Hackaday Prize Entry: Explore M3 ARM Cortex M3 Development Board

Even a cursory glance through a site such as this one will show you how many microcontroller boards there are on the market these days. It seems that every possible market segment has been covered, and then some, so why on earth would anyone want to bring another product into this crowded environment?

This is a question you might wish to ask of the team behind Explore M3, a new ARM Cortex M3 development board. It’s based around an LPC1768 ARM Cortex M3 with 64k of RAM and 512k of Flash running at 100MHz, and with the usual huge array of GPIOs and built-in peripherals.

The board’s designers originally aimed for it to be able to be used either as a bare-metal ARM or with the Arduino and Mbed tools. In the event the response to their enquiries with Mbed led them to abandon that support. They point to their comprehensive set of tutorials as what sets their board apart from its competition, and in turn they deny trying to produce merely another Arduino or Mbed. Their chosen physical format is a compact dual-in-line board for easy breadboarding, not unlike the Arduino Micro or the Teensy.

If you read the logs for the project, you’ll find a couple of videos explaining the project and taking you through a tutorial. They are however a little long to embed in a Hackaday piece, so we’ll leave you to head on over if you are interested.

We’ve covered a lot of microcontroller dev boards here in our time. If you want to see how far we’ve come over the years, take a look at our round up, and its second part, from back in 2011.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Bypassing TV broadcasting restrictions

It’s a common problem faced by TV viewers, the programming they want to watch is being broadcast, but not to their location. TV content has traditionally been licensed for transmission by geography, and this has sometimes put viewers at odds with broadcasters.

The viewing public have not always taken this restriction of their programming choice lying down, and have adopted a variety of inventive solutions with varying degrees of legality and success. Many years ago you might have seen extreme-length UHF antennas to catch faraway transmitters, more recently these efforts have been in the digital domain. It was said in the 1990s that Sky’s Videocrypt satellite TV smart cards were cracked because German Star Trek Next Generation fans were unable to buy subscriptions for non-UK addresses, for example. You can argue in the comments over whether [Patrick Stewart] et al being indirectly responsible for a decryption coup is an urban legend, but it is undeniable that serial smart card emulators and dodgy DOS software for Sky decryption were sold all over Europe at the time.

Modern-day efforts to break the geographic wall on TV broadcasting have turned to the Internet. Services such as the ill-fated Aereo and the Slingbox set-top streaming products have taken the TV broadcast in a particular area and transported it to other locations for viewing online. But they are not the only Internet self-streaming option, if the idea of paying a subscription or tying yourself to a commercial service does not appeal then you can build an off-air streamer for yourself.

[Solenoid]’s project is an off-air streamer using a Raspberry Pi 3 with a USB DVB-T tuner. It uses Tvheadend to power the streaming, and OpenVPN to provide security. His build logs detail his efforts to ensure that power consumption is not too high and that the Pi is not running too hot, and provides instructions on how to set up and use the software. It’s not an overly complex piece of hardware, but it could provide a useful service for any of you who wish to keep up-to-date with your home TV when you are off on your travels.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Under Cabinet LED Lighting Controller

[Matt Meerian]’s workbench seems to be in perpetual shadow, so he has become adept at mounting LED strips under all his shelves and cabinets. These solve any problems involving finding things in the gloom, but present a new problem in that he risks a lot of LED strips being left on, and going round turning them all off is tedious.

His solution is to make a wireless controller for all his home LED strips, under the command of a web app from his Android tablet. An ESP8266 and a set of MOSFETs provide the inner workings, and the whole is presented on a very compact and well-designed purple OSH Park PCB reflow soldered on a $20 Wal-Mart hotplate and set in a plastic enclosure. The web interface is still in development, but has a fairly simple CSS front end for the ESP8266 code. All software, the schematic, and BoM can be downloaded from the Hackaday.io page linked above.

This project isn’t going to end world hunger or stop wars, but it’s beautifully done and well documented, and it makes [Matt]’s life a lot easier. And that makes it a good entry for the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Raspberry Pi Thermal Imaging

High up on the list of desirable technologies that are edging into the realm of the affordable for the experimenter is the thermal camera. Once the exclusive preserve of those with huge budgets, over the last few years we’ve seen the emergence of cameras that are more affordable, and most recently a selection of thermal camera modules that are definitely within the experimenter’s range. They may not yet have high resolution, but they are a huge improvement on nothing, and they are starting to appear in projects featured on sites like this one.

One such device is the Melexis MLX90621, a 16×4 pixel thermal sensor array in a TO39 can with an I2C interface. It’s hardly an impulse purchase in single quantities and nor is it necessarily the cheapest module available, but its price is low enough for [Alpha Charlie] to experiment with interfacing it to a Raspberry Pi for adding a thermal camera overlay to the pictures from its visible light camera.

The wiring for the module is simplicity itself, and he’s created a couple of pieces of software for it that are available on his GitHub repository. mlxd is a driver daemon for the module, and mixview.py is a Python graphical overlay script that places the thermal array output over the camera output. A run-through of the device and its results can be seen in the video below the break.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Theia IoT light-switch

There are it seems no wireless-enabled light switches available in the standard form factor of a UK light switch. At least, that was the experience of [loldavid6], when he decided he needed one. Also, none of the switches he could find were open-source, or easy to integrate with. So he set out to design his own, and the Theia IoT light switch is the result.

In adapting a standard light switch, he was anxious that his device would not depend on the position of the switch for its operation. Therefore he had to ensure that the switch became merely an input to whichever board he designed, rather than controlling the mains power. He settled upon the ESP8266 wireless-enabled microcontroller as the brains of the unit, with a relay doing the mains switching. He first considered using an LNK304 off-line switching PSU chip to derive his low voltages, but later moved to an off-the-shelf switch-mode board.

So far two prototype designs have been completed, one for each power supply option. Boards have been ordered, and he’s now in the interminable waiting period for international postage. All the KiCad and other files are available for download o the project’s hackaday.io page, so you can have a look for yourselves if you are so inclined.

You might ask why another IoT light switch might be needed. But even though they are now available and inexpensive, there is still a gap for a board that is open, and more importantly does not rely on someone else’s cloud backend. Plus, of course, this board can be used for more than lighting.

Light bulb image: Осадчая Екатерина (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Catch The IMSI Catchers

An IMSI catcher is an illicit mobile phone base station designed to intercept the traffic from nearby mobile phones by persuading them to connect to it rather than the real phone company  tower. The IMSI in the name stands for International Mobile Subscriber Identity, a unique global identifier that all mobile phones have. IMSI catchers are typically used by government agencies to detect and track people at particular locations, and are thus the subject of some controversy.

As is so often the case when a  piece of surveillance technology is used in a controversial manner there is a counter-effort against it. The IMSI catchers have spawned the subject of this post, an IMSI catcher detector app for Android. It’s a work-in-progress at the moment with code posted in its GitHub repository, but it is still an interesting look into this rather shadowy world.

How them you might ask, does this app hope to detect the fake base stations? In the first case, it will check the identity of the station it is connected to against a database of known cell towers. Then it will try to identify any unusual behaviour from the base station by analysing its traffic and signal strength. Finally it will endeavour to spot anomalies in the implementation of the cell phone protocols that might differentiate the fake from the real tower.

They have made some progress but stress that the app is in alpha stage at the moment, and needs a lot more work. They’re thus inviting Android developers to join the project. Still, working on projects is what the Hackaday Prize is all about.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Dodo 6502 Game System

If you are a gamer of A Certain Age, it’s probable that you retain a soft spot for 8-bit computers and consoles of your youth. For a time when addictive gameplay came through the most minimal of graphics, and when gaming audio was the harshest of square waves rather than immersive soundscapes.

Does the previous paragraph sound familiar? Then we may just have the device for you. The Dodo is a handheld console that harks back to that era with a 6502 processor and a 128×64 pixel OLED screen. Games are loaded from plug-in EEPROM cartridges, and sounds are suitably period-digital square wave tones. It’s the brainchild of [Peter Noyes], and he says he will consider it complete when it sports a game fun enough to entertain his 4-year-old.

The prototype Dodo is a handheld form-factor made from two stacked PCBs. The upper one has the display and buttons while the lower has the classic 6502 and associated chipset in through-hole DIP format. A Game Boy Micro it ain’t, but miniaturization is not the name of the game with these consoles. Best of all though, all the console’s resources are available in a GitHub repository, so you can all have a play too.

The 6502 has featured in a huge number of projects here on Hackaday over the years. Now it’s turned up in the Hackaday Prize.