Hackaday Links: December 20, 2020

If development platforms were people, Google would be one of the most prolific serial killers in history. Android Things, Google’s attempt at an OS for IoT devices, will officially start shutting down on January 5, 2021, and the plug will be pulled for good a year later. Android Things, which was basically a stripped-down version of the popular phone operating system, had promise, especially considering that Google was pitching it as a secure alternative in the IoT space, where security is often an afterthought. We haven’t exactly seen a lot of projects using Android Things, so the loss is probably not huge, but the list of projects snuffed by Google and the number of developers and users left high and dry by these changes continues to grow. Continue reading “Hackaday Links: December 20, 2020”

Giving Blind Runners Independence With AI

Being able to see, move, and exercise independently is something most of us take for granted. [Thomas Panek] was an avid runner before losing his sight due to a genetic condition, and had to rely on other humans and guide dogs to run again. After challenging attendants at a Google hackathon, Project Guideline was established to give blind runners (or walkers) independence from a cane, dog or another human, while exercising outdoors. Using a smartphone with line following AI software, and bone conduction headphones, users can be guided along a path with a line painted on it. You need to watch the video below to get a taste of just how incredible it is for the users.

Getting a wheeled robot to follow a line is relatively simple, but a running human is by no means a stable sensor platform. At the previously mentioned hackathon, developers put together a rough proof of concept with a smartphone, using its camera to recognize a painted line on the ground and provide left/right audio cues.  As the project developed, the smartphone was attached to a waist belt and bone conduction headphones were used,  which don’t affect audio situational awareness as much as normal headphones.

The shaking and side to side movement of running, and varying light conditions and visual obstructions in the outdoors made the problem more difficult to solve, but within a year the developers had completed successful running tests with [Thomas] on a well-lit indoor track and an outdoor pedestrian path with a temporary line. For the first time in 25 years, [Thomas] was able to run independently.

While guide dogs have proven effective for both daily life and running, they cost approximately $60000 over an average working life of 8 years, putting them out of reach of many sight-impaired people around the world. Project Guideline is still in the early stages, and real-world problems like obstacles and traffic still need to be addressed, but there is massive potential.

Continue reading “Giving Blind Runners Independence With AI”

Let’s Encrypt Will Stop Working For Older Android Devices

Let’s Encrypt was founded in 2012, going public in 2014, with the aim to improve security on the web. The goal was to be achieved by providing free, automated access to SSL and TLS certificates that would allow websites to make the switch over to HTTPS without having to spend any money.

Hundreds of millions of sites rely on Let’s Encrypt for their HTTPS certificate needs. HTTPS security helps protect sites and users, and makes it harder for malicious actors to steal private information.

The project has just announced that, come September 1, 2021, some older software will stop trusting their certificates. Let’s look at why this has come to pass, and what it means going forward.

Certificates Expire

When Let’s Encrypt first went public in early 2016, they issued their own root certificate, by the name ISRG Root X1. However, it takes time for companies to include updated root certificates in their software, so until recently, all Let’s Encrypt certificates were cross-signed by an IdenTrust certificate, DST Root X3. This certificate had been around much longer, and was already supported by the vast majority of OSes and browsers in regular use. This allowed Let’s Encrypt to hit the ground running while they waited for the majority of software to support their own root certificate. Continue reading “Let’s Encrypt Will Stop Working For Older Android Devices”

Open Source Self-Driving Smartphone Robot

Our smartphones are incredibly powerful computers in their own right, yet we don’t often see them directly integrated into projects. Intel Intelligent Systems Lab has done exactly that with the release OpenBot, an open source smartphone based self-driving robot.

Most of the magic happens on the smartphone, which runs an app built on TensorFlow Lite, and integrates the camera and array of sensors on the smartphone, as well as the data from ultrasonic sensors and wheel encoders on the robot. The robot itself is relatively simple, with four geared DC motors, motor drivers wired to an Arduino Nano that interfaces with an Android Phone over serial.

The app created by the Intel ISL team comes preloaded with three AI models that can do either person following, or two different modes of autonomous navigation. By connecting a Bluetooth controller to the smartphone and drive the robot around manually in your specific environment while collecting data, you can train a custom autonomous driving policy to suit your environment.

This looks like an excellent way to get a taste of autonomous robots on a small budget, while still being a viable base for more demanding applications. We’ve seen only a few smartphone based robots like DriveMyPhone and SmartiPresense, which don’t have AI capabilities, but are intended for telepresence applications. We’ve always wondered why we don’t see more projects with cellphones, so we welcome the example.

Continue reading “Open Source Self-Driving Smartphone Robot”

Linux Fu: The Linux Android Convergence

The Android phone that you carry in your pocket is basically a small computer running Linux. So why is it so hard to get to a usable Linux environment on your phone? If you could run Linux, you could turn your cell phone into an ultra-portable laptop replacement.

Of course, the obvious approach is just to root the phone and clean-slate install a Linux distribution on it. That’s pretty extreme and, honestly, you would probably lose a lot of phone function unless you go with a Linux-specific phone like the PinePhone. However, using an installer called AnLinux, along with a terminal program and a VNC client, you can get a workable setup without nuking your phone’s OS, or even having root access. Let’s see what we can do. Continue reading “Linux Fu: The Linux Android Convergence”

Upgraded Infotainment Options On A 14 Year Old Mercedes

It used to be that upgrading a car stereo was fairly simple. There were only a few mechanical sizes and you could find kits to connect power, antennas, and speakers. Now, though, the car stereo has interfaces to steering wheel controls, speed sensors, rear-view cameras, and more. [RND_ASH] was tired of his 14-year-old system so he took an Android head unit, a tablet, and an Arduino, and made everything work as it was supposed to.

The key is to interface with the vehicle’s CAN bus which is a sort of local area network for the vehicle. Instead of having lots of wires running everywhere, today’s cars are more likely to have less wiring all shared with many devices.

Continue reading “Upgraded Infotainment Options On A 14 Year Old Mercedes”

Google Turns Android Up To 11 With Latest Update

Just going by the numbers, it’s a pretty safe bet that most Hackaday readers own an Android device. Even if Google’s mobile operating system isn’t running on your primary smartphone, there’s a good chance it’s on your tablet, e-reader, smart TV, car radio, or maybe even your fridge. Android is everywhere, and while the development of this Linux-based OS has been rocky at times, the general consensus is that it seems to have been moving in the right direction over the last few years. Assuming your devices actually get the latest and greatest update, anyway.

So it’s not much of a surprise that Android 11, which was officially released yesterday, isn’t a huge update. There’s no fundamental changes in the core OS, because frankly, there’s really not a whole lot that really needs changing. Android has become mature enough that from here on out we’re likely to just see bug fixes and little quality of life improvements. Eventually Google will upset the apple cart (no pun intended) with a completely new mobile OS, but we’re not there yet.

Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t some interesting changes in Android 11. Or more specifically, changes that may actually be of interest to the average Hackaday reader. Let’s take a look at a handful of changes and tweaks worth noting for the more technical crowd.

Continue reading “Google Turns Android Up To 11 With Latest Update”