Let’s Make Life A Little Better

Chances are you’ve spent a lot of time trying to think of the next great project to hit your workbench. We’ve all built up a set of tools, honed our skills, and set aside some time to toil away in the workshop. This is all for naught without a really great project idea. The best place to look for this idea is where it can make life a little better.

I’m talking about Assistive Technologies which directly benefit people. Using your time and talent to help make lives better is a noble pursuit and the topic of the 2016 Hackaday Prize challenge that began this morning.

Assistive Technology is a vast topic and there is a ton of low-hanging fruit waiting to be discovered. Included in the Assistive Technology ecosystem are prosthetics, mobility, diagnostics for chronic diseases, devices for the aging or elderly and their caregivers, and much more. You can have a big impact by working on your prototype device, either directly through making lives better and by inspiring others to build on your effort.

Need some proof that this is a big deal? The winners of the 2015 Hackaday Prize developed a 3D printed mechanism that links electric wheelchair control with eye movement trackers called Eyedrivomatic. This was spurred by a friend of theirs with ALS who was sometimes stuck in his room all day if he forgot to schedule a caregiver to take him to the community room. The project bridges the existing technologies already available to many people with ALS, providing greater independence in their lives. The OpenBionics Affordable Prosthetic Hands project developed a bionic hand with a clever whiffletree system to enable simpler finger movement. This engineering effort brings down the cost and complexity of producing a prosthetic hand and helps remove some of the barriers to getting prosthetics to those who need them.

The Is the Stove Off project adds peace of mind and promotes safe independence through an Internet connected indicator to ensure the kitchen stove hasn’t been left on and that it isn’t turned on at peculiar times. Pathfinder Haptic Navigation reimagines the tools available to the blind for navigating their world. It uses wrist-mounted ultrasonic sensors and vibration feedback, allowing the user to feel how close their hands are to objects. Hand Drive is another wheelchair add-on to make wheeling yourself around a bit easier by using a rowing motion that doesn’t depend as much on having a strong hand grip on the chair’s push ring.

Assistive TechnologiesIn most cases, great Assistive Technology is not rocket science. It’s clever recognition of a problem and careful application of a solution for it. Our community of hackers, designers, and engineers can make a big impact on many lives with this, and now is the time to do so.

Enter your Assistive Technology in the Hackaday Prize now and keep chipping away on those prototypes. We will look at the progress all of the entries starting on October 3rd, choosing 20 entries to win $1000 each and continue onto the finals. These finalists are eligible for the top prizes, which include $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab, $25,000, two $10,000 prizes, and a $5,000 prize.

Asking the Security Question of Home Automation

“Security” is the proverbial dead horse we all like to beat when it comes to technology. This is of course not unjust — we live in a technological society built with a mindset of “security last”. There’s always one reason or another proffered for this: companies need to fail fast and will handle security once a product proves viable, end users will have a harder time with setup and use if systems are secured or encrypted, and governments/law enforcement don’t want criminals hiding behind strongly secured systems.

This is an argument I don’t want to get bogged down in. For this discussion let’s all agree on this starting point for the conversation: any system that manages something of value needs some type of security and the question becomes how much security makes sense? As the title suggests, the technology du jour is home automation. When you do manage to connect your thermostat to your door locks, lights, window shades, refrigerator, and toilet, what type of security needs to be part of the plan?

Join me after the break for an overview of a few Home Automation security concerns. This article is the third in our series — the first asked What is Home Automation and the second discussed the Software Hangups we face.

These have all been inspired by the Automation challenge round of the Hackaday Prize. Document your own Automation project by Monday morning to enter. Twenty projects will win $1000 each, becoming finalists with a chance at the grand prize of $150,000. We’re also giving away Hackaday T-shirts to people who leave comments that help carry this discussion forward, so let us know what you think below.

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Home Automation Is Hung Up On Software

Home automation is a favorite in sci-fi, from Tony Stark’s Jarvis, to Rosie the robotic maid on the Jetsons, and even the sliding doors pulled by a stagehand Star Trek. In fact, most people have a favorite technology that should be just about ready to make an appearance in their own home. So where are these things? We asked you a few weeks ago and the overwhelming answer was that the software just isn’t there yet.

We’re toddling through the smart home years, having been able to buy Internet-connected garage doors and thermostats for some time now. But for the most part all of these systems are islands under one roof. Automation is the topic of the current challenge for the 2016 Hackaday Prize. Developing the glue that can hold all of these pieces together would make a great entry. Why doesn’t that glue yet exist?

I think the problem is really twofold. On the one hand, there isn’t a clear way to make many devices work under one software. Second, there really isn’t an obvious example of great user experience when it comes to home automation. Let’s look at why and talk about what will eventually get us there.

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Join Us at Vintage Computer Festival West This Weekend

VCF West is happening this Saturday and Sunday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. This on of our favorite events; a celebration of the hardware that paved the way for our modern world. VCF attracts an impressive amount of rare and interesting computers and other technology items. That hardware doesn’t make it to the festival on its own. The people at VCF — exhibitors, speakers, attendees, etc — are themselves an incredible collection of stories from salvage and restoration to the inside story on the teams that made the computers in the first place.  Check out some of Brian Benchoff’s coverage of VCF East earlier this year.

VCF_coverI ran into Vintage Computer Federation President Evan Koblentz ten days ago and he shared an interesting anecdote I think you’ll enjoy. Bil Herd was a featured speaker at VCF East a few years back. He was the Senior Design Engineer behind the Commodore C128 — obviously a fascinating person to headline the event. The year after Bil spoke at the festival, Evan as surprised to run into him wandering around the event again. Bil didn’t just want to speak, he wanted to see all the cool stuff and has attended, spoken, and conducted workshops at several of the festivals since.

Who will show up this year is anyone’s guess. But we know this event is incredible and you will be amazed at who you run into. It is important to recognize where our technology comes from, to celebrate those who made it happen, and to encourage young people to start on the path to becoming a computer engineering wizard. For all of these reasons we are happy to be sponsoring VCF West. On the inside cover of every festival program you’ll find this epic art by our Illustrator, Joe Kim. You can also click the image on the right to embiggen.

Joshua Vasquez will on hand for Hackaday at VCF West. He’s looking for the best bits to feature on our front page. If you want get a hold of him to show off your wares, or to grab some excellent Hackaday stickers, hit him up on Hackaday.io.

Yes, You Should be Hacking Your Car’s Data System

If you own a car, I would wager it’s the most complex device you own. Within you find locomotion, safety systems, and an entertainment system that may be using technology from several decades ago (but that’s a rant for a different article). Jalopy or Sweet Hotness, your ride has an underlying data network that is a ton of fun to hack, and something of a security dinosaur. Both were discussed by Craig Smith and Erik Evenchick during their talk on Car Hacking tools at Hope XI.

You should recognize both of these names. Eric Evenchick is a Hackaday contributor who has been traveling the world presenting talks and workshops on his open source car hacking hardware called CANtact. Craig Smith is founder of OpenGarages and author of the Car Hacker’s Handbook which we highly recommend. The pair made a great joint presentation; both were charismatic, using wit to navigate through the hardware, software, techniques, and goals you want to have in mind to jump into car hacking.

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We Declare The Grandmaster Of Pokemon Go GPS Cheats

Since Pokemon Go blew up the world a couple of weeks ago we’ve been trying to catch ’em all. Not the Pokemon; we’ve been trying to collect all the hardware hacks, and in particular the most complete GPS spoofing hack. We are now ready to declare the first Grandmaster GPS spoofing hack for Pokemon Go. It broadcasts fake GPS signals to your phone allowing the player to “walk around” the real world using a gaming joystick.

Just about everything about this looks right to us. They’re transmitting radio signals and are doing the responsible thing by using an RF shield box that includes a GPS antenna. Hardware setup means popping the phone inside and hooking up the signal generator and GPS evaluation hardware. Google Earth then becomes the navigation interface — a joystick allows for live player movements, coordinates are converted to GPS signals which are transmitted inside of the box.

Now, we did say “just about right”. First off, that RF shielding box isn’t going to stop your fake GPS signals when you leave the lid open (done so they can get at the phone’s touchscreen). That can probably be forgiven for the prototype version, but it’s that accelerometer data that is a bigger question mark.

When we looked at the previous SDR-based RF spoofing and the Xcode GPS cheats for Pokemon Go there were a number of people leaving comments that Niantic, the devs responsible for Pokemon Go, will eventually realize you’re cheating because accelerometer data doesn’t match up to the amount of GPS movement going on. What do you think? Is this app sophisticated enough to pick up on this type of RF hacking?

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Cory Doctorow Rails Against Technological Nihilism; Wants You to Have Hope

I was skeptical about a two hour block allotted for Cory Doctrow’s keynote address at HOPE XI. I’ve been to Operas that are shorter than that and it’s hard to imagine he could keep a huge audience engaged for that long. I was incredibly wrong — this was a barnburner of a talk. Here is where some would make a joke about breaking out the rainbows and puppies. But this isn’t a joke. I think Cory’s talk helped me understand why I’ve been feeling down about our not-so-bright digital future and unearthed a foundation upon which hope can grow.

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