The Square Inch Project Challenges Your Layout Skills

577901443070423938[alpha_ninja] proves that is not just about great projects, but about an awesome community. Over this past week [alpha_ninja] has created The Square Inch Project, which is a grass-roots contest. The contest rules are pretty simple: The project PCB must fit in a 1″ x 1″ square. That’s 2.54 cm for those that don’t use freedom units. Smaller than a square inch is fine. If the project has multiple PCBs like a cordwood module, ALL the PCBs must still fit within the 1″ x 1″ square. users coming up with cool contest ideas and inviting everyone to take a shot at winning? Awesome!

Of course a contest has to have prizes. [Alpha_ninja] has already lined up $100 in gift certificates to OSHPark. Many thanks to [Laen] and the rest of the OSHPark crew for sponsoring this contest. Hackaday loves the idea so we’re also kicking in eight $50 gift certificates to the Hackaday store, as well as four more $25 gift certificates to OSHPark.

Though the contest has been up for less than a week, the square inch project already has some great entries.

twiz[Drix] has entered Twiz, a 9 degree of freedom Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity. Twiz senses its environment with a MPU9150 IMU chip. A nRF51822 provides the Bluetooth connection and ARM Cortex-M0 processor. Put all this together, and you’ve got a great way to determine where an object is in space. [Drix] has used Twiz to control everything from holographic projectors to room lights. Contests aren’t new to [Drix], he’s already entered Twiz in the 2015 Hackaday Prize.


numi[WeisTekEng] has entered Micro DIY Lipo retro NumiTron clock. [WeisTekEng]  loves the classic IV-9 Russian numitron tubes. His plan here is to build a numitron clock driven by an ATmega328 microcontroller. The timebase for this clock is also a classic — The Dallas Semiconductor (now Maxim)  DS1307 I2C real-time clock chip. Everything is going to run on a single LiPo cell. Fitting within the project constraints, the board will be only 1″ square. This is [WeisTekEng’s] first big project on, so we’re happy to see him join the community. He’s also just getting started, so the PCB’s only exist in the virtual word of his EDA software for now. We’re looking forward to reading the numitron clock!


tiny7[Al1] has entered tiny7, a 7 segment display which is compatible with Atmel ISP headers. Ever notice those 6 pin headers on the Arduino? That’s the ISP connector, used to program the ATmega328 micro. In many designs these valuable IO pins spend most of their time unused. [Al1] decided to give them a purpose – displaying data! He’s connected a 75HC595 shift register to the SPI pins of the ISP header. Data clocked into the ‘595 is displayed on a 7 segment display. [Al1] designed the boards with castellated connections on the sides. Some careful soldering allows the boards to be daisy chained. Several 7 segment displays to be driven from a single ISP header.


nyan[Radomir Dopieralski] is using The Square Inch Project as a learning platform as well. He’s entering Nyan Board, a tiny PCB shaped like everyone’s favorite rainbow pooping cat. [Radomir] is using nyan board to learn how to work with ATtiny microcontrollers. Due to memory constraints, these little controllers can be a bit harder to program than their bigger brothers. [Radomir’s] early goals for Nyan are humble ones – he will be happy to have the cat’s eyes flash while it plays the Nyan Cat tune. Once that task is complete, the RAM and Flash of the ATtiny microcontroller will be his only constraints.

The contest deadline isn’t until November 28, 2015, so there is still plenty of time to enter. If you want to see more of the entrants, check out The Square Inch Project page, or the entrant list. Want to know more? Ask a question on the project page, or drop [Alpha_Ninja] a message!

That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

World Maker Faire 2015: Prometheus and The New Air Quality Egg

There were plenty of projects and products to be seen at the 2015 World Maker Faire. In the maker pavilion, we found [Rocco Tuccio] showing off Prometheus, his PCB CNC router. Machines like this make prototyping circuits easy. Just place a blank piece of copper clad in the machine, load up your design, and a few minutes later you’ll have a board ready to stuff. Prometheus spspindleorts some impressive specs: 7 mil (0.18 mm) trace and space, and a Total Indicated Runout (TIR) of .0001 inches (2.5 micron). Not bad for a spindle turning 40,000 RPM. [Rocco] has spent the last two years designing this machine, and has sourced most of the parts from local US vendors. The unique part of Prometheus is the spindle design. Like many other small PCB routers, Prometheus uses a brushless quadcopter motor for power. Rather than go with a belt system, [Rocco] simplified things to a simple friction drive. The only precision parts he has to worry about are the bearings which hold the cutting bits in place. Prometheus isn’t for sale yet. [Rocco] plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the coming months.


egg1A few minutes later we ran into [Victor Aprea] from Wicked Device, showing off the Air Quality Egg V2. [Victor] and his partner [Dirk] ran the design and manufacturing side of the Air Quality Egg, which had a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. The eggs from that campaign can be found online at the project’s website. [Victor and Dirk] have greatly improved on the Egg since then. The biggest update are the sensors. Sensors for ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide are now much more sensitive units from SpecSensors. These sensors don’t come cheap though. To keep costs down, [Victor and Dirk] have released three separate versions of the product with different sensor suites. On the connectivity side, the egg is now based upon Wicked Device’s Wildfire, allowing it to connect to WiFi networks. These Eggs mean business too – [Victor  and Dirk] obtained permission to co-locate a trio of eggs alongside an official New York State/EPA air quality sensing unit. The Eggs all read within 2 parts per million for carbon monoxide, and 10 parts per billion for sulfur dioxide. As with the original Egg, these devices are open source hardware. Source code is available on Wicked Device’s Github.

World Maker Faire 2015: Automatic Photo Collage

We’re on the ground here at the 6th Annual World Maker Faire in Queens, New York. This year the Faire is even bigger, extending out from the New York Hall of Science towards Flushing Meadows Corona Park.

Just itommynside the gates, we ran into [Tommy Mintz] who was showing off his improved portable automated digital photo collage (IP-ADC). Tommy has connected a Raspberry Pi and its camera on a long extension cable. The camera resides high up on a monopod, giving it a bird’s eye view of the area. The Pi first captures a background image, then grabs shots of things that change within the scene. The resulting collages range from hilarious to the surreal. The entire system is mounted on a cart and powered by batteries.

[Tommy] hooked us up with the WiFi password, so we were able to download photos directly from the IP-ADC. Less technologically inclined folks would be able to grab physical prints from the on-board Epson photo printer.

We’ll be reporting what we see here at the faire, so drop us a tweet @hackaday if you want us to stop by!

Hacklet 77 – Projects that Tweet

Since it’s launch way back in 2006, Twitter has become a magnet for techies. Maybe it’s the simple interface, maybe it’s the 140 character limit. Whatever the reason, you can find plenty of hackers, makers, and engineers tweeting about their daily activities. It didn’t take long for folks to start incorporating Twitter into their projects. Ladyada’s Tweet-a-watt is a great early example of this. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best tweeting projects on!

dogbarkWe start with [Henry Conklin] and A Twitter account for my dog. [Henry’s] dog [Oliver] loves to bark and finding a solution became his entry to The Hackaday Prize. Rather than bring Cesar Millan in, [Henry] decided to embrace [Oliver’s] vocalizations by sending them up to the cloud. A Raspberry Pi with a USB microphone uses some custom Python code to detect barks and ruffs. The Pi then sends this data to Twitter using the python-twitter library. The Pi is connected to the internet via a USB WiFi dongle. You can see the results of [Henry’s] work on [Oliver’s] own Twitter page!

dectalkerNext up is [troy.forster] and tweetie-pi. Rather than constantly check his phone or computer, [Troy] wanted a device to read his tweets. A bit of NodeJS code later, and tweetie-pi was born. A Raspberry Pi connected to the internet pulls data through the Twitter stream API. When tweets directed at a pre-configured username are found, the data is sent to a an Emic 2 text to speech module. The Emic reads in that classic DECtalker style voice we all know and love from the movies. [Troy] even added code to properly handle usernames and retweets.


homeauto[SirClover] joined the internet of things by creating Home automation system with Twitter, his entry in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. This home automation system is based around an Arduino Leonardo and an Ethernet shield. [SirClover] rolled his own custom PCB to handle relays, a Cds cell, and a 2×16 character LCD. The system can be accessed through a simple web interface. This allows the user to open or close blinds, turn on lights, all that great smart home stuff. Every time it executes a command, the home automation system reports status to Twitter.

das-cubeFinally we have [Jakob Andrén] with A danceable notification cube, which is [Jakob’s] entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. The cube itself is a translucent box that contains a metric crapton of LEDs. 148 Neopixels and 12 3W power LEDs to be exact. All these LEDs are driven by a Teensy 3.1, which serves as the main processor for the entire system. The Teensy reads position data from an MPU6040 IMU. This allows it to change brightness and color as the box is moved around – or “danced”. An ESP8266 provides the cube with data from the interwebs, specifically Facebook and Twitter. The cube lights up and flashes whenever it receives a message.

If you want to see more tweeting projects, check out our new projects that tweet list.  Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

This is What A Real Bomb Looks Like

In 1980, Lake Tahoe, Nevada was a popular tourist spot. The area offered skiing, sailing, hiking in the mountains, and of course, gambling on the Nevada side of the lake. It was in this somewhat unlikely place where the authorities found the largest improvised bomb seen to that date in the USA.

Harvey’s casino was opened by former butcher Harvey Gross in 1944. In less than 20 years it grew to a 192 room, 11 story hotel casino. Thousands of people played Harvey’s slot machines and table games. Some were winners, but most were losers. John Birges was one of the latter. Formerly a successful landscaping company owner worth millions, he lost all of it to his gambling addiction.

Born in Hungary in 1922 as János Birges, John grew up in Budapest. When WWII hit, he flew an Me-109 for the Luftwaffe. He was arrested by the Gestapo for disobeying orders during the war, but was released. After the war, he again found himself in hot water – this time with the Russians. He was arrested in 1948 and charged with espionage. His sentence was 25 years of hard labor in the Gulag. The stories vary, but most agree that Birges was able to escape his work camp by detonating a bomb as a diversion.

In 1957 Birges and his wife Elizabeth immigrated to California. He changed his name from János to John to fit in. The couple had two sons, Johnny and Jimmy. John built up a successful landscaping business and bought a restaurant, working his way into the millionaires’ club. From the outside, they were the perfect example of the American dream.

Appearances can be deceiving. Behind closed doors, Birges was a right bastard to his family. He beat his wife and his children, even forcing them to kneel on gravel when they disobeyed him. Eventually, Johnny left home to escape his father’s fists. Elizabeth filed for divorce, and was later found dead under mysterious circumstances. Birges began gambling heavily, especially at Harvey’s Wagon Wheel casino in Lake Tahoe. He eventually burned through his personal savings, as well as the income from his businesses. The once millionaire was now penniless, but he had a plan. Just as a bomb had helped him escape the Gulag, he’d use a bomb to extort his money back from Harvey’s.

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Reverse Engineering Traffic Lights with Software Defined Radio

Construction crews tearing up the street to lay new internet fiber optic cable created a unique opportunity for [Bastian Bloessl]. The workers brought two mobile traffic lights to help keep the road safe while they worked. [Bastian] had heard that these lights use the 2 meter band radios, so he grabbed his RTL-SDR USB stick and started hacking. Mobile traffic lights are becoming more common in Europe. They can be controlled by a clock, traffic volume via an on-board camera, wire or radio. They also transmit status data, which is what [Bastian] was hoping to receive.

A quick scan with GQRX revealed a strong signal on 170.760 MHz. Using baudline and audacity, [Bastian] was able to determine that Audio Frequency Shift Keying was used to modulate the data. He created a simple receiver chain in GNU radio, and was greeted with a solid data stream from the lights. By watching the lights and looking at the data frames, [Bastian] was able to determine which bits contained the current light status. A quickly knocked up web interface allowed him to display the traffic light status in real-time.

It’s a bit scary that the data was sent in plaintext, however this is just status data. We hope that any command data is sent encrypted through a more secure channel.

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Hacklet 75 – Guitar Projects

Some things just go hand in hand. Hacking and guitars are one perfect example. A huge number of hackers, makers, and engineers have at least dabbled in playing the guitar. Even those who don’t play have heard the swan song of the wayward guitarist “Bro, you fix amps?”. Seriously, once your guitar toting friends find out you tinker in electronics, you’ll never be left wanting for pizza or beer. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best guitar projects on!

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