Hackaday Prize Entry: Elephant AI

[Neil K. Sheridan]’s Automated Elephant Detection System was a semi-finalist in last year’s Hackaday Prize. Encouraged by his close finish, [Neil] is back at it with a refreshed and updated Elephant AI project.

The purpose of Elephant AI is to help humans and elephants coexist by eliminating contact between the two species. What this amounts to is an AI that can herd elephants. For this year’s project, [Neil] did away with the RF communications and village base stations in favor of 4G/3G-equipped, autonomous sentries equipped with Raspberry Pi computers with Go Pro cameras.

The main initiative of the project involves developing a system able to classify wild elephants visually, by automatically capturing images and then attempting to determine the elephant’s gender and age. Of particular importance is the challenge of detecting and controlling bull elephants during musth, a state of heightened aggressiveness that causes bulls to charge anyone who comes near. Musth can be detected visually, thanks to secretions called temporin that appear on the sides of the head. If cameras could identify bull elephants in musth and somehow guide them away from humans, everyone benefits.

This brings up another challenge: [Neil] is researching ways to actually get elephants to move away if they’re approaching humans. He’s looking into nonlethal techniques like audio files of bees or lions, as well as ping-pong balls containing chili pepper.

Got some ideas? Follow the Elephant AI project on Hackaday.io.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Go-Kart For a Special Child

ScottCar is a go-kart for a special Kid and is [Alain]’s entry in this years Hackaday Prize. Will it race to victory?

The concept behind ScottCar is simple: There isn’t much out there for disabled kids when it comes to go-karts. [Alain Mauer] has an autistic son who isn’t quite capable of driving a Go-Kart as he would have trouble using pedals and brakes. He didn’t let that stand in his way, so he built a go-kart for his 11-year-old son. It incorporates an automatic braking system. In situations where the kart speeds up going down, brakes are automatically applied, slowing it down to a normal pace. It also features a remote emergency brake which would avoid crashes while supervising playtime. The braking system uses bike disc brakes controlled by an Arduino Nano. A Siemens Motor with a screw drive is what propels the vehicle, powered by a 12V Battery with a healthy 7.5Ah capacity.

The project is being released under GNU General Public License version 3, Will we be seeing ScottCar racing towards the Hackaday prize?

Hackaday Prize Entry: 3D Printed Linear Actuator Does 2kg+

The rabbit hole of features and clever hacks in [chiprobot]’s NEMA17 3D Printed Linear Actuator is pretty deep. Not only can it lift 2kg+ of mass easily, it is mostly 3D printed, and uses commonplace hardware like a NEMA 17 stepper motor and a RAMPS board for motion control.

The main 3D printed leadscrew uses a plug-and-socket design so that the assembly can be extended easily to any length desired without needing to print the leadscrew as a single piece. The tip of the actuator even integrates a force sensor made from conductive foam, which changes resistance as it is compressed, allowing the actuator some degree of feedback. The force sensor is made from a 3M foam earplug which has been saturated with a conductive ink. [chiprobot] doesn’t go into many details about his specific method, but using conductive foam as a force sensor is a fairly well-known and effective hack. To top it all off, [chiprobot] added a web GUI served over WiFi with an ESP32. Watch the whole thing in action in the video embedded below.

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Twenty IoT Builds That Just Won $1000 in the Hackaday Prize

Today we’re excited to announce the winners of the Internet of Useful Things phase of The Hackaday Prize. The future will be connected, and this is a challenge to build devices connected to the Internet that are useful. These projects are the best the Internet of Things have to offer, and they just won $1000 each and will move on to the final round of the Hackaday Prize this fall.

Hackaday is currently hosting the greatest hardware competition on Earth. We’re giving away thousands of dollars to hardware creators to build the next great thing. Last week, we wrapped up the second of five challenges. It was all about showing a design to Build Something That Matters. Hundreds entered and began their quest to build a device to change the world.

There are still three more challenges to explore over the next few months. So far, the results have been spectacular. The winners for the Internet of Useful Things portion of the Hackaday Prize are, in no particular order:

Internet of Useful Things Hackaday Prize Finalists:

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Very, Very Powerful Servos

A few years ago, [patchartrand] decided to build a robot arm. The specs were simple: he needed a drive system that would be at least as strong as a human arm. After looking at motors, [patch] couldn’t find a solution for under $3,000. This led to the creation of the Ultra Servo, an embiggened version of the standard hobby servo that provides more than ten thousand oz-in of torque.

Your typical hobby servo has three main components. The electronics board reads some sort of signal to control a motor. This motor is strapped into a gear train of some sort, and a potentiometer reads the absolute position of a shaft. This is basically what the Ultra Servo is doing, although everything is much, much bigger.

The motor used in the Ultra Servo is a very large brushed DC motor. This is attached to a 160:1 planetary gearbox and the electronics are built around four reasonably large MOSFETs. The electronics are built around the ATmega168 microcontroller, and the specs for the completed servo include 12 V or 24 V operation, TTL, SPI, and standard RC communication, 60 RPM no load speed, and 60 ft-lbs of torque.

This is not your standard servo. This is a massive chunk of metal to move stuff. If you’ve ever wanted a remote-controlled Cessna, here you go. That said, servos of this size and power will always be pricey, and [patch] is looking at a cost of $750 per unit. Still, that’s much less than the thousands of a comparable unit, and a great entry to the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller

To build any sort of autonomous vehicle, you need a controller. This has to handle all sorts of jobs – reading sensor outputs, controlling motors and actuators, managing power sources – controlling a vehicle of even moderate complexity requires significant resources. Modern cars are a great example of this – even non-autonomous vehicles can have separate computers to control the engine, interior electronics, and safety systems. In this vein, [E.N. Hering] is developing a modular autonomous vehicle controller, known as YAUVC.

The acronym stands for Yet Another Unmanned Vehicle Controller, though its former name – Fly Hard With A Vengeance – was not without its charms. The project is built around the concept of modularity and redundancy. The controller, designed primarily for flying vehicles, has an ATMega328P as its primary processor, into which various modules can be plugged in to handle different tasks.

This design choice has several benefits – having separate processors to handle individual jobs can make sense in real-time systems. You’d hardly want your quadcopter to crash because the battery management routines were stealing CPU time from the flight dynamics calculations. Instead, by offloading tasks to individual modules, each can run without interfering with the others. Modularity does come with drawbacks however — the problem of maintaining efficient communication between modules is one of them. [Hering] also plans to make sure the system can be set up to use multiples of the same module for redundancy – similar to modern flight systems in passenger aircraft that weigh the results of several computers to make decisions.

Much work has already been done – with the YAUVC platform already fleshed out with a backbone design as well as modules for WiFi, accelerometers and GPS navigation. We look forward to seeing YAUVC reaching flight-ready status soon!

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Mobile Electric Gate

Electric gates can be an excellent labor-saving device, allowing one to remain in a vehicle while the gate opens and closes by remote activation. However, it can become somewhat of a hassle juggling the various remotes and keyfobs required, so [bredman] devised an alternative solution – controlling an electric gate over the mobile network.

20 years ago, this might have been achieved by wiring a series of relays up to the ringer of a carphone. These days, it’s a little more sophisticated – a GSM/GPRS module is connected to an Arduino Nano. When an incoming call is detected, the gate is opened. After a 3 minute wait, the gate is once again closed.

[bredman] suffered some setbacks during the project, due to the vagaries of working with serial on the Arduino Nano and the reset line on the A6 GSM module. However, overall, the gate was a simple device to interface with, as like many such appliances, it has well-labelled and documented pins for sending the gate open and close signals.

[bredman] was careful to design the system to avoid unwanted operation. The system is designed to always automatically close the gate, so no matter how many times the controller is called, the gate will always end up in a closed state. Special attention was also paid to making sure the controller could gracefully handle losing connection to the mobile network. It’s choices like these that can make a project much more satisfying to use – a gate system that constantly requires attention and rebooting will likely not last long with its users.

Overall, it’s a great project that shows how accessible such projects are – with some carefully chosen modules and mastery of serial communications, it’s a cinch to put together a project to connect almost anything to the Internet or mobile networks these days.  For a different take, check out this garage door opener that logs to Google Drive.