The Open Source Mars Rover, One Year Later

As the name implies, here at Hackaday we strive to bring you interesting projects every single day. But that doesn’t necessarily mean a project only getsĀ one day to grace these storied pages. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re always happy to revisit a project and find out how far it’s evolved since we last crossed paths with it, especially when the creators themselves reach out to give us an update.

Which is exactly what happened when [Jakob Krantz] recently wrote in to get us up to speed on this incredible open source rover project. We first saw this 3D printed Curiosity inspired robot a little less than a year ago, and at that point it was essentially just a big box with the distinctive NASA rocker-bogie suspension bolted on. Now it not only looks a lot closer to the Martian rovers that inspired it, but it’s also learned a number of new tricks that really take this project to the next level.

The articulated head and grabber arm don’t just help sell the Curiosity look, they’re actually functional. [Jakob] notes that he doesn’t have kinematics integrated yet, so moving the arm around is more for show than practical application, but in the future it should be able to reach out and grab objects. With the new cameras in the head, he’ll even be able to get a first person view of what he’s picking up.

Last year [Jakob] was using a standard RC transmitter to drive the rover around, but he’s since put together a custom controller that’s truly a thing of beauty. It uses an ESP32 and LoRa module to communicate with matching hardware inside the rover, as well as a smartphone clipped onto the top that’s displaying telemetry and video over WiFi. The controller is actually its own separate project, so even if you aren’t in the market for a scaled down Mars rover, its controller could come in handy for your next robotics project.

Presumably the multi-mission radioisotope thermoelectric generator (MMRTG) on the back of the rover is just pretend….but with this guy, we’re not so sure. Give him another year, and who knows.

Any Remote Can Be A Universal Remote

Everyone has a stack of old infra-red remote controllers lying around, for devices that have long since shuffled off this mortal coil. Containing little more than an application-specific encoder chip, keyboard, and IR LED, they’re of little use unless you happen to have another device that uses the same encoding scheme. For [RiYa] though they represent an opportunity, to be repurposed into controllers for other devices. How? Hijack the bitstream with an ATtiny13 microcontroller, re-encode it, and send it out afresh into the ether from the LED. It’s a gloriously simple solution which we can’t help applauding, and has the potential to cheaply replace all those universal remotes.

The ATtiny itself along with a buffer to drive the LED is mounted on a small breakout board and concealed within the shell of the remote. We don’t learn much about the power supply arrangement, but we’d expect the ATtiny to be on its most power-sipping behaviour as anything which would shorten the battery life of a remote would be unlikely to be popular with a couch potato forced to change AA cells every few weeks. There’s a plan for a learning mode to make it more like a commercial universal remote, but for now the translation is hard coded.

Of course, should you lack a handy old remote to play with, you can always try a smartphone.

R/C Toilet Paper Roll Is The Hero We Deserve

For reasons that most rational consumers can’t fathom, a not inconsiderable segment of the population believes the key to their continued survival during a pandemic unprecedented in modern times is to stockpile toilet paper. This leaves those of us not compelled to act based on the whims of our bowels looking at bare racks in the paper product aisle more often than not.

Which makes it the perfect time for [Ariel Yahni] to develop his remote controlled toilet paper roll. With this gadget deployed, you just might have a chance at drawing the Karens away from all the rolled gold long enough to grab yourself a pack. Even if it doesn’t distract the other competitors shoppers, you can at least enjoy the looks on their faces as it scurries by.

The project starts with, of all things, popsicle sticks. These are used to make a reinforced platform to which the two motors, radio receiver, speed controller, and battery are mounted. With some clever packing, [Ariel] is able to (tightly) fit it inside of a cardboard tube with just the bottoms of the two wheels protruding through cutouts. A careful wrapping with toilet paper is then used to give it the look of a partially used roll, including a trailing “tail” that flutters in its wake.

In the video after the break, you can see [Ariel] take his roll of motorized TP through a local mall for a test drive. We’re sorry to say that nobody appears to make a wild dive for it during the test. But that could be because the video was recorded back in December before people had resorted to fighting over toiletries. It also explains why he was able to get into a mall in the first place.

Just think, if we had embraced the high-tech toilets of the future back when we had a chance, we could have avoided this whole thing. As far as dystopias go, this one is shaping up to be pretty weird.

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ESP8266 Adds Web Control To Old Home Theater

There was a time when you could hold onto a TV or A/V receiver for the better part of the decade and not feel as though you were missing out on the latest and greatest features. But today you’re lucky to get three years out of a “smart” TV before it’s either supplanted by a vastly improved version, or falls victim to some weird issue that (surprise, surprise) means you need to buy a new one.

A simple touch interface hosted on the ESP8266

Not content with the status quo of planned obsolescence, [aamarioneta] recently set out to add a sprinkling of modern convenience to a circa 2008 Denon AVR 2308 home theater receiver. Like any good A/V receiver, the AVR 2308 features a dizzying array of ports on the back panel, one of which happens to be for an external infrared receiver. This turned out to be the perfect place to jack in an ESP8266, earning this 12 year old receiver an honorary membership into the Internet of Things.

The interesting thing about this hack is that there’s actually no IR involved. Sure, the code could be used to drive an IR LED attached to the ESP8266’s GPIO pins, and the AVR 2308 would respond as if the original remote was being used; but where’s the fun in that? Thanks to the receiver port, they’re able to inject the IR codes directly into the device. It’s the same protocol, just without the photons.

With a simple web-interface running on the ESP8266, they can control the AVR 2308 from a smartphone’s browser anywhere in the house. From here it would only take a few more lines of code to tie it into an existing home automation system or add in support for Alexa voice control.

We love seeing projects that add modern features to older hardware, as that’s one less piece of gear sent to an early grave because its owner felt they were behind the curve. It’s getting a bit unfriendly out there for consumers, and anything that puts the power back into the owner’s hands is a step in the right direction.

Mini RC Helicopter Becomes Even Smaller Submarine

We often think of submarines as fairly complex pieces of machinery, and for good reason. Keeping the electronics watertight can naturally be quite difficult, and maintaining neutral buoyancy while traveling underwater is a considerable engineering challenge. But it turns out that if you’re willing to skip out on those fairly key elements of submarine design, the whole thing suddenly becomes a lot easier. Big surprise, right?

That’s precisely how [Peter Sripol] approached his latest project, which he’s claiming is the world’s smallest remote control submarine. We’re not qualified to say if that’s true or not, but we were certainly interested in seeing how he built the diminutive submersible. Thanks to the fact that it started life as one of those cheap infrared helicopters, it’s actually a fairly approachable project if you’re looking to make one yourself.

The larger prototype version is also very cool.

After testing that the IR communication would actually work as expected underwater, [Peter] liberated the motors and electronics from the helicopter. The motor’s wires were shortened, and the receiver PCB got a slathering of epoxy to try and keep the worst of the water out, but otherwise they were unmodified.

If you’re wondering how the ballast system works, there isn’t one. The 3D printed body angles the motors slightly downwards, so when the submarine is moving forward it’s also being pulled deeper into the water. There aren’t any control surfaces either, differential thrust between the two motors is used to turn left and right. This doesn’t make for a particularly nimble craft, but in the video after the break it certainly looks like they’re having fun with it.

Looking for a slightly more complex 3D printed submersible vehicle? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

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RC Ground Effect Vehicle Skims Over The Water

In the 1960s the Soviet Union began experimenting with what they called ekranoplans, ground effect vehicles (GEVs) that were something of a hybrid between a ship and a large airplane. Their stubby wings didn’t provide enough lift for the vehicle to fly in the traditional sense, the craft essentially rode on a cushion of pressurized air produced by the aerodynamic interaction between the wings and the surface of the water. But after decades of testing, the ekranoplan never became much more than a curiosity for American intelligence agencies to ponder over.

Now [Peter Sripol] has built his own version of what the CIA dubbed the “Caspian Sea Monster”, and judging by the video of him “flying” it around a lake, the design seems to tick all the boxes. The advantage of a GEV is that it’s far faster than a ship and more fuel efficient than an aircraft of similar size. They also operate low enough to avoid enemy radar, which made them very appealing for military applications. Not that any of those characteristics apply to an RC vehicle, but at least it looks cool.

Ironically, it took some extra effort for [Peter] to keep his scratch built ekranoplan from getting airborne. Built out of foam covered with aluminum tape, the craft was light enough that even the tiny wings were enough to break it free from the ground effect if it got going fast enough. It didn’t help that the electric ducted fan motors used were probably a bit too powerful as well.

But by carefully adjusting the throttle and control surfaces, [Peter] was able to keep his craft firmly planted in the ground effect most of the time. Seeing the large RC craft floating just a few inches over the water is very impressive, and thanks to the application of some Soviet-style iconography on its burnished aluminum body, it looks like found-footage from a Cold War test program.

Hackaday readers will likely be familiar with [Peter] and his exploits. From building his own human-scale airplane out of foam board to convincing a cordless drill that it can fly, he’s creations have never been overly concerned with the status quo.

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Building A Sound Activated Shop Fan With Arduino

Whether you’re using a soldering iron or a table saw, ventilation in the shop is important. Which is why [Atomic Dairy] built a monster air cleaner called the Fanboy that looks like it should be mounted under the wing of an F-15. Realizing a simple switch on the wall wouldn’t do this potent air mover justice, they decided to build a sound activated controller for it.

It’s certainly an elegant idea. The sound created once they kick on their woodworking tools would be difficult to miss by even the most rudimentary of sound-detection hardware. At the most basic level, all they needed was a way for an Arduino to throw a relay once the noise level in the room reached a specific threshold.

Of course it ended up getting a bit more complicated than that, as tends to happen with these kinds of projects. For one, the sound doesn’t directly control the solid state relay used in the fan controller. When the microphone equipped Arduino detects enough noise, it will start a timer that keeps the fan running for two hours. If the tool keeps running, then more time gets added to the clock. This ensures that the air in the room is well circulated even after the cutting and sanding is done.

[Atomic Dairy] also added a few additional features so they could have more direct control over the fan. There’s a button to manually add more time to the clock, and another button to shut it down. There’s even support for a little wireless remote control, so the fan can be operated without having to walk over to the control panel.

We’ve seen some impressive air circulation and dust collection systems over the years, but finding a way to elegantly switch them on and off has always been a problem given the wide array of tools that could be in use at any given time. Sound activation isn’t a perfect solution, but it’s certainly one we’d consider for our own shop.

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