HackPhx Winter 2014 Hackathon Winners

HackPhx 2014

The HackPhx Winter 2014 hackathon was held at Heatsync Labs hackerspace in Mesa, Arizona, USA. The advertised theme was “Arduino Wearables”. Participating attendees were randomly placed on teams evenly distributed by their disclosed skills across all teams. There were 10 teams with 4 to 5 members per team competing for two winning spots.

Each team had to build an amazing wearable project utilizing the secret ingredient which was Seedstudio’s Arduino-compatible Xadow wearable platform and add-ons. The Xadow is similar to the Arduino Leonardo and participants used an Arduino cross compatibility and pin mapping chart to assist in development.

Top prize was the Judges’ prizes for the best completed and documented Xadow wearable team project. The second prize was the Jury’s prize given to the team project that the other teams liked the most regardless of event criteria.

Read more about the winning teams and watch their presentations after the break.

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Build a Cheap Airplane ADS-B Radio Receiving Tracking Station

airplane tracking with ADS-B radio receiving

Do you have commercial or general aviation flying over your home or near your home? Would you like to know more about these airplanes: identity, heading, speed, altitude and maybe GPS data along with even more information? Well then [Rich Osgood] has just the project for you and it’s not that expensive to set up. [Rick] demonstrates using a cheap USB dongle European TV tuner style SDR (software defined radio) tuner that you can get for under $30 to listen in on the Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) 1090 MHz mode “S” or 978 MHz mode “UAT” signals being regularly transmitted from these aircraft.

He steps us through configuring the radio to use a better antenna for improved reception then walks through detailed software installation and set up to control the radio receiver as well as pushing the final decoded data to mapping software. This looks like a fascinating and fun project if you live near commercial airways. You won’t need a license for this hack because you’re only listening and not transmitting, plus these are open channels which are legal to receive.

There are some frequencies you are not legally allowed to eavesdrop on—private communications for residential wireless telephones and cellular frequencies to name just a few (Code of Federal Regulations Title 47, Part 15.9). So remember you do have to be careful and stay within legal frequencies even if your equipment is not restricted from such reception. Also note that just because you have a legal right to intercept conversations or data on some frequencies it could be illegal to publicly share the intercepted content or any details on the reception or decoding (just saying for the record).

We wonder if [Rick] could partner with [G. Eric Rogers] to upgrade [Eric’s] motorized telescope airplane tracking system to extrapolate the radio telemeter data into vector data so his Arduino can track without relying on a video feed. That merger might just get them both on a short TSA list.

Join us after the break for some extra informational links and to watch the video on setup, installation and usage of this cheap airplane tracking rig.

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Scooby-Doo Alarm Clock Repair


This is more of a hack than a repair which is a good reason for me to feature my Scooby-Doo alarm clock repair. I started out trying to simply fix some broken hardware mounts that hold the display and button mechanism within the alarm clock that looks like the Scooby-Doo Mystery Van. During testing I noticed the display was very dim suggesting an unusual current load or other malfunction, plus the alarm was not functional.

One of the coolest features of the alarm was that it made a car honking noise when the alarm was activated. Unfortunately, it turned out that the chip-onboard which produced the honking sound was shorted internally causing some transistor overheating and the dim display. It was impossible to restore functionality of the custom chip-onboard, but lucky for me the data sheets for the LM8560 clock chip revealed that it could directly output a standard alarm beeping sound to a speaker. This required the PCB and some circuitry be configured differently.

In the end the clock’s current load came down to normal parameters, the display was once again bright and the alarm functioned using the standard beeping alarm sound that comes from the LM8560 clock chip. It is sad that the coolness factor of the alarm clock cannot be restored with the honking car sound alarm but my son is quite happy to have his favorite Scooby-Doo alarm clock functioning once again.

The circuit modifications may not have been the cleverest or the best solution, so if you have other suggestions please leave them in the comments below. You can watch the video of the circuit evaluation and repair modifications after the break.

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Tape Measure VHF Yagi Antenna

tap measure yagi vhf antenna

Radio direction finding and fox hunting can be great fun and is a popular activity with amateur radio (ham radio) enthusiasts. These antennas are great and are not only good for finding transmitters but also will greatly increase directional distance performance including communicating with satellites and the international space station (ISS).

[jcoman] had a nephew who was interested in learning about amateur radio so [jcoman] figured building and using a cheap and portable 2 meter band VHF Yagi style beam antenna would be the perfect activity to captivate the young lad’s interest in the hobby.

His design is based on [Joe Leggio’s] (WB2HOL) design with some of his own calculated alterations. We have seen DIY Yagi antenna designs before but what makes this construction so interesting is that the elements come together using bits of cut metal tape measure sections. These tape measure sections allow the Yagi antenna, which is normally a large and cumbersome device, to be easily stowed in a vehicle or backpack. When the antenna is needed, the tape measure sections naturally unfold and function extremely well with a 7 dB directional gain and can be adjusted to get a 1:1 SWR at any desired 2 m frequency.

The other unique feature is that the antenna can be constructed for under $20 if you actually purchase the materials. The cost would be even less if you salvage an old tape measure. You might even have the PVC pipes, hose clamps and wire lying around making the construction nearly free.

We were quite surprised to find that such a popular antenna construction method using tape measure elements had not yet been featured on Hackaday. For completeness this is not the only DIY tape measure Yagi on Instructables so also check out [FN64's] 2 m band “Radio Direction Finding Antenna for VHF” and [manuka’s] 70 cm band “433 MHz tape measure UHF antenna” postings. The other Yagi antenna designs featured on Hackaday were “Building a Yagi Uda Antenna” and “Turning an Easter Egg Hunt into a Fox Hunt” but these designs were not so simple to construct nor as cleverly portable.

Current Limiting Diode Use and Tutorial

Current limiting diode 1

Not that this happens often, but what do you do when faced with a repair where you don’t know the power source but you do know you have to drive LED backlighting? When faced with this dilemma [Eric Wasatonic’s] solution was to design for ambiguity. In this interesting hack repair [Eric] needed to restore backlighting for an old car stereo LCD display. First he guaranteed he was working with a DC power source by inserting a small full-wave bridge rectifier. Then knowing he needed 4 mA to power each LED for backlighting he used some 1978 vintage current limiting diodes designed to pass 2mA each regardless of voltage source, within limits of course.

Sure this is a simple hack repair but worthy of being included in anyone’s bag of tricks. Like most hacks there is always knowledge to be gained. [Eric] shares a second video where he uses a curve tracer and some datasheets to understand how these old parts actually tick. These old 1N5305 current limiting diode regulators are simply constructed from a JFET with an internal feedback resistor to its gate which maintains a fixed current output. To demonstrate the simplicity of such a component, [Eric] constructs a current limiting circuit using a JFET and feedback potentiometer then confirms the functionality on a curve tracer. His fabricated simulation circuit worked perfectly.

There was a little money to be made with this repair which is always an added bonus, and the recipient never reported back with any problems so the fix is assumed successful. You can watch the two videos linked after the break, plus it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on what could have been done differently given the same circumstances.

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Hacking a Christmas Tree for Less Blinkyness

Hacking a Christmas Tree to Blink Slower

What good is a fiber optic self-lighting Christmas tree if it flashes so fast it will put you into an epileptic attack? The answer is “Not very good”, if you ask [Mads Nielsen] a.k.a [EcProjects]. So [EcProjects ] started a little project to slow the Christmas tree’s blinkyness down to a more reasonable rate. The task didn’t seem too difficult at first but turned into a quality tutorial building a variable frequency H-bridge motor control.

After opening the base of the tree [EcProjects] found a 12 volt AC geared synchronous motor turning a multi colored translucent plastic disk. A bright spotlight was shining upwards through the turning disk into the ends of hundreds of small fiber optics. This mechanism dumps loads of multi colored light out the ends of the fibers at the tips of the Christmas tree branches as the disk turns.

His goal was to slow down the motor; however, the rotation was based on the 50 Hz mains signal. In order to continue using this motor a lower frequency AC power source was needed. What follows in the video is an excellent lesson on how an AC synchronous motor works plus how to build a variable frequency control and H-bridge using some transistors, resistors and CMOS 4069 inverter chip.

In the end the frequency drive could only be lowered to about 30 Hz before the synchronous motor would stall and reverse using his design. [EcProjects] was bold enough to include several fails which always provides more opportunity for learning and is greatly appreciated.

If you believe you have a better solution please share your idea in the comments. I’m sure the first proposal will include an Arduino and servo modified for continuous rotation, but any solutions would be fascinating including modifications to his design. You can join us after the break to watch the video.

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Xbox One Headset 2.5 mm Plug Adapter

Xbox One internal adapter

In all of Microsoft’s grand wisdom they found it necessary to make the new Xbox One headset adapter without a standard 2.5 mm headset jack. People have invested great amounts of money in quality headsets for previous game platforms that now cannot jack into the Xbox One controllers. This may seem like a déjà vu hack from a week ago but it is different and adds more solutions for the annoying Xbox One headset compatibility problem.

[Jon Senkiw] A.K.A [Xandrel] wasn’t having any of this Microsoft nonsense so he cracked open the headset adapter case that plugs into the Xbox One controller. He photographed the PCB and wiring and realized he could fit a 2.5 mm headset jack from an old donor cellphone into the case. A dap of hot glue, some AWG 30 jumper wires and a bit of plastic trimming was all it took to get a jack inside the headset adapter just the way Microsoft should have done from the factory.

Previously when [octanechicken] added a 2.5 mm female phone adapter at the end of the cable he did not connect the black wire to anything being it was the 2nd side of a push-pull speaker. However, from looking at [Jon’s] photos he connected the speaker output wire to a solder pad on the PCB where the black wire originally connected, marked HPL, and he had nothing connected to the HPR pad. This seemed to work for [Jon] just fine, but is the opposite of what [octanechicken] did last week when he connected the blue wire to the speaker output which would have traced back to the HPR pad on the PCB.

This hack makes these controllers backwards compatible without too much issue being reported. If you have issues please report here or on [Jon’s] SE7ENSINS thread. He has also made comments on the thread that he is willing to help mod headsets, so if you’re not able to hack this yourself [Jon] might be willing to help.