Building a Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox

This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.

It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.

The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.

We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.

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Solar FPV Plane Flies Forever

We love solar power. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it’s relatively lightweight and involves fragile high technology. Just the sort of thing that we’d want to strap onto the wings of a large model aircraft.

Solar power on a remote-controlled plane would get you unlimited cruising range. Now, a normal land-and-swap-battery process might be good enough for some people, but judging from [Prometreus]’s YouTube channel, he’s a fan of long flights over the Alps, and of pushing long-distance FPV links to the breaking point. For him and his friends, the battery power is definitely the limiting factor in how far / long he can fly.

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All of the information we have is in the video, but that’s plenty. [Prometreus] didn’t bother with maximum-power-point tracking, but instead wired up his solar cells to work just about right for the voltage of his batteries and the level of sun that he’s seeing. So it won’t work nearly as well on cloudy days. (Check out this MPPT build that was submitted for the Hackaday Prize.)

He could switch the solar cells in an out remotely, and it’s pretty gratifying to see the consumed current in the battery go down below zero. In the end, he lands with a full battery. How cool is that?

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Third Person Driving IRL

It’s a dream come true: remote control of a real car. Besides being a lot of fun, a life-size RC vehicle has some practical applications, like performing rescue operations or delivering supplies to dangerous areas. For [Carter], [Dave], [Ryan], and [Sean], the dream became reality in the span of 24 caffeine-and-chicken-finger-fueled hours during an Ohio State University hackathon. They dubbed the system MagiKarpet because it sits in place of the floor mat and runs on pixies.

The plan was to control the throttle, brake, and steering of a Chevy Cobalt using a PlayStation controller. For added fun, a camera mounted high above the back bumper would provide a third-person view, and this feed would be displayed on a monitor in the backseat. Everything is controlled by an Arduino Mega. A beefy linear actuator works the brake and is attached temporarily with a band of Shapelock that slips around the pedal. The throttle is pushed by a lever attached to a car window motor. Another motor connects to the steering wheel with cables that can turn it 90° left and right. Although the build was successful, they ran into a couple of issues. But what’s a hackathon experience without a few problems?

The linear actuator was jammed for about an hour after some early testing, but they got it unstuck. The PS controller was borked, so they had to roll their own joysticks. The school wouldn’t let them actually drive it around because of safety (killjoys but we get it), so they put it up on a jack to demonstrate it for the judges. They took second place, though we can’t imagine what would have beat this. Check out the complete build video after the break.

You might remember these guys from last year around this time. They took first place at the same hackathon with Robottermilk Puncakes, a app-controlled pancake machine. Now that you’re hungry for pancakes, feast your eyes on this endless one.

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Broken RC Car Goes Online

When the remote for your son’s RC car goes missing, what are you going to do? Throw away a perfectly good robot chassis? No, we wouldn’t either. And these days, with WiFi-enabled microcontroller boards so readily available, it’s almost easier to network the thing than it would be to re-establish radio control. So that’s just what [Stian Søreng] did.

Naturally, there’s an ESP8266 board at the heart of this hack, a WeMos D1 to be specific. [Stian] had played with cheap remote-controlled cars enough to be already familiar with the pinout of the RC IC, so he could simply hook up some GPIOs from the WeMos board to the pins and the brain transplant was complete.

On the software side, he implemented control over TCP by sending the characters “F”, “B”, “L”, or “R” to send the car forward, back, left, or right. Lowercase versions of the same letters turns that function off. He then wrote some client software in Qt that sends the right letters. He says that response time is around 150-250 ms, but that it works for his driving style — crashing. (We’d work on that.)

Anyway, it’s a fun and fairly quick project, and it re-uses something that was destined for the junk heap anyway, so it’s a strict win. The next steps are fairly open. With computer control of the car, he could do anything. What would you do next?

Thanks [Eyewind] for the tip!

Shoot Darts at the Shins of Total Strangers

[Michael Brumlow] found us and sent us a link. Within a few seconds, we were driving a webcam-enabled Nerf dart tank through his office and trying not to hit walls or get stepped on by his co-workers. Unfortunately, it was out of darts at the time, but you can find them all over the floor if you scout around.

screenshot_remote_botAll of the code details, including the link where you can test drive it yourself, are up on [Michael]’s GitHub. The brains are an Intel Edison board, and the brawns are supplied by an Arduino motor controller shield and (for the latest version) a chassis bought from China.

It runs fairly smoothly, considering the long round trip from [Michael]’s office in Texas, through wherever Amazon keeps their Web Services, over to us in Germany and back. Once we got used to the slight lag, and started using the keyboard’s arrow keys for control, we were driving around like a pro.

It’s got a few glitches still, like the camera periodically overheating and running out of WiFi distance. [Michael] said he’d try to keep it charged up and running while you give it a shot. The controls are multiplexed in the cloud, so your chance of steering it is as good as anyone else’s. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when thousands of Hackaday readers try to control it at once!

It takes a certain kind of bravery to put your telepresence robot up on the open Internets. So kudos to you, [Michael], and we hope that you manage to get some work done this week, even though you will have all of Hackaday driving into your cubicle walls.

Remote-Controlled Eyebrows for Your Birthday

We’re not sure that [Alec]’s dad actually requested remote-controlled eyebrows for his birthday, but it looks like it’s what he got! As [Alec] points out, his father does have very expressive eyebrows, and who knows, he could be tired of raising and lowering them by himself. So maybe this is a good thing? But to us, it still looks a tiny bit Clockwork Orange. But we’re not here to pass judgement or discuss matters of free will. On to the project. (And the video, below the break.)

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An ATmega328 (otherwise known as cheap Cloneduino Alec wrote that the 328 was from a real Arduino) is trained to run motors in response to IR signals. An L293D and a couple of gear motors take care of the rest. Sewing bobbins and thread connect the motors to the eyebrows. And while it’s not entirely visible in the photo, and veers back into not-sure-we’d-do-this-at-home, a toothpick serves as an anchor for the thread and tape, secured just underneath the ‘brows for maximum traction.

We have to say, we initially thought it was going to be a high-voltage muscle-control hack, and we were relieved that it wasn’t.

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Robo Car Via 3G

[Emil Kalstø] has a pretty solid remote control car. We don’t mean a little car with a handheld remote you can drive around the neighborhood. [Emil’s] car has a camera and a cell phone so that it can go anywhere there’s 3G or 4G networking available.

The video (see below) shows the results (along with [Emil’s] little brother acting as a safety officer). The video offers tantalizing detail you might find useful if you want to reproduce a similar vehicle. However, it stops short of providing complete details.

The two batteries onboard will power the vehicle for over 20 hours of continuous use. The 30W motor is reduced with a chain drive to go about “walking speed.” There’s a Raspberry Pi with a Huawei 3G USB dongle onboard and [Emil] uses an XBox controller to do the steering from the warmth of his living room. Of course, a Pi can’t handle a big motor like that directly, so a Phidgets USB motor controller does the hard work. The software is written using Node.js.

The camera mount can swivel 230 degrees on a servo so that the operator can scan the road ahead. The video mentions that steering the car required a heavy-duty servo with metal gears (an earlier attempt with nylon gears didn’t work out).

Overall, it looks like a solid build. We hope [Emil] will share code and more details soon. If you can’t wait (and your insurance is paid up), you might have a go at an even bigger car. Surprisingly, there’s more than one example of that.

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