Saturday, May 24, 2014

Pip-Boy 3000: Wearable Wrist Computer

The Pip-Boy 3000 is an example of how microcontrollers are allowing makers to translate an imaginary futuristic product into a real-life, working item.

As a recent post on Singularity Hub explains:
"...The popular Fallout series of video games take place in a post-apocalyptic future where the world’s been decimated by nuclear war. The game’s Pip-Boy 3000 stores and displays maps, stats, inventory, and of course, scans for radiation. The real-world Pip-Boy 3000...uses an iOS app that displays maps and a variety of key environmental data like humidity, altitude, latitude and longitude, air pressure, temperature, and yes, radiation levels...The space wearables competition was part of NASA’s larger International Space Apps Challenge 48-hour hackathon. Teams were asked to design a wearable device for explorers in hostile, extraterrestrial environments. The Pip-Boy 3000 was made from off-the-shelf components including an iPhone 5, a Pinoccio microcontroller (i.e., an affordable mini-computer on a chip), a home-made geiger counter, and a Texas Instruments BLE4 sensor tag..."
As microcontrollers and the sensors that send them information become smaller but more powerful, DIY electronics enthusiasts and smart people with unfettered imaginations will do more and more of what the Pip-Boy 3000 team did -- make real-world working versions of interesting science fiction devices that could previously only exist in the mind of an imaginative author or the research lab of a large corporation.

Four emerging technologies or products used to make the Pip-Boy 3000 that would not have been available ten years ago to a small team with a limited budget are:

  1. Very small, low-cost and powerful microcontrollers
  2. Low-cost 3D printer
  3. Smartphone with access to all the maps and environmental data
  4. Home-made geiger counter
The same NASA Space Apps Challenge generated another emerging technology-enabled project, the Android Base Station. This team created a working, 3D printed, Arduino-driven satellite tracker that transforms a smart phone into wifi hotspot by connecting to satellites using a 3-D printed receiver. The Android Base Station can switch quickly between satellites to use the least expensive service available at any given time.

It feels like high school and college students over the next five years who don't learn how to use microcontrollers or can't translate their sketches and ideas into 3D printed realities are going to be missing out on a lot of opportunities. And that's not just true for engineering students. It also applies to artists, to clothing designers, to organic farmers and to many other careers or occupations.

One opportunity for the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group over the next few years will be to sponsor activities for young people (and for older ones too...) to be exposed to the world of microcontrollers and all the practical (and fun or interesting) applications there are for these tiny computing devices.

Almost makes you want to come to the next meeting of the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group on May 29 from 6 to 8 PM at The Link in Arcata, doesn't it?! Check out the Humboldt Makers Group website or their Facebook page for more details.


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