Dexter Robotic Arm Wins the 2018 Hackaday Prize

Dexter, an open-source, high-precision, trainable robotic arm has just been named the Grand Prize winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize. The award for claiming the top place in this nine-month global engineering initiative is $50,000. Four other top winners were also named during this evening’s Hackaday Prize Ceremony, held during the Hackaday Superconference in Pasadena, California.

This year’s Hackaday Prize featured challenges with five different themes. Entrants were asked to show their greatest Open Hardware Design, to build a Robotics Module, to design a Power Harvesting Module, to envision a Human Computer Interface, or to invent a new Musical Instrument. Out of 100 finalists, the top five are covered below. Over $200,000 in cash prizes have been distributed as part of this year’s initiative where thousands of hardware hackers, makers and artists compete to build a better future.

Dexter: High Precision Robotic Arm

Dexter is the Grand Prize winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize. This remarkable robotic arm design brings many aspects of high-end automation to an open source design which you can utilize and adapt for your own needs. In addition to impressive precision, the design is trainable — you can move the joints of the arm and record the motion for playback.

The image here shows position data from one arm being moved by a human, controlling another arm in real time. Each joint utilizes a clever encoder design made up of a wheel with openings for UV sensors. Sensing is more than merely “on/off”. It tracks the change in light intensity through each opening for even greater granularity. The parallel nature of an FPGA is used to process this positioning data in real time.

Hack a $35 Wearable to Build Mental Health Devices

Manufacturing custom electronics is a tricky, costly, and time-consuming process. What if you could sidestep most of that by starting with a powerful, proven consumer good that is modified to your specifications? This project takes existing fitness trackers and customizes the hardware and software to become sensor suites for mental health research. Dig into this one and see how they can help patients become aware of unconscious behaviors (like trichotillomania which is compulsive hair pulling) and change them over time.

Portal Point Generator

This project focuses on an alternative power source for times when traditional infrastructure is not functioning or simply not available. You may be familiar with generators made using DC motors. The Portal Point Generator replicates that simplicity, but goes beyond with instructions for building the generator itself for far greater efficiency. A winding jig is used to make the coils which are placed inside of the 3D printed generator parts along with permanent magnets to complete the build. Here you can see it in testing as a wind generator in Antarctica, but it is easily adapted to other applications like using water wheels.

EmotiGlass

There is a body of research that suggest a link between cardiac cycle and anxiety-producing visuals; you may have a different emotional reaction to the things you see based on what part of a heartbeat is occurring when your brain process information from your eyes. This could have profound implications in areas like PTSD research. EmotiGlass uses LCD screens to selectively block the wearer’s vision. This can be synchronized with heat beat, avoiding the instant where a negative emotional response is most likely. Think of them as 3D shutter glasses for mental health research.

PR-Holonet: Disaster Area Emergency Comms

Recovering from natural disasters is an enormous challenge. The infrastructure that supports the community is no longer in place and traditional communications simply cease to exist. PR-Holonet was inspired by the recovery process after hurricanes in Puerto Rico. It leverages the availability of commercial electronics, solar power sources, and enclosures to build a communications system that can be deployed and operated without the need for specialized training. Once in place, local devices using WiFi can utilize text-based communications transferred via satellite.

Congratulations to all who entered the 2018 Hackaday Prize. Taking time to apply your skill and experience to making the world better is a noble pursuit. It doesn’t end with the awarding of a prize. We have the ability to change lives by supporting one another, improving on great ideas, and sharing the calling to Build Something that Matters.

Arduino Nitrox Analyzer for the Submarine Hacker

For Hackaday readers who don’t spend their free time underwater, nitrox is a blend of nitrogen and oxygen that’s popular with scuba divers. Compared to atmospheric air, nitrox has a higher concentration of oxygen; which not only allows divers to spend more time underwater but also reduces the risk of decompression sickness. Of course when fiddling with the ratio of gases you breathe there’s a not inconsequential risk of dying, so nitrox diving requires special training and equipment to make sure the gas mixture is correct.

Divers can verify the ratio of oxygen to nitrogen in their nitrox tanks with a portable analyzer, though as you might expect, they aren’t exactly cheap. But if you’re confident in your own hacking skills, [Eunjae Im] might have the solution for divers looking to save some cash. He’s come up with an Arduino based nitrox analyzer that can be built for considerably less than the cost of a commercial unit.

Now before you get the torches lit up, we should be clear: ultimately the accuracy, and therefore safety, of this device depends on the quality of the oxygen sensor used. [Eunjae] isn’t suggesting you get a bottom of the barrel sensor for this build, and in fact links to a replacement sensor that’s intended for commercial nitrox analyzers as a way to verify the unit is up to the task. The downside is that the sensor alone runs $80. If you want to go with something cheaper, you do so at your own risk.

With a suitable sensor in hand, the project really boils down to building up an interface and enclosure for it. [Eunjae] is using an Arduino Nano, a 128×64 OLED screen, and a battery inside of a rugged waterproof case. He also added an ADS1115 16 Bit DAC between the oxygen sensor and the Arduino for fast and accurate readings over I2C. With the hardware assembled, calibrating the device is as simple as taking it outside and making sure you get an oxygen reading of 20.9% (the atmospheric normal).

While [Eunjae] is happy with his analyzer on the whole, he does see a few areas which could be improved in future revisions. The case is bulky and rather unattractive, something that could be addressed with a custom 3D printed case (though waterproofing it might be an issue). He also says the only reason he used a 9V alkaline battery was because he had it on hand, a small rechargeable battery pack would be a much more elegant solution.

We’ll go out on a limb and say that most Hackaday readers aren’t avid scuba divers. For better or for worse, we’re the sort of folks who stay in the shallow end of the pool. But when one of our ilk does dip below the waves, they really seem to go all out.

Continue reading “Arduino Nitrox Analyzer for the Submarine Hacker”

Competitive Soldering Gets Heated at Hackaday Superconference

The Hackaday Superconference is in full swing, and in addition to the greatest hardware hackers, a great gathering of tinkerers, awesome talks, badge hacking, and so much more, we’ve also got competitive soldering. This year, we’re making soldering competitive with the SMD Solder Challenge. It began Friday morning as hackers go heat to head, hand soldering frustratingly tiny parts.

The rules are simple: you’re given a light, a magnifying glass, some solder, wick, flux, and the standard Hakko soldering iron (with the standard tip). The task is to solder up our own special version of the SMD Challenge Kit from MakersBox that includes an SOIC8 ATtiny85 to drive LED/resistor pairs in 1206, 0805, 0603, 0402, and 0201 packages. Scoring is based on time, completion, functionality, neatness, and solder joint quality. May the steadiest hands and sharpest eyes win.

Already, we’ve gone through a few heats of the SMD Soldering Challenge where six hackers sit down, are given five minutes of inspection time, and then whip out their irons. All of this is run by our very own [Al Williams], who serves as the ultimate arbiter of what good soldering is. It’s an amazing competition, and if you don’t think 0201 packages are hand-solderable, you haven’t seen the attendees at the Hackaday Supercon. The top times, by the way, are between 20-30 minutes to complete the entire challenge, with [Sprite_tm] currently at the top of the leaderboard.

You can check out all the talks from the Hackaday Superconference over on our live stream, where we’ll (eventually) be announcing the winners of the SMD Soldering Challenge and the winners of the badge hacking competition later on. Don’t miss the announcement of the winner of the 2018 Hackaday Prize later on this evening!

Voice Controlled Glasses and Magnifying Lens

If you’re reading Hackaday, you’re probably intimately familiar with really small parts. 0201 resistors are tiny, and even smaller parts aren’t unheard of. The screws that go in your phone are minuscule, and a magnifying glass is really handy if you want to check out the detail on your 3D prints. While this is easy if you have good eyesight and you’re young, a lot of us don’t have that luxury and instead must rely on magnifying glasses and loupes. [Mauro]’s project for the Hackaday Prize makes wearing these loupes and lenses even easier by adding a voice-controlled servo.

The basic idea behind this device is simple — just mount a standard hobby servo to a pair of glasses and put a pair of loupes on a hinge. With a Raspberry Pi Zero W, controlling this servo is easy. The real trick here is adding voice control, and for that [Mauro] is using the Watson Speech to Text service. Moving a pair of loupes away from your eyes is as simple as setting up an account with the Watson Speech to Text service, and sending out API calls using NodeJS.

In addition to magnifying glasses, [Mauro] also has a few other ideas in mind on how to make this device even more useful. It could be used for welding goggles, for removing sunglasses as you’re driving through a tunnel, or it could even be adapted as an improved version of those crazy straws that suck liquid around the rim of plastic glasses. The potential here is almost limitless, and this is one of the better projects in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

You can see a video of these glasses in action (without the voice activation) after the break.

Continue reading “Voice Controlled Glasses and Magnifying Lens”

Adding Energy Use and Cost to “Laundry Done” Notifications

Some time ago [Xose Pérez] got interested in generating a notification when his washer had completed a cycle, and now with added features like reporting power usage and cost, he’s put it all together into a Node-Red node that makes it easy to modify or integrate with other projects.

[Xose] started this journey with a Laundry Monitor he created that effectively used cheap hardware (and his own firmware) to monitor his washing machine’s current usage. That sensor was used as the basis for sending notifications informing him whenever the appliance’s cycle was done. Since then, he has continued to take household power monitoring seriously, and with a bit of added work can not only tell when a given appliance has been started and stopped, but can also summarize the energy usage and cost of the appliance, making the notifications more useful. The package is named node-red-contrib-power-monitor and is also hosted on GitHub.

Cheap WiFi-enabled smart switches are making it possible for even the dumbest of appliances to join the Internet of Things, so don’t ignore [Xose]’s complementary work on ESPurna, which is an alternative open-source firmware for a wide variety of ESP8266 and ESP8285 based smart switches, lights and sensors.

Livestream the Hackaday Superconference

The Hackaday Superconference is happening right now and you can join in on the Livestream. Talks begin at 10 am Pacific time on Saturday and Sunday.

The live stream covers one of two stages at the ultimate hardware conference. Topics focus on hardware creation, ranging from silicon chip fabrication, drop-in circuit designs, firmware frameworks, and 3D printing orbital rockets, to abusing printer cartridges, placing circuits on odd substrates, lighter-than-air electronics, and better techniques for building tech in garments, jewelry, props, and other wearables. Saturday evening you can watch as the Hackaday Prize is awarded live on stage, and Sunday afternoon’s festivities show off hardware and software skills with the badge hacking presentations.

There is so much more going on at Supercon besides the talks. The hacker village began Friday morning and continues through the weekend as badge hacking, the SMD soldering challenge, and other shenanigans continue. Get the inside scoop on those happenings by joining the live chat and following Hackaday on social media with #Supercon.

Revive that old Analog Cell Phone with SDR

With the latest and greatest 5G cellular networks right around the corner, it can be difficult to believe that it wasn’t so long ago that cell phones relied on analog networks. They aren’t used anymore, but it might only take a visit to a swap meet or flea market to get your hands on some of this vintage hardware. Of course these phones of a bygone era aren’t just impractical due to their monstrous size compared to modern gear, but because analog cell networks have long since gone the way of the floppy disk.

But thanks to the efforts of [Andreas Eversberg] those antique cell phones may live again, even if it’s only within the radius of your local hackerspace. His software allows the user to create a functioning analog base station for several retro phone networks used in Europe and the United States, such as AMPS, TACS, NMT, Radiocom, and C450. You can go the old school route and do it with sound cards and physical radios, or you can fully embrace the 21st century and do it all through a Software Defined Radio (SDR); in either event, calls to the base station and even between multiple mobile devices is possible with relatively inexpensive hardware.

[Andreas] has put together exceptional documentation for this project, which starts with a walk through on how you can setup your DIY cell “tower” with traditional radios. He explains that amateur radios are a viable option for most of the frequencies used, and that he had early success with modifying second-hand taxi radios. He even mentions that the popular BaoFeng handheld radios can be used in a pinch, though not all the protocols will work due to distortion in the radio.

If you want to take the easy way out, [Andreas] also explains how to replace the radios with a single SDR device. This greatly simplifies the installation, and turns a whole bench full of radios and wires into something you can carry around in your pack if you were so inclined. His software has specific options to use the LimeSDR and LimeSDR-Mini, but you should be able to use other devices with a bit of experimentation.

We’ve previously reviewed the LimeSDR-Mini hardware, as well as covered its use in setting up DIY GSM networks.