While more and more consumer products are rushing to include WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, the simplicity and reliability of infrared has kept it in the game in the game far longer than many might have thought. Despite being thinner and sleeker, the IR remote control that comes with your brand new smart TV isn’t fundamentally different than what we were using in the 1980s.
But that doesn’t mean IR devices can’t enjoy some modern conveniences. Sick of misplacing his remote, [Sasa Karanovic] decided to come up with a way he could emulate it to control his TV over the network. Now with nothing more exotic than a web browser on his phone or computer, he can tap away at a visual representation of a remote to control the TV from anywhere in the house. As you might expect, this project could readily be adapted to control whatever IR gadget you might have in mind.
Admittedly, this isn’t exactly breaking any new ground. We’ve seen plenty of people come up with similar IR gateways in the past with varying levels of complexity. But what we really like about this project is that not only has [Sasa] shared the source code that turns an ESP32 into a network-controlled IR transmitter, but he’s put together a concise video that demonstrates how easy it is so spin up your own version. The 3D printed enclosure that looks like a traditional IR remote was a nice touch too.
The hardware for this project is little more than an ESP32 development board and an LED, but if you’re looking for something a bit more built for purpose, we recently saw a very slick open hardware IR gateway that might fit your needs.
Over the last few weeks the media has been full of talk about NEOWISE, one of the brightest and most spectacular comets to ever pass through our solar system that you can still see if you hurry. While the excitement over this interstellar traveler is more than justified, it’s also an excellent opportunity to celebrate the Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) space telescope it was named after. The discovery of this particular comet is just the latest triumph in the orbiting observatory’s incredible mission of discovery that’s spanned over a decade, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
In fact, WISE has been operational for so long now that its mission has evolved beyond its original scope. When it was launched in December 2009 from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base, its primary mission was scheduled to be completed in less than a year. But like many NASA spacecraft that came before it, WISE achieved its original design goals and found itself ready for a new challenge. Though not before it spent almost three years in hibernation mode as the agency decided what to do with it.
For modern students, the spiral notebook has given way to the laptop and the pocket calculator has been supplanted by the smart phone. We’re not just talking about high school and college, either. Today, the education of even grade school children is intrinsically linked with technology. While some might question the wisdom of moving away from the pencil and pad at such a young age, there’s little question that all the kids stuck at home right now due to COVID-19 would have had a much harder time transitioning to remote learning otherwise.
But that certainly wasn’t the case when Advanced Keyboard Technologies released the Writer in 2003. Back then, five years before the first netbooks hit the market, you’d be hard pressed to find a laptop cheap enough to give to a grade school student. In comparison, these small electronic word processors could be purchased for as little as $150. Not only was the initial price low, but the maintenance costs were almost negligible. They ran for hundreds of hours on a standard AA batteries, and didn’t require schools to have any IT staff to manage them. Sure they couldn’t get on the Internet or even run any software, but they would give students a chance to hone their keyboarding skills. Continue reading “Teardown: The Writer Word Processor”→
Getting by without falling under the gaze of surveillance cameras doesn’t seem possible nowadays – from malls to street corners, it’s getting more common for organizations to use surveillance cameras to keep patrons in check. While the freedom of assembly is considered a basic human right in documents such as the US Condition and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is not a right that is respected everywhere in the world. Often times, governments enforcing order will identify individuals using image recognition programs, preventing them from assembling or demonstrating against their government.
Freedom Shield built by engineer [Nick Bild] is an attempt at breaking away from the status quo and giving people a choice on whether they want to be seen or not. The spectrum of radiation visible to humans maxes out around 740nm, allowing the IR waves to remain undetected by normal observers.
The project uses 940nm infrared (IR) LEDs embedded in clothes to overwhelm photo diodes in IR-sensitive cameras used for surveillance. Since the wavelength of the lights are not visible to humans, they don’t obstruct normal behavior, making it an ideal way to hide in plain sight. Of course, using SMD LEDs rather than the larger sizes would also help with making the lights even less visible to the naked eye.
The result doesn’t perfectly obscure your face from cameras, but for a proof-of-concept it’s certainly a example of how to avoid being tracked.
Today, after 16 years of exemplary service, NASA will officially deactivate the Spitzer Space Telescope. Operating for over a decade beyond its designed service lifetime, the infrared observatory worked in tandem with the Hubble Space Telescope to reveal previously hidden details of known cosmic objects and helped expand our understanding of the universe. In later years, despite never being designed for the task, it became an invaluable tool in the study of planets outside our own solar system.
While there’s been no cataclysmic failure aboard the spacecraft, currently more than 260 million kilometers away from Earth, the years have certainly taken their toll on Spitzer. The craft’s various technical issues, combined with its ever-increasing distance, has made its continued operation cumbersome. Rather than running it to the point of outright failure, ground controllers have decided to quit while they still have the option to command the vehicle to go into hibernation mode. At its distance from the Earth there’s no danger of it becoming “space junk” in the traditional sense, but a rogue spacecraft transmitting randomly in deep space could become a nuisance for future observations.
From mapping weather patterns on a planet 190 light-years away in the constellation Ursa Major to providing the first images of Saturn’s largest ring, it’s difficult to overstate the breadth of Spitzer’s discoveries. But these accomplishments are all the more impressive when you consider the mission’s storied history, from its tumultuous conception to the unique technical challenges of long-duration spaceflight.
PixMob units are wearable LED devices intended for crowds of attendees at events like concerts. These devices allow synchronized LED effects throughout the crowd. [yeokm1] did a teardown of one obtained from a preview for the 2019 Singapore National Day Parade (NDP), and in the process learned about the devices and their infrastructure.
PixMob hardware has been known to change over time. This version has two RGB LEDs (an earlier version had only one), an unmarked EEPROM, an unmarked microcontroller (suspected to be the Abov MC81F4104), and an IR receiver module. Two CR1632 coin cells in series power the device. [yeokm1] has made the schematic and other source files available on the teardown’s GitHub repository for anyone interested in a closer look.
One interesting thing that [yeokm1] discovered during the event was the apparent source of the infrared emitter controlling the devices. Knowing what to look for and reasoning that such an emitter would be mounted with a good view of the crowd, [yeokm1] suspected that the IR transmitter was mounted on a lighting tower. Viewing the tower through a smartphone’s camera revealed a purplish glow not visible to the naked eye, which is exactly the way one would expect an IR emitter to look.
Old military equipment can sometimes be found in places like flea markets and eBay for pennies, often because people don’t always know what they have. While [tsbrownie] knew exactly what he was getting when he ordered this mystery device, we’re not sure we could say the same thing if we stumbled upon it ourselves. What looks like a vacuum tube of some sort turns out to be an infrared sensor from an old submarine periscope that was repurposed as a night vision device. (Video, embedded below.)
Of course, getting a tube like this to work requires high voltage. This one specifically needs 3500V in order to work properly, but this was taken care of with a small circuit housed in a PVC-like enclosure. The enclosure houses the tube in the center, with an eye piece at one end and a camera lens at the other, attached presumably by a 3D-printed mount. The electronics are housed in the “grip” and the whole thing looks like a small sightglass with a handle. Once powered up, the device is able to show a classic green night vision scene.
Old analog equipment like this is pretty rare, as are people with the expertise to find these devices and get them working again in some capacity. This is a great video for anyone with an interest in tubes, old military gear, or even if you already built a more modern night vision system a while back.