Dirt Cheap Muon Detector Puts Particle Physics Within DIY Reach

Subatomic physics is pretty neat stuff, but not generally considered within the reach of the home-gamer. With cavernous labs filled with racks of expensive gears and miles-wide accelerators, playing with the subatomic menagerie has been firmly in the hands of the pros for pretty much as long as the field has been in existence. But that could change with this sub-$100 DIY muon detector.

[Spencer Axani] has been fiddling with the idea of a tiny muon detector since his undergrad days. Now as an MIT doctoral candidate, he’s making that dream a reality. Muons are particles that are similar to electrons but more massive and less likely to be affected by electromagnetic fields. Muons rain down on the Earth’s surface at the rate of 10,000 per square meter every minute after being created by cosmic rays interacting with the atmosphere and are capable of penetrating deep into the planet. [Spencer]’s detector is purposely kept as low-budget as possible, using cheap plastic scintillators and solid-state photomultipliers hooked up to an Arduino. The whole project is as much STEM outreach as it is a serious scientific effort; the online paper (PDF link) stresses the mechanical and electronics skills needed to complete the build. At the $100 price point, this build is well within the means of most high school STEM programs and allows for a large, distributed array of muon detectors that has the potential for some exciting science.

We’ve covered quite a few subatomic detection projects before, from the aforementioned large-scale builds to more modest efforts. But we like this project because it has the potential to inspire a lot of citizen scientists.

Thanks for the tip, [deralchemist]

Keep Tabs on the Weather with rpi_status

[Facelessloser] is interested in glanceable information. Glancable devices are things like your car’s dashboard, your wristwatch, or widgets on a smartphone lockscreen. The glanceable information distribution system in this case is rpi_status, [facelessloser’s] entry in the Enlightened Raspberry Pi Contest.

[Facelessloser] coupled a ring of eight WS2812 RGB LEDs with a small OLED screen managed by a the common ssd1306 controller. Since he was rolling his own board for this project, [faceless] some buttons and a BMP180 temperature sensor. Going with popular parts like this meant libraries like the Pimoroni unicorn hat library for the WS2812 were readily available.

A simple display like this can show just about anything – from status of a nightly software build, to traffic along your morning commute. [Facelessloser] is using it for weather data. His data source is Weather Underground’s API. Weather information is displayed on the OLED. The WS2812’s display the temperature. A single blue light means cold. The ring fills as the temperature warms up. After eight degrees of blue, the color changes to orange, followed by red.

Check out the video after the break for a short demo of the board.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Head-up For High Voltage

[Alain Mauer] wanted to build something like a Google Glass setup using a small OLED screen. A 0.96 inch display was too large, but a 0.66 inch one worked well. Combining an Arduino, a Bluetooth module, and battery, and some optics, he built glasses that will show the readout from a multimeter.

You’d think it was simple to pull this off, but it isn’t for a few reasons as [Alain] discovered. The device cost about 70 Euro and you can see a video of the result, below.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Head-up For High Voltage”

DIY Smartwatch Based On ESP8266 Needs Classification

Building your own smartwatch is a fun challenge for the DIY hobbyist. You need to downsize your electronics, work with SMD components, etch your own PCBs and eventually squeeze it all into a cool enclosure. [Igor] has built his own ESP8266-based smartwatch, and even though he calls it a wrist display – we think the result totally sells as a smartwatch.

His design is based on a PCB for a wireless display notifier he designed earlier this year. The design uses the ESP-12E module and features an OLED display, LEDs, tactile switches and an FT232R USB/UART interface. Our beloved TP4056 charging regulator takes care of the Lithium-ion cell and a voltage divider lets the ESP8266’s ADC read back the battery voltage. [Igor] makes his own PCBs using the toner transfer method, and he’s getting impressive results from his hacked laminator.

Together with a hand-made plastic front, everything fits perfectly into the rubber enclosure from a Jelly Watch. A few bits of Lua later, the watch happily connects to a WiFi network and displays its IP configuration. Why wouldn’t this be a watch? Well, it lacks the mandatory RTC, although that’s easy to make up for by polling an NTP time server once in a while. How would our readers classify this well-done DIY build? Let us know in the comments!

Hackaday Prize Entry: ESP Swiss Knife

The best equipment won’t help you if you don’t have it with you in the moment you need it. Knowledge, experience, and a thick skin may help you out there in the mud of the hardware battlegrounds, but they can’t replace a multimeter, an oscilloscope, a logic analyzer, a serial console or a WiFi access point. [Arcadia Labs] has taken on the challenge of combining most of these functions into a single device, developing the Hacker’s equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife: The ESP Swiss Knife.

esp_swiss_knife_enclosureJust like a Swiss Army Knife is first and foremost a knife, the EPS Swiss Knife is first and foremost an ESP8266. That means it is already a great platform for any kind of project, and [Arcadia Labs] supercharged the plain ESP-12E module by adding a couple of useful features commonly used in many projects. There’s an OLED display, four pushbuttons, a temperature sensor, and a Li-Ion cell with a charging module to power the device on the go. A universal “utility socket” breaks out the ESP8266’s leftover GPIOs and the supply voltage for attaching further peripherals.

With the hardware up and running, [Arcadia Labs] went on with building a couple of applications to provide the functionality that would make the device earn its name. Among them is a basic oscilloscope, a digital NTP based clock, a thermometer, a WiFi tester, a weather station and a 3D printer status monitor. More applications are planned, such as a chronometer, a timer, a DSLR intervalometer and more. A protective 3D printable enclosure is also in the works. [Arcadia Labs] has been joining the Hackaday Prize 2014 and 2015 before and we’re glad to see another great build coming into existence!

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Homemade Smart Glasses shows why Smart Glasses are Hard

[Harris Shallcross] decided to build a pair of smart glasses and recently completed a first prototype of his project ‘Ochi’ – an STM32 based, BLE-connected, OLED eyeglass display. There are of course several homebrew smart glasses projects out there; many are more polished-looking and nearly all of them also display information from a smartphone over Bluetooth. This one is interesting partly because it highlights many of the design challenges that smart glasses and other near-eye displays face. It also demonstrates the iterative development process: begin by getting something working to learn what does and doesn’t cut it at a basic level, and don’t optimize prematurely; let the process bring problems to the surface.

Ochi-1 Smart Glasses BBC feed SquareFor his project, [Harris Shallcross] used a small 0.95″ diagonal 96×64 color OLED as the display. The lens is from a knockoff Google Cardboard headset, and is held in a 3D printed piece that slides along a wire rail to adjust focus. The display uses a custom font and is driven by an STM32 microcontroller on a small custom PCB, with an HM11 BLE module to receive data wirelessly. Power is provided by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with a boost converter. An Android app handles sending small packets of data over Bluetooth for display. The prototype software handles display of time and date, calendar, BBC news feed, or weather information.

Devices like these have a lot to deal with. Weight and distribution of that weight is a concern, the size and comfort of the optics is important, and displaying data on a small OLED is only part of the battle – choosing what information to display and when are vital to the device being actually useful in any way, otherwise it’s just a tech demo.

This project set out to show whether it was possible to use the parts listed to make a glasses mounted smart display that was at least somewhat functional, and the software to support it. Clearly, [Harris Shallcross] succeeded at that, but what really showcases the development process is his list of improvements – what he decided needs to go into a second version, and why. One of those goals is to improve the optics; perhaps there’s something to learn from The $60 Bluetooth Head Mounted Display project, which used a similar OLED and a prism to locate the display off to the side instead of in front.

ATtiny Watch is Tiny

[陳亮] (Chen Liang) is in the middle of building the ultimate ring watch. This thing is way cooler than the cheap stretchy one I had in the early 1990s–it’s digital, see-through, and it probably won’t turn [陳]’s finger green.

watch-gutsThe current iteration is complete and builds upon his previous Arduino-driven watch building experiences. It runs on an ATtiny85 and displays the time, temperature, and battery status on an OLED. While this is a fairly a simple build on paper, it’s the Lilliputian implementation that makes it fantastic.

[陳] had to of course account for building along a continuous curve, which means that the modules of the watch must be on separate boards. They sit between the screw bosses of the horseshoe-shaped 3D-printed watch body, connected together with magnet wire. [陳] even rolled his own coin cell battery terminals by cutting and doubling over the thin metal bus from a length of bare DuPont connector.

If you’re into open source watches but prefer to wear them on your wrist, check out this PIC32 smart watch or the Microduino-based OSWatch.