Bubbles, The People-Pleasing Pandemic Panda

This year, [Thomas]’ neighborhood has gone from a quiet burg to a bustling lane full of families and children who go out walking for exercise and a change of scenery. Early on, a game emerged to distract children from the pandemic by turning these walks into bear hunts — that is, looking for stuffed bears sitting in the windows of houses and keeping count of them.

With no stuffed bears in the house, he decided to join in the fun by pasting up a 2D panda bear in the window that’s cute enough to calm anyone’s nerves. That was fun for a while, but then he turned it up to eleven by making an interactive 3D version named Bubbles the Bear that blows bubbles and speaks in a friendly voice.

Bubbles sits in a second-story window and waits for passers-by to press one of the buttons mounted on the utility pole below. Both buttons are wired to a 433MHz remote that sends a signal to an ESP32 in Bubbles’ habitat that says it’s time to perform.

We particularly like the bubble maker that [Thomas] designed, which aims a blower fan with an air concentrator at a carousel of 3D printed bubble wands. Both the fan and the carousel can be controlled with a custom web app, and he gets an email every time Bubbles has a visitor that tells him how much bubble liquid is left. Check out the fun-size demo after the break.

Bubbles are fun, especially if you can make them in extremely large quantities. Bubbles can also do work — remember this next time you need a random number generator.

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SoftBank Robots Pinch Hit For Baseball Cheerleaders

Grand venues of spectacle to entertain audiences has long been a part of history, but such tradition is highly problematic at the moment in the light of the pandemic. Some sports leagues are testing the waters with a soft restart by playing only to a broadcast audience, leaving the stadium empty. Many experiments are in progress trying to liven up an empty stadium and this is where SoftBank saw an opportunity: as a multinational conglomerate that has both a baseball team and a robotics division, they called a team of robots to cheer-leading duty.

Some clips of the cheerleading squad in action have started circulating. A few people may greet the sight with an indifferent shrug, but most tend to fall to an extreme: either finding them hilarious or react with horror. It is only natural to have a strong reaction to such a jarring sight.

Spot was only available for sale recently, and we admit this was not the type of task that came to our minds. Pepper has a longer track record and this is not Pepper’s first baseball game. The humanoid robot has been around long enough to raise questions about a robot’s role in society from unionization to sex work. We haven’t made much progress answering those questions, and now we have even more questions that the lightweight SoftBank Robotics press release (in Japanese) didn’t try to answer.

When people fret about “robots taking our jobs” the conversation doesn’t usually involve sports team cheerleaders, yet here we are. Welcome to the future.

1975 Circuit Board Was A Masterpiece Hidden On Your Wrist

There has been an argument raging for years over whether you should design circuit boards with 45-degree corners or 90-degree corners. Why make them with corners at all? This breathtaking circuit board art is from a digital watch circa 1975.

The Pulsar Calculator Watch was the first of its kind and came along with a stylus to operate the miniscule buttons. The circuit board traces would have been laid out by hand, explaining the gentle curves rather than straight lines. The chip-on-board construction is wild, with the silicon die bonded directly to those traces on multiple chips in this image. There is also a mercury tilt sensor on this model that would have switched the display off when not being held up to view the time (or calculate your tip at the Ritz).

We found working models of this watch for sale online for about $225-350. That’s a steal considering the original list price for these is reported to be $550 ($2600 considering inflation).

The beauty of the PCB artwork is hidden away, not just inside the watch case, but obscured by the plastic battery housing to which those tabs on the right are soldered. Think of how many geeks were lucky enough to have one of these and never realized the beauty within. If you’re looking to unlock more of these hidden masterpieces, check out [Greg Charvat’s] article on collecting and restoring digital wristwatches.

[via Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories link dump]

Solar Weather Station Listens For Lightning

Custom weather stations are a common enough project these days, especially based around the ESP8266. Wire a sensor up to the MCU, power it up with an old phone charger, and you’re half way there. But if you want something that’s going to operate remotely on the long term, you’ve got to put a little more thought into it.

Which is exactly what [BuckarewBanzai] did for his solar powered Raspberry Pi weather station. With an industrial NEMA-rated enclosure, a beefy 35 watt photovoltaic panel, and enough lead-acid battery capacity to keep the show going for days, this build is certainly more robust than most. Some might call it overkill, but we think anyone who’s ever deployed hardware outdoors for more than a few days knows you can never be too careful when Mother Nature is involved.

To keep the 18 Ah battery topped off, [BuckarewBanzai] is using a 10 amp Wanderer charge controller. It sounds as though he burned through a few lesser models before settling on this one; something to consider for your own off-grid projects. An LM2596 regulator is then used to provide a stable 5 V for the Raspberry Pi.

In addition to the BME280 environmental sensor that picks up on temperature, humidity, and pressure, there’s also a AS3935 lightning sensor onboard which [BuckarewBanzai] says can pick up strikes up to 40 kilometers away. All of this environmental data is collected and stored in a local SQLite database, and gets pushed offsite every five minutes with a REST API so it can be visualized with Grafana.

Critics in the audience will no doubt pick up on the solderless breadboard located in the center of the weather station, but [BuckarewBanzai] says he’s already on the case. He’s working on a custom PCB that will accept the various modular components. Not only should this make the station more reliable, but he says it will cut down on the “spaghetti” wiring. Though for the record, this is hardly the worst offender we’ve seen in that department.

Back To Basics Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, July 15 at noon Pacific for the Back to Basics Hack Chat with Simplifier!

Stay in the technology business long enough and eventually you’ll have to face an uncomfortable question: “Have I built anything permanent?” Chances are good that most of us will have to answer in the negative. For all the flash and zazzle we put into our projects, and for all the craftsmanship we try to apply to our systems, all of it is built on a very fragile foundation of silicon that will be obsolete within a decade, held together by slender threads of code in a language that may or may not be in fashion in a year’s time, and doesn’t even really exist in anything more tangible than a series of magnetic domains on a hard drive somewhere.

Realizing you’ve built nothing permanent is the engineer’s equivalent of a midlife crisis, and for many of us it sets off a search for an outlet for our creativity that we can use to make things that will outlast us. One hacker, known only as “Simplifier”, turned his search for meaningful expression into a quest to make technology better by making it more accessible and understandable. His website, itself a model of simplicity, catalogs his quest for useful materials and methods and his efforts to employ them. He has built everything from homebrew vacuum tubes to DIY solar cells, with recent forays into telecom tech with his carbon rod microphone and magnetostrictive earphone.

In this Hack Chat, Simplifier will answer your questions about how turning back the technology clock can teach us about where we’re going. Join us as we explore what it takes to build the infrastructure we all take so much for granted, and find out if there’s a way to live simply while still enjoying a technologically rich life.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, July 15 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

 

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Home Automation Covers Everything

When starting out on a project, it’s accepted best practice to try to avoid feature creep. Of course, we can’t all say that we follow this guideline completely every time. In fact, sometimes it can get away from us, and in rare situations it might actually turn out pretty well. That appears to be what happened with [superczar]’s home automation project which now covers basically everything possible in home automation.

The build started in 2013, so we assume that features have been added periodically and that the system wasn’t designed and built all in one furious weekend. Either way, though, it covers a lot: lights, switches, media players in several rooms, includes sensors and logging for temperature, smoke, fire, and power, supports a number of cameras, the doorbell, and the locks. It also includes voice control for most of the systems.

That’s an impressive list, but what really drew our attention to this project is that it used to be based on domoticz, but that community has waned over the years and [superczar] had kept his system patched together with self-built scripts. An accidental upgrade recently broke the entire setup, so rather than rebuild everything a migration was made to home-assistant, an open-source platform that has a more active community. We’ve seen plenty of projects around here that use it as a platform, for ceiling fans, custom remotes, and doorbells.

Thanks to [pradeepmur] for the tip!

Surgery On The Arduino IDE Makes Bigger Serial Buffers

It is pretty well-known that I’m not a big fan of the Arduino infrastructure. Granted, these days you have more options with the pro IDE and Platform IO, for example. But the original IDE always gives me heartburn. I realized just how much heartburn the other day when I wanted to something very simple: increase the receive buffer on an ATmega32 serial port. The solution I arrived at might help you do some other things, so even if you don’t need that exact feature, you still might find it useful to see what I did.

Following this experience I am genuinely torn. On the one hand, I despise the lackluster editor for hiding too much detail from me and providing little in the way of useful tools. On the other hand, I was impressed with how extensible it was if you can dig out the details of how it works internally.

First, you might wonder why I use the IDE. The short answer is I don’t. But when you produce things for other people to use, you almost can’t ignore it. No matter how you craft your personal environment, the minute your code hits the Internet, someone will try to use it in the IDE. A while back I’d written about the $4 Z80 computer by [Just4Fun]. I rarely have time to build things I write about, but I really wanted to try this little computer. The parts sat partially assembled for a while and then a PCB came out for it. I got the PCB and — you guessed it — it sat some more, partially assembled. But I finally found time to finish it and had CP/M booted up.

The only problem was there were not many good options for transferring data back and forth to the PC. It looked like the best bet was to do Intel hex files and transfer them copy and paste across the terminal. I wanted better, and that sent me down a Saturday morning rabbit hole. What I ended up with is a way to make your own menus in the Arduino IDE to set compiler options based on the target hardware for the project. It’s a trick worth knowing as it will come in handy beyond this single problem.

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