Hackaday Podcast 049: Tiny Machine Learning, Basement Battery Bonanza, And Does This Uranium Feel Hot?

Hackaday editors Mike Szczys and Elliot Williams sort through all of the hacks to find the most interesting hardware projects you may have missed this week. Did you know you can use machine learning without a neural network? Here’s a project that does that on an ATtiny85. We also wrap our minds around a 3D-printed press brake, look at power-saving features of the ESP32 that make it better on a battery, and discuss the IoT coffee maker hack that’s so good it could be a stock feature. Plus we dive into naturally occurring nuclear reactors and admire the common, yet marvelous, bar code.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Hardware Hack Makes Robocall Blocking Service Even Better

Sorry to bear sad tidings, but your car’s extended warranty is about to expire. At least that’s what you’ll likely hear if you answer one of those robocalls that have descended like a plague upon us. We applaud any effort to control the flood of robocalls, even if it means supplementing a commercial blocking service with a DIY ring-blocker.

The commercial service that [Jim] engaged to do his landline blocking is called Nomorobo – get it? It uses the Simultaneous Ringing feature many VoIP carriers support to intercept blacklisted robocallers, but with a catch: it needs caller ID data, so it lets the first ring go through. [Jim]’s box intercepts the ringing signal coming from his Xfinity modem using a full-wave rectifier and an analog input on an Arduino. Once the ring pattern is received, the Arduino flips a relay that connects all the phones in the house to the line, letting the call ring through. If Nomorobo has blocked the call, he’ll never hear a thing. There were a few glitches to deal with, like false positives from going off- and on-hook, but those were handled in software. There’s also a delay in displaying caller ID information on his phones, but it’s a small price to pay for peace.

Any escalation in the war on robocalls is justified, and we applaud [Jim] for his service. Should you feel like joining the fray, step one is to know your enemy. This primer on robocalling will help.

Thanks to [Phil] for the tip.

DIY Autonomous Mower In The Wild

Mowing the lawn is one of those repetitive tasks most of us really wish we had a robot for. [Kenny Trussell] mowing needs are a bit more strenuous than most backyards, so he hacked a ride-on mower to handle multi-acre fields all on it’s own.

The mower started out life as a standard zero turn ride on lawn mower. It’s brains consist of a PixHawk board running Ardurover, an Ardupilot derivative for ground vehicles. Navigation is provided by a RTK GPS module that gets error corrections from a fixed base station via an Adafruit LoRa feather board, to achieve centimetre level accuracy. To control the mower, [Kenny] replaced the pneumatic shocks that centred the control levers with linear actuators.

So far [Kenny] has been using the mower to cut large 5-18 acre fields, which would be a very time-consuming job for a human operator. A relay was added to the existing safety circuit that only allows the mower to function when there is weight on the seat. This relay is wired directly to the RC receiver and is controlled from the hand-held RC transmitter. It will also stop the mower if it loses signal to the transmitter. To set up mowing missions, [Kenny] uses the Ardupilot Mission Planner for which he wrote a custom command line utility to create a concentric route for the mower to follow to completely cover a defined area. He has made a whole series of videos on the process, which is very handy for anyone wanting to do the same. We’re looking forward to a new video with all the latest updates.

This mower has been going strong for two years, but in terms of hours logged it’s got nothing on this veteran robotic mower that’s been at it for more than two decades and still runs off an Intel 386 processor.

A Luggable Computer For The Raspberry Pi Era

Today, computers are separated into basically two categories: desktops and laptops. But back in the early 1980s, when this ideological line in the sand was still a bit blurry, consumer’s had a third choice. Known as “portable computers” at the time, and often lovingly referred to as luggables by modern collectors, these machines were technically small enough to take with you on a plane or in the car.

Improvements in miniaturization ultimately made the portable computer obsolete, but that doesn’t mean some people still don’t want one. [Dave Estes] has been working on his own modern take on idea that he calls Reviiser, and so far it looks like it checks off all the boxes. With the addition of a rather hefty battery pack, it even manages to be more practical than the vintage beasts that inspired it.

In the video after the break, [Dave] walks us through some of the highlights of his luggable build, such as the fold-down mechanical keyboard, gloriously clunky mechanical power switches, and the integrated touch screen. We also really like the side-mounted touch pad, which actually looks perfectly usable given the largely keyboard driven software environment [Dave] has going on the internal Raspberry Pi 4. With a removable 30,000 mAh battery pack slotted into the back of the machine, he’ll have plenty of juice for his faux-retro adventures.

[Dave] mentions that eventually he’s looking to add support for “cartridges” which will allow the user to easily slot in new hardware that connects to the Pi’s GPIO pins. This would allow for a lot of interesting expansion possibilities, and fits in perfectly with the Reviiser’s vintage aesthetic. It would also go a long way towards justifying the considerable bulk of the machine; perhaps even ushering in a revival of sorts for the luggable computer thanks to hardware hackers who want a mobile workstation with all the bells and whistles.

Right now there isn’t a lot of detail on how you can build your own Reviiser, but [Dave] says more info will be added to his site soon. In the meantime, you can check out some of the similar projects we’ve seen recently to get some inspiration for your own Luggable Pi.

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