Excruciating Quest Turns Chromebook Pixel IPS Into Exquisite Extra Monitor

[Shen] wanted an extra monitor at his desk, but not just any monitor. He wanted something particularly special and unquestionably refined. Like any super-power-possessing engineer he set out to scratch his hacking itch and was sucked into a multi-year extravaganza. For the love of everything hardware we’re glad this one came in on the weekend. If we had spent all that time drooling during a weekday we’d be so far behind.

The final product is a desktop monitor on an articulated arm. It features a Chromebook Pixel’s IPS display in a custom-crafted case everything. The journey started out with two different LCD units, the first from a Dell L502x replacement display using a generic LVDS board. The results were meh; washed out colors and obvious pixellation, with display adjustments that left [Shen] with a grimace on his mug. Installment two was an iPad Retina display. This iteration required spinning his own boards (resulting in [Shen’s] discovery of OSH Park). Alas, 9.7″ was too small coupled with short-cable-requirements making this version a no-go.

chromebook-pixel-ips-driver-boardAnd so we arrive at the meat and potatoes of this one. [Shen] identified the IPS LCD display on Google’s first Chromebook Pixel laptop as the object of his desire. The hack takes him through sourcing custom display cables, spinning rev after rev of his own board, and following Alice down the rabbit hole of mechanical design. Nothing marginal is good enough for [Shen], we discovered this with his project to get real audio out of a computer. He grinds away at the driver board, the case design, the control presentation, and everything else in the project until perfection was reached. This work of art will stand the test of time as a life fixture and not just an unappreciated workhorse.

This one is not to me missed. Head over to [Shen’s] project entry on Hackaday.io (don’t forget to give him a skull for this) and his blog linked at the top. We need to celebrate not only the people who can pull off such amazing work. But also the ones who do such a great job of sharing the story both for our enjoyment, and to inspire us.

A Simple And Inexpensive GPS Navigation Device

There are plenty of GPS navigation units on the market today, but it’s always fun to build something yourself. That’s what [middelbeek] did with his $25 GPS device. He managed to find a few good deals on electronics components online, including and Arduino Uno, a GPS module, and a TFT display.

In order to get the map images on the device, [middelbeek] has to go through a manual process. First he has to download a GEOTIFF of the area he wants mapped. A GEOTIFF is a metadata standard that allows georeferencing information to be embedded into a TIFF image file.  [middelbeek] then has to convert the GEOTIFF into an 8-bit BMP image file. The BMP images get stored on an SD card along with a .dat file that describes the boundaries of each BMP. The .dat file was also manually created.

The Arduino loads this data and displays the correct map onto the 320×240 TFT display. [middelbeek] explains on his github page that he is currently unable to display data from two map files at once, which can lead to problems when the position moves to the edge of the map. We suspect that with some more work and tuning this system could be improved and made easier to use, of course for under $25 you can’t expect too much.

Strapping an Apple II to Your Body

Now that the Apple wristwatch is on its way, some people are clamoring with excitement and anticipation. Rather than wait around for the commercial product, Instructables user [Aleator777] decided to build his own wearable Apple watch. His is a bit different though. Rather than look sleek with all kinds of modern features, he decided to build a watch based on the 37-year-old Apple II.

The most obvious thing you’ll notice about this creation is the case. It really does look like something that would have been created in the 70’s or 80’s. The rectangular shape combined with the faded beige plastic case really sells the vintage electronic look. It’s only missing wood paneling. The case also includes the old rainbow-colored Apple logo and a huge (by today’s standards) control knob on the side. The case was designed on a computer and 3D printed. The .stl files are available in the Instructable.

This watch runs on a Teensy 3.1, so it’s a bit faster than its 1977 counterpart. The screen is a 1.8″ TFT LCD display that appears to only be using the color green. This gives the vintage monochromatic look and really sells the 70’s vibe. There is also a SOMO II sound module and speaker to allow audio feedback. The watch does tell time but unfortunately does not run BASIC. The project is open source though, so if you’re up to the challenge then by all means add some more functionality.

As silly as this project is, it really helps to show how far technology has come since the Apple II. In 1977 a wristwatch like this one would have been the stuff of science fiction. In 2015 a single person can build this at their kitchen table using parts ordered from the Internet and a 3D printer. We can’t wait to see what kinds of things people will be making in another 35 years.

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Rocket Controls Fit for a Kerbal

Kerbal Space Program is a space simulation game. You design spacecraft for a fictional race called Kerbals, then blast those brave Kerbals into space. Sometimes they don’t make it home.

If controlling spacecraft with your WASD keys isn’t immersive enough for you, [marzubus] has created a fully featured KSP control console. It sports a joystick, multiple displays, and an array of buttons and switches for all your flight control needs. The console was built using a modular approach, so different controls can be swapped in and out as needed.

Under the hood, three Arduinos provide the interface between the game and the controls. One Arduino Mega runs HoodLoader2 to provide joystick data over HID. A second Mega uses KSPSerialIO to communicate with the game over a standard COM port interface. Finally, a Due interfaces with the displays, which provide information on the current status of your spacecraft.

All of the parts are housed in an off the shelf enclosure, which has a certain Apollo Mission Control feel to it. All [marzubus] needs now is a white vest with a Kerbal badge on it.

New Part Day: Really, Really Wide Screens

Once again my inbox runneth over with press releases, Kickstarter announcements, unsolicited emails, and a bunch of product announcements. Most of these, of course, are never to be seen again. Once in a great while – statistically insignificant, really – there’s a product announcement that’s just interesting enough to take a closer look at. This time, it’s a really, really wide screen.

LCDs are curious beasts when it comes to display interfaces. Back in the bad old days of gigantic tube TVs, the aspect ratio of these displays was fairly limited. You could get a 4:3 display, and with the rare exception of o-scopes, vector displays, and other weird devices, that was it. Since then we’ve moved to LCDs, a promising technology if you want a display in the shape of a car dashboard, or as a thin strip to put on some rackmount modules. It took this long for a sliver of an LCD to appear.

This display produced by EarthLCD is a 10.4 inch display, about ten inches wide and one inch tall. The resolution is 1024 by 100. It is, by far, the skinniest LCD ever produced. The closest you’re going to get to a display with this kind of aspect ratio are old character LCDs, and even then you’re not going to address individual pixels.

If you’re struggling to figure out what this would be used for, this product makes it somewhat obvious. It’s a 1U rack with a beautiful 1024×100 display embedded in the front. You’ve never seen a server that cool.

Interestingly, the 1U display is driven by a single Raspberry Pi, and looking at the datasheet for the display (PDF) tells you pretty much everything. The display is driven by a regular old parallel interface, with six bits of color for R, G, and B. That means it can be driven with a Raspberry Pi without an adapter board, a BeagleBone, or even smaller ARM micros with the obvious reduction in color depth.

While the display isn’t a game changer or something that will knock your socks off, it is, interesting and something that could find its way into some interesting projects. If you have any idea what those projects would be, drop a note in the comments.

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An Arduino Device that Monitors Your External IP Address

[Bayres’] dad setup a webcam as a surveillance camera for a remote property. The only problem was that the only stable Internet connection they could get at this property was DSL. This meant that the external IP address of the webcam would change somewhat often; the needed a way to keep track of the external IP address whenever it changed. That’s when [Bayres] built a solution using Arduino and an Ethernet shield.

The main function of this device is to monitor the public IP address and report any changes. This is accomplished by first making a request to checkip.dyndns.org. This website simply reports your current public IP address. [Bayres] uses an Arduino library called Textfinder in order to search through the returned string and identify the IP address.

From there, the program compares this current value to the previous one. If there is any change, the program uses the Sendmail() function to reach out to an SMTP server and send an e-mail alert to [Beyres’] dad. The system also includes a small LCD. The Arduino outputs the current IP address to this display, making it easy to check up on the connection. The LCD is driven by 74HC595 shift register in order to conserve pins on the Arduino.

The system is also designed with a pretty slick setup interface. When it is booted, the user can enter a configuration menu via a Serial terminal. This setup menu allows the user to configure options such as SMTP server, email address, etc. These variables are then edited and can be committed to EEPROM as a more permanent storage solution. Whenever the system is booted, these values are read back out of the EEPROM and returned to their appropriate variables. This means you can reconfigure the device on the fly without having to edit the source code and re-upload.

Solar Panel System Monitoring Device Using Arduino

[Carl] recently upgraded his home with a solar panel system. This system compliments the electricity he gets from the grid by filling up a battery bank using free (as in beer) energy from the sun. The system came with a basic meter which really only shows the total amount of electricity the panels produce. [Carl] wanted to get more data out of his system. He managed to build his own monitor using an Arduino.

The trick of this build has to do with how the system works. The panel includes an LED light that blinks 1000 times for each kWh of electricity. [Carl] realized that if he could monitor the rate at which the LED is flashing, he could determine approximately how much energy is being generated at any given moment. We’ve seen similar projects in the past.

Like most people new to a technology, [Carl] built his project up by cobbling together other examples he found online. He started off by using a sketch that was originally designed to calculate the speed of a vehicle by measuring the time it took for the vehicle to pass between two points. [Carl] took this code and modified it to use a single photo resistor to detect the LED. He also built a sort of VU meter using several LEDs. The meter would increase and decrease proportionally to the reading on the electrical meter.

[Carl] continued improving on his system over time. He added an LCD panel so he could not only see the exact current measurement, but also the top measurement from the day. He put all of the electronics in a plastic tub and used a ribbon cable to move the LCD panel to a more convenient location. He also had his friend [Andy] clean up the Arduino code to make it easier for others to use as desired.