Nerds Helping Sea Turtles

Sea Turtle Nest Monitoring Device

Life as a sea turtle can be rough. Not only are turtles trying to survive predators, destruction of habitat, fishing nets, and pollution, but only about 1% of hatchlings survive to face those challenges in the first place. Enter [Samuel Wantman] and a new volunteer hacker group called Nerds Without Borders, with their first order of business of creating an egg-shaped monitoring device for sea turtle nests.

Sea turtles are protected under the Endangered Species Act, which goes to great lengths to protect certain species from human activity. The ultimate goal of the project is to help people and sea turtles better coexist under this law by more accurately predicting hatching times. A suite of sensors and a cell network antenna are placed in a plastic “egg” that can be buried in a nest after a sea turtle lays the real eggs. The sensors detect vibrations within the eggs as the embryos grow, which is an indication that the tiny turtles are about to break free of their eggs and head for the open ocean!

Click past the break for more on this project.

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Parallax Propeller 1 Goes Open Source


Parallax has embraced open source hardware by releasing the source code to its Propeller 1 processor (P8X32A). Designed by [Chip Gracey] and released in 2006, the 32-bit octal core Propeller has built up a loyal fan base. Many of those fans have created development tools for the Propeller, from libraries to language ports. [Ken, Chip], and the entire Parallax team have decided to pay it forward by releasing the entire source to the Propeller.

The source code is in Verilog and released under GNU General Public License v3.0. Parallax has done much more than drop 8-year-old files out in the wild.  All the configuration files necessary to implement the design on an Altera Cyclone IV using either of two different target boards have also been included. The DE0-Nano is the low-cost option. The Altera DE2-115 dev board is more expensive, but it also can run the upcoming Propeller 2 design.

The release also includes sources for the mask ROM used for booting, running cogs, and the SPIN interpreter. [Chip] originally released this code in  2008. The files contain references to PNut, the Propeller’s original code name.

We’re excited to see Parallax taking this step, and can’t wait to see what sort of modifications the community comes up with. Not an Altera fan? No problem – just grab the source code, your favorite FPGA tools, and go for it! Starved for memory? Just add some more. 8 cogs not enough? Bump it up to 16.  The only limits are the your imagination and the resources of your target device.

Interested in hacking on a real Propeller? If you’re in Las Vegas, you’re in luck. A Propeller is included on each of the nearly 14,000 badges going to DEFCON 22 attendees. While you’re there, keep an eye out for Mike and The Hackaday Hat!

Open Source Glucose Monitoring on the Front Lines of Innovation

Cloud-based CGM

[John] is the parent of a diabetic child, and his efforts to expand the communication options for his son’s CGM (continuous glucose monitor) have grown into a larger movement: #wearenotwaiting.

After receiving a new monitor—a Dexcom G4—[John] set about decoding its communication protocols. The first steps were relatively simple, using a laptop to snag the data from the CGM and storing it on a Google doc which he could access as the day went along. The next step involved connecting the monitor and a cellphone for around-the-clock data gathering. [John] managed to develop an Android app to accomplish just that, and shortly after people began to take notice. Both [Howard Look], the CEO of Tidepool, and [Lane Desborough], engineer and father of a child with diabetes, have thrown in their support, leading to further developments such as Nightscout, an open source solution for storing CGM data in the cloud.

This project is a victory not only for those with diabetes, but also for the open source community. [John] admits his initial hesitation for developing for the medical device platform: litigation from a corporation could cause devastation for him and his family despite his intentions to merely improve his son’s and others’ quality of life. Those fears have mostly subsided, however, because the project now belongs to both no one and to everyone. It’s community-owned through an open source repository. Check out the overview of [John's] work for more pictures and links to different parts of the #wearenotwaiting community.

A High-Speed Logic Gate Board for the Easy-Phi Project

A (long) while ago I presented you the Easy-phi project, which aims at building a simple, cheap but intelligent rack-based open hardware/software platform for hobbyists. With this project, you simply have a rack to which you add cards (like the one shown above) that perform the functions you want.

During these last months my team has been finishing the design and production of several different boards so I’ll start showing them off during these next weeks. Today I present you the High Speed Logic Gate Board, a quantum-physicist requested easy-phi module that can perform logic AND/OR functions at <2GHz speeds. This quite technical write-up is mainly about the constraints that high-speed signals pose for schematics design but is also about the techniques that are used for HS signals termination and monitoring. I hope, however, it’ll give our readers a nice overview of what the insides of a high-speed system may look like. All the files used for this board may be found on the official GitHub repository.

[Bunnie] Launches the Novena Open Laptop

Novena Laptop

Today [Bunnie] is announcing the launch of the Novena Open Laptop. When we first heard he was developing an open source laptop as a hobby project, we hoped we’d see the day where we could have our own. Starting today, you can help crowdfund the project by pre-ordering a Novena.

The Novena is based on the i.MX6Q ARM processor from Freescale, coupled to a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA. Combined with the open nature of the project, this creates a lot of possibilities for using the laptop as a hacking tool. It has dual ethernet, for routing or sniffing purposes. USB OTG support lets the laptop act as a USB device, for USB fuzzing and spoofing. There’s even a high speed expansion bus to interface with whatever peripheral you’d like to design.

You can pre-order the Novena in four models. The $500 “just the board” release has no case, but includes all the hardware needed to get up and running. The $1,195 “All-in-One Desktop” model adds a case and screen, and hinges open to reveal the board for easy hacking. Next up is the $1,995 “Laptop” which includes a battery control board and a battery pack. Finally, there’s the $5000 “Heirloom Laptop” featuring a wood and aluminum case and a Thinkpad keyboard.

The hardware design files are already available, so you can drool over them. It will be interesting to see what people start doing with this powerful, open computer once it ships. After the break, check out the launch video.

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Gritz: An Open Source Speed Reading Tool


Here’s a hack to help you increase your reading speed. Gritz is an open source text file reader, which reduces the need to look around the screen. Words pop up one at a time, but at a configurable pace.

[Peter Feuerer] got the idea for Gritz from Spritz, a commercial product for speed reading. The creators of Spritz took three years to develop their software, and recently released a demo. They claim people can read at 1000 WPM using this technology. Spritz is taking applications for access to their APIs, which will allow developers to integrate the software into their own applications. However, a fully open source version with no restrictions would be even better.

Using Gritz, [Peter] claims to have read a book with a 75% improvement in his reading speed. He admits it’s not perfect, and there’s still much development to do. Gritz is written in Perl, uses Gtk2 for its GUI, and comes with instructions for running on Linux, OS X, and Windows. It’s released under the GPL, so you can clone the Github repo and start playing around with accelerated reading.

MobilECG goes open source


After a failed crowdfunding campaign, MobilECG has gone open source. MobilECG is a medical grade 12 lead electrocardiograph. A 12 lead system is quite a bit more complex than some of the ECG systems we have featured in the past.  [Péter], the founder and designer of the device attempted to fund it through an Indiegogo campaign. While MobilECG is relatively cheap, medical certifications are not. The campaign didn’t reach its goal of $230,000 USD. [Péter] tried again with a grass-roots donation round at his website. That round also fell short of [Péter's] goal to keep working on the project. Rather than let his hard work go to waste, [Péter] has made the decision to release his hardware and software to the community. The hardware is licensed under CERN OHL v1.2. The software is released under the humorously named WTFPL.

While we’re not ECG experts, the basic hardware design appears to be sound. MobileECG is based around the Texas Instruments ADS1278 octal analog to digital converter. Two AVR microcontrollers are used, an ATTiny24, and an ATUC64. The analog design incorporates such niceties as lead off detection and defibrillator protection. It should be noted that there are some known bugs in the design, [Péter] mentions he can be contacted with questions. The software seems to be in an early state, and would require quite a bit of work to get it to a final design. While we do wish [Péter] had better luck with his campaign, we’re always glad to see designs released into the open source community.

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