High-Altitude Ballooning Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday at noon Pacific time for the high-altitude ballooning Hack Chat!

The Cope brothers are our hosts this week. Jeremy, a computer engineer, and Jason, a mechanical engineer, have recently caught the high-altitude ballooning (HAB) bug. In their initial flights they’ve racked up some successes and pushed the edge of space with interesting and varied missions. Their first flight just barely missed the 100,000 foot (30,000 meter) mark and carried a simple payload package of cameras and GPS instruments and allowed them to reach their goal of photographing the Earth’s curvature.

Flight 2 had a similar payload but managed to blow through the 100K foot altitude, capturing stunning video of the weather balloon breaking. Their most recent flight carried a more complex payload package, consisting of the usual camera and GPS but also a flight data recorder of their own devising, as well as a pair of particle detectors to measure the change in flux of subatomic particles with increasing altitude. That flight “only” reached 62,000 ft (19,000 meters) but managed to hitch a ride on the jet stream that nearly took the package out to sea.

The Cope brothers will be joining the Hack Chat to talk about the exciting field of DIY high-altitude ballooning and the challenges of getting a package halfway to space (depending on how that’s defined). Please join us as we discuss:

  • The basics of flight – balloons, rigging, payload protection, tracking, and recovery;
  • Getting started on the cheap;
  • Making a flight into a mission with interesting and innovative ideas for payload instrumentation;
  • Will hobbyist HABs ever break the Kármán Line? and
  • What’s in store for this year’s Global Space balloon Challenge?

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the High-Altitude Ballooning Hack Chat event page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.

 

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, February 6, at noon, Pacific time. If time zones have got you down, we have a handy time zone converter.

join-hack-chatClick 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.

Cheap Muon Detectors Go Aloft on High-Altitude Balloon Mission

There’s something compelling about high-altitude ballooning. For not very much money, you can release a helium-filled bag and let it carry a small payload aloft, and with any luck graze the edge of space. But once you retrieve your payload package – if you ever do – and look at the pretty pictures, you’ll probably be looking for the next challenge. In that case, adding a little science with this high-altitude muon detector might be a good mission for your next flight.

[Jeremy and Jason Cope] took their inspiration for their HAB mission from our coverage of a cheap muon detector intended exactly for this kind of citizen science. Muons constantly rain down upon the Earth from space with the atmosphere absorbing some of them, so the detection rate should increase with altitude. [The Cope brothers] flew two of the detectors, to do coincidence counting to distinguish muons from background radiation, along with the usual suite of gear, like a GPS tracker and their 2016 Hackaday prize entry flight data recorder for HABs.

The payload went upstairs on a leaky balloon starting from upstate New York and covered 364 miles (586 km) while managing to get to 62,000 feet (19,000 meters) over a five-hour trip. The [Copes] recovered their package in Maine with the help of a professional tree-climber, and their data showed the expected increase in muon flux with altitude. The GoPro died early in the flight, but the surviving footage makes a nice video of the trip.

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GPS III Launching Today But You Can’t Use it Until 2022

Imagine if you bought a new car but they keys were not going to be shipped to you until a few years later. That’s analogous to the situation the U.S. Air Force finds itself in. The first GPS III satellite is finally ready to launch today, December 18, 2018 — a little over 2 years beyond the original schedule. However, most of the unique GPS III features won’t be available until at least 2022, according to a 2017 Government Accounting Office (GAO) report to Congress.

GPS III is a project to launch 32 new satellites that will — for military users — be more difficult to jam. For civilian users, the new GPS satellites will be compatible with other systems, including the EU’s Galileo system. But the big draw? About three times the accuracy of the current system. For civilian use, that means 3 to 10 feet under good conditions as opposed to the current systems’ 10- to 33-foot resolution.

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Hacker Makes A Flawless Booby Trap, Strikes Back Against Package Thieves

[Mark Rober] was fed up with packages going missing. He kept receiving notifications that his shipments had been delivered, but when checking his porch he found nothing there. Reviewing the CCTV footage revealed random passers-by sidling up to his porch and stealing his parcels. It was time to strike back. Over six months, [Mark] and his friends painstakingly designed, prototyped and iterated the perfect trap for package thieves, resulting in a small unit disguised as an Apple HomePod. The whole scheme is wonderfully over-engineered and we love it.

The main feature of the device is a spinning cup on the top which contains a large amount of glitter. When activated, it ejects glitter in every directions. You could say it’s harmless, as it’s just glitter. But then again, glitter has a way of staying with you for the rest of your life — turning up at the least expected times. It certainly leaves an emotional impression.

Activation is quite clever; the fake package sits on the porch until an accelerometer detects movement. At that point, GPS checks to see if the package has traveled outside a geo-fence around [Mark]’s house. A signal is then sent to the four smartphones to start recording — yes, that’s right, there are 4 phones inside, one on each side to capture the reaction of the thief.

How can [Mark] be so confident that he’ll be able to recover the four phones and their footage? That’s answered by GPS tracking and a can of fart spray actuated by a 3D printed cam and DC motor, ensuring the thief won’t want this package around for long. This actuator and the glitter motor are controlled by a custom PCB, which also triggers the phones to start recording through their headphone jacks and detects the opening of the package with some microswitches. This is truly a masterpiece that outsmarts the package thieves in a way that leaves an impression while still being playful.

(Editor’s Note 2: On 12/20/18 it was announced that two of the five thieves shown in the originally video were staged, apparently without [Mark Rober’s] knowledge. Here is his statement on the matter.)

(Editor’s Note 1: [Sean Hodgins] wrote in with bonus video on how the Glitter Bomb works and how it was made.)

If booby traps are your thing, we’ve got you covered. Check out this ticking bomb style puzzle, or this crate challenge which is rigged to blow.

Continue reading “Hacker Makes A Flawless Booby Trap, Strikes Back Against Package Thieves”

Jeremy Hong: Weaponizing the Radio Spectrum

Jeremy Hong knows a secret or two about things you shouldn’t do with radio frequency (RF), but he’s not sharing.

That seems an odd foundation upon which to build one’s 2018 Hackaday Superconference talk, but it’s for good reason. Jeremy knows how to do things like build GPS and radar jammers, which are federal crimes. Even he hasn’t put his knowledge to practical use, having built only devices that never actually emitted any RF.

So what does one talk about when circumspection is the order of the day? As it turns out, quite a lot. Jeremy focused on how the military leverages the power of radio frequency jamming to turn the tables on enemies, and how civilian police forces are fielding electronic countermeasures as well. It’s interesting stuff, and Jeremy proved to be an engaging guide on a whirlwind tour into the world of electronic warfare.

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Meat-Seeking Raspberry Pi Leads you to Flavortown

[Patrick McDavid] and his wife had a legitimate work-related reason for writing some Python code that would pull the exact latitude and longitude of the individual locations within a national retain chain from Google’s Geocoding API. But don’t worry about that part of the story. What’s important now is that this simple concept was then expanded into a pocket-sized device that will lead the holder to the nearest White Castle or Five Guys location.

The device, which [Patrick] lovingly referrers to as the “Cheeseburger Compass”, uses a Raspberry Pi 3, an Adafruit 16×2 LCD with keypad, a GPS module, and the requisite battery and charger circuit to make it mobile. With the coordinates for the various places one can obtain glorious artery clogging meat circles loaded up, the device will give the user the cardinal direction and current distance from the nearest location of the currently selected chain.

[Patrick] has published the source code for this meat-seeking gadget on GitHub, but notes that most of it is just piecing together existing libraries and tools. As with many Python projects, it turns out there’s already a popular library to do whatever it is you were trying to do manually, so his early attempts at calculating distances and bearings were ultimately replaced with turn-key solutions. Though he did come up with a quick piece of code that would convert a compass heading in degrees to a cardinal direction that he couldn’t find a better solution for. Maybe he should make it a library…

Sadly the original Cheeseburger Compass got destroyed from being carried around so much, but at least it died doing what it loved. [Patrick] says a second version of the device would likely switch over to a microcontroller rather than the full Raspberry Pi experience, as it would make the device much smaller and greatly improve on the roughly two hour battery life.

This project reminds us of the various geocache devices we’ve covered in the past, but with the notable addition of hot sizzling meat. Talk about improving on a good thing.

Tractor Drives Itself, Thanks to ESP32 and Open Source

[Coffeetrac]’s ESP32-based Autosteer controller board, complete with OLD OLED display for debugging and easy status reference.
Modern agricultural equipment has come a long way, embracing all kinds of smart features and electronic controls. While some manufacturers would prefer to be the sole gatekeepers of the access to these advanced features, that hasn’t stopped curious and enterprising folks from working on DIY solutions. One such example is this self-steering tractor demo by [Coffeetrac], which demonstrates having a computer plot and guide a tractor through an optimal coverage pattern.

A few different pieces needed to come together to make this all work. At the heart of it all is [Coffeetrac]’s ESP32-based Autosteer controller, which is the hardware that interfaces to the tractor and allows for steering and reading sensors electronically. AgOpenGPS is the software that reads GPS data, interfaces to the Autosteer controller, and tells equipment what to do; it can be thought of as a mission planner.

[Coffeetrac] put it all together with everything controlled by a tablet mounted in the tractor’s cab. The video is embedded below, complete with a “cockpit view” via webcam right alongside the plotted course and sensor data.

Continue reading “Tractor Drives Itself, Thanks to ESP32 and Open Source”