Hackaday Prize Entry: BLE Beacon Library

While faking BLE advertising beacons using an nRF24L01+ module is nothing new, it’s become a heck of a lot easier now that [Pranav Gulati] has written some library code and a few examples for it.

[Pranav]’s work is based on [Dmitry Grinberg]’s epic bit-banging BLE research that we featured way back in 2013. And while the advertisement channel in BLE is limited in the amount of data it can send, a $1 nRF24 module and a power-thrifty microcontroller would be great for a battery-powered device that needs to send small amount of data infrequently for a really long time.

We’re not 100% sure where [Pranav] is going to take this project. Honestly, the library looks like it’s ready to use right now. If you’ve been holding off on making your own BLE-enabled flock of birds, or even if you just want to mess around with the protocol, your life has gotten a lot easier.

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New Hard Drives for Old Computers

After a certain age, computers start to show signs that they might need to be replaced or upgraded. After even more time, it starts getting hard to find parts to replace the failing components. And, as the sands slip through the hourglass, the standards used to design and build the computer start going obsolete. That’s the situation that [Drygol] found himself in when he was asked to build a SD-card hard drive for an Atari.

The 8-bit Atari in question was a fixture of home computing in the 80s. In fact, if you weren’t on the Commodore train, it’s likely that your computer of choice was an Atari. For the nostalgic among us, a new hard drive for these pieces of history is a great way to relive some of the past. Working off of information from the SIO2SD Wiki page, [Drygol] used the toner transfer method to build a PCB, 3D printed a case, and got to work on his decades-old computer.

Resurrecting old hardware is a great way to get into retrocomputing. Old protocols and standards are worth investigating because they’re from a time where programmers had to make every bit count, and there are some gems of genius hidden everywhere. Whether you’re reworking SIO from an old Atari, or building a disk emulator for an Apple ][, there are lots of options.

Walnut Windfall Winds up in Custom Keyboard

When a neighbor decided to cut down a walnut tree, [voluhar] decided to make something of the wood. The result was this custom keyboard that combines wood and metal in a lovely and functional package.

Walnut is a wood with a rich heritage in consumer electronics. Back in the early days of TV, huge console sets were built into solid walnut cabinets and proudly displayed along with the other fine furnishings in a home. [voluhar]’s keyboard captures a little of that spirit while retaining all the functionality you’d expect. From the custom PCB to the engraved aluminum key caps, it looks like every part was machined with a CNC router. The keyboard sports satisfyingly clicky Cherry MX switches, and a few cleverly positioned LEDs provide subtle feedback on the state of the locking keys. As for the imperfections in the walnut case, we think it just adds to the charm and warmth of the finished product, which would look great on any desktop.

Wood has appeared in a couple of custom keyboards that we’ve featured before, like this all-wood version. But if you want the retro look without the wood, you could always try a keyboard built out of a typewriter.

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FAA Finalizes Rules For Drones, UAS, and Model Aircraft

The FAA and DOT have finalized their rules for small Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS, or drones), and clarified rules for model aircraft. This is the end of a long process the FAA undertook last year that has included a registry system for model aircraft, and input from members of UAS and model aircraft industry including the Academy of Model Aeronautics and 3D Robotics.

Model Aircraft

Since the FAA began drafting the rules for unmanned aircraft systems, it has been necessary to point out the distinction between a UAS and a model aircraft. Thanks to the amazing advances in battery, brushless motor, and flight controller technology over the past decade, the line between a drone and a model aircraft has been fuzzed, and onboard video systems and FPV flying have only blurred the distinction.

The distinction between a UAS and model aircraft  is an important one. Thanks to the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2012, the FAA, “may not promulgate any rule or regulation regarding a model aircraft” under certain conditions. These conditions include aircraft flown strictly for hobby or recreational use, operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines (read: the safety guidelines set by the Academy of Model Aeronautics), weighs less than 55 pounds, gives way to manned aircraft, and notifies the operator of an airport when flown within five miles of a control tower.

Despite laws enacted by congress, the FAA saw it necessary to create rules and regulations for model aircraft weighing less than 55 pounds, and operated in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines. The FAA’s drone registration system doesn’t make sense, and there is at least one pending court case objecting to these rules.

The FAA’s final rules for UAS, drones, and model airplanes change nothing from the regulations made over the past year. If your drone weighs more than 250 grams, you must register it. For model aircraft, and unmanned aircraft systems conducting ‘hobbyist operations’, nothing has changed.

Unmanned Aerial Systems

The finalized rule introduced today concerns only unmanned aircraft systems weighing less than 55 pounds conducting non-hobbyist operations. The person flying the drone must be at least 16 years old and hold a remote pilot certificate with a small UAS rating. This remote pilot certificate may be obtained by passing an aeronautical knowledge test, or by holding a non-student Part 61 pilot certificate (the kind you would get if you’d like to fly a Cessna on the weekends)

What this means

Under the new regulations, nothing for model aircraft has changed. The guys flying foam board planes will still have to deal with a registration system of questionable legality.

For professional drone pilots – those taking aerial pictures, farmers, or pilots contracting their services out to real estate agents – the situation has vastly improved. A pilot’s license is no longer needed for these operations, and these aircraft may be operated in class G airspace without restriction. Drone use for commercial purposes is now possible without a pilot’s license. This is huge for many industries.

These rules do not cover autonomous flight. This is, by far, the greatest shortcoming of the new regulations. The most interesting applications of drones and unmanned aircraft is autonomous flight. With autonomous drones, farmers could monitor their fields. Amazon could deliver beer to your backyard. There are no regulations regarding autonomous flight from the FAA, and any business plans that hinge on pilot-less aircraft will be unrealized in the near term.

DJI Phantoms are now ‘drones’

This is a quick aside, but I must point out the FAA press release was written by someone with one of two possible attributes. Either the author of this press release paid zero attention to detail, or the FAA has a desire to call all unmanned aircraft systems ‘drones’.

The use of the word ‘drone’ in the model aircraft community has been contentious, with quadcopter enthusiasts making a plain distinction between a DJI Phantom and a Predator drone. Drones, some say, have the negative connotation of firing hellfire missiles into wedding parties and killing American citizens in foreign lands without due process, violating the 5th amendment. Others have classified ‘drones’ as having autonomous capability.

This linguistic puzzle has now been solved by the FAA. In several places in this press release, the FAA equates ‘unmanned aircraft systems’ with drones, and even invents the phrase, ‘unmanned aircraft drone’. Language is not defined by commenters on fringe tech blogs, it is defined by common parlance. Now the definition of ‘drone’ is settled: it is an unmanned, non-autonomous, remote-controlled flying machine not flown for hobby or recreational use.

Gawking Text Files

Some tools in a toolbox are versatile. You can use a screwdriver as a pry bar to open a paint can, for example. I’ve even hammered a tack in with a screwdriver handle even though you probably shouldn’t. But a chainsaw isn’t that versatile. It only cuts. But man does it cut!

aukAWK is a chainsaw for processing text files line-by-line (and the GNU version is known as GAWK). That’s a pretty common case. It is even more common if you produce a text file from a spreadsheet or work with other kinds of text files. AWK has some serious limitations, but so do chainsaws. They are still super useful. Although AWK sounds like a penguin-like bird (see right), that’s an auk. Sounds the same, but spelled differently. AWK is actually an acronym of the original author’s names.

If you know C and you grok regular expressions, then you can learn AWK in about 5 minutes. If you only know C, go read up on regular expressions and come back. Five minutes later you will know AWK. If you are running Linux, you probably already have GAWK installed and can run it using the alias awk. If you are running Windows, you might consider installing Cygwin, although there are pure Windows versions available. If you just want to play in a browser, try webawk.

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Espressif Releases ESP8266-Killer!

It’s no secret that we love the ESP8266 chip, and the community of hackers that have contributed to making it useful. We often joke about this or that new WiFi-enabler being an ESP8266 killer, but so far none have stepped up. Here we go again!

Espressif has released a chip that’s going to be an ESP8266 killer, and no, it’s not the ESP32. The ESP8285 went into mass production in March, and should start to appear in the usual outlets fairly soon.

What makes it an ESP8266 killer? It’s an ESP8266, but with the flash memory onboard. Nothing more, but also nothing less. What does this mean? Tiny, tiny designs are possible. And, if the street price ends up being right, there’s no reason you wouldn’t opt for built-in flash. (Unless you were planning on doing some ROM hacking.)

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Capacitors Made Easy The Hackaday Way

If you build electronic circuits on a regular basis the chances are you will have used capacitors many times. They are a standard component along with the resistor whose values are lifted off the shelf without a second thought. We use them for power supply smoothing and decoupling, DC blocking, timing circuits, and many more applications.

Different capacitor applications. By Elcap (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
Different capacitor applications. By Elcap (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
A capacitor though is not simply a blob with two wires emerging from it and a couple of parameters: working voltage and capacitance. There is a huge array of capacitor technologies and materials with different properties. And while almost any capacitor with the right value can do the job in most cases, you’ll find that knowing more about these different devices can help you make something that doesn’t just do the job, but does the best possible job. If you’ve ever had to chase a thermal stability problem or seek out the source of those extra dBs of noise for example you will appreciate this.

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