Best Product Entry: Pocket Thermal Camera

One of the entries in the Hackaday Prize Best Product competition is [x-labz]’s pocket thermal imager. It’s more than a prototype, it’s a design conceived to get out into the world and be used by many. Best Product entries are open until July 24th, and with a $30,000 cash prize on the line let’s take a look at some of the things that elevate a project to product status.

Thanks to recent advances in the state of thermal image sensors, a tool that gives you Predator vision is almost a necessity on the modern workbench. The pocket thermal imager will find drafts in your house during winter, will tell you how to cook a steak, figure out what part is shorting out in your latest electronics project, and will tell you how terrible the heated bed is on your 3D printer.

[x-labz]’s thermal camera is based around the FLIR Lepton image sensor, an 80×60 pixel thermal imaging sensor that’s good enough for most uses. This camera is soldered onto a PCB sandwich containing an Atmel SAMD21 microcontroller, full-color OLED display, SD card, and a battery management system.

What we’ve mentioned so far isn’t out of the ordinary for any other entry in the Hackaday Prize. Building something for the Best Product competition is different, though: a lot of thought has to go into the manufacturability and the fit and finish of this device. So far, everything’s looking great for [x-labz]’s camera. There’s a 3D printed case that looks like it could be easily translated into an injection-moldable shell and at least some of the parts of the user interface are unbelievably satisfying. We’re looking forward to seeing the full Bill of Materials and a business plan (a new requirement this year). That’s an area where many hardware designers lack experience; being able to study the examples from Best Product entries will be a welcomed resource.

There’s a world of difference between building a project and building a product, and the entire goal of the Best Product portion of the Hackaday Prize is to reward those people who go the extra mile as aspiring entrepreneurs and show us how that’s done. $50k in cash prizes are set aside for Best Product; $30,000 for the winner as we mentioned before, but there is also $1000 for each of the twenty entries that make it to the finals in this category in addition to some much deserved notoriety from Hackaday’s community of hardware aficionados and early adopters.

Friday Hack Chat: Climate Change

This Friday, we’re talking climate change. Is it possible to remove carbon from the atmosphere before most cities are underwater? What role can hackers play in alleviating climate change? It’s all going down this Friday on the Hack Chat on

We’ve invited [Tito Jankowski] and [Matthew Eshed] to talk about climate change this Friday over on [Tito] and [Matthew] are the founders of Impossible Labs, and they’re looking for ways to find, test, and build technology that will remove carbon from Earth’s atmosphere. Their goal is to remove 300 parts per million of carbon dioxide by 2050. Will they succeed? If someone doesn’t, you can kiss every coastal city goodbye.

Their first job is getting everyone to care. [Jankowski] thinks it can be done through better access to information and snazzy graphics — if people knew what was going on, maybe they’d give a darn. So whether you’d like to talk graphics and data or the engineering of carbon sequestration devices, this is a Hack Chat of global importance. Join us!

Here’s How To Take Part:

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat will take place at noon Pacific time on Friday, June 30th. Confused about where and when ‘noon’ is? Here’s a time and date converter!

Log into, visit that page, and look for the ‘Join this Project’ Button. Once you’re part of the project, the button will change to ‘Team Messaging’, which takes you directly to the Hack Chat.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Wooden Laptop Enclosure: New Life for Old Thinkpad

Technology is designed to serve us and make our lives better. When a device gets outdated, it is either disposed of or is buried in a pile of junk never to be seen again. However, some individuals tend to develop a certain respect for their mechanical servants and make an effort to preserve them long after they have become redundant.

My relationship with my first laptop is a shining example of how to hold onto beloved hardware way too long. I converted that laptop into a desktop with a number of serious modifications which helped me learn about woodworking along the way. Maybe it’s more pragmatic to just buy new equipment. But you spend so much time each day using your devices. It is incredibly satisfying to have a personal connection that comes from pouring your own craftsmanship into them.

Why the Effort?

IBM Thinkpad R60 via Notebook Review

The laptop in question is an IBM R60 which I lugged around during the first three years after I graduated. It was my companion during some tough times and naturally, I developed a certain attachment to it. With time its peripherals failed including the keyboard which housed the power switch and it was decided that the cost of repair would outweigh its usefulness.

Then came the faithful day when I was inspired to make something with the scrap wood that had accumulated in my workshop. This would be my second woodworking project ever and I did not have the professional heavy machinery advertised in most YouTube videos. Yet I had two targets in mind with this project.

  1. Make the R60 useful again.
  2. Learn about woodworking for creating enclosures for future projects.

Armed with mostly hand tools, a drill and a grinder that was fitted with a saw blade, I started with the IBM R60 to all-in-one PC mod. Following is a log of things I did and those I regret not doing a.k.a. lessons learned. Read on.

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A Crash Course in Thingiverse Customizer

OpenSCAD is a great way to create objects for 3D printing (or other purposes), especially if you are already used to programming. For things like front panels, it is great because you can easily make modifications and — if you wrote your code correctly–everything will just adjust itself to new positions.

However, what if you have a general-purpose piece of code, and you want people to have the ability to customize it? For example, consider this code:

  translate([4,4,-1]) cylinder(h=7,r=2);
  translate([25-4,4,-1]) cylinder(h=7,r=2);
  translate([4,25-4,-1]) cylinder(h=7,r=2);
  translate([25-4,25-4,-1]) cylinder(h=7,r=2);

That creates the plate with four drill holes you see on the right.

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Hackaday Links: June 25th, 2017

There will be no special badges for DEFCON. Everyone will still have badges — and our expectations are tempered because of the one year on / one year off schedule for electronic badges — there just won’t be mind-bending puzzles wrapped up in the official badges. What this means: it probably won’t matter if you’re late for linecon, and someone in the DEFCON hive mind still has a Facebook. Also, DEFCON is canceled.

In the past, we have decried the very existence of fidget spinners. It’s what the kids are into, after all. However, an electronic fidget spinner is an interesting engineering challenge. It combines the mechanical fun of bearing science, the exacting precision of balancing stuff, and stuffing electronics where no electronics should be. This Kickstarter is perhaps the best electronic fidget spinner we’ve seen. The electronics are powered by a coin cell and are packed into one of the spaces for the ‘wing’ bearings, and two additional weighted bearings allow the spinner to balance. There’s a small magnet for a hall effect sensor in the ‘stator cap’ so RPM can be measured. This design uses the most common mold for a fidget spinner, making it very manufacturable. Compare this design to the Internet of Fidget Spinners, a POV fidget Spinner, another POV fidget spinner, an educational electronic fidget spinner, or this amazing technique to measure the speed of a fidget spinner that will blow your mind, and you’ll see this Kickstarter project is clearly the superior design.

You kids are spoiled with your programmable drum machines like your 808 and 909. Back in the day, drum machines were attached to organs, and only had a few patterns. You couldn’t change the patterns, you could only change the speed. [Jan] has created one of these prehistoric drum machines in a microcontroller. You get hard rock, disco, reggae, rock, samba, rumba, cha-cha, bossa nova, beguine, synthpop, boogie, waltz, jazz rock, and slow rock. Awesome.

There’s a new electronics magazine. It’s called DIYODE, and we’re all kicking ourselves for not coming up with that name.

Do you need a new password? Humans really aren’t good at coming up with random numbers, and if you need a completely random alphanumeric password, it’s best left to a computer. Have no fear, because there’s now a website that generates the single most secure password on the planet. This password, “H4!b5at+kWls-8yh4Guq”, features upper and lowercase characters, numbers, symbols, and twenty unique characters. This password was developed by security researchers and encryption specialists in Europe, so you know it has absolutely nothing to do with the NSA, CIA, or any other American three-letter agency.

Speaking of three-letter agencies, last Wednesday was International Selfie Day! That doesn’t mean you still can’t get in on the action. Take a selfie right now and upload it to social media! What’s facial recognition?

Looking for a great little ESP32 breakout board with all the bells and whistles? Olimex has a new board out with Ethernet, a MicroSD card slot, and 20 GPIOs broken out.

Fail of the Week: Tracking Meteors with Weather Radio

It’s not hard to detect meteors: go outside on a clear night in a dark place and you’re bound to see one eventually. But visible light detection is limiting, and knowing that meteors leave a trail of ions means radio detection is possible. That’s what’s behind this attempt to map meteor trails using broadcast signals, which so far hasn’t yielded great results.

Passing jet’s Doppler signature

The fact that meteor trails reflect radio signals is well-known; hams use “meteor bounce” to make long-distance contacts all the time. And using commercial FM broadcast signals to map meteor activity isn’t new, either — we’ve covered the “forward scattering” technique before. The technique requires tuning into a frequency used by a distant station but not a local one and waiting for a passing meteor to bounce the distant signal back to your SDR dongle. Capturing the waterfall display for later analysis should show characteristic patterns and give you an idea of where and when the meteor passed.

[Dave Venne] is an amateur astronomer who turns his eyes and ears to the heavens just to see what he can find. [Dave]’s problem is that the commercial FM band in the Minneapolis area that he calls home is crowded, to say the least. He hit upon the idea of using the National Weather Service weather radio broadcasts at around 160 MHz as a substitute. Sadly, all he managed to capture were passing airplanes with their characteristic Doppler shift; pretty cool in its own right, but not the desired result.

The comments in the post on [Dave]’s attempt had a few ideas on where this went wrong and how to improve it, including the intriguing idea of using 60-meter ham band propagation beacons. Now it’s Hackaday’s turn: any ideas on how to fix [Dave]’s problem? Sound off in the comments below.

Amazing Motion-Capture of Bendy Things

Have you, dear reader, ever needed to plot the position of a swimming pool noodle in 3D  and in real time? Of course you have, and today, you’re in luck! I’ve compiled together a solution that’s sure to give you the jumpstart on solving this “problem-you-never-knew-you-had.”

Ok, there’s a bit of a story behind this one. Back in my good-ol’ undergrad days, I got the chance to play with tethered underwater robots. I remember fumbling about thinking: “Hmm, with this robot tether, wouldn’t it be sweet to string up a set of IMUs down the length of the tether to estimate the robot’s location in 3-space?” A few years later, I cooked together this IMU Noodle project to play with some real hardware in the spirit of solving that problem. With a little quaternion math, a nifty IMU, and some custom PCBAs, this idea has gone from some idle brain-ramble into a real device. It’s an incredibly interesting example of using available hardware and a little ingenuity to build a system that is unique and dependable.

As for why? I first saw an IMU noodle pop up on these pages back in 2012 and I was baffled. I just had to build one! Now complete, I figured that there’s enough math and fun-loving electronics nuggets to merit a full article for this month’s after-hour adventures. Dear reader, let me tell you a wonderful story where math meets electronics and works up the courage to ask it out for brunch.

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