Spark Goes Cellular With The Electron

A few years ago, small and cheap WiFi modules burst onto the scene and with that the Spark was born. It’s a tiny dev board with a TI CC3000 WiFi module, capable of turning any device into an Internet-connected device. It’s only the very beginning of the Internet of Things, yes, but an important step in the right direction. Now, Spark is unshackling itself from WiFi networks with the Spark Electron, a dev kit that comes with a cellular radio and data plan.

If you’ve ever tried to build a high altitude balloon, a project that will be out of range of WiFi, or anything else where cellular data would be a godsend, you’ll quickly realize Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, and all the other carriers out there don’t necessarily care about your project. As far as we can tell, Spark is the first company to fix this gaping hole in what cellular can do by offering their own service – 20,000 messages for $3/month and no contracts. Officially, that’s 1MB of data spread over 20k messages that are about 50 bytes in length.

There are a few dozen companies and organizations working on the next generation of The Internet Of Things, but these require completely new silicon and spectrum allocations or base stations. Right now, there’s exactly one way of getting a Thing on the Internet without WiFi, and that’s with cellular data. We have to hand it to Spark for this one, and can’t wait to see the projects that will be possible due to a trickle of Internet everywhere.

Super Bowl Football Lamp Keeps You Informed

[David] loves to watch football. After his preferred team lost the playoffs, he wanted another reason to watch the big game last Sunday. He ended up building himself a football-shaped lamp that changes color based on who scored last.

[David] started with a Spark Core and a Spark Button. The Spark is the primary microcontroller and includes WiFi. The Spark Button is essentially a shield for the Spark that includes an accelerometer, some LEDs, and a few push buttons. The other part of this build was the housing. [David] used a toy football he got for free as swag from a parade.

As for the code, [David] started by first learning how to control the LEDs on the Spark Button. Then he wrote his own touchdown function to illuminate the football a specific color. Since the Spark uses the REST API, [David] is able to trigger this function by simply visiting the URL of his Spark. This makes it very simple to trigger the event.

The final part of this build was made easy thanks to IfThisThenThat (IFTTT). This is a web service that allows you to monitor and interact with various online web services. It can monitor one service, and then interact with another based on events that happen in the first service. In this case, [David] is using a “channel” added to IFTTT by ESPN. This channel can trigger when certain events happen for whatever team you specify. For this project [David] is monitoring touchdowns.

After combining all of these various services, [David] had a working light that would change colors based on which team scored. He did notice that IFTTT has anywhere between a 1 and 15 minute delay, and he hopes to improve upon this design by hooking directly to an API and skipping the extra service altogether.

Shower Occupancy Sensor Keeps Peace/Eliminates Odor at the Office

When the first two prototype ingredients listed are paperclips and Post-it notes you know it’s going to be good. The problem: one shower stall at work with numerous co-workers who bike to the office. The solution: a occupancy monitor that is smart enough to know that someone is actually in the room. You know what we’re talking about, a sensor that knows more than whether the door is open or closed. [James] got wise and built a sensor to monitor whether the door is bolted or not. We think this method is far superior to motion-based systems.

This uber-smart sensor is simply a pair of paperclips anchored on a rolled Post-it note substrate and shoved in the receiver on the door jamb. When the bolt is locked from the inside it pushes the paperclips together completing the simple circuit. This is monitored by a Spark Core but will work with just about any monitoring system you can devise. What we’re trying to figure out is how to ruggedize the paper-clip hack which we can’t think will perform well for very long. It looks like there’s room to bore out a bit more inside the receiver hole. Perhaps leaf switch with a 3D printed mounting bracket?

Oh, and kudos on the Ikea food storage container for the enclosure. That’s one of our favorite tricks for hacks which are installed for the long-run.

Hobbit Sword Glows Blue, Vanquishes Unprotected Wifi

Whilst the original Sting glowed blue as a defensive alert, Spark’s “WarSting” is all about aggression. The project hacks a toy Hobbit sword and teaches it to glow blue when vulnerable WiFi is detected. Once alerted, combat ensues. If its bearer slashes, the sword will battle the helpless network, swinging and clanging until it acquires an IP from the defeated DHCP server. Once conquered, the sword publishes a “Vanquished” message to Spark’s cloud, teaching the sword to ignore it from thenceforth.

While “wardriving” has not really been a thing since the first Lord of the Rings movie came out, the last time we saw someone do something similar the hardware was limited to detecting WiFi, not connecting.

Spark CEO [Zach] chose the particular sword because it could be disassembled without being cut apart and already came equipped with easily-hackable LEDs, motion control, and sound effects. Naturally he added one of his own products – the Spark Core – to the hilt to graft WiFi features onto the weapon (a cheaper alternative would be an MCU of your choice and the new ESP8266). The project then hijacks the LED lighting, sound, and hit detection sensor. Our readers can probably come up with some more imaginative actions to take once connected, though the project’s existing code for the Core is published on Github. As-is, in many jurisdictions even merely connecting to an unsecured WiFi these days is unlawful so beware your local restrictions.

Lots of companies could simply advertise the easy way and while obviously an ad, the WarSting is still a creative and fun hack.

See the video below for the sword in action and a Spark’s lore regarding the hack. Thanks [Chris] for the tip.

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L3D Cube Takes the Work out of Building an LED Cube

Building an LED cube usually means a heck of a lot of delicate soldering work. Bending jigs, assembly jigs, and lots of patience are the name of the game. The problem multiplies if you want to build with RGB LEDs. [Shawn and Alex] are hoping to change all that with their L3D cube. Yes, L3D is a Kickstarter campaign, but it has enough good things about it that we’re comfortable featuring it here on Hackaday. What [Shawn and Alex] have done is substitute WS2812b surface mount LEDs for the 5mm  or 3mm through hole LEDs commonly used in cubes. The downside is that the cube is no longer visible on all sides. The upside is that it becomes a snap to assemble.

The L3D cube is open source hardware. The source files are available from separate software and hardware Github repositories. Not next week, not when they hit their funding goal, but now. We seriously like this, and hope all crowdfunding campaigns go this route.

The L3D cube uses an open source Spark Core as its processor and WiFi interface. Using WS2812b’s means less I/O pins, and no LED driver chips needed. This makes it perfect for a board like Spark or Arduino.  On the software side, the team has created a Processing Library which makes it easy to create animations with no coding necessary.

L3D has all the features one would expect from an LED cube – a microphone for ambient sound visualizations, and lots of built in animations. It seems [Shawn and Alex] have also created some sort of synchronization system while allows multiple cubes to work together when stacked. The team is hoping someone will come up with a 3D printed light diffuser to make these cubes truly a 360 degree experience.

The L3D cube campaign is doing well, [Shawn and Alex] are close to doubling their $38,000 goal. Click past the break to check out their Kickstarter video!

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Scare off Squirrels and Tweet about It with the Jack-O’-Lantern Warning System

[Stephpalm] had carved a pumpkin for the first time in two decades. Unfortunately, the neighborhood squirrels were all too pleased with her work and devoured it. Her original goal for the jack-o’-lantern was to have its lights controlled over the internet. These hungry critters inspired another project instead – The Jack-’o’-Lantern Squirrel Early Warning System. There have been hacks that have dealt with pesky squirrels before, such as a trap and an automatic water turret, but they didn’t have the ability to post to social media like this system does.

The system consists of a Spark Core, a passive infrared (PIR) sensor, and a piezo buzzer. When the motion sensor is triggered the buzzer sounds, scaring away any peckish creatures lurking nearby. [Stephpalm] used an NPN transistor and 1k-Ohm resistor to provide enough current to drive the buzzer. All of these components were connected using jumper wires and a breadboard that sits on top of the pumpkin. As a nod to her original idea, [stephpalm] then created “Pumpkin Watch Code” and loaded it into the Core. It posts preset messages to a Twitter account every 45 minutes of inactivity or whenever a pesky squirrel is detected. The messages can be personalized for anyone who wants to make one of these themselves.

We wonder if it would be better to place the breadboard inside the jack-o’-lantern and carve out a couple of holes on top for the PIR sensor’s wires to come out of. That would offer some protection from the elements and prevent it from getting knocked over. We think this project could be adapted for many other uses. After the break, see a video of the system in action!

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Internet-Connected TI-84

Just before the days where every high school student had a cell phone, everyone in class had a TI graphing calculator. In some ways this was better than a cell phone: If you wanted to play BlockDude instead of doing trig identities, this was much more discrete. The only downside is that the TI calculators can’t easily communicate to each other like cell phones can. [Christopher] has solved this problem with his latest project which provides Wi-Fi functionality to a TI graphing calculator, and has much greater aspirations than helping teenagers waste time in pre-calculus classes.

The boards are based around a Spark Core Wi-Fi development board which is (appropriately) built around a TI CC3000 chip and a STM32F103 microcontroller. The goal of the project is to connect the calculators directly to the Global CALCnet network without needing a separate computer as a go-between. These boards made it easy to get the original Arduino-based code modified and running on the new hardware.

After a TI-BASIC program is loaded on the graphing calculator, it is able to input the credentials for the LAN and access the internet where all kinds of great calculator resources are available through the Global CALCnet. This is a great project to make the math workhorse of the classroom even more useful to students. Or, if you’re bored with trig identities again, you can also run a port of DOOM.