If you’re a frequent traveler on a public transit system, it can be helpful to know when the trains or buses are arriving and if there are any delays. We might reach for a tablet to mount on the wall, but that relies on keeping the OS, the software, and its library dependancies up to date. For true reliability you’ll need to build directly in hardware, which is exactly what this map of the London tube system uses.
The base map is printed directly on PCB, with LEDs along each of the major routes to indicate the current location of the trains. A few small chips handle the WiFi connection — it appears to our eye to be an ESP8266 — and pulling the information about the trains from the London Underground API (it would be virtually impossible to build everything for this project in hardware). The hardware can be easily reprogrammed, and with the PCB layout this could be adapted for other public transit fairly easily.
Even apart from the philosophical differences on design between hardware and software approaches, we still appreciate the aesthetic of LEDs on PCB. In fact, we’ve seen a whole host of artwork on PCBs ever since the price came down dramatically in the past two decades.
Thanks to [Al] for the tip!
A lot of commercial offerings of technology aimed at helping the elderly seem to do a good job on the surface, but anything other than superficial interaction with them tends to be next to impossible for its intended users. Complicated user interfaces and poor design consideration reign in this space.  noticed this and was able to design a better solution for an elderly relative’s digital day planner after a commercial offering he tried couldn’t automatically adjust for Daylight Savings.
Of course, the clock/day planner has a lot going on under the surface that the elderly relative may not be able to use, but the solution to all of that was to make it update over the network. This task  plans to do remotely since the relative does not live anywhere nearby. It is based on a Raspberry Pi connected to a Uniroi screen which automatically dims but can be switched off by means of a large button in the front. The UI shows the date, time, and a number of messages or reminders in large font in order to improve ’s relative’s life.
This is a great idea for anyone with their own elderly relative which might need something like this but won’t want to interact with the technology other than the cursory glance, but the project is also a great illustration of proper design for the intended users. Commercial offerings often had hidden buttons and complicated menus, but this has none of that, much like this well-designed walker for an elderly Swede.
Flow requires a certain amount of focus, and when that concentration is broken by pesky colleagues, work can suffer, on top of time wasted attempting to re-engage with the task at hand. The Technical Lead in [Estera Dezelak]’s office got fed up with being interrupted, and needed his own personal assistant to ward off the ‘just one question’-ers.
Initially, [Grega Pušnik] — the tech lead — emailed the office his schedule and blocked out times when he wasn’t to be disturbed, with other developers following suit. When that route’s effectiveness started to wane, he turned the product he was working on — a display for booking meeting rooms — into his own personal timetable display with the option to book a time-slot to answer questions. In an office that is largely open-concept — not exactly conducive to a ‘do not disturb’ workstation — it was a godsend.
Continue reading “A ‘Do Not Disturb’ Digital Assistant”
[Don] and his wife were looking for a way to teach their two-year old daughter how to tell time. She understood the difference between day and night, but she wasn’t old enough to really comprehend telling the actual time. [Don’s] solution was to simplify the problem by breaking time down into colored chunks representing different tasks or activities. For example, if the clock is yellow that might indicate that it’s time to play. If it’s purple, then it’s time to clean up your room.
[Don] started with a small, battery operated $10 clock from a local retailer. The simple clock had a digital readout with some spare room inside the case for extra components. It was also heavy enough to stay put on the counter or on a shelf. Don opened up the clock and got to work with his Dremel to free up some extra space. He then added a ShiftBrite module as a back light. The ShiftBrite is a high-brightness LED module that is controllable via Serial. This allows [Don] to set the back light to any color he wants.
[Don] already had a Raspberry Pi running his DIY baby monitor, so he opted to just hijack the same device to control the ShiftBrite. [Don] started out using a Hive13 GitHub repo to control the LED, but he found that it wasn’t suitable for this project. He ended up forking the project and altering it. His alterations allow him to set specific colors and then exit the program by typing a single command into the command line.
The color of the ShiftBrite is changed according to a schedule defined in the system’s crontab. [Don] installed Minicron, which provides a nice web interface to make it more pleasant to alter the cron job’s on the system. Now [Don] can easily adjust his daughter’s schedule via web page as needed.
[John Graham-Cumming] was all set to start a new project based on the Raspberry Pi. Well, that was until shipment was delayed due to manufacturing issues. Not to fret, he transitioned over to a router board which displays the arrival countdown for mass transit bus service.
He based the build on a web page the Transport for London provided. You can load it up and see if your bus is running on time or not. There’s no published API, but by studying the source code from the site [John] was able to figure out how the JSON commands were formatted.
The next step is building a standalone device to pull the data and display it. The board seen above is from a Linksys WRT54GL router. This longtime favorite has a serial port header which can be driven from the Linux kernel. He wired up a jack on the router’s case, and uses an extension cable to get from it to the 7-segment displays mounted in a model of the bus. Since there’s four digits the display can tell you minutes until the arrival of two different buses.
[Thanks Pseudo Lobster]
The team behind 25C3 has published the first draft of this year’s schedule. The annual Chaos Communication Congress is happening December 27th to 30th in Berlin, Germany. There are plenty of interesting talks already in place. We’re spotting things we want to attend already: The conference starts off with how to solar power your gear, which is followed by open source power line communication. A TOR-based VPN, an open source BIOS, rapid prototyping, holographic techniques, and running your own GSM network are on the bill too.
We’ll have at least three Hack a Day contributors in attendance. Last year featured two of our favorite conference talks: [Drew Endy]’s Biohacking and the MiFare crypto1 RFID crack. We hope to see you there.
The schedule for this year’s The Last Hope conference in New York City has been finalized, and there’s still time to preregister. Today is the last chance for overseas attendants to preregister, and the rest of you have until July 6th. A/V volunteers are still needed, so step up if you have the desire and skills.
The three-day conference will feature three tracks of scheduled talks, plus one track for unscheduled talks by registered attendees. You can view the full schedule interactively, in wiki format, or in conventional format. It takes place between July 18th and July 20th; hurry up and snag your tickets now. We’re interested in all the talks, but [Chris Seidel]’s talk on biohacking, NYC Resistor’s presentation about collaborative hardware hacking, and [Ray]’s demonstration on escaping high security handcuffs have us waiting in rapt anticipation. So who’s going? What are you looking forward to? Let us know in the comments.