AvoRipe Takes A Firm Grip On The Ultimate First World Food Problem

You don’t have to be an extinct mammal or a Millennial to enjoy the smooth, buttery taste of an avocado. Being psychic on the other hand is definitely an advantage to catch that small, perfect window between raw and rotten of this divaesque fruit. But don’t worry, as modern problems require modern solutions, [Eden Bar-Tov] and [Elad Goldberg] built the AvoRipe, a device to notify you when your next avocado has reached that window.

Taking both the firmness and color of an avocado as indicators of its ripeness into account, the team built a dome holding a TCS3200 color sensor as stand for the avocado itself, and 3D printed a servo-controlled gripper with a force sensor attached to it. Closing the gripper’s arms step by step and reading the force sensor’s value will determine the softness the avocado has reached. Using an ESP8266 as centerpiece, the AvoRipe is turned into a full-blown IoT device, reporting the sensor readings to a smartphone app, and collecting the avocado’s data history on an Adafruit.IO dashboard.

There is unfortunately one big drawback: to calibrate the sensors, a set of nicely, ripe avocados are required, turning the device into somewhat of a chicken and egg situation. Nevertheless, it’s a nice showcase of tying together different platforms available for widescale hobbyist projects. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to know how to do each part from scratch on your own, but on the other hand, why not use the shortcuts that are at our disposal to remove some obstacles — which sometimes might include programming itself.

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RemoteXY Simplifies Arduino Control

[Labpacks] wanted to build a robot car controlled by his phone. As a Hackaday reader, of course you probably can imagine building the car. Most could probably even write a phone application to do the control. But do you want to? In most cases, you are better off focusing on what you need to do and using something off the shelf for the parts that you can. In [Labpacks’] case, he used Visuino to avoid writing ordinary code and RemoteXY to handle the smartphone interface.

RemoteXY is a website that allows you to easily build a phone interface that will talk to your hardware over Bluetooth LE, USB, or Ethernet (including WiFi). One thing of interest: even though the interface builder is Web-based, the service claims that the interface structure stays on the controller. There’s no interaction with the remote servers when operating the user interface so there is no need for an external Internet connection.

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Possible Spyware On Samsung Phones

[Editor’s note: There’s an ongoing back-and-forth about this “spyware” right now. We haven’t personally looked into it on any phones, and decoded Wireshark caps of what the cleaner software sends home seem to be lacking — it could be innocuous. We’re leaving our original text as-run below, but you might want to take this with a grain of salt until further evidence comes out. Or keep us all up to date in the comments. But be wary of jumping to quick conclusions.]

Samsung may have the highest-end options for hardware if you want an Android smartphone, but that hasn’t stopped them from making some questionable decisions on the software they sometimes load on it. Often these phones come with “default” apps that can’t be removed through ordinary means, or can’t even be disabled, and the latest discovery related to pre-loaded software on Samsung phones seems to be of a pretty major security vulnerability.

This software in question is a “storage cleaner” in the “Device Care” section of the phone, which is supposed to handle file optimization and deletion. This particular application is made by a Chinese company called Qihoo 360 and can’t be removed from the phone without using ADB or having root. The company is known for exceptionally bad practices concerning virus scanning, and the software has been accused of sending all information about files on the phone to servers in China, which could then turn all of the data it has over to the Chinese government. This was all discovered through the use of packet capture and osint, which are discussed in the post.

These revelations came about recently on Reddit from [kchaxcer] who made the original claims. It seems to be fairly legitimate at this point as well, and another user named [GeorgePB] was able to provide a temporary solution/workaround in the comments on the original post. It’s an interesting problem that probably shouldn’t exist on any phone, let alone a flagship phone competing with various iPhones, but it does highlight some security concerns we should all have with our daily use devices when we can’t control the software on the hardware that we supposedly own. There are some alternatives though if you are interested in open-source phones.

Thanks to [kickaxe] for the tip!

Photo from Pang Kakit [CC BY-SA 3.0 DE (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)]

Flip Phones Are Making A Comeback

If you’re the kind of person who hates this new generation of smartphone users and longs for a nostalgic past, you’re not far from the new target demographic for many commercial phone manufacturers. Major phone companies like Motorola and Huawei have been developing foldable versions of conventional smartphone designs, intended to be more versatile while maintaining the same functionality as their less flexible counterparts.

It’s certainly gimmicky, but phones like the Samsung Galaxy Fold, the Motorola Razr, and the Huawei MateX are elegant from an engineering perspective. Developing a seamless interface experience, maximizing surface area for functionality, and maintaining the same nostalgic flip phone aesthetic while making use of familiar smartphone features isn’t an easy design process.

Motorola RAZR hinge shown by CNET’s Patrick Holland during a tour of their labs.

For the Razr, a hinge system that takes up about a third of the phone’s internal space allows the OLED display to have no noticeable binder line. Rather than curving like a piece of paper, it forms a teardrop shape that prevents the screen from creasing and being damaged. Springs and pistons below the surface move small places underneath where the user will be tapping – folded in, the plates slide away. It’s an interesting effect, although as you can see in the banner image, it doesn’t quite achieve optically flat perfection.

In order to ensure that the screen doesn’t overheat as it bends, it is made up of microlayers sandwiched together. To balance weight, the circuits and battery is split into two, operating on each half of the device, an unusual design choice for smartphones. Placement of the array of radios and antennas is also a challenge since they can’t be too close to each other or the processor, which can interfere with signal transmission.

Other devices like the Royale Flexpai are more so proof-of-concepts making use of flexible screens and batteries, rather than capturing the aesthetics of a flip phone generation — but who doesn’t want their smartphone to unfold into a tablet when needed? The future of smartphone technology is looking interesting, and we’ll be sure to see even more iterations of flexible displays in the near future.

Ask Hackaday: Is Anyone Sad Phone VR Is Dead?

It’s official: smartphone-based VR is dead. The two big players in this space were Samsung Gear VR (powered by Oculus, which is owned by Facebook) and Google Daydream. Both have called it quits, with Google omitting support from their newer phones and Oculus confirming that the Gear VR has reached the end of its road. Things aren’t entirely shut down quite yet, but when it does it will sure leave a lot of empty headsets laying around. These things exist in the millions, but did anyone really use phone-based VR? Are any of you sad to see it go?

Google Cardboard, lowering cost and barrier to entry about as low as it could go.

In case you’re unfamiliar with phone-based VR, this is how it works: the user drops their smartphone into a headset, puts it on their head, and optionally uses a wireless controller to interact with things. The smartphone takes care of tracking motion and displaying 3D content while the headset itself takes care of the optics and holds everything in front of the user’s eyeballs. On the low end was Google Cardboard and on the higher end was Daydream and Gear VR. It works, and is both cheap and portable, so what happened?

In short, phone-based VR had constraints that limited just how far it could go when it came to delivering a VR experience, and these constraints kept it from being viable in the long run. Here are some of the reasons smartphone-based VR hit the end of the road: Continue reading “Ask Hackaday: Is Anyone Sad Phone VR Is Dead?”

Adding LoRa Long Range Radio To Smartphones And Connected Devices

Would you add another radio to your smartphone? No, not another WiFi or cellular radio; a smartphone already has that. I’m talking about something that provides connectivity through ISM bands, either 433 or 915 MHz. This can be used where you don’t have cell phone coverage, and it has a longer range than WiFi. This is the idea behind Skrypt, a messaging system that allows you to send off-the-grid messages.

Skrypt is an ESP32-based hardware modem that can communicate with a smartphone, or any other device for that matter, over Bluetooth or USB. Inside, there are two modules, an ESP32 WROOM module that provides the Bluetooth, WiFi, USB connectivity, and all of the important software configuration and web-based GUI. The LoRa module is the ubiquitous RFM95W that’s ready to drop into any circuit. Other than that, the entire circuit is just a battery and some power management ICs.

While LoRa is certinaly not the protocol you would use for forwarding pics up to Instagram, it is a remarkable protocol for short messages carried over a long range. That’s exactly what you want when you’re out of range of cell phone towers — those pics can wait, but you might really want to send a few words to your friends. That’s invaluable, and LoRa makes a lot of sense in that case.

Add Scroll Wheels And Buttons To Smartphones With 3D-Printed Widgets Read By Accelerometer

The first LED digital wristwatches hit the market in the 1970s. They required a button push to turn the display on, prompting one comedian to quip that giving one to a one-armed man would be in poor taste. While the UIs of watches and other wearables have improved since then, smartphones still present some usability challenges. Some of the touch screen gestures needed to operate a phone, like pinching, are nigh impossible when one-handing the phone, and woe unto those with stubby thumbs when trying to take a selfie.

You’d think that the fleet of sensors and the raw computing power on board would afford better ways to control phones. And you’d be right, if the modular mechanical input widgets described in a paper from Columbia University catch on. Dubbed “Vidgets” by [Chang Xiao] et al, the haptic devices are designed to create characteristic acceleration profiles on a phone’s inertial measurement unit (IMU) when actuated. Vidgets take various forms, from push buttons to scroll wheels, each of a similar size and shape and designed to dock into one of eight positions on the back of a 3D-printed phone case. Once trained, the algorithm watches for the acceleration signature caused by actuating a Vidget, and sends commands to the phone to mimic the corresponding gestures. The video below demonstrates a couple of use cases, of which the virtual saxophone is our favorite.

This is really clever stuff, and ventures deep into “Why didn’t I think of that?” territory. Need to get ahead of the curve on IMUs to capitalize on what they can do? You could start with [Al Williams]’ primer on micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS.

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