The project's hardware, including the ESP32 camera module, stuffed into the GoPro-intended waterproof shell. The camera portion of the ESP32 module sticks out exactly where the GoPro's camera would be. To the left, a hacked ESP32-CAM module is shown.

Hackaday Prize 2022: Solar-Harvesting ESP32 Camera Is Waterproof, Repeatable

[alberto nunez] shows off his sleek build of a solar-harvesting ESP32 camera – waterproof, somewhat energy-efficient, and able to be built by more-or-less anyone. For that, he’s chosen fairly jellybean components – an ESP32-CAM module with a matching protoboard, a small solar cell, a LiFePO4 battery, and a waterproofed GoPro shell that all of these parts neatly fit into.

A BQ25504 energy harvesting chip is used to ensure the ‘solar’ part of the project can meaningfully contribute to the project’s power budget, with energy otherwise mainly provided by the LiFePo4 battery. Since this battery’s nominal voltage is 3.2 V, it can be wired straight to ESP32’s power input and there’s no need for a regulator – thus, that one got mercilessly desoldered. [alberto] has also modded the board using a FET to gate power to the ESP32-CAM module’s camera, with all of these hacks bringing the board’s deep sleep current from 2.8 mA to 0.8 mA. Not great for a low-power device, but not terrible for something you can build so easily. Plus, it’s waterproof, dust-resistant, and quite robust!

These ESP32 camera modules are seriously nifty – we see them put to good use on the regular. Whether you need to detect motion in your Halloween project, decode your water meter readings, or perhaps merely a security camera, it’s worth having a few in your toolbox. Maybe even pick up a programming helper for these while you’re at it!

Mahmut's kid in a helmet, riding the go-kart outside on pavement

Hoverboard Go-Kart Build Is A Delight To Watch

Hoverboards have been an indispensable material for hackers building their own vehicles in the last few years. [Mahmut Demir] shows how he’s built a hoverboard-powered go-kart for his son. Unable to hack the board’s firmware, he instead set out to reuse the hoverboard without any disassembly, integrating it into the go-kart’s frame as-is. This build is completely mechanical, distinguished in its simplicity – and the accompanying six minute video shows it all.

This go-kart’s frame is wood and quite well-built, with the kind of personal touch that one would expect from a father-son gift. Building the vehicle’s nose out of a trashcan gave us a chuckle and earned bonus points for frugality, and the smiley face-shaped wheel is a lovely detail. As for the ‘hoverboard reuse’ part, the board is pivoted backward and forward, just as it normally would be. Rather than feet, the kart uses a lever that’s driven with two pedals through a pulley-string arrangement, giving granular speed control and the ability to reverse. It’s a clever system, in fact we don’t know if we could’ve done it better. You can see [Mahmut]’s son wandering in the background as [Mahmut] goes through the assembly steps — no doubt, having fun doing his own part in the build process.

[Mahmut] tells us he’s also added a remote off switch as a safety feature, and we appreciate that. We’ve seen hoverboards in go-kart builds before, as well as rovers, e-bikes, robot vehicles, and even mobility platforms. Truly, the hoverboard is a unicorn of hacker transportation helpers.
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screenshot from the video linked, showing example code that lights up an LED, and in a small window, also shows the LED lit up on a small Pi Pico board connected over USB

Your MicroPython Board Can Be Your Tinkering Peripheral

[Brian Pugh] has shared a cool new project that simultaneously runs on desktop Python and MicroPython – the Belay library. This library lets you control a MicroPython device seamlessly from your Python code – interacting with real-world things like analog/digital trinkets, servos, Neopixels and displays, without having to create your own firmware or APIs.

You need a serial-connected MicroPython board – even an ESP8266 should do. Then, you can intersperse your Python code with MicroPython-written functions, and call them whenever you need your connected device to do something – keeping the entire logic of your project within a single device. [Brian] provides quite a few examples, even for more complex things like displays. No doubt, there are limitations, but this looks to be a powerful tool in a hacker’s arsenal.

Readers might be reminded of an Arduino library called Firmata – an old-time way to do such connectivity. We’ve also previously covered a Pi Pico firmware that does a similar thing, and even features a breakout board for all your experimentation needs!
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The keyboard, fully assembled, with black 3D printed body.

From Product To Burnout To Open-Source: The Ergo S-1 Keyboard Story

[Andrew] from [Wizard Keyboards] emailed us and asked if we were interested in his story of developing an ergonomic keyboard as a product. Many of us can relate to trying to bring one of our ideas to market. [Andrew], being a mechanical keyboard geek, knew a niche with no product to satisfy it, and had a vision he wanted to implement. He started meticulously going through steps for bringing his keyboard idea into life as a manufacturable product, and gave himself six months to get it done.

 Internals of the keyboard, showing the lower half with the mainboard on the left, and upper half of the keyboard with an FPC connecting keyswitches together on the right

After evaluating competing products and setting a price point, he designed the case, the keyboard’s mainboard, and even flexible circuit boards for wiring the keys up. The mechanical design alone had him go through many iterations and decisions, and he walks us through the different paths he’s faced. Whether it’s these insights, a story of a module with fraudulent FCC certification, or an approach to electronics design that led to him passing EMC tests with flying colors, there’s plenty to learn from [Andrew]’s journey.

Sadly, at some point, the project quickly outgrew the intended goal and became a drain. For instance, tuning the 3D printing processes alone took three months instead of one as planned. As the design was done, he got stuck on marketing material production – a field that turned out to be unexpectedly hostile to a hacker like him. After a year of work and five thousand hours of work spent on the project, he took a break, and afterwards, as he was trying to come back, [Andrew] realized that he has burned out. He took a few month long hiatus, and having recovered a bit, revisited the project. Still not thrilled about the product route, he decided that open-sourcing the keyboard would be the best outcome – doing justice to the time and effort spent working on it.

This is where the story ends – for now. [Andrew] has open-sourced everything one would need to create such a keyboard by yourself, designed assembly instructions, and even sells kit parts for those who’d like to take a shortcut. This wasn’t what he aimed for, but it’s a honorable ending – most commercial projects never get open-sourced even if they utterly fail to launch. Thanks to [Andrew], we got an insightful journey, a postmortem, and an open-source ergonomic keyboard project. Product stories grace our pages every now and then – here’s a similarly swerving story about a MIDI controller.

Conference badge with the custom chip soldered-on on top left, the custom chip itself in a SOIC-16 package on the top right, two close-up die shots on the bottom

Student Competition Badge Bears Custom Silicon

[Daniel Valuch] shared a fun and record-setting conference badge story (Slovak, translated) with us. He was one of the organizers for the “ZENIT in electronics” event, which is an annual Slovak national competition for students. During the competition, students are assigned a letter+number code for the purpose of result submission anonymity, and organizers are always on the lookout for a fun way to assign these codes – this time, they did it with custom silicon!

It just so happened that [Peter], one of [Daniel]’s colleagues, was at the time working for onsemi who were doing a tapeout and had some free space on their test chips. Of course, they didn’t have to think twice. When it was a student’s turn to draw their identification number, instead of a slip of paper, they received a SOIC-16 package with custom silicon bonded to it. Then, they had to solder it to their competition badge – which was, of course, a PCB. Each chip was individually laser-trimmed to contain the student’s number, and that number could then be decoded using a multimeter – or a reasonably sharp eye.

There’s way more to this competition story than just the badge, but the custom silicon part of it sure caught our eyes. Who knows, maybe next year stars will align again and we’ll see custom silicon on one of the hacker conference badges. After all, things have been advancing rapidly on that front – for instance, since Skywater PDK project’s inception in 2020, there’s beenĀ several successful runs already, and if you’d like to learn more, you could check the HackChat we’ve had this year, and this Remoticon 2020 workshop!

The SDWire board plugged into some SoM's breakout board's MicroSD socket

Automated MicroSD Card Swapping Helps In Embedded Shenanigans

[Saulius Lukse] has been working on some single board computer, seemingly, running Linux. Naturally, that boots from a microSD card – and as development goes on, that card has to be reimaged all the time. Sick of constantly plugging and unplugging the microSD card between the SBC and an SD card reader, [Saulius] started looking for a more automated solution – and it wasn’t long before he found out about the SDWire project, a hardware tool that lets you swap a card between a DUT (Device Under Test) and your personal computer with no moving parts involved.

SDWire is an offshoot from the Tizen project, evidently, designed to be of help in device development, be it single-board computers or smartphones. The idea is simple – you plug your MicroSD card into the SDWire board, plug the SDWire into a MicroSD slot of your embedded device, and then connect a USB cable from the SDWire to your development computer. This way, if you need to reflash the firmware on the SBC you’re tinkering with, you only need to issue a command to the SDWire board over the USB cable, and the MicroSD card appears as a storage drive on your computer. SDWire is a fully open source project, both in hardware and in software, and you can also buy preassembled boards online.

Such shortening of development time helps in things like automated testing, but it also speeds your development up quite a bit, saving you time between iterations, freeing you from all the tiny SD card fiddling, and letting you have more fun as you hack. There’s a clear need for a project like SDWire, as we’ve already seen a hacker assemble such a device using breakouts.

Build A Tablet Out Of Your Framework Motherboard

The Framework laptop project is known for quite a few hacker-friendly aspects. For example, they encourage you to reuse its motherboard as a single-board computer – making it into a viable option for your own x86-powered projects. They have published a set of CAD files for that, and people have been working on their own Framework motherboard-based creations ever since; our hacker, [whatthefilament], has already built a few projects around these motherboards. Today, he’s showing us the high-effort design that is the FrameTablet – a 15″ device packing an i5 processor, all in a fully 3D printed chassis. The cool part is – thanks to his instructions, you can build one yourself!

This tablet sports a FullHD touchscreen IPS display and shows some well-thought-out component mounting, using heat-set inserts and screws, increasing such a build’s mechanical longevity. You lose one of the expansion card slots to the USB-C-connected display, but it’s a worthwhile tradeoff, and the touchscreen functionality works wonders in Windows. [whatthefilament] has also published a desk holder and a wall mount to accompany this design – if it’s a bit too large for you to hold in some situations, you can mount it in a more friendly, hands-free way. This is a solid and surprisingly practical tablet, and unlike the Raspberry Pi tablet builds we’ve seen, its x86 heart packs enough power to let you do things like CAD on the go.

With STLs and STEPs available, his build is a decent option for when you’ll want to replace your Framework’s motherboard with a new, upgraded one. You might’ve already noticed a few high-effort projects with these motherboards on our pages – perhaps, this transparent shell handheld with a mech keyboard and trackball, or this personal terminal with a futuristic-looking round display. This project is part of the “send 100 motherboards to hackers” initiative that Framework organized a few months ago, and we can’t say it hasn’t been working out for them!