How to Build Your Own Google AIY without the Kit

Google’s voice assistant has been around for a while now and when Amazon released its Alexa API and ported the PaaS Cloud code to the Raspberry Pi 2 it was just a matter of time before everyone else jumped on the fast train to maker kingdom. Google just did it in style.

Few know that the Google Assistant API for the Raspberry Pi 3 has been out there for some time now but when they decided to give away a free kit with the May 2017 issues of MagPi magazine, they made an impression on everyone. Unfortunately the world has more makers and hackers and the number of copies of the magazine are limited.

In this writeup, I layout the DIY version of the AIY kit for everyone else who wants to talk to a cardboard box. I take a closer look at the free kit, take it apart, put it together and replace it with DIY magic. To make things more convenient, I also designed an enclosure that you can 3D print to complete the kit. Lets get started.

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Practical Enclosure Design, Optimized for 3D Printing

[3D Hubs] have shared a handy guide on designing practical and 3D printing-friendly enclosures. The guide walks through the design of a two shell, two button remote control enclosure. It allows for a PCB mounted inside, exposes a USB port, and is optimized for 3D printing without painting itself into a corner in the process. [3D Hubs] uses Fusion 360 (free to hobbyists and startups) in their examples, but the design principles are easily implemented with any tool.

One of the tips is to design parts with wall thicknesses that are a multiple of the printer’s nozzle diameter. For example, a 2.4 mm wall thickness may sound a bit arbitrary at first, but it divides easily by the typical FDM nozzle diameter of 0.4 mm which makes slicing results more consistent and reliable. Most of us have at some point encountered a model where the slicer can’t quite decide how to handle a thin feature, delivering either a void between perimeters or an awkward attempt at infill, and this practice helps reduce that. Another tip is to minimize the number of sharp edges in the design, because rounded corners print more efficiently and with smoother motions from the print head.

The road to enclosures has many paths, including enclosures made from FR4 (aka PCB material) all the way down to scrap wood with toner transfer labeling, and certainly desktop 3D printing has been a boon to anyone who’s had to joylessly drill and saw away at a featureless plastic box.

Multipurpose ESP8266 keychain

One of the best feature of the ESP8266 is its ability to self-host a web server, allowing for fairly complicated user interactions. The dEEbugger by [S-March] is a nifty little ESP8266 based device with a plethora of features in a small package.

The USB-powered device has a web user interface that enables it to be used as a low-bandwidth oscilloscope, I2C terminal, or UART terminal. As a scope, you may connect to it via your tablet and then use it as a remote voltage monitor. There is a peak detection feature which is a nice touch and gives the entire project a premium feel.

The serial terminal on an ESP8266 is not something new yet it is helpful in disconnecting the console window from the bench. The I2C terminal is where the device really shines as it can scan for connected devices on the connected bus. This Bus-Pirate like feature is useful for beginners as the software can scan the registers addresses of the devices as well.

[S-March] has made the schematic in PDF format as well as the entire code for the project available on GitHub so go right ahead and make it your own. We have had an ESP8266 based VT Terminal device in the past and merging the two would make for an excellent maker tool.

Thanks for the tip [René Arts]

Pedometer for Calorie Conscious Hamster Owners

The Arduino has inspired many a creative projects that can be beneficial to humanity. The Arduino Hamster Wheel Pedometer by [John Mueller] on the other hand is a creation that is meant for the cute furry rodent pets. When [John Mueller]’s daughter wanted to keep track of her hamster’s night-time strolls, her maker-dad saw it as an opportunity to get her involved in technology. The project consists of a hamster-wheel with a magnet that triggers a reed switch on completing a revolution. The entire assembly is custom-made and [John Mueller] does an excellent job documenting the build with a lot of clear images.

The wheel is affixed to a shaft with a ball bearing at one end and the entire thing is mounted on the side of the cage so that it can be removed with ease for maintenance. The reed switch is embedded in the wooden mounting block such that the connecting cables pass from inside the assembly. This prevents the hamster from coming in contact with the cabling or damaging it in any way. An LCD and the Arduino Uno are placed outside the cage and are used to display the revolutions of the wheel as well as the equivalent miles travelled.

The code for the Arduino is also supplied for anyone who wants to replicate the project and the video below shows the working of the project. The project could also be extended to count calories burned as well as running speed. This project is a prime example of how technology can be used to assist and is similar to the IoT Hamster Wheels that tweets every movement of the Hamster Life.

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Quick and Dirty Shock Gloves

[JLaservideo] has created some cool high-voltage gloves and uploaded a video on YouTube showing you how to get your mitts on a pair of your own. Using some very simple parts, he manages to make some decent sparks.

At the heart of this project is one of those new-fangled arc lighters which normally use some type of voltage multiplier circuit to function. The rest of the build is just wire, glue, aluminum foil, a switch, and paintball gloves.

Using the tip of each finger as an electrode, anything he touches will complete the circuit, creating high-voltage arcs. The demo of burning through paper is pretty neat, although we’ll admit we’re at a loss to think of what other tricks you could pull off with electrified fingertips. Anyone?

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Make Munich was Awesome

It was a good weekend to be geeky in Bavaria. In addition to our own Hackaday Prize Bring-a-Hack party, there was the reason that we scheduled it in the first place, Munich’s independent DIY expo, Make Munich.

If you’re a loyal Hackaday reader, many of the projects would seem uncannily familiar. I walked in and was greeted by some beautiful word clocks in both German and English, for instance. Still, seeing the Open Theremin being sold with an “as seen on Hackaday” sticker made us smile. And then we had a great conversation about [Urs Gaudenz]’s other project: DIY biological apparatus, also seen on Hackaday.

There were robots galore. Someone (from Gmünd?) was driving around a graffiti-bot and spraying the floor with water instead of paint or chalk to very nice effect. The full evolution of the Zoobotics robot family was on display. Even the Calliope (a German version of the micro:bit) booth had this cute Bluetooth vibrobot. Join me after the break as I dive into all of the great stuff on display over the weekend.

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DIY Lap Counters for Drone Racing

Drone racing is a very exciting sport, in which there is a lot of room for hackers and makers to add that special sauce into the mix. Usually the aerial finish line requires special race-timing hardware to do the lap counting, and there are timing gate transponders available for around $40. In his project CoreIR and CoreIR-Uplink, [Michael Rickert] decided to reverse engineer the IR Protocol that goes into these beacons and made a homebrew version that mimics the original. The transponders send a 7-digit number out repeatedly to a receiver at the finish line as the UAV passes by and that helps track how fast drone pilots flew around a race track. The hack involves flipping an IR LED ON and OFF with the correct timing, and [Michael Rickert] confesses that it was not as easy as he had imagined.

Using a logic analyser he was able to capture the modulated 38Khz carrier signal and extract the timing from the original beacon, but it took a number of iterations to get the code just right. The IRRemote library has a ‘sendRaw’ function which is quite helpful in these situations and was employed for the task. He experimented with a number of Arduino boards to power the project, before finally going with the Arduino Pro Mini. He has shared the code on github, along with photos of the finished hack which replaces the original circuit. The final sketches include functions to generate the 7-digit code to uniquely identify the quadcopter, which completes the hack in itself.

If that was not enough, he’s gone a step further by coding and sharing a desktop client as well, which turns this hack into a full-fledged project and should prove quite useful for drone racers on a budget. The app is written in NodeJS and packaged using the electron framework, a choice that makes for a very simple way to create cross-platform desktop applications.

A build tutorial is available for you to get started, and if drone racing seems a bit tame, check out Drone Wars for a little more carnage.