Hamster Goes On Virtual Journey

Hamsters are great pets, especially for those with limited space or other resources. They are fun playful animals that are fairly easy to keep, and are entertaining to boot. [Kim]’s hamster, [Mr. Fluffbutt], certainly fits this mold as well but [Kim] wanted something a little beyond the confines of the habitat and exercise wheel and decided to send him on a virtual journey every time he goes for a run.

The virtual hamster journey is built on an ESP32 microcontroller which monitors the revolutions of the hamster wheel via a hall effect sensor and magnet. It then extrapolates the distance the hamster has run and sends the data to a Raspberry Pi which hosts a MQTT and Node.js server. From there, it maps out an equivalent route according to a predefined GPX route and updates that information live. The hamster follows the route, in effect, every time it runs on the wheel. [Mr Fluffbutt] has made it from the Netherlands to southeastern Germany so far, well on his way to his ancestral home of Syria.

This project is a great way to add a sort of augmented reality to a pet hamster, in a similar way that we’ve seen self-driving fish tanks. Adding a Google Streetview monitor to the hamster habitat would be an interesting addition as well, but for now we’re satisfied seeing the incredible journey that [Mr Fluffbutt] has been on so far.

Counter-Strike Gets The RGB LED Treatment

Inspired by the over-the-top stage lighting and pyrotechnics used during e-sport events, [Hans Peter] set out to develop a scaled-down version (minus the flames) for his personal Counter-Strike: Global Offensive sessions. It might seem like pulling something like this off would involve hacking the game engine, but as it turns out, Valve was kind enough to implement a game state API that made it relatively easy.

According to the documentation, the CS:GO client can be configured to send out state information to a HTTP server at regular intervals. It even provided example code for implementing a simple state server in Node.js, which [Hans] adapted for this project by adding some conditional statements that analyze the status of the current game.

These functions fire off serial commands to the attached Arduino, which in turn controls the WS2812B LEDs. The Arduino code takes the information provided by the HTTP server and breaks that down into various lighting routines for different conditions such as wins and losses. But things really kick into gear when a bomb is active.

[Hans] wanted to synchronize the flashing LEDs with the beeping sound the bomb makes in the game, but the API doesn’t provide granular enough data. So he recorded the audio of the bomb arming sequence, used Audacity to precisely time the beeps, and implemented the sequence in his Arduino code. In the video after the break you can see that the synchronization isn’t perfect, but it’s certainly close enough to get the point across in the heat of battle.

With the special place that Counter-Strike occupies in the hearts of hackers and gamers alike, it’s little surprise people are still finding unique ways to experience the game.

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Automate Your Life With Node-RED (Plus A Dash Of MQTT)

For years we’ve seen a trickle of really interesting home automation projects that use the Node-RED package. Each time, the hackers behind these projects have raved about Node-RED and now I’ve joined those ranks as well.

This graphic-based coding platform lets you quickly put together useful operations and graphic user interfaces (GUIs), whether you’re the freshest greenhorn or a seasoned veteran. You can use it to switch your internet-connected lights on schedule, or at the touch of a button through a web-app available to any device on your home network. You can use it as an information dashboard for the weather forecast, latest Hackaday articles, bus schedules, or all of them at once. At a glance it abstracts away the complexity of writing Javascript, while also making it simple to dive under hood and use your 1337 haxor skills to add your own code.

You can get this up and running in less than an hour and I’m going to tackle that as well as examples for playing with MQTT, setting up a web GUI, and writing to log files. To make Node-RED persistent on your network you need a server, but it’s lean enough to run from a Raspberry Pi without issue, and it’s even installed by default in BeagleBone distributions. Code for all examples in this guide can be found in the tutorial repository. Let’s dive in!

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Auto-Trickler Gently Doles Out Powder To Assist Reloading

Do you even trickle?

[Eric] does, and like everything else about reloading, trickling is serious business. Getting an exact charge of powder to add to a cartridge is not a simple task, and very tedious when done manually. This smartphone-controlled auto-trickler is intended to make the job easier, safer, and more precise.

Reloading ammunition is a great way for shooters to save money and recycle the brass casings that pile up at the end of a long day at the range. It can be a fairly simple process of cleaning the casings, replacing the spent primers, adding the correct powder charge, and seating a new bullet. It’s all pretty straightforward, but the devil is in the details, especially with the powder charge. A little too much can be a big problem, so tricklers were invented to allow the reloader to sneak up on the proper charge. [Eric]’s auto-trickler interfaces to a digital powder scale and uses a standard cell phone vibration motor to gently coax single kernels of powder from a hopper until the proper charge has accumulated. It’s easier to understand by watching the video below.

The hardware behind the trickler is pretty standard — just a Raspberry Pi Zero to talk to the smartphone UI via Bluetooth, and to monitor and control the scale via USB. [Eric] has made all the code open source so that anyone can build their own auto-trickler, which we applaud; he did the same thing with his rifle-mounted accelerometer. This project might have applications far beyond reloading where precision dispensing is required.

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Don’t Look Now, But Your Necklace Is Listening

There was a time when the average person was worried about the government or big corporations listening in on their every word. It was a quaint era, full of whimsy and superstition. Today, a good deal of us are paying for the privilege to have constantly listening microphones in multiple rooms of our house, largely so we can avoid having to use our hands to turn the lights on and off. Amazing what a couple years and a strong advertising push can do.

So if we’re going to be funneling everything we say to one or more of our corporate overlords anyway, why not make it fun? For example, check out this speech-to-image necklace developed by [Stephanie Nemeth]. As you speak, the necklace listens in and finds (usually) relevant images to display. Conceptually this could be used as an assistive communication technology, but we’re cool with it being a meme display device for now.

Hardware wise, the necklace is just a Raspberry Pi 3, a USB microphone, and a HyperPixel 4.0 touch screen. The Pi Zero would arguably be the better choice for hanging around your neck, but [Stephanie] notes that there’s some compatibility issues with Node.js on the Zero’s ARM6 processor. She details a workaround, but says there’s no guarantee it will work with her code.

The JavaScript software records audio from the microphone with SoX, and then runs that through the Google Cloud Speech-to-Text service to figure out what the wearer is saying. Finally it does a Google image search on the captured words using the custom search JSON API to find pictures to show on the display. There’s a user-supplied list of words to ignore so it doesn’t try looking up images for function words (such as “and” or “however”), though presumably it can also be used to blacklist certain imagery you might not want popping up on your chest in mixed company.

We’d be interested in seeing somebody implement this software on a Raspberry Pi powered digital frame to display artwork that changes based on what the people in the room are talking about. Like in Antitrust, but without Tim Robbins offing anyone.

Turning That Old Hoverboard Into A Learning Platform

[Isabelle Simova] is building Hoverbot, a flexible robotics platform using Ikea plastic trays, JavaScript running on a Raspberry Pi and parts scavenged from commonly available hoverboards.

Self-balancing scooters a.k.a. Hoverboards are a great source of parts for such a project. Their high torque, direct drive brushless motors can drive loads of 100 kg or more. In addition, you also get a matching motor controller board, a rechargeable battery and its charging circuit. Most hoverboard controllers use the STM32F103, so flashing them with your own firmware becomes easy using a ST-link V2 programmer.

The next set of parts you need to build your robot is sensors. Some are cheap and easily available, such as microphones, contact switches or LDRs, while others such as ultrasonic distance sensors or LiDAR’s may cost a lot more. One source of cheap sensors are car parking assist transducers. An aftermarket parking sensor kit usually consists of four transducers, a control box, cables and display. Using a logic analyzer, [Isabelle] shows how you can poke around the output port of the control box to reverse engineer the data stream and decipher the sensor data. Once the data structure is decoded, you can then use some SPI bit-banging and voltage translation to interface it with the Raspberry Pi. Using the Pi makes it easy to add a cheap web camera, microphone and speakers to the Hoverbot.

Ikea is a hackers favourite, and offers a wide variety of hacker friendly devices and supplies. Their catalog offers a wide selection of fine, Swedish engineered products which can be used as enclosures for building robots. [Isabelle] zeroed in on a deep, circular plastic tray from a storage table set, stiffened with some plywood reinforcement. The tray offers ample space to mount the two motors, two castor wheels, battery and the rest of the electronics. Most of the original hardware from the hoverboard comes handy while putting it all together.

The software glue that holds all this together is JavaScript. The event-driven architecture of Node.js makes it a very suitable framework to use for Hoverbot. [Isabelle] has built a basic application allowing remote control of the robot. It includes a dashboard which shows live video and audio streams from the robot, buttons for movement control, an input box for converting text to speech, ultrasonic sensor visualization, LED lighting control, message log and status display for the motors. This makes the dashboard a useful debugging tool and a starting point for building more interesting applications. Check the build log for all the juicy details. Which other products from the Ikea catalog can be used to build the Hoverbot? How about a robotic Chair?

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Automated Wildlife Recognition

Trail and wildlife cameras are commonly available nowadays, but the Wild Eye project aims to go beyond simply taking digital snapshots of critters. [Brenda Armour] uses a Raspberry Pi to not only take photos of wildlife who wander into the camera’s field of view, but to also automatically identify and categorize the animals seen using a visual recognition API from IBM via the Node-RED infrastructure. The result is a system that captures an image when motion is detected, sends the image to the visual recognition API, and attempts to identify any wildlife based on the returned data.

The visual recognition isn’t flawless, but a recent proof of concept shows promising results with crows, a cat, and a dog having been successfully identified. Perhaps when the project is ready to move deeper into the woods, elements from these solar-powered networked birdhouses (which also use the Raspberry Pi) could help cut some cords.