Ethics Whiplash As Sonos Tries Every Possible Wrong Way To Handle IoT Right

We’re trying to figure out whether Sonos was doing the right thing, and it’s getting to the point where we need pins, a corkboard, and string. Sonos had been increasing the functionality of its products and ran into a problem as they hit a technical wall. How would they keep the old speakers working with the new speakers? Their solution was completely bizarre to a lot of people.

First, none of the old speakers would receive updates anymore. Which is sad, but not unheard of. Next they mentioned that if you bought a new speaker and ran it on the same network as an old speaker, neither speaker would get updates. Which came off as a little hostile, punishing users for upgrading to newer products.

The final bit of weirdness was their solution for encouraging users to ditch their old products. They called it, “trading in for a 30% discount”, but it was something else entirely. If a user went into the system menu of an old device and selected to put it in “Recycle Mode” the discount would be activated on their account. Recycle Mode would then, within 30 days, brick the device. There was no way to cancel this, and once the device was bricked it wouldn’t come back. The user was then instructed to take the Sonos to a recycling center where it would be scrapped. Pictures soon began to surface of piles of bricked Sonos’s. There would be no chance to sell, repair, or otherwise keep alive what is still a fully functioning premium speaker system.

Why would a company do this to their customers and to themselves? Join me below for a guided tour of how the downsides of IoT ecosystem may have driven this choice.

Continue reading “Ethics Whiplash As Sonos Tries Every Possible Wrong Way To Handle IoT Right”

Experiments In Soft Robotics

[Arnav Wagh] has been doing some cool experiments in soft robotics using his home 3D printer.

Soft robots have a lot of advantages, but as [Arnav] points out on his website, it’s pretty hard to get started in the same way as one might with another type of project. You can’t necessarily go on Amazon and order a ten pack of soft robot actuators in the way you can Arduinos.

The project started by imitating other projects. First he copied the universities who have done work in this arena by casting soft silicone actuators. He notes the same things that they did, that they’re difficult to produce and prone to punctures. Next he tried painting foam with silicone, which worked, but it was still prone to punctures, and there was a consensus that it was creepy. He finally had a breakthrough playing with origami shapes. After some iteration he was able to print them reliably with an Ultimaker.

Finally to get it into the “easy to hack together on a weekend” range he was looking for: he designed it to be VEX compatible. You can see them moving in the video after the break.

Continue reading “Experiments In Soft Robotics”

A Simple App Controlled Door Lock

[Adnan.R.Khan] had a sliding door latch plus an Arduino, and hacked together this cool but simple app controlled door lock.

Mechanically the lock consists of a Solarbotics GM3 motor, some Meccano, and a servo arm. A string is tied between two pulleys and looped around the slide of a barrel latch. When the motor moves back and forth it’s enough to slide the lock in and out. Electronically an Arduino and a Bluetooth module provide the electronics. The system runs from a 9V battery, and we’re interested to know whether there were any tricks pulled to make the battery last.

The system’s software is a simple program built in MIT App Inventor. Still, it’s pretty cool that you can get functionally close to a production product with parts that are very much lying around. It also makes us think of maybe keeping our childhood Meccano sets a little closer to the bench!

Diurnal Reef Control Realistically Insolates Your Aquarium

[Phillip]’s project is not just great for learning new words, it also shows just how complex natural systems can be. 

As we know from news around the word, reefs are delicate systems prone to damage from just about any imaginable threat. Escaped aquarium fish, sunscreen, and the wayward feet of well meaning tourists to name a few. So it’s no wonder that aquarium hobbyists sometimes go to incredible lengths to simulate the natural environments these creatures live in.

While [Phillip] is still tinkering with his designs for this project, we found the data he included really interesting. His goal is to be able to plug in any coordinate on the earth and have the lights replicate the location. That includes not just the sun, but also the light from the moon as many corals seem to only spawn during certain tides. Of course no LED is perfect so he’s even experimenting with putting light sensors under the water to provide a feedback loop to make it perfect.

We really like the ambition of this project and we hope he continues.

DIY Scalar Network Analyzer

[Steven Merrifield] built his own Scalar Network Analyzer and it’s a beauty! [Steve]’s SNA has a digital pinout matching a Raspberry Pi, but any GPIO could be used to operate the device and retrieve the data from the ADC. The design is based around a few tried and true chips from Analog Devices. He’s taken some care to design it to be nice and accurate which is why he’s limited it to 1kHz to 30Mhz. We think it’s quite a fetching board once the shielding is in place.

We’ve covered network analyzers and their usefulness before. If you want to know how, for example, a mystery capacitor from your junk bin will respond to certain frequencies, a network analyzer could tell you. We’ve even taken a stab at hacking together our own.

There is more documentation on his website as well as some additional example curves. The board is easily ordered from OSHpark and the source code is available for review.

Listen To Your Feet, They Have A Lot To Tell You

[Umar Qattan] is in tune with his sole and is trying hard to listen to what it has to say.

At a low level, [Umar] is building an insole with an array of force sensors in it. These sensors are affixed to a flexible PCB which is placed in a user’s shoe. A circuit containing a ESP32, IMU, and haptic feedback unit measure the sensors and send data back to a phone or a laptop.

What’s most interesting are the possibilities opened by the data he hopes to collect. The first application he proposes is AR/VR input. The feedback from the user’s feet plus the haptics could provide all sorts of interesting interaction. Another application is dynamically measuring a user’s gait throughout the day and exercise. People could save themselves a lot of knee pain with something like this.

[Umar] also proposes that an insert like this could record a user’s weight throughout the day. Using the data on the weight fluctuation, it should be possible to calculate someone’s metabolism and hydration from this data.

Building A Limitless VR Desktop

[Gabor Horvath] thinks even two monitors is too little space to really lay out his windows properly. That’s why he’s building a VR Desktop straight out of our deepest cyberpunk fantasies.

The software runs on Windows and Android at the moment. The user can put up multiple windows in a sphere around them. As their head moves, the window directly in front grows in focus.  Imagine how many stack overflow windows you could have open at the same time!

Another exciting possibility is that the digital work-spaces can be shared among multiple users. Pair programming isn’t so bad, and now the possibility of doing it effectively while remote seems a little more possible. Even pair CAD might be possible depending on how its done. Imagine sharing your personal CAD session on another user’s screen and seeing theirs beside yours, allowing for simultaneous design.

Overall it’s a very cool tech demo that could turn into something more. It makes us wonder how long it is before tech workers on their way to lunch are marked by a telltale red circle on their face.