9th Grader Arrested, Searched For Building A Clock

A 14-year-old in Dallas, Texas has been arrested for bringing a clock to his school. [Ahmed Mohamed] could be any one of us. He’s a tinkerer, pulling apart scrap appliances and building projects from the parts. He was a member of the his middle school robotics team. The clock was built from a standard four digit seven segment display and a circuit board. [Ahmed] built the circuit inside a Vaultz hard pencil case like this one. He then did what every other experimenter, inventor, hacker, or maker before him has done: He showed off his creation.

Unfortunately for [Ahmed] one of his teachers immediately leapt to the conclusion that this electronic project was a “hoax bomb” of some sort. The police were called, [Ahmed] was pulled out of class and arrested. He was then brought to a detention center where he and his possessions were searched. [Ahmed] is now serving a three-day suspension from school. His clock is considered evidence to be used in a possible criminal case against him.

If this situation doesn’t get your blood boiling, then we don’t know what does. Not only is there a glaring racial issue here, but also an issue of allowing kids to bring their projects to school. We hope you’ll join us in expressing outrage at this whole debacle, as well as supporting [Ahmed] in any way you can. Let’s join together as a community to make sure a few small-minded individuals don’t break the spirit of this budding hardware hacker.

For anyone out there who would like to support [Ahmed]’s education even when his school won’t, [Anil Dash] is will be in contact with the family later today. We’re offering a gift card for the hackaday store and we would assume other contributions would also be welcome. -Ed.

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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: A Full-Stack IoT Platform

There are millions of devices and sensors connected to the Internet, and the next decade will bring billions more. How will anyone keep track of all these sensors? With analog.io, a platform for IoT devices, and [Luke]’s entry for The Hackaday Prize.

The problem of aggregating data from an Internet of things has been tackled before. Last year, Sparkfun released data.sparkfun.com, built on Phant, a tool for collecting data from the Internet of Things. Even though Phant can collect the data, it only does this in neat columns with values and time stamps. To turn this into something a little more visual, analog.io was born. In the future, [Luke] will add support for thingspeak and Xively data streams; the entire project is intended to be backend agnostic, allowing anyone to get their data from any thing, store it on any server, and connect it to analog.io for visualization and sharing.

Graphing data provides for some interesting opportunities, like when [Luke] found his Internet-connected water meter was logging far, far too much water consumption. A fitting on a garden hose came loose, and the hose started pouring water onto the ground, a foot away from his basement wall. That’s a swimming pool’s worth of water on [Luke]’s foundation, easily and readily graphed. He’s now adding an alert feature to analog.io.

Graphing data does present its own problems, like when a sensor sends a single erroneous data point. [Luke] is calling this a ‘burr’, and analog.io can filter out these small spikes that make data unreadable as a graph. There’s a lot of work that goes into making a usable graph, and [Luke] is crossing all his ‘t’s and dotting all his lowercase ‘j’s.

While many of the entries for the Hackaday Prize are running at the ground level with individual sensors connected to the Internet, [Luke]’s project tackles the Internet of Things problem from the other end, providing everyone a way to easily visualize their data. It’s a great Hackaday Prize entry, and will surely come in useful for a number of other prize entries as well.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Rubik’s Solver Uses FAC Machine Building System

We love a good Rubik’s Cube solver and the mechanical engineering on this one is both elegant and functional.

This is the first time we remember hearing about the FAC system, which is a standard set of parts which can be used to make any number of mechanical systems. [Wilbert Swinkels] must be a master with the system; the layout of the machine appears simple and uncrowded despite the multiple degrees of freedom built into it. Those include an insertion platform for getting the cube in and out, a gantry for three color sensors, and two axes (three grippers in all) for doing the actual solving. If you’ve used FAC before we want to hear what you think of it in the comments.

[Maxim Tsoy] handled the software which runs on a Rapsberry Pi Compute module. You’ll want to watch the demo video below. First you place the randomized cube on the insertion platform which retracts after the cube is in the grasp of the grippers. These work in conjunction with the color sensor gantry to scan every side of the cube. After a brief pause to compute the solution the grippers go to work.

It is possible to build a solver with just two swiveling grippers. Here’s a really fast way to do it.

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Radio Receiver Or Art? Why Not Both?

We’ve heard it said before that you should build things twice. Once to learn how to build it and the second time to build it right. [AA7EE] must agree. He was happy with his homebrew regenerative receiver that he called Sproutie. But he also wanted to build one more and use what he learned to make an even better receiver. The Sproutie Mark II was born.

This isn’t some rip off of an old P-Box kit either. [AA7EE] used a four-device RF stage with FET isolation back to the antenna and a regulated power supply. Plug in coils allow reception on multiple bands ranging from about 3 to 13 MHz. There’s an audio stage with multiple selectable audio filters, and–the best part–a National HRO tuning dial that is a work of art all by itself.

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Thermal Vision HUD Isn’t Only For Fighter-Jets!

In case you weren’t aware, thermal vision units have seen huge price reductions lately. There’s a few on the market for under $300! While that might still seem expensive, remember, it’s thermal-freaking-vision. [Tim] bought a Seek Thermal as soon as it was available, and just recently finished his first project with it — giving his car a thermal HUD for driving at night.

The Seek Thermal is a small thermal imaging unit that has a micro USB attachment for phones. Simply plug it in, and your phone becomes the preview window. But for mounting on your car, you can’t have it behind a window, because most glass is not transparent to heat wavelengths, so [Tim] had to get creative.

He designed and 3D printed a magnetic mount for it to sit on the hood of his car. But in the case any debris from the road hit it, he wanted to protect the lens. So he started looking up thermally transparent materials — turns out they’re really expensive.

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How To Build A Pocket-Sized MBed Signal Generator

Last month, I talked about how to get started with mBed and ARM processors using a very inexpensive development board. I wanted to revisit mBed, though, and show something with a little more substance. In particular, I often have a need for a simple and portable waveform generator. It doesn’t have to be too fancy or meet the same specs as some of the lab gear I have, but it should be easy to carry, power off USB, and work by itself when required.

My requirements mean I needed a slightly more capable board. In particular, I picked up a K64F board. This is very similar to the KL25Z board but has a bit more of everything–speed, memory, etc. What I really wanted, though, was the SD card slot. I did, however, do my early testing on a KL25Z, so if you have one, you can still work through the code, although standalone operation won’t be possible. The price jumps from $13 to $35, but you get a lot more capability for the price.

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Reverse Engineering An Obsolete Security System

[Veghead] recently went to a surplus warehouse filled with VHS editing studios, IBM keyboards, electronic paraphernalia from 40 years ago, and a lot of useless crap. His haul included a wooden keypad from an old alarm system that exuded 1980s futurism, and he figured it would be cool to hook this up to an alarm system from 2015. How did he do that? With software defined radio.

After pulling apart the alarm panel, [Veghead] found only a single-sided board with a 9V battery connector. There were no screw terminals for an alarm loop, meaning this entire system was wireless – an impressive achievement for the mid-80s hardware. A quick search of the FCC website showed this alarm panel was registered to two bands, 319MHz and 340MHz, well within the range of an RTL-SDR USB TV tuner dongle.

After capturing some of the raw data and playing it back in Audacity, [Veghead] found a simple OOK protocol that sends two identical binary patterns for each key. A simple program takes the raw bit patterns for each key press and codes them into a map for each of the twelve buttons.

Although the radio still works, [Veghead] found the waveforms captured by his RTL-SDR were an abomination to RF. All the components in this security system are more than 30 years old at this point, and surely some of the components must be out of spec by now. Still, [Veghead] was able to get the thing working again, a testament to the usefulness of a $20 USB TV tuner.

Thanks [Jose] for sending this one in