An XBMC controller built for Grandma

10-finished-controller

Is your grandmother cool enough to use XBMC? Maybe it’s a testament to the functionality of the wildly popular home entertainment suite rather than the hipness of your elders. But indeed, [Brian's] grandmother is an XBMC user who needed a controller with larger buttons to accommodate her. This is what he built. He sent us a set of photos and a description of the build, both of which you can see below. He was inspired to get in touch after reading about the custom controller which [Caleb] has been working on for [Thomas].

[Brian] didn’t get bogged down with electronics. He went with the simple, cheap, and popular solution of gutting a wireless keyboard. After tracing out the keys he needed he got rid of everything except the PCB. A wiring harness was crafted by soldering jumper wires to the PCB traces and terminating them with crimping slide connectors. The arcade buttons he used have terminals for the connectors which will make it simple to mate the electronics with the mechanics.

The enclosure is a little wooden hobby box. It originally had a lid with a mirror. [Brian] broke open the lid’s frame to replace it with a thin piece of plywood which hosts the buttons. Inside you’ll find a battery power source. These keyboards last a long time on one set of batteries so he just needs to remember to preemptively replace them from time to time. The finishing touch was to add decals so that granny can figure out what each button does.

[Read more...]

Bringing eLua to the mbed

lua

[Karl] loved his mbed – a tiny little ARM-powered microcontroller platform – but he wanted an interactive programming environment. BASIC just wasn’t cutting it, so he decided to bring eLua to his mbed.

When choosing an interactive development environment for microcontrollers, you generally have two choices: old or huge. Sure, there is a middle ground with Python on an ARM, but why not use something explicitly designed for microcontrollers?

To get eLua running on his mbed, [Karl] downloaded the latest version and plopped it on his mbed. The current version, 0.9, doesn’t have support for an SD card, severely limiting its usefulness. [Karl] got around this by wiring up an SD card to the mbed, giving him gigabytes of space for all his development work.

While the AVRs and PICs of the world are stuck with languages like C or worse, the new ARM boards available are more than capable of running a complete eLua development environment, with everything accessible through a terminal. [Karl] even wrote his own editor for the mbed and he’ll shortly be working on a few dozen embedded projects he has in mind.

Send an Arduino to the moon for $300

sat

We’ve seen Kickstarter campaigns to put a single satellite into space and one to launch your own personalized postage-stamp sized satellite into low Earth orbit. This time, though, you can break the bonds of Earth and send your own Arduino compatible satellite on a collision course with the moon. The project is called Pocket Spacecraft, and exactly as its name implies, it allows you to send a small, flat, 8 cm diameter spacecraft to the surface of the moon.

The pocket spacecraft are made of metallized kapton, a very thin membrane stretched inside a loop of wire. On board this paper-thin spacecraft are a pair of solar cells and a bare die MSP430 microcontroller connected to a suite of sensors. Before launch, you can program your tiny space probe with commands to relay data back to Earth, either useful scientific data or a simple tweet.

These pocket spacecraft will be launched from a cubesat – a highly successful line of amateur spacecraft that are usually launched by hitching a ride with larger commercial satellites. To get from low Earth orbit to the moon is much harder than just hitchhiking, so the cubesat mothership comes equipped with either a solar sail or its own engine that electrolysed water into hydrogen and oxygen, the perfect rocket fuel.

Pocket Spacecraft is an amazingly impressive feat; there are literally dozens of amateur-built spacecraft orbiting above our heads right now, but so far none have ventured more than a few hundred miles away from their home planet. Getting to the moon with an amateur spacecraft is an amazing accomplishment, and definitely worthy of the $300 price tag.

Dimming LED bulbs designed to replace halogen lamps

dimming-led-halogen-replacementsHalogen bulbs put out a lot of focused light but they do it at the expense of burning up a lot of Watts and generating a lot of heat. The cost for an LED replacement like the one seen disassembled above has come down quite a bit. This drove [Jonathan Foote] to purchase several units and he just couldn’t resist tearing them apart to try out a couple of hacks.

The one we find most interesting is a PWM based dimming hack he pulled off with an Arduino board and a FET. The bulbs are designed to be dimmable through the 12V supply that feeds the light fixture. But the relationship of dimmer position to light level is not linear and [Jonathan] figured he could do better. His solution is to add a FET in parallel with the LEDs. When activated it basically shunts the current around the diodes, resulting in a dimming. The video below shows this in action. We wonder if the flashing is a camera artifact or if you pick that up with your eye as well?

You may also be interested to read his post on Gelling the LED bulbs. Gels are colored filters for lights (or camera lenses). He cuts his preferred color down to size and inserts it between the LEDs and the lenses.

[Read more...]

The trials of repairing a MacBook

mac

As a favor to a friend, [Phil] traded a unibody MacBook logic board for one with a broken headphone jack, a busted keyboard controller, and a nonfunctional fan. Not one to let bad hardware go to waste, he set off to repair this now-broken laptop by scavenging parts wherever he could. The whole thing ended up working, and became a very impressive display of soldering skill in the process.

The first step for the keyboard transplant was to cut a properly sized hole in the newer unibody MacBook for an older, pre-unibody MacBook Pro 17″ keyboard. This was done by cutting out the keyboard pan of the pre-unibody case and very carefully epoxying it into the unibody chassis. The MBP had a separate keyboard and trackpad controller, so of course [Paul] needed to find some space inside the chassis for these new electronics. This space was found next to the internal hard drive, and a liberal application of hot glue held everything together.

In the future, [Phil] plans on adding more LEDs, a 3.5 mm jack, and a USB to TTL converter – a necessity for any true ‘hacker’ laptop. It’s still a wonderful piece of work, and an incredible amount of effort and skill to get it where it is today.

RF wireless kernel module for Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone and others

rfm12b-kernel-module

If you’ve done any wireless work with hobby electronics you probably recognize this part. The green PCB is an RFM12B wireless board. They come in a few different operating bandwidths, the 433 MHz is probably the most common. They’re super easy to interface with a small microcontroller but what about an embedded Linux board? That is the focus of this project, which builds a kernel driver for the RF module.

You can get your own RFM12B for a few bucks. They’re quite versatile when paired, but a lot of inexpensive wireless consumer goods operate on this band so the board can be used to send commands to wireless outlets, light fixtures, etc. [Georg] has been working with the BeagleBone, BeagleBone Black, and Raspberry Pi. His software package lets you build a kernel module to add an entry for the device into the /dev directory of a Linux system. So far the three boards listed are all that’s supported, but if you have five I/O pins available it should be a snap to tailor this to other hardware.

Wondering what else you can do with the setup? This will get the receiving end of a text-messaging doorbell up and running in no time.

[Read more...]

Hackers in Africa are building their own aircraft

hacked-heli

While you’re trying to come up with an idea for your next project this guy’s been building his own helicopter from whatever parts he can find. He’s just one of the aeronautical hackers featured in a story in the Daily Mail. The article’s narrative leaves us with many questions, but there’s enough info to make it worth a look.

In addition to the heli seen above there are also a couple of airplane builds to gawk at. Africa has already produced a couple of very ingenious hacks like [William Kamkwamba's] projects which improved his village infrastructure. He gained enough notice from his work to land a scholarship to continue his education and that opportunity has also been afforded the creators of these aircraft.

At first we figured this helicopter project was possible because of lack of air traffic regulation in this part of the world. That’s not the case as [Onesmus Mwangi] — who makes his living as a farmhand — has been forbidden to fly the craft by local police. There may be another opportunity for him to fly later in life. He’s received funding to study aircraft maintenance abroad.+

Unfortunately we couldn’t find any video of this thing in action. If that’s unacceptable to you try getting your fix from this human-sized octocopter.

[Thanks Brandon]

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 96,382 other followers