Ask Hackaday: How Would You Build This Flight Tracker For Kids?

You’ve got to hand it to marketers – they really know how to make you want something. All it takes is a little parental guilt, a bit of technical magic, and bam, you’re locked into a product you never knew you needed.

This prototype flight tracking nightlight for kids is a great example. Currently under development by Canadian airline WestJet, the idea is to provide a way for traveling parents to let kids know how long it is until Mommy or Daddy gets home from their trip. The prototype shows a stylized jet airliner with Neopixel lighting in the base. A pair of projectors in the wings shine an animated flight path on the child’s darkened bedroom ceiling, showing them when the wayward parent will return. Get past the schmaltz in the video below, and perhaps get over your jealousy of parents with kids who still eagerly await their return, and it’s actually a pretty good idea.

Now for the ask: how would you go about building something like this? And more importantly, how would you make it work for any plane, train, or automobile trip, and not just a WestJet flight? A look at the “How it will work” section of the page shows several photos of the prototype, which suggests the hardware end is dead easy. A Raspberry Pi Zero W features prominently, and the projectors appear to be TI’s DLP2000EVM, which we’ve featured before, mounted to a riser card. The Neopixels, a 3D-printed case, and the superfluous flashlight fuselage would be pretty easy, too.

On the software side, a generic version that tracks flight from any airline would need an interface for the traveler to define a flight, and something to check an API like FlightAware’s, or similar ones for whatever mode of transportation you’re using.

Seems like a pretty straightforward project. WestJet claims they’ll have their Flight Light ready sometime this summer; think we can beat them to it?

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A Farewell To YouTube Sub Counters Set To Break With API Change

Of all the things you never would have guessed you’d need just ten years ago, a YouTube subscriber counter would probably rank highly. You would have guessed that the little hits of dopamine accompanying each tick upward of a number would be so addictive?

As it turns out, lots of people wanted to keep a running total of their online fans, and a bewilderingly varied ecosystem of subscriber counters has cropped up. All of them rely on the API that YouTube exposes for such purposes, which as [Brian Lough] points out is about to change and break every subscription counter ever made. In the YouTube sub counter space, [Brian] is both an enabler – he built an Arduino wrapper to fetch YT sub counts easily – and a serial builder of displays for other YouTubers. The video below shows a collection of his work, many based on RGB LED matrix display, like the one used in his Tetris-themed sub counter. They’re all well-built, nice to look at, and sadly, destined for obsolescence sometime in August when the API changes.

The details of the API changes were made public in April, and for the subs count it amounts to rounding the count and displaying large counts as, for instance, 510k as opposed to 510,023. We’re confident that [Brian] and other display builders will be able to salvage some of their counters with code changes, but others will probably require hardware changes. Thanks, YouTube.

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Measure Your YouTube Importance

How do you hack your motivation? Do you put red marker Xs on a paper calendar every day you exercise? Do you use an egg timer to sprint through dozens of emails? Do you lock all the doors and shut off your data to write some bulletproof code? If you are [Hulk], you build a YouTube Desktop Notifier showing his YouTube subscribers and views. This is his ticket to getting off the couch to make a video about just such a device. There is something poetic about building a mechanism to monitor its own success making a feedback loop of sorts. The Hackaday.io page follows the video, so anyone who wants to build their own doesn’t have to scribble notes while pausing the video which is also posted below the break.

The hardware list is logical, starting with a NodeMCU module programmed through the Arduino IDE. Addressable 7-segment displays show the statistics in red, but you can sub in your preferred color with the back-lighting LEDs. It should be possible to share the CLK pins on the displays if you are important enough to need more digits. [Hulk] already outlined a list of improvements including switching to addressable backlights and adding daily and monthly tracking.

Monitoring online values without a computer monitor is satisfying on a level because it shows what motivates us, whether that is Bitcoin or the weather.

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Building A Simple Python API For Internet Of Things Gadgets

It’s no secret that I rather enjoy connecting things to the Internet for fun and profit. One of the tricks I’ve learned along the way is to spin up simple APIs that can be used when prototyping a project. It’s easy to do, and simple to understand so I’m happy to share what has worked for me, using Web2Py as the example (with guest appearances from ESP8266 and NodeMCU).

Barring the times I’m just being silly, there are two reasons I might do this. Most commonly I’ll need to collect data from a device, typically to be stored for later analysis but occasionally to trigger some action on a server in the cloud. Less commonly, I’ll need a device to change its behavior based on instructions received via the Internet.

Etherscan is an example of an API that saves me a lot of work, letting me pull data from Ethereum using a variety of devices.

In the former case, my first option has always been to use IoT frameworks like Thingsboard or Ubidots to receive and display data. They have the advantage of being easy to use, and have rich features. They can even react to data and send instruction back to devices. In the latter case, I usually find myself using an application programming interface (API) – some service open on the Internet that my device can easily request data from, for example the weather, blockchain transactions, or new email notifications.

Occasionally, I end up with a type of data that requires processing or is not well structured for storage on these services, or else I need a device to request data that is private or that no one is presently offering. Most commonly, I need to change some parameter in a few connected devices without the trouble of finding them, opening all the cases, and reprogramming them all.

At these times it’s useful to be able to build simple, short-lived services that fill in these gaps during prototyping. Far from being a secure or consumer-ready product, we just need something we can try out to see if an idea is worth developing further. There are many valid ways to do this, but my first choice is Web2Py, a relatively easy to use open-source framework for developing web applications in Python. It supports both Python 2.7 and 3.0, although we’ll be using Python 3 today.

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Slack On The SNES Via Satellite

We love seeing hardware and software from bygone eras getting a new lease on life through modern hacks, as longtime readers can surely attest to. Why leave this stuff to rot in a closet somewhere when it can be pushed into service today? Granted it might not always be the most efficient way to accomplish a task in the 21st century, but at least you’ll net some precious Internet Points for originality.

As a perfect example, take a look at this project which lets you read Slack messages through a Super Nintendo game. If your first thought was that such a thing would involve an unreasonable amount of effort and hoop jumping…then you would be correct. [Bertrand Fan] really had to think outside the box to make this one happen, and even admits a bit of imagination is required on the part of the end-user to use it. But it’s undeniably an original approach, so we hereby bestow the customary Internet Points unto him.

So how does this work, and where do the satellites come in? The key is in a fairly obscure Japanese SNES peripheral called the Satellaview, one of Nintendo’s early attempts at creating an online content delivery system for their consoles. Games designed with Satellaview support would be able to pull down new content from regular satellite broadcasts, not too bad for 1995. This means that if you have the hardware, and happen to own a satellite, you can push your own content into an unmodified SNES. No problem, right?

Alright, [Bertrand] didn’t really use a Satellaview modem plugged into an actual SNES. Plus we’re fairly sure he doesn’t have his own satellite network to broadcast Slack messages with anyway. But it turns out some SNES emulators have support for a virtual Satellaview modem, and there’s even software out there that will let you create new content “downloads” for the system’s included game: BS-X: The Story of The Town Whose Name Was Stolen. All he had to do was connect the dots.

[Bertrand] started by stripping the user interface out of SatellaWave, an open source tool for creating Satellaview content, so that it only need to be provided with an XML file of the content to be “downloaded” by the virtual satellite modem. Using the Slack API, he then came up with way to pull the last 10 messages from a server and push them into his modified version of SatellaWave. Each time somebody posts a new message his software kicks in to produce a new satellite download which automatically gets picked up by the SNES emulator and pops up in the game.

If this is still too practical for you, you can always go all in and run Slack on your Commodore 64.

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FOSSCON 2018: Hacking The Indego Bike Sharing API

It’s often said that necessity of the mother of invention, but as a large portion of the projects we cover here at Hackaday can attest, curiosity has to at least be its step-mother. Not every project starts with a need, sometimes it’s just about understanding how something works. That desire we’ve all felt from time to time, when we’ve looked at some obscure piece of hardware or technology and decided that the world would be a slightly better place if we cracked it open and looked at what spilled out.

That’s precisely the feeling Eric O’Callaghan had when he looked out the window of his Philadelphia apartment a few years back and saw something unusual. Seemingly overnight, they had built an automated Indego bike sharing station right across the street. Seeing the row of light blue bicycles sitting in their electronic docks, he wondered how the system worked, and what kind of data they might be collecting. He didn’t need to rent a bike, he hadn’t even ridden one in years, but he suddenly had a strong urge to go across the street and learn as much as he could about this system.

He recently presented those findings during FOSSCON 2018 at the International House in Philadelphia, in the hopes that others might be interested in getting involved. Currently Eric is one of the only people who’s investigating the public data Indego offers, and as his personal MySQL database has now surpassed 15 million rows of data, he’s hoping to get some developers with big data experience into the fray. His approach to making this data useful is an interesting one which I’ll dive into after the break.

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Custom Split-Flap Display Is A Unique Way To Show The Weather

There’s little doubt about the charms of a split-flap display. Watching a display build up a clear, legible message by flipping cards can be mesmerizing, whether on a retro clock radio from the 70s or as part of a big arrival and departure display at an airport or train station. But a weather station with a split-flap display? That’s something you don’t see often.

We usually see projects using split-flap units harvested from some kind of commercial display, but [gabbapeople] decided to go custom and build these displays from the ground up. The frame and mechanicals for each display are made from laser-cut acrylic, as are the flip-card halves. Each cell can display a full alphanumeric character set on 36 cards, with each display driven by its own stepper. An Arduino fetches current conditions from a weather API and translates the description of the weather into a four-character code. The codes shown in the video below seem a little cryptic, but the abbreviation list posted with the project makes things a bit clearer. Bonus points if you can figure out what “HMOO” is without looking at the list.

We like the look and feel of this, but we wonder if split-flap icons might be a neat way to display weather too. It seems like it would be easy enough to do with [gabbapeople]’s detailed instructions. Or you could always look at one of the many other custom split-flap displays we’ve featured for more inspiration.

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