E-Paper Clock Displays Things In A Battery-Friendly Manner

Clock builds are a hacker staple, and many overflow with power-thirsty LEDs and network features. This build from [mattwach] takes quite the opposite approach, sipping away at its batteries thanks to an e-paper based design.

The build relies on a small Waveshare e-paper module which only requires power when the display is actually changing. When static, the display needs no electricity, and this helps save a great amount of power compared to OLED or LCD-based clocks.

An Atmega328p is the heart of the build, running off a 32.768 KHz clock crystal for a combination of precise timekeeping and low power draw. Time is ensured to be both precise and accurate thanks to a GPS module which allows the clock to sync to satellite time when powered up. It’s a common way to sync clocks to a high-quality time source. Most of the time, though, the GPS is kept powered down to save the 30-100 mA that the module typically draws when in use.

Other features include a temperature, humidity, and pressure sensor, with ambient pressure graphed over time. There’s also notification of sunrise and sunset times, along with the current phase of the moon. It’s all wrapped up in a case tastefully manufactured using 3D printed parts and some wooden CNC-cut panels for a nice rustic look.

With the e-paper display and the microcontroller configured for low-power operation, the clock will run for around 6 months on four AAA cells. Overall, it’s a nifty little clock that will provide the time, date, and other information without the need for an Internet connection. Video after the break.

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OpenMower: Open Source Robotic Lawn Mower With RTK GPS

Robotic mowers are becoming a common sight in some places, enabled by the cost of motors and the needed control electronics being much lower, thanks to the pace of modern engineering. But, in many cases, they still appear to be really rather dumb, little more than a jacked up bump-and-go with a spinning blade. [Clemens Elflein] has taken a cheap, dumb mower and given it a brain transplant based around a Raspberry Pi 4 paired up with a Raspberry Pi Pico for the real time control side of things. [Clemens] is calling this OpenMower, with the motivation to create an open source robot mower controller with support for GPS navigation, using RTK for extra precision.

The donor robot was a YardForce Classic 500, and after inspection of the control PCB, it looks like many other robot mower models are likely to use the same controller and thus be compatible with the openmower platform. A custom mainboard houses the Pi 4 and Pico, an ArduSimple RTK GPS module (giving a reported navigational accuracy of 1 cm,) as well as three BLDC motor drivers for the wheels and rotor. Everything is based on modules, plugging into the mainboard, reducing the complexity of the project significantly. For a cheap mower platform, the Yardforce unit has a good build quality, with connectors everywhere, making OpenMower a plug and play solution. Even the user interface on top of the mower was usable, with a custom PCB below presenting some push buttons at the appropriate positions.

OpenMower mainboard

Motor control is courtesy of the xESC project, which provides FOC motor control for low cost, interfacing with the host controller via a serial link. This is worth looking into in its own right! On the software side of things, [Clemens] is using ROS, which implements the low level robot control, path planning (using code taken from Slic3r) as well a kinematics constraints for object avoidance. The video below, shows how simple the machine is to operate — just drive it around the perimeter of lawn with a handheld controller, and show it where obstacles such as trees are, and then set it going. The mower is even capable of mowing multiple lawns, making the journey between them automatically!

Robotic mower projects are not new around here, here’s the mysterious TK with an interesting take, another using RTK GPS for good (or possibly bad) and quite probably the jankiest one we’ve seen in a while, which uses a LoRa base-station to transmit RTK corrections. We’d recommend keeping well away from that last one.

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Low Power Mode For Custom GPS Tracker

GPS has been a game-changing technology for all kinds of areas. Shipping, navigation, and even synchronization of clocks have become tremendously easier thanks to GPS. As a result of its widespread use, the cost of components is also low enough that almost anyone can build their own GPS device, and [Akio Sato] has taken this to the extreme with efforts to build a GPS tracker that uses the tiniest amount of power.

This GPS tracker is just the first part of this build, known as the air station. It uses a few tricks in order to get up to 30 days of use out of a single coin cell battery. First, it is extremely small and uses a minimum of components. Second, it uses LoRa, a low-power radio networking method, to communicate its location to the second part of this build, the ground station. The air station grabs GPS information and sends it over LoRa networks to the ground station which means it doesn’t need a cellular connection to operate, and everything is bundled together in a waterproof, shock-resistant durable case.

[Akio Sato] imagines this unit would be particularly useful for recovering drones or other small aircraft that can easily get themselves lost. He’s started a crowdfunding page for it as well. With such a long battery life, it’s almost certain that the operator could recover their vessel before the batteries run out of energy. It could also be put to use tracking things that have a tendency to get stolen.

Open-Source Farming Robot Now Includes Simulations

Farming is a challenge under even the best of circumstances. Almost all conventional farmers use some combination of tillers, combines, seeders and plows to help get the difficult job done, but for those like [Taylor] who do not farm large industrial monocultures, more specialized tools are needed. While we’ve featured the Acorn open source farming robot before, it’s back now with new and improved features and a simulation mode to help rapidly improve the platform’s software.

The first of the two new physical features includes a fail-safe braking system. Since the robot uses electric geared hub motors for propulsion, the braking system consists of two normally closed relays which short the motor leads in emergency situations. This makes the motors see an extremely high load and stops them from turning. The robot also has been given advanced navigation facilities so that it can follow custom complex routes. And finally, [Taylor] created a simulation mode so that the robot’s entire software stack can be run in Docker and tested inside a simulation without using the actual robot.

For farmers who are looking to buck unsustainable modern agricultural practices while maintaining profitable farms, a platform like Acorn could be invaluable. With the ability to survey, seed, harvest, and even weed, it could perform every task of larger agricultural machinery. Of course, if you want to learn more about it, you can check out our earlier feature on this futuristic farming machine.

NTP Server Gets Time From Space

Cheap GPS units are readily available nowadays, which is great if you have something that needs to be very precisely located. Finding the position of things is one of many uses for GPS, though. There are plenty of ways to take advantage of some of the ancillary tools that the GPS uses to determine location. In this case it’s using the precise timekeeping abilities of the satellites to build a microsecond-accurate network time protocol (NTP) server.

GPS works by triangulating position between a receiver and a number of satellites, but since the satellites are constantly moving an incredibly precise timing signal is needed in order to accurately determine location from all of these variables. This build simply teases out that time information from the satellite network and ignores the location data. There are only two parts to this build, a cheap GPS receiver and a Raspberry Pi, but [Austin] goes into great detail about how to set up the software side as well including installing PPS, GPSd, and then setting up the actual NTP server on the Pi.

While this is an excellent way to self-host your own NTP server if you don’t have Internet access (or just want to do it yourself), [Austin] does note that this is probably overkill on timekeeping as far as accuracy goes. On the other hand, the Raspberry Pi has no built-in real time clock of its own, so this might actually be a cost-competitive way of timekeeping even when compared to something more traditional like a DS3231 RTC module.

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Vacuum “Tube” Might Replace GPS One Day

GPS and similar satellite navigation systems changed everything. The modern generation is far less likely to have had to fold a service station map or ask someone for directions on the side of the road. But GPS isn’t perfect. You need to see the sky, for one thing. For another, an adversary could jam or take down your satellites. Even a natural disaster could temporarily or permanently knock out your access to the satellites.

The people at Sandia National Labs worry about things like that and they want to replace GPS with quantum accelerometers and gyroscopes. The problem: those things take expensive and bulky vacuum systems and lasers. Sandia, however, has had a sealed device about the size of an avocado that weighs about a pound that could possibly do the job. Their goal is to see it work without maintenance for four more years.

This is no ordinary vacuum tube, though. It is made of titanium and sapphire. By itself, the device doesn’t do much of anything, but it shows that rubidium can be contained in a sealed chamber with no additional pumping. These quantum sensors aren’t anything new, but a tiny self-contained cold-atom sensor can pave the way for putting these sensors in vehicles like ships, aircraft, and ground vehicles. Submarines, which don’t usually have a clear shot at the sky without floating an antenna, are also candidates for the new technology.

A navigation system based on this technology uses a laser to cool the subject atoms and then measures their movements. This allows very precise determination of acceleration and rotation which allows for a more precise inertial navigation system.

If you need a refresher on how GPS works, we can explain it. If you think the idea of a module containing rubidium is far-fetched, don’t forget you can already get them for precision clock work.

Motorcycle Rally Computer Goes Open Source

Motorcycle rally racing is a high-speed, exciting, off-road motorsport that involves zipping across all types of terrain on two wheels. While riding, it’s extremely important for riders to know what’s coming up next —  turns, straightaways, stream crossings, the list goes on. Generally, this is handled by a roadbook — a paper scroll that has diagrams of each turn or course checkpoint, along with the distances between them and any other pertinent information. Of course, this needs to be paired with a readout that tells you how far you’ve traveled since the last waypoint so you’re not just guessing. This readout usually takes the form of a rally computer, a device that can display speed, distance traveled, and course heading (and some of the fancier ones have even more data available).

A roadbook with commercially-available rally computers

Frustrated with the lackluster interface and high cost associated with most rally computers on the market, [Matias Godoy] designed his own back in 2017, and was quick to realize he had a potential product. After several iterations he brought his idea to market with a small initial run, which sold out in a few hours!

He then took some time to reflect on the successful campaign. He decided that rather than continue to churn out units, he would open-source the design to make it available to everybody and see what the community could come up with. He published all of his design files to GitHub, and wrote up a wonderful blog post documenting the entire design process, from inspiration and early prototypes to his decision to go open source.

[Matias]’s project, the Open Rally Computer (formerly the Baja Pro) packages neatly in a CNC-machined case and features a nice high-visibility LCD display, a built-in GPS receiver, and an ergonomic handlebar-mounted remote. The data is crunched by an ESP32 microcontroller, which also allows for WiFi-enabled OTA updates. The end result is a beautiful and useful device that was clearly designed with great care. Love the idea but not a rally racer? If street bikes are more your thing then fear not because there’s an open source digital dashboard out there for you too.