Add Robotic Farming to Your Backyard with Farmbot Genesis

Growing your own food is a fun hobby and generally as rewarding as people say it is. However, it does have its quirks and it definitely equires quite the time input. That’s why it was so satisfying to watch Farmbot push a weed underground. Take that!

Farmbot is a project that has been going on for a few years now, it was a semifinalist in the Hackaday Prize 2014, and that development time shows in the project documented on their website. The robot can plant, water, analyze, and weed a garden filled with arbitrarily chosen plant life. It’s low power and low maintenance. On top of that, every single bit is documented on their website. It’s really well done and thorough. They are gearing up to sell kits, but if you want it now; just do it yourself.

The bot itself is exactly what you’d expect if you were to pick out the cheapest most accessible way to build a robot: aluminum extrusions, plate metal, and 3D printer parts make up the frame. The brain is a Raspberry Pi hooked to its regular companion, an Arduino. On top of all this is a fairly comprehensive software stack.

The user can lay out the garden graphically. They can get as macro or micro as they’d like about the routines the robot uses. The robot will happily come to life in intervals and manage a garden. They hope that by selling kits they’ll interest a whole slew of hackers who can contribute back to the problem of small scale robotic farming.

Raspberry Pi 3 Gets USB, Ethernet Boot

The Raspberry Pi is a great computer, even if it doesn’t have SATA. For those of us who have lost a few SD cards to the inevitable corruption that comes from not shutting a Pi down properly, here’s something for you: USB Mass Storage Booting for the Raspberry Pi 3.

For the Raspberry Pi 1, 2, Compute Module, and Zero, there are two boot modes – SD boot, and USB Device boot, with USB Device boot only found on the Compute Module. [Gordon] over at the Raspberry Pi foundation spent a lot of time working on the Broadcom 2837 used in the Raspberry Pi 3, and found enough space in 32 kB to include SD boot, eMMC boot, SPI boot, NAND flash, FAT filesystem, GUID and MBR partitions, USB device, USB host, Ethernet device, and mass storage device support. You can now boot the Raspberry Pi 3 from just about anything.

The documentation for these new boot modes goes over the process of how to put an image on a USB thumb drive. It’s not too terribly different from the process of putting an image on an SD card, and the process will be streamlined somewhat in the next release of rpi-update. Some USB thumb drives do not work, but as long as you stick with a Sandisk or Samsung, you should be okay.

More interesting than USB booting is the ability for the Pi 3 to boot over the network. Booting over a network is nothing new – the Apple II could do it uphill both ways in the snow, but the most common use for the Pi is a dumb media player that connects to all your movies on network storage. With network booting, you can easily throw a Pi on a second TV and play all that media in a second room. Check out the network booting tutorial here.

Hackaday Prize Entry: An Internet Of Things Microscope

For their entry into the Citizen Scientist portion of the Hackaday Prize, the folks at Arch Reactor, the St. Louis hackerspace, are building a microscope. Not just any microscope – this one is low-cost, digital, and has a surprisingly high magnification and pretty good optics. It’s the Internet of Things Microscope, and like all good apparatus for Citizen Scientist, it’s a remarkable tool for classrooms and developing countries.

When you think of ‘classroom microscope’, you’re probably thinking about a pile of old optics sitting in the back of a storage closet. These microscopes are purely optical, without the ability to take digital pictures. The glass is good, but you’re not going to get a scanning stage when you’re dealing with 30-year-old gear made for a classroom full of sticky-handed eighth graders.

The Internet of Things Microscope includes a scanning stage that moves across the specimen on the X and Y axes, stitching digital images together to create a very large image. That’s a killer feature for a cheap digital microscope, and the folks at Arch Reactor are doing this with a few cheap stepper motors and stepper motor drivers.

The rest of the electronics are built around a Raspberry Pi, Raspberry Pi camera (which recently got a nice resolution upgrade), and a some microscope eyepieces and objectives. Everything else is 3D printed, making this a very cheap and very accessible microscope that has some killer features.

ArduCAM Introduces A Third Party Raspberry Pi

There are hundreds of ARM-based Linux development boards out there, with new ones appearing every week. The bulk of these ARM boards are mostly unsupported, and in the worst case they don’t work at all. There’s a reason the Raspberry Pi is the best-selling tiny ARM computer, and it isn’t because it’s the fastest or most capable. The Raspberry Pi got to where it is today because of a huge amount of work from devs around the globe.

Try as they might, the newcomer fabricators of these other ARM boards can’t easily glom onto the popularity of the Pi. Doing so would require a Broadcom chipset. Now that the Broadcom BCM2835-based ODROID-W has gone out of production because Broadcom refused to sell the chips, the Raspberry Pi ecosystem has been completely closed.

Things may be changing. ArduCAM has introduced a tiny Raspberry Pi compatible module based on Broadcom’s BCM2835 chipset, the same chip found in the original Raspberry Pis A, B, B+ and Zero. This module is tiny – just under an inch square – and compatible with all of the supported software that makes the Raspberry Pi so irresistible.

nano-rpi-cmio-backAlthough this Raspberry Pi-compatible board is not finalized, the specs are what you would expect from what is essentially a Raspberry Pi Zero cut down to a square inch board. The CPU is listed as, “Broadcom BCM2835 ARM11 Processor @ 700 MHz (or 1GHz?)” – yes, even the spec sheet doesn’t know how fast the CPU is running – and RAM is either 256 or 512MB of LPDDR2.

There isn’t space on the board for a 2×20 pin header, but a sufficient number of GPIOs are broken out to make this board useful. You will fin a micro-SD card slot, twin micro-USB ports, connectors for power and composite video, as well as the Pi Camera connector. This board is basically the same size as the Pi Camera board, making the idea of a very tiny Linux-backed imaging systems tantalizingly close to being a reality.

It must be noted that this board is not for sale yet, and if Broadcom takes offense to the project, it may never be. That’s exactly what happened with the ODROID-W, and if ArduCAM can’t secure a supply of chips from Broadcom, this project will never see the light of day.

Hackaday Prize Entry: A Raspberry Pi Project

There’s no piece of technology that has been more useful, more influential on the next generation of sysadmins and engineers, and more polarizing than the Raspberry Pi. For $35 (or just $5), you get a complete single board computer, capable of running Linux, and powerful enough to do useful work. For the 2016 Hackaday Prize, [Arsenijs] has created the perfect Raspberry Pi project. It’s everything you expect a Pi-powered project to be, and more.

While the Raspberry Pi, and the community surrounding the Raspberry Pi, get a lot of flak for the relatively simple approach to most projects which are effectively just casemods, critics of these projects forget the historical context of tiny personal computers. Back in the early ‘aughts, when Mini ITX motherboards were just being released, websites popped up that would feature Mini ITX casemods and nothing else. While computers stuffed into an NES, an old radio, or the AMD logo are rather banal projects today, I assure you they were just as pedestrian 15 years ago as well. Still, the creators of these Mini ITX case mods became the hardware hackers of today. It all started with simple builds, a Dremel, and some Bondo.

[Arsenijs] takes his Raspberry Pi project a bit further than a simple casemod, drawing influence from a Raspberry Pi smartphone, a Raspberry Pi security system, a Portable Raspberry Pi, and a Raspberry Pi wrist computer. These are all excellent projects in their own right, but [Arsenijs] is putting his own special twist on the project: he’s using a Raspberry Pi, and a few Raspberry Pi accessories.

While this project is first and foremost a Raspberry Pi project, [Arsenijs] isn’t limiting himself to the platform with the Broadcom chip. The team behind this Raspberry Pi project was busy porting the project to Odroid when the Banana Pi came out. This changed everything, a refactor was required, and then the Orange Pi was announced. Keeping up with technology is hard, and is a big factor in why this Raspberry Pi project hasn’t delivered yet. You can say a lot of things about the Raspberry Pi foundation, but at least their boards make a good attempt at forward compatibility.

Already [Arsenijs]’ Raspberry Pi project is one of the more popular projects on, and is in the running for being one of the most popular projects in this year’s Hackaday Prize. Whether that popularity will translate into a minor win for this year’s Hackaday Prize remains to be seen, but it seems for [Arsenijs] that doesn’t matter; he’s already on the bleeding edge of Raspberry Pi projects.

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Don’t Take Photos of Your Arduino 101 Either, It’s Light Sensitive

Wafer level chips are cheap and very tiny, but as [Kevin Darrah] shows, vulnerable to bright light without the protective plastic casings standard on other chip packages.

We covered a similar phenomenon when the Raspberry Pi 2 came out. A user was taking photos of his Pi to document a project. Whenever his camera flash went off, it would reset the board.

[Kevin] got a new Arduino 101 board into his lab. The board has a processor from Intel, an accelerometer, and Bluetooth Low Energy out of the box while staying within the same relative price bracket as the Atmel versions. He was admiring the board, when he noticed that one of the components glittered under the light. Curious, he pulled open the schematic for the board, and found that it was the chip that switched power between the barrel jack and the USB. Not only that, it was a wafer level package.

So, he got out his camera and a laser. Sure enough, both would cause the power to drop off for as long as the package was exposed to the strong light. The Raspberry Pi foundation later wrote about this phenomenon in more detail. They say it won’t affect normal use, but if you’re going to expose your device to high energy light, simply put it inside a case or cover the chip with tape, Sugru, or a non-conductive paint to shield it.

EDIT: [Kevin] also tested it under the sun and found conditions in which it would reset. Videos after the break.

Continue reading “Don’t Take Photos of Your Arduino 101 Either, It’s Light Sensitive”

An Open Source Lead Tester

If you’ve ever needed an example of colossal failure of government actors, you need only to look at Flint, Michigan’s water crisis. After the city of Flint changed water supplies from Detroit to the Flint river, city officials failed to add the correct corrosion inhibitors. This meant that lead dissolved into the water, thousands of children were exposed to lead in drinking water, a government coverup ensued, [Erin Brockovich] showed up, the foreman of the Flint water plant was found dead, and the City Hall office containing the water records was broken into.

Perhaps inspired by Flint, [Matthew] is working on an Open Source Lead Tester for his entry into the 2016 Hackaday Prize.

[Matthew]’s lead tester doesn’t test the water directly. Instead, it uses a photodiode and RGB LED to look at the color of a lead test strip. These results are recorded, and with a bit of a software backend, an entire city can be mapped for lead contamination in a few days with just a few of these devices.

One problem [Matthew] has run into is the fact the Pi does not have analog to digital conversion, making reading a photodiode a little harder than just plugging a single part into a pin header and watching an analog value rise and fall. That really shouldn’t be a problem – ADCs are cheap, especially if you only need a single channel of analog input with low resolution. [Matthew] is also looking into using the Pi webcam for measuring the lead test strip. There are a lot of decisions to make, but any functional device that comes out of this project will be very useful in normal, functioning governments. And hopefully in Flint, Michigan too.

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