Hacklet 39: The Kerbal Way Of Doing Things

Kerbal Space Program is a space flight simulator based on an extremely stupid race of green space frogs that have decided to dedicate all their resources towards the exploration of space. It is a great game, a better space simulator than just about anything except for Orbiter, and the game is extremely moddable. For this edition of the Hacklet, we’re going to be taking a look at some of the mods for KSP you can find over on hackaday.io.

1271491420181365398Like most hardware builds for Kerbal Space Program, [lawnmowerlatte] is using a few user-made plugins for KAPCOM, a hardware controller and display for KSP. The Telemachus plugin is used to pull data from the game and display that data on a few screens [lawnmower] had sitting around.

There are a few very cool features planned for this build including seven-segment displays, a throttle handle, and neat enclosure.


IMG_20140419_013717[Gabriel] is working on a similar build for KSP. Like the KAPCOM, this one uses the Telemachus plugin, but this one adds three eight-digit, SPI-controlled, seven-segment displays, relegendable buttons, and a Kerbal-insipired frame made out of Meccano.


[Lukas]’ KSP Control Panel is another complicated control system that breaks immersion slightly less than a keyboard. He’s using a Raspberry Pi to talk to the Telemachus server to control every aspect of the craft. From staging to opening up the solar panels, it’s all right there in [Lukas]’ control panel.


You may have noticed a theme with these builds; all of them use the Telemachus plugin for KSP. Even though it’s fairly simple to create plugins for Unity, there really aren’t that many KSP plugins build for these immersive control panels and space flight simulators. Or rather, Telemachus is ‘good enough’. We’d like to see a fully controllable KSP command pod model, just like those guys with 737 flight simulators in their garage. If you have any idea how that could happen, leave a note in the comments.

Solar Charge Controller Improves Efficiency of Solar Panels

The simplest and easiest way to charge a battery with a solar panel is to connect the panel directly to the battery. Assuming the panel has a diode to prevent energy from flowing through it from the battery when there’s no sunlight. This is fairly common but not very efficient. [Debasish Dutta] has built a charge controller that addresses the inefficiencies of such a system though, and was able to implement maximum power point tracking using an Arduino.

Maximum power point tracking (MPPT) is a method that uses PWM and a special DC-DC converter to match the impedance of the solar panel to the battery. This means that more energy can be harvested from the panel than would otherwise be available. The circuit is placed in between the panel and the battery and regulates the output voltage of the panel so it matches the voltage on the battery more closely. [Debasish] reports that an efficiency gain of 30-40% can be made with this particular design.

This device has a few bells and whistles as well, including the ability to log data over WiFi, an LCD display to report the status of the panel, battery, and controller, and can charge USB devices. This would be a great addition to any solar installation, especially if you’ve built one into your truck.

This is [Debasish]’s second entry to The Hackaday Prize. We covered his first one a few days ago. That means only one thing: start a project and start documenting it on hackaday.io

Open-Source Robotic Arm Now Within Reach

For anyone looking for a capable robotic arm for automation of an industrial process, education, or just a giant helping hand for a really big soldering project, most options available can easily break the bank. [Mads Hobye] and the rest of the folks at FabLab RUC have tackled this problem, and have come up with a very capable, inexpensive, and open-source industrial arm robot that can easily be made by anyone.

The robot itself is Arduino-based and has the option to attach any end effector that might be needed for a wide range of processes. The schematics for all of the parts are available on the project site along with all of the Arduino source code. [Mads Hobye] notes that they made this robot during a three-day sprint, so it shouldn’t take very long to get your own up and running. There’s even a virtual robot that can be downloaded and used with the regular robot code, which can be used for testing or for simply getting the feel for the robot without having to build it.

This is a great project, and since it’s open source it will be great for students, small businesses, and hobbyists alike. The option to attach any end effector is also a perk, and we might suggest trying out [Yale]’s tendon-driven robotic hand. Check after the break for a video of this awesome robot in action.

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Rocket Controls Fit for a Kerbal

Kerbal Space Program is a space simulation game. You design spacecraft for a fictional race called Kerbals, then blast those brave Kerbals into space. Sometimes they don’t make it home.

If controlling spacecraft with your WASD keys isn’t immersive enough for you, [marzubus] has created a fully featured KSP control console. It sports a joystick, multiple displays, and an array of buttons and switches for all your flight control needs. The console was built using a modular approach, so different controls can be swapped in and out as needed.

Under the hood, three Arduinos provide the interface between the game and the controls. One Arduino Mega runs HoodLoader2 to provide joystick data over HID. A second Mega uses KSPSerialIO to communicate with the game over a standard COM port interface. Finally, a Due interfaces with the displays, which provide information on the current status of your spacecraft.

All of the parts are housed in an off the shelf enclosure, which has a certain Apollo Mission Control feel to it. All [marzubus] needs now is a white vest with a Kerbal badge on it.

Arduino v Arduino: Part II

Since our last article covering the Arduino v. Arduino case, we’ve received a couple of tips, done some more digging, and learned a lot more about what’s going on. We thought it was time to share the story with you as it develops.

The Players

In short, there are two companies calling themselves “Arduino” at the moment. One, Arduino LLC was founded by [Massimo Banzi], [David Cuartielles], [David Mellis], [Tom Igoe] and [Gianluca Martino] in 2009, runs the website arduino.cc, and has been directing and releasing the code that makes it all work. Most of these folks had been working together on what would become the Arduino project since as early as 2005.

The other “Arduino” used to be called Smart Projects and was the manufacturing arm of the project founded and run by [Gianluca Martino]. Smart Projects changed their name to Arduino SRL in November 2014. (A “Società a responsabilità limitata” is one form of Italian limited-liability company.) They have been a major producer of Arduino boards from the very beginning and recently registered the domain arduino.org.

Around the time of the name change [Martino] sold his shares to a Swiss firm Gheo SA and [Federico Musto] was appointed CEO. Gheo SA is owned and directed by [Musto], who also runs a design consultancy based in the US and Taiwan called dog hunter, LLC.

dog hunter and [Musto] helped develop the Arduino Yun, a mashup of an Arduino with an OpenWRT-compatible WiFi router. dog hunter also runs the Linino.org website to support the Linux distribution that’s running on the router part of the Yun.

In short, on one side is Arduino LLC, run by the original Arduino Five and hosting arduino.cc. On the other is now called Arduino SRL, run by a former co-developer [Federico Musto] who bought out the largest producer of Arduino boards and opened up arduino.org.

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Control Anything with an Apple Remote

If you’re like us, you probably have more than one Apple Remote kicking around in a parts drawer, and if you’re even more like us, you’re probably really annoyed at Apple’s tendency to use proprietary hardware and software at every turn (lightning connector, anyone?). But there’s hope for the Apple Remote now: [Sourcery] has completed a project that allows an Apple Remote to control anything you wish.

The idea is fairly straightforward: A device interprets the IR signals from an Apple Remote, and then outputs another IR signal that can do something useful on a non-Apple product. [Sourcery] uses an Arduino to do the IR translation, along with a set of IR emitters and detectors, and now the Apple Remote can control anything, from stereos to TVs to anything you can imagine. It also doesn’t remove the Apple Remote’s capability to control Apple products, in case you need yours to do that as well.

[Sourcery] notes that sometimes working with RAW IR signals can be a little difficult, but the information on their project and in their 25-minute video discusses how to deal with that, so make sure to check that out after the break. Don’t have an Apple Remote? You can do a similar thing with a PS3 controller.

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An Arduino Device that Monitors Your External IP Address

[Bayres’] dad setup a webcam as a surveillance camera for a remote property. The only problem was that the only stable Internet connection they could get at this property was DSL. This meant that the external IP address of the webcam would change somewhat often; the needed a way to keep track of the external IP address whenever it changed. That’s when [Bayres] built a solution using Arduino and an Ethernet shield.

The main function of this device is to monitor the public IP address and report any changes. This is accomplished by first making a request to checkip.dyndns.org. This website simply reports your current public IP address. [Bayres] uses an Arduino library called Textfinder in order to search through the returned string and identify the IP address.

From there, the program compares this current value to the previous one. If there is any change, the program uses the Sendmail() function to reach out to an SMTP server and send an e-mail alert to [Beyres’] dad. The system also includes a small LCD. The Arduino outputs the current IP address to this display, making it easy to check up on the connection. The LCD is driven by 74HC595 shift register in order to conserve pins on the Arduino.

The system is also designed with a pretty slick setup interface. When it is booted, the user can enter a configuration menu via a Serial terminal. This setup menu allows the user to configure options such as SMTP server, email address, etc. These variables are then edited and can be committed to EEPROM as a more permanent storage solution. Whenever the system is booted, these values are read back out of the EEPROM and returned to their appropriate variables. This means you can reconfigure the device on the fly without having to edit the source code and re-upload.