RF Noise Floor Concerns From Both Sides Of The Atlantic

Our feed is full of stories about the RF noise floor today, and with good reason. The ARRL reports on the International Amateur Radio Union Region 1 president, [Don Beattie, G3BJ] warning that in densely populated parts of Europe there is a danger that parts of the RF spectrum have become so swamped with noise as to be rendered unusable, while on the other side of the Atlantic we have RadioWorld reporting on similar problems facing AM broadcasting in the USA.

At issue are the usual suspects, interference from poorly shielded or suppressed domestic electronic devices, VDSL broadband, power-over-Ethernet, solar and wind power systems, and a host of other RF-spewing electronics. The combined emissions from all these sources have raised the noise level at some frequencies to the point at which it conceals all but the strongest signals. Any radio amateur will tell you that a station in a rural location will be electrically much quieter than one in a city, it seems that this effect has now reached a crescendo.

In the RadioWorld article, the author [Tom F. King] and his collaborator [Jack Sellmeyer] detail a series of tests they performed on a selection of lighting products from a quality brand, bought at a local Home Depot store. They were gathering data for a submission to the FCC enquiry on the noise floor issue we reported on last year. What they found was unsurprising, significant emissions from all the products they tested. They make some stiff recommendations to the FCC and other bodies concerned with radio spectrum to get tough with offending devices, to stay on top of future developments, and for operators of AM stations to pursue sources of interference.

It could be that there is so much equipment contributing to the noise floor that this battle is lost, but it doesn’t have to be this way. Anyone who has had to prepare a product to pass a properly carried out EMC test will tell you that the requirements are stringent, and it is thus obvious that many manufacturers are shipping products unworthy of the certification they display. It is to be hoped that the authorities will begin to take it seriously before it becomes an order of magnitude worse.

Compliance label image, Moppet65535 [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Robot Car Follows Wherever You Go

Having a pet can really make a difference to your happiness at the end of the day, but they’re also a lot of work. This project by [Ioannis Stoltidis] does something similar — minus all the responsibility. The Smart Car Follower Project is designed to track people using Bluetooth and IR and follow them around from room to room.

Submitted as part of a Master’s thesis, this project hacks a toy car and uses a key chain transmitter that sends the tracking signals. A Raspberry Pi 3 combines the Bluetooth RSSI and IR signals to make create an estimate of the position of the beacon. Arduinos facilitate the IR signaling as well as the motor control allowing the robot to chase the user around like a puppy. The whole thing also comes with obstacle avoidance using ultrasonic sensors on all sides which are good if you have a lot of furniture in the house.

You can also choose to go manual-mode and drive it around the block using a PC and gamepad. A webcam connected to the onboard computer allows a first person view of the vehicle by sending the video feed over wifi to a PC application. OpenCV is used to create the final GUI which allows you to see and control the project remotely. The source code is available for download for anyone who wants to replicate the project. Check out the video of it in action below.

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Charge Your Phone on an Iron Throne

Game of Thrones season 7 is finally here! [Hoecrux] is celebrating by building a GoT inspired cell phone charger. No, this isn’t a 3D print, nor is it vacuum molded. This iron throne was hand made from hundreds of cocktail swords. The frame of the chair is made from medium density fiberboard (MDF). The frame is covered with upholstery foam, then a layer of thin gray foam which forms the surface of the chair.

[Hoecrux] then began the painstaking process of hot gluing 600 cocktail swords to her creation. Each sword had to be modified by cutting off the loop guard. Some of the swords are bent, which was achieved with a heat gun. The completed chair was finished with a coat of black spray paint, followed by dry brushing with acrylic silver paint.

This particular iron throne charger is built for an android phone. [Hoecrux] embedded a micro USB cable in the base of the seat. If you’re of the iOS persuasion, you can substitute a lightning cable.

Check out the video after the link, and while you’re at it, get a look at this beach ready solar charger setup.

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DIY Air Cannon Snags Drones from the Sky

Who hasn’t had the experience of a pesky drone buzzing around that family picnic, or hovering over a suburban backyard where bikini-clad daughters are trying to sunbathe in peace? A shotgun used to suffice for such occasions, but with this compressed-air powered drone catcher, there’s no need to worry about illegally discharging a firearm to secure some privacy.

Before the comment line lights up with outrage, the above scenarios are presented entirely in jest. We do not condone the use of force on a drone, nor do we look favorably on those who use drones in a way that even hints at an invasion of privacy. We can all get along, and even though we hope [Make It Extreme]’s anti-drone gun will never be used in anger, it’s still a neat build that gives us lots of ideas. The rig is essentially four coaxial narrow-bore compressed-air cannons, each launching a slug attached to the corner of a lightweight net. A fairly complex set of linkages sets the spread of the barrels, and a pair of old oxygen tanks serve as reservoirs for the compressed air. A fast-acting dump valve is tripped by an interesting trigger mechanism mounted to a complicated stock and grip; we’d have liked to see more on the fabrication of that bit. The video below shows a test firing that results in a clean takedown of a drone, although we doubt the owner of the quad would characterize it as such.

This build is a bit of a departure from [Make It Extreme]’s usual fare of DIY tools like a shop-built vise or big belt sander, or their unusual vehicles like an off-road hoverboard. But it’s always great to watch a good fabrication video, no matter what the subject.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Disaster Recovery WiFi

The Meshpoint project originated in Croatia during the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, when [Valent Turkovic] and other volunteers noticed that first responders, including NGOs like Greenpeace and the Red Cross, often struggled to set up communications in the field. They came to the conclusion that they couldn’t rely on the normal communications infrastructure because it was either damaged or overloaded.

The solution is a net of open source, autonomous WiFi mesh routers, scalable from a single team to serving thousands of people. Responders who won’t have time for a difficult login process, should find setup as easy as signing in to a social media site.

The physical nodes would consist of a router robust for up to 150 connections, all run by an ESP8266 and protected by a weatherproof enclosure. They would feature 6-8 hour battery lives with recharging via solar/wind, AC from wall current or generators, or simply DC car batteries.

You can learn more about the project or download their code from GitHub.

Books You Should Read: The Idea Factory

You’ve heard of Bell Labs, but likely you can’t go far beyond naming the most well-known of discoveries from the Lab: the invention of the transistor. It’s a remarkable accomplishment of technological research, the electronic switch on which all of our modern digital society has been built. But the Bell Labs story goes so far beyond that singular discovery. In fact, the development of the transistor is a microcosm of the Labs themselves.

The pursuit of pure science laid the foundation for great discovery. Yes, the transistor was conceived, prototyped, proven, and then reliably manufactured at the Labs. But the framework that made this possible was the material researchers and prototyping ninjas who bridged the gap between the theory and the physical. The technology was built on what is now a common material; semiconducting substances which would not have been possible without the Labs refinement of the process for developing perfectly pure substances reliably doped to produce the n-type and p-type substances that made diode and transistor possible.

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Heads-Up Display Turns Car Into Fighter Jet

While most of us will never set foot in a fighter jet, some of us can still try to get as close as possible. One of the most eye-catching features of a fighter jet (at least from the pilot’s point-of-view) is the heads-up display, so that’s exactly what [Frank] decided to build into his car to give it that touch of fighter jet style.

Heads-up displays use the small reflectivity of a transparent surface to work. In this case, [Frank] uses an LED strip placed on the dashboard to shine up into the windshield. A small amount of light is reflected back to the driver which is able to communicate vehicle statues without obscuring view of the road. [Frank]’s system is able to display information reported over the CAN bus, including voltage, engine RPM, and speed.

This display seems to account for all the issues we could think up. It automatically cycles through modes depending on driving style (revving the engine at a stoplight switches it to engine RPM mode, for example), the LEDs automatically dim at night to avoid blinding the driver, and it interfaces with the CAN bus which means the ability to display any other information in the future should be relatively straightforward. [Frank] does note some rough edges, though, namely with the power supply and the fact that there’s a large amount of data on the CAN bus that the Teensy microcontroller has a hard time sorting out.

That being said, the build is well polished and definitely adds a fighter jet quality to the car. And if [Frank] ever wants even more aviation cred for his ground transportation, he should be able to make use of a 747 controller for something on the dashboard, too.