Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Workbench Projects Bengaluru

Bengaluru (formerly Bangalore) is a town full of awesome hackers. So when Workbench Projects, a local maker space there, asked if I’d like to come down and talk about the Hackaday Prize, I immediately set things in motion. We decided to arrange a “Bring-a-Hack” event, asking local makers to turn up with their hacks and give a talk or drop by and discuss ideas that matter. To reach out to a larger audience, we also partnered with IoT-BLR, a pretty large group of IoT enthusiasts in Bengaluru. 10,000 Startups (NASSCOM for Startups) helped ensure that all the hackers were well fed with sandwiches and cookies while Paper Boat chipped in with a cooler full of beverages.  A freak hail storm meant that we had to delay the start a bit. But that turned into a blessing of sorts, as it allowed those already at the space to check out the hacks that had been set up at demo tables and generally network with each other.

almost 100 Hackers turned up
almost 100 Hackers turned up

[Anupama], who set up Workbench Projects with [Pavan], set the ball rolling by telling us about how it all started off a year ago. She and [Pavan] had ideas buzzing in their heads, but no means to prototype them. “You can either continue cribbing about the lack of maker spaces, or jump right in and start one on your own”.

We then had [Pavan] tell us about the various “studios” that they have set up. He was also excited to announce their addition to the world-wide MIT FabLab network. Their space is located right under the escalator that goes to the Halasuru Metro Station. The use of that space, which would other wise have been wasted and empty, itself is brilliant.

I stepped up and talked about the Hackaday Prize and our call to makers this year to “Build something that matters”. I showed off last years winners, this years prizes and gave out other details asking the assembled hackers to jump in and submit their hacks to the Hackaday Prize. Next up we had [Nihal], who founded IoT-BLR and talked to us about their projects, events and initiatives. IoT-BLR is the 3rd largest IoT-focused Meetup community in the world.

With that done, we opened up the floor for the assembled hackers to come forth and talk about their hacks. First up was [Anmol Agrawal] who showed off his earthquake early warning system which was prototyped using Littlebits, PubNub and Ruby.

I was glad that at short notice, my friend [Mohammed Khasim], who works at Linnaro, agreed to drop by to talk about and show off the modular phone being developed by Google as part of Project Ara.

Intelligent cane for blind

The all-girls team of [Kruti], [Chitra] and [Archana] showed off their intelligent cane for the blind. Five ultrasonic ping sensors, one light sensor and a camera are all hooked up to a Raspberry Pi running off a battery pack. The cane communicates with a paired smart phone and the app provides audio cues. There’s also a pager motor for haptic feedback.

[Rahul] and his team showed up with what looked like the Iron-Man Arc Reactor on a T-shirt. It turned out to be an HID device that could be used to send key presses back to a paired computer. Their next iteration was less flashy and unobtrusive. They are now working on using this to provide safety for school kids by allowing them to send alerts in case of an emergency.


Drone demo, for collision avoidance

[Chetan] and his team from EdgeVerve showed off the work they are doing with putting various sensors on drones – CO2, temperature, humidity, multi-spectral camera –  to enable them to be used for some real world applications. They have also integrated collision avoidance using cheap ultrasonic sensors and a ballistic parachute which deploys during an emergency.

The IoT-BLR connected cars project team talked about their project to tap into on-board diagnostics on vehicles and use the various sensor data to control pollution.

Kumar Abhishek's BeagleLogic

[Kumar Abhishek] came down just in time to show us his BeagleLogic. I had written about this project on the blog earlier, and it was nice to be able to see it in action.

There were some more projects up for display. [Osho Bajpai] had a demo of his “Smart Driving alert system”  which detects if driver is falling sleep and wakes him up. [Sanju Mathew] demo’ed his prosthetic arm while [Supreet Joshi] showed off his “Smart Robotic Arm”  which replicates the movements of a human arm using a smart glove. On display was also a remote controlled skate board driven by a BLDC motor controlled via the ESC. It was also interesting to see a bunch of school kids wheel in their chopper-inspired bicycle which is still work in progress. Those kids are learning a lot in the process such as ergonomics and welding. [Abdul] showed off a couple of devices he is working on to help harness tidal energy from coastal areas. The team from WiSense showed off some network connected environmental sensors. One measures soil moisture and temperature and transmits data  via text message over GSM. This is aimed for use by Farmers and alerts them to water their farms at the right time. Another sensor worked as a tank level detector and controlled flow rate to prevent over flow.

By this time, it was quite late in the evening, so folks spent the next hour looking up the various projects, talking and getting selfies taken using the OpenSelfie photobooth that I had set up. [Rishi Bhatnagar] from Workbench Projects, who set the whole event in motion, managed to archive the evening’s proceedings and you can watch the (long) video after the break.

Here’s another photo album from the event.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Aspirin For Everyone

When it comes to the history of medicine and drugs, Aspirin, or more properly acetyl-salicylic acid, is one of the more interesting stories. Plants rich in salicalates were used as medicines more than four thousand years ago, and in the fourth century BC, [Hippocrates] noted a powder made from willow bark was an excellent analgesic. It was only in the 1800s that acetylated salicylic acid was first synthesized. In 1897, chemists at Bayer gave this ancient remedy a new name: Aspirin. It’s on the WHO List of Essential Medicines, but somehow millions of people don’t have access to this pill found in every pharmacy.

[M. Bindhammer] is working to make Aspirin for Everyone for his entry to the Hackaday Prize, using a small portable lab designed around chemicals that can be easily obtained.

The most common synthesis of Aspirin is salicylic acid treated with acetic anhydrate. Acetic anhydrate is used for the synthesis of heroin, and of course the availability of this heavily restricted by the DEA. Instead, [M. Bindhammer] will use a different method using salicylic acid and acetic acid. If you’re keeping track, that’s replacing a chemical on a DEA list of precursors with very strong vinegar.

[M. Bindhammer] even has a design for the lab that will produce the Aspirin, and it’s small enough to fit in a very large pocket. Everything that is needed for the production of acetyl-salicylic acid is there, including a reaction vessel with a heating element, a water/oil bath, flask, an Allihn condenser, and a vacuum filtering flask. Even if shipping millions of pills to far-flung reaches of the planet were easy, it’s still an exceptional Hackaday Prize entry.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Move Aside Boston Dynamics, ATRIAS is Coming!

ATRIAS has just taken its first steps outside on grass, marking an impressive achievement for this university robotics project.

Built by Oregon State University, ATRIAS is a bipedal robot whose name in jest stands for “Assume The Robot Is A Sphere”. It’s an old physics joke really, which describes how any complex scientific model can be reduced to its simplest form in order perform calculations — but sometimes (always) makes its application in reality a challenge…

We’re sure you all remember BD’s Big Dog and its impressive ability to throw freaking cinder blocks — but remember, it has four legs and a tail — or is it a trunk — an arm? ATRIAS on the other hand is a true threat to humanity and our unique ability to walk around on two legs. And the mechanism they made for it is pretty damn clever.

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Safety Belt Holds Up Pants and Passwords

[Dan Williams] built a belt that holds up your pants while remembering your passwords. This was his project while camped out at the Hackaday Hardware Villiage at the 2015 TC Disrupt Hackathon last weekend.

safety-belt-pcb-sandwichThe idea started with the concept of a dedicated device to carry a complicated password; something that you couldn’t remember yourself and would be difficult to type. [Dan] also decided it would be much better if the device didn’t need its own power source, and if the user interface was dead simple. The answer was a wrist-band made up of a USB cable and a microcontroller with just one button.

To the right you can see the guts of the prototype. He is using a Teensy 2.0 board, which is capable of enumerating as an HID keyboard. The only user input is the button seen at the top. Press it once and it fires off the stored password. Yes, very simple to implement, but programming is just one part of a competition. The rest of his time was spent refining it into what could reasonably be considered a product. He did such a good job of it that he received an Honorable Mention from Hackaday to recognize his execution on the build.


IMG_20150502_183207[Dan] came up with the idea to have a pair of mating boards for the Teensy 2.0. One on top hosts the button, the other on the bottom has a USB port which is used as the “clasp” of the belt buckle. One side of the USB cable plugs into the Teensy, the other into this dummy-port. Early testing showed that this was too bulky to work as a bracelet. But [Dan] simply pivoted and turned it into a belt.

safety-belt-built-at-hackathon-thumb[Kenji Larsen] helped [Dan] with the PCB-sandwich. Instead of mounting pin sockets on the extra boards, they heated up the solder joints on a few of the Teensy pins and pushed them through with some pliers. This left a few pins sticking up above the board to which the button add-on board could be soldered.

To finish out the build, [Dan] worked with [Chris Gammell] to model a 2-part case for the electronics. He also came up with a pandering belt buckle which is also a button-cap. It’s 3D printed with the TechCrunch logo slightly recessed. He then filled this recess with blue painter’s tape for a nice contrast.

[Dan] on-stage presentation shows off the high-level of refinement. There’s not a single wire (excluding the USB belt cable) or unfinished part showing! Since he didn’t get much into the guts of the build during the live presentation we made sure to seek him out afterward and record a hardware walk through which is embedded below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

A Tool For Spying On Serial Data

[Piotr] was working on a recent Arduino project when he ran into a problem. He was having trouble getting his Arduino Pro Mini to communicate with an ESP8266 module. He needed a way to snoop on the back and forth serial communications. Since he didn’t have a specialized tool for this task, [Piotr] ended up building his own.

spying-on-serial-thumbThe setup is pretty simple. You start with a standard serial cable containing the TX, RX, DTR, and GND wires. This cable connects the Arduino to the ESP8266 WiFi module. The TX and RX lines are then tapped into. Each wire is routed to the RX pin of two different serial to USB adapters. This way, the data being sent from the Arduino shows up on one COM port and the data being transmitted from the module shows up on the other.

The next piece of the puzzle was coming up with a way to see the data more clearly. [Piotr] could have opened two serial terminals simultaneously, but this wasn’t ideal because it would be difficult to compare the timing of the data. Instead, [Piotr] spent less than an hour writing his own simple serial terminal. This one connects to two COM ports at the same time and prints the data on the same screen. The data from each COM port is displayed in a separate color to make it easy to differentiate. The schematic and source code to this project can be found on [Piotr’s] website.

A Simple Programmable 555

“Instead of an Arduino, he could have done that with a 555 timer.” “Instead of a 555 he could have done that with two transistors.” “Instead of a few transistors, he could have done that with butterflies.” These are quotes from various Hackaday comment threads throughout the years. It seems simplicity is the name of the game here, and if you need a timer chip, how about an 8-pin DIP? This, of course, means an I2C programmable oscillator in the form of an LPC810.

[kodera2t] built this circuit after reaching for a 555 timer a few too many times. It’s a one-chip solution with an ARM core that’s able to generate square waves with 1Hz resolution up to 65536Hz.

The source for this chip is a lot of C, but once it’s in the Flash of the LPC810, this chip becomes a programmable oscillator with an I2C interface. Yes, it’s a one-component solution, no, it’s not a twenty cent chip, but try programming a 555 over I2C.

The videos below show [kodera] playing around with this I2C oscillator, sweeping the frequency from zero to inaudible teenage angst.

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Router Jig Makes Quick Work Of Flattening Irregular Shaped Wood

[Nick Offerman] is a pretty serious wood worker. He likes to make crazy stuff including organic looking tables out of huge chunks of wood. Clearly, the wood doesn’t come out of the ground shaped like the above photo, it has to be intensely worked. [Nick] doesn’t have a huge saw or belt sander that can handle these massive blocks of wood so he built something that could. It’s a jig that allows him to use a standard wood router to shave each side down flat.

The process starts by taking a piece of tree trunk and roughing it into shape with a chainsaw. Once it is flat enough to not roll around, it’s put into a large jig with 4 posts. Horizontal beams are clamped to the posts and support a wooden tray which a wood router can slide back and forth in. The router’s cutting bit sticks out the bottom of the tray and slowly nibbles the surface flat. Once one side is flat, the block is rotated and the flat side is used as a reference to make all the other sides square to the first. After flattening, sanding and finishing the block results in a pretty sweet piece of functional artwork.