D.I.Y. Oculus Rift / VR Goggles

 

The Oculus Rift has been getting a lot of buzz lately.  They offered to give free dev kits to Philippine Game Dev companies several months ago.  I applied for it but unfortunately they weren’t able to provide it to everyone.  I also wanted to buy one myself but it seems I have to wait until August.  Drat!

Anyway, to keep myself occupied I just decided to try to build one myself.  It took about a day to buy all the parts but assembly time was about 4 hours.  It’s not really complicated to build.

First you’ll need a base to mount it on.  I used plastic welding goggles.  I initially thought I’d need something more to hold the goggles steady on my head but the small lcd monitor was light enough for the goggles to hold it in place without any added head support.

You’ll also need a small LCD monitor.  I just used a 3.5 inch? one I had.  I think it was originally for those car rearview cameras.

Next is a couple of magnifying glasses.  The ones I bought at a bookstore were the type that had a built in stand.  You’ll see in the pics that these kind already provide a nice way of mounting the glasses on the goggles and the LCD monitor as well.

That’s it for the goggles themselves.  I also mounted 4 battery powered LED lights in front of the assembly.  This is for motion tracking using a webcam.  The idea is that it will be able to provide something to track head movement with.

The software for the goggles is just any stereo graphics app that can display the left and right views on your screen.  Unfortunately the LED/webcam tracking won’t work.  It only works on my own apps.

Anyway, that’s it.  I’m sure a lot of you guys out there will be able to build something a lot better.  Happy hardware hacking guys!

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Creating a Simple D.I.Y. Iron Man Arc Reactor

This is a guideline in creating your own do it yourself Iron Man Arc Reactor.  This is not an exact duplicate., but it is something that you can construct with materials you already have or can easily get from a hardware or home supply store.  *** Important: Please read part 10 at the very bottom of this article for some warnings before trying to build something like this. ***

It’s also designed to be worn under a shirt so you don’t need to be too neat when making the unit.

final_00The final look of the arc reactor when worn under a black shirt.

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(Screenshots from the movie Iron Man produced by Marvel Studios)
The arc reactor mark 1 Tony Stark creates in the movie has the following features:

  • An outer ring of light with 10 coils around it
  • A central circle of light

SAMSUNG1. The Flash Light
The Arc Reactor is based on a cheap LED flashlight.  The reason we only have 7 coils instead of 10 is that this particular light only has 7 LEDs in its outer ring.  We could have gone with the original 10 coil design but that left uneven illumination because the LEDs did not line up with the coils and the lighting looked uneven.  If you could get a flashlight with 10 LEDs in it’s outer ring, then that would be better.

SAMSUNG2. The Light Ring

This is just made out of cutout plastic from some translucent plastic covers.  You can use any type of translucent plastic for this.

SAMSUNGSAMSUNGSAMSUNG3. Creating the Ring

So we cut out 2 circles of plastic.  They’re glued together with separators between them made from small black cardboard rectangles.  The space isn’t that critical, we just want the coils to look a bit thick, although this really isn’t that noticeable under the shirt.  Then we just use some red wire would and glued around the ring in 7 segments to align with the flashlight LEDs.

SAMSUNG4. The Central Light

We cut a smaller piece of black plastic (or cardboard) for the black space between the inner light and the outer ring of light.  We also cut a circular piece of transparent plastic to act as a cover for the central light.

 

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5. Parts for assembly

In the above picture we see the flashlight LED module with the assenbled ring and coils and the central light cover.  I just used some small washers and glued them to the central piece of transparent plastic just to give some detail to the central light.

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6. Initial Testing for the Arc Reactor

We glue and tape the parts according to the pictures above.  It’s tarting to look like an Arc reactor now.

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7. The Back Cover

We’ll now cut the LED module away from the flashlight body and connect it to a long piece of wire to a battery pack.  The back cover is just a circular cover from a plastic container that’s slightly larger than the flashlight LED module.  We just tape it to the back.  Don’t use cardboard for the back cover since it’ll be resting on your chest and sweat will warp cardboard.

SAMSUNG8. The Holder

The easiest way to wear this is to hang it around your neck like a large necklace.  I just used a couple of ID holders.  These come with clips for the IDs so when mounted this way it’s easy to unclasp from the back of your neck.

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9. Attaching a Battery Pack and switch

Attach a 3 volt battery pack and switch to the unit so you can control it by keeping the battery pack in your pants pocket.

 

 

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10. WARNING!

Please exercise caution if you do decide to build something like this.  Building any type of electronic project has it’s own set of dangers and you are entirely responsible for the consequences of whatever you do.  In the pic above I got a cut on my middle finger.  I was trying to cut plastic and the sharp cutter slipped and nicked my finger. OUCH!  It was bleeding a bit about an hour before this pic was taken.  I’ve been doing electronics for years and these things still happen from time to time. :-)

 

 

 

 

The Best Cake Decorations Ever

Cakes are a staple in any party or event.  Cakes range in size from a small birthday cupcake to 6 foot tall wedding cakes.  How about cake decorations in the 21st century.  What would they be like?  Here’s on form they might take.  Watch the video and see.  Which of the 3 types would you want on your birthday cake? :)

Digital puppetry is an old art form but it has never really taken off because of the high cost of doing it.  I used to work in a place that used $100,000 worth of equipment to do digital puppetry.  When the company closed down I decided to build something that would still let me and others who miight also enjoy doing digital puppetry do so at an affordable price.  Check it out at http://www.animocap.com/digitalpuppetry

Digital Puppetry: A peek behind the scenes

This is the usual set-up for a digital puppetry implementation.  We have two guys inside the booth.  The first is the main puppeteer and the second guy is the tech assistant.

Yes, a single puppeteer can handle the performance but in our experience you really need a second person to handle things that unexpectedly happen.  In a live performance, the puppeteer can’t just go out and fix a loose video cable.

You can also see the reason why we use manual mouth controls. i.e. We don’t use microphone control or even a face cam setup.  Those things look cool, but are not reliable in a real performance scenario.  The booth we’re using here is just a cloth booth for hiding the performers.  During our first attempts we tried to use a sound controlled puppet but there really was no practical way to get a sound free environment.  So in conclusion: the best way to control a puppet;s mouth is to still use the puppeteer’s hands.

Creating a raspberry pi based security system Part 1: Requirements

People lie, people cheat, people steal. Have you ever met a determined liar? You know, people who when asked certain questions, never tell the truth or admit the wrong they’ve done. You give them so many chances to come clean and they never, never tell the truth … until you present photo or video evidence.

Here I’ll show a way of building a very effective video and audio surveillance tool using the raspberry pi.

This is a story of industrial espionage …

Wow that sounds a lot more exciting than it really is.  The area to be secured is a room where only few people usually enter. This room contains a few regular office supplies so sometimes other staff are ordered to go into the room to get items. However, the room contains a filing cabinet where office files are stored. Some of the files are price lists and bid documents. The owners of the company suspect someone is taking a look at these files and maybe using them to compete against the company. The room is locked only sometimes during night or weekends. Sometimes the room is not locked at all.

  • The suspect must be caught opening the room, the filing cabinet and specifically looking at the files in the cabinet. This will leave the suspect with no excuse. He shouldn’t be in the room, much less opening the filing cabinet and peeking at the files.
  • The officers of the company don’t want to place obvious security cameras in place. They want to catch the thief in the act without tipping the thief off.
  • Videos would be nice but even an image sequence capturing the activity would work.
  • The suspect may have knowledge of electrical systems so there’s a risk of him being familiar with security systems.
  • It’s going to happen in the dark / low light situations.
  • The event may happen with a period of 1 week.
  • Installation time is extremely short. There must be no suspicious activities.
  • The location is that you can’t have any cabling that looks out of place.
  • There are no support spots nearby to mount fixed support objects like DVRs or monitors.
  • People can move / sit around the area or the room.
  • The data must be retrievable from outside the room (i.e. You shouldn’t have to access the security device to get the pics).
    The system cannot be too expensive.
  • It has to be ready in 4 days.

So given that, here were the options:

Spycam Wired
CCTV / DVR
Wireless
Cams / DVR
Wireless IP Cams
Media: Pic or Vid Y Y Y Y
Audio Y Y Y Y
Duration: 1 week N (a few hrs. max) Y Y Y
Location specific installation limits Y - - -
Low light / IR support - Y Y Y
Mounting: Hidden / Nonstandard Possible Possible Possible Possible
Budget - Standard Higher than 2 Higher than 3

 Option 1: Spycams

Most commercial spycams are nothing more than toys. Have you seen some of the eyeglass mounted ones? Those aren’t even useful as spycams. Anyone can spot them a mile away. But in this case, not even the good ones were fit for the job. Although they can conceal well, they won’t be able to last for the duration of the surveillance and don’t have low light support.

Option 2: CCTV system and DVR (Wired)

The problem here is that the location won’t support it. There isn’t any place available in the location to place the central equipment (DVR). There isn’t time to lay cabling properly and even so, any type of cabling would arouse suspicion.

Option 3: Using wireless cams

Wireless spycams that transmit in the Gigahertz range are widely available, but again, there’s no place in the location where you can place a central DVR. You can walk around with the receiver and monitor but you won’t be able to sit around for 24 hours. Also, there’s another thing I don’t like about commercial wireless cams is that anybody with a commercial receiver can see what you’re transmitting. So it’s not good for sensitive stuff.

Option 4: Wireless IP Cams

With wireless IP cams, you’ll need a good internet connection with good bandwidth. In this case, there’s no available way to provide internet connection.

The Budget:

With enough money, we could’ve modded whatever equipment we have, assigned as much people we need or event rent / pay for location specific things we need. Unfortunately that’s not the case. This is a really budget limited thing.

Solution:

Luckily I and a few of my colleagues have been exploring using the Raspberry pi for security use before and all our tests pointed out it would be suitable for this situation.

Media:

We really didn’t need full motion video for this. A sequence of pics catching the thief with their hands in the cabinet with the files is all we needed. Audio will also be recorded. This will help identify activities that are happening in and out of the room.

Duration:

We decided to use a 32 GB SD card for the raspberry pi. This would give us 2 weeks worth of still image sequences plus audio.

Mounting:

The device should be portable and not look out of place. It should be something we can put in the room on top of a filing cabinet, table or shelf and it wouldn’t lok out of place. We decided to use an AVR to be the case to hide the cameras in. The advantage is that it can be placed anywhere and it can be plugged in, providing 24/7 power to the circuits inside.

Cameras:

In line with the cost, we decided to use a couple of ordinary webcams that we modded for infrared light use. For lighting, we put a couple of incandescent bulbs outside the room window to provide enough IR for the cameras to pick things up even in total darkness.

Can we use the original raspberry pi camera module? Not for this app. It’s more expensive, the cable is too short for mounting and it’s not IR ready (although it might be possible to mod this for IR, we still haven’t tried it yet)

Hiding the Cameras:

Cameras should not be visible. People today are used to looking at stuff and if they see a round hole that shouldn’t be there they might suspect it’s a camera, specially paranoid people who have bad intentions. Because we were budget limited to regular webcams we used the opaque IR pass through filter approach. The “window” for the camera is very large but you won’t be able to see it. It just looks like an opaque black piece of plastic.

Recording the Media:

We built apps for the raspberry pi to record the images and audio on a periodic basis.

Retrieval:

We configured the raspberry pi with a static IP address and installed a web server on it. We built a web app that can be used by a remote party to browse through the images and audio.

We configured a pocket wifi router (e.g. ssid=”securebase”). Then we configured the raspberry pi to connect to this router everytime it is within range.

How it would work:

The unit can be taken inside the room, plugged in and left there. A monitoring guy can go to the office every day or every few days, sit in a desk near the room with the pocket wifi with him. The unit will connect to the pocket wifi router and the monitoring guy can browse through the files using his phone. Optionally, he can download the entire sequence of files in a laptop.

How long did it take to catch the perpetrators?

One freaking day! If the unit was installed today, the idea was to look at it the next day to see if we should tweak the position a bit. But lo and behold we already got an image sequence of the files being looked at.

Results

The client liked the results and I am pretty pleased with it myself.

Issues

We left the unit there still for several days. There does seem to be times when you won’t be able to connect to the Raspbery pi remotely but it was still taking pics and recording. The simple solution was to get someone to unplug it and plug it again. Maybe a reboot script should be included. I’ll be trying that in the next iterations of the device.

Legal Issues:

Before implementing a project like this, please consult your legal advisors. Laws may vary from territory to territory.

Responsibility:

Please be responsible when using devices like these. You know what a certain Uncle Ben said: “With great power comes great responsibility”.

That’s it.  The software and hardware will be discussed in following posts.  Stay tuned!

A DIY portable infrared spotlight for security and surveillance

When using an ifrared (IR) camera, it’s useful to have a portable IR spotlight handy. These lights aren’t easy to obtain but it is relatively easy to modify an existing visible light LED spotlight and convert it.

SAMSUNGI recently bought a few portable LED lights like the above. I converted one to IR by replacing the visible light LEDs with IR LEDs.

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You have to desolder the regular visible light LEDs and remove them, then replace them with IR LEDs. This particular light uses 19 pcs of 5 mm visible light LEDs. It’s easy to buy 5 mm IR LEDs but you may have problems if the light you buy have different size LEDs. The entire procedure took less than an hour.

Testing

SAMSUNGThe light on the left is a standard unmodified light and the one on the right is the one we modified. They look almost identical except the IR LEDs I bought have a flat surface while the original LEDs have a curved surface.

SAMSUNGThe picture above is taken with the two lights on. This picture was taken using a regular phone cam. The phone cam can still see part of the IR LED lights when looking directly at the LEDs. This is a useful test when trying to see if your lights are on or off.

This IR light tinge is totally undetectable by human eyes, which is convenient for surveillance purposes. Make sure you get these types of IR LEDs because most of the time the ones used in common CCTV security cameras have a red tinge which is visible to the human eye.

SAMSUNGThe above is our test area. This picture is taken using a regular phone cam with the room light on. Now we turn off the room light and use the visible spotlight and the IR spotlight and see the results.

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The above two pictures were taken with the lights off / in total darkness. The regular LED spotlight was used. The left one is taken using a regular phone cam and the right one using an IR camera.

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The pictures above were taken with the lights off / in total darkness, this time with the IR light on. The left one was taken using a regular phone cam. So as we can expect there really is nothing to be seen. And the right pic was taken with the IR camera.

In conclusion, the IR spotlight is a great convenient accessory that’s useful when using IR cameras.

The Detective Game: Surveillance is hard!

Magnifying Glass

I’m mainly a software developer but I also do a bit of work related to law enforcement / security, mainly on the tech side.  I build imaging systems – a.k.a. cctv / security systems for custom requirements.  Sometimes when there’s an opportunity I like to do some field work.  Nothing fancy, just providing an extra pair of eyes or hands for the real security people doing the work.  I usually assist in operating equipment or doing surveillance.  And this is just so I can get a feel of the processes involved and maybe I can get ideas on how to improve the process or maybe build some new device to get better results.

A few days ago I was doing plain vanilla surveillance watching an apartment gate waiting for people to enter or exit.  Luckily I got a great spot.  It was a chair at a small eatery.  With just my regular sitting position I got a line of sight view to the gate through the eatery’s glass display case and a metal grating on the side wall.  This was perfect.  I get a clear view, and at the same time the grate and the glass display case act as a barrier (because of light reflections and image detail noise) to anyone on the other side trying to look for me.

This ain’t like the movies.  Sure you see the guy there sitting on a park bench watching someone while pretending to be reading a newspaper.  It looks so easy.  Well as I said, it ain’t!

Position: Lucky for me I got a chair with a table in an eatery.  If it were outside I might’ve had to be leaning on a telephone pole or standing by the glass window of a shopping complex.  I just did a 4 hour shift.  I can’t imagine someone doing this for 8 or more.

Evading Suspicion: Again, since it was an eatery not too many people get suspicious if you stay for long.  You know, just order cups of coffee or something.  You just have to do it right.  I say this because I know I was doing it wrong and I wouldn’t have been effective if it were some other layout.  Everyone else in the place is watching the funny TV program while I had my eyes fixed on the gate, and I’d jump up every time a truck blocks my view.  Luckily the people inside the place didn’t care as long as I kept on ordering stuff.

Watching .. watching .. and … watching: Well the job is to watch and this is the part that’s also difficult.  You have to keep your eyes on target otherwise you can miss what you’re trying to catch.  The target may move fast or a truck may block your view.  There’s also the TV, the music, people moving and other distractions that may take your attention off for a few seconds.  Your eyes get strained and you can’t make moves that take you sight off target.  And you shouldn’t order too many drinks or else you’d be forced to go to the bathroom.

Well it was a fun experience.  At least it got me off the computer for a while.  The thing I was thinking about the whole time was from the other point of view.  The question is:

How do you detect people watching you?

For example, kidnappers, thieves and other criminals do the same thing – watch a place for hours at a time to see patterns of movements and opportunities they can exploit.  How would you detect them?  And second, how can you detect them if they’re in a concealed position like I was?

This is an interesting thing to research and build a few hackey prototypes for.  My first solution would be a custom pan tilt and zoom camera with software that that would automatically scan the scene and get information – i.e. Detect / define the movements and positions of people and vehicles in the scene.  Analyze that data to see if there are “funny stuff” happening and flag that.  Example: The same car plate number going around 6 times in a span of 1 hour.  A guy standing around and looking in the direction of the camera more than 90% of the time.  And other stuff like that.

For stuff you’d like me to research or custom equipment you’d like to build, see the About page.  Thanks.

Raid The Fridge @Kickstart

I attended another Raid the Fridge event last night. It’s a tech meet up organized by Kickstart.ph. There’s a lot to learn from all the people in the community, and with lots of beer and good food, I’m looking forward to the next event already.

Here are the pics. I think I missed taking the pic of a presesntation or two. I think it was because I was busy finishing the chili and chugging my beer. :)

startupph

chris_philChristian Besler of Kickstart.ph and Phil Morle of Pollenizer.com

truepropertyWilliam Pattison of trueproperty.ph

gino_caparasGino Caparas of streamenginestudios.com

projmgt

Christian Blanquera of http://www.workinspire.com/

philippe
Philippe Bautista of odicion.com

selfie
Minette Navarrete, David Elefant and Me! :)

boardThe board where we’re trying to map the community

food1The food courtesy of goodmealhunting.com. At the time I took this pic, some people already ate the lettes ‘i’,'n’,'g’.

food2Beef Rendang – Yummy!

food3Chili – Just the right spiciness

fridgeAnd of course here we have “The Fridge”, which still seems to be full at the time I left.

 

Hello World! … again …

I’ve had this site for 12 years now and I think it’s hightime I started it again.  I’d like to go back to 2001 with this video of digital puppetry.  We used a Polhemus magnetic motion capture for this one.  The bunny’s mouth was being controlled by a joystick and I was doing the voice from behind the video camera.

bunnyhead