Hackaday Prize Entry: Ears On The Back Of Your Head

From context clues, we can tell that [TVMiller] has been in and around NYC for some time now. He has observed a crucial weakness in the common metropolitan. Namely, they deafen themselves with earphones, leaving them senseless in a hostile environment.

To fix this problem, he came up with a simple hack, the metrophone. An ultrasonic sensor is hung from a backpack. The user’s noise making device of choice is plugged into one end, and the transducer into the other. When the metropolitan is approached from the rear by a stalking tiger or taxi cab, the metrophone will reduce the volume and allow the user to hear and respond to their impending doom. Augmentation successful.

The device itself consists of an off-the-shelf ultrasonic sensor, an Arduino, and a digital potentiometer. It all fits in a custom 3D printed enclosure and runs of two rechargeable coin cells. A simple bit of code scales the volume to the current distance being measured by the ultrasonic sensor once a threshold has been met.

In the video after the break, you can observe [TVMiller]’s recommended method for tranquilizing and equipping a metropolitan in its natural habitat without disturbing its patterns or stressing it unduly.

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Why Is There Liquid Nitrogen On the Street Corner?

Any NYC hackers may have noticed something a bit odd this summer while taking a walk… Giant tanks of the Liquid Nitrogen have been popping up around the city.

There are hoses that go from the tanks to manholes. They’re releasing the liquid nitrogen somewhere… Are they freezing sewer alligators? Fighting the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? Or perhaps, cooling our phone lines??

Luckily, we now have an answer. Popular Science writer [Rebecca Harrington] got to investigate it as part of her job. As it turns out, the liquid nitrogen is being used to pressurize the cables carrying our precious phone and internet service in NYC. The cables have a protective sheath covering them, but during construction and repairs, the steam build up in some of the sewers can be too much for them — so they use liquid nitrogen expanding into gas to supplement the pressurized cables in order to keep the them dry. As the liquid nitrogen boils away, it expands 175 times which helps keep moisture out of the cables.

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PicoRico Hacks String Encoder for Bike Suspension Telemetry

It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works really really well. The PicoRico team built a telemetry system for a downhill bike. Off the top of your head how would you do this? Well, telemetry is easy… just add an IMU board and you’re golden. They went beyond that and have plans to go much further. In fact, the IMU was an afterthought. The gem of this build is a sensor that may go by several names: string encoder, draw wire sensor, stringpot, etc. But two things are for sure, they planned well for their hackathon build and they executed on that plan. This landed them as first-runners-up for the top award at the 2015 Disrupt Hackathon in New York, and the winners of the top Hackaday award at the event.

picorico-thumb[Chris], [Marek], and [Dorian] wanted to log all the telemetry data from [Chris’] downhill bike. One of the biggest challenges is to measure the force absorbed by the suspension on the front fork. The three had seen a few attempts at this before. Those used a retractable wire like what holds keys to a custodian’s belt, mated with a potentiometer to measure the change. This is where the term stringpot comes from. The problem is that your resolution and sensitivity aren’t very reliable with this setup.

That is a sensor problem, not a mechanical problem so they kept the retractable reel and replaced the pot with a much more reliable part. In its place an AMT203 absolute position sensor provides an epic level of sensing. According to the datasheet (PDF) this SPI device senses 12 bits of rotation data, can be zeroed over the SPI bus, and is accurate to 0.2 degrees. Unfortunately we didn’t get a good up-close shot of the installation but it is shown in the video. The encoder and retractor mount above the shocks, with the string stretching down to the skewer. When the shocks actuate, the string extends and retracts, turning the absolute encoder. Combine this with the IMU (and two other IMUs they plan to add) and you’ve got a mountain of data to plot and analyze. The videos after the break show a demo of the string encoder and an interview with the team.

picorico-packing-heavyThey came to play

It’s worth noting that the PicoRico team were in this to win it. They packed heavy for the 20-hour hackathon. Here’s a picture of all the gear they brought along with them to the event… in addition to the bike itself.

We see a solder station, Dremel (with drill press), impact driver, tap and die set, extension cords, boxes full of electronics, and more. This type of planning breaks down barriers often faced at hardware hackathons. You can download a software library; you can’t download a tool or building material that nobody has with them. This is the same lesson we learned from [Kenji Larsen] who, as part of his mentoring at the event, brought a mobile fabrication facility in a roller bag.

If you start getting into hackathons, and we hope you will, keep this in mind. Brainstorm as much as you can leading up to the event, and bring your trusted gear along for the ride.

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Hardware You Might See in a Bar in New York

Our New York City trip for the TechCrunch hackathon is just about wrapped up, and this weekend we’re hosting a hardware hackathon at the Hackaday Design Lab in Pasadena, but there’s still one more event from NYC left to cover: our drink-up in the city.

Our drink-up took over about 90% of the Antler Beer and Wine Dispensary, with the usual, not electronically enabled patrons sufficiently annoyed.

datarecorderWhile this meetup was really just a meet-and-greet pregame for the TechCrunch hackathon, and not a proper ‘bring a hack’, that didn’t stop a few people from toting out some very cool hardware. [Katie Fortunato] trucked out a flight data recorder (or an airplane’s black box, painted orange for visibility) that is supposedly from a 747.

This flight data recorder keeps relevant data on a loop of mylar tape. We didn’t crack into that part of the black box, but we did manage to dig into the electronics. Very weird stuff in there; the control electronics have a backplane design, where each card has a connector that’s basically 2 rows of 50 or 75 female pin sockets. These cards aren’t keyed in any way, and they must be placed in the backplane in a certain order. The circuits are extremely simple; just a mix of op-amps, 74- and 54-series logic (no, we can’t figure that one out, either), buffers, and inverters. The latest date code was some time in the early 80s, and all the boards had a conformal coating on them. There’s a weird connector on the outside of the black box [Katie] promises to document on her hackaday.io profile.

Also at the event were a few folks from NYC Resistor, a few people from the IoTGotham meetup, some of the crew from littleBits. Somewhere in the pictures below is a Ms. PacMan/Galaga cabinet. Yes, I tested the bee overflow cheat, it works, but the high score was above 500,000.

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Safety Belt Holds Up Pants and Passwords

[Dan Williams] built a belt that holds up your pants while remembering your passwords. This was his project while camped out at the Hackaday Hardware Villiage at the 2015 TC Disrupt Hackathon last weekend.

safety-belt-pcb-sandwichThe idea started with the concept of a dedicated device to carry a complicated password; something that you couldn’t remember yourself and would be difficult to type. [Dan] also decided it would be much better if the device didn’t need its own power source, and if the user interface was dead simple. The answer was a wrist-band made up of a USB cable and a microcontroller with just one button.

To the right you can see the guts of the prototype. He is using a Teensy 2.0 board, which is capable of enumerating as an HID keyboard. The only user input is the button seen at the top. Press it once and it fires off the stored password. Yes, very simple to implement, but programming is just one part of a competition. The rest of his time was spent refining it into what could reasonably be considered a product. He did such a good job of it that he received an Honorable Mention from Hackaday to recognize his execution on the build.


IMG_20150502_183207[Dan] came up with the idea to have a pair of mating boards for the Teensy 2.0. One on top hosts the button, the other on the bottom has a USB port which is used as the “clasp” of the belt buckle. One side of the USB cable plugs into the Teensy, the other into this dummy-port. Early testing showed that this was too bulky to work as a bracelet. But [Dan] simply pivoted and turned it into a belt.

safety-belt-built-at-hackathon-thumb[Kenji Larsen] helped [Dan] with the PCB-sandwich. Instead of mounting pin sockets on the extra boards, they heated up the solder joints on a few of the Teensy pins and pushed them through with some pliers. This left a few pins sticking up above the board to which the button add-on board could be soldered.

To finish out the build, [Dan] worked with [Chris Gammell] to model a 2-part case for the electronics. He also came up with a pandering belt buckle which is also a button-cap. It’s 3D printed with the TechCrunch logo slightly recessed. He then filled this recess with blue painter’s tape for a nice contrast.

[Dan] on-stage presentation shows off the high-level of refinement. There’s not a single wire (excluding the USB belt cable) or unfinished part showing! Since he didn’t get much into the guts of the build during the live presentation we made sure to seek him out afterward and record a hardware walk through which is embedded below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

[Kenji Larsen] Shows off the Ultimate Hacking Kit

If you roll into a hardware hackathon empty-handed, you’re going to be at a disadvantage compared to those who bring equipment with which they’re already familiar. Pray that you never roll into one where [Kenji Larsen] is your competitor. Luckily, this weekend he came out to mentor for Hackaday’s hardware hacking village at the TechCrunch Disrupt hackathon and not as a competitor. In this video he shows off the huge rollerbag which he calls his “Hack Pack”. I’d say there’s a 50/50 chance his travel setup is better than your home lab.

Where do I begin (seriously, watch the video)? Perhaps best to note is how organized he is. For instance, the large plastic bag containing his battery-operated and plug-in Dremels also has conveniently sized stock like acrylic and metal. There are compartment boxes full of sensors, others contain things like passives, batteries, battery chargers, hundreds of Moteino modules, handfuls of BeagleBones Black, breakout and dev boards of every flavor. He has all the necessary tools like hemostat, x-acto blade, steel ruler, and magnifying glasses. There’s even a 3D printer in the bag — a Printrbot Simple which [Chris Gammell] played with all weekend err… learned to use as part of his role as a mentor.

We had a ton of hardware along with us, but time and again [Kenji] was there for the save on some of the less-common needs. He’s a expert when it comes to fabrication techniques and it showed. We also give him mad points for staying up overnight for all 20-hours of the build session. Thank you so much [Kenji], I think I speak for every one of the hardware hackers when I say you helped bring the event to the next level of exhilarating and exhausting fun. Please direct your own thanks, stories, and well-wishes, and follows to [Kenji’s] hacker profile.

If you weren’t able to make it to NYC this weekend, you definitely missed out. We’ll be telling the story of that all week. Those on the West Coast will have a chance next weekend at Hackaday Prize Worldwide: LA. The workshop is sold out but socializing on Saturday, and a Sunday free-build are both still available for RSVPs.

Hackaday Events: NY, LA, SF, LA

We are doing a lot this spring to get people elbow-deep in hardware hacking. We have so many live events coming up that we’re going to be doing Saturday morning recaps to keep you informed. Here are the upcoming events should be planning to attend if you’re nearby.

nyc-hackationToday! NYC Hardware Hackathon

We hope you didn’t miss our announcements about the Hardware Hackathon we’re putting on in New York. It starts this afternoon and runs all night and into Sunday. If you really want to get in on the hacking we might be able to help you out (hit us up on Twitter). But you can also show up on Sunday to see the results live. Tickets for that are available here.

thp-worldwide-laMay 9 & 10 Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Los Angeles

Next weekend we open up the Hackaday Design Lab of Pasadena, California for a workshop, talks, and a day of hacking. This is the Hackaday Prize Worldwide: Los Angeles. Start out on Saturday with the Zero to Product workshop which will discuss getting from design to production. Interspersed with this are a set of talks from amazing presenters before a bit of social time at night. On Sunday we open our doors for Free Build and hope to see a ton of people working on their Hackaday Prize entries. RSVP now!

2015-05-01_BAMF-meetupSaturday, May 16 BAMF Meetup

Seeing everything at Bay Area Maker Faire means a lot of time on your feet. By the end of the day the Hackaday Crew is ready to take a load off and toss back a tasty beverage. We invite you to join us on Saturday, May 16th starting at 7pm. All the cool kids will be there so please RSVP now.

It’s not compulsory, but a lot of people bring hardware they’ve been working on to show off at this meetup and you should too!

layerone-logoMay 23 & 24 LayerOne Conference

Every year our friends from NullSpace Labs organize the LayerOne Conference in Los Angeles. This is LA’s premier hardware security conference. This year Supplyframe is sponsoring the badges and Hackaday will be camped out at the Hackaday Hardware Villiage.

[Brian Benchoff] and [Mike Szczys] will be hacking their own badges while looking for awesome hacks other people are pulling off. We’ll bring plenty of swag and want to get everyone there to try at least some level of badge hack.