MIDI Controller In A Concertina Looks Sea Shanty-Ready

Did you know that the English concertina, that hand-pumped bellows instrument favored by sailors both legitimate and piratical in the Age of Sail, was invented by none other than [Sir Charles Wheatstone]? We didn’t, but [Dave Ehnebuske] knew that the venerable English gentleman was tickling the keys of his instrument nearly two decades before experimenting with the bridge circuit that would bear his name.

This, however, is not the reason [Dave] built a MIDI controller in the form of an English concertina. That has more to do with the fact that he already knows how to play one, they’re relatively easy to build, and it’s a great form factor for a MIDI controller. A real concertina has a series of reeds that vibrate as air from the hand bellows is directed over them by valves controlled by a forest of keys. [Dave]’s controller apes that form, with two wind boxes made from laser-cut plywood connected by a bellows made from cardboard, Tyvek, and nylon fabric. The keys are non-clicky Cherry MX-types that are scanned by a Bluefeather microcontroller. To provide some control over expression, [Dave] included a pressure sensor, which alters the volume of the notes played depending on how hard he pushes the bellows. The controller talks MIDI over Bluetooth, and you can hear it in action below.

We’ve seen MIDI controllers in just about everything, from a pair of skate shoes to a fidget spinner. But this is the first time we’ve seen one done up like this. Great job, [Dave]!

Continue reading “MIDI Controller In A Concertina Looks Sea Shanty-Ready”

Which Wireless Is Right Wireless?

Back in the early days of Arduino proliferation (and before you ask, yes we realize there was a time before that too), wireless was a strange and foreign beast. IR communication was definitely a thing. And if you had the funds there was this cool technology called ZigBee that was available, often in funny blue house-shaped XBee boards. With even more funds and a stomach for AT commands you could even bolt on a 2G cell radio for unlimited range. WiFi existed too, but connecting it to a hobbyist ecosystem of boards was a little hairier (though maybe not for our readership).

But as cell phones pushed demand for low power wireless forward and the progression of what would become the Internet of marking Terms (the IoT, of course) began, a proliferation of options appeared for wireless communication. Earlier this week we came across a great primer on some of the major wireless technologies which was put together by Digikey earlier in the year. Let’s not bury the lede. This table is the crux of the piece:

There are some neat entries here that are a little less common (and our old friend, the oft-maligned and never market-penetrating ZigBee). It’s actually even missing some entries. Let’s break it down:

  • Extremely short range: Just NFC. Very useful for transferring small amount of sensitive information slowly, or things with high location-relevance (like between phones that are touching).
  • Short range: BLE, Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc. Handy for so-called Personal Area Networks and home-scale systems.
  • Medium/long range: Wifi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, LoRaWAN: Sometimes stretching for a kilometer or more in open spaces. Useful for everything from emitting tweets to stitching together a mesh network across a forrest, as long as there are enough nodes. Some of these are also useful at shorter range.
  • Very Long range/rangeless: Sigfox, NB-IoT, LTE Category-0. Connect anywhere, usually with some sort of subscription for network access. Rangeless in the sense that range is so long you use infrastructure instead of hooking a radio up to a Raspberry Pi under your desk. Though LoRa can be a fun exception to that.

You’re unlikely to go from zero to custom wireless solution without getting down into the mud with the available dev boards for a few different common protocols, but which ones? The landscape has changed so rapidly over the years, it’s easy to get stuck in one comfortable technology and miss the appearance of the next big thing (like how LoRaWAN is becoming new cool kid these days). This guide is a good overview to help catch you up and help decide which dev kits are worth a further look. But of course we still want to hear from you below about your favorite wireless gems — past, present, and future — that didn’t make it into the list (we’re looking at you 433 MHz).

Turning A Tile Into A Car Tracker

A Tile is a small Bluetooth device which you can put on your keychain, for example, so that you can find your keys using an app on your phone. Each Tile’s battery life expectancy is one year and after that year you’re expected to trade it in at a discount for a new one. Right away your hacker senses are tingling and you know what’s coming.

Hacked tile with buck converter
Hacked tile with buck converter

[Luis Rodriguez] had switched to Samsung SmartThings and had accumulated box of these Tiles with dead batteries. So he decided a fun project would be to put a Tile in his wife’s car to track it. Given that it’s using Bluetooth, the range isn’t great for car tracking, but the Tile’s app can network with other user’s apps to widen the search area.

Since the Tile’s battery was dead, he cracked it open and soldered wires to its power terminals. He then found a handy 12 volt source in the car and added a DC to DC buck converter to step the voltage down to the Tile’s 3 volts. Finding a home for the hacked tracker was no problem for [Luis]. He was already using an ODB-II dongle for a dash cam so he tapped into the 12 V rail on that.

You’ll be surprised what you can find by hacking these small tracking devices. Here’s an example of hacking of a fitness tracker with all sorts of goodies inside.

Our thanks to [Maave] for tipping us off about this hack.

This Smart Pill Uses A Stomach Acid Battery

[Curt White] is working on a smart pill whose copper-zinc battery will use his own stomach acid as the electrolyte. It’s not that unusual of an idea, MIT tested a similar approach in a pig. It’s also better than using lithium ion batteries, something we covered in this PSA.

Smartpill circuit diagram
Smartpill circuit diagram

His starting point is a small, hacked activity tracker with its Nordic nRF51822 ARM Cortex-M0 and Bluetooth LE SoC. Most everything else is removed. The battery electrodes are sewn onto a plastic mesh cut to the activity tracker’s dimensions. Three coin type super capacitors and a boost converter sit between the battery and the SoC.

He uses the Bluetooth LE for communication, sort of. BLE devices constantly transmit information about themselves and it’s this which you see when scanning for available devices. Included in that transmission is a UUID (Universally Unique Identifier) and a name (e.g. “smartpillxyz”). He has the pill transmit data by putting it in that name. This saves power by minimizing the time which the pill’s Bluetooth radio is turned on. The smartphone app extracts the data from these transmissions without ever connecting.

His goal is to monitor the voltage and the maximum current. This will tell him if his stomach acid battery works and what can be powered by it. First tests will use regurgitated gastric fluid and then later he’ll swallow the pill himself. As he puts it, why not, “people swallow and pass all kinds of weird stuff without a problem.” Thay may sound cavalier but judging by his hackaday.io page, he’s doing his homework.

A Well-Chronicled Adventure In Tiny Robotics

Some of us get into robotics dreaming of big heavy metal, some of us go in the opposite direction to build tiny robots scurrying around our tabletops. Our Hackaday.io community has no shortage of robots both big and small, each an expression of its maker’s ideals. For 2018 Hackaday Prize, [Bill Weiler] entered his vision in the form of Project Johnson Tiny Robot.

[Bill] is well aware of the challenges presented by working at a scale this small. (If he wasn’t before, he certainly is now…) Forging ahead with his ideas on how to build a tiny robot, and it’ll be interesting to see how they pan out. Though no matter the results, he has already earned our praise for setting aside the time to document his progress in detail and share his experience with the community. We can all follow along with his discoveries, disappointments, and triumphs. Learning about durometer scale in the context of rubber-band tires. Exploring features and limitations of Bluetooth hardware and writing code for said hardware. Debugging problems in the circuit board. And of course the best part – seeing prototypes assembled and running around!

As of this writing, [Bill] had just completed assembly of his V2 prototype which highlighted some issues for further development. Given his trend of documenting and sharing, soon we’ll be able to read about diagnosing the problems and how they’ll be addressed. It’s great to have a thoroughly documented project and we warmly welcome his robot to the ranks of cool tiny robots of Hackaday.io.

Mission Impossible: Infiltrating Furby

Long before things “went viral” there was always a few “must have” toys each year that were in high demand. Cabbage Patch Kids, Transformers, or Teddy Ruxpin would cause virtual hysteria in parents trying to score a toy for a holiday gift. In 1998, that toy was a Furby — a sort of talking robot pet. You can still buy Furby, and as you might expect a modern one — a Furby Connect — is Internet-enabled and much smarter than previous versions. While the Furby has always been a target for good hacking, anything Internet-enabled can be a target for malicious hacking, as well. [Context Information Security] decided to see if they could take control of your kid’s robotic pet.

Thet Furby Connect’s path to the Internet is via BLE to a companion phone device. The phone, in turn, talks back to Hasbro’s (the toy’s maker) Amazon Web Service servers. The company sends out new songs, games, and dances. Because BLE is slow, the transfers occur in the background during normal toy operation.

Continue reading “Mission Impossible: Infiltrating Furby”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Powered Running Stroller Keeps You Running

Types of strollers called ‘running strollers’ exist to make it possible to bring your toddlers along for your run but try it with two four-year old, 38 lb young ones, against the wind, and up enough hills and you’ll quickly lose steam. [Andrew Clink]’s and his wife’s solution? Modify the stroller to be a self-powered roadrunner.

[Andrew]’s hackaday.io build logs are detailed, including design, calculations, schematics, 3D printing files, fails and retries, and more. Power is provided by a bank of lithium-ion batteries that drive a brushless motor. The motor turns the stroller’s front wheel using a toothed belt around a small motor pulley and a larger 3D printed wheel pulley, providing a 13.92:1 gear ratio. [Andrew] considered a number of methods for steering, and even tried a few, but given that his paths are mostly straight lines, small adjustments by hand are all that’s needed. For the possibility of the stroller getting away from him for whatever reason, [Andrew] wrote an iOS app for his phone that makes use of the Bluetooth LE Proximity profile (PDF). It communicates with a small remote using an nRF8001 Bluetooth connectivity IC and for added safety has a belt clip and a stop button.

Does it work? See for yourself in the video below. We’re sure [Andrew] and his wife will continue to be fit for a long time to come.

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: Powered Running Stroller Keeps You Running”