ESP8266 Powered Tank With Voice Control

The high availability of (relatively) low cost modular components has made building hardware easier than ever. Depending on what you want to do, the hardware side of a project might be the hacker equivalent of building with LEGO. In fact, we wouldn’t be surprised if it literally involved building with LEGO. In any event, easy and quick hardware builds leave more time for developing creative software to run the show. The end result is that we’re starting to see very complex systems broken down into easy-to-replicate DIY builds that would have been nearly impossible just a few years ago.

[igorfonseca83] writes in to share with us his modular tank platform that uses the ESP8266 and a handful of software hacks to allow for voice control from the user’s mobile device. Presented as a step-by-step guide on Hackaday.io, this project is perfect for getting started in Internet-controlled robotics. Whether you just want to experiment with Google Assistant integration or use this as a blank slate to bootstrap a remotely controlled rover, this project has a lot to offer.

The chassis itself is a commercially available kit, and [igorfonseca83] uses a L298N dual channel H-bridge module to control its two geared motors. A Wemos D1 serves as the brains of the operation, and three 18650 3.7V batteries provide the juice to keep everything running. There’s plenty of expansion capability to add sensors and other gear, but for this project getting it rolling was the only concern.

Software wise, there are a number of pieces that work together to provide the Google Assistant control demonstrated in the video after the break. It starts by interfacing the ESP8266 board Adafruit.IO, which connects to IFTTT, and then finally Google Assistant. By setting up a few two variable phrases in IFTTT that get triggered by voice commands in Google Assistant, you can push commands back down to the ESP8266 through Adafruit.IO. It’s a somewhat convoluted setup, admittedly, but the fact that involves very little programming makes it an interesting solution for anyone who doesn’t want to get bogged down with all the minutiae of developing your own Internet control stack.

[igorfonseca83] is no stranger to building remotely controlled rovers. Last year we covered another of his creations which was commanded through a web browser and carried an Android phone to stream video of its adventures.

Continue reading “ESP8266 Powered Tank With Voice Control”

Live Streaming Goes Pro with a Hacked Backpack

If you haven’t been paying attention, live streaming has become a big business. Streamers are getting out of their basements and moving around among us. While IRL streams may not be our cup of tea, the technology behind creating a solid high upstream bandwidth wireless internet connection is. Sure you can stream with a phone, the top streamers want something a bit more reliable. Enter [Gunrun], who has designed a backpack just for mobile streaming.

The backpack starts with a Sony AS300  Camera. [Gunrun] likes this particular camera for its exceptional audio capabilities. Network connections are handled with no less than four LTE modems. You never know which carrier will have good service out in the field, so the modems are available from a variety of carriers.

The real problem is bonding connections between LTE modems from various carriers, setting up streaming accounts, and piping captured data from an HDMI capture over those accounts. The average hacker would go at it with an HDMI capture card and a Linux Laptop. Most streamers need a more plug and play solution though, so [Gunrun] uses a LiveU Solo HDMI video encoder for the task.

This isn’t a cheap solution, all those parts together along with a beefy battery, LTE data plans, and of course a backpack to hold it all makes for a package north of $2000. Even at this price, plenty of streamers have been following [Gunrun’s] instructions and building their own setup.

Hackers do a bit of live streaming too – check out how [cnlohr] reverse engineered the Vive, while valve engineers played along in the chat.

Knock-Off AirPods Merged into Bluetooth Receiver

Whether or not you personally like the concept of the AirPod Bluetooth headphones is irrelevant, as an Apple product one thing is certain: all the cool kids want them. That also means that plenty of overseas manufacturers are pumping out janky clones for a fraction of the price for those who are more about the Apple look than the Apple price tag. Are they any good? No, of course not. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do something interesting with them.

[Igor Kromin] took apart a pair of fake AirPods and was predictably underwhelmed. So much so that he didn’t even bother putting the things back together. Instead, he took the two poor Bluetooth audio receivers and combined them into one slightly less poor Bluetooth audio receiver. It probably doesn’t meet the classical definition of a “good” use of time and/or money, but at least he got some entertainment out of a product that was otherwise destined for the trash.

As you might imagine, the left and right “AirPod” each has its own battery, Bluetooth receiver, and speaker. It has to, as they have no physical connection to each other. That also means that each receiver is only playing one channel, making them useless individually. What [Igor] realized was that he could put together a little PCB that combines the two audio channels back into a regular stereo 3.5 mm audio jack.

While he was at it, he also wired the individual buttons on each headphone to a center button on the PCB which would allow him to physically synchronize them. Even still, [Igor] mentions that occasionally they don’t come on at the same time. But what do you expect for something that’s nearly a 20th the price of the original?

The last time we saw a hack related to the Apple AirPod, it was when somebody threw them out the window, so one might presume most hackers prefer their iDevice tethered.

GSM Phone Network At EMF Camp Built on Raspberry Pi and LimeSDR

The Electromagnetic Field 2018 hacker camp in the UK will have its own GSM phone network, and as we have already covered its badge will be a fully-functional GSM phone. This is as far as we are aware a first in the world of badges, and though it may not be a first in hacker camp connectivity it is still no mean achievement at the base station side. To find out more we talked to two of the people behind the network, on the radio side Lime Microsystems‘ [Andrew Back], and on the network side Nexmo‘s developer advocate, [Sam Machin].

There are sixteen base stations spread around the site, of which each one is a Raspberry Pi 3 B+ with a LimeSDR Mini. Development of the system was undertaken prior to the release of the Raspberry Pi Foundation’s PoE board, so they take a separate 24V supply which powers the Pi through a DC-to-DC converter. This arrangement allows for a significant voltage drop should any long cable runs be required.

On the software side the base stations all run the Osmocom (Open Source Mobile Communications) cellular base station infrastructure package. It was a fine decision between the all-in-one Osmocom NITB package and the fully modular Osmocom, going for the former for its reliability. It was commented that this would not necessarily be the case at a future event but that it made sense in the present. It appears on the network as a SIP phone system, meaning that it can easily integrate with the existing DECT network. Let’s take a look at how the network operates from the user side, and the licencing loophole that makes everything possible.

Continue reading “GSM Phone Network At EMF Camp Built on Raspberry Pi and LimeSDR”

2018 Electromagnetic Field Badge: It’s an Entire Phone!

As is always the case with a significant hacker camp, we’ve been awaiting the official badge announcement for the upcoming Electromagnetic Field 2018 hacker camp with huge interest. These badges, for readers who may have been on Mars for the past few years, are part of a lively scene of wearable electronics at hacker conferences and camps, and can usually be expected to sport a fully-fledged computer in their own right along with other special functionality.

The announcement of the 2018 badge, dubbed the TiLDA Mk4, does not disappoint. We’d been told that there would be an on-site GSM network for which the welcome packs would contain a SIM, and the well-prepared among us had accordingly dusted off our old Nokia handsets alongside our DECT phones. What we hadn’t expected was that the SIM would be for the badge, because the Mk4 is a fully-fledged hackable mobile phone in its own right. The network will be fully functional for  calls and texts within the camp, though since it does not explicitly say so we expect that external calls may be an impossibility. Afterwards though it will remain a usable device on any GSM network, giving it a lease of post-camp life that may see more of them staying in use rather than joining the hacker’s dusty collection in a drawer.

Beyond the party-piece phone it appears to follow the lead of its 2016 predecessor, with the same Python environment atop a TI chipset including an MSP432E4 ARM Cortex M4F microcontroller running at 120MHz with 256kB of internal and 8MB of external RAM, a CC3210 WiFi processor, and the usual battery of sensors, LEDs and GPIOs. Importantly, it also has a Shitty Add-on connector. The 2016 badge was remarkably easy to develop for, and we expect that there will soon be an impressive array of apps for this badge too. If any reader would like to put together a Hackaday feed reader app, we can’t offer you fortune but fame such as we can bestow awaits.

We’ll bring you more information as we have it about the TiLDA Mk4, as well as a hands-on report when one lands in front of us. Meanwhile you’d like to see a retrospective of past EMF badges as a demonstration of where this one has come from, have a read of our coverage of the 2016 and 2014 badges.

You Can Add Wireless Charging to iPhone… Kinda

We could watch cellphone teardown videos all day long. There’s something pleasing about seeing how everything is packed into such a small enclosure. From the connectors, to that insidious glue, to the minuscule screws, [Scotty Allen] has a real knack for giving us a great look at the teardown process. Take a look at his latest video which attempts to add wireless charging to an iPhone. I think there’s a lot to be said for superb lighting and a formidable camera, but part of this is framing the shots just right.

Now of course we’ve taken apart our fair share of phones and there’s always that queasy “I think I’m going to break something” feeling while doing it. It’s reassuring that [Scotty] isn’t able to do things perfectly either (although he has the benefit of walking the markets for quick replacement parts). This video is a pretty honest recounting of many things going wrong.

The iPhone 6 and 7 are not meant to have wireless charging, but [Scotty’s] working with a friend named [Yeke] who created an aftermarket kit for this. The flexible PCB needs to be folded just right, and adhesive foam added (along with a magical incantation) to make it work. That’s because the add-on is a no-solder job. Above you can see it cleverly encircles one of the mating connectors and relies on mechanical pressure to make contact with the legs of that connector. Neat!

In the second half of the video [Scotty] meets up with [Yeke] to discuss the design itself. We find it interesting that [Yeke] considers his work a DIY item. Perhaps it’s merely lost in translation, but perhaps [Yeke’s] proximity to multiple flexible PCB manufacturers makes him feel that this is more like playing around for fun than product design. Any way you look at it, the ability to design something that will fit inside that crazy-tight iPhone case is both impressive and mesmerizing. Having seen some of the inductive charging hacks over the years, this is by far the cleanest way to go about it.

We caught up with [Scotty] during last year’s Supercon. We may not be able to drop everything and move to Shenzhen, but hearing about the experience is just enough to keep us wanting to!

Continue reading “You Can Add Wireless Charging to iPhone… Kinda”

Underwater VR Offers Zero Gravity on a Budget

Someday Elon Musk might manage to pack enough of us lowly serfs into one of his super rockets that we can actually afford a ticket to space, but until then our options for experiencing weightlessness are pretty limited. Even if you’ll settle for a ride on one of the so-called “Vomit Comet” reduced-gravity planes, you’ll have to surrender a decent chunk of change, and as the name implies, potentially your lunch as well. Is there no recourse for the hacker that wants to get a taste of the astronaut experience without a NASA-sized budget?

Well, if you’re willing to get wet, [spiritplumber] might have the answer for you. Using a few 3D printed components he’s designed, it’s possible to use Google Cardboard compatible virtual reality software from the comfort of your own pool. With Cardboard providing the visuals and the water keeping you buoyant, the end result is something not entirely unlike weightlessly flying around virtual environments.

To construct his underwater VR headset, [spiritplumber] uses a number of off-the-shelf products. The main “Cardboard” headset itself is the common plastic style that you can probably find in the clearance section of whatever Big Box retailer is convenient for you, and the waterproof bag that holds the phone can be obtained cheaply online. You’ll also need a pair of swimmers goggles to keep water from rudely interrupting your wide-eyed wonderment. As for the custom printed parts, a frame keeps the waterproof bag from pressing against the screen while submerged, and a large spacer is required to get the phone at the appropriate distance from the operator’s eyes.

To put his creation to the test, [spiritplumber] loads up a VR rendition of NASA’s Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, where astronauts experience a near-weightless environment underwater. All that’s left to complete the experience is a DIY scuba regulator so you can stay submerged. Though at that point we wouldn’t be surprised if a passerby confuses your DIY space simulator for an elaborate suicide attempt.

Continue reading “Underwater VR Offers Zero Gravity on a Budget”