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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Location Sharing with Google Home

With Google’s near-monopoly on the internet, it can be difficult to get around in cyberspace without encountering at least some aspect of this monolithic, data-gathering giant. It usually takes a concerted effort, but it is technically possible to do. While [Mat] is still using some Google products, he has at least figured out a way to get Google Home to work with location data without actually sharing that data with Google, which is a step in the right direction.

[Mat]’s goal was to use Google’s location sharing features through Google Home, but without the creepiness factor of Google knowing everything about his life, and also without the hassle of having to use Google Maps. He’s using a few things to pull this off, including a NodeRED server running on a Raspberry Pi Zero, a free account from If This Then That (IFTTT), Tasker with AutoRemote plugin, and the Google Maps API key. With all of that put together, and some configuration of IFTTT he can ask his Google assistant (or Google Home) for location data, all without sharing that data with Google.

This project is a great implementation of Google’s tools and a powerful use of IFTTT. And, as a bonus, it gets around some of the creepiness factor that Google tends to incorporate in their quest to know all the data.

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Accessing Blockchain on ESP8266 Using the NodeMCU Board

Blockchains claim to be public, distributed, effectively immutable ledgers. Unfortunately, they also tend to get a little bit huge – presently the Bitcoin blockchain is 194GB and Ethereum weighs in at 444GB. That poses quite an inconvenience for me, as I was looking at making some fun ‘Ethereum blockchain aware’ gadgets and that’s several orders of magnitude too much data to deal with on a microcontroller, not to mention the bandwidth cost if using 3G.

Having imagined a thin device that I could integrate into my mobile phone cover (or perhaps… a wallet?) dealing with the whole blockchain was clearly not a possibility. I could use a VPS or router to efficiently download the necessary data and respond to queries, but even that seemed like a lot of overhead, so I investigated available APIs.

As it turns out, several blockchain explorers offer APIs that do what I want. My efforts get an ESP8266 involved with the blockchain began with two of the available APIs: Ethplorer and Etherscan.

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Bargain Bin Barcode Scanner Keeps Track Of Shopping Needs

For most people, a Post-It note or dry-erase board suffices to ensure that household consumables are replenished when they’re used up. But hackers aren’t like most people, so this surplus barcode scanner turned kitchen inventory manager comes as little surprise. After all, if something is worth doing, it’s worth overdoing.

[Brian Carrigan]’s project began with a chance discovery of an old barcode scanner in his local scrap store. Questions as to why we can never find bargains like a $500 scanner for six bucks aside, [Brian] took the scanner home for a bit of reverse engineering. He knew it used RS-232 but it had been unceremoniously ripped from its connectors, so identifying pins took some detective work. With power and data worked out and the scanner talking to a Raspberry Pi, [Brian] set about integrating it into Wunderlist,  a cloud-based list management app. Now when someone eats the last Twinkie, a quick scan of the package looks up the product name via an API call to the UPC database and posts it to Wunderlist. And we’ll bet the red laser beams bouncing around the kitchen make a great nightlight too.

With smartphone barcode reading apps, this might seem a bit like overkill, but we like it just the same. And if barcodes leave you baffled, check out our introduction to these studies in black and white that adorn just about everything.

GuerillaClock Could Save This City Thousands

They say necessity is the mother of invention. But if the thing you need has already been invented but is extremely expensive, another mother of invention might be budget overruns. That was the case when [klinstifen]’s local government decided to put in countdown clocks at bus stops, at a whopping $25,000 per clock. Thinking that was a little extreme, he decided to build his own with a much smaller price tag.

The project uses a Raspberry Pi Zero W as its core, and a 16×32 RGB LED matrix for a display. Some of the work is done already, since the bus system has an API that is readily available for use. The Pi receives the information about bus schedules through this API and, based on its location, is able to determine the next bus arrival time and display it on the LED matrix. With the custom 3D printed enclosure and all of the other material, the cost of each clock is only $100, more than two orders of magnitude less expensive.

Hopefully the local government takes a hint from [klinstifen] and decides to use a more sane solution. In the meantime, you might be able to build your own mass transit clock that you can use inside your own house, rather than at the train station, if you’re someone who has a hard time getting to the bus stop on time.

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Internet of Things Opens Possibilities

While a lot of hardware gets put on the “Internet of Things” with only marginal or questionable benefits (or with hilariously poor security), every now and then a project makes use of this new platform in a way that illustrates the strengths of IoT. [ThingEngineer] turned to this platform as a cost-effective solution for an automatic gate, since new keyfobs were too expensive and a keypad was not an option.

Using an Electric IMP, [ThingEngineer] began by installing his IoT patch into the LiftMaster gate control box. This particular gate has easily accessible points that the controller can access to determine the gate’s status, so from there, an API was written to do the heavy lifting. A web server was deployed as well, so anyone with access can use a smartphone or other device to open the gate.

For anyone else looking to deploy a similar IoT solution, [ThingEngineer] has put all of the project code, schematics, and a thorough write-up about the project on his GitHub page. There are many useful ways to get on board the Internet of Things, though; so many that it’s been possible to win a substantial prize for using it in a creative way.