Fixing motorized window shutter battery problems


Living in a brushfire-prone area, [Erich] had a set of roller shutters installed to protect his home. Mains power can be spotty in emergencies, so the shutters are powered by NiMH batteries which are housed inside the shutters’ remote control units. After encountering a good handful of dead batteries, he decided it was time to search around for a better means of powering the shutters rather than pay another $80 AUD for batteries that he knew would fail in short order.

After disassembling the shutters and the remotes, he found a litany of problems. The remotes are ATMega-based, so he assumed the programming was robust, but he found that the charging algorithm was quite poorly implemented. The batteries were allowed to get extremely hot while charging, a result of the fact that charging was done for a set period of time rather than monitoring battery voltage. Additionally, the shutter motors required a 4 amp instantaneous current when activated, something that seemed to contribute to the quick draining of the 1500 mAH battery packs.

To remedy his issues, he upgraded to a much larger sealed lead acid battery pack, which he mounted in a wall cavity. The remotes were tweaked to add a modular power plug, enabling him to easily connect and disconnect the remotes as needed. Not only did he save a ton of money on constantly replacing batteries, he’s got a nice 12v power supply in the wall that he can tap into at will.

Trick mouse keeps the screen saver at bay


[Jerry] wrote in to share a little device he built to solve a problem he was having at work. You see, every computer in his office has a policy-enforced idle timeout, requiring the user to enter a password in order to regain access to their desktop.

This is a huge pain, since he sporadically uses an old computer for the sole purpose of monitoring some applications running in his data center. With the computer timing out every 10 minutes, he is constantly required to enter his password in order to take a 10 second glance at the screen to ensure everything is OK.

Rather than circumvent the screen saver using a local security policy or by implementing a microcontroller-based signal generator, he opted to create a mechanical solution instead. His computer’s optical mouse resides inside a wooden frame, and is periodically swept from side to side by an ATmega-controlled servo, keeping the screensaver permanently at bay.

Call it a hack, call it a kludge, call it what you will. All we know is that while we might have done it a little differently, it works just fine for [Jerry], and it generates all sorts of interesting conversation to boot.

Stick around for a quick video demonstration of his mouse wiggler box.

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Cheap and reliable portable face recognition system


For their senior ECE 4760 project, engineering students [Brian Harding and Cat Jubinski] put together a pretty impressive portable face recognition system called FaceAccess. The system relies on the eigenface method to help distinguish one user from another, a process that the pair carried out using MatLab.

They say that the system only needs to be hooked up to a computer once, during the training period. It is during this period that faces are scanned and processed in MatLab to create the eigenface set, which is then uploaded to the scanner.

Once programmed, the scanner operates independently of the computer, powered by its own ATmega644 micro controller. Users enroll their face by pressing one button on the system, storing their identity as a combination of eigenfaces in the onboard flash chip. Once an individual has been enrolled, a second button can be pressed to gain access to whatever resources the face recognition system is protecting.

The students say that their system is accurate 88% of the time, with zero false positives – that’s pretty impressive considering the system’s portability and cost.

Stick around to see a quick demo video of their FaceAccess system in action.

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Cheap open-source pace clock keeps your practice on schedule


Pace clocks are used in a variety of sports, from swimming to track. The systems are typically expensive however, often beyond the reach of smaller organizations and underfunded programs. For their electrical and computer engineering final project, Cornell students [Paul Swirhun and Shao-Yu Liang] set out to build a much cheaper alternative to commercial pace clocks, with a far simpler wireless user interface.

Their clock uses an ATmega32a to handle all of the processing which is paired with a RN-42 Bluetooth module for communicating with Android smartphones. Their seven-segment displays are built using custom PCBs that they designed and fabricated for the project which are controlled by TLC5940NT LED drivers. The Android software allows users to connect to the pace clock remotely, creating any sort of multi-layered swimming or running routines.

When the project was completed, the pair tallied their total hardware cost to be under $250 apiece at low production volumes. Even when taking assembly time into account, their solution is several magnitudes cheaper than similar commercial systems.

Stick around if you are interested in seeing a demo video of their final product in action.

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Modular security system is portable too


Hackaday reader [Oneironaut] wrote in to share a modular, portable security system he built for himself.

He likes visiting the Caribbean, but his favorite vacation spot is apparently rife with cat burglars. He enjoys sleeping with the windows open and wanted to find a way to scare off ne’er do wells. At home, there are a few different buildings on the property he owns, and he was looking to keep curious trespassers away.

The alarm system was built using a matrix keypad that interfaces with an ATMega88 micro controller. The micro controller handles all the logic for the system, triggering an attached “pocket alarm” when ever the sensor is tripped. Like most household alarms, it is armed and disarmed via the keypad, giving the user 60 seconds to enter the disarm code if the alarm has been mistakenly tripped. A wide array of trigger methods can be used, from mercury switches to motion detectors, since his alarm uses a simple plug interface that accepts any two-wire sensor.

Now, no one is claiming that this is high security by any means – the alarm addresses a couple of specific scenarios that apply to [Oneironaut], which may also be applicable to others out there. At the end of the day, the alarm is more meant to scare an intruder into fleeing than anything else, and in that respect, it works perfectly.

Continue reading to see a quick video demonstration of his alarm system in action.

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Simple AVR based GPS tracker

The latest project from is a simple AVR based GPS tracker. As usual, the instructions here are quite in-depth including schematics and step by step procedures all the way down to modifying cables when necessary. What we found interesting is that the GPS module he’s using is so simple. It only requires 3 wires, one for power, one for serial communication, and one for a heartbeat.

For the microprocessor, he’s using an ATMega 324, which is a bit of processing overkill but he needed the SRAM for the GPS point storage. You could obviously expand to external storage but the goal here was to keep it extremely simple. Actually, there just isn’t a whole lot here other than the microprocessor, the GPS module, and a level converter. After wrapping up the circuit he goes on to explain how to get the data into Google Earth for display. After a few trips around the block you can see the results are quite nice.

Laser camera sees around corners

After reading over the proceedings of the 2005 SIGGRAPH, [Dan] realized he could reproduce one of the projects with $50 worth of equipment and some extreme cleverness.

[Dan]‘s dual scanning laser camera operates by scanning a laser across an object. The light reflected from the object illuminates a flat surface, and this light is measured by a photocell. After measuring the resistance of the photocell, an image can be reconstructed from the light reflected off the flat surface. The result is quite ingenious, and we’re very grateful [Dan] gave us a great walkthrough with the code and theory of operation.

The project was covered in this Slashdot story a from a few years ago, and we’re surprise no one has bothered to cobble this project together. It’s a very simple build – two servos to control the x and y axes of the laser scanner, a photocell, and an ATMega board. Dan says the microcontroller isn’t even necessary, and this ‘remote imaging’ could be done with an ADC hooked up to a parallel port.

[Dan] was kind enough to to give us a video of his contraption in action. A very nice build from a very accomplished guy.