Telegram Your Devices

[Erhan] has been playing around with the Telegram instant messaging service. Initially, he worked out how to turn on and off LEDs from his cell phone: he sent commands from the phone through the Telegram bot API, to a computer that’s connected over serial to an MSP430 board that actually controlled the LEDs.

But that’s a little bit complicated. Better to cut out the middleman (err…microcontroller) and implement the Telegram reception and LED blinking on a Raspberry Pi. For a project that’s already using a Pi, using the instant messaging service’s resources is a very simple way to interface to a cellphone.

The code for both the standalone RPi project and the MSP430-based microcontroller application are available at [Erhan]’s GitHub. You’re going to be installing Node.js for their telegram-bot-api and jumping through the usual OAuth hoops to get your bot registered with Telegram. But once you’ve done that all on the Raspberry Pi (or target computer of your choice) it’s all just a few lines of fairly high-level code.

We’ve only seen one other Telegram application on Hackaday.io and we’re wondering why. It looks pretty slick, and with the bot’s ability to send a custom “keyboard” to the phone along with the message, it could make cell-phone-based control interfaces a cinch. Anyone else using Telegram for bots?

$3 Smartphone From India

The release of the Ringing Bells Freedom 251 means exciting things for India, and if it goes well possibly the hacker community, too. This $3 device comes with all the things you’d expect from your standard smartphone. Considering any of the individual components alone (4″ IPS screen, cell modem, 1450 mAh battery, 1.3 GHz quad-core processor, 3.2 MP front and 0.3 MP rear cameras) could cost more than the whole thing put together, some skepticism is warranted.

There is speculation about how this is possible given Ringing Bells’ claims of no government subsidies. Considering the prototype presented to the media was from Chinese company Adcom, this may be a big scam in the making. The BBC does an examination of the many ways this seems sketchy, including the lack of appropriate government approvals (like the Indian equivalent of the FCC), and the experience of the company selling it (established in 2015).

Still, consider us curious and hopeful that we may have a new tool as useful and cheap as the ESP8266 has been. That said, it will be interesting to see if the company can maintain stock and limit hardware sales to their intended market or will a curious world electronics ecosystem make them a scarce stock item.

[via BBC]

Building One Thing In China

Conventional wisdom dictates that if you need to make a million of something, you go to China. China is all about manufacturing, and there aren’t many other places on the planet that have the industry and government-subsidized shipping that will bring your product from China to people around the world. Building a million things in China is one thing, but what about building one thing? How do you create a working prototype of your latest product, and how do you make that prototype look like something that isn’t held together with zip ties and hot glue? The folks at Hatch Manufacturing have a guide for doing just that, and lucky for us, it’s a process that’s easy to replicate in any well-equipped shop.

In this tutorial/case study/PR blitz, Hatch Manufacturing takes on constructing a one-off smartphone. The Huaqiangbei markets in Shenzhen are filled with vendors selling smartphones of all shapes and sizes. If you want a miniature iPhone running Android, that’s no problem. If you want a phone that looks like a 1969 Dodge Charger with the Stars and Bars on top, you can find it in China. But how are all these phones made, and how do you show off a prototype to factories begging for business?

The answer, as is always the case, comes from one-off manufacturing. Building, assembling and reworking PCBs is a well-trodden path whose process could fill several volumes, but for this post, Hatch Manufacturing decided to focus on the plastics that go into a smartphone or tablet.

Once the case or enclosure is designed with a few CAD tools, a block of plastic is run through a mill. After that, it’s a matter of painting and finishing the latest smartphone that will show up in the Chinese market. Putting a professional finish on a block of plastic is something that will look familiar to anyone who has ever assembled a miniature plastic model. There’s priming, airbrushing, sanding, more painting, sanding, wet sanding, and still more sanding. After that comes polishing the plastic part to a fine finish. It is extraordinarily labor intensive work even for a skilled hand with the right equipment.

Once the plastics are done, the PCB, display, battery, and everything else comes together in a completely custom one-off prototype. It’s very similar to how this would be done in any small shop with a benchtop mill and a dozen grades of wet/dry sandpaper. It’s also something anyone can do, provided they have enough practice and patience.

Hack Anything into a Phone

If you’ve spent much time tinkering with electronics, you’ve probably heard of [Seeedstudio] from their development boards, tools, and their PCB fabrication service. Their latest Kickstarter venture is the RePhone, an open source and modular cell phone that will allow hackers to put together a phone by blending GSM modules, batteries, screens, and other stock units, including an Arduino-based processing core, GPS, NFC, and other building blocks.

The funding campaign has already exceeded its goal and delivery is scheduled for next year with a basic kit weighing in at a projected $59, according to [Seeed]. Presumably, the core phone module will have regulatory acceptance, but the other ancillary modules won’t require as rigorous testing and certification.

What would you do with an inexpensive, embeddable cell phone? The modules are tiny, so you could implant them in lots of places. Some of [Seeed’s] more interesting ideas include building a phone into a walking stick, a dog collar, or a kite (although we were thinking quadcopters).

Of course, we’ve seen GSM and cell phone shields for Arduino before. Difficult to imagine sticking those in a dog collar, though, unless you have a fairly large dog. If you are a fan of 1960’s TV, it is easy to imagine a better shoe phone or a working Star Trek communicator.

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Hipster Rotary Dial Adds Bluetooth 4.0

We have seen a few projects that convert a rotary dial for use with modern technology, but this one adds a new twist to the mix: it uses Bluetooth 4.0. [Silent] used a Nordic Semiconductor NRF51 DK development board for the project, which was built from the Nordic SDK source code for creating an HID (Human Interface Device). After what he claims was an hour or so of hacking, he was able to get this Arduino-compatible SoC dev board to detect the pulses from the rotary dial, then pass the appropriate number to a connected device as a key press. This means that his design should work with any device that has Bluetooth 4.0 support. It is powered from a big dry cell because, to quote [Silent], “small coin batteries are not hipster enough”.

It’s a simple project, and we have seen rotary cell phones before, but this still is ripe for expansion. You could either use a smaller, cheaper version of the Nordic chip at the center of this hack, as most of the dev board features aren’t used. Or you could do some more hacking, add support for the Bluetooth HSP headset profile, then wire it up to a vintage phone for the most hipster Bluetooth headset ever. We can’t wait until we see a hipster sitting in a coffee shop banging away on a typewriter and answering this. Get to it, people!

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Where Are They Now: Terrible Kickstarters

Kickstarter started out as a platform for group buys, low-volume manufacturing, and a place to fund projects that would otherwise go unfinished. It would be naive of anyone to think this would last forever, and since these humble beginnings, we’re well into Peak Kickstarter. Now, Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and every other crowdfunding platform is just another mouthpiece for product launches, and just another strategy for anyone who needs or wants money, but has never heard of a business loan.

Of course there will be some shady businesses trying to cash in on the Kickstarter craze, and over the last few years we’ve done our best to point out the bad ones. Finding every terrible Kickstarter is several full-time jobs, but we’ve done our best to weed out these shining examples of the worst. Following up on these failed projects is something we have been neglecting, but no longer.

Below are some of the most outrageous Kickstarters and crowdfunding campaigns we’ve run across, and the current status of these failed entrepreneurial endeavors.

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New Smartphone Case Brings Back Old Smartphone Features

We all remember the good ol’ days when smartphones were just getting started. Realizing that we could take a fully functional computer and shove it into something the size of a phone was pretty revolutionary. Some of the early phones like the original Motorola Droid had some features that just aren’t very common today, and [liviu] set out to fix this situation by adding a sliding QWERTY keyboard to his modern smartphone.

The build started with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and two cases: one for the phone and one for the keyboard. [liviu] found a small phone-sized bluetooth keyboard and removed all of the unnecessary bits before shoehorning it into the case. He then built the sliding mechanism from parts out of a PC power supply and two old flip phones and then was able to piece the two halves together. Using the two flip phone hinges gave this case the additional feature of being able to flip up after sliding out. The result is a modern smartphone with a fantastic and classic smartphone twist that looks very useful.

We’ve featured projects that give new life to old smartphones, but this might be the first to give old life to a new smartphone. We wouldn’t mind seeing more flagship phones that come with these features, but [liviu] has done a great job of making up for the manufacturers’ shortcomings!

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