Chili-Gation With The MSP430

[Dave] used to grow chili peppers, but after moving to Texas he noticed his plants were drying up and dying off. This is understandable; Texas is freaking hot compared to his old home in the UK. These chilis needed a watering system, and with a pump, relay module, and an MSP430 launchpad, it was pretty easy to put together.

The core of the build is an MSP430 launchpad, a Sharp Memory LCD BoosterPack for the user interface, and a few bits and bobs for pumping water from a large soda bottle to the plant.

Before beginning his build, [Dave] took a look at commercial watering systems, but could only find huge irrigation systems for greenhouses or gardens. This was obviously overkill, but with a few parts – a six volt pump and a relay control board – [Dave] was able to make a simple system that keeps chilis watered for seven days between refilling the reservoir.

Crowdfunding Follies: $100 To Disprove Isaac Newton

Are satellites fake? Nobody knows, because no one has done an experiment to determine if rocket engines will produce thrust in a vacuum. At least that’s what this Kickstarter says, and it’s asking for $100 to test multiple types of rocket engines in an enclosed, evacuated chamber.

Anyone who has thought about this problem for half a second will tell you yes, rocket engines will work in a vacuum. It’s an application of Newton’s Third Law of Motion; if you explode fuel and dump it out the back of a rocket, the rocket will go forward. Rocket engines don’t push against air.

Strap in, because this one gets better. In a video linked to from the Kickstarter Campaign, satellites do not exist. This is because gas molecules in the thermosphere can reach 2,500 °C, hot enough to melt the metal satellites are made of. Never mind that the 2,500 °C figure is only for individual gas molecules; the atmosphere at these altitudes is so rarefied, there isn’t much contact with matter. Oh, second point: have you ever realized that a Google image search of the word ‘satellite’ mostly shows illustrations and renders? It’s not because to take a picture of a satellite in orbit would require two satellites flying in formation; no, it must be because satellites don’t exist. It gets better from there.

FCC Creates Innovation Radio, The Future Of Wireless Broadband

Thirty years ago there was a lot of unused spectrum in the 900MHz,  2.4GHz, and 5.2GHz bands. They were licensed for industrial, scientific, and medical uses since their establishment in 1947. But by the 1980s, these bands were identified as being underused. Spectrum is a valuable resource, and in 1985, the FCC first allowed unlicensed, spread spectrum use of these bands. Anyone who has ever configured a router will know the importance of this slice of spectrum: they’re the backbone of WiFi and 4G. If you’re not connected to the Internet through an Ethernet cable, you have the FCC Commissioners and chairpersons in 1985 to thank for that.

Last week, the FCC unanimously voted to allow the use of spectrum in the 3.5GHz band with the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. This opens up 150 MHz of spectrum from 3550 – 3700MHz for new wireless broadband services. If history repeats itself, you will be connecting to the Internet with the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in a few years.

While the April 17th FCC meeting was the formal creation of the CBRS, this is something that has been in the works for a very long time. The band was originally proposed back in 2012 when portions of spectrum were, like the ISM bands back in the 80s, identified as being underused. Right now, the 3.5GHz band is being used for US military radars and aeronautical navigation, but new advances in frequency management as outlined by commissioner [Clyburn] will allow these to coexist with the CBRS. In the words of Chairman [Wheeler], “computer systems can act like spectrum traffic cops.”

Access to the 3.5GHz spectrum will be divided into three levels. The highest tier, incumbent access, will be reserved for the institutions already using it – military radars and aeronautical radio. The second tier, priority access, will be auctioned and licensed by the FCC for broadband providers via Priority Access Licenses (PALs). The final tier, general authorized access, will be available for you and me, provided the spectrum isn’t already allocated to higher tiers. This is an unprecedented development in spectrum allocation and an experiment to see if this type of spectrum allocation leads to more utilization.

There are, however, unanswered questions. Commissioner [O’Rielly] has said the three-year license with no renewable expectancy could limit commercial uptake of PALs. Some commentors have claimed the protocols necessary for the CBRS to coexist with WiFi devices does not exist.

Still, the drumbeat demanding more and more spectrum marches on, and 2/3rds of the 150MHz made available under this order was previously locked up for the exclusive use of the Defense Department. Sharing spectrum between various users is the future, and in this case has the nice bonus of creating a free citizens band radio service.

You can read the full order here, or watch the stream of the April 17th meeting.

VCF East X: The Mega Mix

The Vintage Computer Festival East was last weekend, and now it’s time to wrap everything up. We’re going to start this off with a video of the biggest, most intolerable jerk on the planet walking around the boardwalk at Ashbury Park. Thanks to [Fran] for filming it.

That video, despite the wretched casting director, included the reveal of the PDP Straight-8, the 50-year-old minicomputer that was repaired and refurbished by [David Gesswein] just this year. You can see some pictures of that and more below, and a little more on [David]’s website.

Continue reading “VCF East X: The Mega Mix”

Earth Day: Environmental Sensors

Before you attempt to solve a problem, you must first study the problem. If there’s a problem with the environment, you must therefore study the environment at a scale never seen before. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, there are a lot of projects that aim to do just that. Here are a few of them:

[Pure Engineering]’s C12666 Micro Spectrometer has applications ranging from detecting if fruit is ripe, telling you to put sunscreen on, to detecting oil spills. Like the title says, it’s based on the Hamamatsu C12666MA spectrometer, a very tiny MEMS spectrometer that can sort light by wavelength from 340 to 780nm.

The project is to build a proper breakout board for this spectrometer. The best technologies are enabling technologies, and we can’t wait to see all the cool stuff that’s made with this sensor.

[radu.motisan]’s portable environmental monitor isn’t just one sensor, but an entire suite of them. The design of the project includes toxic and flammable gas sensors, radiation detectors, dust sensors, and radiation detectors packaged together in a neat, convenient package.

[radu] has already seen some success with environmental sensors and The Hackaday Prize; last year, his entry, the uRADMonitor placed in the top fifty for creating a global network of radiation sensors.


Kickstarting Even More Router-Based Dev Boards

The latest and greatest thing makers and IoT solutions is apparently router hacking. While most Hackaday readers lived through this interesting phase where Linksys routers were used to connect sensors and other such digital bits and bobs to the Internet a few years ago, SOCs have improved, and now there are router-based dev boards.

The latest is the Onion Omega, an exceptionally tiny board just under two inches square. Onboard is an Atheros AR9331 chipset – the same found in a number of cheap WiFi routers – attached to 32 pins breaking out GPIOs, SPI, I2C, and USB. With WiFi and Ethernet, this is a board designed to connect sensors, motors, actuators, and devices to the Internet.

This is not the only recent router-based dev board to make it to the crowdfunding sites. A week or so ago, the Domino hit Kickstarter, featuring the same AR9331 chipset found in the Onion Omega. The Onion does have a few things going for it – cloud integration, a web-based console, and an app store that make the Onion vastly more useful for the ‘maker’ market. The Domino has a boatload of pins available, and competition is always good, right?

Earth Day: Terraforming The Earth

In 300 years, New York, London, Tokyo, and just about every major city on the planet will be underwater. Sub-Saharan Africa will extend to the equator. Arizona will get hurricanes. These are huge problems, but luckily there are a few very creative people working to terraform the Earth for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

[Danny] is working to stop desertification, and stop blowing drifts of sand from encroaching on valuable farm land. How does his project aim to do this? There are a few techniques that can mitigate or even stop the expanding deserts, including reforestation, proper water management, and using woodlots and windbreaks just like in the 1930s dust bowl.

With the right tools, these techniques are fairly simple to implement. For that, [Danny] is working on a biodegradable lattice framework that will hold soil in place just like plant roots would. It’s an interesting concept, and we can’t wait to see what kind of prototypes [Danny comes up with.

The Terra Spider takes a different tack. In true post-apocalyptic fashion, the Terra Spider will deploy thousands of robots capable of moving and removing biomatter from the environment. Each of the Terra Spiders is able to monitor the local environment, and a few dozen of these bots connected by a wireless network will be able to address a specific site’s needs to make a landscape the way it should be.