Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Helping Out In The ER

[Moldovanu] and [Radu] are out to fix emergency medical care in their native Romania. They’re developing a very inexpensive bracelet that keeps track of heartbeat, blood oxygen, and temperature of a patient, either in an ER or in the waiting room.

The Health Mate, as the guys are calling it, is a small bracelet loaded up with IR LEDs, photodiodes, a temperature sensor, and a WiFi module. They’ve wired all these parts up on a home made board, connected a battery, and are starting to measure their vitals.

It’s a simple device, but it’s simple for a reason: heart rate and blood oxygen saturation are some of the most important indicators doctors and nurses look at when triaging patients. By making their health monitor cheap and good enough, it eventually makes its way onto the wrists of more patients, and will hopefully save more lives

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Quick Keyboard Hack to Control Heavy Loads

When you want to control an external device (like a lamp) from your computer, you might reach for a USB enabled micro. Looking for an inexpensive and quick option to control two lamps [Pete] wanted to control a couple 12 volt halogen lamps, he reached for his keyboard and used a little bit of python.

Desktop PC keyboards have 3 LED’s indicating lock functions, hardly anyone uses the scroll lock, and on a laptop with no keypad, numlock is no big loss as well. Adding wires to the little PCB out of a USB keyboard the numlock and scroll lock LED’s 5 volt output was redirected to a switching circuit.

That switching circuit takes the output of either LED, inverts it with a PNP transistor, then connects to the gate of a FQP30N06L, “logic level” mosfet transistor to handle the heavy lifting. Once the wiring is in place a fairly simple Python script can take over turning on and off the two chosen lock keys, giving  control of up to 32 amps with the touch of a button.

Transparent ESP8266 WiFi-to-Serial Bridge

These days, connecting your microcontroller project to a WiFi network is pretty easy — you connect up an ESP8266 to your microcontroller project and pretend it’s a WiFi modem, using these old-school-style AT commands. But what do you do if you need to flash new code into the microcontroller? You can’t reprogram the micro remotely through the ESP8266 because those stupid AT commands get in the way.

The solution? By flashing the esp-link firmware into your ESP8266, you talk directly to the microcontroller over WiFi as if it were connected by a serial cable: the ESP8266 becomes a totally transparent WiFi-serial bridge. Now, with a serial bootloader and an ESP8266 in Wifi-to-serial bridge mode, you can reflash your microcontroller wirelessly, and then telnet in to interact with and debug the system remotely. Once you’ve fixed the bugs, you can re-flash the microcontroller: all over WiFi, without having to climb up a ladder to reach your IoT attic-temperature sensor.

To flash a connected Arduino, for instance, all you need to do is convince AVRDUDE to use the network instead of a locally-connected USB-serial cable: avrdude -p m328p -c arduino -b 115200 -P net:192.168.1.123:23 -U:yourHexFile.hex. The ESP8266 passes the data straight through its TX and RX lines to your microcontroller and everything works as if it were wired.

Configuration to allow the ESP8266 to join your WiFi network takes place on a self-hosted webpage that uses [Sprite_tm]’s esp-httpd standalone server, which makes setup pretty painless. And then after that you can simply telnet to the ESP8266 at port 23 and type away, or do anything else you would with a wired serial connection.

Although the simple bridge mode came first, esp-link looks like it’s growing to be a one-stop shop for all your IoT or microcontroller + WiFi needs. In addition to the serial bridge code, there is also a REST-based microcontroller-to-internet mode and there is bi-directional MQTT support in the wings. We haven’t had a chance to dig into these yet, so if you have, let us know in the comments.

If you want to dig in deeper, head over to [Jeelabs]’ blog for a slightly outdated tour of the project written by the code’s author, [Thorsten von Eicken]. For the most up-to-date development news, follow the very active development of esp-link in this thread on the esp8266 forums.

Hacking Eating Tracking

There’s a great hackathon going on this weekend in the Boston area. Hacking Eating Tracking challenges participants to develop technology that will help guide personal behavior toward a healthier lifestyle.

The event in hosted in Cambridge, MA by Harvard University. It isn’t focused on giving you a diet that you need to follow. It looks instead at how some more abstract behavior changes will cause your body to do this for you. One really quick example is to change the hand in which you hold your fork, or swap out the fork for a different utensil. Going “lefty” while you eat can change the cadence of your consumption and my impact how many calories you consume before feeling full. This is a really fun type of hacking to delve into!

Hackaday is one of the Hackathon sponsors and [Sophi] is headed out to participate in the weekend of building. She’s planning to work with a Pixy Camera which can measure depth data and can separate colors. Of course decisions on the build direction won’t be made until she and her teammates put their heads together, but she did have a few preliminary ideas. Several of these cameras might be used in a supermarket to gather data on where customers tend to congregate and how aisle flow and stock choices might be able to change behavior.

If you’re not in the area you should still be able to follow along as the event helps to improve people’s lives through behavior. The hackathon will be using the Hackaday.io Hackathon framework. Teams will register and update their projects throughout the weekend. We’re looking forward to seeing what is built using the crate of LightBlue Bean boards we sent along from the Hackaday Store.

Hacklet 75 – Guitar Projects

Some things just go hand in hand. Hacking and guitars are one perfect example. A huge number of hackers, makers, and engineers have at least dabbled in playing the guitar. Even those who don’t play have heard the swan song of the wayward guitarist “Bro, you fix amps?”. Seriously, once your guitar toting friends find out you tinker in electronics, you’ll never be left wanting for pizza or beer. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best guitar projects on Hackaday.io!

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I Built a Clock to Spread Awareness. Now It’s Your Turn

I spent an evening building a clock. It’s not about keeping time, or even about the clock. This is about raising awareness that people actually build electronics as a hobby. Promoting wide understanding of this can have a profound effect on our society. On the one hand, it can avoid drama like we’ve seen with the clock incident this week at a school in Texas. The far more important result is to get more people interested in STEM fields.

If you think back to 10-20 years ago, everyone knew that “computer person” who always had interesting technology, spent tons of time on the computer, and was the go-to when people needed help. Fast forward to today and everyone is that computer geek to one extent or another. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops have been universally adopted. We need everyone today to know that “hardware person” who is building electronics in their basement, garage, or hackerspace. I don’t have any illusions that everyone will be bootstrapping a clock in 10 years. But there are enough of us out there already that raising our profile will let everyone discover they already have a hardware hacker in their social circles.

Get started this weekend by building a Clock for Social Good. Grab a non-hacker friend and build a clock with anything you have lying around. Document it on Hackaday.io and send me a message with the link so I can add it to the already-growing list of clock builds.

This will break down the barriers your non-hacker acquaintances have about cracking open the case on something, or about seeing a bunch of loose wires hanging off of a board. Getting our projects out into the community will help people learn that building hardware is a thing, and one that they should get their kids excited about. The more engineers we can create in middle and high school, the better our future outlook becomes.

Now, if you want to know more about my clock, check out the video after the break. I do have a project page started, with plenty more information coming later today as I find carve out some time to update it. I can’t wait to see what you come up with for your own project!

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Dear TSA: This is Why You Shouldn’t Post Pictures of Your Keys Online

We have to hand it to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). They seem to have a perfect track record of screwing up – and that’s not an easy thing to accomplish if you think about it. If it’s not reports of TSA agents stealing valuables or inappropriately groping passengers, there is the fun fact that in all the years since it was created in 2001, the agency hasn’t caught a single person seeking to do harm in the friendly skies. We’re actually okay with that if it means nobody is trying to do anything shady.

The most recent TSA folly seemed to practically fall into the Internet’s lap when a reporter for the The Washington Post published a hi-res picture of the entire set of TSA master keys while writing an article about how the TSA handles your bags after checking them at the counter. Well, the lock picking community when nuts and in a short time had 3D printed versions available and working. You can see it in action in the (twitter) video after the break.

For those that are not familiar with travel in the US, you are not allowed to use just any old lock on your bags. It has to be approved by the TSA – and that means that they have to be able to open it. So the TSA agents have a set of master keys that can open any bag if they need to look inside for some reason. If you put a non-TSA approved lock on the bag, that can make them a little angry, and you risk having your bag delayed or even cut open.

Of course, you can get into just about any suitcase with a ball point pen, so maybe this isn’t a real “security” issue, but it sure isn’t what you want to see from the agency that is supposed to protect you. Who knew that you could make keys from a photograph? We did way back in 2009 and way more in depth this May… maybe the TSA should start reading Hackaday?

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