Spark Goes Cellular With The Electron

A few years ago, small and cheap WiFi modules burst onto the scene and with that the Spark was born. It’s a tiny dev board with a TI CC3000 WiFi module, capable of turning any device into an Internet-connected device. It’s only the very beginning of the Internet of Things, yes, but an important step in the right direction. Now, Spark is unshackling itself from WiFi networks with the Spark Electron, a dev kit that comes with a cellular radio and data plan.

If you’ve ever tried to build a high altitude balloon, a project that will be out of range of WiFi, or anything else where cellular data would be a godsend, you’ll quickly realize Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and all the other carriers out there don’t necessarily care about your project. As far as we can tell, Spark is the first company to fix this gaping hole in what cellular can do by offering their own service – 20,000 messages for $3/month and no contracts. Officially, that’s 1MB of data spread over 20k messages that are about 50 bytes in length.

There are a few dozen companies and organizations working on the next generation of The Internet Of Things, but these require completely new silicon and spectrum allocations or base stations. Right now, there’s exactly one way of getting a Thing on the Internet without WiFi, and that’s with cellular data. We have to hand it to Spark for this one, and can’t wait to see the projects that will be possible due to a trickle of Internet everywhere.

A Wearable Space Station Notifier

If you don’t live in northern Europe, Alaska, or the extreme southern part of South America, there’s a 400-ton, $150 Billion space station flying over your head several times a day. It’s the International Space Station, and it’s the most complex and expensive construction project of all time. Look up at the right time, and you can see a point of light rising in the sky, brighter than any star, darting across to the opposite horizon.

ISS-Above is a simple tool that will tell you when you’ll be able to see the ISS passing overhead next, and the creator of the project, [Liam Kennedy] has a new crowdfunding project to turn this space station notifier into a wearable. It’s called the Pulsar, and with the help of an RFduino and a real time clock, it will alert you to an upcoming station pass with a bit of wearable electronics.

ISS
Viewing the ISS at the most recent Hackaday Pasadena Meetup.

The ISS-Above is a great device to keep tabs on the six astronauts currently orbiting our globe, but if you want to see the space station rise over the horizon… well, lugging a Raspi and an HDMI monitor outside isn’t the best solution. The Pulsar is a tiny wearable board with a ring of LEDs programmed with 50 future passes of the space station. When the station is overhead, the LEDs light up, and a bright object appears over the western horizon.

[Liam] brought his Pulsar to the most recent Hackaday Pasadena meetup, and as his wearable LEDs lit up, the ISS appeared right on cue. The evening was only tainted by a crazy lady who decided to argue the existence of the International Space Station.

Video below.

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Quadcopter Plane Transformer is Awesome

Is it a quadcopter? A plane?  No, it’s both! [Daniel Lubrich] is at it again with a vertical take off and landing transformer he calls the SkyProwler.

The SkyProwler uses a switch blade type mechanism to move from quadcopter mode to plane mode. The wings can be detached to make it a normal quad that has all the typical bells and whistles. It can follow you around with GPS, fly autonomously via way points, and has this cool gimbal mechanism that keeps the GoPro stable as the drone pitches in flight, allowing for a better video experience.

[Dan’s] ultimate goal is a full size passenger model called the SkyCruiser, which uses the same switchblade transformation mechanism as his much smaller SkyProwler. Be sure to check out the video below if you haven’t already, and let us know of any quadcopter / plane hybrids of your own.

Correction: We previously associated [Daniel Lubrich] with the ATMOS program. This was in error and has been removed from the article. The ATMOS UAV is a separate project which we previously covered.

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PortableSDR Needs a Cinderella Story to Finish its Kickstarter

If you haven’t backed PortableSDR on Kickstarter, now’s the time to do it. [Michael Colton’s] project which frees a Software Defined Radio from being shackled to a computer is in the final three days and needs about $17,500 to make it.

We’d really like to see this one succeed, and not just because PortableSDR took 3rd place in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. Many a time we’ve heard people forecast the death of amateur radio (ham if you will). The ham community is special, it’s a great way to get mentorship in electronics, and deals in more than just digital circuitry. Plus, as [Greg] has pointed out, having a license and some know-how lets you build and operate really powerful stuff!

We see the PortableSDR as one way to renew interest in the hobby. We especially like it that you don’t need a license to operate the basic model — the transmitting circuits aren’t enabled when it arrives. This means you can learn about SDR, explore what’s going on over the airwaves, and only then take the leap by applying for your license and hack the unit to transmit. To be fair, the transmitter portion of the project hasn’t been published yet, which is about the only real concern we read in the Kickstarter comments. But we have faith that [Michael] will come through with that part of it. And if he needs help we’re sure he’ll have no problem finding it.

Now’s the time… let’s pull this one out in the final days!

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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