RatPack Is A Wearable Fit For A Rodent

Rats are often seen as pests and vermin, but they can also do useful jobs for us, like hunting for landmines. To aid in their work, [kjwu] designed the RatPack, a wearable device that lets these valiant rats communicate with their handlers.

The heart of the build is an ESP32-CAM board, which combines the capable wireless-enabled microcontroller with a small lightweight camera. It’s paired with a TinyML machine learning board, and it’s all wrapped up in a 3D printed enclosure that serves as a backpack to fit African Giant Pouched rats.

The RatPack can provide a live video feed. However, its main purpose is to track the rat’s movements through the use of an accelerometer. This data is then fed to the machine learning subsystem, which analyzes it to detect certain gestures the rats have been trained to make. The idea is that when the rat identifies an object of interest, such as a landmine, it will perform a predetermined gesture. The RatPack would then detect this, and transmit a signal to the rat’s handlers. Given a rat’s limbs are all on the bottom of its body, this approach is useful. It’s kind of hard to ask a rat to press a button on its own back, after all.

Finding and carefully disposing of unexploded ordnance is a problem facing many societies around the world. We’re lucky in many cases that the rats are helping out with this difficult and dangerous job.

The project's hardware, including the ESP32 camera module, stuffed into the GoPro-intended waterproof shell. The camera portion of the ESP32 module sticks out exactly where the GoPro's camera would be. To the left, a hacked ESP32-CAM module is shown.

Hackaday Prize 2022: Solar-Harvesting ESP32 Camera Is Waterproof, Repeatable

[alberto nunez] shows off his sleek build of a solar-harvesting ESP32 camera – waterproof, somewhat energy-efficient, and able to be built by more-or-less anyone. For that, he’s chosen fairly jellybean components – an ESP32-CAM module with a matching protoboard, a small solar cell, a LiFePO4 battery, and a waterproofed GoPro shell that all of these parts neatly fit into.

A BQ25504 energy harvesting chip is used to ensure the ‘solar’ part of the project can meaningfully contribute to the project’s power budget, with energy otherwise mainly provided by the LiFePo4 battery. Since this battery’s nominal voltage is 3.2 V, it can be wired straight to ESP32’s power input and there’s no need for a regulator – thus, that one got mercilessly desoldered. [alberto] has also modded the board using a FET to gate power to the ESP32-CAM module’s camera, with all of these hacks bringing the board’s deep sleep current from 2.8 mA to 0.8 mA. Not great for a low-power device, but not terrible for something you can build so easily. Plus, it’s waterproof, dust-resistant, and quite robust!

These ESP32 camera modules are seriously nifty – we see them put to good use on the regular. Whether you need to detect motion in your Halloween project, decode your water meter readings, or perhaps merely a security camera, it’s worth having a few in your toolbox. Maybe even pick up a programming helper for these while you’re at it!

A mailbox with a solar cell on top

IoT-Enabled Mailbox Lets You Check Your Mail Without Leaving Your House

Whether you live in an apartment downtown or in a detached house in the suburbs, if your mailbox is not built into your home you’ll have to go outside to see if anything’s there. But how do you prevent that dreadful feeling of disappointment when you find your mailbox empty? Well, we’re living in 2022, so today your mailbox is just another Thing to connect to the Internet of Things. And that’s exactly what [fhuable] did when he made a solar powered IoT mailbox.

The basic idea was to equip a mailbox with a camera and have it send over pictures of its contents. An ESP32-Cam module could do just that: with a 1600 x 1200 camera sensor, a 160 MHz CPU and an integrated WiFi adapter, [fhuable] just needed to write an Arduino sketch to have it take a picture every few hours and upload it to an FTP server.

A pile of components making up an IoT Mailbox
The components inside: a solar cell, battery, power controller, LDO and ESP32-Cam module with WiFi antenna

But since running a long cable all the way from the house was not an attractive option, the whole module had to be completely wireless. [fhuable] decided to power it using a single 18650 lithium ion cell, which gets topped up continuously thanks to a 1.5 W solar panel mounted on the roof of the mailbox. The other parts are housed in a 3D-printed enclosure that’s completely sealed to keep out moisture.

The enclosure had to be made from a material that does not degrade in direct sunlight, which is why [fhuable] decided to try ASA filament; this should be very resistant against UV rays, but proved tricky to process. It warped so much during cooling that the only way to get a solid piece out of the printer was to enclose the entire machine in a cardboard box to keep it warm inside.

The end result was worth it though: a neat little extension on the back of the mailbox that should keep sending photos of its insides for as long as the Sun keeps shining. The camera should also give a good indication as to the contents of the mailbox, allowing the user to ignore any junk mail; this is a useful improvement over previous IoT-enabled mailboxes that use proximity sensors, microswitches or optical sensors.

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ESP32-Cam Makes A Dandy Motion Detector

Halloween is right around the corner and just about every Halloween project needs some kind of motion sensor. Historically, we’ve used IR and ultrasonic sensors but [Makers Mashup] decided to use an ESP32-Cam as a motion sensor in his latest animatronic creation. You can see a video of the device and how it works below.

The project is a skull that follows you around with a few degrees of motion on a stepper motor. There’s a 3D-printed enclosure to make the hardware assembly easy. The base software was borrowed from [Eloquent Arduino].

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Building A 60s Toy The Way It Should Have Been

The original Hasbro “Think-a-Tron”, a toy from the dawn of the computer revolution, was billed with the slogan, “It thinks! It answers! It remembers!” It, of course, did only one of these things, but that didn’t stop the marketers of the day from crushing the hopes and dreams of budding computer scientists and their eager parents just to make a few bucks. It’s not like we’re bitter or anything — just saying.

In an effort to right past wrongs, [Michael Gardi] rebuilt the 1960s “thinking machine” toy with modern components. The original may not have lived up to the hype, but at least did a decent job of evoking the room-filling computers of the day is a plastic cabinet with a dot-matrix-like display. The toy uses “punch-cards” with printed trivia questions that are inserted into the machine to be answered. A disk with punched holes spins between a light bulb and the display lenses, while a clever linkage mechanism reads the position of a notch in the edge of the card and stops the wheel to display the letter of the correct answer.

[Michael]’s update to the Think-aTron incorporates what would have qualified as extraterrestrial technology had it appeared in the 1960s. A 35-LED matrix with a 3D-printed diffuser and case form the display, with trivia questions and their answer as a QR code standing in for the punch-cards.He also added a pair of user consoles, so players can lock-in and answer before an ESP32-Cam reads the QR code and displays the answer on the LED matrix, after playing some suitable “thinking music” through a speaker.

As usual with [Michael]’s retrocomputing recreations, the level of detail here is fantastic. We especially like the custom buttons; controls like these seem to be one of his specialties judging by his slide switches and his motorized rotary switch.

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Roll Your Own Automation With ESPHome

There are several different paths to a smart home, and [Marcus] eventually settled on using ESPHome and ESP8266/ESP32 based devices to create a complete DIY smart home solution which covers his garage door, sprinklers, LED strips, light bulbs, and outlets. There’s even an experimental (and very economical) ESP32-CAM based camera, shown here.

In fact, [Marcus]’s write-up could double as a sort of reference design. If you’re curious about ESPHome, be sure to read what he has to say because he explains exactly how he configured each device and any challenges he encountered in the process.

Beyond the software guidance, the post is also a great resource on how to flash a new firmware onto several different smart devices. [Marcus] provides nicely labeled images of the boards that show where you need to connect your programmer, which just might save you some trouble down the line. Though he did manage to set fire to one of the bulbs, so keep an eye out for that.

Tasmota is another open source option for controlling ESP8266-based devices, and if you’d like to explore that direction don’t forget that flashing Sonoff devices with Tasmota firmware recently got much, much easier.

Lil’ ESP32 Bot Does Remote Surveillance, And It’s Easy

Digital cameras have been around for a long time, as have small remote control robotics platforms. However, combining the two has really only come into its own in the last decade or so, as more bandwidth has become available to the home tinkerer. This ESP32-CAM surveillance bot is a great example of what was once hard becoming trivially easy.

It’s a case of standing on the shoulders of giants. The ESP32-CAM is a device that allows one to stream live video images over a network using existing example code. In this case, it’s combined with an L298N DC motor driver which allows the Adafruit robot platform to be steered like a tank via its two wheels. A pair of SG90 servos then serve as a pan/tilt mechanism to further improve the robot’s field of view.

If you aimed to attempt this back in 2010, you’d have spent six months figuring out how to get a microcontroller to talk to a small camera module. Only then could you consider solving the multitude of other problems presented by getting the video feed off the bot to somewhere useful. These days, you can order a bunch of parts online and have it up and running in a couple hours. This project from 2013 serves as an example of how much things have changed in the intervening years. Video after the break.

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