Tuesday, November 24, 2009


The fine fellow behind the "Eating the Road" blog has remixed our video with Mistah F.A.B.'s Ghost Ride the Whip. You may recognize Eating the Road from his recent feature on Digg: "Where Should I Eat? Fast Food Edition (Flowchart)".

I must say, I've been watching this on repeat for most of the past three days...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Some people are just WAY too smart"

"Some people are just WAY too smart."
-Chris Willis, KXAN Austin News Today host

The Austin News Today team featured our car on their broadcast this morning. Special thanks to NBC affiliate KXAN's Kate Weidaw for coming out to see our car and putting together a great story. Check out the video below.

Check out the story they published on their website as well. See the how we did it page they talked about also.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Live, Local, and Loving Lincolnshire

Waterloo Labs had another interview with the BBC today about our iPhone controlled car. This time, Will was interviewed by Tom Morris for the tech segment on the local broadcast for BBC Lincolnshire. Check out the interview below:


Thursday, November 12, 2009

We're Big in Europe

Hunter's BBC Radio 2 Scotland interview with Gary

Stephen's BBC Radio 5 Live interview on the Breakfast show with Shelagh

We awoke yesterday morning to find a fun little tweet at us from the BBC (and no I don't mean Bob's Box Corporation) asking us to call them. Hunter obliged and was met with the FANTASTIC news that BBC 2 and BBC 5 Live radio were interested in featuring us. After a few logistics, Good Morning Scotland and BBC 5 Live Breakfast both conducted phone interviews with Hunter and Stephen, respectively, this morning, with the rest of us eagerly listening, ready to jump in should the opportunity arise.

Of course there was a fun time difference so we all got to stay up past our bedtimes (which we normally do, but this time we were inside and not out in the garage).

See how we built a car controlled by an iPhone on our website.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Driving a Car with an iPhone - Episode 3

It's finally here!

In part 1 of this episode, we give a overview of how we turned an Oldsmobile Delta '88 into a remote control car in just 4 weeks. We built our control systems using a few motors, potentiometers, a Compact RIO embedded controller, and LabVIEW. We then set up wi-fi communication so we can drive the car from an iPhone as well as from a modified Power Wheels truck.

For detailed plans, parts lists and code available for download, check out our website at EngineerAwesome.com. Also, check out part 2 of the video for a more in depth how-to on this project, including more awesome footage.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


So I don't know how many people remember the movie Surf Ninjas but it was certainly a staple of 5th grade sleep overs for me growing up. The kind where you watch a bunch of terrible karate movies and then start fighting all your friends with the sweet moves you just learned from TumTum and Colt.

Anyway, before there were hundreds of videos on YouTube of people wrecking their cars trying to Ghost Ride the Whip, there was MotoSurfing - as made famous by Surf Ninjas. There were many nights I lay awake as a ten year old dreaming of the day I could move to California, own a horrible yellow volkswagen jeep thing, lose the ability to properly pronounce syllables, and MOTOSURF! Today, I got to fulfill the only part of that dream that still remains after 14 years (Hint: It's not the accent). And yes, thats me driving the car from the roof with an iPhone. Subscribe to our YouTubes and watch for Video Nov 3!

Friday, October 23, 2009

No Tailpipe Flames

So unfortunately, after doing a ton of research, we will not be having tailpipe flames on Wendy for reasons of safety (we live dangerously, not stupidly).

So the traditional method of having flames shoot out your tailpipe is to dump extra fuel into the exhaust and then use a spark plug about 6" from the end of your exhaust that will light the unburned fuel when you push a button or something similar. Two problems with this, we have a catalytic converter and a fuel injection system. The whole point of a catalytic converter is to burn unused fuel, so we would have to rip that out. The O2 sensor on the fuel injector would have to go as well, as it keeps your engine from dumping extra fuel without hacking the ECU.

So this leaves the alternative of pumping propane into the exhaust line after the cat converter. The problem with this is that the flame can chase back up into the propane tank and blow up unpredictably. Now don't get me wrong, we are all about explosions, but we prefer it when we can control them. So if anyone knows a lot about propane routing, let us know!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Laptop + Power Wheels = WIN!

We have successfully created our own feedback sensors for a frankensteinesque Power Wheels (whom we have affectionately named Hank). Hank's parts have been fashioned out of everything from spare bike gears and PVC to telephone wire and PCI slot covers and a whole lotta JB Weld (if it can save $3000 in tractor repairs then it's good enough for Hank!)

Anywho, here's a short video showing off Hank and the program we wrote to get our data on his steering and speed. Stay tuned to see where we go from here (Hint: Note that we're filming next to Wendy).

Friday, October 9, 2009

Late Night Mechanics

Last night was a late one trying to get some work done on Wendy. We first tried to hack the cruise control hoping we could use computers to control the speed. But Will has seen Terminator too many times (it doesn't help we named our program SkyNet) and didn't trust it, plus the cruise control was broken anyway. For a $300 car like Wendy I expected a lot better but what are you going to do (she still has a sweet spoiler, and does anyone have spinners we can have?)

In lieu of creating self aware cyber organisms bent on world domination we came up with a much more elegant solution to driving the car - a window motor and a hand wrench. I know, you're pretty impressed. We managed to mount the motor successfully to the floorboards and only drill through the brake lines a little. Just when everything was ready to test...the car battery died. So, currently we are a pair of jumper cables away from a car that can accelerate on its own with no brakes, but don't worry its in the parking garage at work so there's lots of cars around to help stop it!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Wendy Meets Waterloo Labs

After months of scrounging the internet for the cheapest workable car we could find we have successfully underbid a single mom for Wendy - a 1990 Oldmobile Eighty Eight Royale for only $300. She reminds me of the car my parents had growing up, except it doesn't have spilled frosty on the front bench seat and there aren't pennies jamed (or peanut buttered) in the seat belts.

Look for more to come and what we do to Wendy on our adventure to make a perfectly drivable car a whole helluva lot less practical but way way cooler.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Jessica from South Austin

In our pursuit to help the economy by contributing to the cash for clunker cause we have been trying to help someone get an old car off their hands AND give them $300 for fun. To our surprise no one wants our money. Check out one of the responses we received:

lol... it doesnt sound rough like that... its all cosmetic... did you really think you'd walk off with it for 200... nice try tho... maybe if i said the engine were blown or the motor is f**... but seriously...
thanks for the offer but i will decline...

- Jessica

If you are in need of getting rid of a rusted pile of metal that can slowly move down the road on four tires and would love to see it in the next video as well as be $300 dollars richer let us know.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Craigslist Power Wheels

As part of our upcoming project we needed to get a Power Wheels. Let me just say, owning a power wheels has been a dream of mine ever since I was three. I still know the jingle (granted its just the words power wheels over and over - but there's a beat to it you have to get right). My parents had an outstanding deal with my sister and I growing up that if they ever won the lottery they would by us a power wheels and in fact that deal still stands to this day.

We decided it wasnt a good decision though to just wait on my parents to win the lottery. So we did what every lottery loser does when they want cool stuff on the cheap - Craigslist. We found a nice man named Trent whose dog had gotten a hold of his kids power wheels and was willing to sell his kids dreams for the bargain price of $30. Needless to say I felt a little jipped that my parents couldn't part with $30 when I was a kid, but regardless, power wheels acquired.

Stay tuned to see what we do with a chewed up miniature F150 and a whole lot of modifications!

UDPATE: It's been brought to our attention that there's a lot of beer in the background of this picture we took at work and that's maybe not appropriate. Our company has beer at work; you're probably just jealous.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Our special thanks and a promise for more

We wanted to take a second to thank everyone who watched our video, give a special thanks to everyone who then sent it on to someone else, and send an even more special thanks to those of you who blogged, tweeted, or otherwise broadcast the video. Our success isn't possible without you!

Second, we wanted to let you know that we have at least half a dozen other projects in the pipeline now. Many of them are direct results of your input! Keep giving us great project ideas and we'll keep cooking them up and sending them right back at you!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Calling All Crazy Project Ideas!

It's been really great to see tens of thousands of people viewing our video, but here's the rub. We want to make more videos!

We've got a few vids already in the works, but we think the best way to get even more ideas is to ask those of you who made our Half-Life with Real Guns video popular. Post your project ideas as comments on this blog post and maybe you'll see your crazy idea brought to life in a future episode.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

FPS with Real Guns - Episode 02

Here's the second episode from Waterloo Labs. This time we are playing Half-Life (well, the flash version at least), with a real gun. Using accelerometers and LabVIEW, we can triangulate the position of where a bullet hits a piece of drywall and use that location to generate a mouse click in the game, which has been projected onto the wall.

UPDATE (8/12): If you have other crazy project ideas, comment on our newest blog post with your ideas!

UPDATE: Here is the code to complete the demo yourself.

UPDATE (14:49): Here is the system overview, parts list, and explanation of the math behind this.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Greetings, NI Week Visitors!

Keep an eye out for our new video to be released this evening! In the meantime, check out our previous videos in the sidebar to the right or at our YouTube channel.

Meet us at NI Week Tech Theater

Come talk to Waterloo Labs at the Tech Theater at NI Week on Tuesday at 10:30a. Also, we'll be blending things with the Will It Blend? blender and playing with medieval weapons for Deadliest Warrior throughout the day. Look for the labcoats!

P.S. - Coming to see us at NI Week is free! You can see the cool demos on the expo floor and the keynotes for $0.00 if you select 'expo pass'.

Friday, July 31, 2009

Shots in the Dark

Working on our triangulation demo late into the night. Shooting rubber bands at drywall has never been so much fun!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Upcoming Project Updates

We wanted to make sure that we kept you up to date on our two projects that are currently in the works.

First-Person Shooter Demo

We are working on a project that allows you to locate the position of an impact on a flat surface using triangulation with accelerometers. And as is the way with Waterloo Labs, we take this simple concept and add something awesome. In this case, there will be two somethings: an AR15 and a .22 caliber. This video will be coming next week!

Cannon Fodder

This is the project that we mentioned at the end of the fireworks video. We will be building a cannon that tracks motion and follows targets using simple USB webcams.

Currently, we are trying to make sure that we have enough amps to drive the motors that we have located for the cannon. If so, then we have a project. If not, we will need to look into lower power motors.

Be sure to let us know if you have any suggestions or project ideas!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dimlet: the network-controlled light dimmer

John Boiles, the pyrotechnics guy from our computer controlled fireworks video, also happens to do some pretty awesome electrical engineering work. Here's a little sample. John's built a portable network-controlled light dimmer that... well, let's just let him explain it:

Monday, July 27, 2009

WaterlooLabs at NI Week

Your ever-lovable Waterloo Labs engineers will be at NI Week this coming Tuesday, August 4th through Thursday, August 6th. If you are an Austin resident, you should come down to the Austin Convention Center and check out the awesomeness.

Waterloo Labs videos will be featured before the keynotes, and we will be available on the show floor to talk to YOU about your cool DIY projects! Be sure to look for us at the Test Dome, we will have the "Will It Blend" Blender from Blend Tec and a bunch of weapons from the Deadliest Warrior to show off. Just look for the guys and girl in the nerdy white labcoats!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

This is more than a seasonal thing

Alright, so the 4th of July has passed, and your last fireworks went off in flaming glory. What next? Get more fireworks? Probably. And tape it this time so you can show us. But maybe you're already looking for something new.

Have no fear: remember, that LabVIEW program we wrote for you sends signals based on peaks in frequency. You can use it for beat detection. Noise alarms. Clap on clap off. There is a lot more here than just fireworks. We want to see you use this on stage for a light show in a concert. Use it for a trippy party in your basement. Find out if you can actually sing on pitch.

Enjoy yourselves. We made this for you.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Building the DIY Fireworks Demo

Last week we showed you a great demo that set off fireworks to music. This week, we show you how to wire up the project.

Note that the microphone is a three-wire mic. This means that you must power it by plugging it into an analog output and setting that voltage out to an appropriate level for the mic you have. The other two wires are wired into the positive and negative terminals of an analog input channel so that they can send data back to the 6009 device.

The digital out line that we used is port 0 line 0, but you can use any of the digital I/O lines for the current output.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Episode 01 - Computer Controlled Fireworks!

Here's our first episode of WaterlooLabs:

This blog post will be updated later today to include a technical writeup of how we did all of this and a circuit diagram so you can wire it up at home!

UPDATE: (15:00 CST)

In case any of ya'll are wondering how we did this here is a brief writeup detailing our methods (and probably our madness). Post comments or video responses if you have any questions about our implementation!


The goal of this project was to create a fireworks show automatically synchronized to a song using beat detection analysis and simple, low cost data acquisition hardware.

A song is imported into software for analysis; a Fourier Transform is then used to compare the power of a selectable frequency band to the average power in that band to detect a beat. When a beat is detected, a digital high is sent out through a USB-DAQ device. This device is wired as the base of a Darlington Pair Transistor that will switch on a high current power supply connected to the firework triggering method.

A Fourier Transform is taken of the song so the varying powers of the different frequencies can be observed. A certain frequency band is then isolated (such as the bass of the song to watch for kickdrum beats) and the power of that frequency band is measured. A running average of the past X number of power measurements is calculated and compared to the current power. If the current power of the band rises above the running average this is defined as a beat. The software we used is available here, and you can get LabVIEW and the Sound and Vibration Toolkit evals to run it.

A USB-DAQ device is wired to the Base of a Darlington Pair Transistor. When a digital high signal is sent from the DAQ device the transistor will switch, allowing a power supply to flow through the igniter. The igniter is comprised of a low resistance, low power resistor coated with pyrotechnic material. When the current from the power supply flows through the igniter’s resistor it overheats and ignites the pyrotechnic material, lighting the firework it is embedded in.


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Canada Day and Fireworks Photography

Our Canuck friends to the north are celebrating their country's birthday today, as we will be celebrating America's in a few days. With all of these fireworks going off, you might want to take a few pictures to remember your country's 142nd or 233rd birthday. We found a great blog post on how to photograph fireworks displays like a pro on Digital Photography School. Happy Canada Day!

Monday, June 29, 2009

...and then we were awesome!

Yesterday we spent a hot Texas day at the Wolf Stunt Ranch shooting off fireworks with the help of the amazing staff out there.

The stunt ranch is a lot more than just a field to blow up fireworks in though. Check out everything they do.

Epic Fireworks

Just wanted to give a shoutout to the guys at the Epic Fireworks blog for featuring our proof of concept video on their blog. Stay tuned for our video premiere, featuring the full-scale fireworks show, coming this week.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Sound Triggered Fireworks Proof of Concept

Check out this preview of our first project, which is coming out next week. This is a simple test setup of what will become a full blown display of patriotic glory. In this video, we are triggering a single Roman candle to shoot off by clapping.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

An Engineering Mind on WIRED

We wanted to give a 'shoutout' to our friend, Todd Sierer, over at An Engineering Mind. He got interviewed by GeekDad over on the WIRED blogs, and we think the interview is hilarious.

Check it out here.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

This Season on WaterlooLabs

Well, we've done it. The trailer for our first season is up, and you really ought to take a look:

Comment, rate, and subscribe.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Exploding LabVIEW Cannons

So, I was talking with Stephen on Gmail today after he and Alex had been working on the fruit cannon and, well, I'll let it speak for itself:

Stephen: hey
cannon is mostly built
Stephen: we had a bit of an explosion at the end of the day
me: hahaha
Stephen: so... we have to recure some of the parts
with the PVC cement
but, it is awesome

Friday, May 8, 2009

We Must Be On So Many Watch Lists...

So our very first project coming out right before the 4th of July is going to be having a program automatically synchronize a fireworks show with any input song. Of course a necessary ingredient here being fireworks. The problem? We live in Texas where consumer fireworks are illegal until the week before the 4th not leaving us anywhere near enough time to film, edit, post.

I looked at a couple of options
1. I tried to get an ATF firework license for interstate purchase of commercial grade fireworks. Unfortunately, living in an apartment I don't have an ATF certified magazine canister. (Plus my complex got mad at me for putting decorative lighting up, I don't think they would react to well to commercial grade explosives)

2. David found "a guy" who would sell us consumer fireworks before the legal date as long as we brought an out of state ID. This seemed a bit sketchy ... even for us.

3. Drive to Missouri, the closest place that sells them year round and buy them ourselves. Unfortunately the amount of Red Bull we would need to complete the trip in one weekend exceeds our budget.

4. Make our own fireworks. Since most components are controlled substances I feel like just the shopping I have done online has landed me on more government watch lists than I care to be on and I don't really have the stomach for being waterboarded.

So if you or anyone you know has a Class III weapons license or ATF Insterstate Commerce License, feel free to hook us up!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Waterloo Profiles

Meet the team!

Doug F.
Mechanical Engineer
Georgia Tech

Doug is smart, handsome and not at all full of himself. After graduating with a degree in being awesome he pursued a job with NI so he could get paid to blow stuff up.

Stephen M.
Mechanical Engineer
University of Texas at Austin

Stephen considers himself a native Texan even though he was born in the "North". He sates his Northern urges by watching Stars hockey games.

Will S.
Electrical Engineer
University of Michigan

Will comes from Minne-soh-ta and gets excited when it snows in Texas. When building snowmen isn't an option he sails, plays
volleyball and takes pictures.

Hunter S.
Electrical and Computer Engineer
Baylor University

Hunter is half-nerd and half-theater freak always looking to combine his love of multimedia and tech. He would like to direct movies someday, or become a robot, or a robo-director.

Anita B.
Chemical Engineering
University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Anita got lost on the yellow brick road and landed here all the way from Kansas. When not engineering, she attempts gardening on her apartment balcony and spends copious amounts of time basking in the warm Texas sun.

What Is Waterloo Labs?

Waterloo Labs is made up of engineers from National Instruments and other nerds from around Austin, Texas. Our mission is to show you great and fun DIY projects that you can accomplish on a budget.

Be sure to check out our YouTube channel to watch our videos. If you are trying one of our projects, post a video response or comment. Maybe even shoot us a tweet at @WaterlooLabs. We would love to hear what your ideas are and incorporate them into our next project!