What’s Next on the Raspberry Pi Front

piscreenRaspberry Pi founder [Eben Upton] recently sat in an uncomfortable chair in London to discuss all things Pi. Having sold about four million units over the last 2.5 years, he feels the future is bright for his original vision of inspiring and helping kids to learn programming.

[Eben] is quite pleased with the Pi-Top, a B+ based laptop kit that’s pulling in backers left and right while completely unaffiliated with the Pi foundation. The kit includes a 13.3″ HD LCD screen, keyboard, trackpad, and an injection molded case, though you can print your own with the included STL files. Kits start at $249 without a Pi and $285 with a B+ included. Robot and home automation HATs are also available separately or bundled with the Pi-Top kit.

The most exciting news is that the $600,000 spent on DSI connectors for those four million Raspis is about to pay off. [Eben] hopes that an official touchscreen will be available for purchase before the end of 2014 or in early 2015. He showed off a 7″ capacitive touch panel that will attach to a display board stacked on a Pi, effectively turning it into a tablet.

[Eben] said that they will not be making a Model C and instead are working on revision A+. He hopes to make an official announcement in the near future.

Finally, [Eben] discussed the importance of community, which played a large part in the birth and evolution of the Pi. He also spoke of Pi Academy, a sort of professional workshop for teachers in the UK who’ve recently been tasked with teaching computer science as demanded by changes in the mandatory UK school curriculum. He hopes that these 2-day seminars will help educators achieve the high expectations recently laid out for students to achieve by age ten.

Reverse Engineering a Bathroom Scale for Automated Weight Tracking

Bathroom Scale

[Darell] recently purchased a fancy new bathroom scale. Unlike an average bathroom scale, this one came with a wireless digital display. The user stands on the scale and the base unit transmits the weight measurement to the display using infrared signals. The idea is that you can place the display in front of your face instead of having to look down at your feet. [Darell] realized that his experience with infrared communication would likely enable him to hack this bathroom scale to automatically track his weight to a spreadsheet stored online.

[Darell] started by hooking up a 38khz infrared receiver unit to a logic analyzer. Then he recorded the one-way communication from the scale to the display. His experience told him that the scale was likely using pulse distance coding to encode the data. The scale would start each bit with a 500ms pulse. Then it would follow-up with either another 500ms pulse, or a 1000ms pulse. Each combination represented either a 1 or a 0. The problem was, [Darell] didn’t know which was which. He also wasn’t sure in which order the bits were being transmitted. He modified a software plugin for his logic analyzer to display 1’s and 0’s on top of the waveform. He then made several configurable options so he could try the various representations of the data.

Next it was time to generate some known data. He put increasing amounts of weight on the scale and recorded the resulting data along with the actual reading on the display. Then he tried various combinations of display settings until he got what appeared to be hexadecimal numbers increasing in size. Then by comparing values, he was able to determine what each of the five bytes represented. He was even able to reconstruct the checksum function used to generate the checksum byte.

Finally, [Darell] used a Raspberry Pi to hook the scale up to the cloud. He wrote a Python script to monitor an infrared receiver for the appropriate data. The script also verifies the checksum to ensure the data is not corrupted. [Darell] added a small LED light to indicate when the reading has been saved to the Google Docs spreadsheet, so he can be sure his weight is being recorded properly.

120 Node Rasperry Pi Cluster for Website Testing

raspicluster1

[alexandros] works for resin.io, a website which plans to allow users to update firmware on embedded devices with a simple git push command. The first target devices will be Raspberry Pis running node.js applications. How does one perform alpha testing while standing up such a service? Apparently by building a monster tower of 120 Raspberry Pi computers with Adafruit 2.8″ PiTFT displays. We’ve seen some big Raspberry Pi clusters before, but this one may take the cake.

raspicluster2

The tower is made up of 5 hinged sections of plywood. Each section contains 24 Pis, two Ethernet switches and two USB hubs. The 5 sections can be run on separate networks, or as a single 120 node monster cluster. When the sections are closed in, they form a pentagon-shaped tower that reminds us of the classic Cray-1 supercomputer.

Rasberry Pi machines are low power, at least when compared to a desktop PC. A standard Raspi consumes less than 2 watts, though we’re sure the Adafruit screen adds to the consumption. Even with the screens, a single 750 watt ATX supply powers the entire system.

[alexandros] and the resin.io team still have a lot of testing to do, but they’re looking for ideas on what to do with their cluster once they’re done pushing firmware to it. Interested? Check out their Reddit thread!

Supercapacitors for the Raspberry Pi

supercapacitor ups

As versatile as the Raspberry Pi is, it has a weakness when it needs to be able to shut down properly during a power outage, especially when handling data-sensitive or industrial applications. To solve this problem, [Pavol Sedlacek] has created a supercapacitor-based UPS specifically for the Raspberry Pi that gives it enough time to properly halt its processes and shut down if it detects a power failure.

The device is called the Juice4Halt. It uses a DC-DC converter to provide power to the Pi from the normal power supply and to charge the supercapacitors during normal operation. It is bidirectional, so in the event of a power failure it works in reverse to take power from the capacitors and feed it back to the Pi. A second DC-DC converter handles power from an external power supply.

A side effect of using supercapacitors as a UPS is that they can also help the Pi survive brownouts. The project site has an incredible amount of detail about the functionality of the device, including circuit diagrams and the source code. We’ve seen other supercapacitor-based UPS units before but this particular one is much more robust and would be truly at home in any industrial or other sensitive setting.

A 1920’s Doorbell is Upgraded with 2010’s Technology

Doorbell

When you move into an old house, you are bound to have some home repairs in your future. [Ben] discovered this after moving into his home, built in 1929. The house had a mail slot that was in pretty bad shape. The slot was rusted and stuck open, it was covered in old nasty caulk, and it had a built-in doorbell that was no longer functional. [Ben] took it upon himself to fix it up.

The first thing on the agenda was to fix the doorbell. After removing the old one, [Ben] was able to expose the original cloth-insulated wiring. He managed to trace the wires back to his basement and, to his surprise, they seemed to be functional. He replaced the old doorbell button with a new momentary button and then hooked up a DIY doorbell using an XBee radio. [Ben] already had an XBee base station for his Raspberry Pi, so he was wrote a script that could send a notification to his phone whenever the doorbell was pushed.

Unfortunately, the old wiring just didn’t hold up. The push button only worked sporadically. [Ben] ended up purchasing an off the shelf wireless doorbell. He didn’t want to have to stick the included ugly plastic button onto the front of his house though, so [Ben] had to figure out how to trigger the new doorbell using the nice metallic button. He used the macro lens on his iPhone to follow the traces on the PCB until he was able to locate the correct points to trigger the doorbell. Then it was just a matter of a quick soldering job and he had a functional doorbell.

Once the electronics upgrades were complete, he moved on to fixing up the look of the mail slot. He had to remove the rust using a wire brush and sandpaper. Then he gave it a few coats of paint. He replaced the original natural insulation with some spray foam, and removed all the old nasty caulk. The final product looks as good as new and now includes a functional wireless doorbell.

We’re big fans of salvaging old-school home hardware. Another example that comes to mind is this set of door chimes with modernized driver.

THP Semifinalist: Farmbot

Farmbot Progress

The FarmBot team has been pretty busy with their CNC Farming and Gathering machine. The idea is to automate the farming process with precise deployment of tools: plows, seed injection, watering, sensors, etc. An Arduino with an added RAMPS handles the movement, and a Raspi provides internet connectivity. Their prototype has already experienced four major iterations: the first revision addressed bigger issues such as frame/track stability and simplification of parts. Now they’re locking down the specifics on internet-of-things integration and coding for advanced movement functions.

The most recent upgrade provides a significant improvement by overhauling the implementation of the tools. Originally, the team envisioned a single, multi-function tool head design that carried everything around all the time. Problem is, the tool that’s in-use probably works best if it’s lower than the others, and piling them all onto one piece spells trouble. The solution? a universal tool mounting system, of course. You can see them testing their design in a video after the break.

If the FarmBot progress isn’t impressive enough—and admittedly we’d have called project lead [Rory Aronson] crazy for attempting to pull this off…but he did it—the FarmBot crew started and successfully funded an entire sub-project through Kickstarter. OpenFarm is an open-source database set to become the go-to wiki for all things farming and gardening. It’s the result of [Rory] encountering an overwhelming amount of generic, poorly written advice on plant growing, so he just crowdsourced a solution. You know, no sweat.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

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Sweet Stepper of [Jeremy]‘s Rocks Out with its Box Out

Stepper motor MIDI music boxInspired by the floppy drive orchestras of others, [Jeremy] has built a Pi-driven MIDI music box with stepper motor resonators and outlined the build on hackaday.io.

Control for the motors comes from an Iteaduino Mega 2560. The music starts as a MIDI file, gets processed into a text file, and is played over serial by a Raspberry Pi. He’s added percussion using K’NEX instruments and 9g servos, which we think is a nice touch. It can be powered via LiPo or from the wall, and [Jeremy] baked in protection against blowing up the battery. As he explains in the tour video after the break, the box is clamped to a wooden table to provide richer sound.

[Jeremy]‘s favorite part of the build was enclosing the thing as it was his first time using panel-mount components. Stick around to see a walk-through of the guts and a second video demonstrating its musical prowess.

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