Autonomous Transatlantic Seafaring

[Andy Osusky]’s project submission for the Hackaday Prize is to build an autonomous sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. [Andy]’s boat will conform to the Microtransat Challenge – a transatlantic race for autonomous boats. In order to stick to the rules of the challenge, [Andy]’s boat can only have a maximum length of 2.5 meters, and it has to hit the target point across the ocean within 25 kilometers.

The main framework of the boat is built from aluminum on top of a surfboard, with a heavy keel to keep it balanced. Because of the lightweight construction, the boat can’t sink and the heavy keel will return it upright if it flips over. The sail is made from ripstop nylon reinforced by nylon webbing and thick carbon fiber tubes, in order to resist the high ocean winds.

The electronics are separated into three parts. A securely sealed Pelican case contains the LiFePo4 batteries, the solar charge controller, and the Arduino-based navigation controller. The communications hardware is kept in polycarbonate cases for better reception. One case contains an Iridium satellite tracker, compass, and GPS, the other contains two Globalstar trackers. The Iridium module allows the boat to transmit data via the Iridium Short Burst Data service. This way, data such as GPS position, wind speed, and compass direction can be transmitted.

[Andy]’s boat was launched in September from Newfoundland headed towards Ireland. However, things quickly seemed to go awry. Storms and crashes caused errors and the solar chargers seemed not to be charging the batteries. The test ended up lasting about 24 days, during which the boat went almost 1000km.

[Andy] is redesigning the boat, changing to a rigid sail and enclosing the hardware inside the boat. In the meantime, the project is open source, so the hardware is described and software is available on GitHub. Be sure to check out the OpenTransat website, where you can see the data from the first sailing. Also, check out this article on autonomous kayaks, and this one about a swarm of autonomous boats.

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Building A K9 Toy

[James West] has a young Doctor Who fan in the house and wanted to build something that could be played with without worrying about it being bumped and scratched. So, instead of creating a replica, [James] built a simple remote controlled K9 toy for his young fan.

K9 was a companion of the fourth Doctor (played by Tom Baker) in the classic Doctor Who series. He also appeared in several spin-offs. A robotic dog with the infinite knowledge of the TARDIS at hand, as well as a laser, K9 became a favorite among Who fans, especially younger children. [James] wanted his version of K9 to be able to be controlled by a remote control and be able to play sounds from the TV show.

Using some hand-cut acrylic, [James] built K9’s body, then started on plans for the motion control and brains. [James] selected the Raspberry Pi Zero for the controller board, a Speaker pHat for the audio, a couple of motors to move K9 around, and a motor controller. K9 is controlled by a WiiMote and has a button on his back to start pairing with the WiiMote (K9 answers with “Affirmative” when the pairing is successful.) When it came to the head, [James] was a little overwhelmed by trying to make the head in acrylic, so he got some foam board and used that instead. A red LED in the head lights up through translucent red acrylic.

It’s a great little project and [James] has put the Python code up on Github for anyone interested. We’ve had a couple of robot dog projects on the site over the years, like this one and this one.

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Use the Force to Turn On This Lamp

Holocrons are holographic data storage devices used in the Star Wars universe by both Jedi and Sith as teaching devices or for storing valuable information. After the fall of the Jedi, they became rare and closely guarded artifacts. [DaveClarke] built one to light the room.

[DaveClarke] built the lamp around a Particle Photon – a STM32 ARM-M0 based microcontroller with a Cypress wifi chip. All [Dave] needed for the workings were an IR proximity sensor, a servo and a bunch of super-bright white LEDs. When the sensor detects something, it starts up the system. The servo rotates a gear which raises the lamp and fades in the LEDs. The next time the sensor detects something, the servo lowers the lamp and the lights begin to fade out. And since the Photon is connected to the cloud, the system can be accessed with a web interface as well.

Okay, so it’s just an IR sensor detecting reflected infrared light and not the Force that’s used to turn it on, but it’s still pretty cool. There are plenty of pictures and videos at [DaveClarke]’s site, along with a schematic, 3D printer designs, and the source code. The whole thing was designed using Autodesk Fusion 360 and 3D printed in about 30 hours and press-fits together. A very simple yet clever design. There have been some other great lamps on the site, like this blossoming flower lamp or this laser cut lamp with which also has a unique switch.

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Vintage Portable TV Turned Retro Gaming System

When [FinnAndersen] found an old TV set by the side of the road, he did what any self-respecting DIY/gaming enthusiast would do: He took it apart and installed a Raspberry Pi 3 running RetroPie in it in order to play retro games on a retro TV!

[Finn] took the CRT out of the TV before realizing that it actually worked. It was already too late, so [Finn] ordered a 12″ LCD screen to put in its place. He liked the idea of the curved screen the CRT had, though, so he molded a piece of acrylic around the CRT and, after some cutting and grinding, had it fitting in the screen’s space.

[Finn] also liked the idea of the TV still being able to view a television signal, so he bought a TV tuner card. After a couple of mods to it, he could control the card with the TV’s original channel changer. He used an Arduino to read the status of the rotary encoders the original TV used. After some trial and error, [Finn] was able to read the channel positions and the Arduino would send a signal to the channel up and down buttons on the tuner card in order to change the channel.

Next up was audio. [Finn] found a nicer speaker than came with the TV, so he swapped them and added an amplifier. The original volume knob is still used to control the volume. A USB Hub is hidden in the side of the TV at the bottom, to allow controllers to connect and finally, a power supply converts the mains voltage to 12V DC which runs both the Raspberry Pi and the TV Tuner.

[FinnAndersen] has built a great RetroPie cabinet reusing a great looking vintage TV. It’s unfortunate that he removed the CRT before figuring out that he could use it, but the replacement looks pretty darn good! And the added advantage? It’s portable, sort of. At least, without the CRT inside, it’s much lighter than it was. Here‘s another retro console inside an old TV, and this article is about connecting a Raspberry Pi to every display you can get your hands on.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Electro-Magnetic Enabled Bagpipes

Bagpipes are an instrument at least a millennia old, the most popular of which, in modern times, is the Great Highland bagpipe. There are other types of bagpipes, some of which have a bellows rather than requiring the player to manually inflate the bag by breathing into it. The advantage of the bellows is that it delivers dry air to the bag and reed (instead of the moist air from the player’s breath) and this dryness means that the instrument stays in tune better and the reed lasts longer.

[TegwynTwmffat] has built his own Irish uilleann pipes, (one of the types that use a bellows) using a carbon steel chanter (the part with the finger holes) and a steel reed. The reed vibrates and a pickup is used to convert this vibration into an electric signal, similar to the way a guitar pickup converts a vibrating string into an electric signal. This means that the signal from [Tegwyn]’s pipes can be sent to an amplifier. It also means that the signal can be processed the same way as the signal from an electric guitar – through distortion, flanger, wah, or delay pedals, for example.

[Tegwyn] has put up a drawing of the chanter showing dimensions and locations of the holes and has posted a couple of songs so you can hear the pipe in action. The first has the pipes without any effects on them, the second with effects. The comments for the second say that there are no electric guitars in the song – it’s all the pipes! Bagpipes seem to be a (relatively) popular instrument to hack and we’ve seen a couple of them over the years, such as this one made from duct tape, and this one – an electronic version.

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Using Modern C++ Techniques with Arduino

C++ has been quickly modernizing itself over the last few years. Starting with the introduction of C++11, the language has made a huge step forward and things have changed under the hood. To the average Arduino user, some of this is irrelevant, maybe most of it, but the language still gives us some nice features that we can take advantage of as we program our microcontrollers.

Modern C++ allows us to write cleaner, more concise code, and make the code we write more reusable. The following are some techniques using new features of C++ that don’t add memory overhead, reduce speed, or increase size because they’re all handled by the compiler. Using these features of the language you no longer have to worry about specifying a 16-bit variable, calling the wrong function with NULL, or peppering your constructors with initializations. The old ways are still available and you can still use them, but at the very least, after reading this you’ll be more aware of the newer features as we start to see them roll out in Arduino code.
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Hackaday Prize Entry: DIY ARM Scientific Calculator

What does a hacker do when he or she wants something but can’t afford it? They hack one together, of course. Or, in the case of [Ramón Calvo], they thoughtfully plan and prototype. [Ramón Calvo] wanted a scientific calculator, but couldn’t afford one, so he designed and built one himself.

[Ramón] started off with Arduino but upgraded initially to Freescale’s Freedom KL25Z development board upgraded to an ARM Cortex-M0+ programmed using mbed. The display is an Electronic Assembly DOGL-128 128×64 pixel LCD. [Ramón] did a couple of iterations on the PCB, going from a large DIY one in order for the Arduino version to work, to the current, smaller version for the ARM chip with hand soldered SMD components. After that, [Ramón] looked into the algorithms needed to parse mathematical input. He settled on the shunting-yard algorithm, which converts the input into Reverse Polish Notation (RPN), which is easier for the software to work with.

[Ramón] has a ton of features working, including your standard add, subtract, multiply and divide operations, square root, nth root and exponentiation, trigonometry, log and log10, and factorial(!) There are a few things still on the to-do list, such as low power and a graphing mode, and there are a couple of bugs still in the system, but the overall system is up and running. [Ramón] has put up the schematic and KiCAD files up on his Hackaday.io project page along with the bill of materials.

We’ve had a few Hackaday prize entries in the form of calculators, such as this one with Nixie tubes and this one that emulates 70’s HP calculators.