Hackaday Links: July 23, 2017

Hey, you know what’s happening right now? We’re wrapping up the third round of The Hackaday Prize. This challenge, Wheels, Wings, and Walkers, is dedicated to things that move. If it’s a robot, it qualifies, if it’s a plane, it qualifies, if it passes butter, it qualifies. There’s only a short time for you to get your entry in. Do it now. Superliminal advertising.

Speaking of the Hackaday Prize, this project would be a front-runner if only [Peter] would enter it in the competition. It’s one thing to have a cult; I have a cult and a petition to ‘stop’ me.

We were completely unaware of this project, but a few weeks ago, a cubesat was launched from Baikonur. This cubesat contains a gigantic mylar reflector, and once it’s deployed it will be the second brightest object in the night sky after the moon. I don’t know why we haven’t seen this in the press, but if you have any pictures of sightings, drop those in the comments.

In a mere two years, we’ll be looking at the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing. The mission control center at Johnson Space Center — where these landings were commanded and controlled — is still around, and it’s not in the best shape. There’s a Kickstarter to restore the Apollo Mission Control Center to its former glory. For the consoles, this means restoring them to Apollo 15 operational configuration.

We’ve seen 3D printed remote control airplanes, and at this point, there’s nothing really exceptional about printing a wing. This user on imgur is going a different direction with 3D printed fiberglass molds. Basically, it’s a fuselage for a Mustang that is printed, glued together, with the inside sanded and coated in wax. Two layers (3 oz and 6 oz) fiberglass is laid down with West Systems epoxy. After a few days, the mold is cracked open and a fuselage appears. This looks great, and further refinements of the process can include vapor smoothing of the inside of the mold, a few tabs to make sure the mold halves don’t break when the part is released, and larger parts in general.

The Darknet’s Casefile will take you to the limit of your existing knowledge. Join them, to go on a quest to improve your technical abilities.

This week is Def Con. That means two things. First, we’re on a hardware hunt. If you’ve been dedicating the last few months to #badgelife or other artisanal electronics, we want to hear about it. Second, [Joe Kim] made a graphic of the Tindie dog wearing a Hackaday hoodie and it’s adorable. There are a limited number of stickers of our hacker dog.

Gigabyte launched a single board computer with an Intel Apollo Lake CPU, discrete memory and storage, and a mini PCIe slot. Of course, this is being incorrectly marketed as a ‘Raspberry Pi competitor’, but whatever.

Monitor Your City’s Air Quality

[Radu Motisan]’s entry in the 2017 Hackaday Prize is a series of IoT Air Quality monitors, the City Air Quality project. According to [Radu], air pollution is the single largest environmental cause of premature death in urban Europe and transport is the main source. [Radu] has created a unit that can be deployed throughout a city and has sensors on it to report on the air quality.

The hardware has a laser light scattering sensor for particulate matter and 4 electromechanical sensors for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide and ozone (these sense the six parameters that are recognized as having significant health impact by multiple countries.) These sensors have2-yearear lifespan, so they are installed in sockets for easy replacement, and if needed, you can swap to different sensors to detect different things. The PCBs for the hardware are separated into a WiFi version and a LoRaWAN version and the software runs on an ATMega328 – the PCB has the standard six-pin ISP connection for programming.

The data collected is sent to a server where it is adjusted based on the unit’s calibration parameters and stored in a database per sensor. This makes servicing the sensors at the end of their life easier as all that’s required is replacing the sensors in the unit and changing the calibration parameters stored for that unit, the software changes are required. The server offers the data via a RESTful API so that building dashboards with the stats and charts become easy.

[Radu] used an off the shelf module as the first prototype and attached it to a car while driving around. He used this to test out the plan and work on the server. He then proceeded to designing the PCB hardware and the enclosure for the final unit. This work is an extension of [Radu]’s previous work, spotlit here in the 2015 Hackaday Prize, but also check out this project to put air quality sensors in the classroom.

Continue reading “Monitor Your City’s Air Quality”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Narrowband RF Transceiver

We have so many options when we wish to add wireless control to our devices, as technology has delivered a stream of inexpensive devices and breakout boards for our experimentation. A few dollars will secure you all your wireless needs, it seems almost whatever your chosen frequency or protocol. There is a problem with this boundless availability though, they can often be rather opaque and leave their users only with what their onboard firmware chooses to present.

The Open Narrowband RF Transceiver from [Samuel Žák] promises deliver something more useful to the experimenter: an RF transceiver for the 868 or 915MHz allocations with full control over all transmission parameters. Transmission characteristics such as frequency, bandwidth, and deviation can be adjusted, and the modulation and encoding schemes can also be brought under full control. Where a conventional module might simply offer on-off keying or frequency shift keying, this module can be programmed to deliver any modulation scheme its chipset is capable of. Spread-spectrum? No problem!

Onboard, the device uses the TI CC1120 transceiver chip, paired with the CC1190 front end and range extender. Overseeing it all is an ST Microelectronics STM32F051 microcontroller, which as you might expect is fully accessible to programmers. Interfaces are either USB, through an FTDI serial chip, or directly via a serial port.

There are a host of transceiver chips on the market which just beg to be exploited, so it is very good indeed to see a board like this one. It’s worth noting though that the CC1120 has a much wider frequency band than that of the CC1190, and with a different front end and PA circuitry, this could cover other allocations including some amateur bands.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Modular Open-Source AV Receiver

Hi-Fi hasn’t changed much in decades. OK, we’ll concede that’s something of a controversial statement to make in that of course your home hi-fi has changed immensely over the years. Where once you might have had a turntable and a cassette deck you probably now have a streaming media player, and a surround sound processor, for example.

But it’s still safe to say that hi-fi reproduction hasn’t changed much in decades. You can still hook up the latest audio source to an amplifier and speakers made decades ago, and you’ll still enjoy great sound.

Not so though, if instead of a traditional amplifier you bought an AV receiver with built-in amplifier and processing. This is a fast-moving corner of the consumer electronics world, and the lifetime of a device before its interfaces and functionality becomes obsolete can often be measured in only a few years.

To [Andrew Bolin], this makes little sense. His solution has some merit, he’s produced a modular open-source AV processor in which the emphasis is on upgradeability to keep up with future developments rather than on presenting a black box to the user which will one day be rendered useless by the passage of time.

His design revolves around a backplane which accepts daughter cards for individual functions, and a Raspberry Pi to do the computational heavy lifting. So far he has made a proof-of-concept which takes in HDMI audio and outputs S/PDIF audio to his DAC, but plans are in hand for further modules. We can see that this could become the hub of a very useful open-source home entertainment system.

If you make one, please remember to enhance it with our own sound-improving accessory.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A PC-XT Clone Powered By AVR

There is a high probability that the device on which you are reading this comes somehow loosely under the broad definition of a PC. The familiar x86 architecture with peripheral standards has trounced all its competitors over the years, to the extent that it is only in the mobile and tablet space of personal computing that it has not become dominant.

The modern PC with its multi-core processor and 64-bit instruction set is a world away from its 16-bit ancestor from the early 1980s. Those early PCs were computers in the manner of the day, in which there were relatively few peripherals, and the microprocessor bus was exposed almost directly rather than through the abstractions and gatekeepers we’d expect to see today. The 8088 processor with an 8-bit external bus though is the primordial PC processor, and within reason you will find software written for DOS on those earliest IBM machines will often still run on your multiprocessor behemoth over a DOS-like layer on your present-day operating system. This 35-year-plus chain of mostly unbroken compatibility is both a remarkable feat of engineering and a millstone round the necks of modern PC hardware and OS developers.

Those early PCs have captured the attention of [esot.eric], who has come up with the interesting project of interfacing an AVR microcontroller to the 8088 system bus of one of those early PCs. Thus all those PC peripherals could be made to run under the control of something a little more up-to-date. When you consider that the 8088 ran at a modest 300KIPS and that the AVR is capable of running at a by comparison blisteringly fast 22MIPS, the idea was that it should be able to emulate an 8088 at the same speed as an original, if not faster. His progress makes for a long and fascinating read, so far he has accessed the PC’s 640KB of RAM reliably, talked to an ISA-bus parallel port, and made a CGA card produce colours and characters. Interestingly the AVR has the potential for speed enhancements not possible with an 8088, for example it can use its own internal UART with many fewer instructions than it would use to access the PC UART, and its internal Flash memory can contain the PC BIOS and read it a huge amount faster than a real BIOS ROM could be on real PC hardware.

In case you were wondering what use an 8088 PC could be put to, take a look at this impressive demo. Don’t have one yourself? Build one.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Device for Seismic Noise Analysis

Whenever there is an earthquake somewhere in the world, our TV screens fill with images of seismic data. Those news report graphics with simplified bite-sized diagrams that inform the masses, but usually get something wrong. Among the images there will invariably be one of a chart recorder drawing a significant earthquake trace on paper, which makes good TV, but is probably miles away from the state of the art in seismology.

We are not seismologists here at Hackaday, so it was extremely interesting to find [Michael D]’s project, Device for Seismic Noise Analysis. In it, he gives a basic primer in seismic sensors, and outlines his take on the subject, a sensitive wideband seismic sensor designed to capture the seismic background noise. It seems that many seismic sensors are designed to capture big events, yet ignore the noise between them from which using suitable software one can glean advance warning of seismic events.

The sensor is a simple design, a ball of significant mass rests upon three piezoelectric microphone elements spaced at 120 degree intervals. An extremely high impedance op-amp circuit converts and integrates the charge from the piezo element to a voltage that can be read by an Arduino Yun which harvests the data. It is a bold claim, but the device is said to have already given advance warning of minor seismic events near its Tennessee test site.

Seismology has featured here a few times before. There was this seismometer using a subwoofer as its sensor, and this project using commercial geophones, just to name a couple of examples.

Don’t Forget: Bring a Hack Munich is Tonight

If you’re in Munich, Germany this weekend and you’ve got a sweet hack to show off and a thirst for beer and/or good geeky company, then you’re in luck! Come join Hackaday at the muCCC for a Hackaday Prize Bring a Hack.

The location is Schleißheimer Str. 41, a short walk west along Heßstraße from the Theresienstraße U-Bahn. No reservation is needed, but it’d be swell if you’d let us know in the comments that you’re coming (or better yet, click the “join this event” button in the upper right of the event page) so that we have enough pizza on hand.

The party starts at 20:00, not entirely coincidentally as soon as exhibitor setup at Make Munich closes. So if you’re setting up a booth, come on over to the other side of town where you can show off a small project to a select audience of fellow hackers. If you’re only going to be attending Make Munich, this is a great warm up.

Hackaday’s [Elliot Williams] will be there and taking photos if you’ve got something portable that you’d like to show the world! Otherwise, relax and hang out with kindred spirits. Need a time and place to get a team together for the Hackaday Prize? Here, with beer! (Or Spezi, but nothing rhymes with Spezi.)

Many thanks again to our hosts at Munich’s CCC.