Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors

Bringing a product to market is not easy, if it were everyone would be doing it, and succeeding. The team at Pycno is in the process of launching their second product, a modular solar powered IoT unit called Pulse. It’s always interesting to get an inside look when a company is so open during the development process, and see how they deal with challenges.

Pycno’s first product was a solar powered sensor suite for crops. This time round they are keeping the solar part, but creating a modular system that can accept wired or wireless connections (2G/3G/4G, WiFi, LoRa, GPS and Bluetooth 5) or modules that slide into the bottom of the unit. They plan to open source the module design to allow other to design custom modules, which is a smart move since interoperability can be a big driving factor behind adoption. The ease of plugging in sensors is a very handy feature, since most non-Hackaday users would probably prefer to not open up expensive units to swap out sensors. The custom solar panel itself is pretty interesting, since it features an integrated OLED display. It consists of a PCB with the cutout for the display, with solar cells soldered on before the whole is laminated to protect the cells.

Making a product so completely modular also has some pitfalls, since it can be really tricky to market something able to do anything for anybody. However, we wish them the best of luck with their Kickstarter (video after the break) and look forward to seeing how the ecosystem develops.

When a large community develops around a modular ecosystem, it can truly grow beyond the originator’s wildest dreams. Just look at Arduino and Raspberry Pi. We’re also currently running a contest involving boards for the Feather form factor if you want to get in on the act. Continue reading “Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors”

A Vintage Phone In 2020

When we make a telephone call in 2020 it is most likely to be made using a smartphone over a cellular or IP-based connection rather than a traditional instrument on a pair of copper wires to an exchange. As we move inexorably towards a wireless world in which the telephone line serves only as a vehicle for broadband Internet, it’s easy to forget the last hundred years or more of telephone technology that led up to the present.

The iconic British telephone of the 1960s and 1970s, the GPO model 746. Mine is from 1971.
The iconic British telephone of the 1960s and 1970s, the GPO model 746. Mine is from 1971. (That isn’t my phone number)

In a manner of speaking though, your telephone wall socket hasn’t forgotten. If you like old phones, you can still have one, and picture yourself in a 1950s movie as you twirl the handset cord round your finger while you speak. Continue reading “A Vintage Phone In 2020”

Drill Thrice, Solder Once

If you design printed circuit boards, then you will have also redesigned printed circuit boards. Nobody gets it right the first time, every time. Sometimes you can solder a scrap of 30gauge wire, flip a component 180°, or make a TO-92 transistor do that little pirouette thing where the legs go every-which-way. If you angered the PCB deities, you may have to access a component pad far from an edge. [Nathan Seidle], the founder of Sparkfun, finds himself in this situation, but all hope is not lost.

Our first thought is to desolder everything, then take a hot iron and tiny wires to each pad. Of course, this opens up a lot of potential for damage to the chip, cold joints, and radio interference. Accessing the pin in vivo has risks, but they are calculated. The idea is to locate the pin, then systematically drill from the backside and expose the copper. [Nate] also discovers that alcohol will make the PCB transparent so you can peer at the underside to confirm you have found your mark.

In a real, “fight fire with fire” idea, you can rework with flex PCBs or push your PCB Fu to the next level and use PCBs as your enclosure.

Open Source $50 Water Turbine From Repurposed Parts

Easy access to reliable electrical power is something a lot of us take for granted, but in developing countries or after natural disaster, it can be a rare commodity. [Daniel Connelly] has been working hard to develop infrastructure people can build themselves, and his latest project is a 200 W water turbine (video after the break) that can be built for about $50.

The core of the system is a wheel and motor from a hoverboard. What looks like 110 mm PVC tubing is connected together in a U-shape that can be mounted over the wall of a man-made channel. The inlet side is shorter than the outlet, and the system must be filled with water to allow the flow to start, like a siphon. The first two versions had the impeller sitting on the end of the outlet tube. V1 used a scrap plastic radial impeller of unknown origin, and did not work at all. V2 had a 3D printed impeller that worked pretty well, but the rotation speed wasn’t high enough to produce the voltage that [Daniel] wanted.

V3 used a large computer fan that was mounted in the short horizontal piece of section of tubing at the top of the system. It worked spectacularly well, producing about 55 V AC over a single phase of the motor, which should hopefully end up producing about 90 V DC and 200-500 W after rectifying the 3-phase motor output. This only however indicative, we would really like to see it tested with different loads connected. The output will also be dependent on the flow rate and head pressure of a particular stream/channel/river, and [Daniel] admits that they had pretty much ideal conditions for their tests. If hoverboard motors are hard to come by, a motorcycle alternator should also work well.

[Daniel] is still working out the kinks of the system, but as with his other designs on OpenSourceLowTech he will release the full open source design and tutorials as soon as he is ready. We are looking forward to seeing the system implemented out in the wild. For off-grid power, home built and 3D printed wind generators are another popular topic around here, if you don’t have a handy channel nearby.

Continue reading “Open Source $50 Water Turbine From Repurposed Parts”

Quick And Dirty: Operate An Intercom Via Telegram

Never underestimate the quick and dirty hack. It’s very satisfying to rapidly solve a real problem with whatever you have on hand, and helps to keep your hacking skills sharp for those big beautifully engineered projects. [Guillaume M] needed a way to remotely open his apartment building door for deliveries, so he hacked the ancient intercom to be operated via Telegram, to allow packages to be deposited safely inside his mailbox inside the building’s front too.

[Guillaume] needed to complete the hack in a way that would allow him to return the intercom to its original state when he moves out. Opening the 30-year-old unit, he probed a row of screw terminals and identified a 13V supply, ground, and the connection to the buildings’ door lock. He connected the lock terminals to a relay, which is controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero W that waits for the “open” command to be sent to a custom Telegram Bot.

To power the Pi, [Guillaume] connected it to the 13V supply on the intercom via a voltage divider circuit. Voltage dividers usually make lousy power supplies, since the output voltage will fluctuate as the load changes, but it looks as though it worked well enough for [Guillaume]. The intercom had a lot of empty space inside, so after testing everything was packed inside the housing.

If you want to achieve the same with an ESP8266, there’s a library for that. Just keep in mind that being dependent on web servers to open critical doors might get you locked out.

Cheating At Bowling, The Hacker Way

Anyone who has ever gone to a bowling alley will know the preferred (but ineffective) technique to telepathically control a bowling ball. [Mark Rober] and [James Bruton] decided to change that and hacked a bowling ball that can be steered remotely (and discreetly), simply by leaning your body.

They started with a standard bowling ball, that was cut in half and hollowed out on a lathe. A beam sits on the centre line of the ball, mounted on a bearing in each half to allow the ball to spin around it. Steering done by shifting the centre of mass, by moving a steel pendulum that hangs below the beam side to side with heavy-duty servo. The servo is controlled with an Arduino, and an IMU to detects the balls orientation. Power is provided by and RC Lipo battery. The wireless controller is a sneaky little device that is taped to [Mark]’s back and covered with clothing, and steers the ball by detecting how far he leans with an IMU module. The brain is an Arduino Mini and an NRF24L01 provides the RF link.

While it’s not an easy build, it’s a fairly simple system electronically, with off the shelf electronics modules and perfboard. The genius is in the implementation and its entertainment value. The look on the kids faces when [Mark] “telepathically” controls the ball, after showing off the fact that he has zero natural ability, is absolutely priceless. [Mark Rober], a former NASA engineer, has made a name for himself with viral Youtube videos on cool projects like a glitter booby trap for package thieves and a liquid sand hot tub. [James Bruton], a former toy designer is known for his robotics prowess that he has put on display with OpenDog and functional Star Wars robots.

For us this hack is a perfect example of one that entertains and inspires, a powerful combination for young and old alike. Check out the awesome video after the break. Continue reading “Cheating At Bowling, The Hacker Way”

Jackpot!: The Trials And Tribulations Of Turning A Slot Machine Into An ATM

Have you ever wished that slot machines dispensed money as easily as an ATM? Well so did [Scotty Allen] from Strange Parts, so in collaboration with his friend [Matt] decided to combine the two. After a four-month journey fraught with magic smoke and frustration, they managed to build a fully functional ATM slot machine.

The basic idea is that you insert your card and enter your pin like on a normal ATM, select your winning amount, and pull the lever. This sets wheels spinning, which come to a stop with three-of-a-kind every time, and you win your own money as a bucket load of coins with all the accompanying fanfare. The project took way longer than [Scotty] expected, and he ended up missing his original deadline to show off the machine at DEF CON.

They started with an old broken Japanese slot machine, and replaced the control board with an Arduino Due after a lot of reverse engineering and hacking. [Scotty] did a cool video just on getting the original vacuum fluorescent display working. Integrating the ATM parts proved to be the biggest challenge, with number of very expensive parts releasing their magic smoke or getting bricked in the process. [Scotty] came up with an ingeniously simple hack to interface the ATM hardware with the Arduino. The cash note dispenser uses multiple sensors to detect if there are notes loaded and if one is successfully dispensed. These were spoofed by the Arduino, which controls two coin hoppers instead to dispense appropriate amount of quarters or pennies. The build was rounded off with some very neat custom graphics on the glass panels, and the machine was finally showed off at a local arcade.

This was an awesome project, and we can appreciate the fact that [Scotty] made no attempt to hide the real emotional roller coaster that anyone who has worked on a large project knows, but is rarely documented in logs. [Scotty] has made a name for himself by building his own iPhone from parts and touring Shenzhen’s many factories. Check out the videos after the break Continue reading “Jackpot!: The Trials And Tribulations Of Turning A Slot Machine Into An ATM”