Open Hardware GPS Tracker Works On Your Terms

These days, there’s plenty of options if you want to get a GPS tracker for your vehicle. Unfortunately, they come with the sort of baggage that’s becoming increasingly common with consumer tech: subscription fees, third-party snooping, and a sneaking suspicion that you’re more commodity than customer. So [Viktor Takacs] decided to take things into his own hands and create an open GPS tracker designed for privacy minded hackers.

As [Viktor] didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, his design leverages several off-the-shelf modules. The core of the tracker is the ESP32, which gives him plenty of computational power while still keeping energy consumption within reasonable levels. There’s also a NEO-6M GPS receiver which works at the same 3.3 V level as the ESP32, allowing the microcontroller to read the NMEA sentences without a level shifter. He decided to go with the low-cost SIM800L GSM modem, but as it only works on 2G networks, provisions have been made in the board design to swap it out for a more modern module should you desire.

For the code to glue it all together, [Viktor] pulled in nearly a dozen open source libraries to create a feature-complete firmware that uses MQTT to create a database of location data on his personal server. From there the data is plugged into Home Assistant and visualized with Grafana. This is enough to deliver core functionality, but he says that more custom software components as well as a deep-dive into the security implications of the system is coming in the near future.

We’ve seen custom built GPS trackers before, as generally speaking, it doesn’t take a whole lot to spin up your own solution. But we think the polish that [Viktor] has put on this project takes it to the next level, and ranks it up there among some of the most impressive bespoke tracking solutions we’ve seen over the years.

Larry Berg And The Purple Open Passion Project

It all started with an 88-ton Arburg RP300 injection molding machine in the basement, and a bit of inattention. Larry Berg wanted a couple custom plastic plugs for his Garmin GPS, so he milled out a mold and ran a few. But he got distracted, and came back an hour later to find that his machine had made 400. Instead of throwing them away, he mailed them away for free, but then he found that people started throwing money at him to make more. People all over the world.

This is how the Purple Open Project turned into an global network of GPS geeks, selling molded alternatives to the oddball Garmin plugs for pledges to pay an unspecified amount, and ended up producing over 350,000 plugs over 16 years before he passed away in 2012. This is the story of a hacker’s hacker, who wanted to be able to connect his GPS to his computer and use it the way he wanted, and accidentally created an international business.

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Altium Has Its 2kicad Moment

Around these parts we tend to be exponents of the KiCad lifestyle; what better way to design a PCBA than with free and open source tools that run anywhere? But there are still capabilities in commercial EDA packages that haven’t found their way into KiCad yet, so it may not always be the best tool for the job. Altium Designer is a popular non-libre option, but at up to tens of thousands of USD per seat it’s not always a good fit for users and businesses without a serious need.

It’s hard to find an exciting photo of a dialog box

What do you do as a KiCad user who encounters a design in Altium you’d like to work with? Well as of April 3rd 2020, [Thomas Pointhuber] has merged the beginnings of a native Altium importer into KiCad which looks to be slated for the 6.0 release. As [Thomas] himself points out in the patch submission, this is hardly the first time a 3rd party Altium importer has been published. His new work is a translation of the Perl plugin altium2kicad by [thesourcerer8]. And back in January another user left a comment with links to four other (non-KiCad) tools to handle Altium files.

If you’d like to try out this nifty new feature for yourself, CNX has a great walkthrough starting at building KiCad from source. As for documents to test against the classic BeagleBone Black sources seen above can be found at on GitHub. Head past the break to check out the very boring, but very exciting video of the importer at work, courtesy of [Thomas] himself. We can’t wait to give this a shot!

Thanks for the tip [Chris Gammell]!

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Hackaday Links: January 19, 2020

We’ve seen some interesting pitches in personal ads before, but this one takes the cake. Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa is looking for a date to go along with him on his paid trip to the Moon, with the hope of finding a life partner. Maezawa is slated to be SpaceX’s first commercial lunar flyby customer, and will make the trip no earlier than 2023. That should give him plenty of time to go through the 20,000 applications he received from single women 20 and older with bright personalities and positive attitudes. And he should have plenty of time to make an awesome mixtape for the ride.

Imagine snooping through your kid’s garbage can only to find a used syringe lying in there. Most of us would likely be able to tell that the syringe once contained thermal compound or solder paste and be suitably proud of the little chip off the block, but apparently Cooler Master has fielded enough calls from panicked normie parents that they decided to change the design of their applicators. Given the design of the new applicator we doubt that’s really the reason, but it’s a good marketing story, and we can totally see how someone could mistake the old applicator for something illicit.

It looks as though SpaceX could be getting itself into legal trouble with its Starlink launches. Or more correctly, the FCC might, having apparently violated the National Environmental Policy Act, a Nixon-era law that requires government agencies to consider the environmental impact of any projects they approve. The Federal Communications Commission has been using a loophole in the law to claim a “categorical exemption” from these reviews when approving communications projects, particularly space-based projects. It’s not clear whether space is legally considered part of the environment, so the lawyers are hashing that out. If the FCC gets sued and loses, it’s not clear what happens to the existing Starlink satellites or future launches. Stay tuned for details.

Don’t forget that theĀ Open Hardware Summit is coming soon. The 2020 meeting is the 10th anniversary of the confab, to be held on March 13 in New York. Hackaday is, of course, a proud sponsor of the conference, and our own Sophi Kravtiz will be the keynote speaker! Get your tickets soon.

Tired of off-loading data manipulation and analysis tasks to R in your Python programs? Then you’re probably already aware of Pandas, the Python library that converts data into dataframe objects for easier manipulation. Pandas has (have?) been in pre-release for years, but there’s now a legit 1.0.0 release candidate available. Now might be the time for you Python data mungers to get onboard the Pandas Express.

And finally, the Consumer Electronics Show is a yearly gift to anyone in the tech media, providing as it does so many examples of outrageous uses for the latest technology. To wit, we have LuluPet, the world’s first feces-analyzing cat litter box. LuluPet uses a built-in camera along with IR sensors and an “AI chip” to monitor your cat’s dookie and provide an alert if anything looks awry. On the one hand, inspecting cat poop is a job we’d love to outsource, but on the other hand, most cats we know are quick to cover the evidence of their excretions with kitty litter, leaving a clay-encrusted blob rather than the turds with defined borders that would seem to be needed for image recognition to do its job. We’ll reserve judgment on this one until we see a review.

Stackable Open Source 3D Printer Enclosure

One of the unfortunate realities of desktop FDM 3D printing is that environmental factors such as ambient temperature and humidity can have a big impact on your results. Even with the exact same settings, a part that printed beautifully in the summer can warp right off the bed during the winter months. The solution is a temperature-controlled enclosure, but that can be a daunting project without some guidance. Luckily, [Jay Doscher] has spent the last few months designing a very impressive enclosure that he’s released to the community as open source.

While we’ve seen no shortage of DIY printer enclosures over the years, they tend to be fairly lightweight. But that’s not the case here. Obviously not wanting to leave anything to chance, [Jay] designed this enclosure with 2020 extrusion and aluminum side panels. You could probably sit on the thing with no ill-effects, which is good, since he also designed the enclosure to be stackable should your print farm need to expand vertically.

Of course, there’s more to this enclosure than just an aluminum box. It’s packed with features like an integrated Raspberry Pi for running Octoprint, internal and external environmental monitoring with the Adafruit SHT31-D, and a Logitech Brio 4K video camera to watch the action. While not currently implemented, [Jay] says he’s also working on an internal fire suppression system and a fan controller system which will circulate air inside the enclosure should things get a little too toasty.

The enclosure has been designed around the ever-popular Prusa i3 MK3/S, even going so far as to relocate the printer’s display to the outside so you don’t have to open the door to fiddle with the settings. But adapting it to whatever rig you happen to be running shouldn’t be a problem. Though admittedly, perhaps not as easy as adjusting an enclosure made out of metal shelving.

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An Open Hardware Laser Engraver For Everyone

Right now, you can get a diode laser engraver on eBay for around $100 USD. That sounds like a deal, but it’ll probably use some arcane proprietary software, won’t be terribly accurate, and the laser itself will almost certainly be fully exposed. Of course there’s no shortage of DIY builds which improve upon this situation greatly, but unfortunately the documentation and instructions to replicate them yourself often leave a lot to be desired.

To get a safe and accurate laser platform into the hands of hackers everywhere, we need more well documented open source designs that are actually built with community in mind. Projects like the Engravinator from [Adam Haile]. This isn’t a one-off design with documentation thrown together after the fact, it’s a fully open hardware engraver with a concise assembly guide that’s built from 3D printed parts and readily available components. You’re free to source and print the parts yourself or, eventually, purchase everything as a kit.

Pen-equipped Engravinator

The microwave-sized Engravinator is built from standard 2020 aluminum extrusion, and offers a workable area of 130mm x 130mm. There’s a hatch on the front of the enclosure for objects that are small enough to fit inside the machine, but the open bottom and handles on the top also allow the user to place the Engravinator directly onto the work surface. [Adam] says this feature can be especially useful if you’re looking to burn a design into a tabletop or other large object.

Outside of the aluminum extrusion and miscellaneous hardware that make up the frame, most of the other parts are 3D printed. Released under the CERN Open Hardware License v1.2 and distributed as both STL and STEP files, the printable parts for the Engravinator are ripe for modification should you be so inclined. The same goes for the DXF files for the enclosure panels, which will need to be cut out of orange acrylic with a CNC or (ironically) a laser.

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Supercon Keynote: Dr. Megan Wachs On RISC-V

Hackaday has open-source running deep in our veins — and that goes for hardware as well as software. After all, it’s great to run open-source software, but if it’s running on black-box hardware, the system is only half open. While software has benefited mightily from all of the advantages of community development, the hardware world has been only recently catching up. And so we’ve been following the RISC-V open-source CPU development with our full attention.

Dr. Wachs, making her own wedding ring.

Our keynote speaker for the 2019 Hackaday Superconference is Dr. Megan Wachs, the VP of Engineering at SiFive, the company founded by the creators of the RISC-V instruction-set architecture (ISA). She has also chaired the RISC-V Foundation Debug Task Group, so it’s safe to say that she knows RISC-V inside and out. If there’s one talk we’d like to hear on the past, present, and future of the architecture, this is it.

The RISC-V isn’t a particular chip, but rather it’s a design for how a CPU works, and a standard for the lowest-level language that the machine speaks. In contrast to proprietary CPUs, RISC-V CPUs from disparate vendors can all use the same software tools, unifying and opening their development. Moreover, open hardware implementations for the silicon itself mean that new players can enter the space more easily, bring their unique ideas to life faster, and we’ll all benefit. We can all work together.

It’s no coincidence that this year’s Supercon badge has two RISC-V cores running in its FPGA fabric. When we went shopping around for an open CPU core design, we had a few complete RISC-V systems to pick from, full compiler and development toolchains to write code for them, and of course, implementations in Verilog ready to flash into the FPGA. The rich, open ecosystem around RISC-V made it a no-brainer for us, just as it does for companies making neural-network peripherals or even commodity microcontrollers. You’ll be seeing a lot more RISC-V systems in the near future, on your workbench and in your pocket.

We’re tremendously excited to hear more about the project from the inside, and absolutely looking forward to Megan’s keynote speech!

The Hackaday Superconference is completely sold out, but that doesn’t mean that you have to miss out. We’ll be live-streaming the keynote and all other talks on the Supercon main stage, so subscribe our YouTube channel and you won’t miss a thing.