Old Time Traffic Signal Revived with a Raspberry Pi Controller

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the classic animated shorts of the 1940s will recognize the traffic signal in the image above. Yes, such things actually existed in the real world, not just in the Looney world of [Bugs Bunny] et al. As sturdy as such devices were, they don’t last forever, though, which is why a restoration of this classic Acme traffic signal was necessary for a California museum. Yes, that Acme.

When you see a traffic signal from the early days of the automotive age like this one, it becomes quickly apparent how good the modern equivalent has become. Back in the day, with a mix of lights distributed all over the body of the signal, arms that extend out, and bells that ring when the state changes, it’s easy to see how things could get out of hand at an intersection. That complexity made the restoration project by [am1034481] and colleagues at the Southern California Traffic Museum all the more difficult. Each signal has three lights, a motor for the flag, and an annunciator bell, each requiring a relay. What’s more, the motor needs to run in both directions, so a reversing relay is needed, and the arm has a mechanism to keep it in position when motor power is removed, which needs yet another relay. With two signals, everything was doubled, so the new controller used a 16-channel relay board and a Raspberry Pi to run through various demos. To keep induced currents from wreaking havoc, zero-crossing solid state relays were used on the big AC motors and coils in the signal. It looks like a lot of work, but the end results are worth it.

Looking for more information on traffic signal controls? We talked about that a while back.

A Peek Into a Weed-Eating Robot’s Test Fixtures

When it comes to production, fast is good! But right the first time is better. Anything that helps prevent rework down the line is worth investing in. Some of the best tools to catch problems are good test fixtures. The folks at Tertill (a solar-powered robot for killing weeds that kickstarted last year) took the time to share two brief videos of DIY test fixtures they use to test components before assembly.

The videos are short, but they demonstrate all the things that make a good test: on the motor tester there are no connectors or wires to fiddle with, the test starts automatically, and there is clear feedback via prominent LEDs. The UI board tester also starts automatically and has unambiguous LED feedback, and sports a custom board holder with a recess just the right shape for the PCB. Once the board is in, the sled is pushed like a drawer to make contact with the test hardware and begin the test. The perfectly formed recesses in both units serve another function as well; they act as a go/no-go test for the physical shape of the components and contacts being tested.

Both videos are embedded below; and while there isn’t much detail on the actual test hardware, we do spy a Raspberry Pi and at least two Adafruit logos among other hacker-familiar elements like laser-cut acrylic, 3D printed plastic, pogo pins, and a PVC junction box.

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Smart Power Strip Revived with Raspberry Pi

We’re all for buying broken stuff from eBay to save yourself a few bucks: buy it cheap, fix it, and reap the rewards of being a step ahead of the average consumer. Searching through the “For parts or not working” categories is nearly the official pastime here at the Hackaday Bunker. But buying an eBay find only to have it give up the ghost in a couple weeks? That hurts.

That’s precisely what happened to [idaresiwins] when he bought this beefy looking “Web Power Switch” on the Electronic Bay. After two weeks, the controller board blew and his “smart” power strip became very stupid indeed. But with the addition of a Raspberry Pi, he’s got it back up and running. Not only that, but given the extra horsepower this device now contains, it now doubles as a basic server for the home lab.

This conversion was helped by the fact that the original controller was on a separate board from the relays, and connected with a small ribbon cable. All [idaresiwins] had to do was figure out which wire in the cable went to each of the eight relays, and fire them off with the Pi’s GPIO pins. In an interesting detail, he opened up one of the ends of the ribbon cable and used it as a punch down block of sorts to easily hook the wires up to the Pi’s pins. We might suggest some hot glue to keep everything from moving around, but otherwise it’s a neat tip.

[idaresiwins] found some information online about making a web-based GPIO interface, which he adapted to control the outlets on the power strip. He then wrapped the Pi up in plastic to keep it from shorting out, and tucked it inside the case. Note that he was able to pull 5 VDC from the relay board and run it to the Pi over the ribbon cable, so he didn’t need to bother with hacking a USB adapter in there.

Controlling AC devices over the Interwebs is an extremely popular project, and we’ve even seen a DIY device that looks quite similar to this product. Most of them are now using the ESP8266, but with the Pi onboard this hack is more like a super-sized version of the PowerPwn.

Raspberry Pi Zero Stepper Driver, First of Many Modules

The Raspberry Pi in general (and the Zero W model in particular) are wonderful pieces of hardware, but they’re not entirely plug-and-play when it comes to embedded applications. The user is on the hook for things like providing a regulated power source, an OS, and being mindful of proper shutdown and ESD precautions. Still, the capabilities make it worth considering and [Alpha le ciel] has a project to make implementation easier with the Raspberry Pi Zero W Stepper Motor Module, which is itself part of a larger project plan to make the Pi Zero W into a robust building block for robotic and CNC applications.

[Alpha le ciel] is building this stepper motor module as the first of many Raspberry Pi hats meant to provide the Raspi with the hardware for robotics applications. This module, in particular, features two A4988 stepper motor drivers, a connector for a power supply or battery providing 7-20V, and a buck converter to bring that power down to the 5V needed by the Pi itself. All the relevant pins are broken out onto the Pi’s GPIO header, making this module the simplest way possible to add a pair of motors to a Pi. What does that mean? Printers or self-balancing robots, really whatever you want.

A stepper driver that conforms to the footprint of the Pi Zero is a good start, and the larger concept of creating additional modules is a worthy entry to the Hackaday Prize.

Raspberry Pi Tracks Starter Fermentation For Optimized Sourdough

Those of you who’ve never had a real sourdough have never had real bread. Good food fights back a little when you eat it, and a proper sourdough, with its crispy crust and tangy center, certainly fits the bill. Sourdough aficionados, your humble writer included, all have recipes that we pretend are ancient family secrets while in reality we’re all just guessing. Sourdough is partly science, partly art, but mostly delicious black magic.

In an effort to demystify his sourdough process, [Justin Lam] has gone digital with this image processing sourdough starter monitor. Sourdough breads are leavened not by the addition of brewers yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae), but by the inclusion of a starter,  a vibrant ecosystem of wild yeasts that is carefully nurtured, sometimes for years. Like any other living thing, it needs to be fed, a task that should happen at the point of maximum fermentation. Rather than guess when this might be, [Justin] used a Raspberry Pi Zero and PiCam to capture a time-lapse video of the starter as the beasties within give off their CO₂, thus expanding it up inside its container. A little Python does the work of thresholding and finding the top of the starter as it rises, allowing [Justin] to plot height of the starter over time. He found that peak height, and therefore peak fermentation, occurs about six hours after feeding. He has used his data to better inform his feeding schedule and to learn how best to revive neglected starters.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve discussed sourdough here. It seems that someone uses Git for iterative sourdough recipe development, and we once featured a foundry made from a pyrolyzed loaf of sourdough.

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Keep it Close: A Private Git Server Crash Course

At this point, everyone has already heard that Microsoft is buying GitHub. Acquisitions of this scale take time, but most expect everything to be official by 2019. The general opinion online seems to be one of unease, and rightfully so. Even if we ignore Microsoft’s history of shady practices, there’s always an element of unease when somebody new takes over something you love. Sometimes it ends up being beneficial, the beginning of a new and better era. But sometimes…

Let’s not dwell on what might become of GitHub. While GitHub is the most popular web-based interface for Git, it’s not the only one. For example GitLab, a fully open source competitor to GitHub, is reporting record numbers of new repositories being created after word of the Microsoft buyout was confirmed. But even GitLab, while certainly worth checking out in these uncertain times, might be more than you strictly need.

Let’s be realistic. Most of the software projects hackers work on don’t need even half the features that GitHub/GitLab offer. Whether you’ve simply got a private project you want to maintain revisions of, or you’re working with a small group collaboratively in a hackerspace setting, you don’t need anything that isn’t already provided by the core Git software.

Let’s take a look at how quickly and easily you can setup a private Git server for you and your colleagues without having to worry about Microsoft (or anyone else) having their fingers around your code.

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The Hills Are Alive With The Sound Of Train Whistles

In Northern England, the hills used to be home to steam trains. The trains have long faded into history, but the sound of their whistle is making a brief return. Artist [Steve Messam] has created “Whistle” as part of The Great Exhibition of the North. [Steve] doesn’t cover the installation on his website yet, but there have been a few great articles about it in the local press.

Whistle consists of 16 steam engine whistles around Newcastle. From June 22 to September 9, you can hear the whistles at 1pm. First one whistle sounds, then another, then another after that. In all, 16 whistles are included in the art installation, all controlled by Raspberry Pi computers. The Pi’s were programmed by Nebula Labs. Tech details are slim on this one, but we’re guessing each Pi has a Cellular radio built-in.

The whistles used in this installation aren’t old train whistles. They are brand new cast brass whistles based upon the original steam train sounders. The compressed air available today doesn’t sound exactly like steam though, so the brass whistles were modified to sound more authentic. [Steve’s] idea is to get the whistle as perfect as possible, which will trigger the memories of those who are old enough to have heard the originals.

Want to know more about steam engines? Check out this Retrotechtacular about repairing steam locomotives!