Cat Compels Raspberry Pi Flight Tracker

[Simon Aubury] owns a cat. Or perhaps it is the other way around, we can never really tell. One morning around 6AM, the cat — we don’t know its name — heard a low-flying aircraft and to signal its displeasure at the event, decided to jump onto [Simon’s] face as he slept. Thanks to the well-known mind control abilities of cats, [Simon] decided he had to know what plane was causing this scenario to recur. So he did what any of us what do. He used a Raspberry Pi and a software defined radio dongle to decode the ADS-B signals coming from nearby aircraft.

Picking up the signals and capturing them is easy thanks to the wide availability of USB radios and a program called Dump1090. However, the data is somewhat jumbled and not in a cat-friendly format. [Simon] turned to Apache Kafka — a tool for building real-time data pipelines — to process the data.

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Smart Citizen Opens Eyes and Ears in Barcelona

More often than not, our coverage of projects here at Hackaday tends to be one-off sort of thing. We find something interesting, write it up for our beloved readers, and keep it moving. There’s an unending world of hacks and creations out there, and not a lot of time to cover them all. Still, it’s nice when we occasionally see a project we’ve previously covered “out in the wild” so to speak. A reminder that, while a project’s time on the Hackaday front page might be fleeting, their journey is far from finished.

A perfect example can be found in a recent article posted by the BBC about the battle with noise in Barcelona’s Plaza del Sol. The Plaza is a popular meeting place for tourists and residents alike, with loud parties continuing into the middle of the night, those with homes overlooking the Plaza were struggling to sleep. But to get any changes made, they needed a way to prove to the city council that the noise was beyond reasonable levels.

Enter the Smart Citizen, an open source Arduino-compatible sensor platform developed by Fab Lab Barcelona. We originally covered the Smart Citizen board back in 2013, right after it ran a successful funding campaign on Kickstarter. Armed with the data collected by Smart Citizen sensors deployed around the Plaza, the council has enacted measures to try to quiet things down before midnight.

Today people tend to approach crowdfunded projects with a healthy dose of apprehension, so it’s nice to see validation that they aren’t all flash in the pan ideas. Some of them really do end up making a positive impact, years after the campaign ends.

Of course, we can’t talk about distributed environmental monitoring without mentioning the fantastic work of [Radu Motisan], who’s made it his mission to put advanced sensors in the hands of citizen scientists.

[Thanks to muA for the tip.]

Magnetic Spheres Line Up for Rotary Encoder Duty

When it comes to rotary encoders, there are plenty of options. Most of them involve putting a credit card number into an online vendor’s website, though, and that’s sometimes just not in the cards. In that case building your own, like this encoder using magnetic spheres, is a pretty cool way to go too.

If he’d had less time to spare, we imagine [Antonio Ospite] would have gone for a commercial solution rather than building an encoder from scratch. Then again, he says his application had noise considerations, so maybe this was the best solution overall. He had some latching Hall effect sensors lying around, but lacked the ring magnet that is usually used with such sensors in magnetic encoders. But luckily, he had a mess of magnetic spheres, each 5 mm in diameter. Lined up in a circle around a knob made from a CD spindle, the spheres oriented themselves with alternating poles, which is just what the Hall sensors want to see. The sensors were arranged so the pulses are 90° apart, and can resolve 4.29° steps. Check out the video below to watch it work.

Small, cheap and effective are always good things. But magnets aren’t the only thing behind homebrew rotary encoders. A couple of microswitches might do in a pinch, or maybe even scrapped hard drives would suffice.

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Lightning Generator from Electric Lighter

Generating high voltages isn’t too hard. A decent transformer will easily get you into the 100s of kilovolts, provided you’re a power company and have access to millions of dollars and a substation to put it. If you want to go above that then things start getting difficult, and most tend to look in other places for high voltages such as voltage multipliers.

These devices use nothing but capacitors and diodes, as [Jay] from [Plasma Channel] shows us how to build a small desktop version of a voltage multiplier that can produce almost 70 kV. That’s enough to throw a substantial spark, powered by nothing but a rechargable battery found in an electric lighter. They can also be cheaper than transformers to a point, since they require less insulation and less copper and iron. The voltage multiplier works in stages, with each stage boosting the voltage to a critical level above the stage before it similar to a Marx generator.

Similar designs are used by laboratories to simulate lightning strikes, and can generate millions of volts. They’re a cost-effective way of generating huge voltage pulses and studying everything from the effects of lightning on various equipment to generating X-rays in fusion power tests. We’ve even seen them in use in lasers.

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Hacked RC Transmitters Control All The Things

If you have lots of RC creations about, each with their own receiver, you’ll know that the cost of a new one for each project can quickly mount up – despite RC receivers being pretty cheap these days. What if you could use a NRF24L01+ module costing less than $3?

That’s just what [Rudolph] has done for his Hackaday Prize entry, rudRemoteThough many people already spin their own RC link with the NRF24 modules, this sets itself apart by being a complete, well thought out solution, easily scalable to a large number of receivers.

The transmitter can be made of anything to hand; stick an NRF24 module and Teensy inside, some gimbals if needed, and you have a rudRemote transmitter. Gaming controllers, sandwich boxes and piles of laser cut parts are all encouraged options. [Rudolph] used some 40-year-old transmitters for his build – on the outside they remain unchanged, apart from a small OLED and rotary encoder for the function menu. The gimbal connections are simply re-routed to the Teensy I/O.

The protocol used is CRTP (Crazy RealTime Protocol); this is partly because one of the things [Rudolph] wanted to control is a CrazyFlie quadcopter. It’s a protocol that can easily be used to control anything you like, providing it fits into the 29-byte payload space. The CrazyFlie only uses 14 bytes of that, so there’s plenty of headroom for auxiliary functions.

We’d be interested to see the latency of this system – we’ve some surprising results when it comes to measuring cheap RC transmitter latency.

Ted Dabney, Atari, and the Video Game Revolution

It may be hard for those raised on cinematic video games to conceive of the wonder of watching a plain white dot tracing across a black screen, reflecting off walls and a bounced by a little paddle that responded instantly to the twist of a wrist. But there was a time when Pong was all we had, and it was fascinating. People lined up for hours for the privilege of exchanging a quarter for a few minutes of monochrome distraction. In an arcade stuffed with noisy pinball machines with garish artwork and flashing lights, Pong seemed like a calm oasis, and you could almost feel your brain doing the geometry to figure out where to place the paddle so as not to miss the shot.

As primitive as it now seems, Pong was at the forefront of the video game revolution, and that little game spawned an industry that raked in $108 billion last year alone. It also spawned one of the early success stories of the industry, Atari, a company founded in 1972. Just last week, Ted Dabney, one of the co-founders of Atari, died at the age of 81. It’s sad that we’re getting to the point where we’re losing some of the pioneers of the industry, but it’s the way of things. All we can do is reflect on Dabney’s life and legacy, and examine the improbable path that led him to be one of the fathers of the video game industry.

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Drifting Instrument Presents Opportunity to Learn about Crystal Oscillators

Sure, we all love fixing stuff, but there’s often a fine line between something that’s worth repairing and something that’s cheaper in the long run to just replace. That line gets blurred, though, when there’s something to be learned from a repair.

This wonky temperature-compensated crystal oscillator is a good example of leaning toward repair just for the opportunity to peek inside. [Kerry Wong] identified it as the problem behind a programmable frequency counter reading significantly low. A TCXO is supposed to output a fixed frequency signal that stays stable over a range of temperatures by using a temperature sensor to adjust a voltage-controlled oscillator that corrects for the crystal’s natural tendency to vary its frequency as it gets hotter or colder. But this TCXO was pretty old, and even the trimmer capacitor provided was no longer enough to nudge it back in range. [Kerry] did some Dremel surgery on the case and came to the conclusion that adding another trim cap between one of the crystal’s leads and ground would help. This gave him a much wider adjustment range and let him zero in on the correct 10-MHz setting. [Mr. Murphy] still runs the show, though – after he got the TCXO buttoned up with the new trimmer inaccessible, he found that the frequency was not quite right. But going from 2 kHz off to only 2 Hz is still pretty good.

Whether it’s the weird world of microwave electronics or building a whole-house battery bank, it’s always fun to watch [Kerry]’s videos, and we usually end up learning a thing or two.

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