Hackaday Prize Entry: Real Time Power Monitoring

The Internet of Things promises real-time monitoring of appliances, HVAC, and just about everything else in the home. One of the biggest technologies behind this is the smart meter, an electrical meter that will tell you how much power you’re sucking down from the grid at any given moment. A meter need not be smart, though, because [jlbrian7]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize does the same thing without an entirely new meter.

[jlbrian]’s power monitor is a non-intrusive monitor for electrical systems, allowing anyone to retrofit an electrical meter – or just a single breaker panel – with smart meter tech. It uses a small current transformer to monitor the amperage running through a wire. By sending that information to the Internet, anyone with this system gets power monitoring with much higher temporal resolution than what the power company provides in a monthly bill.

As a nice little addition to his Power Monitor, [jlbrian] is adding a few environmental sensors to his data logging platform. This allows for a little bit of interpolation to figure out what all that power is actually being used for; if the power turns on and a few minutes later the temperature drops, there’s a pretty good chance the AC just went on.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

It Sucks To Pick Up The Pieces

Jigsaw puzzles are a fun and interactive way to spend an afternoon or twelve, depending on the piece count and your skill level. It’s exciting to find the pieces you need to complete a section or link two areas together, but if you have poor dexterity, excitement can turn to frustration when you move to pick them up. [thomasgruwez] had the disabled and otherwise fumble-fingered in mind when he created this pick and place jigsaw puzzle aid, which uses suction to pick up and transport puzzle pieces.

The suction comes from an aquarium pump running in reverse, a hack we’ve seen often which [thomasgruwez] explains in a separate Instructable. A large, inviting push button is wired in line to turn the pump on and off. An equally large and inviting momentary switch turns off the vacuum temporarily so the piece can be placed.

At the business end of this hack is the tiny suction-cupped tip from a cheap vacuum pen. To interface the pen head with the pump, [thomasgruwez] designed and printed a rigid straw to bridge the gap. With utility already in mind, [thomasgruwez] also designed a ring that can be bolted to the straw to house a steadying finger of your choice, like the pinkie hook on a pair of barbers’ shears.

Our favorite part of this hack has to be the optional accessory—a tiny platform for quickly flipping pieces without cutting the vacuum. Check it out after the break.

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The Self-Balancing Sideways Segway

[Jason Dorie] has been hard at work on his two-wheeled, self-balancing skateboard. He calls it the Sideway.

Similar to the Segway, it relies on the user shifting their weight to control the speed at which it will run. A Wii Nunchuk controller is used to steer, which varies each wheels output, which allows for some tight maneuvering!

Under the deck is a pair of 24V 280W (about 1/3HP each) scooter motors which are driven by two 32A Sabertooth speed controllers. They’re run off a pair of 3 cell 5Ah LiPos which get him about 40 minutes of use — not too shabby! To handle the control algorithm for the IMU, he’s using a Parallax Propeller with custom software.

To demonstrate, he takes us of a tour of one of his favorite stores — Michael’s.

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Teach Yourself Verilog With This Tiny CPU Design

You probably couldn’t write a decent novel if you’d never read a novel. Learning to do something often involves studying what other people did before you. One problem with trying to learn new technology is finding something simple enough to start your studies.

[InfiniteNOP] wanted to get his feet wet writing CPUs and developed a simple 8-bit architecture that would be a good start for a classroom or self-study. It is a work in progress, so there may be a few bugs in it still to squash, but squashing bugs might be educational too. You can read the documentation in the HACKING file for details on the architecture. Briefly, the instruction’s top four bits encode the operation, while the last four bits select the register operands (there are four registers).

[InfiniteNOP] used the Xilinx tools to simulate and synthesize the CPU, but we thought it might be a good excuse to play with EDAPlayground. You can find a testbench that works with EDAPlayground, although you’ll probably want to update the CPU files to match the latest version.

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Everything You Wanted To Know About Oscillators

Ever wonder how a crystal oscillator works? How does that little metal can with a sliver of quartz start vibrating to produce a clock signal for just about everything we use, while doing it in the accuracy range in the parts per million and cost practically nothing?

Well [Craig] decided its about time for an in depth tutorial  that covers everything you need to know to understand, design, and construct your very own. Wrapped up in a 41 minute video, [Craig]  covers the absolute basic theories and designs, math, datasheet explanation of crystals, and even a practical example of a Pierce crystal oscillator, suitable for use in a HF transceiver. Now you can make your own for your own application no matter if you’re just trying to save a pin on your favorite micro, or making a radio transceiver.

With this wealth of knowledge, whether you are learning for the first time, or just need a refresher, you should join us after the break, kick back and check out this highly informative video.

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Amazon Echo Orders The Roku About

You can add the Roku media player to the list of devices that can be bossed about by the Amazon Echo and its built-in AI: Alexa. [Julian Hartline] has figured out how to use Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo device with a Roku media player. He did this by using the Alexa Skills Kit, the SDK that provides a programmer’s interface into the functions of the device. That allows you to add functions to the Alexa and the AWS Lambda cloud service that processes the voice commands (Amazon calls this an Alexa Skill).

Rather than have the cloud service talk directly to the Roku, though, he decided to have a local node.js server act as an intermediary. The Alexa sends the voice command to the AWS Lambda service, which processes it, sends the command to the node.js service, which finally sends the command to the Roku. It works, but it seems a little slow to respond: see the video after the break. In the example shown, Alexa actually causes the Roku to launch Netflix and input a search string for the requested show. Pretty slick!

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The Countdown Begins — Last Two Weeks For Entries

Procrastination is a wonderful thing, but now is the time to stop delaying. Get those hacks documented and entered in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. We’ll close entries in just about two weeks. There’s a handy little countdown on the Prize page which lets you know that your entry must be in by August 17th at 1:50pm PDT (UTC-7).

There’s a lot at stake here, so let’s take another look at what this is all about: Build something that solves a problem faced by a lot of people and you could score a Trip to Space, $100,000 for Best Product, or 2nd-5th place prizes worth $5,000-10,000 each.

Of course the goal is to show off your build. This could end up inspiring others to Build Something that Matters and that means to win you need to document your work. Join us after the break to see the minimum needed for your entry to qualify for judging.

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