The Hackaday Prize: The Hacker Behind The First Tricorder

Smartphones are the most common expression of [Gene Roddneberry]’s dream of a small device packed with sensors, but so far, the suite of sensors in the latest and greatest smartphone are only used to tell Uber where to pick you up, or upload pics to an Instagram account. It’s not an ideal situation, but keep in mind the Federation of the 24th century was still transitioning to a post-scarcity economy; we still have about 400 years until angel investors, startups, and accelerators are rendered obsolete.

Until then, [Peter Jansen] has dedicated a few years of his life to making the Tricorder of the Star Trek universe a reality. It’s his entry for The Hackaday Prize, and made it to the finals selection, giving [Peter] a one in five chance of winning a trip to space.

[Peter]’s entry, the Open Source Science Tricorder or the Arducorder Mini, is loaded down with sensors. With the right software, it’s able to tell [Peter] the health of leaves, how good the shielding is on [Peter]’s CT scanner, push all the data to the web, and provide a way to sense just about anything happening in the environment. You can check out [Peter]’s video for The Hackaday Prize finals below, and an interview after that.

Continue reading “The Hackaday Prize: The Hacker Behind The First Tricorder”

Apollo, the Everything Board

The best projects have a great story behind them, and the Apollo from Carbon Origins is no exception. A few years ago, the people at Carbon Origins were in school, working on a high power rocketry project.

Rocketry, of course, requires a ton of sensors in a very small and light package. The team built the precursor to Apollo, a board with a 9-axis IMU, GPS, temperature, pressure, humidity, light (UV and IR) sensors, WiFi, Bluetooth, SD card logging, a microphone, an OLED, and a trackball. This board understandably turned out to be really cool, and now it’s become the main focus of Carbon Origins.

There are more than a few ways to put together an ARM board with a bunch of sensors, and the Apollo is extremely well designed; all the LEDs are on PWM pins, as they should be, and there was a significant amount of time spent with thermal design. See that plated edge on the board? That’s for keeping the sensors cool.

The Apollo will eventually make its way to one of the crowdfunding sites, but we have no idea when that will happen. Carbon Origins is presenting at CES at the beginning of the year, so it’ll probably hit the Internet sometime around the beginning of next year. The retail price is expected to be somewhere around $200 – a little expensive, but not for what you’re getting.

The Smart Humidor


If you’re a cigar aficionado, you know storing cigars at the proper temperature and humidity is something you just need to do. Centuries of design have gone into the simple humidor, and now, I guess, it’s time to put some electronics alongside your cigars.

The design of [dzzie]’s smart humidor consists of an Arduino, WiFi shield, LCD + button shield, and most importantly, a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor. In a bit of thoughtfulness, only the DHT22 is mounted inside the humidor; everything else is in an enclosure mounted outside the humidor, including a few buttons for clearing alerts and logging when water is added.

The smart humidor reads the DHT22 sensor every 20 minutes and uploads the data to a web server where useful graphs are rendered. The control box will send out an alert email to [dzzie] if the temperature or humidity is out of the desired range.

THP Hacker Bio: radu.motisan


Here’s a great example of thinking big while keeping it simple. [Radu Motisan‘s] putting together a global radiation monitoring network as his entry in The Hackaday Prize.

The simplicity comes in the silver box pictured above. This houses the Geiger tube which measures radiation levels. The box does three things: hangs on a wall somewhere, plugs into Ethernet and power, and reports measurements so that the data can be combined with info from all other functioning units.

After seeing the idea we wanted to know more about [Radu]. His answers to our slate of queries are found below.

Continue reading “THP Hacker Bio: radu.motisan”

THP Entry: The Improved Open Source Tricorder


Since [Gene Roddenberry] traveled back in time from the 23rd century, the idea of a small, portable device has wound its way through the social consciousness, eventually turning into things like smartphones, PDAs, and all the other technological gadgetry of modern life. A few years ago, [Peter Jansen] started The Tricorder Project, the start of the ultimate expression of [Mr. Roddneberry]’s electronic swiss army knife. Now [Peter] is building a better, smaller version for The Hackaday Prize.

[Peter]’s first tricorders borrowed their design heavily from The Next Generation props with a fold-out section, two displays, and a bulky front packed to the gills with sensors and detectors. Accurate if you’re cosplaying, but not the most practical in terms of interface and human factors consideration. These constraints led [Peter] to completely redesign his tricorder, disregarding the painted wooden blocks found on Enterprise and putting all the electronics in a more usable form factor.

A muse of sorts was found in the Radiation Watch, a tiny, handheld Geiger counter meant as an add-on to smartphones. [Peter] envisions a small ~1.5″ OLED display on top, a capacitive sensing wheel in the middle, and a swipe bar at the bottom. Basically, it looks like a 1st gen iPod nano, but much, much more useful.

Plans for what to put in this improved tricorder include temperature, humidity, pressure, and gas sensors, a 3-axis magnetometer, x-ray and gamma ray detectors, a polarimeter, colorimeter, spectrometer, 9-axis IMU, a microphone, a lightning sensor, and WiFi courtesy of TI’s CC3000 module. Also included is something akin to a nuclear event detector; if it still exists, there has been no nuclear event.

It’s an astonishing array of technology packed into an extremely small enclosure – impressive for something that is essentially a homebrew device.Even if it doesn’t win the Hackaday Prize, it’s still an ambitious attempt at putting data collection and science in everyone’s pocket – just like in Star Trek.

SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is an entry in The Hackaday Prize. Build something awesome and win a trip to space or hundreds of other prizes.

Spin a PCB for Your Most Beloved Sensors


If you follow [Ioannis’] lead you’re going to thank yourself every time you sit down to work on a new prototype. He took all of the sensors which he most commonly uses and spun one dev board to host them all.

As long as you’re willing to wait for delivery, the cost of small-run professionally made PCBs has become unbelievably reasonable. That’s really nice when you need to test your layout before exploring larger production. But it also means you can develop your own dirt-cheap yet reliable dev tools. This example combines three sensors which all communicate via I2C:

  • MPU6050 accelermoter/gyro
  • BMP085 pressure sensor
  • SHT10 humidity sensor

Obviously this is a great idea, but key is the cheat sheet which [Ioannis] included on the bottom of the board. It testifies as to which chips are on the board, but also includes the device addresses for the data bus. We’ve adopted the mantra that if a breadboarded prototype is not working, it’s always a hardware problem. For those oft-used parts this should alleviate some of the heartache at your bench.

You could still make something like this without spinning or etching a board. You’ll just have to be creative with the soldering.

ATMega & ATtiny Core Temperature Sensors


We don’t know if this will come as a surprise to the regular Hackaday reader, but a whole bunch of Atmel microcontrollers have a very cool feature hidden away in their datasheets. Most of them – everything from the ATMega 168, 328, 32u4, to the ATtiny85 and  84 have a temperature sensor right on the chip. [Connor] did a little bit of research on this sensor and came up with a little bit of code that spits out the core temperature of these Atmel chips over the serial port.

The temperature sensor on these Atmel chips is accessed by writing a code – ‘100111’ for the Mega32u4 and ‘100010’ for the tiny84, for example – into the ADMUX register on the chip. According to the datasheet, the returned temperature is accurate to +- 10°C, but that can be easily calibrated by holding an ice cube (in a plastic bag, of course) up to the chip.

With a little more code, [Connor] is able to output the temperature of the microcontroller core over a serial port. In testing, his chip started out at 20°C and reached equilibrium at 24°C after about a minute. Pretty neat, and could be used as a temperature sensor for a project in a pinch.