Hackaday Prize 2023: Hearing Sirens When Drivers Can’t

[Jan Říha]’s PionEar device is a wonderful entry to the Assistive Tech portion of the 2023 Hackaday Prize. It’s a small unit intended to perch within view of the driver in a vehicle, and it has one job: flash a light whenever a siren is detected. It is intended to provide drivers with a better awareness of emergency vehicles, because they are so often heard well before they are seen, and their presence disrupts the usual flow of the road. [Jan] learned that there was a positive response in the Deaf and hard of hearing communities to a device like this; roads get safer when one has early warning.

Deaf and hard of hearing folks are perfectly capable of driving. After all, not being able to hear is not a barrier to obeying the rules of the road. Even so, for some drivers it can improve awareness of their surroundings, which translates to greater safety. For the hearing impaired, higher frequencies tend to experience the most attenuation, and this can include high-pitched sirens.

The PionEar leverages embedded machine learning to identify sirens, which is a fantastic application of the technology. Machine learning, after all, is a way to solve the kinds of problems that humans are not good at figuring out how to write a program to solve. Singling out the presence of a siren in live environmental audio definitely qualifies.

We also like the clever way that [Jan] embedded an LED light guide into the 3D-printed enclosure: by making a channel and pouring in a small amount of white resin intended for 3D printers. Cure the resin with a UV light, and one is left with an awfully good light guide that doubles as a diffuser. You can see it all in action in a short video, just under the page break.

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DSP PAW Hardware Platform

Hackaday Prize 2023: Learn DSP With The Portable All-in-One Workstation

Learning Digital Signal Processing (DSP) techniques traditionally involves working through a good bit of mathematics and signal theory. To promote a hands-on approach, [Clyne] developed the DSP PAW (Portable All-in-one Workstation). DSP PAW hardware and software provide a complete learning environment for any computer where DSP algorithms can be entered as C++ code through an Arduino-like IDE.

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DIY Programmable Guitar Pedal Rocks The Studio & Stage

Ever wondered how to approach making your own digital guitar effects pedal? [Steven Hazel] and a friend have done exactly that, using an Adafruit Feather M4 Express board and a Teensy Audio Adapter board together to create a DIY programmable digital unit that looks ready to drop into an enclosure and get put right to work in the studio or on the stage.

The bulk of the work is done with two parts, and can be prototyped easily on a breadboard.

[Steven] also made a custom PCB to mount everything, including all the right connectors, but the device can be up and running with not much more than the two main parts and a breadboard.

On the inside, the Adafruit Feather M4 Express board works with the audio board over I2S, a standard for sending serial digital audio between chips. Working with the audio itself is done with the Teensy Audio Library, providing a fantastic array of easy-to-use functions for processing and manipulating digital audio streams.

Together, all the right pieces are in place and [Steven] provides the code for a simple tremolo effect as a glimpse of what’s possible with the unit. Interested in going a bit further? [Steven] shares additional details about what’s involved in writing a custom effect from scratch using the Teensy Audio Library.

As mentioned, I2S is where it’s at when it comes to working with digital audio at the chip level, and our own Jenny List can tell you everything you need to know about I2S, a useful protocol that has actually been around since 1982!

Tricorder Tutorial Isn’t Just For Starfleet Cadets

For many of us, the most difficult aspect of a project comes when it’s time to document the thing. Did you take enough pictures? Did you remember all the little details that it took to put it together? Should you explain those handful of oddball quirks, even though you’re probably the only person in the world that knows how to trigger them?

Well, we can’t speak to how difficult it was for [Mangy_Dog] to put together this training video for his incredible Star Trek: Voyager tricorder replica, but we certainly approve of the final product. Presented with a faux-VHS intro that makes it feel like something that would have been shown to cast members during the legendary run the franchise had in the 1990s, the video covers the use and operation of this phenomenal prop in exquisite detail.

Replaceable batteries are standard again in the 2370s.

Now to be fair, [Mangy_Dog] has sold a few of his replicas to other Trek aficionados, and we’re willing to bet they went for a pretty penny. As such, maybe it’s not a huge surprise he’d need to put together a comprehensive guide on how to operate the device’s varied functions. Had this been a personal project there wouldn’t have been the need to record such a detailed walk-through of how it all works — so in that regard, we’re fortunate.

One of the most interesting things demonstrated in this video is how well [Mangy_Dog] managed to implement mundane features such as brightness and volume control without compromising the look of the prop itself. Rather than adding some incongruous switches or sliders, holding down various touch-sensitive buttons on the device brings up hidden menus that let you adjust system parameters. The project was impressive enough from the existing images and videos, but seeing just how deep the attention to detail goes is really a treat.

Previously we took a look at some of the work that [Mangy_Dog] has put into these gorgeous props, which (unsurprisingly) have taken years to develop. While they might not be able to contact an orbiting starship or diagnose somebody’s illness from across the room, it’s probably fair to say these are the most realistic tricorders ever produced — officially or otherwise.

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The New Hotness

If there’s one good thing to be said about the chip shortage of 2020-2023 (and counting!) it’s that a number of us were forced out of our ruts, and pushed to explore parts that we never would have otherwise. Or maybe it’s just me.

Back in the old times, I used to be a die-hard Atmel AVR fan for small projects, and an STM32 fan for anything larger. And I’ll freely admit, I got stuck in my ways. The incredible abundance of dev boards in the $2 range also helped keep me lazy. I had my thing, and I was fine sticking with it, admittedly due to the low price of those little blue pills.

An IN-12B Nixie tube on a compact driver PCBAnd then came the drought, and like everyone else, my stockpile of microcontrollers started to dwindle. Replacements at $9 just weren’t an option, so I started looking around. And it’s with no small bit of shame that I’ll admit that I hadn’t been keeping up with the changes as much as I should have. Nowadays, it’s all ESP32s and RP2040s over here, and granted there’s a bit of a price bump, but the performance is there in abundance. But I can’t help feeling like I’m a few years back of the cutting edge.

So when I see work like what [CNLohr] and [Bitluni] are doing with the ultra-cheap CH32V003 microcontrollers, it makes me think that I need to start filling in gaps in my comfortable working-set of chips again. But how the heck am I supposed to keep up? And how do you? It took a global pandemic and silicon drought to force me out of my comfort zone last time. Can the simple allure of dirt-cheap chips get me out? We’ll see!

Four square, unpopulated purple PCBs sit in front of a tube of soldering flux on a light grey work surface. The PCBs are only 1"x1".

BeagleStamp Makes Soldering Linux Into Your Projects Easier

There are a lot of things you can do with today’s powerful microcontrollers, but sometimes you really need a full embedded Linux setup. [Dylan Brophy] wanted to make it easier to add Linux to his own projects and designed the BeagleStamp.

A populated purple PCB propped against a piece of wood on a light grey work surface. The bulk of the PCB is covered in an Ocatavo processor chip.Squeezed onto a 1″ square, the BeagleStamp puts the power of a PocketBeagle into an easy to solder module you can add to a project without all that tedious mucking about with individually soldering all the components of a tiny Linux computer every time. As a bonus, the 4 layer connections are constrained to the stamp as well, so you can use lower layer count boards in your project and have your Linux too.

The first run of boards was delivered with many of the pins unplated, but [Brophy] plans to work around it for the time being so he can spot any other bugs before the next board revision. Might we suggest a future version using RISC-V?

Building A WiFi Picture Frame With An EInk Display

LCD photo frames never really caught on — by emitting light, they didn’t seamlessly blend in with a home’s decor in the way printed photos do. [Sprite_tm] decided to see if a color e-Ink screen could do any better, and whipped up a WiFi-enabled photo frame using a Waveshare display.

The part in question is a 5.65-inch display with 640 x 448 resolution, and is capable of displaying seven colors. It’s not designed to display photorealistic images, so much as display simple graphics with block colors. However, with some dithering, [Sprite_tm] suspected it might do an okay job. An algorithm that uses Floyd-Steinberg diffusion and the CIEDE2000 color space takes regular RGB images and breaks them down into dithered images that are displayed using the screen’s 7 available colors.

The build relies on an ESP32-C3, which drives the display and fetches new images daily over WiFi. Thanks to the e-Ink screen, which uses zero power when not updating, the whole setup runs off two AA batteries and a Natlinear LN2266 boost converter.

There are some limitations; the screen’s color space is altogether quite limited, and images don’t look very high-fidelity in such low resolution. However, it does an able job of displaying photos for a device that was never designed to do so. It looks rather handsome all wrapped up as a 3D printed picture frame, and [Sprite_tm]’s monkey test photos are very cute.

Files are on GitHub for those that wish to roll their own. We’ve seen similar works before, like this e-Ink wall-hanging newspaper display that keeps up with the times. If you’ve got your own neat e-ink build, hit us up on the tipsline!