If you just wait around long enough, the future becomes the past. And that’s happened to the “Back to the Future” future, as you probably all remember. But BttF-themed projects are still pouring in.
[ossum] sent us the link for his build of Doc Brown’s briefcase that only opens above 88 mph. His writeup is fantastically detailed, and worth a look if you’re interested in working with a GPS unit and microcontrollers, driving seven-segment LEDs with shift registers, or just driving too fast in an old Jetta. And there’s a video demo just below the break if you’re not a believer.
One of the fundamental technologies of modern gadgets is the Global Positioning System (GPS). Using signals from satellites orbiting the earth, a GPS receiver can pin down its location with remarkable accuracy: the latest generation of Civilian Navigation Signals (CNAV) sent by the US GPS system has an accuracy of less than half a meter (about 3 feet). These signals also contain the time, accurate to within milliseconds, which makes it perfect for off-line dataloggers and systems that require very accurate timing. That’s a powerful combination that has made GPS one of the main technologies behind the mobile revolution, because it lets gadgets know where (and when) they are.
[Joop Brokking] wanted to know where his quadcopter was and had been. He thought about Google Earth, but assumed it would be difficult to get the GPS data and integrate it with Google’s imagery. But he discovered it was easier than he thought. He wound up spending around $10, although if his ‘copter didn’t already have GPS, it would have been more.
Hardware-wise, [Joop] made a pretty straightforward data logger using a small Arduino (a Pro Mini) and an SD Card (along with an SD breakout board). With this setup, NMEA data from the GPS comes in the Arduino’s serial port and winds up on the SD Card.
GPS-based location services will be around with us forever. If you’re in the outback, in the middle of the ocean, or even just in a neighborhood that doesn’t have good cell coverage, there’s no better way to figure out where you are than GPS. Using satellites orbiting thousands of miles above the Earth as a location service is an idea that breaks down at some very inopportune times. If you’re in a parking garage, you’re not using GPS to find your car. If you’re in a shopping mall, the best way to find your way to a store is still a map. Anyone every tried to use GPS and Google Maps in the hotel/casino labyrinth that is the Las Vegas strip?
[Blecky]’s entry for the Best Product competition of the Hackaday Prize aims to solve this problem. It’s an indoor location service using only cheap WiFi modules called SubPos. With just a few ESP8266 modules, [Blecky] can set up a WiFi positioning system, accurate to half a meter, that can be used wherever GPS isn’t.
The idea for a GPS-less positioning system came to [Blecky] after a caving expedition and finding navigation though subterranean structures was difficult without the aid of cell coverage and GPS. This got [Blecky] thinking what would be required to build a positioning service in a subterranian environment.
The answer to this question came in the form of a cheap WiFi module. Each of the SubPos nodes are encoded with the GPS coordinates of where they’re placed. By transmitting this location through the WiFi Beacon Frame, along with the transmitted power, any cell phone can use three or more nodes to determine its true location, down to a few centimeters. All of this is done without connecting to a specific WiFi network; it’s a complete hack of the WiFi standard to allow positioning data.
The most shallow comparison to an existing geolocation system would be a WiFi positioning system (WPS), but there are several key differences. In WPS, the WiFi APs don’t transmit their own location; the AP is simply cross-referenced with GPS coordinates in a database. Secondly, APs do not transmit their own transmit power – important if you’re using RSSI to determine how far you are from an Access Point.
The best comparison to an indoor location service comes from a new Decawave module that sets up ‘base stations’ and figures out a sensor’s location based on time of flight. This, however, requires additional radios for each device receiving location data. SubPos only requires WiFi, and you don’t even need to connect to an AP to get this location data; everything is broadcast as a beacon frame, and every device with WiFi detects a SubPos node automatically.
As an entry to the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition, there is an inevitable consideration as to how this product will be marketed. The applications for businesses are obvious; shopping malls could easily build a smartphone app showing a user exactly where in the mall they are, and provide directions to The Gap or one of the dozens of GameStops in the building. Because the SubPos nodes also work in 3D space, parking garage owners could set up a dozen or so SubPos nodes to direct you to your exact parking spot. Disney, I’m sure, would pay through the nose to get this technology in their parks.
Already [Blecky] is in talks with one company that would like to license his technology, but he’s not focused only on the high-dollar business accounts. He already has a product that needs manufacturing, and if he wins the Best Product competition, he will be working on something for the hacker/homebrew market. The price point [Blecky] sees is around $15 a node. The economics of this work with the ESP WiFi module, but [Blecky] is also looking at alternative chip sets that would allow for more than just RSSI position finding; an improved version of the SubPos node not based on the ESP-8266 could bring time of flight into the mix, providing better position accuracy while still being cheaper to manufacture than the current ESP-based solution.
[Blecky] has a great project on his hands here, and something we will, undoubtedly, see more of in the future. The idea of using WiFi beacon frames to transmit location data, and received signal strength to suss out a position is groundbreaking and applicable to everything from spelunking to finding your car in a parking garage. Since the SubPos system isn’t tied to any specific hardware, this could even be implemented in commercial routers, giving any device with WiFi true location data, inside or out. It’s also one of the top ten finalists for the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition, and like the others, it’s the cream of the crop.
While getting geared up for geocaching [Folkert van Heusden] decided he didn’t want to get one of those run of the mill GPS modules, and being inspired by steam punk set out and made his own.
Starting with an antique wooden box, and adding an Arduino, GPS module, and LiPo battery to make the brains. The user interface consists of good ‘ole toggle switches and a pair of quad seven segment displays to enter, and check longitude and latitude.
To top off the retro vibe of the machine two analog current meters were repurposed to indicate not only direction, but also distance, which we think is pretty spiffy. Everything was placed in a laser cut wooden control panel, which lend to the old-time feel of the entire project.
Quite a bit of wire and a few sticks of hot glue later and [Folkert] is off and ready for an adventure!
[FreddySam] had an old Omnitech GPS which he decided was worthy of being taken apart to see what made it tick. While he was poking around the circuit board he found a couple solder pads labeled as ‘MIC1’. This GPS didn’t have a microphone. So, why would this unit have a mic input unless there is a possibility for accepting voice commands? [FreddySam] was about to find out.
The first step to get the system working was to add a physical microphone. For this project one was scavenged from an old headset. The mini microphone was removed from its housing and soldered to the GPS circuit board via a pair of wires. Just having the mic hanging out of the case would have been unsightly so it was tucked away in an otherwise unfilled portion of the case. A hole drilled in the case lets external sounds be easily picked up by the internalized microphone.
The hardware modification was the easy part. Getting the GPS software to recognize the newly added mic was a bit of a challenge. It turns out that there is only one map version that supports voice recognition, an old version; Navigon 2008 Q3. We suppose the next hack is making this work with new map packs. This project shows how a little motivation and time can quickly and significantly upgrade an otherwise normal piece of hardware. Kudos to [FreddySam] for a job well done.
First off, check out that miniscule GPS antenna module, crazy! But we digress. For testing purposes the asynchronous UART of the GPS was probed, proving that the data can be acquired. From there [j3tstream] moved to an Arduino Pro Mini with an SD card for data logging. The uC is powered from the GPS board but this will quickly exhaust the stock battery so [j3tstream] swapped it out for one from an old cellphone.
That little dot-matix LCD that comes with the unit also caught our eye. If you can hack a headless interface for the GPS that could be repurposed for your next project. May we suggest a wearable gaming project for it?