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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Orion Capsule at NASA TweetUP

 NASA Tweetup was an absolute dream come true for me. The treatment NASA gave me and the other tweeps was outstanding. Not only did they put us up in an air conditioned tent (lovingly dubbed "the twent") but they us an amazing VIP tour of the campus, launch pad, vertical assembly building (VAB) and the Saturn V rocket!
Amazingly enough the twent was placed right between the a/c tent's for Lockheed and Boeing!

I wandered into the Lockheed tent and to my astonishment found myself standing in front of an Orion capsule. Lockheed's Orion will ferry people to the Moon and other worlds, like Mars, if we can continue to support our space program. I couldn't believe an actual piece of Constellation was sitting in front of me. I had worked on the Constellation Evaluation and Refinement program when I interned at MIT back in 2005. Orion and the two Ares were the work horses of the Constellation mission. When Constellation was scrubbed Lockheed managed to save their Orion capsule. I couldn't believe my luck! Not only had I gotten into the final 150 of Tweeps (Tweet up attendees) to STS-135 - the final shuttle launch, but here I was, standing in front of a part of my past, and intertwining with my nation's and my own future. I was able to peak in through the open hatch and look into the interior. I found an I-beam signed by the working team, and there were other parts the team signed. That was a really great surprise! I wish the docking simulator had been on - I would have loved to give that a whirl!
Please, have a look at the images below. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Seeing the Invisible -Infra Red Web Cam Hack

As promised, here is are my detailed notes on how to hack a webcam. Now before you go getting all crazy and thinking you can see heat signatures or see in the dark it's not that kind of infra red.
Heat signature infra red is Long wave Infra red and takes some specialized equipment before you can even dream of creating your own FLIR cam. Heating seeking missiles, and thermal imaging happen in the MWIR and LWIR ranges respectively. Below is a quick list of what the IR band looks like and how it's named.

There are 5 bands of Infrared:

  1. Near Field aka NIR(700nm to 1,400nm)
  2. Short Wave IR aka SWIR (1,400 nm to 3,000nm)
  3. Mid Wave IR  aka MWIR (3,000nm to 8,000nm)
  4. Long Wave IR aka LWIR ( 8,000nm to 15,000nm) 
  5. Far IR  aka FIR (15,000nm to 100,000nm)

For a Frustrated Total Internal Reflection (FTIR) screen the NIR range is what we'll be using, and it's what this hack will be focusing on.


  1. Exposed Film Negative
  2. A webcam
  3. Scissors
  4. Plastic Bag

Precision screw driver set

I used a Creative Labs webcam model VF-0040.

It has two small Phillips head screws on the back plate.

Once the screws are removed the face cap will come off.

Taking off the lens and filter (the black cylinder) eposes the CCD chip (the small black square with gold around it). Immediately wrap the webcam in the plastic bag. If any outside particles or dust get on the CCD chip the web cam will be ruined. Besides, we're only after the filter in the lens system.

Use a soft lead pencil (good old No. 2)  to remove the colored filter on the lens. This will minimize scratching on the lens.

Cut out a small square from your exposed film negative. (Just use an empty corner, you don't want to destroy the images in your film negative and you don't want to use the image part anyhow)!
Here are the components. The filter holder on the left. The original filter (Top center), and the body of the optic system.
Remove the original filter as above, and replace it with the film negative you piece you cut out. Then reassemble the optic system and put it back over the CCD chip. Once you've reassembled the entire webcam plug it in and make sure it works.

Every webcam is different and will require some exploration on your part. Remember to be patient and cautious while you do this. If you mess up the cam you'll have to buy a new one and that's no fun. If you decide to use the cam I have used and need the driver then please 
 click here to download the Creative VF-0040 driver.
 Thanks to codongolevat for suggesting this idea. There are tons of great ideas and comments @ instructables - so please check this site out when you have the time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back after a long long break

Those of you returning have noticed some recent changes around here lately. Namely, the design layout has changed. I have continued to do projects. I'm currently building a brand new touch screen - mark II. Mark I worked, however, due to the lack of consistent placement in the IRLED's there was too much background noise for it work properly.

The main problem existed in the baffles (which are heart of a FTIR table). In the pages below I show how I used hobby wood (cheap hobby wood) from Home Depot, and I drilled holes into that by hand. The consistent 1 inch spacing I had intended had drifted throwing off my even spacing. In addition I couldn't get the dremel and my hand to drill a centered hole so the IRLED's couldn't sit in the middle of the baffle and  that threw the alignment of the IRLED's with the acrylic off.

So, I figured I needed something bigger and better than a dremel and my hand. I got a dremel attachment that turns it into a drill press. To handle my alignment problems I rigged up a pointing laser strapped to a protractor to the main body of the press. My contraption looked seriously cool (at least to me it did) and I was sure I was going to get good results, but once again I was wrong. Look at her on the left. Isn't she purty? Still, I was hounded with the holes in the wood going away from center! This was frustrating, but I figured one of the biggest obstacles to this project was the lack of proper tools and space. Luckily, an old engineering friend of mine had another friend with a factory where they build battle bots for FIRST competitions! The shop's name is STARBOT and it's just an awesome, family run place. I wasn't charged at all for using any of the machines! All I had to do was clean up after myself and tell others about it. STARBOT is going through a rough patch and could use people there using the machines and making donations for the time. I'll post STARBOT's phone and address up here later. 
To the left is the drill press I used at STARBOT. Isn't she a beauty?! You can't see it but to the right is a digital readout that goes to 0.0001 inches! Even with this beauty I still couldn't drill a straight line of holes down that wooden baffle! I was seriously starting to doubt my abilities at this point. Until my friends at STARBOT told me that the grain of the wood was pulling on the drilling chuck. I could do two things, start over with the wood, drilling tiny pilot holes to counter the grain pull effect, or I could bypass it altogether by using Ultra-High Molecular Weight Polyethylene UHWP. I went to Mc-Master Carr and found exactly the part I needed at the measurements I needed; Link to McMaster Carr Baffle Part. I bought two for a total of 10 feet. I then cut each into a 24 inch and a 36 inch part. This would form the frame for my FTIR. 
 Then all I had to do was drill, and drill, and drill some more.

During the MK I proof of concept I only drilled LED's into the top and bottom of the frame. This did a good job of delivering light to the screen, the IRLED's I chose were good enough to deliver light to the entire surface with only half the frame lit up. This time, however, I want to take advantage of the entire frame and string it  up with IRLED's. This means a lot more drilling. I drilled holes 1" apart from each center. Giving me 23 holes on the 24" side and 35 holes on the 36" part.

Currently, I need to reorder a new acrylic screen (the old one got really scratched up), and a lot more IRLED's to finish wiring up the new baffle. That's where I'm currently at. Just waiting for the new parts to come in to finish the wiring and begin the coding section of the project.

I've always changed the table again, this time I've fitted it into a drafting table. This will set the stage for the future use of this multi-touch frame (a multi touch CAD). That's right! You've heard it hear first, so remember I've copyrighted this idea with this time stamp. I will build a multi-touch CAD. I've used 2 drafting table legs from Ikea and the frame currently looks like the photo to the right. It can angle up to become a proper drafting table or a multi touch drafting table. This is FTIR is gonna be awesome! This is Multi Touch Mk II.

In the mean time I realized I never posted up pictures of how I modded my webcam to be more sensitive to IR light. That's coming up next.


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

FTIR Goes Mobile

In my ongoing FTIR project I've come up with a new solution to a new problem. I've included a slideshow below - clicking on it enables the full screen and shows notes from flickr. What follows is a short description of the projects current status.
So, If I can't get a projector (I'm having a hard time buying one) I'll need to borrow one from my University - which means setting up at the university! I couldn't do that with a pipe table so I needed to fabricate a portable one. With the guidance of my father-in-law (who is an amazing engineer and builder) I was able to build this portable table.
One would be quick to notice that it has no way to block outside noise (background IR radiation), but I have a solution for that. The next upgrade on the table will be to add a flexible curtain line around the lower portion of the FTIR frame. This way I can attach a curtain that will minimize the interference of outside radiation. This should give the camera an unimpeded view of the acrylic surface.
I'm still worried about IR radiation from the projector itself. I'm hoping I can find a filter to reduce the IR radiation from the projector without impacting the overall visual aesthetic of the projection. I'm also planning on making a new compliant surface. I'm still using tinkerman's method - which I've linked to (on the nui forum group) below. The only difference between my method and his is I use mineral spirits while he uses Xylol.
Because of that I adjust my ratio - 3 parts Mineral spirits to one part Silicone. Below are some pictures of my father-in-law and me working on constructing this frame. We did this in the course of an afternoon with about $15 worth of material from Home Depot.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Thoughts on Time

It's been an while since my last post. I'm still working on the table and I'll be posting updates on that soon. Currently, I would like to pose some thoughts on time and time travel. These are more questions and I'd like to get feedback from the audience out there if possible.

Let's suppose time travel is possible. So, instead of doing the cliche thing where I use my Delorean to run down my grandfather I use my time machine in a different way. I travel back 1 second in time to meet myself. Now there is 1 "copy" of me, and the two of us are traveling forward. After another second elapses we both go back in time to meet both of us. Now there are 4 copies of me running around. If I repeat this ad infinitum, there will be an infinite number of copies of myself running around, and the number will be increasing exponentially with every passing of the second hand.

Eventually, my the mass of all my copies and myself could potentially be greater than the mass of the Universe. Wouldn't that violate the law of conservation of mass?

If that is, indeed, a valid argument - does that contradict the possibility of time travel altogether - or simply my outlandish thought experiment?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Completed Frame

This is the completed set up. I don't have any experience or tools with woodworking so building a wooden frame from scratch would have been to costly and time consuming. To overcome that difficulty I chose PVC pipe. I bought 40 feet of 1.5 inch pipe, 6 t joints, 2 crosses and 8 90 degree elbows. I didn't take into account the extra length of the joints - I thought these distances would be minimal. However, with the diameter of the pipe I chose this judgment proved wrong as these joints added significant length to the frame. This meant I had to adjust my original measurements, cut the pipe more times than I care to mention ( actually about 3 times on certain pipes) and I need to measure the angle. The original design was meant for a 35 degree angle at the part of the base closest to the user. At the moment I have not glued the pipes together. This is because the only way to get a projector to finish the project is to borrow one from the McNair program at my university (FIU). So, I'll need to have helpers to steady the base to keep the multi touch display from falling. Once I can get a projector at my house (If anyone wants to donate an old working one I'll take it), then I'll fix the pipes in place. I can't wait to get this thing running! I might be able to conduct a mouse test in the mean time at my house. This would mean I'll test the compliant surfaces I've been working on and verify that the screen is fully visible to the camera. My calculations hint that a height of 36" should be enough to get a sloped screen fully in view. I should be verfying all this shortly.
In the mean time I'll be seeing how long the pipe frame can hold it's own weight. I obviously won't have the display on it!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Errors Compound

I was wrong! The web-cam I converted to view the IR spectrum was not ruined. How could I overlook this minor mistake for so long? I'll tell you how,I simply, and incorrectly, assumed it was the lens. This has been my greatest blunder of the entire project, costing me $20 from my shoestring budget! I'm not proud to say it, but it needs to be documented.  I discovered that the cam worked perfectly. As I began to inspect the cam I found that the focus ring could rotate. Once I had found the driver (which was no easy task ) I was able to refine the image to clarity.
By the way if you are using a Creative Instant WebCam model: VF-0040 and want to save time click here for the driver.
At the same time, against my better judgment, I decided to power the frame from the my laptop's USB port. This was the image I saw. I still hadn't completed the focusing but I got so excited I impetuously captured an image! This is much brighter than the images Juan and me took with our unmodified cameras. It also proved me wrong. I was of the mind that a measily 5.5V the USB laptop power line have the Amperage or, quite frankly, the testicular fortitude to drive 66 LED's. I'm quickly learning that I don't know everything, and that a project like this leaves you looking at the world with new eyes. So, here I am, blogging about my wonderful achievements. Amazed by the ignorance and absentmindedness I've accumulated over the years- and wondering if, after all this, I'm really just a mountebank- a fraud, a scheister. How can I teach others that which I don't know? Honestly, I can't be sure of everything- yet, but I am sure that this project will not stop until completed. I'll end this post with an image of the camera in focus. There is no IR burst - we already know it can pick that up. What I haven't proven- until now, is that the webcam can focus and capture a great picture! By the end of this part of the project I was glad I took a chance and listend to my instinct. I could power the frame from my laptop, I could focus the camera, and I can use a single computer to power the entire display. Maybe I'm not a mountebank seeking to deceive all who enter this site with bright eyed dowey eyes. I guess what it really comes down to is how much you're willing to learn - about trusting instinct, how much you really know about a subject, or how open minded you are to explore nature.