Hacklet 94 – Pi Zero Contest Entries

Hackaday and Adafruit have joined forces to present the Raspberry Pi Zero Contest. A great contest is nothing without entries though. This is where the Hackaday.io community is proving once again that they’re the best in the world. The contest is less than a week old, yet as of this Thursday evening, we’re already up to 33 entrants! You should submit your own project ideas now for a chance at one of the many prizes. This week on The Hacklet, we’re going to take a look at a few of these early entrants!

controllerWe start with [usedbytes] and Zero Entertainment System [usedbytes] has crammed an entire emulator into a classic Nintendo Entertainment System control pad thanks to the Raspberry Pi Zero. Zero Entertainment System also has something the original NES couldn’t dream of having: An HDMI output. The emulator uses the popular RetroPie front end. We’re happy to say that [usedbytes] knew that hacking up a real Nintendo controller would be sacrilegious, so they grabbed a low-cost USB clone from the far East. A bit of creative parts-stuffing and point-to-point wiring later, ZES was ready to meet the world!

wsprNext up is [Jenny List] with The Australia Project. [Jenny] is a hacker from Europe. She’s hoping to use a Pi Zero to talk to Australia. “Talk” may be pushing it a bit though. The Australia Project will use the Weak Signal Propagation Reporter (WSPR) network to transmit RF straight out of the Pi’s GPIO ports. All that is required is a good filter, an antenna, and a balun. The filter in this case is a 7-pole Chebyshev low-pass filter. The filter keeps the Pi’s harmonic filled square waves from messing up every band from DC to light. [Jenny] normally sells these filters as a kit, but she’s made a special version specifically for the Pi Zero.

tote0[Radomir Dopieralski] has brought his signature walking robots to the Pi Zero world with Tote Zero. Tote Zero is a quadruped walking robot built mainly from 9 gram servos. [Radomir’s] custom tote board interfaces the servos to the Pi Zero itself. The Pi Zero opens all sorts of doors for sensors, vision, and advanced processing. The Arduino board on the original Tote would have been hard pressed to pull that off. Tote is programmed in Python, which will make the code quick and easy to develop. Tote Zero just took its first steps a few days ago, so follow along as a new robot is born!


ethernetpoFinally we have [julien] with PoEPi: Pi Zero Power over Ethernet with PHY. The Raspberry Pi Zero is so tiny, that it’s easy to forget it needs a fair amount of power to run. [Julien] is giving us a way to connect our Pi to a network while ditching the USB power supply using Power Over Ethernet (PoE). PoE has been powering devices like IP cameras for years now. It’s become a standard way of transmitting power and data. For the Ethernet physical interface, [Julien] is using Microchip’s ENC28J60, which has a handy SPI interface. Linux already has drivers in place for the device, so it’s a slam dunk. The “power” part of this system comes with the help of an LTC4267 PoE interface chip, which has a built-in switching regulator.

If you want to see more entrants to Hackaday and Adafruit’s Pi Zero contest, check out the submissions list! If you don’t see your project on that list, you don’t even have to contact me, just submit it to the Pi Zero Contest! 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 Hackaday.io!

Experimental Gases, Danger, and The Rock-afire Explosion

DowntownExlosion12_1On the morning of September 26th, 2013 the city of Orlando was rocked by an explosion. Buildings shook, windows rattled, and Amtrak service on a nearby track was halted. TV stations broke in with special reports. The dispatched helicopters didn’t find fire and brimstone, but they did find a building with one wall blown out. The building was located at 47 West Jefferson Street. For most this was just another news day, but a few die-hard fans recognized the building as Creative Engineering, home to a different kind of explosion: The Rock-afire Explosion.

The Inventor and His Band of Robots

rockafireMany of us have heard of the Rock-afire Explosion, the animatronic band which graced the stage of ShowBiz pizza from 1980 through 1990. For those not in the know, the band was created by the inventor of Whac-A-Mole, [Aaron Fechter], engineer, entrepreneur and owner of Creative Engineering. When ShowBiz pizza sold to Chuck E. Cheese, the Rock-afire Explosion characters were replaced with Chuck E. and friends. Creative Engineering lost its biggest customer. Once over 300 employees, the company was again reduced to just [Aaron]. He owned the building which housed the company, a 38,000 square foot shop and warehouse. Rather than sell the shop and remaining hardware, [Aaron] kept working there alone. Most of the building remained as it had in the 1980’s. Tools placed down by artisans on their last day of work remained, slowly gathering dust.

Continue reading “Experimental Gases, Danger, and The Rock-afire Explosion”

Hackaday and Adafruit Launch the Pi Zero Contest

Hackaday and Adafruit are teaming up to bring you the Pi Zero Contest. Unless you’ve been hiding out in your workshop for the past month or so, you probably already know The Pi Zero is the $5 Linux-based computer which has been taking the world by storm. Think you have the next great project for this single-board computer? Enter it for a chance to take home one of three $100 gift certificates to the Hackaday Store. We know Zeros have been hard to find, so we’ll be giving away 10 of them before the contest is over. Even if you don’t have a Pi Zero, read on!

This is all about documenting quality projects to Hackaday.io. We’re looking for well thought out, well documented builds intended for the Pi Zero. Any project submitted to this contest can also be rolled over to the 2016 Hackaday Prize. Think of it as getting a head start.

Here are the details:

  • From February 2nd, to February 20th, Lady Ada will make 10 ‘From the Desk of Lady Ada’ broadcasts focusing on this contest. During each broadcast she will present an idea for a Pi Zero Project. You don’t have to build Lady Ada’s projects, they’re starter ideas to get your wheels turning. If you don’t have a Raspberry Pi Zero, don’t worry! You can prototype with a Raspberry Pi Model B, or a Pi 2. There are also 10 Pi Zero boards up for grabs before the contest is over.
  • The deadline for winning a Pi Zero is 12:00am PST February 25th, 2016. The judges will pick the 10 most well thought out and well documented projects.
  • On February 29th, the judges will announce the winners of 10 Raspberry Pi Zero boards.
  • The grand prize for this contest is one of three $100 gift cards to the Hackaday store. The deadline to enter is 12:00 am PST March 14th, 2016.

Entering is easy.  All you have to do is submit your project. Just click the “Submit to” drop down list on your project page. Then select Adafruit Pi Zero Contest.

So fire up your soldering irons, warm up your 3D printers, and load up your favorite code editor. It’s time to start hacking!

Hacklet 93 – Robotics Toolkit and ESP8266 Packet Injection

You never know where a hack will take you. Sometimes a simple project will take on a life of its own and become a huge software framework. Other times, a reading blog can turn into a weekend project. Hackaday.io is the place to upload every project, big, small, or somewhere in between. This week on the Hacklet, we’re taking a look at two projects – one big, one small.

wifi1[Rand Druid] recently spent a Weekend on the Dark Side, creating an ESP8266 packet injector. The project started when [Rand] read about [Kripthor’s] deauth packet injection attacks right here on Hackaday. He initially created the WiFi denial of service throwie mentioned in the article. The basic Bill of Materials (BOM) for this device is an ESP8266 module, a DC/DC converter, a 9V battery, connectors, and a few resistors. This worked well, but some devices (most notably [Rand’s] son’s Android Phone) would disconnect and reconnect so quickly the attack had no practical impact.


double-wifi[Rand] fixed the problem by adding a second ESP8266 module. The first is the listener. It listens for WiFi access points. Once an AP is found, it sends this information to the second jammer” module via a unidirectional single line serial link. The jammer module pumps out deauth packets at full speed. He even managed to create a single executable which performs as both listener and jammer. At boot, the software sends out a series 0xFF bytes through the serial port. The listener has its serial transmit pin directly connected to the jammer’s serial receive line. When the jammer receives the 0xFF bytes, it jumps into the correct function. This was more than enough to kick that pesky Android phone off the network. As with the original article, we have to stress that you should only use modules like these for testing on your own equipment. Be careful out there folks!


bowler[Kevin Harrington] loves robots, but hates reinventing the wheel every time he creates a new machine. He’s built BowlerStudio: A robotics development platform to combat this problem. BowlerStudio was a semifinalist in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. BowlerStudio is a soup-to-nuts platform for creating all sorts of robots. [Kevin] has integrated Computer Aided Design (CAD), 3D modeling, kinematics, machine vision, and a simulation engine complete with physics modeling into one whopper of a software package. To prove how versatile the system is, he designed a hexapod robot in the CAD portion of the program. The robot then taught itself to walk in the simulation. Once the design was 3D printed, the real robot walked right off the bread board. [Kevin] linked the hardware and software with DyIO, another of his projects.

BowlerStudio is a huge boon for just about any robotics hacker, as well as educators. An entire curriculum could be created around the system. Thanks to its Java roots, BowlerStudio is also a multi-platform. [Kevin] has binaries ready to go for Windows, Mac, and Ubuntu.

The newest feature in BowlerStudio is JBullet. JBullet is a Java port of the Bullet physics library. Physics means that important real world effects like gravity and surface friction can now be added to simulations. In [Kevin’s] own words “This project is starting to feel more and more like a game engine targeted towards designing robotics and engineering tools.”

 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 Hackaday.io!

Overunity, Free Energy and Perpetual Motion: The Strange Side of YouTube

Spend enough time on YouTube, and you’ll eventually find yourself in one of the many dark corners hiding within it. No, I’m not talking about the comments. In this case, I mean the many videos dedicated to free energy, overunity devices, perpetual motion machines, or anything else that violates the laws of thermodynamics by trying to get out more energy than is put in. The human race has been reaching for impossible dreams of perpetual motion and free energy for just about all of recorded history. Now it’s convenient to find them all in one place.

searl_effect_generator-shot0001Browsing the tubes, it’s easy to break free energy videos down into two major groups: enthusiasts and scammers. Catching a scammer is easy – they’re looking for money. Somewhere in the video or description will be a link to a website with more information. Eventually that will lead you to a place where the scammer attempts to part you and your hard-earned money.

Names like John Searl, Muammer Yildiz, and M. T. Keshe go here. Searl especially deserves note because he’s been at it for decades.  Supposedly, his “Searl Effect Generator” SEG has been built several times, but the prototypes generate so much power they create their own anti-gravity field and fly off into space. Obviously this man and his staff need your money to continue their work. Scammers deserve disdain and public shaming. These are the folks who know their “discoveries” are nothing more than snake oil.

On the other side of the coin lie the enthusiasts. These are the backyard tinkerers, the ones who put down their computers, pick up their tools, and try to build something. Sounds a lot like the average Hackaday reader, doesn’t it? I have to admit I went into this article with the same disdain for the enthusiasts that I have for the scammers, possibly even more. In some cases, these are the folks who truly believe they can have a chance to violate the laws of thermodynamics. Inevitably these folks fail to build free energy generators, overunity devices, or whatever their pursuit is, but they all do seem to learn something in the process. A lot can be said about the builds themselves. Some of these are awesome devices. Even if they don’t work for their intended purpose, they are great demonstrations of magnetism or chemistry. This is where I had a change of heart. If someone wants to spend their time working on an impossible hack, then more power to them. I may not think they have any chance of success, but at the very least, they’ll learn how to build.

Continue reading “Overunity, Free Energy and Perpetual Motion: The Strange Side of YouTube”

Hacklet 92 – Workbenches and Toolboxes

Everyone needs a place to work. While some of us have well equipped labs with soldering stations, oscilloscopes, and a myriad of other tools, others perform their hacks on the kitchen table. Still, some hackers have to be on the go – taking their tools and work space along with them on the road. This week’s Hacklet is all about the best toolbox and workbench projects on Hackaday.io!

worktableWe start at the top – in this case, a bench top. [KickSucker] created Mondrian Inspired Work Table as a multi-use tabletop for all kinds of projects. Rather than slap down a piece of plywood, [KickSucker] took a more artistic route. Piet Mondrian was a dutch artist known for painting irregular grids of black and white lines. He’d fill a few of the rectangles up with primary colors, but leave most of them white. Between different off-cuts of wood, and colorful bits of skateboard deck [KickSucker] had the makings of an awesome work surface. The frame of the bench is an IKEA expedite shelf unit. The frame is made from MDF, with the offcuts laid on top of it. The fun part was arranging all the pieces to make lines and colors. The result is a great custom work table, and a heck of a lot less wood scraps lying around the shop. That’s a double win in our book!

toolboxNext up is [M.Hehr] with Portable Workbench & mini Lab. [M.Hehr] has wanted a portable electronic workstation for years. We’re betting he’s seen a few of them here on the blog. While cleaning up the lab before Christmas, [M.Hehr] found a couple of wooden IKEA boxes. Each box held some drawers. An idea formed in [M.Hehr’s] head. It was time to put the plan in motion! The boxes were attached and hinged. Custom brackets were cut on a Shapeoko 2 router. Everything – even the screws were recycled. [M.Hehr] created a perfect space for each tool, ensuring that things won’t end up in a tangled mess when the box is carried around. We really love the retractable power point and custom-made power supply!

roadcaseNext we’ve got [Tim Trzepacz] with Musician’s Road Box with 9 space rack. [Tim’s] sister [Tina] was playing a lot of music on the road, and needed a way to organize her gear. There are plenty of commercial solutions for this, but [Tim] decided to roll the perfect solution. He designed a plywood box with a 9U rack. [Tina’s] mixer and backing sound sources were located on the top, while effects and other modules were located in the rack. [Tim] spent a good amount of time designing the box. He was able to get the cut list down to a single piece of plywood, with room to spare. This is perfect for a 4′ x 8′ router like the ShopBot. When it comes time to hit the road, the case seals up to a rugged package. Standard roadcase corners and twist-latches finish this awesome piece.

boxtopFinally we have [Géllo] with protoBox. [Géllo] is into induction heating, which requires a Zero Voltage Switching (ZVS) flyback driver. ProtoBox started life as a place for [Géllo] to store his ZVS. It has evolved to become a small portable electronics lab. [Géllo] powers the box with a set of lithium-ion batteries sourced from old laptops. This particular ZVS design is plenty powerful enough to heat metal red hot, or create some nice arcs. [Géllo] added an Arduino Mega, a Bluetooth radio, and a 2×16 character LCD. The system is controlled with relays. A bluetooth enabled smartphone can be used to enable or disable any feature. [Géllo’s] assembly techniques are a bit scary, especially considering the fact that this is a high power design. However, this is a great proof of concept!

If you want to see more workbench and toolbox projects, check out our new workbench and toolbox list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. 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 Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 91: Ultrasonic Projects

Ultrasound refers to any audio signal above the range of human hearing. Generally that’s accepted as 20 kHz and up. Unlike electromagnetic signals, ultrasonics are still operating in a medium – generally the air around us. Plenty of animals take advantage of ultrasonics every day. So do hackers, makers, and engineers who have built thousands of projects based upon these high frequency signals. This weeks Hacklet is all about the best ultrasonic projects on Hackaday.io!

spambakeWe start with [spambake] and World’s Smallest Bat Detector. [Spambake] is interested in bats. These amazing creatures have poor eyesight, but that doesn’t slow them down. Bats use echolocation to determine their surroundings. Ultrasonic chirps bounce off obstacles. The bat listens to the echos and changes its flight path accordingly. While we can’t hear most of the sounds bats make, electronics can. [Spambake] cooked this circuit up starting with a MEMs microphone. These microphones pick up human sounds, but unlike our ears, they can hear plenty above the 20 kHz range. The audio signal is passed through an amplifier which boosts the it up around 10,000 times. The signal is filtered and then used to trigger LEDs that indicate a bat is present. The final circuit works quite well! Check out [spambake’s] video to see the bat detector in action!

movvaNext up is [Neil Movva] with Pathfinder – Haptic Navigation. Pathfinder uses ultrasonic transducers to perform echolocation similar to bats. The received data is then passed on to a human wearer. [Neil’s] idea is to use Pathfinder to help the visually disabled and blind navigate the world around them. Pathfinder was a 2015 Hackaday Prize finalist. The ultrasonic portion of Pathfinder uses the ubiquitous HC-SR04 distance sensor, which can be found for as little as $2 USD on eBay and Alibaba. These sensors send out a 60 kHz signal and listen for the echos. A microcontroller can then measure the time delay and determine the distance from the sensor to an obstacle. Finally the data is passed on to the user by a vibrating pager motor. [Neal] was kind enough to give a talk about Pathfinder at the 2015 Hackaday SuperCon.

levitate[HoboMunching] likes his ultrasonic devices ultra powerful, and that’s just what he’s got with Ultrasonic Levitation Rig. Inspired by a similar project from Mike, [HoboMunching] had to build his own levitation setup. Ultrasonic levitation used to be a phenomenon studied only in the laboratory. Cheap transducers designed for the industrial world have made this experiment practical for the home hackers. [HoboMunching] was able to use his rig to levitate up to 8 tiny balls on the nulls between the 28.5 kHz sound waves produced by his transducer. The speed of sound can be verified by measuring the distance between the balls. Purists will be happy to hear that [HoboMunching]’s circuit was all based upon the classic 555 timer.

speaker-arrayFinally we have [Alan Green] with Ultrasonic Directional Speaker V1. Most audio signals are not very directional, due to wavelength and practical limitations on speaker size. Ultrasonics don’t have this limitation. Couple this with the fact that ultrasonic signals can be made to demodulate in air, and you have the basis for a highly directional speaker setup. “Sound lasers” based on this system have been around for years, used in everything from targeted advertising to defensive weapons. [Alan] is just getting started on this project. Much of his research is based upon [Joe Pompei’s] work at the MIT media lab. [Alan] plans to use an array of ultrasonic transducers to produce a directional signal which will then demodulate and be heard by a human. This project has a hard deadline though:  [Alan] plans to help his son [Mitchell] with a musical performance that is scheduled for May, 2016. The pair hope to have a prototype in place by March.

If you want to see more ultrasonic projects, check out our new ultrasonic projects list! If I missed your project, don’t be shy! Just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. 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 Hackaday.io!