Escher: Etch-a-Sketch As A Service

For better or for worse, the tech world has fully committed to pushing as many of their products into “The Cloud” as possible. Of course, readers of Hackaday see right through the corporate buzzwords. It’s all just a fancy way of saying you have to poke some server over the Internet every time you want to use the service. In a way, [Matt Welsh] has perfectly demonstrated this concept with Escher. It’s a normal Etch-a-Sketch, but since somebody else owns it and you’ve got to have an active Internet connection to use it, that makes it an honorary citizen of the Cloud.

Escher takes the form of a 3D printed mount and replacement knobs for the classic drawing toy that allow two NEMA 17 steppers to stand in for human hands. Thanks to the clever design, [Matt] can easily pull the Etch-a-Sketch out and use it the old fashioned way, though admittedly the ergonomics of holding onto the geared knobs might take a little getting used to. But who wants to use their hands, anyway?

In terms of the electronics, the star of the show is the the Adafruit Feather HUZZAH32 development board, paired with a motor controller that can provide 12 V to the steppers. [Matt] even went through the trouble of making a custom voltage regulator PCB that steps down the stepper’s voltage to 5 V for the Feather. Totally unnecessary, just how we like it.

For the software folks in the audience, [Matt] goes into considerable detail about how he got his hardware talking to the web with Google Firebase. Even if the Internet of Sketches doesn’t quite tickle your fancy, we imagine his deep-dive on pushing G-Code files from the browser into the Feather will surely be of interest.

It probably will come as little surprise to hear this isn’t the first automatic Etch-a-Sketch that’s graced these pages over the years, but this might be the most fully realized version we’ve seen yet.

Best Buy’s IoT Goes Dark, Leaving Some “Smart” Products Dumbfounded

Bad news if you bought several Insignia-branded smart devices from Best Buy. The company has decided to shut down the back end systems that make them work — or at least work as a smart device. On the chopping block are smart outlets, switches, a security camera, and an upright freezer. If you bought, say, the freezer, it will still keep things cold. But the security camera will apparently be of no use at all now that the backend systems have gone dark. The company is offering an unspecified partial refund to users of the affected devices.

Best Buy announced this in September, and the shutdown date was last week on November 6th. Not all Insignia products are impacted, just the ones that rely on their app.

Anytime we talk about cloud-based technology, there are always a few people who say something like, “I’ll never rely on anything in the cloud!” Perhaps they have a point — certainly in this case they were right. There are really two things to consider: hardware devices that rely on the cloud, and data that resides in the cloud. In some cases, one product — like a camera — might have both.

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EasyEDA Hack Chat With Dillon He

Join us Wednesday at 5:00 PM Pacific time for the Easy EDA Hack Chat with Dillon He!

Note the different time than our usual Hack Chat slot! Dillon will be joining us from China.

Since the birth of electronic design automation in the 1980s, the universe of products to choose from has grown tremendously. Features from schematic editing to circuit simulation to PCB design and autorouting can be found in every permutation imaginable, and you’re sure to find something that fits your needs, suits your budget, and works on your platform.

Dillon He started EasyEDA back in 2010 with Eric Cui, and since then the cloud-based EDA tool has become a popular choice. From working across teams to its “run anywhere” capabilities, EasyEDA has become the go-to tool for hundred of thousands of designers. Dillon will drop by the Hack Chat to answer all your questions about EasyEDA — how it started, where it is now, and what we can expect in the future.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, June 19 at 5:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

 

Arduino Enters The Cloud

Love it or hate it, for many people embedded systems means Arduino. Now Arduino is leveraging its more powerful MKR boards and introducing a cloud service, the Arduino IoT Cloud. The goal is to make it simple for Arduino programs to record data and control actions from the cloud.

The program is in beta and features a variety of both human and machine interaction styles. At the simple end, you can assemble a dashboard of controls and have the IoT Cloud generate your code and download it to your Arduino itself with no user programming required. More advanced users can use HTTP REST, MQTT, Javascript, Websockets, or a suite of command line tools.

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Digital License Plates Are Here, But Do We Need Them?

It’s a story as old as time: you need to swap between your custom license plates, but you can’t find a screwdriver and you’re already running late for a big meeting at the Business Factory. You called AAA to see if they could come out and do it for you, but as luck would have it something must be wrong with your phone because the line was disconnected as soon as you explained the situation. As if life in the First World couldn’t get any more difficult.

Luckily, a company called Reviver Auto has come up with a thoroughly modern solution to this age old problem. Assuming you live in Arizona, California, and Michigan and are willing to pay $800 USD (plus a small monthly service fee), you can join the Rplate revolution! Less a license plate and more of a “cool-looking, multi-functional digital display and connected vehicle platform”, the Rplate will ensure you never again find yourself stuck on the side of the road with an unfashionable license plate.

What’s that? You’ve had the same license plate for years, possibly decades, and have never given it much thought? Well, in that case the Rplate might be sort of a tough sell. Did we mention that someday you might be able to display the current weather on it while your car is parked? Of course, if you can see the license plate you’re already outside, so…

This all might sound like an out of season April Fool’s joke, but as far as I can tell from reading the Reviver Auto site and watching their promotional videos, this is essentially the value proposition of their line of Rplate digital license plates. There are some admittedly interesting potential extensions of the technology if they can convince other companies and systems to plug into their ecosystem, but given the cost of the Rplate and the few states in which it’s currently legal to use, that seems far from a given at this point.

But of course we’re fans of weird and wonderful technology here at Hackaday, so we should give this device a fair shake. On the surface it might seem to be a solution looking for a problem, but that’s often said of technology ahead of its time. So what exactly is the Rplate, how does it work, and where does it go from here?

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Amazon Thinks ARM Is Bigger Than Your Phone

As far as computer architectures go, ARM doesn’t have anything to be ashamed of. Since nearly every mobile device on the planet is powered by some member of the reduced instruction set computer (RISC) family, there’s an excellent chance these words are currently making their way to your eyes courtesy of an ARM chip. A userbase of several billion is certainly nothing to sneeze at, and that’s before we even take into account the myriad of other devices which ARM processors find their way into: from kid’s toys to smart TVs.

ARM is also the de facto architecture for the single-board computers which have dominated the hacking and making scene for the last several years. Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, ODROID, Tinker Board, etc. If it’s a small computer that runs Linux or Android, it will almost certainly be powered by some ARM variant; another market all but completely dominated.

It would be a fair to say that small devices, from set top boxes down to smartwatches, are today the domain of ARM processors. But if we’re talking about what one might consider “traditional” computers, such as desktops, laptops, or servers, ARM is essentially a non-starter. There are a handful of ARM Chromebooks on the market, but effectively everything else is running on x86 processors built by Intel or AMD. You can’t walk into a store and purchase an ARM desktop, and beyond the hackers who are using Raspberry Pis to host their personal sites, ARM servers are an exceptional rarity.

Or at least, they were until very recently. At the re:Invent 2018 conference, Amazon announced the immediate availability of their own internally developed ARM servers for their Amazon Web Services (AWS) customers. For many developers this will be the first time they’ve written code for a non-x86 processor, and while some growing pains are to be expected, the lower cost of the ARM instances compared to the standard x86 options seems likely to drive adoption. Will this be the push ARM needs to finally break into the server and potentially even desktop markets? Let’s take a look at what ARM is up against.

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Corporate Badgelife: Oracle’s Code Card

We tend to think of elaborate electronic conference badges as something limited to the hacker scene, but it looks like the badgelife movement is starting to hit the big time. Now even the “big boys” are getting into the act, and pretty soon you won’t be able to go to a stuffy professional conference without seeing a sea of RGB LEDs firing off. We’ll let the good readers of Hackaday determine if this means it’s officially post-cool or not.

[Noel Portugal] writes in to tell us about how he created the “Code Card” during his tenure with the Oracle Groundbreakers Team. Featuring an ESP8266 and an e-ink screen, the Code Card serves not only as swanky way of identifying yourself, but as a real-world demonstration of physical devices pulling content from Oracle’s Cloud. Gotta keep those corporate overlords happy.

The Code Card is a fairly simple piece of hardware as far as badges go these days, but then the goal was never to be flashy. It does feature dual four-pin Grove System connectors on the backside though, so you can plug in additional sensors and gadgets for the customary badge hacking sessions.

To maximize runtime on the rechargeable coin cell battery, the Code Card only turns on the ESP after the user has pressed one of the buttons on the front. Once the ESP has finished performing whatever task the user requested, its powered back off completely rather than put into standby. Combined with the e-ink screen, power consumption while the device isn’t actively updating the display or pulling down new content is negligible.

[Noel] really went all-out on the software side, going as far as developing a web application which let conference attendees configure their Code Cards from their smartphones. Different functions could be assigned to short and long presses on the badge’s two buttons, and users could even select icons for the various functions from a list of images included in the firmware. A feature where attendees could upload their own images didn’t make the cut, but that surely won’t stop people from hacking around in the published Arduino source code and figuring out how to do it manually.

If you think the Code Card looks a bit familiar, it’s perhaps because it was designed in conjunction with Squarofumi, creators of the Badgy. So even if you aren’t hitting up any of Oracle’s upcoming conferences, you’re not completely out of luck if you want an e-ink badge to play with.