Watch Winder Keeps Your Timepieces Ticking

Mechanical watches are triumphs of engineering on a tiny scale. Capable of keeping time by capturing the energy of the user’s own movements, they never need batteries changed. Unfortunately, they quickly lose time when not worn for a few days. To solve that problem, [sblantipodi] built a smart watch winder.

The overall build consists of six individual winder units. Each one has an ESP8266EX D1 Mini microcontroller, hooked up to a 28BYJ48 stepper motor with a ULN2003 motor driver. There’s also an OLED screen for status information. When commanded, the stepper motor turns, rotating a watch case to wind the timepieces. Control is via voice command, thanks to a Google Home Mini and a Raspberry Pi running Home Assistant. Watches can be wound individually, or all together, depending on the command given.

It’s a device that would serve any collector well, and could come in handy for watchmakers to wind customer watches waiting for pickup. Other similar builds have used special silent drives to ensure the device doesn’t disturb sleep when used on a bedside table. Video after the break.

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DIY Relay Module Saves Time

As any programmer could tell you, there’s significant value in automating a process that is performed often enough. The more times that process is used, the more it makes sense to automate it or at least improve its efficiency. This rule isn’t limited to software though; improvements to hardware design can also see improvements in efficiency as well. For that reason, [Hulk] designed a simple relay module in order to cut the amount of time he spends implementing this solution in his various other projects.

While driving a relay with a transistor is something fundamental, this project isn’t really about that per se. It’s about recognizing something that you do too much, and then designing that drudgery out of your projects. [Hulk] was able to design a PCB with 12 modules on it, presumably saving fabrication costs. He can then easily populate them with specific components as soon as he needs one. Another benefit of designing something like this yourself, rather than an off-the-shelf relay module, is that you can do away with any useless features you’ll never need (or add ones that aren’t available in commercial devices).

We can appreciate the efficiency gains this would make for our next project that needs a simple driver for a light, garage door opener, or any other binary electronic device. It can be a hassle to go find the correct transistor and relay, solder it all on the project board, and hope it all works. A pre-made solution solves all these issues, but we do wish the schematics were available to keep us from having to design our own. Driver boards are a pretty common project for all the different types of relays we see around here, so there is probably one available out there.

Hackaday Links: September 6, 2020

That was a close shave! On Tuesday, asteroid 2011 ES4 passed really close to the earth. JPL’s close approach data pegs its nominal distance from earth at about 0.00081083276352288 au! Yeah, we had to look it up too: that’s around 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers), just ten times the diameter of the earth and only about one-third the distance from the earth the moon. It got within about 52,000 miles of the moon itself. Bookworms who made it all the way through Seveneves are surely sweating right now.

There’s a low current arms race when it comes to lighting up LEDs. The latest salvo in the field comes from [Christoph Tack] who boasts a current of 1.36 µA at 3 V for a green LED that is roughly 10x brighter than a phosphorescent watch dial. Of course, the TritiLED is the design being chased, which claims to run 17.6-20.2 years on a single CR2032 coin cell.

Proving once again that Hanna and Barbera were indeed future-tech prophets, flying cars are now a thing. Sky Drive Inc. made a four-minute test flight of a single passenger octo-rotor aircraft. Like a motorcycle of the sky (and those are a thing too) this thing is single-passenger and the cockpit is open air. The CNN article mentions that “The company hopes to make the flying car a part of normal life and not just a commodity”. Yeah, we’re sure they do, but in an age when electric cars are demonized for ranges in the low hundreds of miles, this is about as practical for widespread use as self-balancing electric unicycles.

Just when you thought the Marble Machine X project couldn’t get any bigger, we find out they have a few hundred volunteers working to update and track CAD models for all parts on the machine. Want a quick-start on project management and BOM control? These are never seen as the sexy parts of hardware efforts, but for big projects, you ignore them at your own peril.

Google and Apple built a COVID-19 contact tracing framework into their mobile platforms but stopped short of building the apps to actually do the work, anticipating that governments would want to control how the apps worked. So was the case with the European tracing app as Elliot Williams recently covered in this excellent overview. However, the United States has been slower to the game. Looks like the tech giants have become tired of waiting and have now made it possible for the framework itself to work as a contact tracing mechanism. To enable it, local governments need to upload a configuration file that sets parameters and URLs that redirect to informational pages from local health departments, and users must opt-in on their phone. All other tracing apps will continue to function, this is meant to add an option for places that have not yet adopted/developed their own app.

And finally, it’s time to take back responsibility for your poor spelling. Auto-correct has been giving us sardines instead of teaching how to fish for them ourselves. That ends now. The Autocorrect Remover is an extension for Google Docs that still tells you the word is wrong, but hides the correct spelling, gamifying it by having you guess the right spelling and rewarding you with points when you get it right.

Restoring An Unusual Piece Of Computing History

Trawling classified ads or sites like Craigslist for interesting hardware is a pastime enjoyed by many a hacker. At a minimum, you can find good deals on used tools and equipment. But if you’re very lucky, you might just stumble upon something really special.

Which is exactly how [John] came into possession of the TRANSBINIAC. Included in a collection of gear that may have once belonged to a silent key, the device is a custom-built solid-state computer that appears to have been assembled in the early 1960s. Featuring a large see-through window not unlike what you might find on a modern gaming computer and a kickstand that tilts it back at a roughly 45° angle, it was obviously built to be shown off. Perhaps it was a teaching aid or even a science fair entry.

After some digging, it looks like the design of the TRANSBINIAC was based on plans published in the January 1960 issue of Electronics Illustrated. Though there are some significant differences. This computer uses eight bistable flip-flip modules instead of the original six, deletes the multiplication circuit, and employs somewhat simplified wiring. Whoever built this machine clearly knew what they were doing, which for the time, is really saying something. This truly unique machine may well have been one of the first privately owned digital computers in the world.

Which is why we’re glad to see [John] trying to restore the device to its former glory. Naturally it’s a little tricky since the computer came with no documentation and its design doesn’t exactly match anything out there. But with the help of other Hackaday.io users, he’s hoping to get everything figured out. It sounds like the first step is to try and diagnose the 2N554 germanium transistor flip-flop modules, as they appear to be behaving erratically. If you have experience with this sort of hardware, feel free to chime in.

We’re supremely proud of the fact that so many of these early computer examples (and the people that are fascinated by them) have recently found their way to Hackaday.io. They’re literally the building blocks on which so much of our modern technology is based on, and the knowledge of how they were designed and operated deserves to live on for future generations to learn from. If it wasn’t for 1960s machines like the TRANSBINIAC or the so-called “Paperclip Computer”, Hackaday might not even exist. It seems like the least we can do is return the favor and make sure they aren’t forgotten.

[Thanks to Yann for the tip.]

Pocket-sized Device Sniffs Out Damp Masks

The realities of wearing a mask when you go out, from forgetting the thing in the car to dealing with fogged up glasses, have certainly taken some getting used to for most of us. But not every issue is immediately obvious. For example, experts say that as a mask gets damp from exhalation or perspiration it becomes less effective. Which is precisely why [Rick Pannen] has designed the Mask Moisture Meter.

As deep as we are into the Microcontroller Era, we really appreciate the simplicity of this design. It’s just a 555 timer, a buzzer, some LEDs, and a handful of passive components to get them all talking to each other. There’s no firmware or programming required; just put a fresh battery in the holder and away you go. The traces of the PCB serve as a moisture detector, so when the board is pushed against something wet enough, the red LED and buzzer will go off to warn the user.

Now admittedly, there’s a point where you certainly won’t need an electronic gizmo to tell you a mask is wet. But as [Rick] demonstrates in the video after the break, the circuit is sensitive enough to indicate when there’s moisture in the material that might not be immediately obvious to the eye.

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Recognizing Activities Using Radar

Caring for the elderly and vulnerable people while preserving their privacy and independence is a challenging proposition. Reaching a panic button or calling for help may not be possible in an emergency, but constant supervision or camera surveillance is often neither practical nor considerate. Researchers from MIT CSAIL have been working on this problem for a few years and have come up with a possible solution called RF Diary. Using RF signals, a floor plan, and machine learning it can recognize activities and emergencies, through obstacles and in the dark. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it builds on previous research by CSAIL.

The RF system used is effectively frequency-modulated continuous-wave (FMCW) radar, which sweeps across the 5.4-7.2 GHz RF spectrum. The limited resolution of the RF system does not allow for the recognition of most objects, so a floor plan gives information on the size and location of specific features like rooms, beds, tables, sinks, etc. This information helps the machine learning model recognize activities within the context of the surroundings. Effectively training an activity captioning model requires thousands of training examples, which is currently not available for RF radar. However, there are massive video data sets available, so researchers employed a “multi-modal feature alignment training strategy” which allowed them to use video data sets to refine their RF activity captioning model.

There are still some privacy concerns with this solution, but the researchers did propose some improvements. One interesting idea is for the monitored person to give an “activation” signal by performing a specified set of activities in sequence.

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A Free Software OS For The ReMarkable E-Paper Tablet

If you’re looking to rid your day to day life of dead trees, there’s a good chance you’ve already heard of the reMarkable tablet. The sleek device aims to replace the traditional notebook. To that end, remarkable was designed to mimic the feeling of writing on actual paper as closely as possible. But like so many modern gadgets, it’s unfortunately encumbered by proprietary code with a dash of vendor lock-in. Or at least, it was.

[Davis Remmel] has been hard at work porting Parabola, a completely free and open source GNU/Linux distribution, to the reMarkable. Developers will appreciate the opportunity to audit and modify the OS, but even from an end-user perspective, Parabola greatly opens up what you can do on the device. Before you were limited to a tablet UI and a select number of applications, but with this replacement OS installed, you’ll have a full-blown Linux desktop to play with.

You still won’t be watching videos or gaming on the reMarkable (though technically, you would be able to), but you could certainly use it to read and edit documents the original OS didn’t support. You could even use it for light software development. Since USB serial adapters are supported, microcontroller work isn’t out of the question either. All while reaping the considerable benefits of electronic paper.

The only downside is that the WiFi hardware is not currently supported as it requires proprietary firmware to operate. No word on whether or not [Davis] is willing to make some concession there for users who aren’t quite so strict about their software freedoms.

We’ve been waiting patiently for the electronic paper revolution to do more than replace paperbacks with Kindles, and devices like the reMarkable seem to be finally moving us in the right direction. Thankfully, projects that aim to bring free and open source software to these devices mean we won’t necessarily have to let Big Brother snoop through our files in the process.