80's vintage Tomy Omnibot and Futaba RC Transmitter

80’s Omnibot Goes RC And Gets A Modern Refresh

Thrift stores, antique shops, knick-knack stores- Whatever you might call them in your locale, they’re usually full of “another man’s treasure”. More often than not, we leave empty-handed, hoping another shop has something we just can’t live without. But on rare occasions, when the bits all flip in our favor, we find real gems that although we have no idea what we’re going to do with them, just have to come home with us.

[Charles] ran into this exact situation recently when he walked into yet another shop among many dotting the highways and byways of Georgia and spotted it: A Tomy Omnibot beckoning to him from the 1980s. [Charles] didn’t know what he’d do with the Omnibot, but he had to have it. Not being one to have things just sit around, he set out to make it useful by combining it with an era-appropriate Futaba 4 channel AM radio, and updating all of the electronics with modern hardware.  The Mission? Drive it around at car shows and meetups where he already takes his 1980’s era vans.

We’re not going to spoil the goodies, but be sure to read [Charles]’ blog post to see how he hacked a modern 2.4 GHz 7 channel radio into the vintage Futaba 4 channel AM radio case. We appreciated his analytical approach to meshing the older gimbals and potentiometers with the new radio guts. Not to mention what it took to get the Omnibot back into service using parts from his battle bots bin. You’ll love the attention to detail on the new battery, too!

We’ve featured [Charles] work in the past, and his Power Wheels racer fed by a recovered Ford Fusion battery is simply unforgettable. You might also appreciate another Omnibot revival we featured recently. And as always, if you have a hack to share, submit it via the Tip Line!

Lowering The Boom On Yagi Element Isolation

Antenna design can be confusing, to say the least. There’s so much black magic that goes into antennas that newbies often look at designs and are left wondering exactly how the thing could ever work. Slight changes in length or the angle between two elements result in a vastly different resonant frequency or a significant change in the antenna’s impedance. It can drive one to distraction.

Particularly concerning are the frequent appearances of what seem to be dead shorts between the two conductors of a feedline, which [andrew mcneil] explored with a pair of WiFi Yagi antennas. These highly directional antennas have a driven element and a number of parasitic elements, specifically a reflector behind the driven element and one or more directors in front of it. Constructive and destructive interference based on the spacing of the elements and capacitive or inductive coupling based on their length determine the characteristics of the antenna. [Andrew]’s test antennas have their twelve directors either isolated from the boom or shorted together to the shield of the feedline. In side-by-side tests with a known signal source, both antennas performed exactly the same, meaning that if you choose to build a Yagi, you’ve got a lot of flexibility in what materials you choose and how you attach elements to the boom.

If you want to dive a little deeper into how the Yagi works, and to learn why it’s more properly known as the Yagi-Uda antenna, check out our story on their history and operational theory. And hats off to [andrew] for reminding us that antenna design is often an exercise in practicality; after all, an umbrella and some tin cans or even a rusty nail will do under the right circumstances.

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A Solar-Powered Box Of Sensors To Last 100 Years

It’s a simple goal: build a waterproof box full of environmental sensors that can run continuously for the next century. OK, so maybe it’s not exactly “simple”. But whatever you want to call this epic quest to study and record the planet we call home, [sciencedude1990] has decided to make his mission part of the 2019 Hackaday Prize.

The end goal might be pretty lofty, but we think you’ll agree that the implementation keeps the complexity down to a minimum. Which is important if these solar-powered sensor nodes are to have any chance of going the distance. A number of design decisions have been made with longevity in mind, such as replacing lithium ion batteries that are only good for a few hundred recharge cycles with supercapacitors which should add a handful of zeros to that number.

At the most basic level, each node in the system consists of photovoltaic panels, the supercapacitors, and a “motherboard” based on the ATmega256RFR2. This single-chip solution provides not only an AVR microcontroller with ample processing power for the task at hand, but an integrated 2.4 GHz radio for uploading data to a local base station. [sciencedude1990] has added a LSM303 accelerometer and magnetometer to the board, but the real functionality comes from external “accessory” boards.

Along the side of the main board there’s a row of ports for external sensors, each connected to the ATmega through a UART multiplexer. To help control energy consumption, each external sensor has its own dedicated load switch; the firmware doesn’t power up the external sensors until they’re needed, and even then, only if there’s enough power in the supercapacitors to do so safely. Right now [sciencedude1990] only has a GPS module designed to plug into the main board, but we’re very interested in seeing what else he (and perhaps even the community) comes up with.

Does WiFi Kill Houseplants?

Spoiler alert: No.

To come to that conclusion, which runs counter to the combined wisdom of several recent YouTube videos, [Andrew McNeil] ran a pretty neat little experiment. [Andrew] has a not inconsiderable amount of expertise in this area, as an RF engineer and prolific maker of many homebrew WiFi antennas, some of which we’ve featured on these pages before. His experiment centered on cress seeds sprouting in compost. Two identical containers were prepared, with one bathed from above in RF energy from three separate 2.4 GHz transmitters. Each transmitter was coupled to an amplifier and a PCB bi-quad antenna to radiate about 300 mW in slightly different parts of the WiFi spectrum. Both setups were placed in separate rooms in east-facing windows, and each was swapped between rooms every other day, to average out microenvironmental effects.

After only a few days, the cress sprouted in both pots and continued to grow. There was no apparent inhibition of the RF-blasted sprouts – in fact, they appeared a bit lusher than the pristine pot. [Andrew] points out that it’s not real science until it’s quantified, so his next step is to repeat the experiment and take careful biomass measurements. He’s also planning to ramp up the power on the next round as well.

We’d like to think this will put the “WiFi killed my houseplants” nonsense to rest – WiFi can even help keep your plants alive, after all. But somehow we doubt that the debate will die anytime soon.

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SDR Is At The Heart Of This Soup-Can Doppler Radar Set

Want to explore the world of radar but feel daunted by the mysteries of radio frequency electronics? Be daunted no more and abstract the RF complexities away with this tutorial on software-defined radar by [Luigi Cruz].

Taking inspiration from our own [Gregory L. Charvat], whose many radar projects have graced our pages before, this plunge into radar is spare on the budgetary side but rich in learning opportunities. The front end of the radar set is almost entirely contained in a LimeSDR Mini, a software-defined radio that can both transmit and receive. The only additional components are a pair of soup can antennas and a cheap LNA for the receive side. The rest of the system runs on GNU Radio Companion running on a Raspberry Pi; the whole thing is powered by a USB battery pack and lives in a plastic tote. [Luigi] has the radar set up for the 2.4-GHz ISM band, and the video below shows it being calibrated with vehicles passing by at known speeds.

True, the LimeSDR isn’t exactly cheap, but it does a lot for the price and lowers a major barrier to getting into the radar field. And [Luigi] did a great job of documenting his work and making his code available, which will help too. Continue reading “SDR Is At The Heart Of This Soup-Can Doppler Radar Set”

Raspberry Pi W Antenna Analysis Reveals Clever Design

The old maxim is that if you pay peanuts, you get a monkey. That’s no longer true, though: devices like the Raspberry Pi W have shown that a $10 device can be remarkably powerful if it is well designed. You might not appreciate how clever this design is sometimes, but this great analysis of the antenna of the Pi W by [Carl Turner, Senior RF Engineer at Laird Technology] might help remind you.

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Zigbee-Based Wireless Arduinos, Demystified

Hackday regular [Akiba] is working on a series of video tutorials guiding newbies into the world of the 802.15.4 wireless protocol stack — also known as ZigBee. So far, his tutorials include a “getting started with chibiArduino”, his own Arduino-based wireless library, as well as a more basic tutorial on how radio works.

[Akiba] already made a name for himself though a large number of wireless projects, including his Saboten sensor boards, which are ruggedized for long-term environmental monitoring. The Saboten boards use the same wireless stack as his Arduino-compatible wireless development boards, his Freakduino products. The latest version features an ATmega 1284P with 8x the RAM and 4x the flash of the older, 328P-based Freakduinos. It comes in both 900 MHz and 2.4 GHz and there’s also a special 900 Mhz “Long Range” variant. The boards include some great power-saving features, including switchable status LEDs and on-board battery regulation circuity allowing one to run a full year on two AA cells while in sleep mode. They also have a USB stick configuration that is great for Raspberry Pi projects and for running straight from the PC.

For more [Akiba] goodness, check out our colleague [Sophi]’s SuperCon interview with him as well as our coverage of his Puerto Rico lantern project.