Keep An Eye On Your Bike With This DIY GPS Tracker

Owning a bike and commuting on it regularly is a great way to end up with your bike getting stolen, unfortunately. It can be a frustrating experience, and it can be particularly difficult to track a bike down once it’s vanished. [Johan] didn’t want to be caught out, however, and thus built a compact GPS tracker to give himself a fighting chance to hang on to his ride.

It’s built around the Arduino MKR GSM, a special Arduino built specifically for Internet of Things project. Sporting a cellular modem onboard, it can communicate with GSM and 3G networks out of the box. It’s paired with the MKR GPS shield to determine the bike’s location, and a ADXL345 3-axis accelerometer to detect movement. When unauthorised movement is detected, the tracker can send out text messages via cellular connection in order to help the owner track down the missing bike.

The tracker goes for a stealth installation, giving up the deterrent factor in order to lessen the chance of a thief damaging or disabling the hardware. It’s a project that should give [Johan] some peace of mind, though of course knowing where the bike is, and getting it back, are two different things entirely. We’ve seen creative techniques to build trackers for cats, too. It used to be the case that such “tracking devices” were the preserve of movies alone, but no longer. If you’ve got your own build, be sure to let us know on the tipline!

 

 

Open Source Pizza Compass Will Show You The Way

In Pirates of the Caribbean, Captain Jack Sparrow has an enchanted compass that points to what the holder wants most in life. The Pizza Compass created by [Joe Grand] is basically the same thing, except it’s powered by a Particle Boron instead of a voodoo spell. Though depending on who’s holding the thing, we imagine they’d even point in the same direction.

[Joe] was tasked by Wired to design and produce the Pizza Compass in three weeks, a process which was documented in the video below. Being the Badgelife luminary that he is, the final product looks far more attractive than it has any business being. In addition to the Particle Boron that slots in on the back of the handheld PCB, there’s a GlobalTop PA6H GPS module, a LSM303DLHC compass, and eight NeoPixels that correspond to the points on the silkscreen compass.

From prototype to final product.

Using the device is simple, just press the button and then walk around trying to keep the top-most LED lit. Behind the scenes, the Boron is pulling down the coordinates of the closest pizza place as reported by Google’s API, and comparing that to the user’s current GPS location. In practice that means the Pizza Compass isn’t concerned with nuances like streets or buildings, so its up to the user to figure out how best to stay on the desired heading. So rather than just following some turn-by-turn directions, there’s some proper navigation involved if you want that fresh slice.

If you don’t like pizza, you could reprogram the compass to point to whatever quest-worthy resource you wish. As explained at the end of the video, [Joe] wanted this to be an open source project so it could easily be adapted for different tasks by the community. Though honestly, it’s pretty weird if you don’t like pizza.

We’ve actually covered a very similar device in the past that would point the user to the closest White Castle or Five Guys, but with all due respect to that project, the Pizza Compass is in another league. When you’ve got the talent and experience of [Joe Grand] on the team, even the most mundane of gadgets ends up looking like a piece of art.

Continue reading “Open Source Pizza Compass Will Show You The Way”

High-Altitude Balloon Tracker Does Landing Prediction With Pi Pico

[Dave Akerman]’s ongoing high altitude balloon (HAB) work is outstanding, and we’re all enriched by the fact that he documents his work like he does. Recently, [Dave] wrote about his balloon tracker based on the Raspberry Pi Pico, whose capabilities brought a couple interesting features to the table.

In a way, HAB trackers have a fairly simple job: read sensors such as GPS and constantly relay that data to someone on the ground so that the balloon’s location can be tracked, and the hardware recovered when it ultimately returns to Earth. There are a lot of different ways to do this tracking, and one thing [Dave] enjoys is getting his hands on a new board and making a HAB tracker out of it. That’s exactly what he has done with the Raspberry Pi Pico.

Nothing builds familiarity like actually using a part, and the Pico had some useful things to contribute to a HAB tracker application. For one thing, the Pico has an onboard buck-boost converter that allows it to be powered from a relatively wide voltage range (~1.8 V to 5.5 V), so running it directly from batteries is both possible and desirable from a tracker perspective. But a really useful feature was possible thanks to the large amount of memory on the Pico: dynamic landing prediction.

[Dave] does landing prediction prior to launch based on environmental conditions, but it’s always better if the HAB tracker can also calculate its own prediction based on actual observed events and conditions. A typical microcontroller board like an Arduino doesn’t have enough memory to store the required data upon which to do such calculations, but the Pico does so easily. [Dave]’s new board transmits an updated landing site prediction along with all the rest of the telemetry, making the retrieval process much more reliable.

Want to see a completely different approach to HAB recovery? Check out a payload guided by steerable parachutes.

Reliable Frequency Reference From GPS

GPS technology is a marvel of the modern world. Not only can we reliably locate positions on the planet with remarkable accuracy and relatively inexpensive hardware, but plenty of non-location-based features of the technology are available for other uses as well. GPS can be used for things like time servers, since the satellites require precise timing in order to triangulate a position, and as a result they can also be used for things like this incredibly accurate frequency reference.

This project is what’s known as a GPSDO, or GPS-disciplined oscillator. Typically they use a normal oscillator, like a crystal, and improve its accuracy by pairing it with the timing signal from a GPS satellite. This one is a standalone model built by [Szabolcs Szigeti] who based the build around an STM32 board. The goal of the project was purely educational, as GPSDOs of various types are widely available, but [Szabolcs] was able to build exactly what he wanted into this one including a custom power supply, simple standalone UI, and no distribution amplifier.

The build goes into a good bit of detail on the design and operation of the device, and all of the PCB schematics and source code are available on the projects GitHub page if you want to build your own. There are plenty of other projects out there that make use of GPS-based time for its high accuracy, too, like this one which ties a GPS time standard directly to a Raspberry Pi.

Randonaut Device Tells You Where To Be And When

Randonauting is the pastime of using random numbers to generate a destination to visit, in the pursuit of adventure. Of course, anything that can be done on a website with a script is even cooler with custom hardware, so [Decker] built a rig for the job. 

The device uses a USB hardware random number generator to produce truly¬†random numbers through quantum effects; at least, according to our best theories of the universe. These numbers are then used to pick a random set of GPS coordinates and a time in which to be there, a fun twist on traditional Randonauting of [Decker]’s own creation.

At its heart, it’s a random number generator pumped through some Python scripts. Where this build elevates itself is not in the mechanics, but the presentation. The rig runs on a Raspberry Pi, inside a bell jar, with a vacuum fluorsecent display, fairy lights and plumbing components. It plays on the cyberpunk aesthetic, and it’s so much harder to ignore one’s mission when the time and place are given in glowing numerals by an enigmatic, mysterious machine.

It looks like great fun, though beware the dangers of randonauting – some participants have found more then they bargained for. It’s not dissimilar to the old geohashing craze. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Randonaut Device Tells You Where To Be And When”

Logic Meter Aims To Make Hobby Electronics Troubleshooting Easier

The basic test instrument suite — a bench power supply, a good multimeter and perhaps an oscilloscope — is extremely flexible, but not exactly “plug and play” when it comes to diagnosing problems with some common hardware setups. A problem with a servo driver, for example, might be easy enough to sort of with a scope, but setting everything up to see what’s going on with the PWM signal takes some time.

There’s got to be a better way to diagnose hobby electronics woes, and if [Bob Alexander] has his way, his “Logic Meter”, or something very close to it, will be the next must-have bench tool. The Logic Meter combines some of the functionality of an oscilloscope and a logic analyzer into a handy instrument that’s as easy to use as a multimeter. The Logic Meter’s probes connect to logic-level signals in a circuit and can be set up to capture or send serial data, either directly to or from a UART or via an SPI bus connection. There are also functions for testing servos and similar devices with a configurable PWM output. [Bob] rounds out the functionality with a GPS simulator and a simple logic analyzer, plus some utility functions.

The beauty part of the Logic Meter is that [Bob] has left where it goes next largely up to the community. He’s got a GitHub repo with details on the PIC32-based hardware, and the video below makes it clear that this is just a jumping-off point to further work that he hopes results in a commercial version of the Logic Meter. That’s a refreshing attitude, and we hope it pays off; from the look of a few of [Bob]’s retrocomputing makeovers, something like the Logic Meter could come in pretty handy.

Continue reading “Logic Meter Aims To Make Hobby Electronics Troubleshooting Easier”

GPS Guided Parachutes For High Altitude Balloons

Most amateur high altitude balloon payloads descend back to earth with a simple non-steerable parachute and can land hundreds of kilometers from the launch site in inaccessible areas. [Yohan Hadji] experienced this first-hand during a balloon launch conducted by his high school, which inspired him to R2Home, a GPS-guided parachute recovery system.

A Teensy runs the show, and controls a pair of sail winch servos pulling the brake lines

[Yohan]’s first challenge was to create a steerable parachute that can deploy reliably, so he started doing tests with a borrowed scale model paragliding wing. He quickly learned that a canopy aspect ratio of below two was needed for reliable deployment, so he started sewing his own canopies. Steering a parachute involves pulling on a pair of brake lines, one for each side of the parachute. A control stroke of about 20 cm was required, and [Yohan] found that RC sailboat winch servos work perfectly for this application. The entire system is designed to fit in a 7×40 cm tube, and the parachute is deployed with the help of a small drogue chute and a servo-operated release mechanism.

[Yohan] is working on a custom flight controller, built around a Teensy 4.1, GPS receiver, and digital compass. A possible alternative is Ardupilot, which we’ve seen used on several autonomous drones, gliders, and rovers. While this system might not be possible to return to the launch point, it could certainly close the gap, and land safely in a designated area.

So far [Yohan] has done a series of test drops from a drone at low altitude to test deployment and steering, using an RC controller. The project is open source, and the mechanical design files and control code is up on GitHub. As with most 16-year-olds, [Yohan]’s resources are limited, so feel free to drop him some financial help on the R2Home GoFundMe page. See the videos after the break for a development montage and project presentation. Continue reading “GPS Guided Parachutes For High Altitude Balloons”