Show me the Data: Year #01

Today marks exactly one year since we announced to the world the first product from our software lab – In what has been an incredibly exciting year for all of us, we evolved from a simple idea and a prototype to a truly massive community that’s making its mark on the world. Day after day, carefully listening to the invaluable feedback from our users, we have improved and moved forward, one line of code at the time.

We still have a long way to go, but we’ll pause for a second now and reflect on how far we’ve come. Then get right back to fixing bugs and developing new features.

It all started with a simple idea – building a better project hosting website. Though there are project and content websites galore out there, with new ones popping up every day, it all still felt too bland. We thought we could do better. After all, the medium is the message. The place where something lives sooner or later becomes a key part of its identity. So in order to prevent a dystopian future in which we’re all hosting our projects using the (fictional) Microsoft Maker Suite 2020 and simply don’t care, we started to work on providing an alternative.

We quickly realized that we had a much bigger mission on our hands. Sure, a better project hosting website would be nice, but what we felt we really needed was something [Brian Benchoff] has been talking about for quite some time – a “virtual hackerspace.” Not just a place where you can post your builds once you’re done (and hope someone sees it), but a living, breathing community: a place where you can start with an idea and get feedback as it develops, find collaborators, iterate, and ultimately end up building something way more amazing than you would have accomplished on your own.

This has been the aim of Hackaday for many years, but most of the collaboration was constrained to the limited space of post comment threads and biased by the editorial choice of articles and topics. With the introduction of, we open up a space for anyone to unleash their creativity and expertise, and together, change the way people build things.

The Data

Unfortunately, making bold claims about how we’re out there changing the world is pretty much a commodity these days. As most Web startups can testify, it doesn’t take more than a simple landing page with nice photography and some uplifting message for any arbitrary claims to appear credible.

So instead of trying to convince you with words about how awesome the last year had been, we’ll just stick with the data.

Continue reading “Show me the Data: Year #01″

Transferring Audio to an AVR at 12kbps

Back in the bad ‘ol days of computing, hard drives cost as much as a car, and floppy drives were incredibly expensive. The solution to this data storage problem offered by all the manufacturers was simple – an audio cassette. It’s an elegant solution to a storage problem, and something that has applications today.

[Jari] was working on a wearable message badge with an 8-pin ATTiny. To get data onto this device, he looked at his options and couldn’t find anything good; USB needs two pins and the firmware takes up 1/4 of the Flash, UART isn’t available on every computer, and Bluetooth and WiFi are expensive and complicated. This left using audio to send digital data as the simplest solution.

[Jari] went through a ton of Wikipedia articles to figure out the best modulation scheme for transferring data with audio. What he came up with is very simple: just a square wave that’s changed by turning a pin off and on. When the audio is three samples long without crossing zero, the data is 0. When it’s five samples long without crossing zero, the data is 1. There’s a 17-sample long sync pulse, and with a small circuit that acts as a zero crossing detector, [Jari] had a simple circuit that would transfer data easily and cheaply.

All the code for this extremely cheap modem is available on GitHub.

Paper ROM


This low-resolution memory device packs in just a few bytes of data. But it’s enough to spell out [Michael Kohn’s] name. He’s been experimenting with using paper discs for data storage.

His technique becomes immediately clear when you view the demo video below. The disc spins multiple times with the sensor arm reading one track. This gives the system the chance to measure the black band in order to get the data timing figured out. Once the outer track has been read the servo controlling the read head swings it to the next until all of the data is captured.

An Arduino is monitoring the QTR-1RC reflectance sensor which makes up the reading head. It uses the black band width in order to establish the size of an individual byte. Interestingly enough, the white parts of the disc do not contain data. Digital 0 is a black area 1/4 the width of the large black strip, and digital 1 is half as wide.

[Michael’s] set up the generator which makes the discs so that he can easily increase the resolution. The limiting factor is what the reading hardware is able to detect.

Continue reading “Paper ROM”

Receiving asynchronous data bursts

[Johan’s] been working on a chunk of code for about seven years and he thinks it’s ready to help you with your next project. He calls it D1 (The One) and it lets you receive asynchronous data without the need for a hardware USART. It’s capable of working with signals from an IR or RF remote, as well as tangentially related transmissions like RFID and magstripe readers.

It uses timer and port interrupts to sample the incoming data. Once it’s captured a transmission, the code sets a flag so that you can pull what it got into your own application. If you’re expecting to receive a protocol that sends packets several times in a row a verification module is also included which runs as a precondition of setting the received flag. The package is written in PIC assembly, but with all the information that [Johan] included in his post this shouldn’t be hard to port over to other chip architecture.

Library makes Arduino to Arduino serial communications dead simple

When [Bill Porter] works on a project, he says that he typically writes his own NMEA standard communications protocols to fit the job at hand. While it makes things easy to troubleshoot, he admits that his custom protocols are wasteful of both processor time and bandwidth. Binary communications on the other hand are more efficient, but a bit trickier to manage.

To make things easy for the common user, he wrote a library called EasyTransfer which abstracts packetized serial communications between two Arduino boards. The process is pretty simple – all one has to do is define a data structure on both Arduino boards so that they know what sort of data is coming over the wire, and EasyTransfer handles the rest. This allows users to worry less about communications protocols or transmission errors, and focus on their projects instead.

If you’re working on a project and searching for an easy way to get a pair of Arduinos talking, swing by his site and grab the library. It doesn’t get much easier.

Data scraping and visualization with Python


[Greg] built himself a small indicator dial with his laser cutter, and wanted to use it for visualizing server performance and load information. Before he started using it for server monitoring however, he thought he should test out his data parsing skills on a simpler data set.

Pachube has a wealth of information that can be freely used for whatever project you might have in mind, so [Greg] started looking around for something interesting to track. Eventually he located the data feed for a tanker ship and wired his dial to display the ship’s speed. He uses a Python script to interface with the Pachube API, which is fed to his Netduino board. A servo motor then changes the position of the dial based on the feed’s data. Since large tankers don’t change speed often, the experiment was a bit of a letdown. He searched for a bit and tuned into another feed that tracked wind speed in New Zealand, getting much better results.

His future plans include hooking it directly to his network and eventually using it to monitor his servers…at least once the novelty of tracking random data feeds wears off.

All of his code is available on GitHub, and he is happy to make a gauge for anyone who is interested, though he doesn’t currently list a price.

Data plotting for the visually impaired

This setup helps to represent data in a meaningful way to for visually impaired people. It uses a combination of physical objects to represent data clusters, and audio feedback when manipulating those objects. In the video after the break you’ll see that the cubes can orient themselves to represent data clusters. The table top acts as a graphing field, with a textured border as a reference for the user. A camera mounted below the clear surface allows image processing software to calculate the locations for the cubes. Each cube is motorized and contains an Arduino and ZigBee module, listening for positioning information from the computer that is doing the video processing. Once in position, the user can move the cubes, with modulated noise as a measure of how near they are to the heart of each data cluster.

The team plans to conduct further study on the usefulness of this interactive data object. We certainly see potential for hacking as this uses off-the-shelf components that are both inexpensive, and easy to find. It certainly reminds us of a multitouch display with added physical tokens.

Continue reading “Data plotting for the visually impaired”