The Square Inch Project Challenges Your Layout Skills

577901443070423938[alpha_ninja] proves that is not just about great projects, but about an awesome community. Over this past week [alpha_ninja] has created The Square Inch Project, which is a grass-roots contest. The contest rules are pretty simple: The project PCB must fit in a 1″ x 1″ square. That’s 2.54 cm for those that don’t use freedom units. Smaller than a square inch is fine. If the project has multiple PCBs like a cordwood module, ALL the PCBs must still fit within the 1″ x 1″ square. users coming up with cool contest ideas and inviting everyone to take a shot at winning? Awesome!

Of course a contest has to have prizes. [Alpha_ninja] has already lined up $100 in gift certificates to OSHPark. Many thanks to [Laen] and the rest of the OSHPark crew for sponsoring this contest. Hackaday loves the idea so we’re also kicking in eight $50 gift certificates to the Hackaday store, as well as four more $25 gift certificates to OSHPark.

Though the contest has been up for less than a week, the square inch project already has some great entries.

twiz[Drix] has entered Twiz, a 9 degree of freedom Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) with Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) connectivity. Twiz senses its environment with a MPU9150 IMU chip. A nRF51822 provides the Bluetooth connection and ARM Cortex-M0 processor. Put all this together, and you’ve got a great way to determine where an object is in space. [Drix] has used Twiz to control everything from holographic projectors to room lights. Contests aren’t new to [Drix], he’s already entered Twiz in the 2015 Hackaday Prize.


numi[WeisTekEng] has entered Micro DIY Lipo retro NumiTron clock. [WeisTekEng]  loves the classic IV-9 Russian numitron tubes. His plan here is to build a numitron clock driven by an ATmega328 microcontroller. The timebase for this clock is also a classic — The Dallas Semiconductor (now Maxim)  DS1307 I2C real-time clock chip. Everything is going to run on a single LiPo cell. Fitting within the project constraints, the board will be only 1″ square. This is [WeisTekEng’s] first big project on, so we’re happy to see him join the community. He’s also just getting started, so the PCB’s only exist in the virtual word of his EDA software for now. We’re looking forward to reading the numitron clock!


tiny7[Al1] has entered tiny7, a 7 segment display which is compatible with Atmel ISP headers. Ever notice those 6 pin headers on the Arduino? That’s the ISP connector, used to program the ATmega328 micro. In many designs these valuable IO pins spend most of their time unused. [Al1] decided to give them a purpose – displaying data! He’s connected a 75HC595 shift register to the SPI pins of the ISP header. Data clocked into the ‘595 is displayed on a 7 segment display. [Al1] designed the boards with castellated connections on the sides. Some careful soldering allows the boards to be daisy chained. Several 7 segment displays to be driven from a single ISP header.


nyan[Radomir Dopieralski] is using The Square Inch Project as a learning platform as well. He’s entering Nyan Board, a tiny PCB shaped like everyone’s favorite rainbow pooping cat. [Radomir] is using nyan board to learn how to work with ATtiny microcontrollers. Due to memory constraints, these little controllers can be a bit harder to program than their bigger brothers. [Radomir’s] early goals for Nyan are humble ones – he will be happy to have the cat’s eyes flash while it plays the Nyan Cat tune. Once that task is complete, the RAM and Flash of the ATtiny microcontroller will be his only constraints.

The contest deadline isn’t until November 28, 2015, so there is still plenty of time to enter. If you want to see more of the entrants, check out The Square Inch Project page, or the entrant list. Want to know more? Ask a question on the project page, or drop [Alpha_Ninja] a message!

That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of!

Data Logger Powered by Linkit One Board

[Jed Hodson] put together a nice little data logger with a Linkit One board at its heart. It’s capable of logging two analog channels and one digital channel which also has PWM capabilities. A GPS is used to get the correct time and a Freetronics OLED display coupled with a shield lets the user view the data in real time.

The data is logged on the Linkit One’s internal storage as a .CSV file, allowing for easy access via a spread sheet program. A LiPo rechargeable battery keeps the electrons flowing and the system will give a warning once the power drops below 20%. Speaking of system – the Linkit One board features an ARM-7 processor and has headers to fit Arduino shields. It’s targeted for wearable and IoT type devices.

Be sure to check out this project if you’re in need of a nice data logger. All code and details of the build are available on [Jed’s] Blog.

Party Balloon Crosses Atlantic, Tours Europe & Phones Home

For the past few months, [David VE3KCL] has been launching balloons from his Canadian home fitted with radio transmitters. Nothing unusual there: quite a few people do this, including schools, hackerspaces, and individuals. What is remarkable is how far he has gotten. His S-4 flight in August of this year crossed the Atlantic, reached France and took a tour of Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Finland and Norway before finally landing in the Norwegian Sea. That’s over 10,000 kilometers (6200 miles): not bad for a couple of party balloons strung together.

The flight payload of one of the balloon flights.
The flight payload of one of the balloon flights.

Although the distance these balloons have travelled is quite remarkable, the interesting part is how [David] is tracking the balloons. Cell phones obviously won’t work over the Atlantic, and satellite transmitters are expensive, so he used a low-cost transmitter that was programmed to broadcast using a variety of Ham radio signals. The most effective seems to be WSPRnet (the Weak Signal Propagation Network), a system used by Hams to see how far low strength signals will go. This system relies on Hams leaving their receivers on and running software that uploads the received signals to a central server.

By cleverly encoding information such as height and position into this signal, he was able to turn this worldwide network into a tracking network that would report the balloon’s position pretty much anywhere on the globe. [David] is continuing to launch balloons: his latest went up on the 24th of September and travelled over 4300km (2600 miles) before the signal was lost over the Atlantic.

A White Hat Virus for the Internet of Things

The Internet of Things is going gangbusters, despite no one knowing exactly what it will be used for. There’s more marketing money being thrown at IoT paraphernalia than a new soda from Pepsi. It’s a new technology, and with that comes a few problems: these devices are incredibly insecure, and you only need to look at a few CCTV camera streams available online for proof of that.

The obvious solution to vulnerable Internet of Things things would be to get people to change the login credentials on their devices, but that has proven to be too difficult for most of the population. A better solution, if questionable in its intentions, would be a virus that would close all those open ports on routers, killing Telnet, and reminding users to change their passwords. Symantec has found such a virus. It’s called Wifatch, and it bends the concept of malware into a force for good.

Wifatch is a bit of code that slips through the back door of routers and other IoT devices, closes off Telnet to prevent further infection, and leaves a message telling the owner to change the password and update the device firmware. Wifatch isn’t keeping any secrets, either: most of the code is written in unobfuscated Perl, and there are debug messages that enable easy analysis of the code. This is code that’s meant to be taken apart, and code that includes a comment directed at NSA and FBI agents:

To any NSA and FBI agents reading this: please consider whether defending
the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic, requires you
to follow Snowden's example.

Although the designer of Wifatch left all the code out in the open, and is arguably doing good, there is a possible dark side to this white hat virus. Wifatch connects to a peer-to-peer network that is used to distribute threat updates. With backdoors in the code, the author of Wifatch could conceivably turn the entire network of Wifatch-infected devices into a personal botnet.

While Wifatch is easily removed from a router with a simple restart, and re-infection can be prevented by changing the default passwords, this is an interesting case of virtual vigilantism. It may not be the best way to tell people they need to change the password on their router, but it’s hard to argue with results.

[Image source: header, thumb]

Embed with Elliot: Interrupts, the Ugly

Welcome to part three of “Interrupts: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”. We’ve already professed our love for interrupts, showing how they are useful for solving multiple common microcontroller tasks with aplomb. That was surely Good. And then we dipped into some of the scheduling and priority problems that can crop up, especially if your interrupt service routines (ISRs) run for too long, or do more than they should. That was Bad, but we can combat those problems by writing lightweight ISRs.

This installment, for better or worse, uncovers our least favorite side effect of running interrupts on a small microcontroller, and that is that your assumptions about what your code is doing can be wrong, and sometimes with disastrous consequences. It’s gonna get Ugly

TL;DR: Once you’ve started changing variables from inside interrupts, you can no longer count on their values staying constant — you never know when the interrupt is going to strike! Murphy’s law says that it will hit at the worst times. The solution is to temporarily turn off interrupts for critical blocks of code, so that your own ISRs can’t pull the rug out from under your feet. (Sounds easy, but read on!)
Continue reading “Embed with Elliot: Interrupts, the Ugly”

No Sex Please, We’re Robots

There was a time when technology would advance and launch debates over ethical concerns raised by the technology. Lately, however, it seems ethical debate is (I hope) in advance of the actual technology. Maybe that’s a good thing.

Case in point: A paper at Ethicomp 2015 from De Montfort University warns that having sex with robots may have negative effects on par with prostitution. You might think that this is an isolated academic concept, but apparently there is a conference titled The International Congress on Love and Sex with Robots. There’s even a 2008 book titled Love and Sex with Robots that is neither science fiction nor pornography.

Second case: Softbank has created a robot called [Pepper] that supposedly can understand human emotions. You know the license agreements you get with everything you buy that you don’t really read? Here’s a translation of part of the one that comes with [Pepper]: ” …owner must not perform any sexual act or other indecent behavior.

Continue reading “No Sex Please, We’re Robots”

Numato Opsis: FPGA-based open video platform

Imagine that you’re running a conference and you want to do a professional job recording the speakers and their decks. You’ll need to record one video stream from the presenter’s laptop, and it’d be nice to have another of the presenter taken with a camera. But you also need to have the presenter’s screen displayed on a projector or two for the live audience. And maybe you’d like all of this dumped down to your computer so that you can simultaneously archive the presentation and stream it out over the Internet.

io-ports_png_project-bodyThat’s exactly the problem that the hdmi2usb project tries to solve on the software side for open-source software conventions. And to go with this software, [Tim Ansell] has built the Numato Opsis FPGA video board, to tie everything together. What’s great about the platform is that the hardware and the firmware are all open source too.

Because everything’s open and it’s got an FPGA on board doing the video processing, you’re basically free to do whatever you’d like with the content in transit, so it could serve as an FPGA video experimenter board. It also looks like they’re going to port code over so that the Opsis could replace the discontinued, but still open source, Milkimist One video effects platform.

One thing that’s really cute about the design is that it reports over USB as being a camera, so you can record the resulting video on any kind of computer without installing extra drivers. All in all, it’s an FPGA-video extravaganza with a bunch of open-source software support behind it. Very impressive, [Tim]!