Garage door monitoring and control using a dedicated Android phone

[Sean] happened to have an extra Android phone sitting around and wanted to see what type of home automation he could use it for. One simple hardware modification, and some apps from the Android Market let him monitor and control his garage door remotely.

The hardware modification is a hack we’ve already looked at. The BTmate uses a Bluetooth headset with an added transistor to short the connections on your garage door opener. The only issue is that you need to be within range for the Bluetooth to work. [Sean] adds a layer of abstraction by using two Android phones. One is permanently mounted in the garage and handles the Bluetooth connectivity, while the other uses VNC to tunnel in anywhere he has an Internet connection.

But why stop there? He knew that this one feature was overkill, and added a second which the phone was perfect for. Since it has its own camera, he used the tinyCam app to create a webcam server. This even allows him to turn the LED on and off for a better view in dim light conditions. See [Sean's] demonstration after the break.

Overkill? Maybe, but if you’ve got a phone with a broken LCD, this might be just the thing to give it a new purpose.

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Send a satellite into space for $300

There’s a new Kickstarter campaign that promises to launch a personalized satellite into orbit for 300 bones.

The KickSat project is headed by [Zac Manchester], [Mason Peck], [Justin Atchison] and a few more contributors hailing from Cornell University. Their goal is to launch a CubeSat filled with hundreds of postage stamp-sized satellites and release these ‘Sprites’ into low Earth orbit.

The Sprite concept has been in development for a while now and has been featured on IEEE Spectrum. The tiny satellites are simple PCBs with a microcontroller and a radio powered by solar cells and capacitors. The first version of the Sprite is designed to beam down a few bytes of data – just a unique identifier and a Kickstarter backer’s name. Future versions will undoubtedly include more advanced sensors such as cameras, thermometers, and very tiny particle detectors.

The KickSat team will use the funding from the Kickstarter campaign to test and integrate the systems. The team hopes to hitch a ride on one of NASAs many CubeSat launches, but if they get funding from 400 people, they’ll get to fly on a commercial launch by early 2013.

We were wondering about the amazing amount of space junk this KickSat/Sprite build will produce, but the team says not to worry: The Sprites fly in a pretty low orbit and will reenter the atmosphere a few weeks after being deployed. Not bad, considering Sputnik orbited for only 3 months.

Simple hack reuses an air freshener PIR sensor

pir_sensor_room_greeter

A year ago [Lochie] bought an Airwick automatic air freshener, and while he thought it was a cool gadget, the freshening spray and the novelty ran out in short order. The device collected dust in his room for some a while until he recently unearthed it, and noticed that a perfectly good PIR sensor was looking him in the face all this time.

He disassembled the air freshener, then set out to figure out how he could interface with the PIR sensor. After finding a helpful Instructable on the topic, he had full access to the sensor’s signals, allowing him to easily wire it up to an Arduino. He decided it would be fun to trigger some simple music any time someone entered his room, so he encoded a short bit of the Super Mario Brothers theme in RTTTL, as he explains in the video below.

It’s a simple little hack, but [Lochie] is pleased with it, and we imagine that he likely has a long list of other creative ideas in mind for his newly discovered PIR sensor.

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PlayStation 3 controller made fully remappable

[Hazer] managed to take a PlayStation 3 SixAxis controller and modify it so that all of the buttons can be remapped in hardware. Aside from this being really cool, he had a good reason for doing it. Regular readers should remember the feature regarding [Chuck Bittner's] internet petition calling for button mapping as a feature in all games. As the industry still hasn’t taken up the torch in this area, [Hazer] developed this mod for [Chuck] to use and has released it for any others out there who wish to give it a try.

The hardware alterations are pretty hardcore. On the left of the image, just below the rumble motor, a DIP microcontroller is nestled dead-bug style. This is a PIC 18F14K50. It’s running a bootloader, and has its own USB port on the opposite side of the controller. By cutting traces and soldering to vias, this chip intercepts button presses and shoots them off to the controller’s processor based on alternative mapping stored in EEPROM. There’s a helper app that lets you plug the controller into a computer to specify what each button does, including features like toggle for the buttons. Check out [Chuck's] thoughts on the hardware in the video after the break.

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This cube of playroom drawers is quite puzzling

If you’re looking for a piece of custom furniture to anchor your child’s playroom, this Rubik’s cube chest of drawers is just the thing. [Makendo] went the extra couple of miles on the project, building the entire thing from scratch and adding one clever feature after another to make it something special.

It’s made up of three plywood boxes, open on one side to accept a plywood drawer. The drawers were carefully fitted so that it is difficult to see which side is actually the drawer face. [Makendo] even routed a hash-mark of grooves into each face of the cube to make it look like the seams that make up the 9×9 grid of colored squares. Speaking of those colors, the “stickers” themselves are made of 1/4″ plywood and are not permanently affixed. Each is held on with a magnet plus a pair of dowels to keep it from spinning. This way you can rearrange the colors as often as you please.

Each layer of the cube spins thanks to some lazy susan bearings. [Makendo] didn’t want to add too much distance between the different modules so he routed out each side to fit the circular hardware. As a final touch, the drawers themselves can be locked in place using a dowel underneath one of the colored squares. We’ve embedded a video of the cube at play after the break.

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See where Socks has been using a GPS tracking collar

[Buxtronix] wanted to know where his cat (named Ash, but we thought Socks sounded much more cliché) was going when on the loose. He designed a GPS tracking collar and a way to map the data it collects.

The hardware actually turns out to be very simple. He needed a GPS module to gather location data, and a way to store that information having decided that live broadcast was not feasible. He hit SparkFun because they have a GPS module that is small enough for a cat collar, and outputs data with one serial pin. Unfortunately this module is no longer available, but if you have a similarly sized replacement let us know in the comments. Data capture is made easy by this device, you just need to record the serial data as it comes down the pipeline. [Buxtronix] used an OpenLog board as it dumps the data onto an SD card. When [Ash] returns from his roaming, [Buxtronix] grabs the SD card, and uses a Python script to convert the NMEA data to KML format which can be overlaid on Google Earth and Google Maps.

Announcing our next theme: Halloween hacks

It seems every year, Hack A Day is a little bit behind the times when it comes to Halloween hacks. Builds like the Mario costumes and the house singing Thriller are great, but it makes a lot more sense for us to post them before Halloween.

To introduce our Halloween theme, we’d like to present [heavyweighthowe]‘s Halloween project. It’s a small lighting automation build that syncs a string of lights to the theme of the best Halloween Christmas 2nd best [Tim Burton] movie, The Nightmare Before Christmas. [heavyweighthowe] used Vixen to sequence the lights and an Arduino to interpret the serial commands from Vixen. It’s a nice build that would look great sitting on a porch next to a giant bowl of candy.

If you’ve got a Halloween build you’d like to show off, like a haunted house ride an awesome costume or even a really great Jack-O-Lantern, send it in on the tip line. We’re planning on putting up at least one Halloween post a day, so keep sending in those builds.

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