Optimizing Crop Yield With IoT

For a recent hackathon, a group of strangers (now friends!) created Crop Squares — a system designed to optimize crop yield by better tracking weather and soil conditions.

The event was hosted in Madrid called Future Hacks Internet of Things Edition, with the goal to build disruptive IoT solutions to help change the world. In 54 hours.

The concept behind crop squares is to make a graphical user interface using Dizmo that clearly shows the status of your crops in a grid system. For the prototype they used an Arduino Pro Mini with moisture sensors in potted plants to detect moisture levels, while a Raspberry Pi also collected weather data for the area being watched. The Arduino used an ESP8266 WiFi module to transmit the data remotely. To demonstrate how the system could be used in an automated sense, they hooked up another Arduino (this time a Leonardo), to pour water once the moisture levels dropped below a certain threshold.

Crop Squares won the Best Pitch Award as well as the Best Integration of Dizmo — good job guys!

Speaking of moisture sensors — did you know you can build your own using some plaster of paris and nails?

Audio-coupled Smoke Alarm Interface Sends Texts, Emails

The Internet of Things is getting to be a big business. Google’s Nest brand is part of the trend, and they’re building a product line that fills niches and looks good doing it, including the Nest Protect smoke and CO detector. It’s nice to get texts and emails if your smoke alarm goes off, but if you’d rather not spend $99USD for the privilege, take a look at this $10 DIY smoke alarm interface.

The secret to keeping the cost of [Team SimpleIOThings’] interface at a minimum is leveraging both the dirt-cheap ESP8266 platform and the functionality available on If This Then That. And to keep the circuit as simple and universal as possible, the ESP8266 dev board is interfaced to an existing smoke detector with a simple microphone sensor. From what we can see it’s just a sound level sensor, and that should work fine with the mic close to the smoke detector. But with high noise levels in your house, like those that come with kids and dogs, false alarms might be an issue. In that case, we bet the software could be modified to listen for the Temporal-Three pattern used by most modern smoke detectors. You could probably even add code to send a separate message for a CO detector sounding a Temporal-Four pattern.

Interfacing to a smoke detector is nothing new, as this pre-ESP8266 project proves. But the versatile WiFi SoC makes interfaces like this quick and easy projects.

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The Most Drool-Worthy Pip-Boy to Date Can be Yours

Pip-Boy props are nothing new in the maker world, especially since the availability and prices of 3D printers have made the undertaking more straightforward. Something about bringing a piece of the Fallout universe into the real world is just incredibly appealing – so much so that Fallout 4 collector’s editions included a Pip-Boy phone case. However, because of practical limitations these props are usually just plastic shells that house a cell phone. [zapwizard] wasn’t satisfied with a purely aesthetic prop, so he has decided to design his own Pip-Boy 3000 Mk4 from scratch, while retaining as much of the functionality as possible.

For the few of you who are unfamiliar, the Pip-Boy is a wrist-mounted computer from the Fallout series of games. From a gameplay standpoint, it’s used to manage your character’s inventory, stats, quest data, and so on. Because of how often you interact with the Pip-Boy throughout the game, it has become very near and dear to the hearts of Fallout fans, which has driven it’s popularity for prop-making.

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It’s no wonder, then, that we’ve featured a number of builds here on Hackaday in the past. All of these builds have been impressive, but [zapwizard] is taking it to a whole other level. As a product engineer, he certainly has the experience necessary to bring this to life, and he’s not skipping any details. He’s starting by modeling everything up in CAD, using Solid Edge. Every knob, button, dial, and latch has been reproduced in meticulous detail, and will be functional with completely custom electronics. [zipwizard] is still in the design phase, but he should be close to getting started on the actual build. He’s also considering offering a limited run of units for sale, so be sure to get in touch with him if that tickles your fancy!

[thanks Daniel Kennedy]

Hackaday SuperCon Marks the Dawn of Something New

Best. Conference. Ever. And believe it or not, I don’t think this is a biased opinion.

I am of course talking about the Hackaday SuperConference – the first full-blown hardware conference we’ve ever put together. I had very high hopes going into this and was still utterly astounded by how the two-day event turned out. Let me give you three reasons why it was spectacular: The people, the people, the people.

The Presenters

[Shanni Prutchi] presenting her talk about Quantum Entanglement
[Shanni Prutchi] presenting her talk about Quantum Entanglement
Our call for proposals didn’t go out months ahead of time, instead it was mere weeks, yet we were flooded with around 160 proposals. It was a tough proposition to whittle this down to 30+ talks and workshops, but we had to because of time and space limits. Every presenter made it count. We are honored by this diverse set of people who laid down an enthralling collection of talks about hardware creation.

Just to give you a taste: the first talk, presented by Shanni Prutchi, covered the hardware used in quantum entanglement research. Quantum Entanglement Research! This highly technical subject might seem like a lot for a Saturday morning, but Shanni has a gift for explaining her work. Every person in the room was engaged throughout and stayed this way through the entire weekend.

Packed house during the talks
Packed house during the talks

SuperCon was a hardware conference that was actually about hardware. We could tell something magical was happening when we had to hunt down more chairs (borrowed from an off-site venue) to accommodate all of the people who wanted to hear the presentations. We know that the hardware community yearns for talks that go far beyond being shiny and deliver the details you need to grow your own set of engineering talents. The extra-chair anecdote proves the need for more opportunities to learn and interact with experts of hardware creation.

Don’t worry, we recorded every single one of these fantastic presentations. It will take time to edit the content but it will be freely available soon. If you’re excited about your own work and can speak about it with authority, you need to be at next year’s Hackaday SuperConference. I promise we’ll call for proposals further in advance for the next one, but start your talk prep now. You won’t want to miss it.

[Paul Stoffregen] leading his Advance Microcontroller Based Audio workshop
[Paul Stoffregen] leading his Advance Microcontroller Based Audio workshop
Conspicuously missing from our story so far are the hands-on workshops which ran concurrently with the talk track. Every workshop was sold out, and every extra chair was occupied by those who wanted to audit. Much of the workshop material is already online, and we’ll get a dedicated post out to help link you with that information.

The Attendees

Talk about the most amazing group of people to spend 30 hours with over two days. The 300 people who packed Dogpatch Studios to capacity made it impossible to have anything but a great time at the conference. These are all people with passion for hardware – I was tripping over fascinating conversations at every step.

Badge hackers hard at work as talks continue just to the left

We blocked out a few places in the schedule for lightning talks. Everyone was encouraged to sign up and participate. Since the majority of people at the conference brought hardware to show off, these blocks were as popular as the more formal presentations.

This is also how the badge hacking was presented. Conference badges were PCBs with no components. Off to the side were tables strewn with components and tools so that you could work on your badge and watch the talks at the same time. Those seats were constantly occupied. As the end of the day approached on Sunday, we had around twenty people present what they had created on this blank slate. And yes, we’ll be covering this in-depth soon so stay tuned.

The Workers

Registration did a great job of clearing this line once the doors opened
Registration did a great job of clearing this line once the doors opened

You can have talented presenters and eager attendees, but it takes a lot of hard work to keep everything running smoothly and bring the two groups together.

We had an army of volunteers and a gaggle of staff who worked together like a high-functioning machine. Registration was quick and efficient and transitions between workshops were smooth and calm. The WiFi worked (conferences are notorious for not having connectivity) and the speakers had the A/V resources they needed. There were plenty of beverages, snacks, and meals. The workers of the SuperCon — all of them hardware-lovers too — had a personal stake in pulling this off. Mission accomplished. You all rock!

We Are a Community

The SuperConference felt like home. New acquaintances treated each other like life-long friends. Everyone brought their hardware passion and treated one another as equals. And as has been proven time and again, Hackaday is a community and great things happen when we all get together with purpose. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone who made this possible.

Pea-Whistle Steganography

Do you see the patterns everywhere around you? No? Look closer. Still no? Look again. OK, maybe there’s nothing there.

[Oona Räisänen] hears signals and then takes them apart. And even when there’s nothing there, she’s thinking “what if they were?” Case in point: could one hypothetically transmit coded information in the trilling of a referee’s whistle at the start of a soccer match?

acme-spektriTo you, the rapid pitch changes made by the little ball that’s inside a ref’s whistle sounds like “trilling” or “warbling” or something. To [Oona], it sounds like frequency-shift key (FSK) modulation. Could you make a non-random trilling, then, that would sound like a normal whistle?

Her perl script says yes. It takes the data you want to send, encodes it up as 100 baud FSK, smoothes it out, adds some noise and additional harmonics, and wraps it up in an audio file. There’s even a couple of sync bytes at the front, and then a byte for packet size. Standard pea-whistle protocol (PWP), naturally. If you listen really closely to the samples, you can tell which contains data, but it’s a really good match. Cool!

[Oona] has graced our pages before, naturally. From this beautiful infographic tracing out a dial-up modem handshake to her work reversing her local bus stop information signs or decoding this strange sound emitted by a news helicopter, She’s full of curiosity and good ideas — a hacker’s hacker. Her talk on the bus stop work is inspirational.. She’s one of our secret heroes!

Citizen Scientist: Hedy Lamarr

For all the destruction and human misery unleashed during World War II, it was also a time of incredible creativity and ingenuity. In America, it was a time when everyone wanted to pitch in. Young men and women enlisted and were shipped overseas, and those left behind kept the factories running full tilt. Even Hollywood went to war, with its steady output of films that gave people a little glamour and provided an escape from the horror and loss of the war. Hollywood stars lined up to entertain troops and raise money for the war effort, and many joined up and fought too.

But one Hollywood star made an unconventional contribution to the war effort, and in the process proved that beauty and brains are not always mutually exclusive. This is the story of Hedy Lamarr, movie star and inventor.

“The Most Beautiful Woman in the World”

By the time she was 23 in 1937, Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler was a genuine film star in her native Austria. She was also trapped in an unhappy marriage to a rich and powerful Austrian munitions magnate, Fritz Mandl. Hedy was miserable as a trophy wife, adorning the dining room as her husband entertained rich and powerful guests – including Mussolini and Hitler – over long dinners in one of his mansions. They dismissed her; clearly a woman so beautiful could have nothing else to offer, an empty head perched on a graceful neck. But she was far from stupid, and while her husband discussed business with the men who were building the Axis arsenal, Hedy listened and learned.

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Ditch the iPad; Build a Commodore 64 Tablet

The classic Commodore 64 has had its share of modernizing in the OS department. From its roots starting up a basic prompt, to full high resolution GUI packages like GEOS, to today where [Jim_64] added a tablet like launcher complete with a touch screen interface.

The GUI itself takes advantage of the high resolution graphics of the C-64 that looks similar to iOS, Icons are selected via cursor keys or joystick (what? no light pen?) and launch the various functions they represent. To add to the tablet-like feel of the OS, an off the shelf 3m touch screen panel and its corresponding RS232 interface board were obtained from digikey.

With the panel securely attached to the monitor, XY data from the various finger pokes are sent via serial at a blazing 1200 bps where the program interprets the position. Using the available demo (download sideA and sideB) and off the shelf parts, this should be easy for anyone with a classic C-64 to set up in their own home and have some fun.

Join us after the break for a few demo videos!

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