Raspberry Pi On The Go Powers Car System

Most new cars have GPS, rear cameras, and all the other wonders an on-board system can bring. But what if you have an old car? [Fabrice Aneche] has a 2011 vehicle, and wanted a rearview camera. He started with a touch screen, a Raspberry Pi 3, and a camera. But you know how these projects take on a life of their own. So far, the project has two entries in his blog.

It wasn’t long before he couldn’t resist the urge to add a GPS. But that’s no fun without maps. Plus you need turn-by-turn directions. [Fabrice] did a lot of the user interface using Qt5 and QML. He started out running it with X11 but that was slow. It turns out though that Qt5 can drive the Pi’s video directly without using X11, so that’s what he wound up doing. The code that isn’t in QML — mainly dealing with the GPS location — is written in Go, while the code for MOCS (My Own Car System) is on GitHub.

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Hanky-Deprived Drones Taste Whale Snot for Science

A whole world of biomass floats in the boogers of a whale’s exhaust, and it’s a biologist’s dream to explore it. Whale snot carries everything from DNA samples to hormone signatures. But getting close enough to a surfacing whale for long enough to actually sample this snot turns out to be a nightmare when done by boat. Researcher [Iain Kerr] and a team from Olin College of Engineering thought, why not use a drone instead? Behold, the Snotbot was born!

Snotbot is essentially a petri-dish-equipped commercial drone that users can pilot into the exhaust of a whale to collect samples before the cetacean dives back under. After 7 missions and over 500 collected samples, Snotbot is putting-to-rest years of frustration from researchers anticipating their next chance for a shot of snot. Along the way, the team have also leveraged it to image the whale’s fluke (a fingerprint equivalent), drop underwater mics, and collect poo samples. As opposed to darts, Snotbot is non-invasive, and the whales don’t seem to mind (or even notice) who’s downstream of their boogers.

Drones are almost ubiquitous at this point in our lives–to the point where they now fall under regulations by the US government. With so many of us building our own drones at home, it’s wonderful to see groups starting to ask the next question: cool drone; now what? With reliable drones at prices that are within reach for the everyday citizen, we’re excited that we will see dozens of applications that leverage this new skyward-bound platform over the coming years. If you can’t wait, have a quick look back in time, where drones are doing maritime deliveries and blowing up debris.

Quadcopter Hardware Gets Classic Lake Bed Test

You’d be hard pressed to find an aircraft that wasn’t designed and tested without extensive use of simulation. Whether it’s the classic approach of using a scale model in a wind tunnel or more modern techniques such as computational fluid dynamics, a lot of testing happens before any actual hardware gets bolted together. But at some point the real deal needs to get a shakedown flight, and historically a favorite testing ground has been the massive dry lake beds in the Western United States. The weather is always clear, the ground is smooth, and there’s nobody for miles around.

Thanks to [James] and [Tyler] at Propwashed, that same classic lake bed approach to real-world testing has now been brought to the world of high performance quadcopter gear. By mounting a computer controlled thrust stand to the back of their pickup truck and driving through the El Mirage dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert, they were able to conduct realistic tests on how different propellers operate during flight. The data collected provides an interesting illustration of the inverse relationship airspeed has with generated thrust, but also shows that not all props are created equal.

The first post in the series goes over their testing set-up and overall procedure. On a tower in the truck’s bed a EFAW 2407 2500kV motor was mounted on a Series 1520 thrust stand by RCBenchmark. This stand connects to the computer and offers a scripted environment which can be used to not only control the motor but monitor variables like power consumption, RPM, and of course thrust. While there was some thought given to powering the rig from the truck’s electrical system, in the end they used Turnigy 6000mAh 4S battery packs to keep things simple.

A script was written for the thrust stand which would ramp the throttle from 0% up to 70% over 30 seconds, and then hold it at that level for 5 seconds. This script was run when the truck was at a standstill, and then repeated with the truck travelling at increasingly faster speeds up to 90 MPH. This procedure was repeated for each of the 15 props tested, and the resulting data graphed to compare how they performed.

The end result was that lower pitch props with fewer blades seemed to be the best overall performers. This isn’t a huge surprise given what the community has found through trial and error, but it’s always good to have hard data to back up anecdotal findings. There were however a few standout props which performed better at high speeds than others, which might be worth looking into if you’re really trying to push the envelope in terms of airspeed.

As quadcopters (or “drones”, if you must) have exploded in popularity, we’re starting to see more and more research and experimentation done with RC hardware. From a detailed electrical analysis of hobby motors to quantifying the latency of different transmitters.

Old LED Light Bulbs Give Up Filaments for Spider Web Clock

We love it when something common gets put to a new and unusual use, especially when it’s one of those, “Why didn’t I think of that?” situations. This digital clock with a suspended display is just such a thing.

The common items in this case were “filaments” from LED light bulbs, those meant to mimic the look of clear-glass incandescent light bulbs. [Andypugh] had been looking at them with interest for a while, and realized they were perfect as the segments for a large digital clock. The frame of the clock was formed from bent brass U-channel and mounted to an oak base via turned stanchions. The seven-segment displays were laid out in the frame and the common anodes of the LED filaments were connected together, with the cathode for each connected to a very fine wire. Each wire was directed through a random hole in the frame and channeled down into the base, to be hooked to one of the four DS8880 VFD driver chips. The anode wires form a lacy filigree behind the segments, which catch the light and make then look a little like a spider’s web. It looks great, but nicht für der gefingerpoken – the frame is at 80 VDC to drive the LED segments. The clock is synced to the UK atomic clock with a 60-kHz radio link; see the long, painful sync process in the video below.

We like the open frame look, which we’ve seen before with an equally dangerous sculptural nixie clock. And this gives us some ideas for what to do with those filament LEDs other than turning them back into a light bulb. And if [Andy] sounds familiar, it could be because he’s appeared here before. First of all resurrecting the parts bin for an entire classic motorcycle marque, and then as the designer of SMIDSY, a robot competitor in the first incarnation of the UK Robot Wars series.

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PTPM Energy Scavenger Aims for Maintenance-Free Sensor Nodes

[Mile]’s PTPM Energy Scavenger takes the scavenging idea seriously and is designed to gather not only solar power but also energy from temperature differentials, vibrations, and magnetic induction. The idea is to make wireless sensor nodes that can be self-powered and require minimal maintenance. There’s more to the idea than simply doing away with batteries; if the devices are rugged and don’t need maintenance, they can be installed in locations that would otherwise be impractical or awkward. [Mile] says that goal is to reduce the most costly part of any supply chain: human labor.

The prototype is working well with solar energy and supercapacitors for energy storage, but [Mile] sees potential in harvesting other sources, such as piezoelectric energy by mounting the units to active machinery. With a selectable output voltage, optional battery for longer-term storage, and a reference design complete with enclosure, the PPTM Energy Scavenger aims to provide a robust power solution for wireless sensor platforms.

This Weekend: The Vintage Computer Festival West

This weekend it’s all going down at the Vintage Computer Museum in Mountain View, California. The Vintage Computer Festival West is happening this weekend

What’s going on this year at VCF West? Far too much. The exhibits include everything from floptical disks, a fully restored and operation PDP-11/45, home computers from the UK and Japan, typewriters converted into teletypes, a disintegrated CPU, and LISP machines. The talks are equally spectacular, with a keynote from [Tim Paterson], the creator of 86-DOS, the basis of MS-DOS. You’ll also hear about PLATO, the Internet before the Internet, PDP-1 demonstrations, and if we’re lucky they’re going to fire up the ancient IBM 1401. There will also be a vintage computer consignment, which is at least as interesting as the exhibits. The consignment is basically a museum, but you can buy the exhibits.

VCF West is happening this weekend at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, itself a worthy destination for a day trip. For one weekend a year, though, the Computer History Museum is taken over by VCF attendees and becomes the greatest place to learn about this history of computing. They even have one of those Waymo bug cars in their autonomous vehicle exhibit.

All of this is going down this Saturday and Sunday, starting at 9am. Tickets are $20 for one day, $30 for the entire weekend, and yes, that includes admission to the Computer History Museum. Don’t miss out!

Wolfram Alpha Electronic Tips

Electronics takes a lot of math. Once you’ve mastered all the algebra and calculus, though, it is sometimes a drag to go through the motions. It also can be error-prone. But these days, you have Wolfram Alpha which will do all the work for you and very easily. I use it all the time when I’m too lazy to solve an equation or do an integral by hand. But did you know it actually has some features specifically for electronics?

If you want to do a lot with electronics — or nearly any technical field — you are going to have to learn some math and you shouldn’t just rely on tools like Wolfram to skirt understanding the math. Unfortunately, schools often teach us that the point to math is to get a correct answer. For bookkeepers and at the very final stage of engineering, that may be true. But the real value to math for engineers and scientists is to develop intuition about things. If you increase a capacitor’s value does that make its reactance go up or down? Does a little change in load resistance make a corresponding small change in power consumption or is it a lot more? So you should understand why math works. But once you do, using a tool like Wolfram can free you to focus on the abstract questions instead of the detailed “grunt work.”

 

Tip #1: Split Personality

Wolfram can’t seem to decide if it is a symbolic math program or a search engine. Sometimes just putting a topic name in can lead to some interesting calculations. For example, look what happens when you enter the word opamp: Continue reading “Wolfram Alpha Electronic Tips”