Engineering Vs Pigeons

We’ve all been there. Pigeons are generally pretty innocuous, but they do leave a mess. If you have a convertible or a bicycle or even just a clean car, you probably don’t want them hanging around. [Max] was tired of a messy balcony, so like you might approach any engineering problem, he worked his way through several possible solutions. Starting with plastic crows, and naturally ending with an automated water gun.

The resulting robotic water gun that targets pigeons with openCV is a dandy project and while we don’t usually advocate shooting at neighborhood animals, we don’t think a little water will be any worse than the rain for the pigeons. The build started with a cheap electric water pistol. A Wemos D1 Mini ESP8266 development board provides the brainpower. The water pistol wouldn’t easily take rechargeable batteries, plus it is a good idea to separate the logic supply and the pump motors, so the D1 gets power from a USB power bank separate from the gun’s batteries.

That leaves the camera. An old iPhone 6S with a 3D printed bracket feeds video to a Python script that uses openCV. If looks for changes using a very particular algorithm to detect that something is moving and fires the gun. It doesn’t appear that it actually tracks the pigeons, so maybe that’s a thought for version 2.

Was it successful? Maybe, but it does seem like the pigeons learned to avoid it. We still think azimuth and elevation on the gun would help.

Most of the time when we see pigeon hacking it is to use them for nefarious purposes. [Max] should be glad he doesn’t have to deal with lions.

Learn By Doing: Turn Your Garage Into Your Perfect Workspace

Plenty of potential, but a cozy hacking space it is not

To us hackers and makers, the tools of our trade are often as important and interesting as the details of the hacks themselves, but what about the most important tool of all — the very space you use to make your magic happen? That may be your bedroom, a nearby hackerspace, and if you have the resources, you may even own a place of your own, and get to build your perfect workspace.

The latter situation is what [MichD] and partner [Brittany] found themselves in, having moved into their first place. Many couples focus on getting a hot tub in the garden or sorting the nursery, but these two are proper electronics nerds, so they converted a free-standing double wide garage into the nerdhub, learning as they went along, and documenting it in excruciating detail for your viewing pleasure.

Door fitted, framed up, and insulation in place. All ready for plasterboarding.

The building structurally is a single-skinned brick-built box, with a raw concrete floor. Pretty typical stuff for the UK (we’ve seen much worse), but not ideal for spending an extended amount of time in due to our damp, cold climate, at least in winter.

The first order of business was partitioning the front section for bike storage, and screeding the floor. Once the floor was solid, the walls and ceiling joists could be framed up, ready for fitting insulation material and covering with plasterboard.

Electrics were next in order, with the wires clipped to the brickwork, well away from where the plasterboard would be, therefore making it less likely to accidentally drill into a live cable when adding external fixtures.

Since the front part of the room was to be partitioned off, another access door was needed. This involved cutting out the bricks to fit a concrete lintel. With that installed, and the bricks above supported, the area below was cut out to the required shape. A somewhat nerve-wracking experience, if you ask us!

As any self-respecting hacker will tell you — no room build is complete without a decent amount of RGB bling, so the whole room was decked out with APA102 addressable LED strips. Control of these was courtesy of WLED running on an ESP32 module, with LedFX used on a nearby PC to perform music visualisation, just because.

Already got your space worked out, but need a little help with organisation? Not got much space, and need a portable solution? Check this out for (small) size!

Track Those Leftovers With This Little Timer

We’ve all at some point in our lives opened the fridge door and immediately wished we hadn’t. A miasma of stench envelops us as we discover that last Saturday’s leftovers have been forgotten, and have gone off. If only we had some way to keep track of such things, to avoid such a stench-laden moment. Step forward [ThinkLearnDo], with a little timer designed for exactly that purpose.

The operation is simple enough, press the button and place the unit on top of the container with the leftovers in it. If you haven’t eaten the leftovers within a week, the LED will start blinking. The blink is a subtle reminder to deal with the old food before it becomes a problem.

Onboard is a Holtek HT68F001 microcontroller with a coin cell for power, not much else is needed. The Holtek is an unusual choice, one of several brands of super-inexpensive Chinese microcontrollers we see less commonly than ATmegas and STM32s. This is exactly the place where such a minimal computer fits perfectly:  a way to add a little bit of smarts to a very cheap item with minimal strain on the BoM.

If these chips interest you, a while back we covered a run-down of the different families including the Holtek and the famous 3-cent Padauk chips.

Training Doppler Radar With Smart Watch IMUs Data For Activity Recognition

When it comes to interpreting sensor data automatically, it helps to have a large data set to assist in validating it, as well as training when it concerns machine learning (ML). Creating this data set with carefully tagged and categorized information is a long and tedious process, which is where the idea of cross-domain translations come into play, as in the case of using millimeter wave (mmWave) radar sensors to recognize activity of e.g. building occupants with the IMU2Doppler project at Smash Lab of Carnegie Mellon University.

The most commonly used sensor type when it comes to classifying especially human motion are inertial measurement units (IMU) such as accelerometers and gyroscopes, which are found in everything from smartphones to smart watches and fitness bands. For these devices it’s common to classify measurement patterns as matches a particular activity, such as walking, jogging, or brushing one’s teeth. This makes them both well-defined and very accessible.

As for why a mmWave-based Doppler radar would be preferred for monitoring e.g. building occupants is the privacy aspect compared to using cameras, and the inconvenience of equipping people with a body-worn IMU. Using Doppler radar it would theoretically be possible for people to track activities within their own home, as well as in a medical setting to ensure patients are safe, or at a gym to track one’s performance, or usage of equipment. All without the use of cameras or personal sensors. In the past, we’ve seen a similar approach that used targeted laser beams.

As promising as this sounds, at this point in time the number of activities that are recognized with reasonable accuracy (~70%) is limited to ten types. Depending on the intended application this may already be sufficient, though as the published paper notes, there is still a lot of room for growth.

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Insteon Abruptly Shuts Down, Users Left Smart-Home-Less

In today’s “predictable things that happened before and definitely will happen again”, Insteon, a smart home company boasting the Insteon ecosystem of devices built around their proprietary communication standards, has shut down their servers without a warning. For almost two decades, Insteon used to offer products like smart light switches, dimmers, relays, various sensors, thermostats – the usual home automation offerings, all linked into a cozy system. Looking through the Insteon subreddit’s history, there were signs of the company’s decline for good half a year now, but things were mostly stable – until about a week ago, when users woke up and noticed that parts of their smart home network stopped working, the mobile app would no longer respond, and the company’s resources and infrastructure went down. What’s more – the C-rank management has scrubbed their LinkedIn profiles from mentioning Insteon and SmartLabs (Insteon’s parent company).

Screenshot of Insteon's 'service status' page, saying "All Services Online: There's currently no known issues affecting Insteon services"Instantly, the Insteon subreddit has livened up. People, rightfully angry about being literally left in the dark, were looking for answers – as if mocking them, Insteon’s homepage claimed that all services were operational. Others, having expected the shutdown to eventually happen, started collecting and rehosting rapidly disappearing documentation, helping each other keep their tech up in the meantime, and looking into alternative platforms. It turned out to be imperative that users don’t factory reset their Insteon hubs, since those have to communicate with the currently Inste-Gone servers as part of initial configuration, diligently verifying the SSL certificates. Sadly, quite a few users, unaware and going through the usual solutions to make their network function again, are now left with hubs that are essentially bricked, save for a few lucky ones.
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Testing 7 Wago-like Wire Connectors For Science And Fire

At the intersection of saving a few bucks and expensive home insurance claims due to a house fire, we find clones of certified and tested electrical connectors, even when many would argue that so-called wire nuts are fire hazards no matter how many certification labels are on them. When it comes to no-fuss wire connectors, Wago clamp connectors are an attractive target to save some money on due to their perceived high cost. But how expensive are they really?

This was the thought behind a recent video by [GreatScott!] (also embedded after the break) when he hopped onto everyone’s favorite e-commerce website and searched for ‘clamp lever terminal’. The resulting selection of seven connectors come in a wide variety of shapes, colors and configurations, though all are supposedly rated for mains (250 VAC) voltage and safe enough to put into a permanent installation.

While running the connectors through their paces with high-current, fire and mechanical strength tests, the conclusion was that all are good enough for hobbyists use and some brief connections while testing, but that only the ones with independent certification marks (like VDE) filled him with enough confidence to consider using in house wiring. One of these being the connectors by the German brand ViD, which would seem to be a slightly cheaper alternative to the Wago connectors, with similar guarantees of safety.

At the end of the day it is the certification that matters, after all, since long-term reliability is of primary concern with house wiring, not whether a few Euros were saved on material costs.

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2022 Sci-Fi Contest: Your Home Assistant, HAL 9000

Anyone who has seen 2001: A Space Odyssey will easily remember HAL 9000, the sentient computer that turned against its human companions aboard Spacecraft Discovery One. [Ben Brooks] decided to recreate the foreboding digital being, and put it to work as a smart home assistant.

The build consists of a 3D printed assembly that looks very much like HAL did in the movie. It runs as a standalone device hooked up to [Ben]’s Home Assistant instance, a self-hosted home automation solution. The device is capable of playing sound clips from the movie, with the help of an ESP8266 and a DF Player Mini module. It’s triggered by a button or motion sensor, but it’s also hooked up to Home Assistant for some extra smarts. This setup makes sure HAL stays silent when a Chromecast is playing content on TV, so as not to disturb essential viewing.

Overall, it’s a fun movie tribute build that is remarkably true to the source material. Let’s just hope this HAL doesn’t get any maniacal ideas, forcing [Ben] to pull apart its processor to stop its dangerous machinations.

We’ve seen some other great HAL builds before, too. Video after the break.

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