PURE Modules Aim to Make Prototyping Easier

[Sashi]’s PURE modules system wants your next wireless microcontroller and sensor module project to be put together using card-edge connectors. But it’s a lot deeper than that — PURE is an entire wireless gadget development ecosystem. Striking a balance between completeness and modularity is very difficult; a wire can carry any imaginable electronic signal, but just handing someone a pile of wires presents them a steep learning curve. PURE is at the other end of the spectrum: everything is specified.

So far, two microcontroller options are available in the system, the nRF52 series and TI’s CC2650. Both of these run the Contiki OS, so it doesn’t matter which of these you choose. Wired data is all transmitted over I2C and connects up via the previously-mentioned card-edge connectors. On the wireless side, data transport is handled through an MQTT broker, using the MQTT-sn variant which is better suited to small radio devices. At the protocol layer everything uses Protocol Buffers, Google’s newest idea for adding some structure to the data.

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Building The First Ternary Microprocessor

Your computer uses ones and zeros to represent data. There’s no real reason for the basic unit of information in a computer to be only a one or zero, though. It’s a historical choice that is common because of convention, like driving on one side of the road or having right-hand threads on bolts and screws. In fact, computers can be more efficient if they’re built using different number systems. Base 3, or ternary, computing is more efficient at computation and actually makes the design of the computer easier.

For the 2016 Hackaday Superconference, Jessie Tank gave a talk on what she’s been working on for the past few years. It’s a ternary computer, built with ones, zeros, and negative ones. This balanced ternary system is, ‘Perhaps the prettiest number system of all,’ writes Donald Knuth, and now this number system has made it into silicon as a real microprocessor.

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The Internet of Tampons

At the 2016 Hackaday Superconference, Amanda Brief and Jacob McEntire gave a talk on what they’ve been working on for the past few years. It’s My.Flow, the world’s first tampon monitor capable of tracking saturation, and eliminating anxiety, leakage, and infection. It’s better than a traditional tampon, and it’s one of the rare Internet of Things things that actually makes sense.

There’s a long history of technological innovation to deal with menstruation. What began with simply sending women out of the village for a week turned into a ‘sanitary belt’ after a few thousand years. This astonishing technological advance of treating women as people led to the pad, the cup, and eventually, the disposable tampon. Now My.Flow is applying modern electrochemical technology to move the state of the art forward.

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Awarding the 2016 Hackaday Prize

Saturday evening at the Hackaday SuperConference is reserved for the Hackaday Prize Party. Our engineering initiative each year, The Hackaday Prize, starts in the spring and ends in the fall. What happens in between is magic: thousands of engineers and engineering enthusiasts focus their skills on building something that matters. The top entries take home some pretty amazing prizes. At this year’s prize ceremony (seen below) we announced the five top entries which took home $200,000 in addition to the $100,000 already awarded to 100 final projects.

Check out the presentation which includes appearances by several of our amazing judges, then join us after the break for a bit more about this year’s Hackaday Prize.

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Portable Classroom Upgrade: Smaller, Cheaper, Faster

[Eric] at MkMe Lab has a dream: to build a cheap, portable system that provides the electronic infrastructure needed to educate kids anywhere in the world. He’s been working on the system for quite a while, and has recently managed to shrink the suitcase-sized system down to a cheaper, smaller form-factor.

The last time we discussed [Eric]’s EduCase project was as part of his Hackaday Prize 2016 entry. There was a lot of skepticism from our readers on the goals of the project, but whatever you think of [Eric]’s motivation, the fact remains that the build is pretty cool. The previous version of the EduCase relied on a Ku-band downlink to receive content from Outernet, and as such needed to stuff a large antenna into the box. That dictated a case in the carry-on luggage size range. The current EduCase is a much slimmed-down affair that relies on an L-band link from the Inmarsat satellites, with a much smaller patch antenna. A low-noise amp and SDR receiver complete the downlink, and a Raspberry Pi provides the UI. [Eric]’s build is just a prototype at this point, but we’re looking forward to seeing everything stuffed into that small Pelican case.

Yes, Outernet is curated content, and so it’s not at all the same experience as the web. But for the right use case, this little package might just do the job. And with a BOM that rings up at $100, the price is right for experimenting.

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Dtto Explorer Modular Robot Wins 2016 Hackaday Prize

Dtto, a modular robot designed with search and rescue in mind, has just been named the winner of the 2016 Hackaday Prize. In addition to the prestige of the award, Dtto will receive the grand prize of $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena, CA.

This year’s Hackaday Prize saw over 1,000 entires during five challenge rounds which asked people to Build Something that Matters. Let’s take a look at the projects that won the top five prizes. They exemplify the five challenge themes: Assistive Technologies, Automation, Citizen Scientist, Anything Goes, and Design Your Concept. dtto-main-image-cropped

Dtto — Explorer Modular Robot

Grand Prize Winner ($150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab): Dtto is modular robot built with 3D printed parts, servo motors, magnets, and readily available electronics. Each module consists of two boxes, rounded on one side, connected by a bar. The modules can join with each other in many different orientations using the attraction of the magnets. Sections can separate themselves using servo motors.

Dtto is groundbreaking in its ability to make modular robots experimentation available to roboticists and hobbiests everywhere by sidestepping what has traditionally been a high-cost undertaking. While it’s easy to dismiss this concept, the multitude of different mechanisms built from modules during testing drives home the power of the system.


Affordable Reflectance Transformation Imaging Dome

Second Place ($25,000): Reflectance Transformation Imaging is a method of photographing artifacts multiple times with a fixed camera location but changing lighting locations. When these images are combined into an interface after the fact, it allows for different textures, surface features, and material properties to be observed. Currently there are no commercial version of hardware available for this technique.


Laser Cut Optics Bench

Third Place ($10,000): An optics bench is a series of jigs used to hold and precisely align elements for optical experiments. Traditionally this meant highly specialized equipment starting in the tens-of-thousands of dollars. But schools, hackerspaces, and individuals don’t need top-of-the-line equipment to begin learning about optics. The project has designed holders for salvaged optics and the ancillary materials to conduct experiments, and even includes a standardized carrying case design.


A New High Accuracy Tilt Sensor

Fourth Place ($10,000): This is a reimaging of a Linear Variable Differential Transformer (LVDT). Traditionally, tilt sensors based on LVDTs are built like a small tube with an iron core that can slide from one end to the other as the tube is tilted. This new sensor turns the tube into a hollow ring, and replaces the iron core with ferrofluid (a liquid with the properties of metal). What results is a brand new sensor with properties unavailable in previous tilt sensors.



Fifth Place ($5,000). Stepper motors are known for accurate movement, but they are often used as open loop systems and prone to lose track of position either from missed steps or outside interference. Mechaduino adds a high accuracy magnetic encoder to any of several commonly available stepper motors, closing that loop and adding functionality. This includes positional awareness, but goes for beyond to velocity and torque control, and user interaction.

After The Prize: A Libre Space Foundation

The Hackaday Prize is the greatest hardware build-off on the planet, and with that comes some spectacular prizes. For the inaugural Hackaday Prize in 2014, the top prize was $196,418. That’s a handsome sum, and with that, the right hardware, and enough time, anything is possible.

The winners of the first Hackaday Prize was the SatNOGs project. The SatNOGs project itself is very innovative and very clever; it’s a global network of satellite ground stations for amateur cubesats. This, in itself, is a huge deal. If you’re part of a student team, non-profit, or other organization that operates a cubesat, you only have access to that satellite a few minutes every day — whenever it’s in the sky, basically. SatNOGs is a project to put directional, tracking antennas everywhere on Earth, all connected to the Internet. This is a project that gives global ground station coverage to every amateur-built cubesat.

It’s been two years since SatNOGs won the Hackaday Prize, so how are they doing now? I caught up with some of the midwest reps of SatNOGs at this year’s Hamvention, and the project is doing very well. The steerable antenna mount designed by the SatNOGs project is fantastic, some of the Earth stations are seeing a lot of use, and the network is growing.

Two years is a long time, and since then SatNOGs has evolved into the Libre Space Foundation, a not-for-profit foundation with a mission to promote, advance and develop free and open source technologies and knowledge for space.

The premier project for the Libre Space Foundation is the UPSat, the first Open Source satellite ever launched. For the last two years, this is what the Libre Space Foundation has been working on, and soon this satellite will be orbiting the Earth. The satellite itself was recently delivered, and next month it will be launched to the International Space Station aboard a Cygnus spacecraft. After that, it will be deployed to low Earth orbit from Nanoracks’ deployment platform on the station.

This is truly an amazing project. SatNOGs brought a network of ground stations to amateur cubesats orbiting the Earth, and now the Libre Space Foundation will put an Open Source satellite into low Earth orbit. All the documentation is available on Github, and this is the best the open hardware movement has to offer. We’re proud to have SatNOGs and the Libre Space Foundation proving that Open Hardware can change the world, and we can only hope this year’s winner of the Hackaday Prize has such an impact.