Hackaday Prize Entry: Theia IoT light-switch

There are it seems no wireless-enabled light switches available in the standard form factor of a UK light switch. At least, that was the experience of [loldavid6], when he decided he needed one. Also, none of the switches he could find were open-source, or easy to integrate with. So he set out to design his own, and the Theia IoT light switch is the result.

In adapting a standard light switch, he was anxious that his device would not depend on the position of the switch for its operation. Therefore he had to ensure that the switch became merely an input to whichever board he designed, rather than controlling the mains power. He settled upon the ESP8266 wireless-enabled microcontroller as the brains of the unit, with a relay doing the mains switching. He first considered using an LNK304 off-line switching PSU chip to derive his low voltages, but later moved to an off-the-shelf switch-mode board.

So far two prototype designs have been completed, one for each power supply option. Boards have been ordered, and he’s now in the interminable waiting period for international postage. All the KiCad and other files are available for download o the project’s hackaday.io page, so you can have a look for yourselves if you are so inclined.

You might ask why another IoT light switch might be needed. But even though they are now available and inexpensive, there is still a gap for a board that is open, and more importantly does not rely on someone else’s cloud backend. Plus, of course, this board can be used for more than lighting.

Light bulb image: Осадчая Екатерина (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Catch The IMSI Catchers

An IMSI catcher is an illicit mobile phone base station designed to intercept the traffic from nearby mobile phones by persuading them to connect to it rather than the real phone company  tower. The IMSI in the name stands for International Mobile Subscriber Identity, a unique global identifier that all mobile phones have. IMSI catchers are typically used by government agencies to detect and track people at particular locations, and are thus the subject of some controversy.

As is so often the case when a  piece of surveillance technology is used in a controversial manner there is a counter-effort against it. The IMSI catchers have spawned the subject of this post, an IMSI catcher detector app for Android. It’s a work-in-progress at the moment with code posted in its GitHub repository, but it is still an interesting look into this rather shadowy world.

How them you might ask, does this app hope to detect the fake base stations? In the first case, it will check the identity of the station it is connected to against a database of known cell towers. Then it will try to identify any unusual behaviour from the base station by analysing its traffic and signal strength. Finally it will endeavour to spot anomalies in the implementation of the cell phone protocols that might differentiate the fake from the real tower.

They have made some progress but stress that the app is in alpha stage at the moment, and needs a lot more work. They’re thus inviting Android developers to join the project. Still, working on projects is what the Hackaday Prize is all about.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Dodo 6502 Game System

If you are a gamer of A Certain Age, it’s probable that you retain a soft spot for 8-bit computers and consoles of your youth. For a time when addictive gameplay came through the most minimal of graphics, and when gaming audio was the harshest of square waves rather than immersive soundscapes.

Does the previous paragraph sound familiar? Then we may just have the device for you. The Dodo is a handheld console that harks back to that era with a 6502 processor and a 128×64 pixel OLED screen. Games are loaded from plug-in EEPROM cartridges, and sounds are suitably period-digital square wave tones. It’s the brainchild of [Peter Noyes], and he says he will consider it complete when it sports a game fun enough to entertain his 4-year-old.

The prototype Dodo is a handheld form-factor made from two stacked PCBs. The upper one has the display and buttons while the lower has the classic 6502 and associated chipset in through-hole DIP format. A Game Boy Micro it ain’t, but miniaturization is not the name of the game with these consoles. Best of all though, all the console’s resources are available in a GitHub repository, so you can all have a play too.

The 6502 has featured in a huge number of projects here on Hackaday over the years. Now it’s turned up in the Hackaday Prize.

Hackaday Prize Entry: LipSync, Smartphone Access For Quadriplegic People

For most of us, our touch-screen smartphones have become an indispensable accessory. Without thinking we tap and swipe our way through our digital existence, the promise of ubiquitous truly portable computing has finally been delivered.

Smartphones present a problem though to some people with physical impairments. A touchscreen requires manual dexterity on a scale we able-bodied people take for granted, but remains a useless glass slab to someone unable to use their arms.

LipSync is a project that aims to address the problem of smartphone usage for one such group, quadriplegic people. It’s a mouth-operated joystick for the phone’s on-screen cursor, with sip-and-puff vacuum control for simulating actions such as screen taps and the back button.

To the smartphone itself, the device appears as a standard Bluetooth pointing device, while at its business end the joystick and pressure sensor both interface to a Bluetooth module through an Arduino Micro. The EAGLE board and schematic files are available on the project’s hackaday.io page linked above, and there is a GitHub repository for the code.

Technology is such a part of our lives these days, and it’s great to see projects like this bridge the usability gaps for everyone.  Needless to say, it’s a perfect candidate for the Assistive Technology round of the Hackaday Prize.



Hackaday Prize Entry: The Internet Of Meat

We’ve only just begun to see the proliferation of smart kitchen gadgets. Dumb crock pots with the intelligence of a bimetallic strip, are being replaced by smart sous vide controllers. The next obvious step is barbecue. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [armin] is building a smart, eight-channel BBQ controller for real barbecue, with smoke and fans, vents and metal boxes.

This BBQ controller has been in the works for years now, starting with a thread in a German barbeque forum. The original build featured an original Raspberry Pi, and could relay temperatures from inside a slab of meat to anywhere with range of a WiFi network.

For his Hackaday Prize entry, [armin] is working on a vastly improved version. The new version supports eight temperature probes, temperature logging and plotting, a webcam, setting alarms, a web interface, 433MHz radio, and PWM and fan control. Yes, if you’re very, very clever you can use this project to build a barbeque that will cycle a fan, and open and close a damper while monitoring the temperature of a brisket and email you when it’s done. It’s the Internet of Meat, and it’s the most glorious thing we’ve seen yet.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Mouse Controlled Microscope

You might imagine that all one should need to operate a microscope would be a good set of eyes. Unfortunately if you are an amputee that may not be the case. Veterinary lab work for example requires control of focus, as well as the ability to move the sample in both X and Y directions, and these are not tasks that can easily be performed simultaneously with only a single hand.

[ksk]’s solution to this problem is to use geared stepper motors and an Arduino Mega to allow the manual functions of the microscope to be controlled from a computer mouse or trackball. The motors are mounted on the microscope controls with a custom 3D-printed housing. A rotary selector on the control box containing the Arduino allows the user to select a slow or fast mode for fine or coarse adjustment.

It’s fair to say that this project is still a work in progress, we’re featuring it in our series of posts looking at Hackaday Prize entries. However judging by the progress reported so far it’s clear that this is a project with significant potential, and we can see the finished product could be of use to anyone operating the microscope.

We’ve featured one or two mouse controlled projects over the years, though not controlling microscopes. Here’s one mouse controlled robot arm, and we’ve covered another arm with a 3D mouse.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Text To Speech The Hard Way

Studies have shown reading to children leads to improved academic performance later in life, a trait that will make them more competitive in the workforce, and ultimately happier human beings. It follows, then, that having a robot read to children will also lead to happier and more productive adults, while normalizing the cyborg uprising takeover of the AI apocalypse of 2037.

It’s a good thing the above paragraph is a complete non-sequitur and has nothing to do with this Hackaday Prize entry. The TextEye, [Markus]’ entry for the Assistive Technology portion of the Hackaday Prize, is a handheld device that translates the written word into speech, useful for anyone who either can’t see well or can’t read gooder. Yes, it will also read to children, but so did Teddy Ruxpin.

If you’re keeping track, this isn’t the first time [Markus] has entered this project in a Hackaday Prize contest. The first time was six months ago in the Hackaday / Adafruit Raspberry Pi Zero contest. [Markus] was inspired by a group of blind computer science students using specialized hardware that allowed them to study the same thing as everyone else.

Since the first few project logs, a lot has changed in this project. You can buy a Pi Zero easily, and the updated Pi Zero 1.3 now comes with a camera connector. [Markus] is swapping out his Pi Model A and USB webcam for the Pi Zero and Pi camera. The software remains the same — GraphicsMagick, Tesseract OCR, Festival and Wiring Pi handle reading text and turning those words into speech — with a slight refactoring of the code. It’s a great use for the Pi Zero, and an excellent example of an Assistive Technology, and we’re happy to see it again in the Hackaday Prize.