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.

3D Printing Circuits Gets Rid of the Box Altogether

Many think that the next big step in 3D printing is when we’ll be able to print in metal, well, at an affordable rate. But what about printing in metal and plastic at the same time?

The thing is, most electronics are typically two-dimensional. Layers upon layers of relatively flat PCBs make up the brains of every bit of technology we know and love. The funny thing is, we live in a three-dimensional world, and we like to shove these flat circuits into three-dimensional boxes. Well, what if we didn’t have to? What if the circuit could be embedded directly into whatever shape we want? It’d be pretty awesome — minus the whole servicing aspect of the product…

Anyway we’ve seen some great hacks over the years attempting this, like adding a copper wire strand into your 3D print, embedding components into your print by pausing the job, or even going old school and using the point-to-point Manhattan style circuit construction to add some electronic features to your part. But what if your printer could do it for you?

That’s exactly what Optomec is attempting with the Voxel8 3D printing electronics platform. It is your standard run of the mill FDM style 3D printer, but it has a 2nd extruder that is capable of squeezing out liquid silver ink that dries at room temperature. Just take a look at this quadrotor they were able to make.

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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.

Hackaday Links: November 16, 2014

There have been a few people asking us to do our full teardown of a crowdfunding campaign, this time for Bleen. We’ll get to that, but here’s the TL;DR version: 208 people just threw money away, and right now Indiegogo is ~$3000 richer for doing nothing.

Insipired by a Hacklet, [Chris] documented his retro console build. He started out like most people do with a Raspberry Pi, but found emulating newer consoles like the N64 consumed too much processor time. He moved his build over to custom-assembled hardware with an AMD Micro-ATX board, a drive, and a USB gamepad. It’s beautiful, and much, much more powerful than a Raspberry Pi.

SD card in your Pi died? Of course it did. The problem is you’re not shutting down your Pi correctly. [satya] whipped up a quick project to fix that. One button, a bit of Python, and a shell script is all you need for a one-button shutdown for your Raspberry Pi.

A while ago, [Jan] built an ARM-based modeling MIDI synth that sounds a lot like the old Junos of the 80s. It’s build around the one 8-pin DIP ARM that’s being manufactured, placed between a MIDI jack and a 1/4″ jack. That’s pretty much all the components. [Gritty] plugged it into a Teensy that’s connected to a sequencer. It sounds awesome.

Everyone loves the Spark Core – there are a few floating around the office here. Now there’s a new Spark. It’s called the Photon, and they’re packaging it as a module. There’s an STM32F2 microcontroller and a BCM43362 Wi-Fi transceiver packaged in a nice, FCC certified module. Very cool.

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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Singing: With Plasma!

While there are many ways to produce audible sound, Plasma Speakers have to be one of the coolest. Usually very complex and expensive, we received a tip for a beginners guide to making one of these impressive novelties. Handily included are a set of schematics (one very simple schematic, the other with a few artistic illustrations). There are also a set of warnings, which include sound advice to mind the heat generated by the MOSFETs, as well as making sure that your input signal isn’t too strong. The finished product is fun to listen to, so be sure to check out the example video after the break.

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