Remember all the talk about modular smart phones? They sounded amazing! instead of upgrading your phone you would just upgrade the parts a bit like a computer but more simplistic. Well it seems modular phones are dead (video, embedded below) even after a lot of major phone manufacturers were jumping on the bandwagon. Even Google got on-board with Google Ara which was subsequently cancelled. LG released the G5 but it didn’t fare too well. The Moto Z from Motorola seemed to suffer from the same lack of interest. The buzz was there when the concept of these modular phones was announced, and people were genuinely exited about the possibilities. What went wrong?
For a start people expect their phones to have everything on board already, whether it be cameras, GPS, WiFi, high-capacity batteries or high-resolution screens. Consumers expect these things to come as standard. Why would they go out and buy a module when other phones on the market already have these things?
Sure you could get some weird and wonderful modules like extra loud speakers or perhaps a projector, but the demand for these items was small. And because these extras are already available as separate accessories not locked down to one device, it was a non starter from the beginning.
When we did our user studies. What we found is that most users don’t care about modularizing the core functions. They expect them all to be there, to always work and to be consistent. — Lead engineer Project Ara
The hackability of these phones would have been interesting to say the least, had they come to the mainstream. It just seems the public want thin sleek aluminum phones that they treat more as a status symbol than anything else. Modular phones have to be more bulky to accommodate the power/data rails and magnets for the modules, so they’ll lose out in pocketability. Still, we hope the idea is revisited in the future and not left on the scrap-heap of obsolescence.
It is hardly news that you can use your smart phone as a really crummy oscilloscope. You can even use it as an audio frequency signal generator. There are also plenty of projects that allow you to buffer signals going in and out of your phone to make these apps more useful and protect your phone’s circuitry to some degree. What caught our eye with [loboat’s] phone oscilloscope project was its construction.
Getting decent macro photos always seems to be a chore. Some important detail always seems to be just outside of the depth of field, or you have to be zoomed in so close that you get great detail in one spot but miss the big picture. [Nate B] had such a problem while trying to document some PC boards, and he came up with a nifty hack that uses a laser cutter and a smart phone camera to do the job.
Having first tried scanning the boards with a flat-bed scanner but finding the depth of field unsatisfactory, [Nate B] then went on to his Samsung phone’s camera. Set to panorama mode, he manually scanned across the boards and let the camera stitch the images together. The results were better, but the wobblies got the better of him and the images showed it. He then decided to use a laser cutter — with the laser disabled, of course — as an impromptu X-Y stage to raster his camera above the boards. In a slightly cringe-worthy move, he gingerly clamped the phone to the cutter gantry, started the panorama, and let the cutter move over the board. This results in a rock-solid pictures of his boards with a lot of detail – perfect for his documentation. As a bonus, the honeycomb laser cutter bed makes for an interesting background texture.
Obviously anything could be used to raster a camera and achieve similar results, but full points here for maximizing available resources and not over-complicating a simple job. Yet another reason you can use to justify that laser-cutter purchase.
[Oliver] is back with an update to his recent coffee maker hacks. His latest hack allowed him to add a coffee payment system to an off-the-shelf coffee maker without modifying the coffee maker itself. This project is an update to his previous adventures in coffee maker hacking which logged who was using up all of the coffee.
The payment system begins with an Arduino Uno clone inside of a small project enclosure. The Arduino communicates with the coffee maker via serial using the coffee maker’s service port. This port is easily available from outside the machine, so you won’t have to crack open the case and risk voiding your warranty.
The system also includes an RFID reader and a Bluetooth module. The RFID reader allows each user to have their own identification card. The user can swipe their card over the reader and the system knows how many credits are left in their account. If they have enough credit, the machine will pour a delicious cup of coffee.
The Arduino communicates to an Android phone using the Bluetooth module. [Oliver’s] Android app was built using MIT’s app inventor. It keeps track of the account credits and allows the user to add more. The system can currently keep track of up to forty accounts. [Oliver] also mentions that you can use any Bluetooth terminal program to control the system instead of a smart phone app. Continue reading “Coffee Payment System Doesn’t Void Your Warranty”→
We mourn the loss of the physical keyboard with the advent of tablets. After all, we do a bit of typing getting all of these features posted throughout the week. And we kind of blame tablets for the decline of the netbook industry (we still use a Dell Vostro A90 when not at home). But we’re trying to keep an open mind that we may not need a physical keyboard anymore. If someone can come up with an innovative alternative to the Qwerty layout that we are able to learn and can use with speed and without physical strain we’ll be on board. Our question is, do you think we are close to a screen typing breakthrough?
This question came to mind after seeing the Minuum keyboard shown above. It compresses all of the rows of a Qwerty into a single row, monopolizing less screen space than conventional smartphone input methods. The demo video (embedded after the break) even shows them hacking the concept into a distance sensor and using a graphite-on-paper resistor. Pretty cool. But what happens when you type a word not in the dictionary, like this author’s last name?
You can actually try out the Minuum style thanks to [Zack’s] in-browser demo hack. He’s not affiliated with Minuum, but has done quite a bit of alternative keyboard input work already with his ASETNIOP chorded typing project. It’s another contender for changing how we do things.
We’re still not quite sure what to call these projects, but as we’ve said before, it’s a pleasure to see what people are doing to use one remote control to rule them all. The project being developed by [Kalle Löfgren] seeks to simplify the remote controlled items in his home by combining all control into one smart phone app. The linchpin of the system is this command center which lets a smart phone send IR and RF commands to various devices (translated).
We’ve seen this done with pretty beefy microcontrollers, like this project that uses a PIC32. But the communications going on between the smartphone and the base station are very simple, as are the remote control commands which are being relayed. So we’re not surprised to find that this setup just uses an ATmega88, IR LED, Bluetooth Module, and RF module. There is no connection to a computer (the USB simply provides power via a cellphone charger). If you’re interested in how [Kalle] sniffed the protocol for each remote he wrote two other articles which you can find in the write-up linked above.
[Alastair Barber] finished building the clock at the end of last year as a Christmas gift. The display seen above uses an old mantelpiece clock to give it a finished look. He replace the clock face with a print out of the various locations known to the system and added a servo motor to drive the single hand. His hardware choices were based on what he already had on hand and what could be acquired cheaply. The an all-in-one package combines a Raspberry Pi board with a USB broadband modem to ensure that it has a persistent network connection (we’ve seen this done using WiFi in the past). The RPi checks a cellphone’s GPS data, compares it to a list of common places, then pushes commands to the Arduino which controls the clock hand’s servo motor. It’s a roundabout way of doing things but we imagine everything will get reused when the novelty of the gift wears off.