The $50 Ham: Going Mobile

So far in this series, everything we’ve covered has been geared around the cheapest and easiest possible means of getting on the air: getting your Technician license, buying your first low-end portable transceiver, and checking in on the local repeater nets. That’s all good stuff, and chances are you can actually take all three of those steps and still have change left over from your $50 bill. Like I said, amateur radio doesn’t have to be expensive to be fun.

But at some point, every new ham is going to yearn for that first “real” rig, something with a little more oomph in terms of power, and perhaps with a few more features. For many Technicians, the obvious choice is a mobile rig, something that can be used to chat with fellow hams on the way to work, or to pass the time while on long road trips. Whatever your motivation is, once you buy a radio, you have to install it, and therein lie challenges galore, both electrical and mechanical.

I recently took the plunge on a mobile rig, and while the radio and antenna were an order of magnitude more expensive than $50, the process of installing it was pretty cheap. But it’s not the price of the thing that’s important in this series; rather, it’s to show that ham radio is all about doing it yourself, even when that means tearing your car apart from the inside out and rebuilding it around a radio.

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A Mobile Terminal For The End Of The World

If civilization goes sideways and you need to survive, what are the bare essentials that should go in your bunker? Food and fresh water, sure. Maybe something to barter with in case things go full on The Postman. That’s all sensible enough, but how’s that stuff going to help you get a LAN party going? If you’re anything like [Jay Doscher], you’ll make sure there’s a ruggedized Raspberry Pi system with a self-contained network with you when the bombs drop.

Or at least, it certainly looks the part. He’s managed to design the entire project so it doesn’t require drilling holes through the Pelican case that serves as the enclosure, meaning it’s about as well sealed up as a piece of electronics can possibly be. The whole system could be fully submerged in water and come out bone dry on the inside, and with no internal moving parts, it should be largely immune to drops and shocks.

But we imagine [Jay] won’t actually need to wait for nuclear winter before he gets some use out of this gorgeous mobile setup. With the Pi’s GPIO broken out to dual military-style panel mount connectors on the front, a real mechanical keyboard, and an integrated five port Ethernet switch, you won’t have any trouble getting legitimate work done with this machine; even if the closest you ever get to a post-apocalyptic hellscape is the garage with the heat off. We especially like the 3D printed front panel with integrated labels, which is a great tip that frankly we don’t see nearly enough of.

This is actually an evolved version of the Raspberry Pi Field Unit (RPFU) that [Jay] built back in 2015. He tells us that he wanted to update the design to demonstrate his personal growth as a hacker and maker over the last few years, and judging by the final product, we think it’s safe to say he’s on the right path.

Jazzberry Bakes The Pi Into A Mechanical Keyboard

If you hang around Hackaday long enough, pretty soon you’ll start to see some patterns emerging. As the nexus of all things awesome in the hacking world, our front page offers a unique vantage point by which you can see what’s getting folks excited this particular month, year, or decade. Right now we can tell you hackers love the Raspberry Pi, 3D printing, and perhaps above all, they can’t get enough mechanical keyboards.

So that makes the Jazzberry by [Mattis Folkestad] something of a perfect storm in the hacker world. The project uses a 3D printed enclosure to combine a Raspberry Pi 3B+ and an Ajazz AK33 mechanical keyboard into a single unit like the home computers of old. Honestly, we’re just glad he didn’t sneak an ESP8266 in there; as the resulting combination might have been enough to crash the site.

That being said, we can’t help but notice there’s a lot of open space inside the 3D printed enclosure. Right now there’s nothing inside but the Raspberry Pi, which only takes up a fraction of the internal volume. Adding a battery and hard drive would be the logical next steps, but it could also be outfitted with a suite of radios and various other hacking and security research accoutrements. We’ve seen an influx of such builds over the last few months, and the Jazzberry seems like it could make a very slick entry into this burgeoning category of mobile pentesting devices.

The STL files are designed specifically for the combination of hardware that [Mattis] used, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to modify them for your own purposes. Even if you stick with the same AK33 keyboard, an upgrade to the impressively powerful Raspberry Pi 4 would be more than worth the time fiddling with the STLs in your CAD tool of choice. If you really want to go all in, add a display and you’re well on the way to that cyberdeck you’ve always wanted.

Predicting Weather With The Internet Of Cars

Follow this train of thought: cars have sensors, cars are in frequent use over large areas, cars are the ultimate distributed sensor network for weather conditions.

Many years ago, as I wasted yet another chunk of my life sitting in the linear parking lot that was my morning commute, I mused that there had to be a way to prevent this madness. I thought: What if there was a way for the cars to tell each other where slowdowns are? This was long before smartphones, so it would have to be done the hard way. I imagined that each vehicle could have a small GPS receiver and a wireless transceiver of some sort, to send the vehicle’s current position to a central server, which would then send the aggregate speed data for each road back to the subscriber’s car. A small display would show you the hotspots and allow you to choose an alternate route. Genius! I had finally found my billion dollar idea.

Sadly, it was not to be. Seemingly days later, everyone on the planet had a GPS-equipped smartphone in his or her pocket, and the complex system I imagined was now easily implemented as software. Comically, one of the reasons I chose not to pursue my idea is that I didn’t think anyone would willingly let a company have access to their location information. Little did I know.

So it was with great interest that I read an article claiming that windshield wiper data from connected cars can be used to prevent floods. I honestly thought it was a joke at first, like something from a Monty Python sketch. But as I read through the article, I thought about that long-ago idea I had had, which amounted to a distributed sensor platform, might actually be useful for more than just detecting traffic jams.

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Now Hackaday Looks Great On The Small Screen Too

Most of use read and comment on Hackaday from the desktop, while we let our mind work through the perplexing compiler errors, wait for that 3D print to finish, or lay out the next PCB. But more and more people discovering Hackaday for the first time are arriving here on mobile devices, and now they’ll be greeted with a better reading experience — we’ve updated our look for smaller screens.

Yes, it may be a surprise but there are still people who don’t know about Hackaday. But between featuring your amazing hacks, and publishing the incredible original content tirelessly written by our amazing writers and editors, we’re seeing more new readers than ever. Our mission is to bring hardware hacking and the free and open sharing of information and ideas to people everywhere. So we made a responsive design that fits on the tall and narrow shards of glass attached to everyone’s hand.

There’s a generation of mobile-first hackers that we know has been headed our way — just a few years ago I lamented the change this poses to full-sized keyboards. But we think everyone should be interested in the kind of delightful self-learning that happens all the time around here and we’re happy to improve the mobile experience for that reason. Now we look great on a cellphone screen, and continue to look great on your battlestation where you have one-tab-always-open with Hackaday while laying out that circuit board, or debugging those timing issues on a sweet embedded project.

Wireless Charging Without So Many Chargers

[Nikola Tesla] believed he could wirelessly supply power to the world, but his calculations were off. We can, in fact, supply power wirelessly and we are getting better but far from the dreams of the historical inventor. The mainstream version is the Qi chargers which are what phones use to charge when you lay them on a base. Magnetic coupling is what allows the power to move through the air. The transmitter and receiver are two halves of an air-core transformer, so the distance between the coils exponentially reduces efficiency and don’t even think of putting two phones on a single base. Well, you could but it would not do any good. [Chris Mi] at San Diego State University is working with colleagues to introduce receivers which feature a pass-through architecture so a whole stack of devices can be powered from a single base.

Efficiency across ten loads is recorded at 83.9% which is phenomenal considering the distance between each load is 6 cm. Traditional air-gap transformers are not designed for 6 cm, much less 60 cm. The trick is to include another transmitter coil alongside the receiving coil. By doing this, the coils are never more than 6 cm apart, even when the farthest unit is a long ways from the first supply. Another advantage to this configuration is that tuned groups continue to work even when a load changes in the system. For this reason, putting ten chargeables on a single system is a big deal because they don’t need to be retuned when one finishes charging.

We would love to see more of this convenient charging and hope that it catches on.

Via IEEE Spectrum.

Manhole Covers Hide Antennas

5G is gearing up to be the most extensive implementation of mesh networking ever, and that could mean antennas will not need to broadcast for miles, just far enough to reach some devices. That unsightly cell infrastructure stuck on water towers and church steeples could soon be hidden under low-profile hunks of metal we are already used to seeing; manhole covers. This makes sense because 5G’s millimeter radio waves are more or less line-of-sight, and cell users probably wouldn’t want to lose connectivity every time they walk behind a building.

At the moment, Vodafone in the UK is testing similar 4G antennas and reaching 195 megabits/sec download speeds. Each antenna covers a 200-meter radius and uses a fiber network because, courtesy of existing underground infrastructure. There is some signal loss from transmitting and receiving beneath a slab of metal, but that will be taken into account when designing the network. The inevitable shift to 5G will then be a relatively straightforward matter of lifting the old antennas out and laying the new hardware inside, requiring only a worker and a van instead of a construction crew.

We want to help you find all the hidden cell phone antennas and pick your own cell module.

Via IEEE Spectrum.