Hackaday Prize Entry: A Visible Spectrophotometer

Spectroscopy is one of the most useful tools in all of science, and for The Hackaday Prize’s Citizen Science effort [esben] is putting spectroscopy in the hands of every high school student. He’s built a super cheap, but very good spectrophotometer.

The idea of a spectrophotometer is simple enough – shine light through a sample, send that light through a diffraction grating, focus it, and shine the light onto a CCD. Implementing this simple system is all about the details, but with the right low-cost lenses and a 3D printed enclosure, [esben] has this more or less put together.

Of course, lenses and diffraction gratings are relatively simple. You need real data, and for this we can turn to another one of [esben]’s projects in the Hackaday Prize. It’s a breakout board for a linear CCD module, able to capture the spectrum coming off a sample with incredible precision. This is how real spectrophotometers are put together, but because of the difficulties in driving a CCD, not many people have put one of these together.

Both of these projects are finalists for in the Citizen Science portion of The Hackaday Prize. That’s an awesome result for what is a complete system for learning about spectroscopy with a device that’s also able to produce some high-quality data, too.

Infrared Flashlight with Screen Uncovers What’s Hidden

Flashlights are handy around the house, but what if you want a stealthier approach to illuminating the night? Infrared LED flashlights can be acquired at relatively low cost, but where’s the fun in that? To that end [johnaldmilligan] spent a couple hours building an infrared flashlight-gun with an LED display to venture into the night.

[johnaldmilligan] disassembled a handheld spotlight to use as the housing, leaving the trigger assembly and 12V DC charge port in place. A miniature camera was used as the video source after removing its infrared filter. Note: if you do this, don’t forget that you will need to manually readjust the focus! The camera was mounted where LED Array Diagramthe flashlight bulb used to be instead of the LED array since the latter was impractically large for the small space — but attaching it to the top of the flashlight works just as effectively. The infrared LEDs were wired in eight groups of three LEDs in parallel to deliver 1.5V to each bank and preventing burnout. Here is an extremely detailed diagram if that sounds confusing.

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Your Laundry Is Done!

Have you ever put a load of dirty clothing in the washing machine and set the cycle running, only to forget all about it and discover a mouldering congealed mass in the machine a few days later? [Xose Pérez] has more than once, and to stop it happening again he’s got a project that monitors the machine in his basement and notifies him when his wash is done.

At the centre of his washing machine monitor is an ITead Sonoff IoT mains on-off switch. This device contains a 10A mains relay, an ESP8266 chip to control it, and a small mains switch-mode power supply. The Sonoff doesn’t use the ESP’s ADC pins, so he’s broken one of them out on a lead to a current transformer which captures the power level being consumed by the washing machine. The Sonoff is one of those IoT devices that relies on a proprietary cloud service and doesn’t have its own API, so [Xose] has created his own firmware for it incorporating an ESP port of an Arduino current sensing library. To round off the project and because he could, he’s added an ambient humidity sensor to the device.

The resulting boxed-up unit returns minute-by-minute current readings for the entire wash cycle. To spot when the cycle has finished, he waits for a moment when it has been using no power for more than five minutes, at which point his Node-RED system sends him a notification via Pushover.

This project is a very neatly executed hack on an extremely cheap piece of hardware whose capabilities would ordinarily be somewhat curtailed due to its proprietary interface. Surprisingly it’s not the first laundry monitor we’ve seen here at Hackaday, we’ve had this apartment laundry monitor using an accelerometer and a Raspberry Pi, and a notifier for a finicky dryer that insisted on stopping mid-cycle.

Copenhagen Suborbitals Launches Impressive Amateur Liquid Fueled Rocket

Copenhagen Suborbitals just launched their latest amateur liquid fuel rocket. Why? Because they want to strap someone to a bigger amateur liquid fuel rocket and launch them into space.

We’ve covered them before, but it’s been a while. While they make a big deal of being amateurs, they are the least amateurish amateurs we’ve come across. We’ll forgive a lot as long as they keep making great videos about their projects. Or posting great pictures of the internals of their rockets.

The Nexø I rocket they recently launched claims to be the first guided, amateur, liquid-fueled rocket. There is a nice post on the guidance system. It was launched from a custom built barge off the shore of Denmark, which allows them to escape quite a few legal hurdles around the launch. The rocket flew beautifully. That is, it went only away from the ground; no other directions. Also, it didn’t explode, which is a lot to expect from even the biggest players in the field.

Copenhagen Suborbitals continues to do amazing work. Hopefully their next rocket will be even more impressive… for amateurs, that is.

Sniffing Bluetooth Devices With A Raspberry Pi

Hackaday was at HOPE last weekend, and that means we got the goods from what is possibly the best security conference on the east coast. Some of us, however, were trapped in the vendor area being accosted by people wearing an improbable amount of Mr. Robot merch asking, ‘so what is Hackaday?’. We’ve all seen The Merchants Of Cool, but that doesn’t mean everyone was a vapid expression of modern marketing. Some people even brought some of their projects to show off. [Jeff] of reelyActive stopped by the booth and showed off what his team has been working on. It’s a software platform that turns all your wireless mice, Fitbits, and phones into a smart sensor platform using off the shelf hardware and a connection to the Internet.

[Jeff]’s demo unit (shown above) is simply a Raspberry Pi 3 with WiFi and Bluetooth, and an SD card loaded up with reelyActive’s software. Connect the Pi to the Internet, and you have a smart space that listens for local Bluetooth devices and relays the identity and MAC address of all Bluetooth devices in range up to the Internet.

The ability to set up a hub and detect Bluetooth devices solves the problem Bluetooth beacons solves — identifying when people enter a space, leave a space, and with a little bit of logic where people are located in a space — simply by using what they’re already wearing. Judging from what [Jeff] showed with his portable reelyActive hub (a Pi and a battery pack) a lot of people at HOPE are wearing Fitbits, wireless headphones, and leaving the Bluetooth on the phone on all the time. That’s a great way to tell where people are, providing a bridge between the physical world and the digital.

New Part Day: ATtiny102 and 104

Atmel put out some new, small microcontroller chips early this year, and we’re just now starting to think about how we’d use them. The ATtiny102 and ATtiny104 (datasheet) sell for about a buck (US) and come in manageable SOIC packages with eight and fourteen pins respectively. It’s a strange chip though, with capabilities that fit somewhere between the grain-of-rice-sized ATtiny10 and the hacker-staple ATtiny25-45-85 series.

The ATtiny104 has a bunch of pins for not much money. It’s got a real hardware USART, which none of the other low-end AVRs do, and it’s capable of SPI in master mode. It has only one counter, but it’s a 16-bit counter, and it’s got the full AVR 10-bit ADC instead of the ATtiny10’s limited 8-bit ADC. The biggest limitation, that it shares with the ATtiny10, is that it has only 1 KB of program flash memory and 32 bytes (!) of RAM. You’re probably going to want to program this beast in assembler.

Read on for more reviews, and check out [kodera2t]’s video review at the end.

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Join Us at Vintage Computer Festival West This Weekend

VCF West is happening this Saturday and Sunday at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA. This on of our favorite events; a celebration of the hardware that paved the way for our modern world. VCF attracts an impressive amount of rare and interesting computers and other technology items. That hardware doesn’t make it to the festival on its own. The people at VCF — exhibitors, speakers, attendees, etc — are themselves an incredible collection of stories from salvage and restoration to the inside story on the teams that made the computers in the first place.  Check out some of Brian Benchoff’s coverage of VCF East earlier this year.

VCF_coverI ran into Vintage Computer Federation President Evan Koblentz ten days ago and he shared an interesting anecdote I think you’ll enjoy. Bil Herd was a featured speaker at VCF East a few years back. He was the Senior Design Engineer behind the Commodore C128 — obviously a fascinating person to headline the event. The year after Bil spoke at the festival, Evan as surprised to run into him wandering around the event again. Bil didn’t just want to speak, he wanted to see all the cool stuff and has attended, spoken, and conducted workshops at several of the festivals since.

Who will show up this year is anyone’s guess. But we know this event is incredible and you will be amazed at who you run into. It is important to recognize where our technology comes from, to celebrate those who made it happen, and to encourage young people to start on the path to becoming a computer engineering wizard. For all of these reasons we are happy to be sponsoring VCF West. On the inside cover of every festival program you’ll find this epic art by our Illustrator, Joe Kim. You can also click the image on the right to embiggen.

Joshua Vasquez will on hand for Hackaday at VCF West. He’s looking for the best bits to feature on our front page. If you want get a hold of him to show off your wares, or to grab some excellent Hackaday stickers, hit him up on Hackaday.io.