HardwareX Is A Scientific Journal For Open Hardware

Disruption is a basic tenet of the Open Hardware movement. How can my innovative use of technology disrupt your dinosaur of an establishment to make something better? Whether it’s an open-source project chipping away at a monopoly or a commercial start-up upsetting an industry with a precarious business model based on past realities, we’ve become used to upstarts taking the limelight.

As an observer it’s interesting to see how the establishment they are challenging reacts to the upstart. Sometimes the fragility of the challenged model is such that they collapse, other times they turn to the courts and go after the competitor or even worse, the customers, in an effort to stave off the inevitable. Just occasionally though they embrace the challengers and try to capture some of what makes them special, and it is one of these cases that is today’s subject.

A famously closed monopoly is the world of academic journals. A long-established industry with a very lucrative business model hatched in the days when its product was exclusively paper-based, this industry has come under some pressure in recent years from the unfettered publishing potential of the Internet, demands for open access to public-funded research, and the increasing influence of the open-source world in science.

Elsevier, one of the larger academic publishers, has responded to this last facet with HardwareX, a publication which describes itself as “an open access journal established to promote free and open source designing, building and customizing of scientific infrastructure“. In short: a lot of hardware built for scientific research is now being created under open-source models, and this is their response.

Some readers might respond to this with suspicion, after all the open-source world has seen enough attempts by big business to embrace its work and extend it into the proprietary, but the reality is that this is an interesting opportunity for all sides. The open access and requirement for all submissions to be covered under an open hardware licence mean that it would be impossible for this journal to retreat behind any paywalls. In addition the fact of it being published in a reputable academic journal will bring open-source scientific hardware to a new prominence as it is cited in papers appearing in other journals. Finally the existence of such a journal will encourage the adoption of open-source hardware in the world of science, as projects are released under open-source licences to fulfill the requirements for submission.

So have the publishing dinosaurs got it right, and is this journal an exciting new opportunity for all concerned? We think it has that potential, and the results won’t be confined to laboratories. Inevitably the world of hackers and makers will benefit from open-source work coming from scientists, and vice versa.

Thanks [Matheus Carvalho] for the tip.

Bookbinding workshop image: By Nasjonalbiblioteket from Norway [No restrictions], via Wikimedia Commons.

Ugly Manhattan Adapters

“Ugly” or “Manhattan” style circuit building is popular among ham radio folks. Basically, you solder the circuit point-to-point, using a solid copper plate as a backplane. “Manhattan” gets its name from the little pads and parts of different heights strewn all around the board — it looks like the Manhattan skyline. It’s a great one-off construction method and actually has reasonably good properties for radio/analog circuitry. It’s easy to pull off with leaded components, but gets trick with smaller surface-mount parts.

Unless you build some adapters. [Ted Yapo] has made his library of small Manhattan adapters available for us all to use. There’s also no reason to stop with SMT parts — even normal DIP parts can be easily adapted to Manhattan construction, as this teasing photo of a bunch of [Ted]’s adapters shows. And if he doesn’t have the layout you need, the source files should give you a good starting point.

If you want to get started with Manhattan (or other “ugly”) construction, we’ve got a guide for you. And in case you take the “ugly” moniker too seriously, check out this incredibly beautiful ugly build.

Infrared Flashlight with Screen Uncovers What’s Hidden

Flashlights are handy around the house, but what if you want a stealthier approach to illuminating the night? Infrared LED flashlights can be acquired at relatively low cost, but where’s the fun in that? To that end [johnaldmilligan] spent a couple hours building an infrared flashlight-gun with an LED display to venture into the night.

[johnaldmilligan] disassembled a handheld spotlight to use as the housing, leaving the trigger assembly and 12V DC charge port in place. A miniature camera was used as the video source after removing its infrared filter. Note: if you do this, don’t forget that you will need to manually readjust the focus! The camera was mounted where LED Array Diagramthe flashlight bulb used to be instead of the LED array since the latter was impractically large for the small space — but attaching it to the top of the flashlight works just as effectively. The infrared LEDs were wired in eight groups of three LEDs in parallel to deliver 1.5V to each bank and preventing burnout. Here is an extremely detailed diagram if that sounds confusing.

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Your Laundry Is Done!

Have you ever put a load of dirty clothing in the washing machine and set the cycle running, only to forget all about it and discover a mouldering congealed mass in the machine a few days later? [Xose Pérez] has more than once, and to stop it happening again he’s got a project that monitors the machine in his basement and notifies him when his wash is done.

At the centre of his washing machine monitor is an ITead Sonoff IoT mains on-off switch. This device contains a 10A mains relay, an ESP8266 chip to control it, and a small mains switch-mode power supply. The Sonoff doesn’t use the ESP’s ADC pins, so he’s broken one of them out on a lead to a current transformer which captures the power level being consumed by the washing machine. The Sonoff is one of those IoT devices that relies on a proprietary cloud service and doesn’t have its own API, so [Xose] has created his own firmware for it incorporating an ESP port of an Arduino current sensing library. To round off the project and because he could, he’s added an ambient humidity sensor to the device.

The resulting boxed-up unit returns minute-by-minute current readings for the entire wash cycle. To spot when the cycle has finished, he waits for a moment when it has been using no power for more than five minutes, at which point his Node-RED system sends him a notification via Pushover.

This project is a very neatly executed hack on an extremely cheap piece of hardware whose capabilities would ordinarily be somewhat curtailed due to its proprietary interface. Surprisingly it’s not the first laundry monitor we’ve seen here at Hackaday, we’ve had this apartment laundry monitor using an accelerometer and a Raspberry Pi, and a notifier for a finicky dryer that insisted on stopping mid-cycle.

Blindingly Fast ADC for Your BeagleBone

[Jason Holt] wrote in to tell about of the release of his PRUDAQ project. It’s a dual-channel 10-bit ADC cape that ties into the BeagleBone’s Programmable Realtime Units (PRUs) to shuttle through up to as much as 20 megasamples per second for each channel. That’s a lot of bandwidth!

The trick is reading the ADC out with the PRUs, which are essentially a little bit of programmable logic that’s built on to the board. With a bit of PRU code, the data can be shuttled out of the ADC and into the BeagleBone’s memory about as fast as you could wish. Indeed, it’s too fast for the demo code that [Jason] wrote, which can’t even access the RAM that fast. Instead, you’ll want to use custom kernel drivers from the BeagleLogic project (that we’ve covered here before).

But even then, if you don’t want to process the data onboard, you’ve got to get it out somehow. 100 mbit Ethernet gets you 11.2 megabytes per second, and a cherry-picked flash drive can save something like 14-18 megabytes per second. But the two 10-bit ADCs, running full-bore at 20 megasamples per second each, produces something like 50-80 megabytes per second. Point is, PRUDAQ is producing a ton of data.

So what is this cape useful for? It’s limited to the two-volt input range of the ADCs — you’ll need to precondition signals for use as a general-purpose oscilloscope. You can also multiplex the ADCs, allowing for eight inputs, but of course not at exactly the same time. But two channels at high bandwidth would make a great backend for a custom SDR setup, for instance. Getting this much ADC bandwidth into a single-board computer is an awesome trick that used to cost thousands of dollars.

We asked [Jason] why he built it, and he said he can’t tell us. It’s a Google Research project, so let the wild conjecture-fest begin!

Modest Motor Has Revolutionary Applications

Satellites make many of our everyday activities possible, and the technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds. A prototype, recently completed by [Arda Tüysüz]’s team at ETH Zürich’s Power Electronics Systems Lab in collaboration with its Celeroton spinoff, aims to improve satellite attitude positioning with a high speed, magnetically levitated motor.

Beginning as a doctoral thesis work led by [Tüysüz], the motor builds on existing technologies, but has been arranged into a new application — with great effect. Currently, the maneuvering motors on board satellites are operated at a low rpm to reduce wear, must be sealed in a low-nitrogen environment to prevent rusting of the components, and the microvibrations induced by the ball-bearings in the motors reduces the positioning accuracy. With one felling swoop, this new prototype motor overcomes all of those problems.

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New Chip Alert: RTL8710, A Cheaper ESP8266 Competitor

Almost exactly two years ago, shocking news thundered across the electronics blogosphere. There was a new WiFi module on the block. It was called the ESP8266, a simple serial device capable of taking care of an 802.11 network and a WiFi stack, giving any project with a microcontroller access to the Internet. Earlier modules to connect microcontrollers were sufficient for the task, but nothing could beat the ESP8266 on price.

The RTL8710 dev kit
The RTL8710 dev kit

Now, there’s a new module that’s even cheaper and more powerful than the ESP8266, and just like all of our favorite parts from China, it inexplicably shows up on eBay and AliExpress before anywhere else. It’s the Realtek RTL8710, available on eBay, on AliExpress, and elsewhere around the web for about $1.50 per device. There’s also a dev kit for the device featuring breakouts, an additional microcontroller, and a few switches and buttons for about $15.

As you would expect, there is zero English-language data available about the RTL8710, everything is in Chinese. There is a forum of sorts going over this new chip, and the Google Translatrix is good enough to glean a little bit of info about the new chip.

The RTL8710 features an ARM processor clocked at 166MHz. Stock, this module is running FreeRTOS. There’s 1MB of Flash, 48k of RAM available to the user, up to 21 GPIOs, 3 I2C, 4 PWM pins, and 2 PCM. This module also comes with an FCC logo, but I can’t find anything on the FCC website about this module.

If anything, the Realtek RTL8710 isn’t meant to be a competitor to the ESP8266. While extremely popular and still very useful, the ‘next gen’ ESP32 is due to be released in a month or so, and with the exception of Bluetooth on the ESP32, this Realtek module should match its capabilities quite well. Whether anyone can get an English datasheet is another matter, but if history is any indication a few English language RTL8710 forums will pop up a few hours after this is posted.

Thanks [sabas] for sending this in