HOPE X: Creating Smart Spaces With ReelyActive

When we hear about the Internet of Things, we’re thinking it’s a portable device with a sensor of some kind, a radio module, and the ability to push data up to the Internet. There’s nothing that says a device that puts data on the Internet has to be portable, though, as [Jeff] from ReelyActive showed us at HOPE X last weekend.

[Jeff]‘s startup is working on a device that turns every space into a smart space. It does this with radio modules connected to a computer that listen to Bluetooth and the 868, 915 and 2400MHz bands. These modules turn every place into a smart space, identifying who just walked into a room, and who is at a specific location. Think of it as the invisible foundation for any truly smart house.

The radio modules themselves are daisychained with Cat5 cable, able to be plugged into a hub or existing Ethernet drops. The software that makes the whole thing work can run on just about anything; if you want a Raspi to turn on the lights when you enter a room, or turn off a thermostat when you leave a building, that’s just a few lines of code and a relay.

The software is open source, and [Jeff] and his team are looking at making the hardware open. It’s a great idea, and something that would be a good entry for The Hackaday Prize, but ReelyActive is located in Montréal, and like Syria and North Korea, we’re not allowed to run a contest in Quebec.

HOPE X: Citizens Band Microwave Spectrum And Free Internet For All

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The bulk of HOPE X was the talks, but arguably the far more interesting aspect of thousands of hackers and tinkerers under one roof is talking to everyone about what they’re doing. One guy hanging out at HOPE gave a quick lightning talk to a few people about something very interesting: something the FCC is pushing through that’s open to just about everything: it’s the FCC’s new CB radio service (you’ll want to click the presentation link at the very top of the page), giving anyone, not just people with a radio license, access to a huge swath of microwave spectrum.

The short version of the talk was the fact the FCC is extremely interested in opening up 100 to 200 MHz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz. The idea is to create something like cellular service that can either be implemented by companies, or normal, everyday people. The initial goal of this is to provide -possibly- free Internet to anyone with the right USB dongle. Since it’s just radio, and open to everyone, just about anything can be implemented.

This is something the FCC, Google, Microsoft, and a whole bunch of startups are extremely interested in, and the fact that about half of the spectrum will be open to anyone creates some interesting opportunities. A community-based freenet of wireless Internet links becomes an easy solution, and since the hardware to access 3.5 GHz is similar to other hardware that’s already available means building your own wireless ISP could be relatively easy in 12 to 18 months.

A transcript of the lightning talk is available below.

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Vintage Radio Rocks With Modern Technology

old soviet transistor radio

[Madis] had an old Soviet Russian Neywa 402 transistor radio sitting on the shelf. It looked cool, but unfortunately that’s about all it did. Built in the 70’s one can only wonder about the past life of the radio. And one can only wonder what the past owner thought about the future of it, if they thought about it at all? Would they have thought that several decades in the future, a hardware hacker would introduce some strange and mysterious technology to breath new life into it? Probably not. But that’s exactly what happened.

[Madis] picked up a Bluetooth speaker from Ebay for a whopping $10. And like any good hacker, he immediately took it apart and ditched the original speaker. Wired up to the vintage radio, the Bluetooth receiver can be charged via a USB cable, which neatly tucks away in the back of the case. And with a few taps of his smart phone, he can stream audio to his new vintage Bluetooth speaker.

Though a simple hack, [Madis] does a great job at breathing new life into an antique electronic device. Check out the video after the break for a demonstration.

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A GSM Base Station With Software Defined Radio

gsmIf you’re wondering how to get a better signal on your cellphone, or just want to set up your own private cell network, this one is for you. It’s a GSM base station made with a BeagleBone Black and a not too expensive software defined radio board.

The key component of this build is obviously the software defined radio. [Julian] is using a USRP B200 radio for this project. It’s not cheap, but it is a very nice piece of hardware capable of doing just about anything with GNU Radio. This board is controlled by a BeagleBone Black, a pretty cheap solution that puts the total cost of the hardware somewhere around $750.

The software side of the build is mostly handled by OpenBTS, the open source project for the software part of a cell station. This controls the transceiver, makes calls and SMS, and all the backend stuff every other cell station does. OpenBTS also includes support for Asterisk, the software of choice for PBX and VoIP setups. Running this allows you to make calls and send texts with your SDR-equipped, Internet-enabled BeagleBone Black anywhere on the planet.

Generate Clocks with the SI5351 and an Arduino

A SI5351 clock generator chip and an Arduino

If you’re dealing with RF, you’ll probably have the need to generate a variety of clock signals. Fortunately, [Jason] has applied his knowledge to build a SI5351 library for the Arduino and a breakout board for the chip.

The SI5351 is a programmable clock generator. It can output up to eight unique frequencies at 8 kHz to 133 MHz. This makes it a handy tool for building up RF projects. [Jason]‘s breakout board provides 3 isolated clock outputs on SMA connectors. A header connects to an Arduino, which provides power and control over I2C.

If you’re looking for an application, [Jason]‘s prototype single-sideband radio shows the chip in action. This radio uses two of the SI5351 clocks: one for the VFO and one for the BFO. This reduces the part count, and could make this design quite cheap.

The Arduino library is available on Github, and you can order a SI5351 breakout board from OSHPark.

Controlling RC Toys With The Raspi

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An interesting trick you can do with a a fast CPU and a GPIO pin mapped directly to memory is an FM transmitter. Just toggle a pin on and off fast enough, and you have a crude and kludgy transmitter. [Brandon] saw a few builds that turned a Raspberry Pi into an FM radio transmitter and realized a lot of toy remote control cars use a frequency in the same range a Pi can transmit at. It’s not much of a leap to realize the Pi can control these remote control cars using only a length of wire attached to a GPIO pin.

The original hack that turned a Pi GPIO pin into an FM transmitter mapped a GPIO pin to memory, cycled through that memory at about 100 MHz, and added a fractional divider to slightly adjust the frequency, turning it into an FM transmitter. Cheap RC cars usually listen for radio signals at 27 and 49 MHz. It doesn’t take much to realize commanding RC cars with a Pi is possible.

The only problem with this idea is that most RC cars use pulse modulation. For an RC transmitter to send the command for ‘forward’, a synchronization pulse is sent, then a series of pulses and pauses. The frequency doesn’t change at all, something the originally FM code doesn’t do. [Brandon] realized that if he just moved the frequency up to something the RC car wasn’t listening to, that would register as a zero.

All that was left was to figure out the command codes for his RC truck. For this, [Brandon] decided brute force would be the best option. Armed with a script and a webcam, he cycled through all possible combinations until the webcam detected a moving truck. Subtlety brilliant, if you ask us. Of course more complex commands required an oscilloscope, but now [Brandon] has a git full of all the code to control a cheap RC car with a Pi.

Talking To ISEE-3

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ISEE-3, the plucky interplanetary spacecraft fueled by the dreams of thousands of crowdfunding backers and hydrazine is now transmitting data to Earth.

Where all radio contact with ISEE-3 this year has only been a carrier frequency, the folks at the reboot project have successfully commanded ISSE via the huge Arecibo telescope to transmit data back to Earth. Usable data are now being received at 512 bits/second at ground stations in Germany, Kentucky, and California, surely being looked over by the ISEE reboot project engineers.

Simply transmitting the commands to put the data multiplexers into their engineering telemetry mode was no small task; a power amplifier needed to be built, shipped to Arecibo, and installed in the giant dome hanging over the Arecibo dish. The amplifier was only installed in the last day, during an earthquake, no less.

There’s still a lot of work to be done before the project can go any further; the team will need to check the status of the spacecraft from the data received, more systems will be checked out, and eventually the spacecraft will be commanded to perform a 17-hour long burn with its small thrusters, putting it on course to be captured by Earth some time in August.

It’s an amazing achievement to do any sort of communication on this scale, and now events in the ISEE-3 mission timeline will be coming rather quickly. We’re trying to organize a video/blog/cast thing with the team from NASA Ames or Morehead State, but the team is, understandably, a little busy right now.

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