Ask Hackaday: How Would You Build This Flight Tracker For Kids?

You’ve got to hand it to marketers – they really know how to make you want something. All it takes is a little parental guilt, a bit of technical magic, and bam, you’re locked into a product you never knew you needed.

This prototype flight tracking nightlight for kids is a great example. Currently under development by Canadian airline WestJet, the idea is to provide a way for traveling parents to let kids know how long it is until Mommy or Daddy gets home from their trip. The prototype shows a stylized jet airliner with Neopixel lighting in the base. A pair of projectors in the wings shine an animated flight path on the child’s darkened bedroom ceiling, showing them when the wayward parent will return. Get past the schmaltz in the video below, and perhaps get over your jealousy of parents with kids who still eagerly await their return, and it’s actually a pretty good idea.

Now for the ask: how would you go about building something like this? And more importantly, how would you make it work for any plane, train, or automobile trip, and not just a WestJet flight? A look at the “How it will work” section of the page shows several photos of the prototype, which suggests the hardware end is dead easy. A Raspberry Pi Zero W features prominently, and the projectors appear to be TI’s DLP2000EVM, which we’ve featured before, mounted to a riser card. The Neopixels, a 3D-printed case, and the superfluous flashlight fuselage would be pretty easy, too.

On the software side, a generic version that tracks flight from any airline would need an interface for the traveler to define a flight, and something to check an API like FlightAware’s, or similar ones for whatever mode of transportation you’re using.

Seems like a pretty straightforward project. WestJet claims they’ll have their Flight Light ready sometime this summer; think we can beat them to it?

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Curbing Internet Addiction In A Threatening Manner

Those who have children of their own might argue that the youth of today are getting far too much internet time. [Nick] decided to put an emergency stop to it and made this ingenious internet kill switch to threaten teenagers with. Rather unassuming on the outside, the big red button instantly kills all network traffic as soon as you push it down, doing its label justice. Reset the toggle button, and the connection is restored, simple as that.

In order to achieve this, [Nick] fit inside the enclosure a Raspberry Pi Zero W, along with a battery and a wireless charging circuit for portability and completely wireless operation. The button is wired into the Pi’s GPIO and triggers a command to the router via SSH over WiFi, where a script listening to the signal tells it to drop the network interfaces talking to the outside world. It’s simple, it’s clean, and you can carry it around with you as a warning for those who dare disobey you. We love it.

Another use for big red buttons we’ve seen in the past is an AC power timer, but you can do just about anything with them if you turn one into an USB device. Check this one in action after the break.

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Old Nixie Display Rides Again As 3D-Printer Filament Meter

We’re not sure about the name of this Nixie tube filament meter that [Scott M. Baker] built. He calls it a “filadometer”, perhaps a portmanteau of “filament” and “odometer”, in which case it makes sense. It may not flow trippingly from the tongue and we can’t come up with anything better, but whatever moniker you use it’s actually a pretty cool build.

The filadometer started life as something completely different and utterly typical for Nixie tube projects – a temperature and humidity gauge. [Scott] decided to recycle the eight-tube display to keep track of his Prusa, and in doing so he reveals a pretty remarkable degree of forethought in his design process. The original Nixie display has all the usual trappings – the driver chips, the shift registers, and the high voltage power supply. What stands out is the modularity of his design: the tube sockets and drivers live on a backplane PCB, with a Raspberry Pi and a separate HV supply board plugging into it. The original display had a Model B Pi, so there was plenty of room for a new Zero W. A new printed case and a little programming to capture the filament use from Octoprint is all it took to put this nifty little build back in action. The video below shows the details.

We’re always excited to see new videos from [Scott] because we learn so much from looking over his virtual shoulder. If you haven’t checked out his stuff, take a look at his homage to the 8″ floppy or his dual-port memory hack for retro gaming.

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A Vintage Sony Portable TV, Brought Up To Date

In the time before smartphones for on-the-go visual entertainment, there were portable TVs. You might think of a portable TV as a luggable device, but the really cool ones were pocket-sized. Perhaps if you are familiar with pocket TVs you’ll be thinking of a Citizen or a Casio with a matchbox-sized LCD, but before those devices reached the market there was an earlier generation that featured tiny CRTs. These were simply the coolest electronics that an ’80s kid could lust after, and [Nick Reynolds] is lucky enough to have one. It’s a Sony Watchman from some time in the first half of that decade, and because it’s useless in the age of digital broadcasts he’s upgraded it by installing a Raspberry Pi in its case.

The unlikely inspiration for the project came from the 1970s British sci-fi TV series Space 1999, in which portable CRT-based communicators were a prop. They were typical of the sci-fi vision of the future in shows of the period, one that got so much right but didn’t quite see the smartphone coming.

The Watchman features Sony’s angled CRT, and fitting a Pi Zero W into the limited space behind it called for some careful insulation of its parts with Kapton tape. He’s even included a Pi camera module with a contorted run of flexible cable, placing it beneath the screen where a tuning indicator once sat. He has no sound as yet, but is able to demonstrate a working videophone using Ekiga as a client. He has a few more Watchmen, and has plans for a suite of retro videophones, and a Pi 3 based model.

Surprisingly this isn’t the only Sony Watchman that’s had this kind of treatment, previously we’ve brought you one that hosted a Pong game.

This Computer Mouse Houses A Mouse Computer

Everyone has heard of a computer mouse before, but what about a mouse computer?

Granted, [Electronic Grenade]’s all-in-one computer in an oversized mouse-shaped case is almost without practical value. But that’s hardly the point, which was just to do something cool. Inspiration came from keyboards stuffed with a Raspberry Pi to make a mostly-all-in-one machine; this Rodent of Unusual Size is the next logical step. With a Pi Zero W and a LiPo battery alongside a mouse mechanism inside the 3D-printed case – alas, no real mouse currently on the market would house everything – the computer sports not only a tiny and nearly-usable LCD display, but also a slide-out Bluetooth keyboard. The ergonomics of a keyboard at right angles to the display gives us pause, but again, usability is not the point. And don’t expect much in the performance department – the rig barfs after a few seconds of playing Minecraft.

Still, for all its limitations, this mouse computer has a certain charm. We always enjoy “just because I can” projects, whether they be a Gameboy ukelele or a fire-breathing animatronic duck. Such projects are often valuable not for what they produce, but for pushing into areas where no one has gone before.

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Pi Zero Gives Amateur Astronomer Affordable Control Of Telescope

Like many other hobbies, astronomy can be pursued on many levels, with equipment costs ranging from the affordable to the – well, astronomical. Thankfully, there are lots of entry-level telescopes on the market, some that even come with mounts that automatically find and track heavenly bodies. Finding a feature is as easy as aligning to a few known stars and looking up the object in the database embedded in the remote.

Few of the affordable mounts are WiFi-accessible, though, which is a gap [Dane Gardner]’s Raspberry Pi interface for Celestron telescopes aims to fill. For the price of a $10 Pi Zero W and a little know-how, [Dane] was able to gain full control over his ‘scope. His instrument is a Celestron NexStar, a Schmidt-Cassegrain reflector with a 150-mm aperture, has a motorized altitude-azimuth mount. The handheld remote had enough room for him to add the Zero, powering it from the mount’s battery pack. The handset has an RS-232 serial port built-in, but with the level differences [Dane] just connected the Pi directly to the handset before the UART. RunningĀ INDI, a cross-platform astronomical instrument control library, he now has total control of the scope, and he can use open source astronomy software rather than the limited database within the handset. As a neat side trick, the telescope can now be controlled with a Bluetooth gamepad.

Astronomy and electronics go hand in hand, whether in the optical or radio part of the spectrum. We like the way [Dane] was able to gain control of his telescope, and we’d like to hear about what he sees with his new tool. Assuming the Seattle weather ever cooperates.

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This Bitcoin Price Tracking Traffic Light Isn’t Just A Red LED

Quick, what’s the price of Bitcoin? Is it lower today than yesterday? Are you overdrafting your Lamborghini account? What if you had an easy way to tell at a glance how much you could have made if you sold in December of last year? That’s what this Bitcoin price tracking traffic light is all about, and it’s a great use of existing electronics.

The hardware for this build is a traffic light table lamp available on Amazon for twenty bucks. Inside this traffic light, you get a PCB with three LEDs and a small microcontroller to control the LEDs. The microcontroller isn’t used in this case, instead the microcontroller is removed and a few wires are soldered up to the base of the transistors used to drive the LEDs. The other ends of these wires are attached to a trio of pins on a Raspberry Pi Zero W, giving this traffic light table lamp Linux and a connection to the Internet.

On the software side of things, we’re looking at a Docker container running a Python script that fetches the latest Bitcoin price from Coindesk and calculates the change from the previous fetch of the price of Bitcoin. This data is shuffled off to another Python script that actually changes the LEDs on the lamp.

Sure, these days a ‘bitcoin price tracking traffic light’ is as simple as connecting a red LED to a battery, and if you’re feeling extra fancy you can add a 220 Ī© resistor. But this is a project that’s so well executed that we’ve got to give it a tip ‘o our hat.