All the Unofficial Electronic Badges of DEF CON

2015 was the year of the unofficial hardware badge at DEF CON 23. There were a ton of different hardware badges designed for the love of custom electronics and I tried to catch up with the designer of each different badge. Here is the collection of images, video demos, and build details for each one I saw this weekend.

Whiskey Pirates

[TrueControl] did a great job with his badge design this year for the Whiskey Pirate Crew. This is a great update from the badge he designed last year, keeping the skull and bones outline. It uses a PSOC4 chip to control a ton of LEDs. The eyes are RGB pixels which are each on their own PCB that is soldered onto the back of the badge, with openings for the LED to show through. Two AA batteries power the board which has a surface-mount LED matrix. The user controls are all capacitive touch. There is a spinner around one eye, and pads for select and back. The NRF24L01 radio operates at 2.4GHz. This badge is slave to commands from last year’s badge. When the two are in the same area the 2015 badges will scroll the nickname of the 2014 badge it “sees”. The piezo element also chirps many different sounds based on the interactions with different badges.

[True] makes design an art form. The matte black solder mask looks fantastic, and he took great care in use of font, size, alignment, and things like letting copper show through for a really stunning piece of hardware art.

Keep reading for ten more great badges seen over the weekend.

Continue reading “All the Unofficial Electronic Badges of DEF CON”

Dropping by the MIT Electronics Research Society

We’re in Boston this week and my first stop was at MITERS last night. This is the MIT Electronics Research Society, which started as a way to provide free access to computers for all students. Since those humble beginnings the organization has grown to include a slew of fabrication and test hardware, as well as a vibrant community that makes the group a great place to hang out.

Walking into the building you’re greeted with double doors strewn with interesting electronics and many examples of fabrication in the form of the word MITERS. The group, which is pushing 60-years of existence, feels immediately like a hackerspace where creativity and anarchy duke it out in a wild dance of experimentation. On this particular Wednesday evening we encountered a room of about 10 people working feverishly to fabricate electric racers for the PRS racing circuit in Detroit this Saturday.

Like a hackerspace, MITERS is completely member (read: student) run. There is a board that helps keep things on the rails. There is no membership fee; funding for the organization is sourced from Swapfest, a weekly flea market during the summer.

There is a strong slant toward machine shop at this hackerspace. In addition to a respectable Bridgeport CNC Mill, the machine tools and hand tools provide for almost all your fabrication needs.

What can be built in this space? How about a unibalancer? This is a single-wheeled, human-ridable vehicle that has a 7-mile cruise radius between charges. For me the most interesting feature is the deadman’s switch. You know those black rubber strips on public buses that you press for the next stop? This unibalancer has one that you need to stand on to make it go.

The hackers at MITERS excel when it comes to electric vehicles and this time of year that means the Power (Wheels) Racing Series. There are restrictions on size, and power output so the teams squeeze every bit that they can. For me, the most interesting build is based off of a pair of Ryobi electric chainsaws. The 40V batteries for these are themselves quite formidable but not used at all in the build. The team has reverse-engineered the driver circuits and written their own firmware for the STM8 microcontrollers on the boards. The chainsaws use chains to drive the two rear wheels. The entire system is monitored with XBEE-based wireless data which is displayed on a tablet.

This isn’t the only PRS build. The MITERS plan to take three different vehicles with them this weekend. The one they can’t bring is the huge electric shopping cart (with mandatory wheelie bar) which hangs from the ceiling of the space.

In addition to the formidable fabrication projects, there are a multitude of electronic projects to be seen. There is a musical tesla coil which is the best I’ve ever heard. It could easily be mistaken as a proper speaker. If you need more bass there’s a massive ceiling-mounted sub-woofer for that. And if you want a more formidable tesla coil, the parts are there.

Look hard enough and you’ll even find battle robots. This one had diamond plate that spins with a variety of nasty accoutrements intended for maximum damage of its foe. On the underside you’ll see a brushless motor used the opposite of how you might think. The shaft is attached to the locomotion frame of the bot. The underside of the spinning diamond plate has a ring of antistatic mat against which this brushless motor body spins.

Thanks to the MITERS for welcoming us in. It was a blast seeing all of the projects they’re working on!

Meetup at Artisan’s Asylum Tonight

If you’re in the Boston area, head on over to Artisan’s Asylum tonight starting at 6. They were gracious enough to open their doors for a Hackaday Meetup. Bring some hardware to show off if you can, if you can’t that’s fine as well. We’ll have a few lightning talks, some social time, and maybe an afterbar!

To wrap things up, we have covered a few projects from MITERS already, like this Power Wheels Racing build, and an electric go kart done the right way. Now that we’ve met them in person we’ll be on the lookout for a lot more awesome hacks from them.

[Thanks John for suggesting we stop by!]

These Are The Droid Controllers You’ve Been Looking For

When I was in the 4th grade our teacher announced that we had a special guest visiting us from somewhere “Far, far away…” As we piled out of the classroom and into to the courtyard, my jaw hit the floor – It was R2D2! The droid started to move around, and made all the noises like the movie. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. R2D2 was real, and he was right in front of me! (My young mind made the conclusion that if R2D2 was real, then all of Star Wars was real.) I had to turn around to see my friends’ reactions. Unfortunately, it’s at that moment, I saw a middle-aged man, holding a RC transmitter, with antenna extended, standing in the background operating the controls. Sigh. R2 wasn’t real – it’s just a remote-controlled robot. My dreams of becoming a Jedi were forever crushed.

[Chris James] of the R2 Builders Club has been working hard to make a pair of “Stealth RC” controllers to help keep the magic of R2D2 intact.  These dual joystick, 3D printed, hand-held units can be easily hidden in the palm of your hand, or the front pockets of a loose jacket while you operate them. Loaded with features, these tiny controllers use XBee radios to talk to a receiver and custom PCB inside the droid, that in turn, can then control dozens of servos, motors, sound playback and more. Because some R2D2 builds will have dozens and dozens of functions, rather than have a button for each one, [Chris] has programmed in gesture controls in to the unit, so that two controllers and can control several dozen preprogrammed actions. [Chris] hasn’t finalized the design just yet – he still calls it a “beta” build, but so far his documentation is outstanding (PDF) – some of the best we’ve seen.

You can learn more about the R2 Builders Club and the controllers in the video after the break

Continue reading “These Are The Droid Controllers You’ve Been Looking For”

Hacklet 48 – Weather Sensing Projects

Throughout history, mankind has been at the mercy of the weather. Planning a major outdoor event like a wedding or a naval battle? Better hope for clear skies! Man doesn’t have the ability to change mother nature at will quite yet, but hackers are working on it! Until then, we can measure  the current conditions and predict the weather in the near future. A bit of help from cloud based computer models and global sensing even allows us to model and predict weather patterns days in advance. It’s no surprise that makers, engineers, and hackers love weather projects. We’ve found there are two basic project groups (with a some overlap between them): Sensing projects and display projects. This week’s hacklet focuses on some of the best weather sensing projects on Hackaday.io!

aneWe start with [diysciborg] and Modular Weather Station. This 2014 Hackaday Prize entrant is a DIY outdoor weather station. [diysciborg] went with easily available PVC pipe and sheet metal for most of his mechanical build. His anemometer alone is a work of art. Mounting 8 magnetic reed switches in slots cut in a PCB allows for a thin device which can easily sense the speed of the wind. Other sensors include a TLS230R light to frequency converter for sunlight measurement, CO, wind direction, and more. An Arduino Pro Mini is at the center of it all.

facil[Clovis Fritzen] is saving the planet from global warming with his project FacilTempo. FacilTempo is a weather station, and an entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. The idea is to make a simple and low-cost setup which can be built in bulk and placed anywhere on the Earth. [Clovis] plans to measure temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, sunlight, and rain. He also hopes to add a Sparkfun sensor to monitor wind speed and direction. All the data will be transmitted via a radio link. [Clovis] is adding the ability for FacilTemp to communicate via 433 MHz, WiFi, or Bluetooth. The entire sensor suite and its on-board ATmega328 will be powered by a LiPo battery. The battery will be charged by solar or wind power, depending upon what is available on site. With 8 project logs already in the can, FacilTempo is well on its way to beating back global warming!

lcw[Ulf Winberg] is building the Low Cost Weather Station, his entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Low Cost Weather Station aims to be a $50 sensor suite for local weather conditions. [Ulf] plans to power the entire device using wind and solar energy. He’s hoping to avoid batteries by storing his power in a supercapacitor. Power calculations have been taking up quite a bit of his design time so far. The $50 bill of materials limit is one that [Ulf] is serious about. He’s keeping careful eye on his component selections to keep that goal attainable. The system will transmit wind speed, wind direction, sun, and other data through a Laird BL600 Bluetooth low energy transceiver.

zetaFinally we have [Greg Miller] taking it back to basics with Weather Station Zeta. Zeta is [Greg’s] first big project. He’s only just recently learned to solder, but he’s already squeezing a lot of performance out of a little Arduino. The idea is to create a two station system. The outdoor station will monitor the weather, including temperature, humidity, and barometric pressure. Data will be transmitted to an indoor station with a similar set of sensors. The indoor station will also include a 20 line x 4 column character LCD to display the data.  [Greg] has the indoor section of the system just about done, and he’s working on learning the ins and outs of XBee data radios. He’s also going to include an Adafriut CC3000 breakout board to Web enable the weather station. We love seeing ambitious early projects like this one!

If you want to see more projects like these, check the Weather Sensing Projects list 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!

Robot K-9 Scares Off the Daleks

[Bithead942’s] love of the ever popular Dr Who series led her to develop a replica of the 4th Doctor’s robotic companion. It’s name is K-9, and was built from scratch in only 4 months. Its shell is made from HPDE – a light and bendable plastic. A custom plastic bender was constructed to get the angles just right, and custom laser cut parts were used in various places.

Its frame consists of aluminum channel, and is packed full of juicy electronics. An arduino with an XBee shield controls the remote voice, frickin’ laser and eye sensors. Another arduino is paired with a motor shield to control the linear actuator for the neck movement. And a Raspberry Pi keeps the LCD screen in order.

We’re not done, folks. Because this puppy is radio controlled, a custom controller is needed. Sparkfun’s Fio paired with another XBee is used along with a 16×2 LCD and various other electronics to keep the robot on an invisible leash.

Be sure to check out the blog site, as it goes into great detail on all the various parts used to construct this complicated but awesome project.

A Motor, an Arduino and a Whole Bunch of Laser Cutting

[Guido] was recently commissioned to build a kinetic sculpture for a client who wanted something unique. What he came up with is really awesome.

It’s called ORBIS: The Wooden Kinetic & Lighting Sculpture. It mounts to the wall and provides a focal point for the room – a bright flashy spinning one at that! Does it just stay there and do random things? Nope, of course not! [Guido] built it with a unique control box, two Arduino 2560’s and an Xbee to communicate between them.

Orbit Kinetic Sculpture

He was told to design it using old and new technologies so he’s got a rotary phone dial on the side of the box which allows the user to change through the different modes.

Switches on top also let you change the color of the sculpture and the speed at which it moves around. Since it’s wireless it can be easily set on the coffee table and become an instant conversation starter.

See it in action after the break.

Continue reading “A Motor, an Arduino and a Whole Bunch of Laser Cutting”

Wireless Water Level Sensor from PVC Pipe

[Bob] was having trouble keeping up with his water troughs. He had to constantly check them to make sure they weren’t empty, and he always found that the water level was lower than he thought. He decided it was time to build his own solution to this problem. What he ended up with was a water level sensor made from PVC pipe and a few other components.

The physical assembly is pretty simple. The whole structure is made from 1/2″ PVC pipe and fittings and is broken into four nearly identical sensor modules. The sensors have an electrode on either side. The electrodes are made from PVC end caps, sanded down flat at the tip. A hole is then drilled through the cap to accommodate a small machine screw. The screw threads are coated in joint compound before the screw is driven into the hole, creating its own threads. These caps are placed onto small sections of PVC pipe, which in turn connect to a four-way PVC cross connector. 

On the inside of the electrode cap, two washers are placed onto the screw. A stranded wire is placed between the washers and then clamped in place with a nut. All of the modules are connected together with a few inches of pipe. [Bob] measured this out so it would fit appropriately into his trough, but the measurements can easily be altered to fit just about any size container. The wires all route up through the pipe. The PVC pipe is cemented together to keep the water out. The joint compound prevents any leaks at the electrodes.

A piece of CAT 5 cable connects the electrodes to the electronics inside of the waterproof controller box. The electronics are simple. It’s just a simple piece of perfboard with an XBee and a few transistors. The XBee can detect the water level by testing for a closed circuit between the two electrodes of any sensor module. The water acts as a sort of switch that closes the circuit. When the water gets too low, the circuit opens and [Bob] knows that the water level has lowered. The XBee is connected to a directional 2.4GHz antenna to ensure the signal reaches the laptop several acres away. Continue reading “Wireless Water Level Sensor from PVC Pipe”