Hacklet 34 – Satellite Projects

Space. The final frontier. Every tinkerer, hacker, and maker has dreamed of flying out of Earth’s atmosphere and into the heavens. Last year one hard-working team got a chance to fly a member to space by winning the Hackaday prize. For the rest of us, we can still experience some of that excitement by contacting satellites in orbit, or even sending a bit of our own hardware into space. This week’s Hacklet focuses on the best satellite projects on Hackaday.io!

basicSatWe start with [movax] and Your satellite devkit and launch. Chipsat is a tiny satellite which runs BASIC code. Yes, BASIC in space! Chipsats will be stacked into a launcher and sent off into space in groups. The idea is to eventually have them launched from the International Space Station. Power is provided by a small solar cell which charges up a pair of super capacitors. When the capacitors are charged, the satellite will run for a few seconds. Connectivity with the ground is via a 433 MHz link. Chipsat doesn’t just float in space, three coils give it the ability to control its attitude and rotation. Chipsat will sense the space around it with a magnetometer and a light sensor.



No satellite-themed Hacklet would be complete without [Pierros Papadeas] and his team’s work on SatNOGS – Global Network of Ground Stations. SatNOGS aims to create a global network of connected satellite ground stations. Think of it as a grass-roots version of NASA’s deep space network for satellites in earth orbit. This is more than just a great idea, as SatNOGS won the 2014 Hackaday Prize. You can check out our coverage of the project back in November, 2014. Since then, the SatNOGS team has been busy! They’ve just deployed the first SatNOGS V2 system above their hackerspace in Athens, Greece.

trsiNext up is TRSI PocketQub Satellite, another project by [movax]. TRSI is a satellite that sends data via images which can be viewed with a simple RTL-SDR stick using Hellschreiber mode. Hell mode means that images can be directly viewed in the waterfall display of whichever SDR application is running the receiver. Numbers or entire images snapped with TRSI’s cell phone style camera module can be encoded and displayed. Power is of course provided by solar cells, and the communications link will be on the coordinated 433 MHz band. The original TRSI hardware has actually morphed into a deployment machine for ChipSat, [morvax’s] other satellite project. He’s put the main TRSI program on hold until after the ChipSat campaign is complete.

pocketquRounding out our satellite special is [OzQube] with his project QubeCast Max. QubeCast is the first Australian version of the PocketQube PQ60 satellite form factor. After watching the success of $50Sat project, [OzQube] wanted to design a satellite of his own. Since he wanted to add sensors and send more data back to Earth than previous efforts, he needed a higher data rate than the current crop of satellites. This meant going to a high-powered radio. To achieve this, he’s using a  NiceRF RF4463F30 radio module. The module is based upon a Silicon Labs Si4463 RF ISM band chip, coupled with a power amplifier. The module outputs 1 watt, which is quite a bit of power for a tiny satellite!

Want more satellite goodness? Check out Hackaday.io’s freshly minted Satellite List.

The countdown is almost at 0, so that’s just about all the time we have for this episode of the Hacklet. See you next week.  Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 33 – Minecraft Projects

Minecraft hit the PC gaming scene as an alpha release on May 17, 2009. Something about the open world, the crafting system, and the various modes of gameplay made it an instant hit. Since then Minecraft become one of the best selling video games of all time, inspiring thousands of hacks, mods, and projects. This week’s Hacklet highlights some of the best Minecraft projects on Hackaday.io!

clawWe start with [Toulon] and his MineCraft Sidecar Keypad. The Mystify Claw was originally designed as an alternative input device for First Person Shooter (FPS) games. It may look like a mouse, but the claw has no balls or lasers. It provides a 10 button “cradle” for the left hand. Some folks liked the claw, but for many it quickly became a dust collector. [Toulon] resurrected this old input device as an awesome Minecraft controller. He started by yanking all the old electronics, replacing the claw’s brain with the Teensy 2.0, a favorite of keyboard hackers everywhere. New buttons and a slew of new Teensy code made things perfect for mining.

rappiNext up is [Thomas] and his Raspberry Minecraft Server. The Raspberry Pi has long been a hacking platform for Minecraft. The official Raspberry Pi edition of Minecraft is easy to get running, and great for hours of fun. You can also run a Minecraft server on the Pi, which is exactly what [Thomas] is doing. He’s set his Raspberry Pi up with a WiFi dongle and a battery pack. With a bit of configuration, this allows the Pi to become the center of a wireless Lan party. On batteries, the Pi will run for about five hours of continuous gaming. Details for [Thomas’] project are a bit light right now, but that’s only because he just literally started documenting and uploading his project as we’re going to press. Give him a few days and he’ll have everything filled in!

gppk[GPPK] brings a bit of Minecraft into the real world with Full Size Wireless Redstone Lamp. Inspired by smaller models of the Minecraft redstone lamp, [GPPK] decided to build a life-sized version. “Life-sized” in this case is about 1 cubic meter. That’s a BIG lamp! [GPPK] designed the shell of the lamp in Sketchup, and cut the sides out using a gantry style CNC machine. The structure will be held together with 3D printed connectors, while a Raspberry Pi will provide the brains. Turning the lamp on will be as simple as turning on a switch in-game in Minecraft. [GPPK] has been a bit slow lately with updates on the project. If you know [GPPK] let ‘em know that we’re anxiously awaiting some info!

pipyFinally, we have [Simon] and Raspberry Pi Python Controller. One of the best ways to get kids hooked on hacking and electronics is to show them how simple circuits can lead to big changes. What better way to do that than wiring up a simple push button controller for Minecraft? [Simon] used an Arduino paired to a Raspberry Pi with a serial over USB connection. Buttons wired to the Arduino are sent through the serial link to the Pi, where a python script fires off actions based on the serial data. [Simon] has tested his script with Mincraft Pi Edition, and is happy to report back that it works great.

Do you know what’s missing from this Hacklet? Your Minecraft project! It’s not too late though – upload your info to Hackaday.io, and we might just add it to our brand new Minecraft Projects List!

Well, it’s just about quitting time here in the Hackaday Mine. As long as the creepers don’t get us, we’ll be back next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 32 – LED Persistence of Vision Displays

Blinking LEDs are good. Moving, spinning things are good too. Put them both together and you get a Persistence of Vision (POV) display. Hackers have been building these displays for years. This week’s Hacklet focuses on some of the best LED POV displays on Hackaday.io!

povtypeWe start with [EduardoZola] and POV as you type, write on the air. [Eduardo] used an Arduino Nano, a pair of 433 MHz radios, some blue LEDs and a motor to create a simple spinning display. A hall effect sensor keeps everything in sync. The entire display is powered by a 500 mAh LiPo battery. The awesome thing about this display is the interactive aspect. The transmitter module connects to a laptop via an on-board USB to serial converter. Typing into any serial terminal sends the text directly to the POV display, where the letters appear to hang in the air.


deathringNext up is [boolean] with Silent Orchestra POV aka “Death Ring”. [boolean] didn’t want to just create a POV ring, he wanted a huge 5 foot diameter display for his local Burning Man decompression. Death Ring is an aluminum ring spun by a 3HP motor. A hall effect sensor keeps everything synced up, and keeps Death Ring’s 3 horsepower motor in check. Light is provided by a PixelPusher and WS2812 RGB strips. The system is designed to be interactive, controlled with a Leap Motion controller or a Microsoft Kinect. An MPU-6050 keeps acceleration in check while processing maps video to the LED strip. An Arduino Yun allows the entire system to be controlled via WiFi. [boolean] and his team have taken Death Ring through several revisions. Judging by the quality of their aluminum welding though, they’re on the right track to an awesome end result!

locoHackaday.io power user [Davedarko] has been working on a POV display of a different sort. His Locomatrix is an 8×8 LED matrix which moves in and out on the Z axis. [Dave] originally created Locomatrix as his entry in the 2014 Hackaday Prize. We have to admit this is the first time we’ve seen this sort of display, but the idea is sound. In fact, [Bruce Land] posted in the comments to let [Dave] know that he’d seen a similar technique used with a CRT display back in 1964. We’re betting Dave’s 3D printed gears and LED matrix display will be more robust than a CRT tube slamming two and fro at several hundred pulses per minute!

CPOVFinally, we have Hackaday’s own [Mike Szczys] with CPOV – a Crappy Persistence of Vision display . CPOV is a proof of concept made from upcycled parts which [Mike] threw together in a couple of hours. He grabbed the motor from an old cassette deck, some plywood, perfboard, and of course LEDs to build his display. The processor is an ATtiny2313 running Adafruit’s MiniPOV 3 firmware. The system display doesn’t have a sync input, so [Mike] uses a novel form of Human-in-the-loop PWM control to keep the motor speed in check. CPOV is proof that Hackaday.io isn’t just for polished projects, but for proof of concepts, fails, and just plain research. Even if your project isn’t perfect, documenting it will help you learn from it. It might even inspire someone else to move forward and continue where you left off!

Want more POV goodness? Check out our new POV display list!

Our LEDs are going dim, so that’s about all the time we have for this Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 31 – Software Tools

For every computer error, there are two human errors, and one of them is blaming the computer. Whenever a human blames a computer for something, there are two tools, and one of them is the computer.

Not all of your nifty tools need to be fancy robots, CNC machines, or nifty Robertson screwdrivers; a computer is equally capable of being a fantastic tool, provided it has the right software. For this week’s Hacklet, we’re going through some of the best software tools on hackaday.io.

6653681421957570397[Alan] was inspired to build a software tool for making sewing patterns. Sewing patterns are usually designed for the ‘average’ person, but if you’re making custom wearables, you should end up with a piece of clothing that fits perfectly.

The first project [Alan] is using this tool for is a fleece cap that fits the contour of his head. He captured a 3D mesh of his head, imported the mesh into Blender, and unwrapped the resulting mesh. The two halves of the hat were then plotted with a Silhouette Cameo, cut out of fleece, and sewn together. The result is a beanie that fits perfectly around [Alan]’s head. It’s an extremely cool and novel application of 3D modeling, and if you ever need to wrap a 3D object with a 2D material, this is the project you want to check out.

5869061407871295021 And you thought the autorouter in Eagle was bad.

[Anderson] built a tool called Pyrite that will take a schematic and build a layout in three-dimensional space. He calls them Volumetric Circuits, and it’s basically the point-to-point wiring found in old radios and amplifiers taken to the next level. We featured this project before, and there haven’t been many updates since then. Maybe giving [Anderson]’s project a few skulls will help motivate him to get back to the project.

133031421839442989 Not satisfied with the existing free and open source CAM programs, [Snegovick] started work on his own.

[Snegovick] calls his project BCAM, and it’s exactly what you need to mill holes in PCBs, cut gears with a CNC router, engrave plastic, and anything else a 2.5 axis CNC machine can do. The project is written in Python, and yes, the source is available. Supported operations include drilling, path following, offset path following, and pocketing.

Write enough microcontroller projects, and you’ll eventually come up with your own library of common code that does one thing and one thing well. If you’re smart, you’ll reuse that code in future projects. [ericwazhung] is cutting through the hard part of developing all this code and released some things that are useful in a whole lot of projects.

Included in the commonCode library are the usual ‘heartbeat LED’, non-blocking input, a standard interface for AVR timers, bitmaps of text characters, DC motor control, and a whole bunch more. Extremely useful in any event.

That’s it for this round of the Hacklet, bringing you the best hackaday.io has to offer.

Hacklet 30 – Robot Arm Projects

Robot arms – they do everything from moving silicon wafers to welding cars. Many a hacker has dreamt of having their own robot arm to serve them beer help them build projects. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best robot arm projects on Hackaday.io!

robotarm1We start with [4ndreas] who is building this incredible 3D Printable Robot Arm. Inspired by large industrial robots, [4ndreas] has given us an entirely 3D printable design. [4ndreas’] 3D design experience really shows here. This arm looks like it just finished work at a local assembly line! The arm is BIG too – printing the parts took him about a week, and used around 1.2kg of ABS filament! [4ndreas] has recently split the project off into two halves: his blue arm is driven by stepper motors, while the orange arm is a DC motor affair. Both of the arms can use his awesome gripper design. Check out the project page for videos of the arm in action!

6dofarmNext up is [Dan Royer] and his 6DOF Robot Arm. [Dan’s] didn’t want to spend upwards of $10,000 on an industrial arm, so he built his own from wood, plastic, and easily obtainable parts. As the name implies, the arm has 6 degrees of freedom. The electronics consist of beefy NEMA 17 stepper motors and a RUMBA controller, which was originally designed for 3D printers. Dan even created some novel encoder mounts. Each joint has an encoder, which will allow the robot to run as a closed loop system. [Dan] originally entered this arm in The Hackaday Prize 2014. While it didn’t get him to space, we’re betting it will be able to get him a soda!


No robot arm Hacklet would be complete without featuring [ben.phenoptix] and the awesome MeArm. MeArm is a pocket-sized robot arm which uses tiny 9 gram servos for locomotion. It’s built from laser cut acrylic and standard hardware. We loved the MeArm so much that we featured it as one of the challenges in our Embedded Hardware Workshop in Munich. More recently, [Ben] and MeArm have had a great run on Kickstarter. Let’s hope those arms are good at stuffing, addressing, and mailing out packages!


owiFinally we have [Kenji Larsen] with Reactron material transporter. The material transporter is just a small part of [Kenji’s] larger Reactron project. It started with an OWI-535 robot arm. The OWI is really a toy – a plastic kit which builds an open loop DC motor driven arm. [Kenji] has put some serious time into modifying his particular arm. He experimented with molding his own potentiometers for each joint before settling on a printed circuit board based design. Once the new system was in place, he found that his resistors were good for about 10,000 cycles. Not bad for a modified toy!

There are quite a few robot arm projects we weren’t able to cover in this edition of The Hacklet – you can check them all out on our brand new Robot Arm Projects List!

That’s it for this Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 29 – Altoids Mint Tin Projects

Altoids – they’ve been around since King George III was on the throne. These curiously strong mints have had a storied history, a copy of which is included in every tin. They taste pretty good, but most hackers and makers are more interested in the pocket-sized tin than the mints themselves. It may have been the ham radio operators who first used Altoids tins to hold their sensitive transmitter and receiver circuits. The metal case makes a perfect electromagnetic field shield. It wasn’t long before the tins found their way into thousands of projects. This week’s Hacklet features some of the best projects with Altoids (and other mint) tins on Hackaday.io!

meeting-timerWe start with [Chad Lawson] and the Networking Group Timing Light. [Chad] has a networking meeting where each member has two minutes to introduce themselves. As is the case with most meetings, people tend to be a bit long-winded, running well beyond their allotted two minutes. The timing light contains an RGB LED which changes from green to yellow to red as a speaker’s time ticks away. The timer is reset by simply tilting the mint tin. [Chad] is hoping that the timer will serve as a gentle reminder to keep everyone on track time-wise.


radio2Next up is [Rjpope42] and his AM/FM Transmitter Pair. [Rjpope42] loves vintage tube radios, and wants to send his own signals to his amber glowing projects. Wiring an external audio input to a tube radio is pretty easy, but nothing beats a simple AM transmitter for convenience. Small FM transmitters are commonly available to add an MP3 player input to cars without an AUX audio in, but their AM counterparts have become rare. [Rjpope42] has built AM and FM transmitters, each of which will fit in a Mint Tin case. The AM transmitter can run on 9V or 12V, and even includes a USB power output for charging an MP3 player or phone!

da31k[John Hamann] entered Distance Analyzer 3000 in the Trinket EDC contest. While he didn’t win, it was still a great project, especially since this is [John’s] first serious Arduino project. The idea is to use a rotary encoder with a wheel to measure distances. Think of it like a mini version of a surveyor’s walking wheel. The Pro Trinket counts the pulses from the rotary encoder, then converts this to a distance in feet. We’d love to see [John] continue on the project. An ultrasonic distance sensor would be a great addition for multi-sensor distance reads!


ttotpFinally, we have [colonwq] with TTTOTP, a pro trinket Time based One Time Password (TOTP) generator. [colonwq] used the trinket to implement the well-known time based one time password algorithm. To implement a project like this, you need a stable time source. The ATmega328 isn’t very good at this, so [colonwq] used a Dallas DS1307 clock chip to keep track of things. The actual code is displayed on a 4 digit 7 segment display. When the button is pressed, the first half of the code is displayed. Once the button is released, the second half of the code is displayed for several seconds.


Need more mint? Check out our curiously awesome mint tin project list!

Hackaday.io Update and MeArm Giveaway

Hackaday.io has a few new features, including @username and #projectID. If you mention someone’s username with an @ in front of it, that user will get a notification in their stack. The same goes with mentioning a project ID with a # up front. To celebrate this, we’re giving away a pair of  special edition MeArms. All you have to do is leave a comment using the features on this project log. Huge thanks to [Jasmine] for setting all this up, and to [Ben] for letting us hijack his project for the week!

That’s it for this Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Hacklet 28 – Programmable Logic Hacks

FPGAs, CPLDs, PALs, and GALs, Oh My! This week’s Hacklet focuses on some of the best Programmable Logic projects on Hackaday.io! Programmable logic devices tend to have a steep learning curve.  Not only is a new hacker learning complex parts, but there are entire new languages to learn – like VHDL or Verilog. Taking the plunge and jumping in to programmable logic is well worth it though. High-speed projects which would be impossible with microcontrollers are suddenly within reach!

fpga-hdmiA great example of this is [Tom McLeod’s] Cheap FPGA-based HDMI Experimenting Board. [Tom’s] goal was to create a board which could output 720p video via HDMI at a reasonable frame rate. He’s using a Xilinx Spartan 6 chip to do it, along with a handful of support components. The images will be stored on an SD card. [Tom] is hoping to do some video with the setup as well, but he has yet to see if the chip will be fast enough to handle video decoding while generating the HDMI data stream. [Tom] has been quiet on this project for a few months – so we’re hoping that either he will see this post and send an update, or that someone will pick up his source files and continue the project!

ardufpgaNext up is our own [technolomaniac] with his Arduino-Compatible FPGA Shield. Starting out with FPGAs can be difficult. [Technolomaniac] has made it a bit easier with this shield. Originally started as a project on .io and now available in The Hackaday Store, the shield features a Xilinx Spartan 6 FPGA. [Technolomaniac] made power and interfacing easy by including regulators and level shifters to keep the sensitive FPGA happy. Not sure where to start? Check out [Mike Szczys’] Spartan-6 FPGA Hello World! [Mike] takes us from installing Xilinx’s free tool chain to getting a “hello world” led blinker running!

lander3Still interested in learning about Programmable Logic, but not sure where to go? Check out [Bruce Land’s] Teaching FPGA parallel computing. Actually, check out everything [Bruce] has done on Hackaday.io – the man is a living legend, and a wealth of information on electronics and embedded systems. Being a professor of engineering at New York’s Cornell University doesn’t hurt either! In Teaching FPGA parallel computing, [Bruce] links to Cornell’s ECE 5760 class, which he instructs. The class uses an Altera/Terasic DE2 FPGA board to demonstrate parallel computing using programmable logic devices. Note that [Bruce] teaches this class using Verilog, so all you seasoned VHDL folks still can learn something new!


chamFinally, we have [Michael A. Morris] with Chameleon. Chameleon is an Arduino compatible FPGA board with a Xilinx Spartan 3A FPGA on-board. [Michael] designed Chameleon for two major purposes:  soft-core processors, and intelligent serial communications interface. On the processor side Chameleon really shines. [Michael] has implemented a 6502 core in his design. This means that it would be right at home as the core of a retrocomputing project. [Michael] is still hard at work on Chameleon, he’s recently gotten fig-FORTH 1.0 running! Nice work [Michael]!

Want more programmable logic goodness? Check out our Programmable Logic List!

That about wraps things up for this episode of The Hacklet! As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!