Circuit Playground – An electronics reference app from Adafruit

It’s not everyday that we review software around here, but the folks at Adafruit recently put together an iOS app that I figured might be of interest. Their iPad/iPhone compatible application is called “Circuit Playground”, and it includes all sorts of handy electronics reference tools. For the context of this review, it should be noted that I paid for the application myself, and that I have had no communication with the Adafruit team regarding my assessment of the app.

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WiFi garage door opener makes forgotten keys a thing of the past

wifi-garage-door-opener

[Tod’s] daughter has a habit of forgetting to take a house key along with her, so he was looking for a way to make accessing the house easier in a pinch. He had tried wireless garage door keypads in the past, but their performance was so-so at best. After scouring the market for commercial solutions and checking out the work of other hackers, he decided that he needed to craft a custom solution of his own.

He started shopping around for wireless-enabled microcontrollers and settled on a Roving Networks RN-XV module, which is designed as a drop-in replacement for an XBee. Paired with a 5v to 3.3v power adapter, the RN-XV is nearly all he needed to interface his iPhone with his garage door opener.

The microcontroller has enough GPIO pins to control the garage door, while also monitoring the door’s status using a simple magnet/reed switch combo. A web server in [Tod’s] house takes input from any phone connected to his wireless LAN and relays the open/close commands to the opener. The opener in turn returns status messages to him via the web interface.

We really like the system’s simple design, and as long as [Tod] has turned WPS off at home, he really shouldn’t have to worry too much about unauthorized entry.

Spring clamp tripod mount has potential

Admittedly this post is flirting with flamebait, but we think the concept of using a spring clamp as an iPhone tripod mount has a lot of hacking potential. Hear us out, and if we havn’t made our case you can rant about it in the comments.

[Joe] wanted an easy way to mount his iPhone on a standard tripod. We’ve seen some creative solutions for this, like using Sugru to make a removable bracket. But he went a different route, using a cheap spring clamp to grip the phone body. These plastic clamps are like over-powered clothespins, and use a screw as the pivot point. [Joe] replaced the stock screw with a longer one, then used a coupling nut which will attach to the tripod. A bit of foam on the pads of the clamp protect your device from the plastic teeth.

It’s a fine solution (if you don’t mind putting that pressure on your smart phone). But we think this would be a great way to build your own heavy-duty third hand. It would be right at home with this modular solder platform. See [Joe's] how-to video embedded after the break.

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SMS remote start gives new life to your old smartphone

iphone-sms-remote-start

Hack a Day alum [Will O’Brien] recently upgraded his phone, and was trying to find a use for his old one. He always wanted a remote starter for his Subaru Outback, but wasn’t interested in paying for an off the shelf kit. Since he had this old smartphone kicking around, he thought that it would be the perfect starting point for an SMS-triggered remote start system.

He started off by jailbreaking his phone, which allows him to run some Perl scripts that are used to listen for incoming texts. Using a PodBreakout mini from Sparkfun he connected the phone to an Arduino, which is responsible for triggering the car’s ignition. Now, a simple text message containing the start command and a password can start his car from a anywhere in the world.

While [Will] is quite happy with his setup he already has improvements in mind, including a way for the Arduino to send a message back to him via SMS confirming that the car has been successfully started. He’s thinking about putting together a kit for others looking to add the same functionality to their own car, so be sure to check his site periodically for project updates.

Small tabletop telepresence robot

iphone_tabletop_telepresence

When [Peter] saw the Sparkfun Magician robot chassis in a recent new product post, he knew instantly that he had to have one for a telepresence project that had been kicking around in his head for a while.

Onto the robot chassis, he added an Arduino to provide the brains of the bot, an Adafruit motor shield for controlling the wheels, and a Pololu Wixel for wireless communications. An iPhone is mounted on the top of the robot, which communicates with his laptop using Apple’s Facetime app. The robot is controlled from his laptop as well using the Wixel, which enables him to direct the Magician chassis as if it was attached via USB.

While he thinks the robot is pretty neat and that it works well, [Peter] already has improvements in mind. The robot chassis is a bit weak on anything but smooth surfaces, so a new set of motors and wheels are likely the first changes he’ll make. He wants to add a servo-based aiming mechanism for the phone’s camera, as well as some sensors to prevent the bot from taking a nosedive off his table.

iPhone aside, this is probably one of the cheaper mobile telepresence setups we’ve seen, so we can’t wait to hear how the improvements work out, and how much they add to the robot’s cost.

Analog iPhone amplifier made from recycled trumpets

analog_telephonographer

It’s no secret that the audio quality of the iPhone’s built-in speakers isn’t exactly what you would consider to be hi-fi. Sound quality aside, there are plenty of times where even the volume doesn’t do the music justice. While you can always go out and buy a fancy dock to amplify your iGadget’s sound, artist [Christopher Locke] has a different take on the subject.

For a while now, he has been constructing what he calls “Analog Tele-Phonographers”, metal sculptures that can be used to amplify a mobile phone’s audio. Built out of steel and old trumpets, his audio sculptures require no electricity, instead utilizing the same amplification technology as the original phonographs.

While the Tele-Phonographers won’t make your iPhone sound like a high quality tube amp, they do undoubtedly increase the phone’s volume and they are nice to look at. We can certainly get behind this sort of recycling/reuse of old items.

Continue reading to see a quick video of his Analog Tele-Phonographer in action.

[Thanks, Chris]

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iPhone controlled Daft Punk helmet replica a dazzling build

This Daft Punk helmet replica is beautiful to look at, but the deeper we delve into the build process, the more we begin to think that the entire project is a piece of artwork. [Harrison Krix] has been working on it for months, and just posted his three-part build log in September. Check out the video and the links to all three parts after the break.

Now [Harrison] isn’t new to prop replica scene. He’s the guy responsible for the other fantastic Daft Punk helmet we saw last year. He’s tapped the same fabrication skills to churn out an equally impressive chromed helmet, complete with addressable flashing LEDs. He built his own mold to create the body of the helmet, reminding us of the Storm Trooper helmet replicas we saw in July. While this was off being coated in chrome, he got down to business with the electronics.

The visor of the helmet has a red LED marquee. This, along with the multicolored visor sides and ear pucks, is controlled by an Arduino yellow jacket. The lights can be controlled by an iPhone app that connects to the helmet via WiFi, letting a user push custom messages to the display, and alter the light patterns. The build shines on the inside as well as the outside with an incredibly clean LED matrix build, and clever control placement for switching each part on or off.

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