H2gO Keeps Us from Drying Out

The scientific community cannot always agree on how much water a person needs in a day, and since we are not Fremen, we should give it more thought than we do. For many people, remembering to take a sip now and then is all we need and the H2gO is built to remind [Angeliki Beyko] when to reach for the water bottle. A kitchen timer would probably get the job done, but we can assure you, that is not how we do things around here.

A cast silicone droplet lights up to show how much water you have drunk and pressing the center of the device means you have taken a drink. Under the hood, you find a twelve-node NeoPixel ring, a twelve millimeter momentary switch, and an Arduino Pro Mini holding it all together. A GitHub repo is linked in the article where you can find Arduino code, the droplet model, and links to all the parts. I do not think we will need a device to remind us when to use the bathroom after all this water.

Another intrepid hacker seeks to measure a person’s intake while another measures output.

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Open-source Circuit Simulation

For simple circuits, it’s easy enough to grab a breadboard and start putting it together. Breadboards make it easy to check your circuit for mistakes before soldering together a finished product. But if you have a more complicated circuit, or if you need to do response modeling or other math on your design before you start building, you’ll need circuit simulation software.

While it’s easy to get a trial version of something like OrCAD PSpice, this software doesn’t have all of the features available unless you’re willing to pony up some cash. Luckily, there’s a fully featured free and open source circuit simulation software called Qucs (Quite Universal Circuit Simulator), released under the GPL, that offers a decent alternative to other paid circuit simulators. Qucs runs its own software separate from SPICE since SPICE isn’t licensed for reuse.

Qucs has most of the components that you’ll need for professional-level circuit simulation as well as many different transistor models. For more details, the Qucs Wikipedia page lists all of the features available, as does the project’s FAQ page. If you’re new to the world of circuit simulation, we went over the basics of using SPICE in a recent Hack Chat.

Thanks to [Clovis] for the tip!

Learning Software In A Soft Exosuit

Wearables and robots don’t often intersect, because most robots rely on rigid bodies and programming while we don’t. Exoskeletons are an instance where robots interact with our bodies, and a soft exosuit is even closer to our physiology. Machine learning is closer to our minds than a simple state machine. The combination of machine learning software and a soft exosuit is a match made in heaven for the Harvard Biodesign Lab and Agile Robotics Lab.

Machine learning studies a walker’s steady gait for twenty periods while vitals are monitored to assess how much energy is being expended. After watching, the taught machine assists instead of assessing. This type of personalization has been done in the past, but the addition of machine learning shows that the necessary customization can be programmed into each machine without a team of humans.

Exoskeletons are no stranger to these pages, our 2017 Hackaday Prize gave $1000 to an open-source set of robotic legs and reported on an exoskeleton to keep seniors safe.

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Zephyr Adds Features, Platforms, And Windows

Zephyr is an open source real-time operating system (RTOS) that appeared on the scene a few years ago with support for a few boards. The new 1.11 release adds a lot of features, a lot of new boards, and also has a Windows development environment. But don’t worry, the environment is portable so it still runs on Linux and Mac, as well.

The OS has support for many ARM and x86 boards. It also supports ESP32, NIOS II, and can also target Linux which is useful for debugging or studying execution using desktop tools.

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Exporting Eagle Libraries to FOSS Tools

Since Autodesk’s acquisition, Eagle has been making waves in the community. The de facto standard for Open Hardware PCB design is now getting push-and-shove routing, a button that flips the board over to the back (genius!), integration with Fusion360, automated 3D renderings of components, and a bunch of other neat tools. However, Eagle is not without its warts, and there is a desire to port those innumerable Eagle board layouts and libraries to other PCB design packages. This tool does just that.

The tool is an extension of pcb-rnd, a FOSS tool for circuit board editing, and this update massively extends support for Eagle boards and libraries. As an example, [VK5HSE] loaded up an Eagle .brd file of a transceiver, selected a pin header, and exported that component to a KiCad library. It worked the first time. For another experiment, the ever popular TV-B-Gone .brd file was exported directly to pcb-rnd. This is a mostly complete solution for Eagle to KiCad, Eagle to Autotrax, and Eagle to gEDA PCB, with a few minimal caveats relating to copper pours and silkscreen — nothing that can’t be dealt with if you’re not mindlessly using the tool.

While it must be noted that most Open Hardware projects fit inside a 80 cm2 board area, and can therefore be opened and modified with the free-to-use version of Autodesk’s Eagle, this is a very capable tool to turn Eagle boards and libraries into designs that can be built with FOSS tools.

Thanks [Erich] for the tip.

Friday Hack Chat: Eagle One Year Later

Way back in June of 2016, Autodesk acquired Cadsoft, and with it EagleCAD, the popular PCB design software. There were plans for some features that should have been in Eagle two decades ago, and right now Autodesk is rolling out an impressive list of features that include UX improvements, integration with MCAD and Fusion360, and push and shove routing.

Six months into the new age of Eagle, Autodesk announced they would be changing their licensing models to a subscription service. Where you could pay less than $100 once and hold onto version 6.0 forever, now you’re required to pay $15 every month for your copy of Eagle. Yes, there’s still a free, educational version, but this change to a subscription model caused much consternation in the community when announced.

For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be talking about Eagle, one year in. Our guest for this Hack Chat is Matt Berggren, director of Autodesk Circuits, hardware engineer, and technologist that has been working on bringing electronic design to everyone. We’ll be asking Matt all about Eagle, with questions including:

  • What new features are in the latest edition of Eagle?
  • What’s on the Eagle wishlist?
  • What technical challenges arise when designing new features?
  • Where can a beginner find resources for designing PCBs in Eagle?

Join the chat to hear about new features in Eagle, how things are holding up for Eagle under new ownership, and how exactly the new subscription model for Eagle is going. We’re looking for questions from the community, so if you have a question for Matt or the rest of the Eagle team, put it on the Hack Chat event page.

If you’re wondering about how Altium and KiCad are holding up, or have any questions about these PCB design tools, don’t worry: we’re going to have Hack Chats with these engineers in the new year.

join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This Hack Chat is going down on noon, PST, Friday, December 15th. Time Zones got you down? Here’s a handy count down timer!

Click that speech bubble to the left, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

Exploring the BBC Micro:Bit Software Stack

The BBC micro:bit has been with us for about eighteen months now, and while the little ARM-based board has made a name for itself in its intended market of education, we haven’t seen as much of it in our community as we might have expected.

If you or a youngster in your life have a micro:bit, you may have created code for it using one of the several web-based IDEs, a graphical programming system, TypeScript, or MicroPython. But these high level languages are only part of the board’s software stack, as [Matt Warren] shows us with his detailed examination of its various layers.

The top layer of the micro:bit sandwich is of course your code. This is turned into a hex file by the web-based IDE’s compiler, which you then place on your device. Interestingly only the Microsoft TypeScript IDE compiles the TypeScript into native code, while the others bundle your code up with an interpreter.

Below that is the micro:bit’s hardware abstraction layer, and below that in turn is ARM’s Mbed OS layer, because the micro:bit is at heart simply another Mbed board. [Matt] goes into some detail about how the device’s memory map accommodates all these components, something essential given that there is only a paltry 16 kB of RAM in hand.

You might wish to program a micro:bit somewhat closer to the metal with the Mbed toolchain, but even if that is the case it’s still of interest to read a dissection of its official stack. Meanwhile, have a look at our review of the board, from summer 2016.