Ten Projects Won The Refresh Work-From-Home-Life Round Of The Hackaday Prize

Here we are, a year and change into this pandemic, and if you were new to working-from-home every day at the start, surely it has lost its luster by now. We asked you to stand back and assess what can be better about WFH life and you took it from there, building incredibly useful things we couldn’t have dreamed of. From a pool of more than one hundred entries, the judges have selected ten projects whose creators have each been awarded a $500 prize, and will advance to the final round of the 2021 Hackaday Prize in October.

Are your prototypes a mess of wires? Or do you spend way too much time making sure each jumper is cut to the perfect length? Either way, you’re better off using breadWare, which takes a standard breadboard and changes the connection process into a software solution. That’s right — any rail including the power rails can connect to any other thanks to a handful of analog CMOS switch chips.

Maybe you’d love to build the perfect keyboard to grace your battlestation, but are afraid of all that hand wiring. Make it easier on yourself by soldering each key switch to its own little PCB.

If your home office is sometimes overrun by little humans that need immediate attention, you’ll no doubt appreciate the value of a device that can deactivate your web camera and mic automatically when it no longer senses your presence.

You may have left that awful office lighting behind, but you’re still getting plenty of prolonged exposure to blue light. This project aims to head that off a bit by replicating the current outdoor light temperature with indoor lighting. And don’t forget — air quality is just as important, so crack open a window once in a while and build yourself a smart lamp that can give you hard numbers.

This was the second of five challenges in the 2021 Hackaday Prize, which means that the ten finalists linked below will have until the end of October to flesh out and polish their projects before the final round of judging. Meanwhile, we’ve kicked off the next round with the Re-imagine Supportive Tech challenge. Show us how you would make electronics and devices more accessible, as in more modular, hackable, or affordable.

Ten Finalists from the Refresh Work From Home Challenge:

If you like these, take some time to kick back and peruse the entire list of entries in this challenge. You deserve it.

Ten Projects Won The Rethink Displays Round Of The Hackaday Prize

We asked you to rethink what displays can look like and you didn’t disappoint. From almost 150 entries the judges have winnowed the list down to ten projects which are awarded a $500 prize and will go on to the final round of the 2021 Hackaday Prize in October.

In a world where there’s an HD (or better) display in every pocket, it is the oddball ideas that tend to turn heads. High on that list is a volumentric display that levitates a tiny foam ball on ultrasonic transducers to draw 3D color patterns before your eyes, or the volumetric display shown above that works with a sheet of film and motors. Or how about a take on a laser projected display that uses a phosphorescent screen so that the path of the laser persists, fading in time for the next infrequent update.

Mirrors are a part of everyday life but they’re all limited to the visable spectrum. One of today’s finalists flipped the script and turned the mirror into one the visualizes heat. And we’ll be watching with keen interest as this holographic display project seeks to turn a tube of perspex into a 3D display that can be viewed from any side!

This was the first of five challenges in the 2021 Hackaday Prize and the great news is that these finalists — all of which are listed below — will have until the end of October to refine their designs for the final judging round. Meanwhile the next round has already begun with the Refresh Work-From-Home Life challenge. Show off your solutions to being productive when working (or studying) from home while still preserving your personal life and your health.

Ten Finalists from the Rethink Displays challenge:

If you like these, you’ll love browsing through the entire field of entries in this challenge.

Survey Of Simple Logic Simulators

A few months ago, a tweet by [Ken Shirriff] asking about simple digital simulators caught my attention. The topic came up again in May when a repair video by [CuriousMarc] featured one such simulator called Logisim-evolution. It made me want to take a fresh look on what’s out there and which features set the different simulators apart.

So today, let’s take a quick survey of a few such simulators that I found. I’m focusing on plain logic simulators, analyzing ones and zeros using Boolean logic. They are not doing SPICE-like analog analysis of transistor logic gates, but they’re still quite handy for proofing out designs.

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Winners Of Hackaday’s Data Loggin’ Contest: Bluetooth Gardening, Counting Cups, And Predicting Rainfall

The votes for Hackaday’s Data Loggin’ Contest have been received, saved to SD, pushed out to MQTT, and graphed. Now it’s time to announce the three projects that made the most sense out of life’s random data and earned themselves a $100 gift certificate for Tindie, the Internet’s foremost purveyor of fine hand-crafted artisanal electronics.

First up, and winner of the Data Wizard┬ácategory, is this whole-garden soil moisture monitor by [Joseph Eoff]. You might not realize it from the picture at the top of the page, but lurking underneath the mulch of that lovely garden is more than 20 Bluetooth soil sensors arranged in a grid pattern. All of the data is sucked up by a series of solar powered ESP32 access points, and ultimately ends up on a Raspberry Pi by way of MQTT. Here, custom Python software generates a heatmap that indicates possible trouble spots in the garden. With its easy to understand visualization of what’s happening under the surface, this project perfectly captured the spirit of the category.

Next up is the Nespresso Shield from [Steadman]. This clever gadget literally listens for the telltale sounds of the eponymous coffee maker doing its business to not only estimate your daily consumption, but warn you when the machine is running low on water. The clever non-invasive method of pulling data from a household appliance made this a strong entry for the Creative Genius category.

Last but certainly not least is this comprehensive IoT weather station that uses machine learning to predict rainfall. With crops and livestock at risk from sudden intense storms, [kutluhan_aktar] envisions this device as an early warning for farmers. The documentation on this project, from setting up the GPRS-enabled ESP8266 weather station to creating the web interface and importing all the data into TensorFlow, is absolutely phenomenal. This project serves as a invaluable framework for similar DIY weather detection and prediction systems, which made it the perfect choice for our World Changer category.

There may have only been three winners this time around, but the legendary skill and creativity of the Hackaday community was on full display for this contest. A browse through the rest of the submissions is highly recommended, and we’re sure the creators would love to hear your feedback and suggestions in the comments.

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Winners Of Hackaday’s Earth Day Contest: Solar LIC, Auto-Return Parafoil, & Water Flowmeter

Winners have just been announced for Hackaday’s Earth Day Challenge. We were on the lookout for projects that raise awareness of environmental issues and are happy to celebrate three top winners. Each have won a $200 shopping spree from Digi-Key who sponsored this contest.

Pictured above is the Open Flow Meter by [Eben]. The build includes sensors that are submerged into a river or stream to gauge the speed at which the water is moving. It uses a commodity plumbing flow volume sensor to help reduce costs, adding an Arduino and touch screen for reading the sensors and providing a UI to the user.

High-altitude balloons are used for air quality and weather sensing. To make those sensor packages more reusable, [Hadji Yohan] has been working on a parachute recovery system that automatically returns to a set GPS point. It’s a parafoil with auto-pilot!

Power harvesting is a fascinating and tricky game. To help ease the transition away from batteries, [Jasper Sikken] developed a solar harvesting module that charges a Lithium Ion Capacitor (LIC) from a very small solar panel. Based around a 100 uF 30 F capacitor, it uses an AEM10941 energy harvesting chip which includes Maximum Power Point Tracking (MPPT) to utilize the solar panel as efficiently as possible. The fully charged module can output regulated 2.2 V and is aimed at distributed sensor packages that can be run without any battery at all.

Congratulations to these three top finishers, as well as the b-parasite capacitive soil moisture sensor which was named as a runner up in the contest. There were 72 entries in this challenge so don’t forget to take a look at the entire field, and leave a comment on the ones that catch your eye to let them know we all love seeing details of great builds!

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Spacing Out: StarShip Explodes (Again), Passenger Space Flight, Space Bugs, Astronaut Bone, And Martian Water

This time I promise I only have a couple of stories from Elon Musk’s company. SpaceX’s latest Starship test launch ended in another explosion, proving that space hardware remains hard to get right. We’ll keep watching as they keep launching, and it can’t be long until they’ve ironed out all the problems. Meanwhile there’s brighter news from the company’s Crew Dragon, a modified version of the capsule with the forward docking ring replaced by a transparent dome is planned for launch in September with the company’s first flight carrying civilian passengers. It’s doubtless unwelcome news for Virgin Galactic, whose suborbital passenger flights are edging closer to reality with the unveiling of their first SpaceShip III craft. Finally, a Falcon 9 upper stage broke up on re-entry over the northwestern USA, giving observers on the ground a spactacular show.

Spectacular view of the Falcon 9 debris. Via Lu Jerz

Meanwhile up there in orbit there have been found on the ISS some strains of bacteria previously unknown to scientists on Earth, but it’s not yet time to panic about Mutant Bugs From Space. It seems these bacteria are of a type that is essential in the growing of plants, so it’s likely they originally hitched a ride up with one of the several plant-growing experiments that have taken place over the station’s lifetime. Staying on the ISS, astronauts visiting the station have been at the centre of a recently published study looking at loss of bone density over long periods in space. The bone experts found that bone density could still be lost despite the astronauts’ in-flight exercise programs, and concluded that exercise regimes pre-flight should be taken into account for future in-orbit exercise planning.

Further away from Earth, the ESA Mars Express satellite has been used for a multi-year study of water loss to space from the Martian atmosphere. The ESA scientists identified the seasonal mechanism that leads to the planet’s upper atmosphere having an excess of water and in particular the effect of the periodic planet-wide dust storms on accelerating water loss, but failed to account for the water that they estimate Mars must have lost over its history. From a study of water-created surface features they can estimate how much liquid the planet once had, yet the atmospheric losses fail to account for it all. Has it disappeared underground? More studies are required before we’ll have an answer.

The exciting news over the coming days will no doubt be the Ingenuity Martian helicopter, which we have seen slowly unfolding itself prior to unloading from the belly of the Perseverence rover. If all goes according to plan the little craft will be set down before the rover trundles off to a safe distance, and the historic flight will take place on April 8th. We’ll be on the edges of our seats, and no doubt you will be, too.

An Homage To Daft Punk In Fan-Made Helmets Through The Years.

It’s with sadness that we note the end to an end. The French dance music duo Daft Punk have split up, announced in a video that’s has already clocked 22 million views.The band have inspired hardware geeks across the world not just with their music but the way they present themselves. A perennial project has been to replicate in some way their iconic robot helmets.

Ben Heck's 2009 take on the helmet
Harrison Krix’s 2009 take on Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo’s helmet.

The artists themselves have been reticent about the exact technology that powers their headgear, but while this is a source of endless mystery and speculation to the music press it’s safe to assume from our perspective that their designers have the same parts at their disposal as we have. Microcontrollers, EL wire, and LEDs are universal, so the challenge lies in artistic expression with the helmet design rather than in making the effects themselves. We’ve reached into the archives for a bit of Daft Punk helmet nostalgia, so stick on Harder Better Faster and lets take a look at them, er, one more time.

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