Today’s Challenge Is All About Work-From-Home Life

You sure do learn a lot when life suddenly makes it impossible to go into the office and asks that you instead do the same work remotely. Sure, there are the obvious challenges like needing a device to do the work on and an internet connection that’s not going to melt down when family or roommates are trying to Zoom at the same time as you one-on-one with the boss. But there’s way more to it. The Refresh Work-From-Home Life challenge takes this on as the next phase of the Hackaday Prize gets under way this morning.

If the global pandemic caused you to find yourself working from home, I’m sure it’s been quite a ride. Maybe you learned what your spine feels like after hunching over a MacBook in bed for 40 hours. Others discovered that the commute had been silently serving as a power-down sequence for your “work brain” — without it you never stopped thinking about, or more likely worrying about, work. And without that change in venue, it’s far too easy to feel like you were now living at work. So let’s invent the things that can make us productive from home while maintaining physical health and preserving our sanity.

Ten entries in this challenge will be awarded with $500 and ushered into the final round where the grand prize of $25,000 and four other top prizes await. What kind of things are we looking for? The best ideas are the ones we haven’t had yet, but I can spitball a bit to get things rolling.

Mirror with a bracket turns a laptop webcam into an overhead project for Zoom classrooms

Furniture and other infrastructure can be a real sore-spot when not a good fit. We’d love to see your design that uses a single sheet of plywood (I know, those cost a bazillion dollars these days but just go with it) to build an adjustable workspace that fits your chair height and needs. Bonus points for one that folds away at quitting time to reassure you that work is done!

Office interruptions from co-works sometimes feel like a distraction. But without them you might not get your body moving for hours on end… not good for you! Design an assistant that watches for your poor sedentary habits and sasses you until you take some time to stretch your old bones. Or show off the gadgets that make living the digital nomad life easier like the awesome document camera hacks we saw from teachers when classrooms were closed last year.

Show off your proof of concept by starting a project page on and using the dropdown in the left sidebar to enter it into the 2021 Hackaday Prize. You can continue to update it until judging begins at the end of July.

We’re already living in the future. Working or learning remotely is a big part of that. Let’s bend our homes and our habits to find a better way to do it!

Final Weekend For Display Challenge Of The Hackaday Prize

This is the final weekend to enter your display-related project in the 2021 Hackaday Prize. The good news is, pretty much anything that has a display on it fits the bill here.

The goal of the “Rethink Displays” challenge is to envision interesting ways to visualize data. How many times an hour do you reach for an unlock a smartphone just to get a small bit of data — current temperature, upcoming appointment, the next street to turn on, or how much time is left on your soufflé. There must be another way!

The newspaper is an eInk display that hides in plain sight among non-dynamic framed artwork.

That’s where you come in! Show off us a clever way to convey meaning by choosing a display that makes sense for the type of data and power budget available. Maybe it’s an ePaper display that camouflages itself as wall art, a set of analog meters for the current weather, or a way to upcycle old displays to live on after their portable lives have ended.

This doesn’t need to be a final product. Ten entries will be selected to receive a $500 prize and move on to the final round at the end of October. So if you spend this weekend pulling together a proof of concept, and do a superb job of telling the story of what you’re building, you’ll be firmly in the running! Finalists will have plenty of time to work on completing the designs.

Have a great idea but no time to work on it? Let people know it’s up for grabs by sharing the concept below.

Portable, Digital Scoreboard Goes Anywhere

It’s that time of year in both hemispheres — time to get outside and play before it gets unbearably hot (or cold). No matter what your game, don’t keep score in your head or with piles of rocks — make yourself a portable, fold-able scoreboard like [LordGuilly] did and be on the bleeding edge of display technology. It’s really more roll-able than fold-able, which is awesome because you get to unfurl it like a boss.

All you need is a place to hang it up and you’re good to go. This thing runs on a beefy 10,000 mAH USB power bank, and [LordGuilly] says that it’s easy to read even on really sunny days. As you may have guessed, those are WS2812 strips and they are set into rectangular PVC bars. The bars are set equidistant from each other in a frame made from modified version of cable tracks — plastic chain links for cable management.

Good looks aside, we especially like that there are two controller options here. If you want to assign a dedicated scorekeeper, there’s a handled version that uses an STM32 blue pill and is wired to the display. But if you’re short on people, use the ESP8266 version and update the score with the accompanying app. Check out the demo after the break so you can see it in action.

We’ve seen a few scoreboards over the years, including this beauty that’s meant for indoor games.

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Home Automation Controller Uses Chalk

Responding to the Rethink Displays challenge of the 2021 Hackaday Prize contest, freelance design engineer [Rick Pannen] brings a retro look to his DIY home automation controller. You could be forgiven for not even realizing it is a controller at first glance. [Rick] built this using a magnetic chalk board and installed all the control electronics on the back. The main processor is a Raspberry Pi 400 running Raspian with IOBroker and Node-Red. Panel lettering and graphics are done free-hand with, you guessed it, chalk.

The controls on this panel are an eclectic hodgepodge of meters, switches, and sensors that [Rick] scored on eBay or scavenged from friends. We are curious about the simple-looking rotary dial that sends a pulse train based on the number set on the dial — this seems to have all the functionality of an old phone’s rotary dial without any of the fun.

But [Rick]’s design allows for easy changes — dare we say, it encourages them — so maybe we’ll see a salvaged rotary dial added in future revisions. Also note the indoor lighting ON/OFF switch that must be a real joy to operate. We wonder, is there any way the controls could be magnetized and moved freely around the board without permanently attaching them? Maybe an idea for version 4 or 5.

This design has a lot of possibilities, and we look forward to any upgrades or derivative versions of this unique home automation controller. Let us know in the comments below if you have any suggestions for expanding upon this idea.

Miss The Predictive Text From Your Old Nokia? Build Your Own T9 Keypad

Do you miss the mind-blowing typing speed of your old Nokia brick with predictive text turned on? Well, so did [Guy Dupont], so he created a USB keypad with T9 predictive text built-in to turn typing into a one-handed affair. Video after the break.

T9 was the first predictive text technology to gain widespread use in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The goal was to minimize the number of keypresses required for typing on multi-press keypads by matching key sequences to a dictionary of the possible words. It prioritizes words based on the frequency of use and can adapt to user preferences. [Guy] implemented T9 in Circuit Python, mainly for the RP2040 microcontroller used on the Raspberry Pi Pico, which will appear as a normal USB keyboard when plugged into any device. The dictionary is stored in the flash memory and can be updated using a tool also created by [Guy]. It can also change modes for old multi-press typing, numeric pad, or macro pad.

We would be interested to see just how fast it’s possible to type one handed with T9, and what application our readers can imagine. It doesn’t look like this implementation can learn the user’s preferences, which we think would be a worthy feature to add.

We’ve covered several unique custom keyboards recently, some more practical than others. On the silly side, these include a grenade-shaped function pad, a five-button chording keyboard, and a tiny two-key keyboard. Continue reading “Miss The Predictive Text From Your Old Nokia? Build Your Own T9 Keypad”

World’s First RP2040 QWERTY Computer

Independent hardware developer [bobricius] is at it again, making what he claims is the world’s first Pico RP2040 QWERTY + IPS development kit — the PICOmputer. This is a palm-sized computer of sorts. It integrates a keyboard made from tactile push button switches, a TFT IPS display, and a RP2040 Pico computer module. At 100 x 65 mm size, it is slightly bigger than your typical ISO-7810-ID-1-sized credit card, and slightly smaller than an A7 piece of paper.

One of [Bobricius]’s goals for this project was to minimize the number of external components, thus maximizing the use of the RP2040’s internal features. And if you peruse the schematic posted on his GitHub repository, you can agree he’s met this goal for sure. There’s a filter capacitor for the optional LoRa module, and two MOSFETs and three resistors to drive a speaker and the TFT backlight. Aside from connectors, the switches, and the submodules themselves, that’s all of the external circuitry.

The arrangement of two USB connectors, type C for power and micro-USB for data, is an interesting aspect of the connector / module placement. He plans to add an Ethernet module in the future, and issue some more revisions to fix small errors and to make the front panel fit more sizes of displays. We wonder if a battery module add-on is in the works, as well.

If you recognize [bobricius], that’s because his previous ARMACHAT handheld LoRa messenger project was among the Hackaday Prize Community Vote (Bootstrap) winners last year. We think tiny keyboards may be an obsession for him — indeed, he freely admits to being blinded by his own enthusiasm. Check out his mini (Pi)QWERTY USB keyboard from 2018, for example. Thanks to [Itay] for bringing this project to our attention via the Hackaday tip line.

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Persistent Displays With UV Light

This year’s Hackaday Prize has “Rethink Displays” as one of its first theme, and [Tucker Shannon] has given us his best shot on that subject with a set of impressive displays that “write” on glow-in-the-dark material using ultra-violet light. These materials glow for a while after UV illumination, so moving a light source like a UV LED over the surface draws glowing text or simple graphics which can be readily consumed.

One of the examples this a clock we were first smitten with back in 2018. It is a rather attractive 3D-printed affair with those servos mounted below the screen that moves a UV LED through a pair of linkages. Other offerings that play on the same UV stylus medium include a laser on an az-el mount controlled by a Raspberry Pi Zero. It’s a neat idea very effectively done, and we can see it has a lot of potential.

But the most impressively advanced so far is the model shown in the image at the top of the article and the demo video at the bottom. A loop of phosphorescent material is the display surface itself. This one moves that loop with two rollers to make up the X axis, and moves the UV source up and down for the Y axis. As with all of these designs, whatever is written will soon fade, leaving the surface ready for the next bit of information.

Interested in this project and think you could do a display of your own? The Hackaday Prize 2021 is live, and we’d love to see you enter it!

Continue reading “Persistent Displays With UV Light”