Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Big Data and Big Agriculture

For their entry to the Hackaday Prize, the team behind SentriFarm is solving a big problem for farmers in Australia. Down there, farms are big, and each paddock must be checked daily. This means hours of driving every day. Surely a bunch of sensors and some radio links would help, right?

This is the idea behind SentriFarm: a ground station that reads air temperature, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and direction, rain, light, UV and smoke, and relays that back to a central node. Yes, it’s basically a wireless weather station, but the sheer distance these sensors must transmit adds some interesting complexity.

The SentriFarm team is hoping to get about 10km out of their radio system, and they’re using a long-range, low power radio module to do it. This data is received by the ubiquitous radio towers found on Australian farms and sent to a database on the farm’s network. This data can be combined with data from the local weather service to get an accurate picture of exactly what’s happening in each paddock.

You can check out the SentriFarm project video below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Turning Smog Into Gemstones And Pollution Awareness

Wait what? The Smog Free Project by [Daan Roosegaarde] is another one of those head scratchers where somehow art, engineering, and a designer collide — to produce what looks like an actual working concept…?

The oddly shaped white tower is essentially a massive air purifier. It’s in Rotterdam this week after over 3 years of research and development. It actually scrubs the air, removes contaminates, and then compresses those particles down into small cubes, or “gem stones”. Going full tilt, it will clean approximately 30,000 cubic meters of air per hour. Continue reading “Turning Smog Into Gemstones And Pollution Awareness”

Smart Phone Camera Turns Laser Cutter into Hi-Res Scanner

Getting decent macro photos always seems to be a chore. Some important detail always seems to be just outside of the depth of field, or you have to be zoomed in so close that you get great detail in one spot but miss the big picture. [Nate B] had such a problem while trying to document some PC boards, and he came up with a nifty hack that uses a laser cutter and a smart phone camera to do the job.

Click for detail.

Having first tried scanning the boards with a flat-bed scanner but finding the depth of field unsatisfactory, [Nate B] then went on to his Samsung phone’s camera. Set to panorama mode, he manually scanned across the boards and let the camera stitch the images together. The results were better, but the wobblies got the better of him and the images showed it. He then decided to use a laser cutter — with the laser disabled, of course — as an impromptu X-Y stage to raster his camera above the boards. In a slightly cringe-worthy move, he gingerly clamped the phone to the cutter gantry, started the panorama, and let the cutter move over the board. This results in a rock-solid pictures of his boards with a lot of detail – perfect for his documentation. As a bonus, the honeycomb laser cutter bed makes for an interesting background texture.

Obviously anything could be used to raster a camera and achieve similar results, but full points here for maximizing available resources and not over-complicating a simple job. Yet another reason you can use to justify that laser-cutter purchase.

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Press Amazon Dash Button, Summon Uber

Modern life is complicated. When you want to call an Uber car to pick you up, you have to open the app, sign in and set your pickup location. [Geoffrey Tisserand] uses Uber to commute to his job in San Francisco every day, so he came up with a neat way to automate this process, by reprogramming an Amazon Dash button to call an Uber. All he has to do is to hit the button, and a few minutes later an Uber rolls up to his door.

To do this, he used the intercept method, where a Python script running on another computer notices the Amazon Dash button joining his home WiFi network and posts the request to Uber. Because Uber uses the OAuth authentication system, he was able to easily log into the system using Expressjs. And because he is always following the same route, he could also automate the posting of the pickup and dropoff locations, as they don’t change. It’s a neat hack that saves him time, but it doesn’t get around the issue of letting you know how long the car will take to arrive, or if Uber is in Surge Pricing. Perhaps that would work for version 2: a small button with an LCD screen and a warning light.

Steal This Ham Radio (Technology)

Although I see a lot of wireless projects, I’m always surprised at the lack of diversity in the radio portions of them. I’m a ham radio operator (WD5GNR; I was licensed in 1977) and hams use a variety of radio techniques. If you think hams just use Morse code and voice communications, you are thinking of your grandfather’s ham radio. Modern hams have gone digital and communicate via satellites, video, and many different digital techniques that could easily have applicability to different wireless projects.

Of course, Morse code may have been one of the first digital modes. But hams have used teletype, FAX, and other digital modes for years. Now with PCs and soundcards in common use, hams have been on the forefront of devising sophisticated digital radio techniques.

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Saturday in Washington DC: Hackaday Meetup

If you’re in the DC area, clear your schedule this Saturday night. Hackaday is hosting a Meetup at Nova Labs starting at 6pm. All you need to do is let us know you’re planning to attend.

The Reston, Virginia hackerspace is minutes away from Dulles airport. If you haven’t stopped by the hackerspace since they moved this is a great chance to see the new location. Bring along any hardware you’re working on. You can give a lightning talk about it, or just show it off casually while enjoying some food and beverage. Several members of the Hackaday crew will be on hand: [Anool Mahidharia] will be in town presenting a weekend-long workshop on PCB design using KiCAD. [Mike], [Brian], and [Sophi] will join him for the meetup on Saturday evening. For more details on what is going down that weekend take a look at the original announcement post. See you soon!

Aerogel Insulation for 3D Printers

A heated bed is nearly essential for printing with ABS. Without it, it is difficult to keep parts from warping as the plastic cools. However, heating up a large print bed is difficult and time consuming. It is true that the printer easily heats the hot end to 200C or higher and the bed’s temperature is only half of that. However, the hot end is a small insulated spot and the bed is a large flat surface. It takes a lot of power and time to heat the bed up and keep the temperature stable.

We’ve used cork and even Reflectix with pretty good results. However, [Bill Gertz] wasn’t getting the performance he wanted from conventional material, so he got a piece of aerogel and used it as insulation. Aerogel material is a gel where a gas replaces the liquid part of the gel. Due to the Knudsen effect, the insulating properties of an aerogel may be greater than the gas it contains.

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