Fail Of The Week: The Arduino Walkie That Won’t Talkie

There’s something seriously wrong with the Arduino walkie-talkie that [GreatScott!] built.

The idea is simple: build a wireless intercom so a group of motor scooter riders can talk in real-time. Yes, such products exist commercially, but that’s no fun at all. With a little ingenuity and a well-stocked parts bin, such a device should be easy to build on the cheap, right?

Apparently not. [GreatScott!] went with an Arduino-based design, partly due to familiarity with the microcontroller but also because it made the RF part of the project seemingly easier due to cheap and easily available nRF24 2.4 GHz audio streaming modules. Everything seems straightforward enough on the breadboard – an op-amp to boost the signal from the condenser mic, a somewhat low but presumably usable 16 kHz sampling rate for the ADC. The radio modules linked up, but the audio quality was heavily distorted.

[GreatScott!] assumed that the rat’s nest of jumpers on the breadboard was to blame, so he jumped right to a PCB build. It’s a logical step, but it seems like it might be where he went wrong, because the PCB version was even worse. We’d perhaps have isolated the issue with the breadboard circuit first; did the distortion come from the audio stage? Or perhaps did the digitization inject some distortion? Or could the distortion be coming from the RF stage? We’d want to answer a few questions like that before jumping to a final design.

We love that [GreatScott!] has no issue with posting his failures – we’ve covered his suboptimal CPU handwarmer, and his 3D-printed BLDC motor stator was a flop too. It’s always nice to post mortem these things to avoid a similar fate.

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ESP8266 Sound Machine Soothes Baby Remotely

[Zack] had trouble getting his six-month-old to sleep through the night. That was before he found out about ‘shh’ videos on YouTube. These are exactly what they sound like: eight hours of someone whooshing white noise into a microphone. He set a phone up on a charger in the nursery and let one of these play overnight. But the phone was unreliable. It would lock up, or just crash completely, making the baby’s distress worse.

To restore peace in the house, he built a sound machine that both simplifies and fortifies the white noise shh-loution. It uses an ESP8266 and a DFPlayer Mini to loop a lone MP3 file of shh-video audio and play it from a small speaker. By integrating the machine with Home Assistant, he’s able to trigger the sound remotely at baby’s bedtime. ESP Home has no module for the DFPlayer, but [Zack] built one that he’s happy to share.

If you are mired in early parenthood, this is a nice, simple solution. The DFPlayer does all the work of reading from the SD card and converting the signal to analog for speaker output, so there’s no need to get your hands dirty wasting valuable sleeping or kid-playing time.

Once the kid starts toddling out of babyhood, [Zack] could turn to ESP8266-based ambient lighting to help establish the difference between sleep and wake time.

Hackaday Links: July 28, 2019

It looks like Apple is interested in buying Intel’s modem chip business. Seriously interested; a deal worth $1 billion could be announced as early as this week. That might look like a small potato purchase to the world’s biggest company – at least by market capitalization – but since the technology it will be buying includes smartphone modems, it provides a look into Apple’s thinking about the near future with regard to 5G.

It turns out that Make Magazine isn’t quite dead yet. [Dale Dougherty], former CEO of Maker Media, which went under in June, has just announced that he and others have acquired the company’s assets and reformed under the name “Maker Community LLC.” Make: Magazine is set to resume publication, going back to its roots as a quarterly publication in the smaller journal format; sadly there’s no specific word about the fate of Maker Faire yet.

The hoopla over the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 may be over, but we’d be remiss not to call out one truly epic hack related to the celebration: the full restoration of an actual Apollo Guidance Computer. The AGC was from a test model of the Lunar Module, and it ended up in the hands of a private collector. Since November of 2018 the AGC has been undergoing restoration and tests by [Ken Shirriff], [Mike Stewart], and [Carl Claunch]. The whole effort is documented in a playlist by [Marc “CuriousMarc” Verdiell] that’s worth watching to see what was needed to restore the AGC to working condition.

With the summer sun beating down on the northern hemisphere, and air conditioners at working extra hard to keep things comfortable. [How To Lou] has a quick tip to improve AC efficiency. Turns out that just spraying a fine mist of water on the condenser coils works wonders; [Lou] measured a 12% improvement in cooling. It may not be the best use of water, and it may not work as well in very humid climates, but it’s a good tip to keep in mind.

Be careful with this one; between the bent spoon, the syringe full of amber liquid, and the little candle to heat things up, this field-expedient reflow soldering setup might just get you in trouble with the local narcotics enforcement authorities. Even so, knowing that you can assemble a small SMD board without a reflow oven might prove useful someday, under admittedly bizarre circumstances.

From the “Considerably more than 8-bits music” file, check out the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra’s “8-Bit Symphony.” If your personal PC gaming history included a Commodore 64, chances are you’ll recognize songs from titles like “Monty on the Run”, “Firelord”, “Green Beret”, and “Forbidden Forest.” Sure, composers like [Ben Daglish] and [Paul Norman] worked wonders with the three-channel SID chip, but hearing those tunes rendered by a full orchestra is something else entirely. We found it to be particularly good background music to write by.

Take Control Of Your DSLR With PiXPi

If you’ve ever tried to take a picture of a fast moving object, you know how important timing is. You might only have one chance, and if you hit the shutter a bit too early or too late, the shot could be ruined. Past a certain point, no human camera operator can react quickly enough. Which is exactly why [Krzysztof Krześlak] created PiXPi.

In the past we’ve seen high-speed flashes designed to “freeze time” by illuminating the scene at the precise moment, and while PiXPi can technically do that, it also offers a few alternate methods of capturing that perfect moment. The idea here is to give the photographer the best chance of getting the shot they’re after by offering them as many tools as possible.

Essentially, PiXPi is a microcontroller that allows you to orchestrate your DSLR’s trigger, external flashes, and various other sensors and devices using an easy to use graphical programming interface from your smartphone. So for example, you could program the PiXPi to trigger your camera when it detected a loud enough noise.

But the device also allows you to be a bit more proactive. Rather than sitting back and waiting for a signal to fire off the camera, the PiXPi can directly take control of the action. As an example, [Krzysztof] has created an electronically triggered valve which can release a drop of liquid on command. Using PiXPi, the photographer can quickly put together a routine that triggers a drop, waits the few milliseconds it takes for it to hit the target, and then snaps a picture.

The goal of the 2019 Hackaday Prize is to develop a product fit for production, and naturally a huge part of that is having a well thought-out design. But if you’re ultimately looking to sell said product, it’s also very important to keep the needs of the end user in mind. To that end, we think [Krzysztof] has done a great job by not only making the system very flexible, but keeping it easy to use.

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Lego-Powered Sub Built In A Water Jug

Submarines are universally considered cool, but bring several challenges to the RC modeller that aren’t there with land and air builds. Water ingress can ruin your project, and there’s always the possibility of it sinking to the bottom, never to return. That didn’t phase [Brick Experiment Channel], however, and thus a Lego sub was born. (Video embedded below the break.)

The sub uses a water jug as a hull. The video steps through the process of sealing the hull itself, before dealing with sealing the rotating propeller shafts. A large syringe is used as a ballast tank, with Lego motors used to actuate the tank and provide propulsion and steering. An existing RC submarine is cannabilized for parts, providing the necessary radio control hardware.

In testing, the sub performs admirably, with a few final tweaks necessary to improve the performance of the propellers. It’s not winning any races anytime soon, but it’s a functional underwater explorer that we’d love to take down the lake ourselves sometime.

We’ve seen Lego subs built before, even including missiles.

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A 3D-Printable Mecanum Wheeled Robot Platform

If your interest lies with robotics there are a multitude of different platforms for you to build. [Teemu Laurila] was frustrated with what was on offer, so designed his own with four-wheel double wishbone suspension and mecanum wheels for maximum flexibility.

It’s a design that has been through multiple revisions since its first iteration in 2015, and along the way it’s clear some thought has gone into it. That double wishbone suspension features an angle for a high ground clearance, and is fully sprung. Drive comes from small motor/gearboxes at each axle. The chassis meanwhile has plenty of space for a single-board computer, and has been specifically designed with the BeagleBone Black in mind.

This build isn’t fully DIY, as the mecanum wheels appear to be off-the-shelf items, but the rest of the project makes up for this. If you need to make your own, it’s hardly as though there aren’t any projects from which you can borrow components.

Russian EBike Goes Everywhere, Possibly Legal

Electric bikes may be taking the world by storm, but the world itself doesn’t have a single way of regulating ebikes’ use on public roads. Whether or not your ebike is legal to ride on the street or sidewalk where you live depends mostly on… where you live. If you’re lucky enough to live in a place where a bicycle is legally defined as having fewer than four wheels and capable of being powered by a human, though, this interesting bike from Russia might be the best homemade ebike we’ve ever seen. (Video embedded below the break.)

While some of the details of this build might be lost on those of us who do not know any Slavic languages, the video itself shows off the features of this electric vehicle build quite well. It has a custom built frame with two wheels up front, each with its own independent suspension, allowing it to traverse extremely rough terrain with ease even a mountain bike might not be able to achieve. It seems to be powered by a relatively simple rear hub in the single rear wheel, and can probably achieve speeds in the 20 km/h range while holding one passenger and possibly some cargo.

The impressive part of this build isn’t so much the electrification, but rather the suspension components. Anyone looking for an offroad vehicle may be able to take a bit of inspiration from this build. If you’re more interested in the drivetrain, there are plenty of other vehicles that use unique electric drivetrains to check out like this electric boat. And, if you happen to know Russian and see some other interesting details in this build that the native English speakers around here may have missed, leave them in the comments for us.

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