Hackaday Prize Entry: Electronics Anywhere, Any Time

There has always been a need for electronic graph paper – a digital device that records ones and zeros, writes bits, and keeps track of analog voltages. Many moons ago, this sort of device was graph paper, wrapped around a drum, slowly spinning around once per day. With the advent of cheap, powerful microcontrollers and SD cards these devices have become even more capable.

For their entry to the Hackaday Prize, [Kuldeep] and [Sandeep] have built Box0. It’s a lab in a bag, an open source data acquisition unit, and a USB device that toggles pins, all in one simple device.

The hardware for this devices consists of an STM32F0 microcontroller, a USB port, and enough pins to offer up a few SPIs, an I2C bus, eight channels of digital output, two PWM channels, a UART, analog in, and analog out.

Of course, hardware is the easy part. If you want to do something useful with a device like this, you need some software. Here is where the project really shines. They have libraries for Python, Julia, C, Java, and JavaScript. That’s enough to make anyone happy, and makes this Box0 exceptionally capable. For a demonstration, they’ve built a curve tracer for transistors and red, green, and blue LEDs with the Box0. It works, and it looks like this actually is an exceptionally useful device.

Data Logging; Everyone’s Doing It, Why Aren’t You?

Between Tesla Motors’ automobiles and SpaceX’s rockets, Elon Musk’s engineers just have to be getting something right. In part, SpaceX’s success in landing their first stage rockets is due to analysis of telemetry data. You can see some of the data from their launch vehicles on the live videos and there is surely a lot more not shown.

An article in MIT Technology Review provides similar insights in how Tesla came from behind in autonomous vehicle operation by analyzing telemetry from their cars. Since 2014 their Model S received an increasing number of sensors that all report their data over the vehicle’s always-on cellular channel. Sterling Anderson of Tesla reported they get a million miles of data every 10 hours.

Image Credit Tesla
Image Credit Tesla

The same approach can help us to improve our systems but many believe creating a log of key data is costly in time and resources. If your system is perfect (HA HA!) that would be a valid assessment. All too often such data becomes priceless if analysis explains why your drone or robot wanted to go left into a building instead of right into the open field.

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BBQ Thermometers Get Serious

You can write with a fifty cent disposable pen. Or you can write with a $350 Montblanc. The words are the same, but many people will tell you there is something different about the Montblanc. Maybe that’s how [armin] feels about meat thermometers. His version uses a Raspberry Pi and has a lengthy feature list:

  • 8 Channel data logging
  • Plotting
  • Webcam (USB or Raspicam)
  • Alarms via a local beeper, Web, WhatsApp, or e-mail
  • Temperature and fan control using a PID
  • LCD display

You can even use a Pi Zero for a light version. There’s plenty of information on Hackaday.io, although the full details are only in German for the moment. As you can see in the video below, this isn’t your dollar store meat thermometer.

Even though a disposable pen does the same job as a Montblanc, most of us would rather have a Montblanc (although Hackday would have to hand out some pretty steep raises before we start using the Meisterstück Solitaire Blue Hour Skeleton 149).

We might have done more with an ESP8266 and then done more work on the client, but we have to admit, this is one feature-packed thermometer. We’ve seen simpler ones that use Bluetooth before, along with some hacks of commercial units.

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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 shield 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.

Fixing A Multimeter’s Serial Interface

[Shane] bought a multimeter with the idea of using its serial output as a source for data logging. A multimeter with a serial port is a blessing, but it’s still RS-232 with bipolar voltage levels. Some modifications to the meter were required to get it working with a microcontroller, and a few bits of Python needed to be written, but [Shane] is getting useful data out of his meter.

The meter in question is a Tenma 72-7735, a lower end model that still somehow has an opto-isolated serial output. Converting the bipolar logic to TTL logic was as easy as desoldering the photodiode from the circuit and tapping the serial data out from that.

With normal logic levels, the only thing left to do was to figure out how to read the data the meter was sending. It’s a poorly documented system, but [Shane] was able to find some documentation for this meter. Having a meter output something sane, like the freaking numbers displayed on the meter would be far too simple for the designers of this tool. Instead, the serial port outputs the segments of the LCD displayed. It’s all described in a hard to read table, but [Shane] was able to whip up a little bit of Python to parse the serial stream.

It’s only a work in progress – [Shane] plans to do data logging with a microcontroller some time in the future, but at least now he has a complete understanding on how this meter works. He can read the data straight off the screen, and all the code to have a tiny micro parse this data.

Pokewithastick, an Arduino programmable web-logger/server


[Stewart] tipped us about his very nice project: pokewithastick. It is an Arduino compatible board (hardware, not footprint) based on the ATMEGA1284P which can be programmed to collect and post data to internet logging sites such as Thingspeak or Xively.

As you can see in the picture above, it has a small 50x37mm footprint (roughly 2″x1.5″). The pokewithastick is composed of an Wiz820 Ethernet module, a micro-SD card slot, 2 serial ports, one battery backed Real Time Clock (RTC), one radio connector (for the usual nRF24L01 2.4GHz radio), one power & user LED and finally a reset button. There are two power rails on the board which can be split (5v + 3.3V) or combined (3.3v only) which may allow you to connect Arduino shields to it. You can program the board using the standard 6-pin header or via a serial programmer if an appropriate (Arduino) bootloader is installed.

The project is open hardware, has been designed using Kicad and all the files can be downloaded as a zip file.

Stacking GPS, GSM, and an SD card into an Arduino shield

A few years ago, [Phang Moh] and his compatriots were asked by a client if they could make a vehicle tracking device for oil tankers all around Indonesia. The request of putting thousands of trackers on tanks of explosives was a little beyond [Phang Moh]’s capability, but he did start tinkering around with GPS and GSM on an Arduino.

Now that tinkering has finally come to fruition with [Phang]’s TraLog shield, a single Arduino shield that combines GPS tracking with a GSM and GPRS transceiver. There’s also an SD card thrown in for good measure, making this one of the best tracking and data logging shields for the Arduino.

The shield can be configured to send GPS and sensor data from devices attached to an I2C bus to remote servers, or a really cool COSM server. [Phang] is selling his TraLog for $150, a fairly good deal if you consider what this thing can do.

Seems like the perfect piece of kit for just about any tracking project, whether you want to know the location of thousands of oil tankers or just a single high altitude balloon.

Tip ‘o the hat to [Brett] for finding this one.