Fail of the Week: Dave Jones and the Case of the Terrible Tablet

Nothing spices up a quiet afternoon like the righteous indignance of an upset engineer, especially if that engineer is none other than [Dave Jones], on his EEVblog YouTube Channel. This week [Dave] has good reason to be upset. A viewer sent him what looked to be a nondescript 2010 era tablet from a company called Esinomed. From the outside it looked like a standard issue medical device. Opening up the back panel tells a completely different story though. This thing is quite possibly the worst hack job [Dave] (and we) have ever seen. This is obviously some kind of sales demo or trade show model. Even with that in mind, this thing is a fail.

wtf-solderThe tablet is based upon an off-the-shelf embedded PC motherboard and touchscreen controller. [Dave] took some offense at the hacked up USB connector on the touchscreen. We have to disagree with [Dave] a bit here, as the video seems to show that a standard mini-b connector wouldn’t have fit inside the tablet’s case. There’s no excuse for the USB cable shield draped over the bare touch controller board though. Things go downhill from there. The tablet’s power supply is best described as a bizarre mess. Rather than use a premade DC to DC converter, whoever built this spun their own switch mode power supply on a home etched board. The etching job looks good, but everything else, including the solder job, is beyond terrible. All the jumps and oddly placed components make it look like a random board from the junk bin was used to build this supply.

The story gets even worse with the batteries. The tablet has horribly hand soldered NiMH cells shoved here, there and everywhere. Most of the cells show split shrink wrap – a sure sign they have been overheated. It’s hard to tell from the video, but it appears as if a few cells have their top mounted vent holes covered with solder. That’s a great way to turn a simple rechargeable battery into a pipe bomb. Batteries can be safely hand soldered – Radio Controlled modelers did it for decades before LiPo cells took over.

We’ve all hacked projects together at the last minute; that’s one of the things we celebrate here on Hackaday. However, since this is a commercial medical device (with serial number 11 no less) we have to stamp this one as a fail.

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Hacklet 84 – Alarm Clocks

The stereotypical hardware hacker is a creature of the night. Some of us do our best work in the wee hours. The unfortunate side effect of this is that we have a hard time getting up in the morning. Sometimes life demands a hacker be up-and-at-em before noon though. In these cases, the only solution is an alarm clock. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best alarm clock projects on!

mercyWe start with [hberg32] and Merciless Pi Alarm Clock. Merciless is a good name for this Raspberry Pi based clock. We have to say it’s quite snazzy with its laser cut case and large seven segment LED face. When the alarm goes off though, this Pi bites back.

Titanium drivers powered by a 20 watt amplifier will wake even the heaviest sleepers. If that’s not enough, [hberg32] added a bed shaker to vibrate you out of the sack. The snooze button only works 3 times, after that you can press all you want, the music will still play. As if that wasn’t enough, this clock even has a pressure sensor. If you get back in bed, the alarm starts up again. Truly fitting of the name “merciless”.

irss[Ceady] took the kinder, gentler route with Integrated Room Sunrise Simulator. This alarm clock simulates dawn, gently waking the user up. A Lutron Maestro series wireless dimmer allows the sunrise simulator to slowly increase the room’s light level over a period of 10 minutes, allowing [Ceady] to wake up silently.

The clock itself uses an ATmega168 for control. [Ceady] spent a considerable amount of time testing out different methods of creating a seven segment LED display. When casting with cornstarch and resin didn’t do the trick, he went to commercial LED diffuser film from Inventables. The film proved to be just what he was looking for.

chumby2Next up is [Spiros Papadimitriou] with DIY Chumby-lite. Taking inspiration from [Bunnie Huang] and the Chumby project, [Spiros] created a friendly alarm clock with a touchscreen LCD. Much like the Chumby, this clock packs a WiFi module.

In this case though, the WiFi module is an ESP8266, whose on-board Xtensa microcontroller runs the whole show. [Spiros] programmed his Sparkfun ESP8266 Thing in C++. To keep costs down, [Spiros] left out anything unnecessary – like a real-time clock module. The Chumby-lite uses NTP to stay regular. The reductions paid off – this clock can be built for around $13.00, not including the very nice 3D printed case.

1983[Wanderingmetalhead] takes us all way back to 1983 with his 7 Day Alarm Clock. 32 years ago, this was [wanderingmetalhead’s] first embedded system project. As the name implies, this clock stores a different wake time for each day of the week. Actual numeric entry sure beats the old “hold two buttons and watch the numbers spin” system.

This is an oldie. The system is based upon a Motorola (which became Freescale, and is now NXP) 6802 micro. The code was written in assembly and cross-assembled on an Apple II. A 3.58MHz colorburst crystal divided down to 60 Hz provides the time base. This setup wasn’t perfect, but good down to a about a minute a month. The whole project lived and worked in an old amplifier case, where it dutifully woke [wanderingmetalhead] each day for 17 years.

If you want to see more alarm clock projects, check out our new alarm clocks list! If I didn’t wake up early enough to catch 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!

Trivia Lock Box Spices up Wedding Reception

Any hardware hacker will tell you, a significant other who embraces your passion is a keeper. [Nathan] found a keeper in [Jessica] – they even worked together on a hardware hack for their own wedding. The couple wanted an interactive element for their guests. Disposable cameras are getting a bit hard to find these days, so the solution was a trivia powered lock box designed and built by [Nathan] himself. Guests arrived at their tables to find locked boxes and cards with trivia questions about the couple. Only by answering the questions correctly would they unlock the box to access the prizes inside.

Each box consists of a Really Bare Bones Board, which is essentially an ATmega328 breakout board. The user interface consists of five tactile switches and a 16×2 character based LCD. The box is a clear Vaultz pencil box (Yes, the same brand Ahmed used for his clock). The final element is of course the locking mechanism. One of [Nathan’s] friends noticed that the Vaultz box latch was riveted in, and was spring loaded. It only took a bit of work to flip the latch from the outside to the inside. Cheap 9g micro servos from the far east pull the latch open with a string. The only thing we haven’t figured out is how [Nathan] closed the latches while they were inside the box. Obviously some black magic was involved! [Jessica] decorated the box with circuit traces created on her vinyl cutter.

On the eve of the big day, [Nathan] realized that his tactile switches were… not really switching. The superglue he had used to mount them had seeped into the switch body, freezing it solid. Nathan saved the project with a herculean effort of soldering 5 switches on each of 12 boxes the night before his own wedding.

What was in the box? Alka-Seltzer tablets. When added to vases filled with oil and water, the fizzy tablets turned the vases into mini lava lamps. The boxes also contained coins which were redeemable for Hawaiian Leis.

Click past the break to see the boxes in action on [Nathan] and [Jessica’s] big day and if you’re looking to build a fleet of hardware for your own wedding, take a look at the centerpieces [Bill Porter] created a couple of years ago.

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Hacklet 83 – Tiny Robot Projects

Hackers, makers, and engineers have been hacking on robot projects since the era of clockwork mechanics. Any robot is a cool project, but there is something particularly attractive about small ones. Maybe it’s the skill required to assemble them, or perhaps it’s the low-cost. Either way, there are lots of palm-sized robot projects on This week on the Hacklet, we’re going to highlight a few of them!

tinyrobot2We start with the granddaddy of them all, [shlonkin] and Tiny robot family. [Shlonkin] built line following robots that can hide under a US half-dollar coin. The robots are simple circuits – an ATtiny85 with an LED and pair of phototransistors. The code is provided both in Arduino’s wiring, and in straight C++. Two coreless motors, normally used in cell phones vibrators or quadcopters, provide the locomotion. These robots only know one thing – moving forward and following a line. They do it well though! We love this project so much that we hosted a tiny robot workshop at the 10th anniversary back in 2014.

toteWhen it comes to tiny walking robots, [Radomir Dopieralski] is the king. Many of his projects are small biped, quadruped, or even hexapod robots. He’s done things with 9 gram nano servos that we thought were impossible. Tote, an affordable spider robot, is his latest creation. Tote is a four-legged bot utilizing 12 9 gram servos. [Radomir] created a custom PCB for Tote, which acts as a carrier for its Arduino Pro Mini Brain. This robot is easily expandable – [Radomir] has experimented with the Teensy 3 series as well. Controlling the robot can be anything from an ESP8266 to an infrared remote control.

botbot[Alan Kilian] may well have the ultimate tease project with Hand-wound inductors for a tiny robot. [Alan] was using some tiny GM-10 motors on his micro-bot. The motors didn’t have inductance for the locked-antiphase drive controller. His solution was to wind some coils to provide a bit of added inductance. The mod worked, current consumption dropped from 116 ma to about 6 ma. We want to know more about that ‘bot though! It’s controlled by a Megabitty, [Monty Goodson’s] ATmega8 controller board from sometime around 2003. The lilliputian board has been very popular with the nano sumo crowd. Other than the controller, motors, and the plywood frame, [Alan] has left us guessing about his robot. If you see him, tell [Alan] to give us more info on his micro robot’s design and construction!


espbot[Ccates] jumped on the tiny robot bandwagon with Tiny wi-fi robot. Rather than go with an Arduino for control, [Ccates] grabbed the popular ESP-8266 WiFi module. The construction of the bot is inspired by [shlonkin’s] tiny robot family up above. This bot is controlled by the Xtensa processor embedded in the ESP-8266. Since it only drives forward, it only takes two GPIO pins to control the transistors driving the motors. Even the diminutive ESP-01 module has enough I/O for that. We’d love see some sensors and a full H-bridge on this micro beastie!


If you want to see more palm-sized robot projects, check out our new tiny robot projects list! These ‘bots are small, so I may have missed yours. If that’s the case, 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!

The Eloquence of the Barcode

Beep. You hear it every time you buy a product in a retail store. The checkout person slides your purchase over a scanner embedded in their checkout stand, or shoots it with a handheld scanner. The familiar series of bars and spaces on the label is digitized, decoded to digits, and then used as a query to a database of every product that particular store sells. It happens so often that we take it for granted. Modern barcodes have been around for 41 years now. The first product purchased with a barcode was a 10 pack of Juicy Fruit gum, scanned on June 26, 1974 at Marsh supermarket in Troy, Ohio. The code scanned that day was UPC-A, the same barcode used today on just about every retail product you can buy.

The history of the barcode is not as cut and dry as one would think. More than one group has been credited with inventing the technology. How does one encode data on a machine, store it on a physical media, then read it at some later date? Punch cards and paper tape have been doing that for centuries. The problem was storing that data without cutting holes in the carrier. The overall issue was common enough that efforts were launched in several different industries.

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Hacklet 82 – Halloween Hacks 2015

Halloween is when the ghouls start haunting and the hackers start hacking. All hallows eve is the perfect holiday for eerie blinking LEDs, spooky audio oscillators, and wild animatronics. We had a double dose of Halloween hacks last year on the Hacklet. This year we’re bringing you even more of the best Halloween hacks on!

eyes1We start with [dougal] and Halloween Blinky Eyes. [Dougal] wanted to create the effect of creatures peeking at you from the dark corners of the room, and he’s certainly nailed it. A strip of WS2812 LEDs is the trick here. Pairs of LEDs light up, blink, and fade away like spooky eyes. The Strip is controlled by a Particle Core using Adafruit’s NeoPixel Library, though [Dougal] plans to move to the FastLed library. Everything is powered by a USB power pack. This hack isn’t much to look at with the lights on, so check out the video to see these eyes really shine!


witch1Next up is [controlmypad] with Blair the Witch Project. A normal trip to Home Depot turned paranormal when [controlmypad] spotted an awesome witch decoration. The free-standing mannequin had some basic animatronics and the all important manual trigger. [controlmypad] already had a discarded electric wheelchair. After replacing the chair batteries he modified it with a Sabertooth 2×32 Motor Controller and a standard radio control receiver. A spare channel was connected to Blair’s manual trigger. An aluminum tube joins the witch and the scooter. The hardest part of this hack was keeping Blair’s skirt out of the scooter wheels. Home Depot to the rescue! A simple hoop made of lawn edging plastic keeps the fabric and wheels apart.



[Alex Cordonnier] and his team participated in Boilermake 2015, a 24 hour Hackathon at Purdue University. The fruit of their labor is Trick or Tweet, the tweeting Jack-o’-lantern. Yes folks, we now have the internet of gourds. Hiding inside Trick or Tweet is a Raspberry Pi and a Pi Camera. The pumpkin itself is also a giant capacitive touch switch. Touching the pumpkin triggers a count down after which Trick or Tweet snaps a photo. It then adds some spooky Halloween overlays, a pun or two, and throws the whole thing up on twitter @PumpkinPiPics. [Alex] hasn’t uploaded the code yet, but we’re guessing it consists of a few Python scripts. Pretty awesome for 24 hours of work!


hariSometimes Halloween hacks take on a life of their own. That’s exactly what happened when [Hari Wiguna] sat down with a few parts he ordered from China. Happy Halloween 2015 is the result. [Hari’s] order included some potentiometers, a two color OLED display, and some Arduino clones. In no time [Hari] had three pots wired up to the Arduino’s analog inputs. The OLED quickly followed, displaying graphics via the Arduino’s I2C bus. He really wanted a Jack-o’-lantern though. It took a bit more tweaking, but eventually [Hari] was successful. The first pot sets eye size.  The second controls eye rotation. The third pot changes the width of Jack’s mouth. [Hari] has all the code for this hack up on his most recent project log.

Not spooked enough? If you want to see more Halloween projects, check out our newly updated Halloween hacks 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!

Creepy Van Parked Down the Street is a Nomadic Sauna

Sometimes you need a good sweat and if you’re like [JoeCMorgan] you can’t be bothered travelling to a sauna, it needs to come to you. He took care of that problem by building the SaunaVan.

Many moons ago, SaunaVan started life as a Vauxhall Combo van. At some point it was abbreviated from a Van to a trailer. You can’t tell from the picture above but this van no longer has a cab up front. Like many trailers, it eventually became a storage unit, which is how [Joe] found it. He cleaned out the old tires, tents, and detritus, and started planning out a mobile sauna. The van’s interior was already stripped, so the first order of business was to cut a hole in the front wall of the van. The hole became a steel “nose” which housed the chimney. All this allowed [Joe] to place his 1920’s Husqvarna stove as far forward as possible.

The van’s gas tank was cleaned out and became a water reservoir, complete with a pump that is safe to use with water. A shower placed outside allows for a quick cool down after a hot sauna. The biggest job was building the interior. [Joe] measured out the wheel wells and cut panels to form the interior walls of the van. Some fiberglass insulatisauna2on between the wood and the outside wall ensured the van would stay nice and toasty. [Joe] put in some pre-finished flooring and added benches to cover the wheel wells. The benches hide storage for wood, and the wiring for the van’s sound system. Speaking of which, your sweaty friends won’t be happy without some tunes so [Joe] added speakers and a radio. Check out the video after the break to see it all in action. This thing is just begging to be parked next to the Carpool DeVille.

One thing [Joe] didn’t mention was a fresh air intake, which is vital on a setup like this. We’d also add a carbon monoxide detector just to be sure combustion gasses don’t build up inside the van’s body.

The first firing of the antique stove was a complete success. The newly christened SaunaVan’s temperature got up over 90°C (194°F)! That might sound hot to some, but it’s not far outside the norm for a sauna. The low humidity helps keep things comfortable, but we wouldn’t recommend staying inside for more than a few minutes.

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