bad idea? Let us know in the comments section below.

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This Toaster Takes Selfies -- Because Civilization is Doomed

This Toaster Takes Selfies -- Because Civilization is Doomed

Selfies have already ruined your nights out and your social media feeds. Now they're after your breakfast.

Toasted Selfies is a new novelty toaster produced by the Vermont Novelty Toaster Corporation that allows you to toast an image of yourself into bread. It is the invention nobody wanted or asked for, but if you need more WTF in your life it could be yours for the price of $69. And anyway, why should Jesus be the only one who gets his face on bread?

The toaster uses an insert made from a photo you upload to their website. Customers are limited to one face per toaster however (you can order addition inserts separately), so choose wisely. The company outlines some recommendations for how to get the best results and recommends 300dpi images. They discourage logos, however. Hopefully they are prepared for the inevitable flood of outright strange and sexually explicit photos they will be getting.

As an aside, if you're considering buying this we'd like to refer you page 9 of this excerpt from the DSM V that contains the diagnostic criteria for Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

Head-Turning Trends in Industrial Automation

Head-Turning Trends in Industrial Automation

Robots are getting less expensive, more nimble, and smart than ever. The following examples exemplify new trends in industrial automation.


Nature has always inspired robotics. More complex, fluid movement open new avenues in manufacturing. Festo's BionicOpter is the latest example. Imitating the dragonfly, it boasts not only lightweight and fully integrated open- and closed-loop systems, but also "13 degrees of freedom." User can control the shared flapping frequency and twisting of each wing. Plus, each wing has an amplitude controller that regulates the intensity of the thrust. Control and movement is getting more refined than ever.


Toshiba Machine showed off its new TVL 500 vertical, articulated robot for only the second time in the US at Design News' Design & Manufacturing show in Schaumburg, Ill. Known as an industry leader with top-of-line robotics, Toshiba went back to the drawing board with this model, looking for ways to reduce cost without losing efficiency.

The TVL 500 features a revamped, simpler controller. That alone reduced the price $3,000. Toshiba Machine further streamlined its manufacturing process, taking advantage of standardization to reduce price point. The new robotic arm also consumes less power, saving ongoing costs in manufacturing. The final product has slower acceleration and deceleration than fancier models, but the overall speed is as good as older models. It's robotics for everyone.


Optimal Design challenged it's designers to recreate the movement of a mallard duck in flight.


FER Robotics' Active Contact Flange lets robotic arms maintain steady contact pressure over time. The flange means pressure stays the same over the course of a day and over curved surfaces. This dexterity is vital in applications like sanding, where too much pressure can gouge an object. The arm senses the material and responds automatically.


Butler, a new generation of robots from Wasserbauer GmbH, feature a built-in database, ITTIA DB SQL. To make intelligent decisions, the robots collect information from sensors and build a database outlining the surroundings. No need to pull data from an outside source; the data is right in the system, making it faster and more reliable. The robots make decisions themselves. Of course, humans can also instruct them from tablets that tap into the database.

Apple's at it Again: Check Out the iPad Mini 3 Teardown

<p>Pint-sized tech means pint-sized specs! Inside the iPad Mini 3, we expect to find:</p> <ul><li>7.9-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology</p> <li>A7 chip with 64‑bit architecture + M7 motion coprocessor</p> <li>5 M

Bigger than an iPhone 6 Plus, but smaller than an iPad Air 2. What am I? If you answered iPad Mini 3, you are correct.

It's the latest iteration of Apple's miniature iPad, newly refreshed and updated -- and now primed for disassembly. Join us as we tear down the iPad Mini 3.

Click on the Apple iPad Mini 3 to start the slideshow.

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10 Robots That Play Well With Others

The UBR-1, by Unbounded Robotics, can manipulate objects as small as dice or a Lego piece. The robot was designed for companies that want some automation to speed up their manufacturing process, but can’t afford to fully automate their businesses. The arm

While it may not seem like bragging rights to say your robot is safe around humans, it's actually quite a big deal. There is a long history of robot accidents that have injured and even killed manufacturing workers. The industry has worked to curb this problem by containing robots in safety cages.

Those days have come to an end for many new robots that are designed to work safely around humans. Advances in safety measures come in a wide range of flavors, from soft touch arms to pressure sensors that halt the robot when it meets resistance. Vision systems have also added to the robot's awareness of its surroundings.

Safety has opened robots to a much wider range of applications, from side-by-side manufacturing work with humans, to warehouse picking and stocking, to medical patient support, even with tasks as sensitive as feeding those who cannot feed themselves.

Click on the bot below to start the slideshow.

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