Fixing a Broken Postage Scale

[Starhawk] had an old Pitney Bowes G799 postage scale that wasn’t working as it should. After years of faithfully measuring packages and cooking ingredients, the scale stopped working. At first it fell out of calibration. Then the power up sequence stopped working. The scale normally would turn on, light up the entire display, then change to dashes, and finally set itself to 0.0 lbs. In this case, it would get stuck at the dashes and never change to 0.0.

[Starhawk] ended up purchasing another duplicate scale from eBay, only to find that when it arrived it had the exact same power up problem. Using deductive reasoning, he decided that since the scale was broken during shipping the problem would likely be with a mechanical component. He turned out to be correct. The cheap momentary power button was at fault. When pressing the button, the contact would get stuck closed preventing the scale from zeroing out properly. [Starhawk] easily fixed his problem by replacing the switch.

Next [Starhawk] replaced the old scale’s LCD module with one from the new scale, since the old one looked to be on its way out. The scale still had a problem correctly measuring weight. [Starhawk] tried swapping the load cell from the new scale to the old one, but he found that the new load cell had some kind of problem that prevented the scale from zeroing out properly. The solution ended up being to use the newer “analog board” as [Starhawk] calls it.  The end result was the old scale with two newer circuit boards, an older load cell, and a new power switch. Next time it might be easier to just build his own scale.

Reverse Engineering a Bathroom Scale for Automated Weight Tracking

[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.

Small-Scale Projects Use Snail-Mail Mail-Scale

stamps.com scale

Stamps.com offers a free USB scale when you sign up for their service. The first versions of this scale did not have a display. In order to find the weight of an object the scale had to be connected to a computer running the stamps.com software. If you happen to have one of these old scales or are able to pick one up cheap, you may be interested in using it outside of the stamps.com service. There are several options on how to do that.

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Hacking Digital Scales for the Disabled

analphabeticscale

[Jan] works with both physically and mentally disabled individuals, some of whom cannot read, making many of their tasks more difficult. Although [Jan] is not in a position to teach reading or writing skills, he was able to build an add-on device for the scales used in repackaging sweets to provide simple feedback that the user can interpret.

The device has three LEDs—red, green, and yellow—to indicate the package does not weigh enough (red), weighs too much (yellow), or lies within an acceptable range (green). The industrial scales at [Jan’s] workplace each have a serial output to connect to a printer, which he used to send data to the device. An ATMega8 controls the lights and an attached LCD, with the usual trimpot to change the display’s contrast and a rotary encoder to adjust the device’s settings. Everything fits snugly into a custom-made frosted acrylic enclosure, laser-cut at a local hackerspace.

[Jan] provides a rigorous guide to approaching each step on his Instructables page, along with source code and several pictures. See a video overview below, then enjoy another scale hack: building one from scratch.

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Posterior Posture Videogame Controller

bathroom_scale_game_controller

Normally we see some crazy mad science projects coming from [Ben Krasnow’s] laboratory. This week [Ben] changes gears a bit and hacks his Xbox controller to interface with his bathroom scale and function as a posture controlled input device. You may want to take a moment for that to tumble around in your noggin before we trying to explain. What this means is you sit catawampus on a bathroom scale and when you lean forward your game character moves forward, lean back your character backs up and lean side to side for strafe left and right.

A modern digital bathroom scale has four pressure point transducers — one in each corner — which are read by the central controller and summed to generate the weight of the object setting on the scale. To use the scale as a controller input [Ben] removed the central scale controller and created two amplified Wheatstone bridge differential circuits, one for each diagonal axis between load cells. After adding an offset potentiometer to fix the resting point at 0.8 volts, the amplified differential voltage signals are fed directly into an Xbox controller’s thumb stick input for game control.

Additionally, to add rotation to his new game controller he hacked a an old ball type mouse and added a bit of rubber tubing that contacted and tracked the base of a  Lazy Susan platter. The scale sits on the Lazy Susan and allows for the partial rotation of your torso to controlled game rotation. However, [Ben] still needed a regular mouse interfaced with the game for full 360° rotation control.

There is more after the break, plus the build and demonstration video.

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Hackaday Links: September 15, 2013

hackaday-links-chain

First a quick announcement. We changed our “Kickstarter” category to “Crowd Funding“. We get a huge number of tips about crowd funding projects. We’re always interested in details. If you’re trying to get your crowd funding campaign on our front page make sure you’ve shared as many gritty project details (development process, problems/successes along the way, etc.) as possible . We usually prefer if this is done in a separate blog post from the campaign page itself.

Here’s a peephole hack that purportedly cost four grand. It uses a full on DSLR for the peephole hardware. Add a motion sensor and maybe you’ll be able to learn the faces of the neighbors who live on your floor. [via Gizmodo]

[Matthias] tells us that support for Rigol DS1052E oscilloscopes has been included in the 3.11 version of the Linux Kernel. Prior to this, getting the hardware to work on Linux was a hack, and a buggy one at that. For what it’s worth, here’s confirmation that support was added.

A post about reverse engineering the FitBit Aria Wi-Fi scale was sent in by [Christopher]. This makes us wonder if you could patch into a digital scale, using your own electronics to spoof the FitBit version?

We always keep our paperboard six-pack carriers so that we have a way to transport our homebrew beer. But rolling into a party with this laser-cut beer caddy which [Daniel] designed looks a lot cooler.

Texas Instruments has an MSP430 Selection Guide (PDF) which we found interesting. The first nine pages or so are pretty much just marketing, but several pages of parametric tables found after that make for a great collection of data on the hardware families. [via Dangerous Prototypes]

[Antoine] spared no expense building a coffee table that showcases his old motherboards. The illuminated glass and wood art piece rang in at around $400 in materials. We’re a little more minimalist with our home decor. We still want something along the lines of this LED matrix version.

Speaking of LED matrices, [Mario] dropped off a link to his LED Space Invaders game in the comments of last week’s Game of Light post. What we can’t figure out is why so many people hesitate to send in a tip about their awesome projects?

Adding a display to a USB digital scale

arduino_scale

[Oleg] found himself in possession of a Stamps.com Model 510 5lb digital scale.  It’s a great scale, but only works as a USB HID device. In other words, it’s a digital scale without a digital display. He decided he wanted it to be more standalone, so he added a Toshiba HD44780 (compatible) display. An Arduino UNO and USB Host shield were used to make it happen. His sketch simply polls the scale and outputs the weight on the display.

In this case, he used the USB Host Shield from Circuits at Home, but a brief look shows they use the same MAX3421 controller chip as Sparkfun and other versions of the board. You might also be able to pull off the same functionality with an AVR running V-USB, though admittedly it wouldn’t be so easy.

We haven’t found a great way to add USB host mode to projects other than shields like the one [Oleg] used. If you know of a better way, share your ideas in the comments.

Of course, if this isn’t hardcore enough for you, forget using a consumer scale – make your own from scratch!