Improving Indoor Navigation of Robots With IR

If the booths at CES are to be believed, the future is full of home robots: everything from humanoid robots on wheels to Alexas duct taped to a Roomba. Back in reality, home robots really aren’t a thing yet. There’s an obvious reason for this: getting around a house is hard. A robot might actually need legs to get up and down stairs, and GPS simply doesn’t exist indoors, at least to the accuracy needed. How on Earth does a robot even navigate indoors?

This project for the Hackaday Prize solves the problem of indoor navigation, and it does it in an amazingly clever way. This is using QR codes for navigation, but not just any QR codes. They’re QR codes read by an infrared camera, and painted on the walls and ceilings with a special IR sensitive paint that’s invisible to the human eye. It’s navigation for robotic vision, and it’s a fantastic idea.

The basic idea behind this project is to use an IR camera — or basically any webcam with the IR blocking filter removed — and a massive amount of IR LEDs to illuminate any target. So far, the proof of concept works. A computer can easily read QR codes, and if paint is invisible to the human eye but visible to an IR camera, the entire project is merely a matter of implementation.

There have been a number of projects that try to add indoor navigation to robots. Some of them use LIDAR, some use computer vision and SLAM. These are computationally expensive. Some even use wireless beacons to navigate indoors like the SubPos Ranger from the 2016 Hackaday Prize. Using IR and QR codes is just so simple and hacker-friendly, and we think it’s fantastic.

IR Detective Eases Development with Compact Decoding

Hardware development often involves working with things that can’t be directly perceived, which is one reason good development tools are so important. In appreciation of this, [David Johnson-Davies] created the IR Remote Control Detective to simplify working with IR signals. While IR remote controls are commonplace, there are a number of different protocols and encoding methods in use across different brands. The IR Detective takes care of all of that with three main components, none of which are particularly expensive. To use the decoder, one simply points an IR remote at the unit and presses one of the buttons. The IR Detective will identify the protocol, decode the signal, and display the address and command related to the key that was pressed. The unit doesn’t consist of much more than an ATtiny85 microcontroller, a small OLED display, and an IR receiver unit. The IR receiver used is intended for a 38 kHz carrier, but such receivers can and do respond to signals outside this frequency, although they do so at a reduced range.

As a result, not only is the unit useful for decoding IR or verifying that correct signals are being generated, but the small size and low cost means it could easily be used as a general purpose receiver to add IR remote control to other devices. It’s also halfway to bridging IR to something else, like this WiFi-IR bridge which not only interfaces to legacy hardware, but does it across WiFi to boot.

Motion-Controlled KVM Switch

Once upon a time, [hardwarecoder] acquired a Gen8 HP microserver that he began to toy around with. It started with ‘trying out’ some visualization before spiraling off the rails and fully setting up FreeBSD with ZFS as a QEMU-KVM virtual machine. While wondering what to do next, he happened to be lamenting how he couldn’t also fit his laptop on his desk, so he built himself a slick, motion-sensing KVM switch to solve his space problem.

At its heart, this device injects DCC code via the I2C pins on his monitors’ VGA cables to swap inputs while a relay ‘replugs’ the keyboard and mouse from the server to the laptop — and vice-versa — at the same time. On the completely custom PCB are a pair of infrared diodes and a receiver that detects Jedi-like hand waves which activate the swap. It’s a little more complex than some methods, but arguably much cooler.

Using an adapter, the pcb plugs into his keyboard, and the monitor data connections and keyboard/mouse output to the laptop and server stream out from there. There is a slight potential issue with cables torquing on the PCB, but with it being so conveniently close, [hardwarecoder] doesn’t need to handle it much.

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No, Cat, This Is Not The Litter Box

Hackaday.io user [peterquinn] has encountered a problem with his recently unruly cat peeing under the dining table. Recognizing that the household cat’s natural enemy is the spray bottle, he built an automatic cat sprayer to deter her antics.

The build is clear-cut: an Arduino Uno clone for a brain, an MG995 servo, PIR sensor, spray bottle, and assorted electronics components. [peterquinn] attached the servo to the spray bottle with a hose clamp — ensuring that the zero position is pointing at the trigger — and running a piece of cabling around the trigger that the servo will tug on. Adding a capacitor proved necessary after frying the first Uno clone, as the servo powering up would cause the Uno to reset.

The code is set up to trigger the servo — spraying the cat twice — once the PIR detects the cat for more than ten seconds. After toying with a few options, [peterquinn] is using a 9V, 2A power supply that works just fine. For now, he hopes the auto-sprayer should do the trick. If it somehow doesn’t work, [peterquinn] has mused that a drastic upgrade to the vacuum may be necessary.

Tachometer Uses Light, Arduinos

To measure how fast something spins, most of us will reach for a tachometer without thinking much about how it works. Tachometers are often found in cars to measure engine RPM, but handheld units can be used for measuring the speed of rotation for other things as well. While some have mechanical shafts that must make physical contact with whatever you’re trying to measure, [electronoobs] has created a contactless tachometer that uses infrared light to take RPM measurements instead.

The tool uses an infrared emitter/detector pair along with an op amp to sense revolution speed. The signal from the IR detector is passed through an op amp in order to improve the quality of the signal and then that is fed into an Arduino. The device also features an OLED screen and a fine-tuning potentiometer all within its own self-contained, 3D-printed case and is powered by a 9 V battery, and can measure up to 10,000 RPM.

The only downside to this design is that a piece of white tape needs to be applied to the subject in order to get the IR detector to work properly, but this is an acceptable tradeoff for not having to make physical contact with a high-speed rotating shaft. All of the schematics and G code are available on the project site too if you want to build your own, and if you’re curious as to what other tools Arduinos have been used in be sure to check out the Arduino-based precision jig.

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Harvesting Energy from the Earth with Quantum Tunneling

More energy hits the earth in sunlight every day than humanity could use in about 16,000 years or so, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying to tap into other sources of energy too. One source that shows promise is geothermal, but these methods have been hindered by large startup costs and other engineering challenges. A new way to tap into this energy source has been found however, which relies on capturing the infrared radiation that the Earth continuously gives off rather than digging large holes and using heat exchangers.

This energy is the thermal radiation that virtually everything gives off in some form or another. The challenge in harvesting this energy is that since the energy is in the infrared range, exceptionally tiny antennas are needed which will resonate at that frequency. It isn’t just fancy antennas, either; a new type of diode had to be manufactured which uses quantum tunneling to convert the energy into DC electricity.

While the scientists involved in this new concept point out that this is just a prototype at this point, it shows promise and could be a game-changer since it would allow clean energy to be harvested whenever needed, and wouldn’t rely on the prevailing weather. While many clean-energy-promising projects often seem like pipe dreams, we can’t say it’s the most unlikely candidate for future widespread adoption we’ve ever seen.

Your Audio Will Be Back, Right After This Commercial Break

[LittleTern] — annoyed by repetitive advertisements — wanted the ability to mute their Satellite Box for the duration of every commercial break. Attempts to crack their Satellite Box’s IR protocol went nowhere, so they thought — why not simply mute the TV?

Briefly toying with the idea of a separate remote for the function, [LittleTern] discarded that option as quickly as one tends to lose an additional remote. Instead, they’re using the spare RGYB buttons on their Sony Bravia remote — cutting down on total remotes while still controlling the IR muting system. Each of the four coloured buttons normally don’t do much, so they’re set do different mute length timers — customized for the channel or time of day. The system that sends the code to the TV is an Arduino Pro Mini controlling an IR LED and receiver, with a status LED set to glow according to which button was pressed.

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