Hackaday Prize Finalist: A Network of Satellite Ground Stations

There are astonishing things you can do with a network of sensors spread across the globe, all connected to the Internet. Thousands of people have already installed hardware to detect lightning and flightaware gives out subscriptions to their premium service to anyone who will listen in to airplane transponders and send data back to their servers. The folks behind SatNOGS, one of the five finalists for The Hackaday Prize are using this same crowdsourced data collection for something that is literally out of this world: listening to the ever-increasing number of amateur satellites orbiting the planet.

There are dozens of cubesats and other amateur satellites flying every year, and they have become an extremely popular way of experimenting in a space environment, giving some budding engineers an awesome project in school, and testing out some technologies that are just too weird for national space agencies. The problem with sending one of these birds up is getting the data back down; a satellite will pass above the horizon of a single location only a few times a day, and even then for only minutes at a time. The SatNOGS team hopes to change that by planting receivers all around the globe, connecting them to the Internet, and hopefully providing real-time telemetry from dozens of orbiting satellites.

[Pierros] from the SatNOGS team was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us about his entry to The Hackaday Prize. That’s below, right after their finalist video. Some of the SatNOGS team will also be at our Munich event where we announce the winner of the Prize.

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Hackaday Prize Finalist: A Portable SDR

No other project to make it to The Hackaday Prize has people throwing money at their computer screen hoping something would happen than [Michael Colton]’s PortableSDR. It’s a software defined radio designed for coverage up to 30MHz. Amateur radio operators across the world are interested in this project, going so far as to call this the first Baofeng UV-5R killer. That’s extremely high praise.

[Michael] was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions about how his entry to The Hackaday Prize has gone. You can check that out below, along with the final round video of the project. Anyone who wants their own PortableSDR could really help [Michael] out by taking this survey.

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The Hackaday Prize: The Hacker Behind The First Tricorder

Smartphones are the most common expression of [Gene Roddneberry]’s dream of a small device packed with sensors, but so far, the suite of sensors in the latest and greatest smartphone are only used to tell Uber where to pick you up, or upload pics to an Instagram account. It’s not an ideal situation, but keep in mind the Federation of the 24th century was still transitioning to a post-scarcity economy; we still have about 400 years until angel investors, startups, and accelerators are rendered obsolete.

Until then, [Peter Jansen] has dedicated a few years of his life to making the Tricorder of the Star Trek universe a reality. It’s his entry for The Hackaday Prize, and made it to the finals selection, giving [Peter] a one in five chance of winning a trip to space.

[Peter]’s entry, the Open Source Science Tricorder or the Arducorder Mini, is loaded down with sensors. With the right software, it’s able to tell [Peter] the health of leaves, how good the shielding is on [Peter]’s CT scanner, push all the data to the web, and provide a way to sense just about anything happening in the environment. You can check out [Peter]’s video for The Hackaday Prize finals below, and an interview after that.

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The Hackaday Prize: Interview With A ChipWhisperer

chipwhisperer

Every finalist for The Hackaday Prize has some aspect of it that hasn’t been done before; finding the chemical composition of everything with some 3D printed parts is novel, as is building a global network of satellite ground stations with off the shelf components. [Colin]’s ChipWhisperer, though, has some scary and interesting implications. By looking inside a microcontroller as its running, the ChipWhisperer is able to verify – or break – security on these chips. It’s also extremely interesting and somewhat magical being able to figure out what data a chip is processing simply by looking at its power consumption.

We have no idea who the winner of The Hackaday Prize is yet, and I’m hoping to remain ignorant of that fact until the party two weeks from now. Until then, you can read the short interview with [Colin O’Flynn], or check out his five-minute video for the ChipWhisperer below:

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Content Centric Networking and a tour of (Xerox) PARC

You may be used to seeing rack mounted equipment with wires going everywhere. But there’s nothing ordinary about what’s going on here. [Elecia White] and [Dick Sillman] are posing with the backbone servers they’ve been designing to take networking into the era that surpasses IPv6. That’s right, this is the stuff of the future, a concept called Content Centric Networking.

Join me after the break for more about CCN, and also a recap of my tour of PARC. This is the legendary Palo Alto Research Company campus where a multitude of inventions (like the computer mouse, Ethernet, you know… small stuff) sprang into being.

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Defcon Side Trip: Pololu And Robots

PololuDuring our trip out to Vegas for Defcon, we were lucky enough to catch up with a few of the companies that should be of interest to Hackaday readers. One of the companies based out of the area is Pololu, makers and purveyors of fine electronics and robots. In an incredible bit of lucky scheduling, LV Bots, the Las Vegas area robot builders club, was having an event the same weekend we were there. A maze challenge, no less, where builders would compete to build the best robot and write the best code to get a pile of motors and electronics through a line-following maze in the fastest amount of time.

The Bots

The LV Bots events are held in the same building as Pololu, and unsurprisingly there were quite a few Pololu employees making a go at taking the stuff they developed and getting it to run through a maze. At least one bot was based on the Zumo kit, and a few based on the 3pi platform. Interestingly, the Raspberry Pi Model B+ was the brains of quite a few robots; not extremely surprising, but evidence that the LV Bots people take their line-following mazes seriously and are constantly improving their builds.

Each robot and builder ‘team’ was given three runs. For each team, the first run is basically dedicated to mapping the entire maze. A carefully programmed algorithm tries to send the robot around the entire maze, storing all the intersections in memory. For the second and third runs, the bot should – ideally – make it to the end in a very short amount of time. This is the ideal situation and was only representative of one team for that weekend’s event.

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DEFCON 22: The Badge Designers

If you go to DEFCON next year (and you should), prepare for extreme sleep deprivation. If you’re not sleep deprived you’re doing it wrong. This was the state in which we ran into [LosT] and [J0nnyM@c], the brains behind the DEFCON 22 badge and all of the twisted tricks that torture people trying to solve the badge throughout the weekend. They were popular guys but wait around until late into the night and the throngs of hint-seekers subside just a bit.

Plans, within plans, within plans are included in the “crypto” which [LosT] talks about in the interview above. We were wondering how hard it is to produce a badge that is not only electrically perfect, but follows the planned challenge to a ‘T’. This includes things like holding off soldering mask from some pads, and different ones on a different version of the badge. Turns out that you just do as well as you can and then alter the puzzle to match the hardware.

Speaking of hardware. A late snafu in the production threw the two into a frenzy of redesign. Unable to use the planned chip architecture, [J0nnyM@c] stepped up to transition the badges over to Propeller P8X32a chips, leveraging a relationship with Parallax to ensure they hardware could be manufactured in time for the conference.

If you haven’t put it together yet, this is that same chip that Parallax just made Open Source. The announcement was timed to coincide with DEFCON.