Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Picking Up Litter With Robots

On beaches, in parks, and in [BDM]’s back yard, there’s a lot of liter everywhere. The normal solution to this problem is to hire someone or find some volunteers to pick up all this trash. We’re living in the future, though, and that means robots. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [BDM] is building a robot that picks up trash.

A robot that picks up litter is a very, very interesting problem. It can’t be controlled by a person, or else it would be more efficient to just get out there and kill your back picking up bottles. This means it must work autonomously, and that means identifying litter, picking it up, and disposing of it.

For the identification part of the problem, [BDM] is using computer vision that captures an RGB image and discriminates against natural objects. Right now the computer vision is far from perfect, but it does a very good job, all things considering.

The next biggest problem is picking the trash up and disposing of it. For this, [BDM] has repurposed a Power Wheels and attached a DIY robot arm. It’s not a very powerful arm, and a children’s toy probably isn’t the best platform, but it is the start of something very, very cool.

You can check out [BDM]’s video for the project below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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ESP8266 Web Server Farm

There seems to be a hacker maxim that whatever gadget you are working with, it would be better to have several of them running together. That might explain the ESP8266 web server farm that [Eldon Brown] has built. Yup, a web server farm made from three of everyone’s favorite WiFi dongle, the humble ESP8266.

Eldon’s server farm is currently serving web pages here, running on three ESP8266 boards. Or it was before this posting reduced it to a smoking ruin (screenshot below just in case). Each module is running a dynamic web page and some clever programming he came up with that makes transferring data over these cheap devices quicker.

His page isn’t anything too fancy but it is impressive considering it is running on about $30 worth of hardware, including the breadboard it is wired into. The page includes dynamically-generated graphics and some back-end stuff. I don’t think that it will replace any LAMP servers anytime soon (the ESP8266 took about 2.6 seconds to generate the page below), but it is an impressive hack. [Eldon] has made the full code of the web server that is running the pages available. So, lets add web server farm to the list of things that this neat little device can handle, next to plant weigher, Bitcoin price tracker, MP3 player and many more

Thanks to [PuceBaboon] for the tip!

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Crystal Radio: It’s A Match!

A crystal radio is often a kid’s first introduction to building something electronic. [Billy Cheung] is a crystal radio builder who wants to “make crystal radios as easy to use as regular radios.” He’s built many sets, but his latest is one that not only fits in a matchbox, but uses the matchbox as a variable tuning inductor.

There’s no oatmeal box in this design and just a few components. The matchbox contains some ferrite rods and two different windings. By moving the inner part of the matchbox, you can tune different stations. Although the design calls for two fixed capacitors [Billy] found he had enough self resonance (presumably from stray capacitance) that omitting them didn’t hurt his reception of strong signals.

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Upgrading Your Alarm System With An Arduino

When [Doug] moved into his new house, he found an old alarm panel set up — but it had no monitoring service any more. Not wanting to pay a monthly fee to have it setup, he decided to try interfacing an Arduino with the system in order to push events to the net!

The cool thing is he was actually inspired by another similar project we shared on Hackaday a few years ago entitled Bending a Home Security Control Panel to Your Will. But that project only showed you how to interface the Arduino with the keypad — [Doug] went the extra mile and interfaced directly with the control board for more features.

He’s using an Arduino Uno and an Ethernet breakout board to hook it up to the network. This allows him to send text messages to himself when the alarm system is armed, disarmed, or triggered. All the code is available on GitHub in case you also have a DSC 1550 alarm system.

It’s a pretty slick hack, so don’t forget to check out the video after the break.

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How To Make A Hugo (Base)

A lot of hackers like science fiction. If you aren’t one of them, you might not know that the Hugo is a prestigious science fiction award handed out at the World Science Fiction Convention every year. The statue looks like a rocket ship, but every year the base the rocket ship rests on is different. Kinetic sculptor [gfish] realized the convention would be in Spokane (his hometown and near his current residence) and decided to enter the competition to create the bases. He won, so the 2015 Hugos all have [gfish’s] bases on them and it’s pretty neat that he’s shared the process he used to make them.

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Scanning Electron Microscope Images And Animations Pulled By Impressive Teensy LC Setup

When you’ve got a scanning electron microscope sitting around, you’re going to find ways to push the awesome envelope. [Ben Krasnow] is upping his SEM game with a new rig to improve image capture (video link) and more easily create animated GIFs and videos.

The color scheme of the SEM housing gives away its 80s vintage, and the height of image capture technology back then was a Polaroid camera mounted over the instrument’s CRT. No other video output was provided, so [Ben] dug into the blueprints and probed around till he found the high-resolution slow scan signal.

To make his Teensy-LC happy, he used a few op-amps to condition the analog signal for the greatest resolution and split out the digital sync signals, which he fed into the analog and digital ports respectively. [Ben] then goes into a great deal of useful detail on how he got the video data encoded and sent over USB for frame capture and GIF generation. Reading the ADC quickly without jitter and balancing data collection with transmission were tricky, but he has established a rock-solid system for it.

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Slimline USB Charger For Tiny Ham Radios

The recent trend to smaller and smaller handy talkie (HT) transceivers is approaching the limits of the human interface. Sure, engineers could probably continue shrinking the Baofeng and Wouxun HTs further, but pretty soon they’ll just be too small to operate. And it’s getting to the point where the accessories, particularly the battery charging trays, are getting bulkier than the radios. With that in mind, [Mads Hobye] decided to slim down his backpacking loadout by designing a slimline USB charger for his Baofeng HT.

Lacking an external charging jack but sporting a 3.7 volt battery pack with exposed charging terminals on the rear, [Mads] cleverly capitalized on the belt clip to apply spring tension to a laser-cut acrylic plate. A pair of bolts makes contact with the charging terminals on the battery pack, and the attached USB cable allows him to connect to an off-the-shelf 3.7 volt LiPo USB charger, easy to come by in multicopter circles. YMMV – the Baofeng UV-5R dual-band HT sitting on my desk has a 7.4 volt battery pack, so I’d have to make some adjustments. But you have to applaud the simplicity of the build and its packability relative to the OEM charging setup.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen [Mads] on Hackaday. He and the FabLab RUC crew were recently featured with their open-source robotic arm.