Ask Hackaday: How Would You Detect A Marauding Drone?

The last few days have seen drone stories in the news, as London’s Gatwick airport remained closed for a couple of days amid a spate of drone reports. The police remained baffled, arrested a couple who turned out to be blameless, and finally admitted that there was a possibility the drone could not have existed at all. It emerged that a problem with the investigation lay in there being no means to detect a drone beyond the eyesight of people on the ground, and as we have explored in these pages already, eyewitness reports are not always trustworthy.

Not much use against a small and mostly plastic multirotor. Sixflashphoto [CC BY-SA 4.0]
Not much use against a small and mostly plastic multirotor. Sixflashphoto [CC BY-SA 4.0]

Radar Can’t See Them

It seems odd at first sight, that a 21st century airport lacks the ability to spot a drone in the air above it, but a few calls to friends of Hackaday in the business made it clear that drones are extremely difficult to spot using the radar systems on a typical airport. A system designed to track huge metal airliners at significant altitude is not suitable for watching tiny mostly-plastic machines viewed side-on at the low altitudes. We’re told at best an intermittent trace appears, but for the majority of drones there is simply no trace on a radar screen.

We’re sure that some large players in the world of defence radar are queueing up to offer multi-million-dollar systems to airports worldwide, panicked into big spending by the Gatwick story, but idle hackerspace chat on the matter makes us ask the question: Just how difficult would it be to detect a drone in flight over an airport? A quick Google search reveals multiple products purporting to be drone detectors, but wouldn’t airports such as Gatwick already be using them if they were any good? The Hackaday readership never fail to impress us with their ingenuity, so how would you do it?

Can You Hear What You Can’t See?

It’s easy to pose that question as a Hackaday scribe, so to get the ball rolling here’s my first thought on how I’d do it. I always hear a multirotor and look up to see it, so I’d take the approach of listening for the distinctive sound of multirotor propellers. Could the auditory signature of high-RPM brushless motors be detected amidst the roar of sound near airports?

I’m imagining a network of Rasberry Pi boards each with a microphone attached, doing some real-time audio spectrum analysis to spot the likely frequency signature of the drone. Of course it’s easy to just say that as a hardware person with a background in the publishing business, so would a software specialist take that tack too? Or would you go for a radar approach, or perhaps even an infra-red one? Could you sense the heat signature of a multirotor, as their parts become quite hot in flight?

Whatever you think might work as a drone detection system, give it a spin in the comments. We’d suggest that people have the confidence to build something, and maybe even enter it in the Hackaday Prize when the time comes around. Come on, what have you got to lose!

Ask Hackaday: What Is The Future Of Implanted Electronics?

Biohacking is the new frontier. In just a few years, millions of people will have implanted RFID chips under the skin between their thumb and index finger. Already, thousands of people in Sweden have chipped themselves to make their daily lives easier. With a tiny electronic implant, Swedish rail passengers can pay their train ticket, and it goes without saying how convenient opening an RFID lock is without having to pull out your wallet.

That said, embedding RFID chips under the skin has been around for decades; my thirteen-year-old cat has had a chip since he was a kitten. Despite being around for a very, very long time, modern-day cyborgs are rare. The fact that only thousands of people are using chips on a train is a newsworthy event. There simply aren’t many people who would find the convenience of opening locks with a wave of a hand worth the effort of getting chipped.

Why hasn’t the most popular example of biohacking caught on? Why aren’t more people getting chipped? Is it because no one wants to be branded with the Mark of the Beast? Are the reasons for a dearth of biohacking more subtle? That’s what we’re here to find out, so we’re asking you: what is the future of implanted electronics?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What Is The Future Of Implanted Electronics?”

Ask Hackaday: What’s in Your Digital Bugout Bag?

Your eyes pop open in the middle of the night, darting around the darkened bedroom as you wonder why you woke up. Had you heard something? Or was that a dream? The matter is settled with loud pounding on the front door. Heart racing as you see blue and red lights playing through the window, you open the door to see a grim-faced police officer standing there. “There’s been a hazardous materials accident on the highway,” he intones. “We need to completely evacuate this neighborhood. Gather what you need and be ready to leave in 15 minutes.”

Most people will live their entire lives without a scenario like this playing out, but such things happen all the time. Whether the disaster du jour is man-made or natural, the potential to need to leave in a big hurry is very real, and it pays to equip yourself to survive such an ordeal. The primary tool for this is the so-called “bugout bag,” a small backpack for each family member that contains the essentials — clothing, food, medications — to survive for 72 hours away from home.

A bugout bag can turn a forced evacuation from a personal emergency into a minor inconvenience, as those at greatest risk well know — looking at you, Tornado Alley. But in our connected world, perhaps it pays to consider updating the bugout bag to include the essentials of our online lives, those cyber-needs that we’d be hard-pressed to live without for very long. What would a digital bugout bag look like?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: What’s in Your Digital Bugout Bag?”

Ask Hackaday: Preserving Electronic Devices

Conventional wisdom holds that we no longer make things to last for the long haul, and that we live in a disposable world. It’s understandable — after all, most of us have a cell phone in our pocket that’s no more than a year or two old, and it’s often cheaper to buy a new printer than replace the ink cartridges. But most of that disposability is driven by market forces, like new software that makes a device obsolete long before it breaks down, or the razor and blades model that makes you pay through the nose for ink. It turns out that most electronic devices are actually pretty well engineered, and as long as they’re not abused can still be operating decades down the road.

But what happens when you want to put an electromechanical device away and preserve it for a rainy day? What can you do to make sure the device will operate again a few years down the road? Are there steps one can take beyond the typical “keep it in a cool, dry place” advice? In short, how do you preserve electronic devices?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Preserving Electronic Devices”

Ask Hackaday: How Small is Your Shop?

Electronics, metalwork, carpentry, sewing — however you express your inner hacker, you’ve got to have a place to work. Most of us start out small, assembling projects on the kitchen table, or sharing space on a computer desk. But eventually, if we’re lucky, we all move on to some kind of dedicated space. My first “shop” was a corner of the basement my Dad used for his carpentry projects. He built me what seemed at the time like a huge bench but was probably only about five feet long. Small was fine with me, though, and on that bench I plotted and planned and drew schematics and had my first real lesson in why you don’t reach for a soldering iron without looking first. My thumb still bears that scar as a reminder.

Many of us outgrow that first tiny space eventually, as projects (and accumulated junk) outpace the available space. Some of us go on to build workspaces to die for; personally, I feel wholly inadequate whenever I see Frank Howarth’s immense wood shop, with its high ceilings, huge windows for natural light, and what amounts to a loading dock. Whenever I see it I think The work I could do in there!

Or could I? Is bigger necessarily better when it comes to workspaces? Would more space make me a better craftsman?

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: How Small is Your Shop?”

Ask Hackaday: SawStop — Bastion of Safety or Patent Troll

At first glance, SawStop seems like a hacker’s dream. A garage tinkerer comes up with a great idea, builds a product around it, and the world becomes a better place. As time has gone on, other companies have introduced similar products. Recently, SawStop successfully stopped Bosch from importing saws equipped with their Reaxx safety system into the USA. This not only impacts sales of new saws, but parts for existing equipment. Who gets screwed here? Unfortunately, it’s the owners of the Bosch saws, who now have a safety feature they might not be able to use in the future. This has earned some bad press for SawStop in forums and on websites like Reddit, where users have gone as far as to call SawStop a patent troll. Is that true or just Internet puffery? Read on and decide for yourself.

Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: SawStop — Bastion of Safety or Patent Troll”

Ask Hackaday: How Does This Air Particle Sensor Work?

The hardware coming out of [Dr. Peter Jansen]’s lab is the craziest stuff you can imagine. He’s built a CT scanner out of plywood, and an MRI machine out of many, many turns of enamel wire. Perhaps his best-known build is his Tricorder – a real, all-sensing device with permission from the estate of [Gene Roddenberry] to use the name. [Peter]’s tricorder was one of the finalists for the first Hackaday Prize, but that doesn’t mean he’s stopped working on it. Sensors are always getting better, and by sometime in the 23rd century, he’ll be able to fit a neutrino detector inside a tiny hand-held device.

One of the new sensors [Peter] is working with is the MAX30105 air particle sensor. The marketing materials for this chip say it’s designed for smoke detectors and fire alarms, but this is really one of the smallest dust and particle sensors on the market. If you want a handheld device that detects dust, this should be the chip you’re looking at.

Unfortunately, Maxim is being very, very tight-lipped about how this particle sensor works. There is a way to get access to raw particle counts and the underlying algorithms, and Maxim is more than willing to sell those algorithms through a third-party distributor. That’s simply not how we do things around here, so [Peter] is looking for someone with a fancy particle sensor to collect a few hours of data so he can build a driver for this chip.

Here’s what we know about the MAX30105 air particle sensor. There are three LEDs inside this chip (red, IR, and green), and an optical sensor underneath a piece of glass. The chip drives the LEDs, light reflects off smoke particles, and enters the optical sensor. From there, magic algorithms turn this into a number corresponding to a particle count. [Peter]’s hackaday.io log for this project has tons of data, math, and statistics on the data that comes out of this sensor. He’s also built a test rig to compare this sensor with other particle sensors (the DSM501A and Sharp sensors). The data from the Maxim sensor looks good, but it’s not good enough for a Tricorder. This is where you, o reader of Hackaday, come in.

[Peter] is looking for someone with access to a fancy particle sensor to collect a few hours worth of data with this Maxim sensor in a test rig. Once that’s done, a few statistical tests should be enough to verify the work done so far and build a driver for this sensor. Then, [Peter] will be able to play around with this sensor and hopefully make a very cheap but very accurate air particle sensor that should be hanging on the wall of your shop.