A Tale Of Two Raft Races

It’s the height of summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and hackers and makers everywhere are letting their hair down and enjoying the hot weather on the water. By coincidence last weekend there were two very different raft races in the European hackspace community, at the SHACamp2017 gathering in the Netherlands the villages competed in a cardboard raft race, while on the other side of the English Channel the various hackspaces in and around London came together in a raft race using more conventional materials.

Some of the SHA entries needed a little help.
Some of the SHA entries needed a little help.

The SHA race came about through the happy confluence of a surplus of disposable cardboard tents, a sunny afternoon, and the inviting waters of the Nuldemauw. The aim of the contest was for hacker camp villages to make it from the bank to the end of the boat dock, a distance of about 100m, in a boat made from cardboard there and then at the camp. Meanwhile the London spaces met at City Road Basin in London with their more robust watercraft for a series of races, the aim of which seems to have been to be the first to get their crew disembarked at the other end of the course. and sitting in a chair on the bank.

Full steam ahead for South London Makerspace. Toby *Spark (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Full steam ahead for South London Makerspace. Toby *Spark (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

In both races the inventiveness of the entrants showed itself in a wide range of boat designs. As you might expect those craft with a wider beam fared better than the far less stable narrower ones, with capsizes a feature at each location. Clear winners in the Netherlands were a pair of German teenagers in a very stable wide raft, while in London it was South London Makerspace’s catamaran that scooped the crown. There is a video of the London race which we’ve placed below the break.

The hackspace and makerspace spirit is at its strongest when bonds are forged between members of different spaces. Skills and capabilities are shared, collaboration opportunities abound. The sight of a bunch of European makers getting wet might serve more as entertainment than edification, but behind it lies an important facet of hackspace culture. If you’ve not yet been the spaces closest to yours, do so. You never know, one day you might end up on a capsizing raft because of it.

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Complete IR Control

What can you do with an IR remote? How about anything? Maybe not. We’ll settle for issuing arbitrary commands and controlling tasks on our computer.

The first step in [Fungus]’s hack is straightforward: buy an IR receiver for a buck, plug it into an Arduino, and load up some IR-decoding code. If you haven’t done this before, you owe it to yourself to take some time now. Old IR remotes are very useful, and dead simple, to integrate into your projects.

But here comes the computer-control part. Rather than interpret the codes on the Arduino, the micro just sends them across the USB serial to a laptop. A relatively straightforward X11 program on the (Linux) computer listens for codes and does essentially anything a user with a mouse and keyboard could — that is to say, anything. Press keys, run programs, open webpages, anything. This is great for use with a laptop or desktop, but it’d also be a natural for an embedded Raspberry Pi setup as well.

Hacking the code to do your particular biddings is a simple exercise in monkey-patching. It’s like a minimal, hacked-together, USB version of LIRC, and we like it.

Thanks [CoolerVoid] for the tip!

Hackaday Links: August 13, 2017

We found the most boring man on the Internet! HTTP Status Code 418 — “I’m a teapot” — was introduced as an April Fools Joke in 1998. Everyone had a good laugh, and some frameworks even implemented it. Now, the most boring man on the Internet and chairman of the IETF HTTP working group is trying to get 418 removed from Node and Go. There is an argument to removing code 418 from pieces of software — it gums up the works, and given only 100 code points for a client error, with 30 of them already used, we don’t really have space for a joke. There’s a solution, though: someone has submitted a request to register 418 as ‘I’m a teapot’.

The Travelling Hacker box is a migratory box of random electronic junk. The box has traveled across the United States several times, and earlier this year it started across Canada — from Vancouver to St. Johns — to begin an International journey. The box is now missing, and I’m out. I’m turning this one over to the community. There are now several rogue boxes traveling the world, the first of which was sent from [Sophi] to [jlbrian7] and is now in Latvia with [Arsenijs]. The idea of the Travelling Hacker Box is now up to you — organize your own, and share random electronic crap.

Bluetooth 5 is here, or at least the spec is. It has longer range, more bandwidth, and advertising extensions.

Guess what’s on the review desk? The Monoprice Mini Delta! If you have any questions you’d like answered about this tiny, very inexpensive printer, put them in the comments. I only have some first impressions, but so far, it looks like extending the rails (to make a taller printer) is more difficult than it’s worth. That’s not to say it’s impossible, but with the effort required, I could just print another printer.

Interested in PCB art? [Drew] found someone doing halftone art with PCBs. This is a step up from nickels.

Indiana University is getting rid of some very, very cool stuff in a government auction. This device is listed as a ‘gantry’, but that’s certainly not what it is. There have been suggestions that these devices are a flight sim, but that doesn’t sit quite right either. It’s several thousand pounds of metal, with the minimum bid of $2.00 at the time of this writing. Any guesses on what this actually is?

Hackaday Prize Entry: Robo-Dog Learns to Heel

[Radu Motisan] is working on a small rover whose primary trick is being able to identify its owner. Robo-Dog is his proof of concept, a rover that uses five ultrasonic sensors to move toward the nearest obstruction. Obviously, this isn’t the same as being able to recognize one person from another, but it’s a start.

The sensors were home-built using ultrasonic capsules soldered into a custom board, with the tube-shaped enclosures made out of PVC pipe. He made an ultrasonic beacon that uses a 556 timer IC to emit 40 KHz pulses so he can get the hang of steering the robot purely with sound. If that fails, Robo-Dog also has an infrared proximity sensor in front. All of it is controlled by an ATmega128 board and a custom H-bridge motor controller.

[Radu] has been fine-tuning the algorithm, making Robo-Dog move faster to catch up with a target that’s far away, but slower to one that’s close by. It compares the readings from two sensors to compute the angle of approach.

Reverse Engineering A BLE Service To Control A Light Bulb

So, you buy an Internet of Things light bulb, it’s a fun toy that allows you to bathe your environment in pretty colours at the touch of an app, but eventually you want more. You start to wonder how you might do more with it, and begin to investigate its inner workings. Then to your horror you discover that far from having bought a device with a convenient API for you to use, it has an impenetrable closed protocol that defies easy access.

This was the problem facing [Ayan Pahwa] when he bought a Syska Smartlight Rainbow LED bulb, and discovered that its Bluetooth Low Energy  interface used a closed protocol. But instead of giving up, he proceeded to reverse engineer the communication between bulb and app, and his write-up makes for an interesting read that provides a basic primer on some of BLE’s workings for the uninitiated.

BLE allows a device manufacturer to define their own device service specific to their functionality alongside standard ones for common device types. Using a handy Android app from Nordic Semiconductor he was able to identify the services defined for the light bulb, but sadly they lacked any human-readable information to help him as to their purpose. He thus had to sniff BLE packets directly, and lacking dedicated hardware for this task he relied on a developer feature built into Android versions since KitKat, allowing packets to be captured and logged. By analysing the resulting packet files he was able to identify the Texas Instruments chip inside the bulb, and to deduce the sequences required to control its colours. Then he was able to use the Bluez utilities to talk directly to it, and as if by magic, his colours appeared! Take a look at the video we’ve placed below the break.

Many of us may never need to reverse engineer a BLE device. But if we are BLE novices, after reading [Ayan]’s piece we will at least have some idea of its inner workings. And that can only be a positive thing.

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Another Arduino Compatible? This Time, It’s A Sony

When it comes to microcontroller development boards, we have a plethora of choices at our disposal. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, be they associated with its support and community, its interface capabilities, or its choice of processor family. Most boards you’ll find in our communities come from niche manufacturers, or at least from manufacturers who started as such. Just occasionally though along comes one whose manufacturer you will have heard of, even whose manufacturer the Man in the Street will have heard of.

Which brings us neatly to today’s story, the quiet announcement from Sony, of a new microcontroller development board called the Spritzer. This is Arduino compatible in both physical footprint and IDE, is intended for IoT applications, and packs GPS, an audio codec, and an ARM Cortex M4 at 156 MHz. There is a Japanese page with a little more detail (Google Translate link), on which they talk about applications including audio beam forming with up to eight microphones, and a camera interface. 

The board is due to be available sometime early next year, and while it looks as though it will be an interesting device we’d sound a note of caution to Sony. It is not good enough to have an amazing piece of hardware; the software and community support must be more than just make-believe. If they can crack that then they might just have a winner on their hands, if they fail to make any effort then they will inevitably follow Intel into the graveyard of also-ran boards.

Thanks [Chris] for the tip.

Visual Development with XOD

Early programmers had to represent code using binary, octal, or hex numbers. This gave way quickly to representing programs as text to be assembled, compiled, or interpreted by the computer. Even today, this remains the most common way to program, but there have been attempts to develop more visual ways to create programs graphically. If you program microcontrollers like the Arduino, you should check out XOD and see how you like visually creating software. The software is open source and currently, can target the Arduino or Raspberry Pi.

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