The TAK Ecosystem: Military Coordination Goes Open Source

In recent years you’ve probably seen a couple of photos of tablets and smartphones strapped to the armor of soldiers, especially US Special Forces. The primary app loaded on most of those devices is ATAK or Android Tactical Assault Kit. It allows the soldier to view and share geospatial information, like friendly and enemy positions, danger areas, casualties, etc. As a way of working with geospatial information, its civilian applications became apparent, such as firefighting and law-enforcement, so CivTAK/ATAK-Civ was created and open sourced in 2020. Since ATAK-Civ was intended for those not carrying military-issued weapons, the acronym magically become the Android Team Awareness Kit. This caught the attention of the open source community, so today we’ll dive into the growing TAK ecosystem, its quirks, and potential use cases.

Tracking firefighting aircraft in 3D space using ADS-B (Credit: The TAK Syndicate)

Continue reading “The TAK Ecosystem: Military Coordination Goes Open Source”

2022 Hackaday Prize: Save The World Wildcard Challenge Begins Now

Continuing the concept of saving planet Earth with gnarly, repeatable hacks, the fifth and final challenge of the 2022 Hackaday Prize is all about making the world better with smart and sustainable hardware. While the focus is still on saving the planet, this time, anything goes. Does your project not fit within the confines of a previous challenge? Here is your last chance to enter the 2022 Hackaday Prize: Start your entry today!

Go Wild!

We’ve already run contest rounds that focused on green power generation, recycling, hacking tech out of the landfills, and just finished up making our world more climate-resistant and connected. How else do you want to use your hacking powers to make the world a better place? Well, that’s up to you. This is the wildcard round, after all. If your project helps to keep this planet running for future generations, you can enter it here.

The Save the World Wildcard challenge starts right now and runs until October 16th. As with previous rounds, we’ll award one of ten $500 prizes to each finalist, and the best projects will have a chance at the overall 2022 Hackaday Prize. So get hacking!

2022 Hackaday Prize: Make Your World More Disaster Resistant, More Engaged

Following along with the 2022 Hackaday Prize theme on building a better world by doing what we all do best – hacking together solutions – the fourth round of the Prize focuses on making our local communities more resilient against and sensitive to severe weather and environmental disasters. Whether it’s an early warning system for wildfires or a distributed communication network that will keep working even when the cell phone service goes down, we’re challenging you to help make your world safer by reacting sooner and better. Get your project entered now!

Sensing

We love systems that help us monitor our environments, and not just for idle curiosity or citizen science. Sometimes it’s critical. We’ve seen monitors aimed at giving you a personal particulate air quality indicator, especially helpful for people with respiratory problems when downstream of a forest fire.

But even better is networking these together to generate an air quality map, or to log long-run trends over time and space. CanAirIO, for instance, has both a fixed and mobile unit that can help map out CO2 and particulate matter quality. Or maybe it’s not wildfires that invade your airspace, but rather pollution from car use. We’ve seen projects like that before too, and anything along these lines would make a great entry into this challenge round. Could you predict local air quality? Continue reading “2022 Hackaday Prize: Make Your World More Disaster Resistant, More Engaged”

An Off-Grid Makeshift Cell Network

When traveling into the wilderness with a group of people, it’s good to have a method of communications set up both for safety and practicality. In the past people often relied on radios like FRS, CB, or ham bands if they had licenses, but nowadays almost everyone has a built-in communications device in their pocket that’s ready to use. Rather than have all of his friends grab a CB to put in their vehicle for their adventures together, [Keegan] built an off-grid network which allows any Android phone to communicate with text even if a cell network isn’t available.

The communications system is built on the LoRa communications standard for increased range over other methods like WiFi using a SX1278 chip and an ESP8266. The hardware claims a 10 km radius using this method which is more than enough for [Keegan]’s needs. Actually connecting to the network is only half of the solution though; the devices will still need a method of communication. For that, a custom Android app was created which allows up to 8 devices to connect to the network and exchange text messages with each other similar to a group text message.

For off-grid adventures a solution like this is an elegant solution to a communications problem. It uses mostly existing hardware since everyone carries their own phones already, plus the LoRa standard means that even the ESP8266 base station and transmitter are using only a tiny bit of what is likely battery power. If you’re new to this wireless communications method, we recently featured a LoRa tutorial as well.

Turn On Sarcasm With The Flip Of A Switch

Sarcasm is notoriously difficult to distinguish in online communities. So much, in fact, that a famous internet rule called Poe’s Law is named after the phenomenon. To adapt, users have adopted several methods for indicating implied sarcasm such as the /s tag, but more recently a more obvious sarcasm indicator has appeared that involves random capitalization througout the sarcastic phrase. While this looks much more satisfying than other methods, it is a little cumbersome to type unless you have this sarcasm converter for your keyboard.

The device, built by [Ben S], is based around two Raspberry Pi Pico development boards and sits between a computer and any standard USB keyboard. The first Pi accepts the USB connection from the keyboard and reads all of the inputs before sending what it reads to the second Pi over UART. If the “SaRcAsM” button is pressed, the input text stream is converted to sarcasm by toggling the caps lock key after every keystroke.

For communicating in today’s online world with rapidly changing memes, a device like this is almost necessary for making sure you aren’t misunderstood on whichever popular forum you like to frequent. We don’t know how long this trend will continue, either, but until something else replaces it to more concisely communicate sarcasm we expect it to remain relevant. The build is also a reminder of the various interesting ways that microcontrollers can be programmed to act as keyboards.

Thanks to for the tip!

Forget Radio! Transmitting With Neutrons

Throughout history, people have devised ways to send information across long distances. For centuries we relied on smoke signals, semaphores, and similar physical devices. Electricity changed everything. First the telegraph and then radio transformed communications. Now researchers at the University of Lancaster have demonstrated another way to send wireless data without using electromagnetic radiation. They’ve harnessed fast neutrons from californium-252 and modulated them with information with 100% success.

The setup was interesting. The radioactive material was encased in a cubic meter steel tank filled with water. A pneumatic system can move the material to one edge of the tank which allows fast neutrons to escape. A scintillating detector can pick up the increased neutron activity. It seems like it is akin to using what hams call CW and college professors call OOK (on off keying). You can do that with just about anything you can detect. A flashlight, knocking on wood, or — we suppose — neutrons.

We wondered what the practical application of this might be. The paper suggests that the technique could send data through metal containment structures like those of a nuclear reactor or, perhaps, a spacecraft where you don’t want anything unnecessarily breaching the containment. After all, neutrons cut through things that would stop a conventional radio wave cold.

It seems like you only have to prove you can detect something to make this work — it really doesn’t matter what it is you are detecting. It seems like it would be much harder to do more advanced types of modulation using neutrons. Maybe this is why we don’t hear aliens. They are all Morse code operators with neutron-based telegraphs.

DIY PECS Board Uses Pictures To Communicate

One way of communicating with autistic and non-verbal people is through the use of a Picture Exchange Communication System or PECS board, which they can use to point out what they need or want throughout the day. However, the commercial versions of these boards have their share of problems — they’re expensive, and they’re fairly rigid as far as the pictures go. [Alain Mauer] has created an open-source PECS board that is far more personalized, and has audio to boot.

The number one requisite here is sturdiness, as [Alain]’s son [Scott] has already smashed two smartphones and a tablet. [Alain] went with a laser-cut MDF enclosure that should last quite a while. Inside is an Arduino Pro Mini and a DF Player Mini that plays corresponding clips from a micro SD card whenever [Scott] presses a button on the 16-key copper foil capacitive keypad. This PECS board is smart, too — it will sound a turn-me-off reminder after a few minutes of inactivity, and issue audible low battery warnings.

So far, [Scott] is responding better to photographs of objects than to drawings. Watch him interact with the board after the break.

This is far from the first thing [Alain] has built to help [Scott]. Be sure to check out this Pi-based media player built to engage and not enrage. Continue reading “DIY PECS Board Uses Pictures To Communicate”