Basic Toolkit for the Basement Biohacker

Laying hands on the supplies for most hacks we cover is getting easier by the day. A few pecks at the keyboard and half a dozen boards or chips are on an ePacket from China to your doorstep for next to nothing. But if hacking life is what you’re into, you’ll spend a lot of time and money gathering the necessary instrumentation. Unless you roll your own mini genetic engineering lab from scratch, that is.

arduino-based-biolab-data-logger-thumbTaking the form of an Arduino mega-shield that supports a pH meter, a spectrophotometer, and a PID-controlled hot plate, [M. Bindhammer]’s design has a nice cross-section of the instruments needed to start biohacking in your basement. Since the piggybacks on an Arduino, all the data can be logged, and decisions can be made based on the data as it is collected. One example is changing the temperature of the hot plate when a certain pH is reached. Not having to babysit your experiments could be a huge boon to the basement biohacker.

Biohacking is poised to be the next big thing in the hacking movement, and [M. Bindhammer]’s design is far from the only player in the space. From incubators to peristaltic pumps to complete labs in a box, the tools to tweak life are starting to reach critical mass. We can’t wait to see where these tools lead.

Hack a Cake

What’s a hacker going to do with an oven? Reflow solder? Dry out 3D printing filament? If you are [Alicia Gibb] you’d be baking a cake. While complaining that projects aren’t a hack seems to be a favorite past time for Hackaday commentators, we think [Alicia] will be in the clear. Why? Because these cakes have Arduinos, LEDs, and motorized candles among other gizmos.

The Game Boy cake is undeniably cool, although we have to admit the cake that screams when cut got our attention (see video below), even if it would unnerve guests.

As you might expect, you can’t bake the electronics directly into the cake. [Alicia] uses Tupperware or parchment paper to create cavities for the electronics. Connections and other solder joints get professional grade Saran wrap to keep the lead and other awful chemicals out of the cake.

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Bubble Catcher Watches Your Booze Burp

Making your own booze involves a lot of sitting around waiting for things to happen, like waiting for the fermentation process to finish so you can get on with bottling and drinking it. That involves watching the bubbles in the airlock: once the frequency of the bubbles falls below a certain level, your hooch is ready for the next step.

[Waldy45] decided to automate this process by building a bubble catcher that measures the frequency of bubbles passing through the airlock. He did this using an optocoupler, a combination of LED and light sensor that changes resistance when something passes between them. You can’t see it in the image, but the horseshoe-shaped optocoupler is slotted around the thin neck in the bubble tube to sense when a bubble passes through.

The optocoupler is connected to an Arduino, running a bit of code that generates an interrupt when the optocoupler is triggered. At the moment, this just outputs an average time between bubbles to the serial port, but [Waldy45] is looking to add an ESP8266 to wirelessly connect the Arduino and contact him when the bubble frequency falls, indicating that the booze is ready for bottling.

We’ve seen a couple of over the top beer breweries before (here and here), but none of them have automated the actual fermentation stage, so something like this would definitely be an addition. Cheers!

USB Volume Control

If you buy expensive computer speakers, they often have a volume knob you can mount somewhere on your desk so you aren’t dependent on the onboard volume control. [Kris S] decided to build his own version of the remote volume control. Not surprisingly, it uses an Arduino-compatible Digispark board and a rotary controller. The Digispark (that [Kris S] bought for $2) is compatible with the Adafruit Trinket. This is key because the Trinket libraries are what make it easy to send media keys over the USB (using the HID interface) to control the volume.

Really, though, the best part of the build is the good looking knob made out of a pill bottle (see the video below). The micro Digispark is small enough to fit in the lid of the pill bottle, and some wax and pellets add some heft to the volume control. Continue reading “USB Volume Control”

Hackaday Links: November 22, 2015

There’s a new documentary series on Al Jazeera called Rebel Geeks that looks at the people who make the stuff everyone uses. The latest 25-minute part of the series is with [Massimo], chief of the camp. Upcoming episodes include Twitter co-creator [Evan Henshaw-Plath] and people in the Madrid government who are trying to build a direct democracy for the city on the Internet.

Despite being a WiFi device, the ESP8266 is surprisingly great at being an Internet of Thing. The only problem is the range. No worries; you can use the ESP as a WiFi repeater that will get you about 0.5km further for each additional repeater node. Power is of course required, but you can stuff everything inside a cell phone charger.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the most common use for the Raspberry Pi is a vintage console emulator. Now there’s a Kickstarter for a dedicated tabletop Raspi emulation case that actually looks good.

Pogo pins are the go-to solution for putting firmware on hundreds of boards. These tiny spring-loaded pins give you a programming rig that’s easy to attach and detach without any soldering whatsoever. [Tom] needed to program a few dozen boards in a short amount of time, didn’t have any pogo pins, and didn’t want to solder a header to each board. The solution? Pull the pins out of a female header. It works in a pinch, but you probably want a better solution for a more permanent setup.

Half of building a PCB is getting parts and pinouts right. [Josef] is working on a tool to at least semi-automate the importing of pinout tables from datasheets into KiCad. This is a very, very hard problem, and if it’s half right half the time, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.

Last summer, [Voja] wrote something for the blog on building enclosures from FR4. Over on he’s working on a project, and it’s time for that project to get an enclosure. The results are amazing and leave us wondering why we don’t see this technique more often.

FleaFPGA + Arduino Uno = FleaFPGAUno

Some things are better together: me and my wife, peanut butter and jelly, and FPGAs and Arduino Unos. Veteran hacker [Valentin Angelovski] seems to agree: the FleaFPGA Uno is his latest creation that combines an FPGA (a Lattice MachX02 700HC) with an Arduino-compatible CPU.

It’s a step-up model from the origional FleaFPGA. With a few other components thrown in (such as a HDMI and composite video output and a WiFi option), you have a killer combination for experimenting with FPGAs or building an embedded system. That is because the Arduino part frees the FleaFPGA Uno from the breadboard: you can easily program, control and interface with the FPGA over a serial line or a wireless link using the Arduino IDE. There is even support for Arduino shields (albeit only 3.3V ones), making it even more expandable. This would be an awesome starting point for a retro gaming system, as many 8-bit consoles can be easily emulated in an FPGA. [Valentin] is currently selling the boards directly, and they are very reasonably priced at $50 or $60 for the WiFi version.

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Garbage can CNC Machine Build

Forget sourcing parts for your next project from some fancy neighborhood hardware store. If you really want to show your hacker chops, be like [HomoFaciens] and try a Dumpster dive for parts for a CNC machine build.

OK, we exaggerate a little – but only a little. Apart from the control electronics, almost everything in [HomoFacien]’s build could be found by the curb on bulk-waste pickup day. Particle board from a cast-off piece of flat-pack furniture, motors and gears from an old printer, and bits of steel strapping are all that’s needed for the frame of a serviceable CNC machine. This machine is even junkier than [HomoFacien]’s earlier build, which had a lot more store-bought parts. But the videos below show pretty impressive performance nonetheless.

Sure, this is a giant leap backwards for the state of the art in DIY CNC builds. but that’s the point – to show what can be accomplished with almost nothing, and that imagination and perseverance are more important for acceptable results than an expensive BOM.

With that in mind, we’re throwing down the gauntlet: can anyone build a CNC machine from cardboard and paperclips?

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