Hackaday Prize Entry: The $50 Raspberry Pi Smartphone

The Hackaday Prize is a challenge to create hardware, and the ZeroPhone is quite possibly the most popular project entered in the Hackaday Prize. What is it? It’s a mobile phone built around the Raspberry Pi Zero that can be assembled for about $50 in parts. Already, it’s a finalist in the Hackaday Prize best product competition, a finalist for the grand prize of $50,000, and one of the most popular projects on Hackaday.io of all time.

We took a look at the ZeroPhone early this year, and while there have been significant advances in this project, the philosophy is still pretty much the same. This is a mobile phone with a numeric keypad and a 128 x 64 pixel OLED display — basically the same user interface as a Nokia brick. The brain of the phone is a Raspberry Pi Zero wrapped in a PCB sandwich, with options for WiFi, Bluetooth, HDMI and audio outputs, a USB port, battery charging, and a ton of GPIOs that include ISM band radios, infrared receivers and transmitters, more flash storage, and anything else you can imagine. Basically, we’re looking at one of those modular, reconfigurable smartphone ideas, using a Raspberry Pi as the brains. Tech journos should be creaming themselves over this. We’re looking forward to [Arsenijs]’ cover story in Wired.

As with any Open Source / DIY cell phone, the big question surrounding the ZeroPhone is the cellular radio. 2G radios are cheap and plentiful, but the infrastructure is either coming down shortly, or already is down. A 3G radio is a must for a minimum viable product, and [Arsenijs] says there are provisions for replacing the 2G radio with a 3G module. Of course, 3G modules aren’t as capital-‘O’-Open as their technological predecessors, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Already the ZeroPhone is a huge success. There’s an actual team working on this project, the ZeroPhone subreddit is bigger than the Hackaday subreddit, there are newsletters, a wiki, and there will be a crowdfunding campaign ‘shortly’. This is one to look out for, and a very worthy project in the running for the 2017 Hackaday Prize.

Table-Top Self Driving With The Pi Zero

Self-driving technologies are a hot button topic right now, as major companies scramble to be the first to market with more capable autonomous vehicles. There’s a high barrier to entry at the top of the game, but that doesn’t mean you can’t tinker at home. [Richard Crowder] has been building a self-driving car at home with the Raspberry Pi Zero.

The self-driving model is trained by first learning from the human driver.

[Richard]’s project is based on the EOgma Neo machine learning library. Using a type of machine learning known as Sparse Predictive Hierarchies, or SPH, the algorithm is first trained with user input. [Richard] trained the model by driving it around a small track. The algorithm takes into account the steering and throttle inputs from the human driver and also monitors the feed from the Raspberry Pi camera. After training the model for a few laps, the car is then ready to drive itself.

Fundamentally, this is working on a much simpler level than a full-sized self-driving car. As the video indicates, the steering angle is predicted based on the grayscale pixel data from the camera feed. The track is very simple and the contrast of the walls to the driving surface makes it easier for the machine learning algorithm to figure out where it should be going. Watching the video feed reminds us of simple line-following robots of years past; this project achieves a similar effect in a completely different way. As it stands, it’s a great learning project on how to work with machine learning systems.

[Richard]’s write-up includes instructions on how to replicate the build, which is great if you’re just starting out with machine learning projects. What’s impressive is that this build achieves what it does with only the horsepower of the minute Raspberry Pi Zero, and putting it all in a package of just 102 grams. We’ve seen similar builds before that rely on much more horsepower – in processing and propulsion.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Dementia-Friendly Music Player

The loss of memory is an extremely difficult situation, not just for those afflicted, but also for immediate family, close friends, and care givers. With no cure available for dementia, providing care is an extremely demanding task for everyone involved – both mentally and physically. Patients are unable to retain recent events and information, but will most likely be able to recall some amount of past memories. This presents serious challenges when they encounter “modern” technology and cannot figure out how to use and operate everyday devices that normal people take for granted.

[rosswesleyporter]’s Dad had trouble using modern iPods and CD players, so he built DQMusicBox — a Dementia friendly music player. It’s very simple interface resembling a radio from half a century ago. There are just two large, clearly marked rotary dials — one for Volume, the other for Songs, and a headphone socket. The inspiration came from a very moving documentary called “Alive Inside” which explores how music brings extreme joy to people with dementia.

The device is built around a Raspberry Pi, enclosed in a laser cut enclosure and requires no soldering — making it easy for anyone to build one for themselves using easily available parts. The Raspberry Pi runs on a lightweight, optimized version of Raspbian called DietPi. The music playback is handled by VLC ensuring support for a large number of music formats. A Python script looks for music files, sets up the VLC-NOX player and handles knob and button events. A bundled image file for the software includes everything needed to get it running, making setup easy and quick. Since Raspberry Pi’s are prone to OS corruption when power is disconnected without performing a proper shutdown, [Ross] uses write protection on the SD-card and walks you through the process of how it works.

Between his Project page, Github and DQMusicBox website, you will be able to get all the information needed to replicate this excellent project. And for his next version, he already has a few ideas for improvement and would like to hear if other hackers have suggestions.

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The World’s Thinnest Raspberry Pi 3

We’ve become used to readily available single board computers of significant power in form factors that would have seemed impossibly small only a few years ago. But even with a board the size of a credit card such as a Raspberry Pi, there are still moments when the available space is just too small to fit the computer.

The solution resorted to by enterprising hardware hackers is often to remove extraneous components from the board. If there is no need for a full-size USB port or an Ethernet jack, for example, they can safely be taken away. And since sometimes these attempts result in the unintended destruction of the board, yonder pirates at Pimoroni have taken viewers of their Bilge Tank series of videos through the procedure, creating in the process what they describe as “The World’s Thinnest Raspberry Pi 3“.

The USB and Ethernet ports, as large through-hole components, were the easiest to tackle. Some snipping and snapping removed the tinware and plastic, then the remains could be hand-desoldered. The GPIO pins resisted attempts to remove their plastic for easy desoldering, so for them they had to resort to a hot air gun. Then for the remaining camera, HDMI, and display ports the only option was hot air. Some cleaning up with desoldering braid, and they had their super-thin Pi. They weren’t quite done though, they then took the reader through modifying a Raspbian Lite distribution to deactivate support those components that have been removed. This has the handy effect not only of freeing up computer resources, it also saves some power consumption.

You might point out that they could have just used a Pi Zero, which with its SD card on the top surface is even a little bit thinner. And aside from the question of extra computing power, you’d be right. But their point is valid, that people are doing this and not always achieving a good result, so their presenting it as a HOWTO is a useful contribution. We suspect that a super-thin Pi 3 will still require attention to heat management though.

Take a look at the video, we’ve put it below the break.

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Pedal-Pi, simple programmable guitar pedal

For several years, [Ray] and [Anna], the team behind ElectroSmash, have been smashing audio electronics and churning out some sweet DIY audio gear. This time around, they’ve built Pedal-Pi — a simple programmable guitar pedal based around the Raspberry-Pi Zero. It is aimed at hackers, programmers and musicians who want to experiment with sounds and learn about digital audio. A lot of effort has gone in to documenting the whole project. Circuit analysis, a detailed BoM, programming, assembly and background information on related topics are all covered on their Forum.

The hardware is split in to three parts. On the input, a MCP6002 rail-to-rail op-amp amplifies and filters the analog waveform and then a MCP3202 ADC digitizes it to a 12-bit signal. The Pi-Zero then does all of the DSP, creating effects such as distortion, fuzz, delay, echo and tremolo among others. The Pi-Zero generates a dual PWM signal, which is combined and filtered before being presented at the output. The design is all through hole and the handy assembly guide can be useful for novices during assembly.  The code examples include a large number of pedal effects, and if you are familiar with C, then there’s enough information available to help you write your own effects.

Even if you don’t plan on building one, technical background such as the Basics of Audio DSP in C for Raspberry Pi Zero, Using MCP3202 ADC with Raspberry Pi Zero and PWM Audio on Raspberry Pi Zero ought to make for interesting reading. Check out the video after the break detailing the build.

If you’d like to check out some of their earlier work, check out 1WAMP, an Open Hardware Guitar Amplifier and pedalSHIELD, an opensource Arduino Guitar Pedal.

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A Ham Radio Go-Box Packed with Functionality

“When all else fails, there’s ham radio.” With Hurricane Harvey just wrapping up, and Irma queued up to clobber Florida this weekend, hams are gearing up to pitch in with disaster communications for areas that won’t have any communications infrastructure left. And the perfect thing for the ham on the go is this ham shack in a box.

Go-boxes, as they are known, have been a staple of amateur radio field operations for as long as there have been hams. The go-box that [Fuzz (KC3JGB)] came up with is absolutely packed with goodies that would make it a perfect EmComm platform. The video tour below is all we have to go on, but we can see a tri-band transceiver, an RTL-SDR dongle and a Raspberry Pi with a TFT screen for tracking satellites. The Pi and SDR might also be part of a NOAA satellite receiver like the one [Fuzz] describes in a separate video; such a setup would be very valuable in natural disaster responses. Everything is powered by a 12-volt battery which can be charged from a small solar panel.

[Fuzz] is ready for action, and while we genuinely hope he and other hams won’t be needed in Florida, it doesn’t seem likely at this point. You can read more about the public service face of ham radio, or about an even more capable go-box.

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Me Casa es Techno Casa

“Jarvis, make me a sandwich” is not a reality yet. Though there exist a lot of home automation products out there today, commercial solutions just don’t make the cut for the self-respecting geek. So [Matias] took the DIY route with his La CasaC Home Automation project and achieved the functionality he was after.

[Matias’] project is one of the most elaborate and large-scale DIY home automation projects we have seen in recent years. With over 200 nodes, this project took a number of years of planning and execution. The core of the design is the ever popular Raspberry Pi running OpenHAB to ease the pain of customization and integration with various protocols. To further simplify the ginormous task, the design uses RS485 to communicate between master and slave devices.

Each wall node is managed by a nearby Arduino which in turn talks to a central Arduino Mega. OpenHab takes care of the higher functions such as UI, integration with existing hardware such as the solar heater, media center control,  and RFID and keypad control. Sensor data aggregation and building management is done centrally with data funneled to a separate NAS system as long-term storage.

What makes this project awesome is that [Matias] did not integrate a Raspberry Pi into his house, no! He actually integrated his entire house around the system because this build includes the construction of the house as well. Take a look at this Google Photos Gallery to see the photographic progress of the build. That is amazing!

The code and snippets are available on GitHub for your viewing pleasure though that seems the easy part. If this inspired you, then also take a look at the Raspberry Pi Home Automation of a Gingerbread House if you’d like to try it out before fully committing.