SENSEation Shows The Importance of Good Physical Design

Sensor network projects often focus primarily on electronic design elements, such as architecture and wireless transmission methods for sensors and gateways. Equally important, however, are physical and practical design elements such as installation, usability, and maintainability. The SENSEation project by [Mario Frei] is a sensor network intended for use indoors in a variety of buildings, and it showcases the deep importance of physical design elements in order to create hardware that is easy to install, easy to maintain, and effective. The project logs have an excellent overview of past versions and an analysis of what worked well, and where they fell short.

One example is the power supply for the sensor nodes. Past designs used wall adapters to provide constant and reliable power, but there are practical considerations around doing so. Not only do power adapters mean each sensor requires some amount of cable management, but one never really knows what one will find when installing a node somewhere in a building; a power outlet may not be nearby, or it may not have any unoccupied sockets. [Mario] found that installations could take up to 45 minutes per node as a result of these issues. The solution was to move to battery power for the sensor nodes. With careful power management, a node can operate for almost a year before needing a recharge, and removing any cable management or power adapter meant that installation time dropped to an average of only seven minutes.

That’s just one example of the practical issues discovered in the deployment of a sensor network in a real-world situation, and the positive impact of some thoughtful design changes in response. The GitHub repository for SENSEation has all the details needed to reproduce the modular design, so check it out.

A Peek Into a Weed-Eating Robot’s Test Fixtures

When it comes to production, fast is good! But right the first time is better. Anything that helps prevent rework down the line is worth investing in. Some of the best tools to catch problems are good test fixtures. The folks at Tertill (a solar-powered robot for killing weeds that kickstarted last year) took the time to share two brief videos of DIY test fixtures they use to test components before assembly.

The videos are short, but they demonstrate all the things that make a good test: on the motor tester there are no connectors or wires to fiddle with, the test starts automatically, and there is clear feedback via prominent LEDs. The UI board tester also starts automatically and has unambiguous LED feedback, and sports a custom board holder with a recess just the right shape for the PCB. Once the board is in, the sled is pushed like a drawer to make contact with the test hardware and begin the test. The perfectly formed recesses in both units serve another function as well; they act as a go/no-go test for the physical shape of the components and contacts being tested.

Both videos are embedded below; and while there isn’t much detail on the actual test hardware, we do spy a Raspberry Pi and at least two Adafruit logos among other hacker-familiar elements like laser-cut acrylic, 3D printed plastic, pogo pins, and a PVC junction box.

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Nintendo Switch Gets Internal Trinket Hardmod

If you haven’t been following the Nintendo Switch hacking scene, the short version of the story is that a vulnerability was discovered that allows executing code on all versions of the Switch hardware and operating system. In fact, it’s believed that the only way to stop this vulnerability from being exploited is for Nintendo to release a new revision of the hardware. Presumably there are a lot of sad faces in the House of Mario right about now, but it’s good news for us peons who dream of actually controlling the devices we purchase.

To run your own code on Nintendo’s latest and greatest, you must first put it into recovery mode by shorting out two pins in the controller connector, and then use either a computer or a microcontroller connected to the system’s USB port to preform the exploit and execute the binary payload. It’s relatively easy, but something you need to do every time you shut the system down. But if you’re willing to install an Adafruit Trinket M0 inside your Nintendo Switch, you can make things a little easier.

Stemming from work done by [atlas44] and [noemu], the final iteration of this mod was created by [Quantum-cross]. The general idea is to strip down the Trinket M0 board to as small as possible by removing the USB port and a few capacitors, and then install it inside the Switch’s case. By wiring it up to power, the back of the USB-C connector, and the controller connector, the Trinket can interact with all the key components involved in the exploit.

You can even use the Switch’s USB port to update the firmware on the Trinket to load different payloads, though in his walkthrough video after the break, [xboxexpert] mentions eventually this won’t really be necessary as the homebrew software environment on the Switch matures. Indeed, there will almost certainly come a time when performing this exploit on every boot of the system will be made unnecessary, rendering this modification obsolete. But until then, this is a pretty slick way of getting your feet wet in the world of Switch hacking.

It was only six months or so back that we were reading about the first steps towards running arbitrary code on the Nintendo Switch, and just a few months prior to that we saw people experimenting with controlling the system with a microcontroller.

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Friday Hack Chat: Ladyada on Creative and Interactive Robotics

Somewhere at the intersection of microcontrollers, open source toolchains, the Maker Movement, and the march of technology, there’s a fuzzy concept that can best be described as robotics or physical computing. Instead of a computer in a box or a dumb microcontroller, these projects interact with the outside world. Whether that’s through the Internet, tapping a bunch of sensors, or just waving the arm of a servo around, there’s a need for a platform that actually does all of this stuff. For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking all about creative and interactive robots, and you’re invited.

Our guest for this week’s Hack Chat will be Limor “Ladyada” Fried, the founder of Adafruit, and someone who needs no introduction but we’re going to do it anyway. Adafruit began as a weird side project selling exact reproductions of the Roland TB-303, building cell phone jammers, and making guides to build your own USB power bank before USB power banks were a thing. This has grown into Adafruit, a company with over 100 employees in the heart of New York City, one of the best places for learning and making electronics, and a place that does everything Open Source with zero loans or VC money. By any objective measure, Adafruit has become the most successful business story to come out of the Maker Movement, however nebulously that can be defined.

This week the Hack Chat will be focused on the CRICKIT, the Creative Robotics and Interactive Construction Kit. The CRICKIT is an add-on to Adafruit’s Circuit Playground that allows you to build your own robot with CircuitPython, MakeCode, or just Arduino. There’s support for arts, crafts, sensors, audio, animatronics, physical computing, kinetic sculptures, science experiments, and just about anything else you can think of. Need an example? Here’s Blue Öyster Cult. Here’s that robot that came with the NES. It’s all great fun.

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hack Chat Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, June 22nd.  Here’s a clock counting down the time until the Hack Chat starts.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Ground-Effect Lighting For Your Bed.

If you’ve ever disturbed your partner by getting up during the night and flicking on the bathroom light — or tripping over something and startling them awake completely in the ensuing catastrophe — [Kristjan Berce]’s idea to install motion-activated ground-effect lighting on his girlfriend’s bed might hold your attention.

[Berce] is using an Arduino Nano for the project’s brain, a PIR sensor from Adafruit, and an L7805 voltage regulator to handle load spikes.  He doesn’t specify the type of LED strip he’s using, but Neopixels might be a safe bet here. Soldering issues over with, he mounted his protoboard in a 3D printed project box. Instead of reinventing the LED, [Berce] copied the code from Adafruit’s PIR tutorial before sticking the project to the side of the bed with adhesive strips so the on/off switch within handy reach to flick before meeting Mr. Sandman. Check out the build video after the break!

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IoT Doorman: Eye-Controlled Door for a Girl with Cerebral Palsy

Kyleigh has an eye-controlled computer on her wheelchair but something as simple as her bedroom door was still beyond her reach… until now! [Bill Binko], recently filmed a demo of an automatic, IoT door opener built for the young girl with cerebral palsy. [Bill] is a co-founder of ATMakers, an organization that enables makers interested in assistive technologies to collaborate with users to improve quality of life.

Using her eye tracking tablet (PRC Device), Kyleigh has two new icons that make the relevant call to a website, pushing a simple command to either open or close her bedroom door. The device attached to the door uses an Adafruit M0 WiFi Feather board, a DC stepper motor and wheel, a UBEC buck converter, and a potentiometer.

Since other family members are also going to be opening and closing the door, there’s potentiometer which measures the door position for proper operation next time Kyleigh wishes to use the door. The installation also maintains a fairly inconspicuous profile for the assistance it gives — the ‘brain’ is enclosed in a small box on the door, with the motor only slightly larger on the door’s base.

[Bill] believes the project has a few quibbles and wants to work out a smaller wait before the open/close process is executed and optimizing the open/close speed. You have to check out the video below to see that it works really really. We’re also excited to see Kyleigh using her gaze control to talk to an Amazon Echo. [Bill] foresee a door control improvement that links it to Alexa. And how much did it cost to improve the quality of life for this young girl? $70.

We love seeing makers help people, and cannot wait to see what 2018 will bring! If you’re looking for more inspiration, don’t miss the eye-controlled wheelchair project called Eyedrivomatic which won the 2015 Hackaday Prize. There’s also the top Assistive Technology projects from the Hackaday Prize.

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What Is It, R2? Have Something To Share?

Sometimes great projects keep evolving. [Bithead942] built himself an R2-D2 to accompany him when he goes a-trooping — but something didn’t feel quite right. Turns out, R2 was missing its signature beeping banter, so he made it more contextually responsive by implementing a few voice commands.

[Bithead942]’s main costume is that of an X-Wing pilot, and the replica helmet works perfectly; it already has a fake microphone — easily replaced with a working model — and the perfect niche to stash the electronics in the ‘mohawk.’

Even though the helmet has the perfect hiding spot for a circuit, space is still at a premium. Services like Alexa tend to be pretty accurate, but require WiFi access — not a guarantee on the convention floor. Instead, [bithead942] found that the EasyVR Shield 3.0 voice recognition board provided a suitable stand-in. It needs a bit of training to work properly(cue the montage!), but in the end it compares fresh audio commands to the ‘training’ files it has stored, and if there’s a match, triggers a corresponding serial port. It’s not perfect, but it most certainly works!

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