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”

Plant Communication Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, January 13th at noon Pacific for the Plant Communication Hack Chat with Lex Kravitz!

As far as conversation goes, plants are usually a pretty poor choice of partners. Sure, we’ve all heard that talking to you houseplants is supposed to be good for them, but expecting them to talk back in any meaningful way is likely to end in disappointment.

Or is it? For as simple and inanimate as plants appear to be, they actually have a rich set of behaviors. Plants can react to stimuli, moving toward attractants like light and nutrients and away from repellents. Some trees can secrete substances to prevent competitors crowding around them, by preventing their seedlings from ever even taking root. And we’ve known for a long time that plants can communicate with each other, through chemical signaling.

Plants are clearly capable of much more than just sitting there, but is there more to the story? Neuroscientist Lex Kravitz thinks so, which is why he has been wiring up his houseplants to sensitive amplifiers and looking for electrical signals. While the bulk of what we know about plant communications is centered on the chemical signals they send, it could be that there’s an electrical component to their behaviors too. Join us as Lex stops by the Hack Chat to talk about his plant communication experiments, and to see if it may someday be possible to listen in on what your plants are saying about you.

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, January 13 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, 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.

Continue reading “Plant Communication Hack Chat”

Join Your Own Private LoRa Mesh Network

We are fortunate to live in an age surrounded by means of easy communication, and like never before we can have friends on the other side of the world as well as just down the road. But as many readers will know, this ease of communication comes at a price of sharing public and commercial infrastructure. To communicate with privacy and entirely off-grid remains an elusive prize, but it’s one pursued by Scott Powell with his LoRa QWERTY Messenger. This is a simple pager device that forms a LoRa mesh network with its peers, and passes encrypted messages to those in the same group.

At its heart is a LoRa ESP32 module with a small OLED display and a Blackberry QWERTY keyboard, and an SD card slot. The device’s identity is contained on an SD card, which gives ease of reconfiguration. It’s doubly useful, because it is also a complement to his already existing Ripple LoRa communication project, that uses a smartphone as the front end for a similar board.

We feel this type of secure distributed communication is an exciting application for LoRa, whether it be for kids playing at being spies or for more serious purposes. It’s certainly not the first such project we’ve featured.

High Speed The Way We Want It

The one thing we have learned over the current pandemic is that we need the internet, and the faster the better. Though cost is surely a hurdle, the amount of bandwidth available has its bottlenecks rooted from the underlying technology. Enter new technology from an Australian Research team who have claimed to have field tested internet speeds as fast at 44.2 terabits per second.

The breakthrough in bandwidth is attributed to a new optical chip that employs optical frequency combs or micro-comb, and has been published by [Corcoran et al] of Monash University. The team exploits the ability of certain crystals to create resonant optical fields called solitons and these form highly efficient optical transmission system. For the uninitiated, optical frequency combs are an optical spectrum of equidistant lines whose values if fixed, can be used to measure unknown frequencies. The original discovery earned Roy J. Glauber, John L. Hall and Theodor W. Hänsch the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2005, and though it is a relatively new field it has seen a lot of activity in the research community.

The experimental setup has a resonator with a free spectral range spacing of 48.9GHz, and from the generated optical fields or lines, 80 were selected. Using a side-band modulator the bands were doubled and eventually with 64 QAM modulation facilitated a symbol rate of 23 Gigabaud. Now at this point, the paper says that this experiment is still an under-utilization of the available resources. The extra connectivity speed may be helpful in gaming and streaming but we will be needing faster drives to get our emails attachments downloaded faster. If you are inspired and want to play with lasers and optical communications, check out the DIY Laser Optical Link.

Thanks [Anil Pattni] for the tip.

The Seedy World Of Message Serialization

Look, I’ve been there too. First the project just prints debug information for a human in nice descriptive strings that are easy to understand. Then some tool needs to log a sensor value so the simple debug messages gain structure. Now your debug messages {{look like : this}}. This is great until a second sensor is added that uses floats instead of ints. Now there are sprinklings of even more magic characters between the curly braces. A couple days later and things are starting to look Turing complete. At some point you look up and realize, “I need a messaging serialization strategy”. Well you’ve come to the right place! Continue reading “The Seedy World Of Message Serialization”

Incredibly Tiny RF Antennas For Practical Nanotech Radios

Researchers may have created the smallest-ever radio-frequency antennas, a development that should be of interest to any nanotechnology enthusiasts. A group of scientists from Korea published a paper in ACS Nano that details the fabrication of a two-dimensional radio-frequency antenna for wearable applications. Most antennas made from metallic materials like aluminum, cooper, or steel which are too thick to use for nanotechnology applications, even in the wearables space. The newly created antenna instead uses metallic niobium diselenide (NbSe2) to create a monopole patch RF antenna. Even with its sub-micrometer thickness (less than 1/100 the width of a strand of human hair), it functions effectively.

The metallic niobium atoms are sandwiched between two layers of selenium atoms to create the incredibly thin 2D composition. This was accomplished by spray-coating layers of the NbSe2 nanosheets onto a plastic substrate. A 10 mm x 10 mm patch of the material was able to perform with a 70.6% radiation efficiency, propagating RF signals in all directions. Changing the length of the antenna allowed its frequency to be tuned from 2.01-2.80 GHz, which includes the range required for Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.

Within the ever-shrinking realm of sensors for wearable technologies, there is sure to be a place for tiny antennas as well.

[Thanks Qes for the tip!]

Control Anything With A Chat Bot

In the world of Internet of Things, it’s easy enough to get something connected to the Internet. But what should you use to communicate with and control it? There are many standards and tools available, but the best choice is always to use the tools you have on hand. [Victor] found himself in this situation, and found that the best way to control an Internet-connected car was to use the Flask server he already had.

The remote controlled car was originally supposed to come with an Arduino, but the microcontroller was missing upon arrival. He had a Raspberry Pi around, and was able to set that up to replace the Arduino. He also took the opportunity to use the expanded functionality of the Pi compared to the Arduino and wrote a Flask server to control it, which is accessed as if you are communicating with a chat bot. Sending the words “go left/forward” to the Flask server will control the car accordingly, for example.

The chat bot itself contains some gems as well, and would be useful for any project that makes use of regular expressions. It also seems to be easily expandable. The project also uses voice commands, and does so by making extensive use of Mozilla’s voice recognition suite. If you want to get deep in the weeds of voice recognition on your own though, you can also explore TensorFlow at your leisure.