Hackaday Prize 2023: Ending 10 Years On A High Note

It’s a fact of life — all good things must eventually come to an end. The trick is not to focus so much on the chapter that’s closing, but look ahead to what comes next. This is precisely how the Hackaday Prize ended its incredible ten-year run on Saturday during Supercon.

This final year of the competition saw some of the most impressive entries we’ve ever had, leaving us with five exceptionally promising winners. These projects exemplify the qualities that the Hackaday Prize was designed to seek out and amplify and make a perfect capstone for this grand experiment in philanthropic hacking.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: AC Measurements Made Easy

When working on simple DC systems, a small low-cost multimeter from the hardware store will get the job done well enough. Often they have the capability for measuring AC, but this is where cheap meters can get tripped up. Unless the waveform is a perfect sinusoid at a specific frequency, their simple algorithms won’t be able to give accurate readings like a high-quality meter will. [hesam.moshiri] took this as a design challenge, though, and built an AC multimeter to take into account some of the edge cases that come up when working with AC circuits, especially when dealing with inductive loads.

The small meter, an upgrade from a previous Arduino version that is now based on the ESP32, is capable of assessing root mean square (RMS) voltage, RMS current, active power, power factor, and energy consumption after first being calibrated using the included push buttons. Readings are given via a small OLED screen and have an accuracy rate of 0.5% or better. The board also includes modern design considerations such as galvanic isolation between the measurement side of the meter and the user interface side, each with its own isolated power supply.  The schematics and bill-of-materials are also available for anyone looking to recreate or build on this design.

With the project built on an easily-accessible platform like the ESP32, it would be possible to use this as a base to measure other types of signals as well. Square and triangle waves, as well as signals with a large amount of harmonics or with varying frequencies, all need different measurement techniques in order to get accurate readings. Take a look at this classic multimeter to see what that entails.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: Hydrocleaner Nips Pollution In The Bud

It’s unfortunate, but a lot of trash ends up in our rivers and, eventually, our oceans. Cleaning efforts can be costly and require a lot of human power. One of the ways to keep trash out from reaching the ocean is to attack it at the river level. That’s the idea behind [Xieshi Zhang]’s Hydrocleaner, a semi-autonomous river cleaning robot.

One current method for removing trash is by remote-controlled boats with nets attached. These typically travel in one direction, sort of sweeping left and right and probably missing trash in the process.

Hydrocleaner is capable of turning back and forth, ensuring a much more complete clean-up. The camera spots trash, and the twin-pontoon design allows it to flow easily between them and into the net behind. Currently, the brain behind this boat is a Jetson Nano, although this is a work in progress. The eventual idea is that the boat would navigate itself using GNSS guidance and would navigate toward the trash.

Of course, you could always fight trash with trash.

Hackaday Prize 2023: The Wildcard Finalists Are Here

We’re in the endgame now — there’s just about a month to go before the final results are announced for the 2023 Hackaday Prize, which means all of our finalists are in a mad rush to put the finishing touches on their respective projects. Today, ten more hackers are about to feel the heat as we announce our final group of finalists from the Save the World Wildcard round.

As finalists, each of these projects has been awarded $500 to help further their development. But perhaps more importantly, they are now officially in the running for one of the final six awards, which includes the Grand Prize of $50,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe DesignLab.

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Hackaday Prize 2023: This Differential Scope Probe Is Smarter Than It Looks

A differential probe, a device for measuring the voltage between two points in a circuit rather than the voltage between a point and ground, it an extremely useful addition to any electronics bench. Inside such a probe you’ll usually find a fancy op-amp working as a differential amplifier, and for correct operation they require careful adjustment to null out DC bias and achieve the maximum common mode rejection. We particularly like [Craig D]’s probe, because these adjustments are taken care of automatically by a microcontroller.

The analogue path provides a lesson for anyone interested in instrumentation signal path design, with the signal conditioning and compensation circuits feeding an AD8130 differential amplifier. Another amplifier samples the output voltage and feeds it to the ADC in the microcontroller. Common mode adjustment is taken care of by a digital potentiometer chip, and DC offset by the microcontroller’s DAC. Controlling all this is an ATSAMD10 chip, and the power is derived from the scope’s USB interface.

All in all it’s an extremely well-executed device, and one we’d be happy to have on our bench at any time. It’s by no means the first differential probe we’ve brought you, here’s another.


Hackaday Prize 2023: An Anti-Tremor Handle, With No Electronics

Many of us will have seen the various active assistive devices which have appeared over the last few years to help people with a hand tremor. Probably the best known was a fork with a set of servos and an accelerometer, that kept the end of the utensil steady despite the owner’s hand movements. It’s a field which has the potential to help many people, but it’s undeniable that such technology comes with a cost.

What if the same effect could be achieved passively, without all those electronics? It’s something [Jacob] is investigating with his mechanical anti-tremor cup handle. It’s a university project completed as part of his studies so it’s very much a work-in-progress which if we’re being fair isn’t quite there yet, but we think the potential in this idea of bringing a useful assistive device at least bears further attention.

The write-up is available as a Norwegian PDF file so takes a little bit of Google Translate cut and pasting for an Anglophone. Sadly due to what must be report format requirements set by the university it’s long on procedure and shorter on engineering calculations than we’d like, but there’s an attempt to calculate the properties of the helical springs in each of the joints to match the likely forces. Our intuition is that the design as shown would require significantly more mass on the end of it than that of the mug and beverage alone to achieve some form of stability, but despite that as we said it’s an interesting enough idea that it deserves more thought.

Hand tremor assistive devices have appeared more than once on these pages before, here’s one for soldering that enlists the aid of a camera gimbal.

Hackaday Prize 2023: Abuse A Reference Chip For A Cheap Instrument

A Rogowski coil is a device for measuring AC current that differs from a conventional current transformer in that it has no need to encircle the conductor whose current it measures. They’re by no means cheap though, so over time we’ve seen some interesting variations on making one without the pain in the wallet. We particularly like [Stephen]’s one, because he eschews exotic devices for an interesting hack on a familiar chip. He’s taken the venerable TL431 voltage reference chip and turned it into an op-amp.

We had to look at the TL431 data sheet for this one and shamefacedly admit that since we’d only ever used the chip as a voltage reference, we hadn’t appreciated this capability. In this mode, it’s a op-amp with the inverting input connected to a fixed rail, so it can accept a feedback network to its non-inverting input just like any other. He’s using it as both integrator and amplifier, as well as, of course, in a more conventional power supply.

We like the instrument, and the use of the TL431 in an unexpected manner is the cherry on the cake. Here’s a previous Rogowski circuit using more conventional parts. You can dive a bit more into the theory, too.