Easy Internet For Retro Computers With The PiModem

Retro computers are great, but what really makes a computer special is how many other computers it can talk to. It’s all about the network! Often, getting these vintage rigs online requires a significant investment in dusty old network cards from eBay and hunting down long-corrupted driver discs to lace everything together. A more modern alternative is to use something like PiModem to do the job instead.

PiModem consists of using a Raspberry Pi Zero W to emulate a serial modem, providing older systems with a link to the outside world. This involves setting up the Pi to use its hardware serial port to communicate with the computer in question. A level shifter is usually required, as well as a small hack to enable hardware flow control where necessary. It’s then a simple matter of using tcpser and pppd so you can talk to telnet BBSs and the wider Internet at large.

It’s a tidy hack that makes getting an old machine online much cheaper and easier than using hardware of the era. We’ve seen similar work before, too!

Coffee Maker Gives Plants An Automatic Drip

Somehow, [Jeremy S   Cook]’s wife was able to keep a Keurig machine going for 10 years before it quit slinging caffeine. [Jeremy] got it going again, but decided to buy a new one when he saw how it was inside from a decade of water deposits.

But why throw the machine out like spent coffee grinds? Since the pump is still good, he decided to turn it into an automatic plant watering machine. Now the Keurig pumps water using a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a transistor. [Jeremy] can set up watering cron jobs with PuTTY, or push water on demand during dry spells. We love that he wired up a soil moisture sensor to the red/blue LEDs around the brew button — red means the plant is thirsty, purple means water is flowing, and no light means the plant is quenched and happy.

This project is wide open, but cracking into the Keurig is up to you. Fortunately, that part of the build made it into the video, which is firmly planted after the break.

Old coffee makers really do seem suited to taking up plant care in retirement. Here’s a smart garden made from an espresso machine.

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A Thermal Camera With A Vintage Twist

Nowadays we often value the superb design of vintage technology. It is, therefore, laudable when a broken piece of old electronics is given a new purpose. These types of builds are exactly [Martin Mander’s] cup of tea as he confirmed by turning a 1979 Apollo microwave monitor into a thermal camera (video embedded below).

Intrigued by its unique design, [Martin Mander] picked up the original microwave monitor at a secondhand sale, although the device was not exactly in mint condition. Supposedly this type of detector was used to monitor the exposure of personnel to microwave radiation in an industrial environment.

After removing all the guts, he replaced them with a Raspberry Pi Zero W, Adafruit thermal camera, 1.3″ TFT display, and a USB battery pack. It is especially nice that [Martin Mander] was able to mount all the components without relying on 3D prints but instead, he hand-carved some custom panels and brackets from waste plastic.

The software is based on Python and automatically uploads the captured images to an Adafruit.IO dashboard. With 8 x 8 pixels the resolution of the sensor is not great but by using bicubic interpolation he was able to convert it to a 32 x 32 image which was enough to take some interesting pictures of his cat and other household items.

It is also worthwhile to check out some of [Martin Manders] other retro-tech mods like his cassette Pi IoT scroller.

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Rock Out While You Knock Out Germs

We don’t know about you, but we’re pretty tired of singing two rounds of “Happy Birthday” or counting Mississippi to 20 each time we wash our hands. It’s difficult to do it without thinking about the reason why, and that’s not good for positivity. If you’d rather have your spirits lifted every time you hit the sink, you need a better soundtrack.

[Deeplocal] made a soap dispenser that gathers one of your top 20 tunes from Spotify and plays it for 20 seconds while you lather. The best part is that the songs don’t start at 0:00 — the code is written to use the preview clip of each one, so you get the algorithmically-determined best part.

Scrubber is a pretty simple build that uses a Raspberry Pi Zero W and a speaker bonnet powered by a LiPo, but we dig it just the same. The switch is adaptable to pretty much any soap dispenser — just stick two pieces of copper tape where they’ll make contact when the pump is pushed down, and solder wires to them. Check out the demo after the break.

We’ve often wondered how much more water we’re using with all the increased hand-washing out there. Adjusting to this apocalypse is arduous for all of us, but the environment is still a concern, so try to remember to turn the water off while you’re not using it. Is anyone out there working on an easy way to adapt home faucets to add motion or foot control? Because that would be awesome right about now.

The nice thing about Scrubber is that you can focus on washing your hands and doing so properly. If you’d rather watch a digital hourglass to pass the time, light up your lockdown lavatory lifestyle with LEDs.

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IoT Cassette Scroller Never Needs A Pencil

The see-through electronics craze of the ’80s and ’90s clearly had an effect on [MisterM], and we can totally relate. Those candy-colored components inside undoubtedly launched a few thousand kids in the direction of electronics, as we can attest.

Though the odds seemed very much against him, [MisterM] was able to fit all the necessary components for a scrolling IoT notifier inside a standard cassette tape. It took a bit of surgery on both the Raspberry Pi Zero W and the donor cassette in the name of getting all the components to fit in such a tight space. We’re glad he kept at it, because it looks amazing.

The Raspi uses Adafruit.IO and IFTTT to get all kinds of notifications — tweets, weather, soil moisture, you name it — and scrolls them across an 11×7 LED matrix. A vibrating disc motor gives a buzzing heads up first, so [MisterM] doesn’t miss anything. Hit the break button and flip this thing over, because the build video is all queued up on the B-side.

If you’d rather play around with cassette decks, add in some playback speed potentiometers to mess with the sound, or go all out and make a Mellotron.

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Parallel Pis For Production Programming; Cutting Minutes And Dollars Off Of Assembly

Assembly lines for electronics products are complicated beasts, often composed of many custom tools and fixtures. Typically a microcontroller must be programmed with firmware, and the circuit board tested before assembly into the enclosure, followed by functional testing afterwards before putting it in a box. These test platforms can be very expensive, easily into the tens of thousands of dollars. Instead, this project uses a set of 12 Raspberry Pi Zero Ws in parallel to program, test, and configure up to 12 units at once before moving on to the next stage in assembly.

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Robot Allows Remote Colleagues To Enjoy Office Shenanigans

[Esther Rietmann] and colleagues built a Telepresence Robot to allow work at home teammates to have a virtual, but physical presence in the office. A telepresence robot is like a tablet mounted on a Roomba, providing motion capability in addition to an audio/video connection. Built during a 48 hour hackathon, it is a bit crude under the hood and misses out on some features, such as a bidirectional video feed. But overall, it pretty much does what is expected from such a device.

The main structure is build from cheap aluminium profiles and sheets. A Raspberry Pi is at the heart of the electronics hardware, with a servo mounted Pi-camera and speaker-microphone pair taking care of video and audio. The two DC motors are driven by H-bridges controlled from the Pi and an idle swivel caster is attached as the third wheel. The whole thing is powered by a power bank. The one important thing missing is an HDMI display which can show a video feed from the remote laptop camera. That may have been due to time constraints, but this feature should not be too difficult to add as a future upgrade. It’s important for both sides to be able to see each other.

The software is built around WebRTC protocol, with the WebRTC Extension from UV4L doing most of the heavy lifting. The UV4L Streaming Server not only provides its own built-in set of web applications and services, but also embeds a general-purpose web server on another port, allowing the user to run and deploy their own custom web apps. This allowed [Esther Rietmann]’s team to build a basic but functional front-end to transmit data from the remote interface for controlling the robot. The remote computer runs a Python control script, running as a system service, to control the drive motors and camera servo.

The team also played with adding basic object, gesture and action recognition features. This was done using PoseNet – a machine learning model, which allows for real-time human pose estimation in the browser using TensorFlowJS – allowing them to demonstrate some pose detection capability. This could be useful as a “follow me” feature for the robot.

Another missing feature, which most other commercial telepresence robots have, is a sensor suite for collusion avoidance, object detection and awareness such as micro switches, IR / ultrasonic detectors, time of flight cameras or LiDAR’s. It would be relatively easy to add one or several sensors to the robot.

If you’d like to build one for yourself, check out their code repository on Github and the videos below.

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