A Camera With Computer Vision

Computer vision is a tricky thing to stuff into a small package, but last year’s Hackaday Prize had an especially interesting project make it into the 50 top finalists. The OpenMV is a tiny camera module with a powerful microcontroller that will detect faces, take a time-lapse, record movies, and detect specific markers or colors. Like a lot of the great projects featured in last year’s Hackaday Prize, this one made it to Kickstarter and is, by far, the least expensive computer vision module available today.

[Ibrahim] began this project more than a year ago when he realized simple serial JPEG cameras were ludicrously expensive, and adding even simple machine vision tasks made the price climb even higher. Camera modules that go in low-end cell phones don’t cost that much, and high-power ARM microcontrollers are pretty cheap as well. The OpenMV project started, and now [Ibrahim] has a small board with a camera that runs Python and can be a master or slave to Arduinos or any other microcontroller board.

The design of the OpenMV is extraordinarily clever, able to serve as a simple camera module for a microcontroller project, or something that can do image processing and toggle a few pins according to logic at the same time. If you’ve ever wanted a camera that can track an object and control a pan/tilt servo setup by itself, here you go. It’s a very interesting accessory for robotics platforms, and surely something that could be used in a wide variety of projects.

When PayPal And Crowdfunding Don’t Mix

For the last decade or so, PayPal has drawn the ire of Internet commentators and people who try to do business on the Internet. The claims go from freezing the accounts of non-profits for months, earning interest all the while, ineffectual support, and generally behaving exactly like a bank but without all those nifty consumer protection laws on the books in every sane country. Then the founder of PayPal turned into Tony Stark and everything was cool again.

This doesn’t mean PayPal isn’t up to its old tricks, though. [Gareth Hayes], the guy behind the HackRF Blue, recently had a run-in with PayPal. The PayPal account associated with the HackRF Blue Indiegogo project was frozen shortly after the campaign ended. To unfreeze his account, [Gareth] was required to submit a few forms of identification and proof of residence. He could submit this via fax (‽) or through an ‘upload’ button in the PayPal resolution center that didn’t exist.

[Gareth] is not one to mess around, and it was only after several emails, ending with him demanding PayPal release the funds with interest and a few hours of consulting at $300/hr that the funds were released. When somebody is keeping $40,000 from you, it’s a good idea to play hardball. However, [Gareth]’s PayPal account was still frozen for the better part of three weeks. For a crowdfunding campaign, that’s three weeks that suppliers can’t be paid, components can’t be bought, and assembly can’t happen. For any campaign, PayPal is a liability.

This, unfortunately, isn’t anything new. Google News is littered with stories of PayPal withholding funds from crowdfunding campaigns. The message is clear: get your passport, driver’s license, utility bills, dog license, and fourth grade report card uploaded to PayPal somehow before the campaign ends.

Yesterday, [Gareth] received word that his account had been unfrozen, but not before he threatened the nuclear option and started letskillpaypal.com. A worthy cause if we’ve ever seen one.

PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter

Last year’s Hackaday Prize saw a lot of projects that were crying out to be Kickstarter Campaigns, but non has seen people throwing money at their screens quite like [Michael]’s PortableSDR. It’s a small, handheld, battery-powered shortwave software defined transceiver that can do just about everything with coverage up to 30MHz. It’s the ultimate apocalypse radio, a contender for to the throne now held by the ‘my first radio’ Baofeng, and now, finally, a campaign on Kickstarter.

The PortableSDR (now called the PSDR) started off as [Michael]’s ideal radio. It just so happened the Hackaday Prize gave him the impetus design, develop, and build the radio that would eventually land him third place in The Hackaday Prize.

The radio itself is completely self-contained and battery-powered, implementing a software defined radio on an STM32F4 processor. The design includes an LCD for the waterfall display, vector network analysis, and the ability to receive GPS.

In keeping with its ham heritage, [Michael] is offering the PSDR as a kit, with a PCB, enclosure, and all the parts you can’t get on Digikey available for a $250 pledge. Get those toaster reflow ovens warm, because there’s a lot of SMD parts in this build.

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The Last Week Of The Mooltipass Approacheth

A year and two days ago, [Mathieu] started out on a quest to develop some hardware with the help of Hackaday readers. This project became known as the Mooltipass, an open source offline password keeper that’s pretty much a password management suite or Post-It notes on a monitor, except not horribly insecure.

The product has gone through multiple iterations of software, [Mathieu] flew out to China to get production started, and the project finally made it to a crowdfunding site. That crowdfunding campaign is almost over with just eight days left and just a little bit left to tip this project into production. This is the last call, all hands in, and if you’re thinking about getting one of these little secure password-storing boxes, this is the time.

You can check out the Developed on Hackaday series going over the entire development of the Mooltipass, made with input from Mooltipass contributors and Hackaday readers. The Venn diagram of those two groups overlaps a lot, making this the first piece of hardware that was developed for and by Hackaday readers.

Even if you have a fool-proof system of remembering all your passwords and login credentials, the Mooltipass is still a very cool-looking Arduino-compatible board. Note that (security device) and (Arduino thing) are two distinct operating modes that should not be conflated.

[Mathieu] and other contributors will be in the comments below, along with a bunch of ‘security researchers’ saying how this device ‘is horrifying’, ‘full of holes’, and ‘a terrible idea’. One of these sets of people have actually done research. Guess which?

Crosswalk Pong Auf Deutschland

What is there to do in America while you’re waiting to cross the street at an intersection? Nothing; listen to that impatient clicking sound, and if you live in a busy city, pray you don’t get plowed into. In Germany however, pedestrians will now get to play Pong with the person on the other side.That’s right, as a means to encourage people to just hang in there and wait out the cycle instead of darting across against the light, design students [Sandro Engel] and [Holger Michel] came up with an entertaining incentive involving a potential conversation sparking duel with your impromptu counterpart across the street.

The first of these interactive cross-walk indicators was installed recently in Hildesheim, Germany, two years after the duo first designed them back in 2012. There was a little friction about installing the touch screen equipped modules initially, but after a proper redesign for functionality taking traffic science into account, the city authorities caved and allowed them to test the wings of their progressive idea on one city intersection so far. The mindset behind the invention of these indicators is part of a larger movement to make public spaces safer through means of fun and entertainment. Instead of threatening to punish those partaking in unsafe activity with fines, the notion is to positively enforce following rules by adding a level of play. While pedestrians have the right to walk, the screen shows how much time is left to make their away across, and for the duration that traffic is rolling through, the score will be kept for an individual game of pong for those on either side of the light.

Since the idea is generating some interest, the group of developers involved with the project have moved to promote their work (now branded as Actiwait) with an Indiegogo campaign. They hope to turn their invention into a full fledged product that will potentially be seen all over the world. Admittedly, it’d be charming to see this sort of technology transform our urban or residential environments with a touch of something that promotes friendly social interaction. Hopefully my faith in our worthiness to have nice things is warranted and we start seeing these here in America too. Nice work!

Check out this encounter with the street indicator here. The guy introducing the invention loses to the girl on the other side, but they share a high-five as they pass in the street:

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HackRF Blue

For anyone getting into the world of Software Defined Radio, the first purchase should be an RTL-SDR TV tuner. With a cheap, $20 USB TV tuner, you can listen to just about anything between 50 and 1750 MHz. You can’t send, the sample rate isn’t that great, but this USB dongle gives you everything you need to begin your explorations of the radio spectrum.

Your second Software Defined Radio purchase is a matter of contention. There are a lot of options out there for expanding a rig, and the HackRF is a serious contender to expand an SDR rig. You get 10 MHz to 6 Gigahertz operating frequency, 20 million samples per second, and the ability to transmit. You have your license, right?

Unfortunately the HackRF is a little expensive and is unavailable everywhere. [Gareth] is leading the charge and producing the HackRF Blue, a cost-reduced version of the HackRF designed by [Michael Ossmann].

The HackRF Blue’s feature set is virtually identical, and the RF performance is basically the same: both the Blue and the HackRF One can get data from 125kHz RFID cards. All software and firmware is interchangeable. If you were waiting on another run of the HackRF, here ‘ya go.

[Gareth] and the HackRF Blue team are doing something rather interesting with their crowdfunding campaign: they’re giving away Blues to underprivileged hackerspaces, with hackerspaces from Togo, Bosnia, Iran, India, and Detroit slated to get a HackRF Blue if the campaign succeeds.

Thanks [Praetorian] and [Brendan] for sending this in.

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Serial Camera, Courtesy of the STM32F4

Look around for a small, embedded camera module, and you’ll find your options are rather limited. You have the serial JPEG cameras, but they’re rather expensive and only have VGA resolution. A Raspi, webcam, and power supply is a false economy. GoPros are great, but you’re still looking at some Benjamins used.

The guys at GHI Electronics are taking a different tack. They’re using image sensors you would normally find in cellphones and webcams, adding a powerful ARM processor, and are still able to sell it for about $50. It’s called the ALCAM, and they’ve stumbled upon a need that hasn’t been met by any manufacturer until now.

On board the ALCAM is an OV3640 3-Megapixel image sensor. On the back of the board is a STM32F4 and a microSD card slot. The board can be set up for time-lapse videos, stop motion animation, or all the usual serial board camera functions, including getting images over a serial connection.

The ALCAM operates either connected to a PC though a 3.3V serial adapter cable, through a standalone mode with pins connected to a button or sensor, to the SPI bus on a microcontroller, or a serial to Bluetooth or WiFi bridge. Images can be saved to the uSD card, or sent down the serial stream.

It’s a pretty cool board, and if you’re thinking it looks familiar, you’re right: there’s a similar DSI camera/STM32F4 board that was an entry to The Hackaday Prize. Either way, just what we need to get better cameras cheaper into projects.