Epic Clock Clocks The Unix Epoch

Admit it: when you first heard of the concept of the Unix Epoch, you sat down with a calculator to see when exactly 2³¹-1 seconds would be from midnight UTC on January 1, 1970. Personally, I did that math right around the time my company hired contractors to put “Y2K Suspect” stickers on every piece of equipment that looked like it might have a computer in it, so the fact that the big day would come sometime in 2038 was both comforting and terrifying.

[Forklift] is similarly entranced by the idea of the Unix Epoch and built a clock to display it, at least for the next 20 years or so. Accommodating the eventual maximum value of 2,147,483,647, plus the more practical ISO-8601 format, required a few more digits than the usual clock – sixteen to be exact. The blue seven-segment displays make an impression in the sleek wooden case, about which there is sadly no detail in the build log. But the internals are well documented, and include a GPS module and an RTC. The clock parses the NMEA time string from the satellites and syncs the RTC. There’s a brief video below of the clock in action.

We really like the look of [Forklift]’s clock, and watching the seconds count up to the eventual overflow seems like a fun way to spend the next two decades. It’s not the first Epoch clock we’ve featured, of course, but it’s pretty slick.

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Where’s The Cat? Locating Your Moggy Without Eating Batteries

Where the Hackaday Cat goes when she steps over the threshold into the wider world is a mystery, she reveals her whereabouts strictly on her terms and would we suspect be very cagey were we able to ask her about it. [Andy C] however has a need to know where his cat is spending her time, so he’s made a GPS collar for a bit of feline spying.

There are commercial GPS collars for pets, but they all share the flaw of extremely limited battery life. His challenge then was to create a collar that delivered the required pinpoint fix alongside a battery life measured in months. The solution was a combination of a low-power miniature GPS receiver and a low-power PC microcontroller hooked up to an FSK radio whose frequency he doesn’t give but which we suspect is probably the usual 433 MHz. The collar remains in low power mode until it receives a call on the FSK, at which point it wakes up, gets a GPS fix, transmits it, and returns to sleep.

The summary links to a series of posts which provide an extremely detailed look at all aspects of the project, and go well beyond mere GPS trackers for a cat. If you have an interest in low power devices or antenna matching for example, you’ll find a lot of interesting stuff in these pages. Of course, if all you need is a GPS tracker though, you may prefer a simpler option.

Raspberry Pi On The Go Powers Car System

Most new cars have GPS, rear cameras, and all the other wonders an on-board system can bring. But what if you have an old car? [Fabrice Aneche] has a 2011 vehicle, and wanted a rearview camera. He started with a touch screen, a Raspberry Pi 3, and a camera. But you know how these projects take on a life of their own. So far, the project has two entries in his blog.

It wasn’t long before he couldn’t resist the urge to add a GPS. But that’s no fun without maps. Plus you need turn-by-turn directions. [Fabrice] did a lot of the user interface using Qt5 and QML. He started out running it with X11 but that was slow. It turns out though that Qt5 can drive the Pi’s video directly without using X11, so that’s what he wound up doing. The code that isn’t in QML — mainly dealing with the GPS location — is written in Go, while the code for MOCS (My Own Car System) is on GitHub.

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How Etak Paved the Way to Personal Navigation

Our recent “Retrotechtacular” feature on an early 1970s dead-reckoning car navigation system stirred a memory of another pre-GPS solution for the question that had vexed the motoring public on road trips into unfamiliar areas for decades: “Where the heck are we?” In an age when the tattered remains of long-outdated paper roadmaps were often the best navigational aid a driver had, the dream of an in-dash scrolling map seemed like something Q would build for James Bond to destroy.

And yet, in the mid-1980s, just such a device was designed and made available to the public. Dubbed Etak, the system was simultaneously far ahead of its time and doomed to failure by the constellation of global positioning satellites being assembled overhead as it was being rolled out. Given the constraints it was operating under, Etak worked very well, and even managed to introduce some of the features of modern GPS that we take for granted, such as searching for services and businesses. Here’s a little bit about how the system came to be and how it worked.

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Retrotechtacular: Car Navigation Like It’s 1971

Anyone old enough to have driven before the GPS era probably wonders, as we do, how anyone ever found anything. Navigation back then meant outdated paper maps, long detours because of missed turns, and the far too frequent stops at dingy gas stations for the humiliation of asking for directions. It took forever sometimes, and though we got where we were going, it always seemed like there had to be a better way.

Indeed there was, but instead of waiting for the future and a constellation of satellites to guide the way, some clever folks in the early 1970s had a go at dead reckoning systems for car navigation. The video below shows one, called Cassette Navigation, in action. It consisted of a controller mounted under the dash and a modified cassette player. Special tapes, with spoken turn-by-turn instructions recorded for a specific route, were used. Each step was separated from the next by a tone, the length of which encoded the distance the car would cover before the next step needed to be played. The controller was hooked to the speedometer cable, and when the distance traveled corresponded to the tone length, the next instruction was played. There’s a long list of problems with this method, not least of which is no choice in road tunes while using it, but given the limitations at the time, it was pretty ingenious.

Dead reckoning is better than nothing, but it’s a far cry from GPS navigation. If you’re still baffled by how that cloud of satellites points you to the nearest Waffle House at 3:00 AM, check out our GPS primer for the details.

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Roll A Black Box For Your Wheels

Telemetric devices for vehicles, better known as black boxes, cracked the consumer scene 25 years ago with the premiere of OnStar. These days, you can get one for free from your insurance company if you want to try your luck at the discounts for safe driving game. But what if you wanted a black box just to mess around with that doesn’t share your driving data with the world? Just make one.

[TheForeignMan]’s DIY telematics box was designed to pull reports of the car’s RPM, speed, and throttle depression angle through the ODBII port. An ODBII-to-Bluetooth module sends the data to an Arduino Mega and logs it on an SD card along with latitude and longitude from a NEO-6M GPS module. Everything is powered by the car’s battery through a cigarette lighter-USB adapter.

He’s got everything tightly wrapped up inside a 3D printed box, which makes it pretty hard to retrieve the SD card. In the future, he’d like to send the data to a server instead to avoid accidentally dislodging a jumper wire.

If this one isn’t DIY enough for you to emulate, start by building your own CAN bus reader.

GPS Disciplined Oscillators

[Martin Lorton] acquired a GPS-disciplined oscillator. He wasn’t quite sure what to do with it, so he did a little research and experimentation. If you have about two hours to spare, you can watch his videos where he shares his results (see below).

The unit he mainly looks at is a Symmetricom TrueTime XL-DC, and even on eBay it ran over $500. However, [Martin] also looks at a smaller unit that is much more affordable.

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