Hackaday Prize Entry: The Internet Of Plants

The theme of this year’s Hackaday Prize is ‘build something that matters.’ Acrobotic Industries is in beautiful Southern California, where it won’t rain an appreciable amount until the mudslides come. For a little bit of help during this unprecedented drought, they’ve created Clouden, a system of irrigation that only waters yards and parks when the plants need it. This is apparently a novel concept for Southern California, and is most certainly something that matters.

The Clouden system has two parts. The first is a node with an array of soil water sensors and a Particle WiFi module. This node connects to the controller which alters watering schedules in response to actual conditions and predicted rainfall from the WeatherUnderground API.

There’s more to just listening to sensors – the Clouden controller also has the hardware to control 24VAC water valves and a web interface for scheduling irrigation times. With this many sensors – and the ability to not water when there’s a ban in place – it’s a great watering system, and something Southern California desperately needs.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Saving An Alarm System Remote And $100

[Simon] has been using his home alarm system for over six years now. The system originally came with a small RF remote control, but after years of use and abuse it was finally falling apart. After searching for replacement parts online, he found that his alarm system is the “old” model and remotes are no longer available for purchase. The new system had similar RF remotes, but supposedly they were not compatible. He decided to dig in and fix his remote himself.

He cracked open the remote’s case and found an 8-pin chip labeled HCS300. This chip handles all of the remote’s functions, including reading the buttons, flashing the LED, and providing encoded output to the 433MHz transmitter. The HCS300 also uses KeeLoq technology to protect the data transmission with a rolling code. [Simon] did some research online and found the thew new alarm system’s remotes also use the same KeeLoq technology. On a hunch, he went ahead and ordered two of the newer model remotes.

He tried pairing them up with his receiver but of course it couldn’t be that simple. After opening up the new remote he found that it also used the HCS300 chip. That was a good sign. The manufacturer states that each remote is programmed with a secret 64-bit manufacturer’s code. This acts as the encryption key, so [Simon] would have to somehow crack the key on his original chip and re-program the new chip with the old key. Or he could take the simpler path and swap chips.

A hot air gun made short work of the de-soldering and soon enough the chips were in place. Unfortunately, the chips have different pinouts, so [Simon] had to cut a few traces and fix them with jumper wire. With the case back together and the buttons in place, he gave it a test. It worked. Who needs to upgrade their entire alarm system when you can just hack the remote?

Hackaday Links: August 2, 2015

Over the last few years, Maker’s Asylum in Mumbai has grown from a garage to a very well stocked workspace with 140 members. They’re getting kicked out at the end of the month and they need some help. We just had a meetup at the Delhi branch of Maker’s Asylum, and these guys and gals are really cool.

Speaking of crowdfunding campaigns for hackerspaces, South Central Pennsylvania might be getting its own hackerspace. The 717 area code is a vast wasteland when it comes to anything anyone reading Hackaday would consider interesting, despite there being plenty of people who know their way around CNC machines, soldering irons, and welders. This needs to happen.

Need some help with Bluetooth standards? Tektronix has you covered with a gigantic poster of the physical layer. If only there were a repository of these handy, convenient reference posters.

Forgings and castings make for great YouTube videos, and this aluminum bell casting is no exception. There’s about 18 pounds of aluminum in there, which is pretty large as far as home casting goes.

Electronic Goldmine has an assortment of grab bags – spend a few dollars get a bag of chips, LEDs, diodes, or what have you. What’s in these grab bags? [alpha_ninja] found out. There’s some neat stuff in there, except for the ‘SMD Mixture’ bag.

Remember the found case molds for the Commodore 64C that became a Kickstarter? It’s happening again with the Amiga 1200. This is a new mold with a few interesting features that support the amazing amount of upgrades that have come out for this machine over the years. Being new molds, the price per piece is a little high, but that’s your lesson in manufacturing costs for the day.

3D Printing With 2D Inkscape Projections

If you had a formal drafting class, you probably learned about making orthographic projections–engineering drawings with multiple views (for example, top, front, and right). Even if you didn’t take the class, you’ve probably seen drawings like this where you view a 3D object as a series of 2D views from different angles.

These days, you are more likely to create a 3D model of an object, especially if you are going to 3D print it. After all, the 3D printer software is going to expect a model. When [Nightshade] wanted a laptop stand for his workbench, he started trying to do a 3D model. His final product though, was made by creating two views in Inkscape. They aren’t exactly orthographic projections of the final product, but the idea is similar.

Inkscape is a vector graphics program and generally creates SVG files, although it can also save EPS files. [Nightshade] used pstoedit to convert the EPS output to DXF format. DXF files are still two dimensional, but OpenSCAD can extrude DXF files into 3D shapes.

Just having a 3D shape of one view isn’t sufficient, though. The OpenSCAD script rotates the objects to the correct orientation and intersects them to form the final object. This is different from the usual cases of using Inkscape to trace a scan or generate simple text.

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Downloading Satellite Images Via FM Radio

Did you know weather satellites transmit their weather images over an FM frequency? And now that you know… You can intercept them yourself with a $10 FM radio dongle!

American NOAA weather satellites are in a polar orbit around earth, and each one will pass the same point approximately every 12 hours. When it is overhead, the signal is strong enough to receive. After [Matt] found out this tidbit of knowledge, he had to learn how to intercept the images himself.

The satellites transmit the images over the 137MHz band, and using a radio tuner USB dongle, you can record the transmission and then decode it into a picture. He used CubicSDR to tune and record the signal, and then Soundflower to pull out interference, and finally WXtoIMG — which starts recording when the satellite is above, and decodes the image.

[Thanks for the tip Amirgon!]

Shinewave Gamecube Controller Reacts To Smash Brothers

[Garrett Greenwood] plays Smash Brothers, and apparently quite seriously. So seriously that he needed to modify his controller with five Neopixels so that it flashed different color animations according to the combo he’s playing on the controller; tailored to match the colors of the moves of his favorite character, naturally.

All of this happens with an ATtiny85 as the brains, which we find quite ambitious. Indeed, [Garrett] started out thinking he could simply read each of the inputs from the controller directly into the microcontroller at the heart of the whole thing, but then counted up how many wires that would be, and looked at how many pins he had free (six), and thought up a better solution.

[Garrett]’s routine instead reads the single line that the Gamecube controller uses to send back to the console. The protocol is well understood, using long-short and short-long signals to encode bits. The only trick is that each bit is sent in four microseconds, so the decoding routine has to be fairly speedy. To make it work he had to do quite a bit of work. More about that, and the demo video, after the break.

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Homemade High Voltage Caps

Do you happen to have any 15,000 volt capacitors sitting around? [Ludic Science] didn’t so he did the next best thing. He built some.

If you understand the physics behind a capacitor (two parallel conductors separated by a dielectric) you won’t find the build process very surprising. [Ludic] uses transparency film as an insulator and aluminum foil for the conductive plates. Then he wraps them into a tube. He did throw in a few interesting tips about keeping the sheets smooth and how to attach the wires to the foil. The brown paper wrapper reminded us of old caps you might find in an antique radio.

The best part by far, though, was the demonstration of drawing an arc from a high voltage power supply with and without the capacitor in the circuit. As you might expect, playing with a few thousand volts charged into a capacitor requires a certain amount of caution, so be careful!

[Ludic] measured the capacitance value with a standard meter, but it wasn’t clear where the 15,000 volt rating came from. Maybe it was the power supply he used in the video and the capacitor could actually go higher.

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