OK Google, Open Sesame

There are a myriad of modern ways to lock and unlock doors. Keypads, Fingerprint scanners, smart card readers, to name just a few. Quite often, adding any of these methods to an old door may require replacing the existing locking mechanism. Donning his Bollé sunglasses allowed [Dheera] to come up with a slightly novel idea to unlock doors without having to change his door latch. Using simple, off the shelf hardware, a Smartwatch, some code crunching and a Google Now app, he was able to yell “OK Google, Open Sesame” at his Android Wear smartwatch to get his apartment  door to open up.

The hardware, in his own words, is trivial. An Arduino, an HC-05 bluetooth module and a servo. The servo is attached to his door latch using simple hardware that looks sourced from the closest hardware store. The code is split in to two parts. The HC-05 listens for a trigger signal, and informs the Arduino over serial. The Arduino in turn activates the servo to open the door. The other part is the Google Now app. Do note that the code, as he clearly points out, is “barebones”. If you really want to implement this technique, it would be wise to add in authentication to prevent all and sundry from opening up your apartment door and stealing your precious funky Sunglasses. Watch a video of how he put it all together after the break. And if you’re interested, here are a few other door lock hacks we’ve featured in the past.

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Is The Arduino Yun Open Hardware?

According to [Squonk42], nope. And we think he’s probably right.

The Yun is an Arduino Leonardo with an Atheros AR9331 WiFi SoC built in. It’s a great idea, pairing the Arduino with a tiny WiFi router that’s capable of running OpenWRT.  But how is this no longer Open Source Hardware? Try getting an editable board layout. You can’t.

Or at least [Squonk42] couldn’t. In Sept. 2013, [Squonk42] posted up on the Arduino forums requesting the schematics and editable design files for the Arduino Yun, and he still hasn’t received them or even a response.

Now this dude’s no slouch. He’s responsible for the most complete reverse-engineering of the TP-Link TL-WR703N pocket router, which is, not coincidentally, an Atheros AR9331-based reference design. And this is where the Arduini ran into trouble, [Squonk42] contends.

[Squonk42]’s hypothesis is that Arduino must have done what any “sane” engineer would do in this case when presented with a super-complex piece of hardware and a potentially tricky radio layout: just use the reference design (Atheros AP-121). That’s what everyone else in the industry did. And that’s smart, only the rest of the consumer electronics industry isn’t claiming to be Open Source Hardware while the reference design is protected by an NDA.

So it looks like Arduino’s hands are tied. They, or their partner Dog Hunter, either signed the NDA or downloaded the PDF of the reference design that’s floating around on the Interwebs. Either way, it’s going to be tough to publish the design files under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license.

Is this a change of strategy for the Arduino folks or did they just make a mistake? We won’t know until they respond, and that answer’s a year and a half in coming. Let’s see what we can do about that. And who knows, maybe Arduino can lean on Atheros to open up their reference design? It’s already an open secret at best.

But before you go out lighting up your righteous Open Source Hardware pitchforks and sharpening up your torches, read through [Squonk42]’s case and then dig through the primary sources that he’s linked to make up your own mind. You’ll make your case more eloquently if you’re making it yourself.

Good luck, [Squonk42]! We hope you at least get your answer. Even if you already know it.

Making a Homemade Stephen Hawking

It isn’t easy communicating when you have any form of speech impairment. In such cases, a Speech-generating device (SGD) becomes essential to help you talk to the world. When coupled with other ailments that limit body movement, the problem becomes worse. How do you type on a keyboard when you can’t move your hands, and how do you talk when your voice box doesn’t work. Well known Scientist Stephen Hawking has been battling this since 1985. Back then, it took a lot of hardware to build a text entry interface and a text to speech device allowing him to communicate.

But [Marquis de Geek] did a quick hack using just a few parts to make a Voice Box that sounds like Stephen Hawking. Using an arcade push button to act as a single button keyboard, an Arduino, a 74HC595 shift register, a 2-line LCD, and the SP0256 hooked to an audio amplifier / speaker, he built the stand-alone speech synthesizer which sounds just like the voice box that  Stephen Hawking uses. Although Dr. Hawking’s speech hardware is quite complex, [Marquis de Geek]’s hack shows that it’s possible to have similar results using off the shelf parts for a low cost solution.

There aren’t a lot of those SP0256-AL2 chips around. We found just a couple of retailers with small stock levels, so if you want to make one of these voice boxes, better grab those chips while they last. The character entry is not quick, requiring several button presses to get to the character you want to select. But it makes things easier for someone who cannot move their hands or use all fingers. A lot of kids grew up using Speak and Spell, but the hardware inside that box wasn’t the easiest to hack into. For a demo of [Marquis de Geek]’s homemade Hawking voice box, check the video below.

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Use the Force, Luke…to Turn Off Your TV

Have you ever wanted to turn on or off your TV just by thinking about it? We love this hack mainly because it uses an old Star Wars Force Trainer game. You can still buy them for about $40-$80 USD online. This cool little toy was introduced in 2009 and uses a headset with electrodes, and an electroencephalography (EEG) chip. It transmits the EEG data to control a fan that blows air into a tube to “levitate” a ball, all the while being coached on by the voice of Yoda. (Geesh! Kids these days have the best toys!)

[Tinkernut] started by cracking open the headset, where he found the EEG chip made by a company called NeuroSky (talk about a frightening sounding company name). The PCB designer was kind enough to label the Tx/Rx pins on the board, so hooking it up to an Arduino was a snap. After scavenging an IR LED and receiver from an old VCR, the hardware was just about done. After a bit of coding, you can now control your TV by using the force! (Ok, by ‘force’ I mean brainwaves.)  Video after the break.

Note: [Tinkernut’s] blog page should have more information available soon. In the meantime if you can find his Arduino Brain Library on github.

This isn’t the first EEG to TV interface we’ve featured. Way back in 2010 we featured a project that used an Emotiv EPOC EEG headset to turn on and off a TV. But at $400 for the headset, it was a little too expensive for the average Jedi.

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Cheap USB Control for your Telescope

There’s many complex systems for automatically pointing a telescope at an object in the sky, but most of them are too expensive for the amateur astronomer. [Kevin]’s Arduino ST4 interface lets you connect your PC to a reasonably priced motorized telescope mount, without ripping it apart.

The ST4 port is a very basic interface. There’s one pin per direction that the mount can move, and a common pin. This port can be added to just about any motorized mount with some modification to the controller. To connect to an Arduino, a TLP521-4 quad optoisolator is used. This keeps the Arduino and PC fully isolated from the motor circuits. but lets the Arduino take control of the mount.

With the hardware in place, [Kevin] cranked out some software which is available on Google Code. A simple Arduino sketch provides the USB interface, and a custom driver allows the ASCOM Platform to control the mount. Since many astronomy software tools support ASCOM, this allows the mount to be controlled by existing software.

With the interface in place, the mount can be used to find objects (GOTO) and automatically follow them with high accuracy (autoguiding). You can watch the telescope move on its own after the break.

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Blackboard digitization for under $40

Digital White/Black Boards or “Smart Boards” are very useful in modern classrooms, but their high cost often makes it difficult to convince administrators from loosening their purse strings. Cooper Union’s 2nd annual HackCooper event in New York wanted students to design and build hardware and software projects that both solve real problems and spark the imagination. At the 24 hour hackathon, the team of [harrison], [david] and [caleb] decided to put together a low-cost and simple solution to digitizing classroom black board content.

A chalk-holder is attached to two strings, each connected over a pulley to a weight. The weights slide inside PVC pipes at the two sides of the black board. Ultrasonic sensors at the bottom of each tube measure the distance to the weights. The weights sit in static equilibrium, so they serve the purpose of keeping the string taut without negatively interfering with the writer.

With a couple of calibration points to measure the extent of displacement of each weight, board width can be determined, making it easy to adapt to different sizes of boards. Once calibrated, the system can determine position of the chalk over the board based on some trigonometrical calculations. Since they had just 24 hours to hack the system together, they had to use a hand operated radio with a couple of buttons to provide user control. Pressing the “Write” button starts transmitting chalk movements to the digital screen. A second button on the radio remote serves to “Erase” the digital screen. After receiving the chalk position data, they had to do a fair amount of processing to eliminate noise and smooth out the writing on the digital screen.

A server allows the whole class to receive the chalk board data in real time. After each “Erase” command, the chalk board state is saved and logged on the server, thus allowing previous content to be viewed or downloaded. If only text is written, optical character recognition can be used to further digitize the content.

What makes the project really useful is the low cost. The sensors cost a dollar. The other parts – PVC pipe, weights/pulleys, Arduino and the Radio key fob – were all bought for under 40 dollars. For some additional cost (and maybe more time in their case) they could have automated the detection of when the chalk was actually doing the writing. The team have made their code available on Github. For a Chalk board at the other end of the cost spectrum, check this one out. Video below.

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Automatic Garage Door Opener Works for Your Cat

Using an Arduino or Raspberry Pi to perform a task in the real world is certainly a project we’ve seen here before, and certainly most of these projects help to make up the nebulous “Internet of Things” that’s all the rage these days. Once in a while though, a project comes along that really catches our eye, as is the case with [Jamie’s] meticulously documented automatic garage door opener.

This garage door opener uses an ATMega328 to connect the internet to the garage door. A reed switch is installed which lets the device sense the position of the door, which is relayed back to the internet. [Jamie] wrote an Android app that can open and close the door and give the user the information on the door’s status. One really interesting feature is the ability to “crack” the garage door. This is done by triggering the garage door opener twice with a delay in between. From the video after the break we’d say this is how [Jamie’s] cat gets in and out.

We love seeing projects that are extremely well documented so that anyone who wants to make one can easily figure out how. Internet-connected garage door openers have been featured in other unique ways before too, but we’ve also seen ways to automatically open blinds or chicken coops!