Hackaday Prize Entry: Profiling Underwater Light

The goal for the Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize is to empower people to create their own devices to perform their own analyses For [Adam]’s project, he’s designing a device that measures the health of waterways simply by looking at the light availability through the water column. It’s called PULSE, the Profiling Underwater Light SEnsor, and is able to monitor changes that are caused by algal blooms, suspended sediments, or sewer runoff.

The design of PULSE is a small electronic depth charge that can be lowered into a water column from anything between a research vessel to a kayak. On the top of this sinkable tube is a sensor to measure photosynthetically active radiation (PAR). This sensor provides data on light irradiance through the water column and gives a great insight into the health of photosynthesis, marine plant life, and ultimately the health of any aquatic environment.

Measuring the light available for photosynthesis through a water column is great, but PULSE isn’t a one trick pony. On the bottom of the aquatic probe are three sensors designed to measure photosynthesis, dissolved organic matter, and turbidity. These sensors are really just a few LEDs and photodiodes, proving just how much science you can do with simple tools.

The goal of the Citizen Science portion of the Hackaday Prize is to put scientific discovery in the hands of everyone. PULSE is a great example of this: it’s a relatively simple device that can be thrown over the side of a boat, lowered to the bottom or a lake, and hoisted back up again. It’s inexpensive to build, but still provides great data. That’s remarkable, and an excellent example of what we’re looking for in the Hackaday Prize.

20kW Light Is As Bright As You’d Expect

[Photonicinduction] purchased a very very bright light. This 20,000 Watt half meter tall halogen will just about light the back of a person’s skull with their eyes closed. These are typically used to light film sets.

Most people couldn’t even turn such a light on, but [Photonicinduction] is a mad scientist. Making lightning in his attic, it’s easy to mentally picture him as the villain in a Sherlock Holmes novel. Luckily for us, if he has any evil tendencies, they are channeled into YouTube videos.

He gives a good description of the mechanical and electrical properties of the light. The body is as one would expect for an incandescent light. A glass filament envelope with the filaments supported within. The envelope is evacuated and filled with an appropriate gas. This light is dangerous enough that the outside must be thoroughly cleaned of fingerprints to keep a hot-spot from forming, which could cause the lamp to explode.

After some work, he managed to convince himself that the filaments within were not, in fact, garage door springs, and gave a demonstration of their properties. For example, their resistance goes up as they are heated. In order to keep from tripping the power supply, filaments this large must be preheated. Failure to do so passes a very large number of amps.

The next step was to hook the lamp up to his home-made 20 kW power supply. He gives a good demonstration of just how bright it is. Within seconds he’s sweating from the heat and definitely can’t even open his eyes to see with the tiny sun occupying the center of his abode. Video after the break.

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New Chip Alert: RTL8710, A Cheaper ESP8266 Competitor

Almost exactly two years ago, shocking news thundered across the electronics blogosphere. There was a new WiFi module on the block. It was called the ESP8266, a simple serial device capable of taking care of an 802.11 network and a WiFi stack, giving any project with a microcontroller access to the Internet. Earlier modules to connect microcontrollers were sufficient for the task, but nothing could beat the ESP8266 on price.

The RTL8710 dev kit
The RTL8710 dev kit

Now, there’s a new module that’s even cheaper and more powerful than the ESP8266, and just like all of our favorite parts from China, it inexplicably shows up on eBay and AliExpress before anywhere else. It’s the Realtek RTL8710, available on eBay, on AliExpress, and elsewhere around the web for about $1.50 per device. There’s also a dev kit for the device featuring breakouts, an additional microcontroller, and a few switches and buttons for about $15.

As you would expect, there is zero English-language data available about the RTL8710, everything is in Chinese. There is a forum of sorts going over this new chip, and the Google Translatrix is good enough to glean a little bit of info about the new chip.

The RTL8710 features an ARM processor clocked at 166MHz. Stock, this module is running FreeRTOS. There’s 1MB of Flash, 48k of RAM available to the user, up to 21 GPIOs, 3 I2C, 4 PWM pins, and 2 PCM. This module also comes with an FCC logo, but I can’t find anything on the FCC website about this module.

If anything, the Realtek RTL8710 isn’t meant to be a competitor to the ESP8266. While extremely popular and still very useful, the ‘next gen’ ESP32 is due to be released in a month or so, and with the exception of Bluetooth on the ESP32, this Realtek module should match its capabilities quite well. Whether anyone can get an English datasheet is another matter, but if history is any indication a few English language RTL8710 forums will pop up a few hours after this is posted.

Thanks [sabas] for sending this in

DEF CON Meetup At The Grave Of James T. Kirk

DEF CON is just around the corner, and that means in just a few days thousands of hardware hackers will be wandering around the casinos in Vegas. Yes, in a mere handful of hours, the tech literati will be accosted by the dead, disaffected eyes of dealers and the crass commercialization of every culture in humanity’s recorded history. The light of god does not penetrate mirrored ceilings. Vegas is terrible, it’ll be 120ºF outside, but at least there’s cool stuff happening Thursday through Sunday.

Hackaday is going to be there, but we really don’t want to spend the entire weekend walking around casinos. That’s why we’re hosting a meetup at the most unlikely place possible: Veridian III, the site of the battle between the Duras sisters and the Enterprise, the crash site of NCC-1701-D, and the final resting place of Admiral James Tiberius Kirk.

We’ll be visiting Veridian III at the Valley of Fire State Park on Wednesday, August 3rd, starting at 1pm. It’s about an hour north of Vegas. As you would expect, hats, sunscreen, good shoes, and a supply of water that could be categorized as “survivalist” are a good idea. Hackaday will be at the visitor center at 1PM, and after a half hour or so, the entire meetup will drive a few miles north to cooler looking rocks.

If you want an FAQ, here you go:

  • What’s this all about, then?
    • Drive out to the desert because cool rocks.
  • No, really, what’s up?
    • Watch Star Trek: Generations. We’re going to the filming location of Soren’s launch site on Veridian III. This is where Kirk died (on a bridge), and where he was buried by Picard.
  • Where and when?
    • Valley of Fire State Park. Here’s the Google Map. 1PM, August 3rd. It’s about an hour north of Vegas. We’re going to meet at the visitor center around 1pm. Around 1:30, we’re going a few miles north to the White Dome trailhead. Look for the Hackaday Flag. It’ll be flying on a PVC pipe taped to a car.
  • Why are you going to the desert, in August, in the middle of the day, with no plan whatsoever?
    • Because Benchoff.
  • Why would extinguishing a star alter its gravity? The mass of the star would still be there, which means the Nexus ribbon wouldn’t be deflected at all. Is this crazy? What’s going on here?
    • Because Rick Berman.
  • Why weren’t there two Picards after Picard and Kirk returned from the Nexus?
    • Rick Berman.
  • Is this really the grave site of James T. Kirk?
    • No, because Kirk was resurrected by the Borg and his katra restored by Romulans.

This meetup will be a continuation of a series of Hackaday meetups in the middle of nowhere. Earlier, we had a gathering at the childhood home of the worst president of the United States of America. That meetup was a roaring success, with people travelling from surprisingly far away. If you’re unlucky enough to be in Vegas for DEF CON a day early, this is one of the weirdest meetups you could possibly attend.

By the way, if enough people attend, it will serve as proof we can do a meetup anywhere. I have my eyes on Spillville, Iowa, Oregon’s House of Mystery, and one of the remaining Blockbuster stores in El Paso. If you support this idea, come on out.

Squirrel Café To Predict The Weather From Customer Data

Physicist and squirrel gastronomer [Carsten Dannat] is trying to correlate two critical social economical factors: how many summer days do we have left, and when will we run out of nuts. His research project, the Squirrel Café, invites squirrels to grab some free nuts and collects interesting bits of customer data in return.

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Repaired Manned Multicopter Flies without Horrifying Crash

[amazingdiyprojects] has been making lots of test flights in his crazy eight propeller gasoline powered danger bucket.

We last covered the project when he had, unfortunately, wrecked the thing in a remote-controlled test flight.  He later discovered that the motor’s crankshaft bearings had, well, exploded. The resulting shrapnel destroyed the motor and crashed the drone. He described this failure mode as “concerning”.

Also concerning is the act of stepping into the seat once all the propellers are started up. He tags this as “watch your step or die”. Regardless, he also describes flying in the thing as so incredibly fun that it’s hard to stay out of it; like a mechanical drug. It explains why his channel has been lately dominated by videos of him testing the multicopter. Those videos are found after the break.

The device drinks 0.65-0.7 liters per minute of gasoline, and he’s been going through reserves working out all the bugs. This means everything from just figuring out how to fly it to discovering that the dust from the ground effect tends to clog up the air filters; which causes them to run lean, subsequently burning up sparkplugs. Dangerous, but cool.

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Ask Hackaday: Is The ESP8266 5V Tolerant?

The ESP8266 is the reigning WiFi wonderchip, quickly securing its reputation as the go-to platform for an entire ecosystem of wireless devices. There’s nothing that beats the ESP8266 on a capability vs. price comparison, and this tiny chip is even finding its way into commercial products. It’s also a fantastic device for the hardware tinkerer, leading to thousands of homebrew projects revolving around this tiny magical device.

In every technical document, summary, and description of the ESP8266, the ESP8266 is said to be a 3.3V part. While we’re well into the age of 3.3V logic, there are still an incredible number of boards and hardware that still operate using 5V logic. Over on the Hackaday.io stack, [Radomir] is questioning this basic assumption. He’s wondering if the ESP8266 is 5V tolerant after all. If it is, great. We don’t need level converters, and interfacing the ESP to USB TTL serial adapters becomes much easier. Yes, you’ll still need to use a regulator if the rest of your project is running at 5V, but if the pins are 5V tolerant, interfacing the ESP8266 with a variety of hardware becomes very easy.

[Radomir]’s evidence for the possibility of 5V tolerant inputs comes from a slight difference in the official datasheet from Espressif, and the datasheet translated by the community before Espressif realized how many of these chips they were going to sell.

The best evidence of 5V tolerant pins might come from real-world experience — if you can drive a pin with 5V for months on end without it failing, there might be something to this claim. It’s not definitive, though; just because a device will work with 5V input pins for a few months doesn’t mean it won’t fail in the future. So far a few people have spoken up and presented ESPs directly connected to the 5V pin of an Arduino that still work after months of service. If this is evidence of 5V tolerant design or simply luck is another matter entirely.

While the official datasheet from Espressif lists a maximum VIH of 3.3V, maximum specs rarely are true maximums — you can always push a part harder without things flying apart at the seams. Unfortunately, unless we hear something from the engineers at Espressif, we won’t know if the ESP8266 was designed to be 5V tolerant, if it can handle 5V signals reliably, or if 5V signals are a really good way to kill a chip eventually.

Lucky for us — and this brings us to the entire point of an Ask Hackaday column — a few Espressif engineers read Hackaday. They’re welcome to pseudonymously chime in below along with the rest of the peanut gallery. Failing that, the ESP8266 has been decapped; are there any die inspection wizards who can back up a claim of 5V tolerance for the GPIO? We’d also be interested in hearing any ideas for stress testing pin tolerance.