Tracking cicadas with Radiolab and an Arduino

Cicadia

Once every 17 years, a population of cicadas ranging from Connecticut to the Appalachian highlands of North Carolina emerges to annoy everyone within earshot. The last time east coasters saw this brood was in 1996, making 2013 yet another year of annoying insect pests. The only question is, when will we start to see this year’s cicada brood?

Radiolab, the awesome podcast and public radio show, has put together an awesome project that asks listeners to track when the cicadas in their area will emerge. Cicadas generally enter their loud and obnoxious adult stage when the ground temperature 8 inches below the surface reaches 64º F. Armed with an Arduino, thermistor, and a few wires and resistors, any Radiolab listener can upload soil temperature data to Radiolab servers where all the data will be correlated with documented cicada sightings.

After following the page’s instructions for wiring up a bunch of LEDs and a thermistor to an Arduino, just upload the most well-commented code we’ve ever seen and go outside to take soil temperature measurements. The temperature is displayed in a pseudo-binary format on nine LEDs. To decode the temperature without counting by powers of two, Radiolab has an online decoder that also allows you to upload your data and location.

The story behind developing the Sifteo from an engineer’s perspective

how-the-sifteo-was-developed

The video game industry must be one of the most secretive sectors when it comes to developing the electronic hardware used in the gaming consoles. The big guys don’t want to give anything away — to the competition or to the hackers who will try to get around their security measures. But it seems Sifteo doesn’t share those secretive values. We had a great time reading about the bumpy ride for the developers bringing the gaming system from concept to market. [Micah Elizabeth Scott] wrote the guest post for Adafruit Industries. She was brought on as an engineer for the Sifteo project just after the first version of the interactive gaming cube was released. From her narrative it seems like this was the top of the big hill on the roller coaster ride for the company.

What’s seen above is one gaming cube. The system developed in [Beth's] story puts together multiple cubes for each game. The issue at hand when she joined the company was how to put more power in the hardware and rely less heavily on a computer to which it was tethered. She discusses cost of components versus features offered, how to deliver the games to the system, and all that the team learned from studying successful consoles that came before them like the long line of Nintendo hardware. It’s a fascinating read if you’re interesting in how the sausage is made.

Seeed Studio shows off their wares

Everyone’s favorite Open Hardware store – Seeed Studio – was at Maker Faire this last weekend. They showed off a bunch of cool toys, oscilloscopes, Arduino shields and other hardware goodness, but one of the more interesting products was from their B Squares line.

As [Colin] from Seeed showed us, each B Square is a small plastic enclosure about the size of a drink coaster. The corners of these squares are clad in metal, and each one has magnets inside. The idea behind the B Squares system is to provide power to other B Square boards via magnetic connections.

So far, Seeed has released an Arduino square, battery, solar, and LED squares, as well as iPod docks and prototyping boards. These boards can also be orthogonally, meaning it’s entirely possible to turn six B Squares into a B Cube.

These magnetic connections only provide power connections; there is currently no way to transfer data between different B Squares. We suspect, though, that anyone wanting to replicate the Apple MagSafe power adapter and invent a magnetic I2C bus would find these boards perfectly suited to the task.

Video after the break.

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Bamboo Bike

Reddit user [tkgarrett101] recently did away with expensive exotic materials for his bike frame and opted for a somewhat less processed form of natural building material, bamboo! The bike consists of a regular metal bike frame with a majority of the structural beams cut and replaced with bamboo poles. The bamboo is fit snug first with some expanding gorilla glue then tied in place with  hemp string and fiberglass resin. Instead of running cables along the frame the bike has coaster breaks brakes and a two speed hub, this also preserves the simplistic look of the whole ensemble. [tkgarrett101] says his bike is not so cheap, the overall parts cost was around 800 bucks (USD)! Plus it weighs a whole lot for a fixed gear. Plus the alignment is a bit off on the seat post. Either way this thing would surely turn some heads!

Too rich for your blood? Check out this cardboard bike, or if that green isn’t bright enough for you how about some glowbars for night visibility.

via Reddit

RFID-based HTPC controller gets a wireless refresh

RFiDJ_Refresh

[roteno] recently wrote in to let us know that he has completed work on the RFiDJ Refresh, a follow up to his 2009 project, the RFiDJ.

The concept is pretty simple – he has a set of RFID enabled tiles, which contain references to particular online streaming audio stations. He uses these tiles to tune into audio feeds on his HTPC by placing them on a block containing an RFID reader.

His previous implementation had the RFID reader tethered to his HTPC, which didn’t make it all that convenient to use. The newer version utilizes a 433 MHz transmitter/receiver pair in order to communicate with the PC, so it can be used anywhere through out his house. The reader and transmitter were placed in a shadow box picture frame, along with a rechargeable Li-poly battery that powers the whole setup. He also mentions that he has added a tactile interface that allows him to initiate mobile phone calls from the RFiDJ as well.

It’s a nice update to an already great project. We imagine it’s a bit more fun for [roteno] and his guests to tap a coaster on the transmitter box than fumble with a remote to change radio stations on the HTPC, but that’s just us.

Check out the videos below to see his new setup in action.

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Tiny keyboard/touchpad has “hack” written all over it

Yes, we know, this is not a hack, yet it just has the vibe of something we’ll likely be seeing in many small form-factor systems and wearable hacks in the future.

The USB Wireless Handheld Keyboard is a diminutive keyboard and mouse replacement with a passing resemblance to a BlackBerry PDA — where the screen has been replaced with a laptop-style trackpad sensor. This seems a shoo-in for home theater PC use; it’s unobtrusive and won’t look out of place on the coffee table alongside the universal remote. But any tiny system requiring only occasional input could likely benefit.

The keyboard layout is funky as heck, though likely adequate for its intended use of couch web-surfing and interactive messaging (or whatever wild applications our readers will surely come up with). A USB wireless receiver and a charging cable are included in the $62 package. Video after the break…

[USB Geek via Engadget]

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Design for manufacture

sparkfun

SparkFun has posted an excellent guide to the many different issues you could run into when you finally decide to get a circuit board professionally produced. We assume that most of you aren’t running a professional design firm and will appreciate these tips gleaned from years of experience. They provided a rule list, Eagle DRC, and CAM file to help you get it right the first time. The end goal is designing a board that won’t be prone to manufacturing errors. The tutorial starts by covering trace width and spacing. They recommend avoiding anything less than 10mil traces with 10mil spacing. For planes, they increase the isolation to 12mil to avoid the planes pouring onto a trace. They also talk about annular rings, tenting, labeling, and generating the appropriate gerber and drill files. SparkFun isn’t completely infallible though, and manages to produce a coaster from time to time.

SparkFun naturally followed up this strict tutorial with a guide to unorthodox header hole placement. If you want to learn more about Eagle, have a look at [Ian]‘s overview of Eagle 5 and Ruin & Wesen’s layout videos.

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