Agora, A Hackable E-Paper Clock

[Daniel Zilinec] appreciates the aesthetics of e-paper and thought it would make a great clock. 

The natural appearance of e-paper certainly appeals to a lot of hackers. We’ve seen everything from typewriters to trackers for imaginary money. The Agora clock is designed to be battery powered,;a classic night-stand alarm clock. With its wide angle viewing and even response to light it will be easily viewable even at dawn.

He saves the user a lot of time by designing the PCB up-front. It’s got a charging IC built in, back-light LEDs and pads for buttons. All you need to do is print out the case from the available thingiverse files and assemble. The schematic and firmware are available for the more enterprising hacker to work out as well.

There’s also a somewhat puzzling watch version of the clock. It would certainly be a fashion statement to wear one of these. Still, the is something nice about the organic feel and possible fonts that make it worth considering.

Fighting Household Air Pollution

When Kenyan engineer [Aloise] found out about the health risks of household air pollution, they knew there had to be a smart solution to combatting the problem while still providing a reasonable source of energy for families cooking without the luxury of cleaner fuels. Enter OpenHAP, a DIY household air pollution monitor that provides citizen scientists and researches the means to measure air particulates in developing countries.

The device is based on an ESP32 communicating with a ZH03B Particulate matter sensor over UART; a DS3231SN real-time clock (RTC), temperature and humidity sensor, and MLX90640 2D thermal sensor array over I2C; and wirelessly sending the data received to a Bluetooth low energy wrist-strap beacon and an Internet enabled phone. The device also uses a TCA9534 GPIO expander to control the visual and auditory notifiers (buzzers and LEDs) and to interface to a SD card.

The project uses the libesphttpd project modified for the ESP32 for the webserver, which is used to stream data to a mobile handset or computer using the WiFi capabilities of the ESP32. The data includes real-time sensor information, system status, storage media status, visualizations of the thermal array sensor data (to ensure the camera is facing the source of heat), and tag information to test the limits of the Bluetooth tag with regards to distance.

Power input is provided through a Micro-USB connector, protected with a TVS diode and a Schottky diode in series to prevent reverse power flow.

The project was tested in two real-life scenarios: one with a household in rural Kenya and another with an urban low-income family of four. In the first test, the family used a three stone open fire stove. A FLiR thermal camera captured the stove temperatures, while a standard camera was enough to capture the high levels of smoke inside the kitchen. The readings from OpenHAP were high enough to exceed the upper detection threshold for the particulate sensor, showing that the woman cooking in the house was receiving the equivalent of 8 cigarettes a day, about 8 x the WHO’s recommended particulate levels.

Within the second household, a typical energy mix of charcoal briquettes and kerosene was typically used for cooking, with kerosene used during the day and briquettes used at night. The results from measuring pollution levels using OpenHAP showed that the mother and child in the household regularly received around 1.5 x the recommended limit of pollutants, enough to lead to slow suffocation.

There’s already immense potential for this project to help researchers test out different energy sources for rural households, not to mention the advantage of having a portable low-energy pollution monitor for citizen scientists.

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Vinduino Water-Smart Farming – Now With LoRa!

Our five rounds of Hackaday Prize 2018 challenges have just wrapped up, and we’re looking forward to see where the chips fall in the final ranking. While we’re waiting for the winners to be announced at Hackaday Superconference, it’s fun to take a look back at one of our past winners. Watch [Reinier van der Lee] give the latest updates on his Vinduino project (video also embedded after the break) to a Hackaday Los Angeles meetup earlier this year.

Vinduino started with [Reinier]’s desire to better understand what happens to irrigation water under the surface, measuring soil moisture at different depths. This knowledge informs more efficient use of irrigation water, as we’ve previously covered in more detail. What [Reinier] has been focused on is improving usability of the system by networking the sensors wirelessly versus having to walk up and physically attach a reader unit.

His thought started the same as ours – put them on WiFi! But adding WiFi coverage across his entire vineyard was not going to be cost-effective. After experimenting with various communication schemes, he has settled on LoRa. Designed to trade raw bandwidth for long range with low power requirements, it is a perfect match for a network of soil moisture sensors.

In the video [Reinier] gives an overview of LoRa for those who might be unfamiliar. Followed by results of his experiments integrating LoRa functionality into Vinduino, and ending with a call to action for hackers to help grow the LoRa network. It sounds like he’s become quite the champion for the cause! He’s even giving a hands-on workshop at Supercon where you can build your own LoRa connected sensor. (Get tickets here.)

We’re always happy to see open-source hardware projects like Vinduino succeed, transitioning to a product that solve real world problems. We know there are even more promising ideas out there, which is why Hackaday’s sister company Tindie is funding a Project to Product program to help this year’s winners follow in Vinduino’s footsteps. We look forward to sharing more success stories yet to come.

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DEXTER Has The Precision To Get The Job Done

Robotic arms – they’re useful, a key part of our modern manufacturing economy, and can also be charming under the right circumstances. But above all, they are prized for being able to undertake complex tasks repeatedly and in a highly precise manner. Delivering on all counts is DEXTER, an open-source 5-axis robotic arm with incredible precision.

DEXTER is built out of 3D printed parts, combined with off-the-shelf carbon fiber sections to add strength. Control is through five NEMA 17 stepper motors which are connected to harmonic drives to step the output down at a ratio of 52:1. Each motor is fitted with an optical encoder which provides feedback to control the end effector position.

Unlike many simpler projects, DEXTER doesn’t play in the paddling pool with 8-bit micros or even an ARM chip – an FPGA lends the brainpower to DEXTER’s operations. This gives DEXTER broad capabilities for configuration and expansion. Additionally, it allows plenty of horsepower for the development of features like training modes, where the robot is stepped manually through movements and they are recorded for performance later.

It’s a project that is both high performing and open-source, which is always nice to see. We look forward to seeing how this one develops further!

Video Quick-Bit: Numitrons And Infinite Build Volumes

Majenta Strongheart takes a look at a couple of cool entries from the first round of the 2018 Hackaday Prize:

This is an infinite 3D printer. The Workhorse 3D is the way we’re going to democratize 3D printing. The Workhorse 3D printer does this by adding a conveyor belt to the bed of a 3D printer, allowing for rapid manufacturing, not just prototyping. [Swaleh Owais] created the Workhorse 3D printer to automatically start a print, manufacture an object, then remove that print from the print bed just to start the cycle all over again.

Check out this Numitron Hexadecimal Display Module from [Yann Guidon]. [Yann] is building an entire computer, from scratch, and he needs a way to display the status of various bits on a bus. The simplest way to do this is with a few buffer chips and some LEDs, but that’s far too easy for [Yann]. He decided to use Numitron tubes to count bits on a bus, from 0 to F. Instead of microcontrollers, he’s using relays and diode steering to turn those segments of the Numitron on and off.

Browse all of the entries here. Right now, we’re in the Robotics Module Challenge part of the Hackaday Prize, where twenty incredible projects will win one thousand dollars and move on to the final part of the Hackaday Prize where one lucky winner will win fifty thousand dollars for building awesome hardware. If that’s not incredible, I don’t know what is.

Watch This Tiny Dome Auto-open And Close Into A Propeller

Careful planning and simulation is invaluable, but it can also be rewarding to dive directly into prototyping. This is the approach [Carl Bugeja] took with his Spherical Folding Propeller design which he has entered into the Open Hardware Design Challenge category of The 2018 Hackaday Prize. While at rest, the folding propeller looks like a small dome attached to the top of a motor. As the motor fires up, centrifugal forces cause the two main halves of the dome to unfold outward where they act as propeller blades. When the motor stops, the assembly snaps shut again.

[Carl] has done some initial tests with his first prototype attached to a digital scale as a way of measuring thrust. The test unit isn’t large — the dome is only 1.6 cm in diameter when folded — but he feels the results are promising considering the small size of the props and the fact that no simulation work was done during the initial design. [Carl] is looking to optimize the actual thrust that can be delivered, now that it has been shown that his idea of a folding dome works as imagined.

Going straight to physical prototyping with an idea can be a valid approach to early development, especially nowadays when high quality components and technologies are easily available even to hobbyists. Plus it can be great fun! You can see and hear [Carl]’s prototype in the short video embedded below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: PCBs On Demand With Etchr

The ambitious etchr – the PCB Printer is just a concept at the moment, but it’s not often we see someone trying to tackle desktop PCB production in a new way. Creator [Jonathan Beri] is keenly aware that when it comes to creating electronics, the bottleneck for most workflows is the PCB itself. Services like OSH Park make professionally fabricated PCBs accessible at a low cost, but part of the bargain is that turnaround times are often measured in weeks.

[Jonathan]’s concept for etchr is a small system that automates not only etching a copper-clad board with all the attendant flooding and draining of chemicals, but applying a solder mask and silkscreen layer labeling as well. The only thing left to do would be to drill any required holes.

The idea behind etchr is to first take a copper-clad board with photoresistive film or spray applied to it, and fix it into a frame. A UV projector takes care of putting the traces pattern onto the board (and also handles a UV-curable solder mask in a later step) and the deep frame doubles as a receptacle for any chemical treatments such as the etching and cleaning. It’s an ambitious project, but the processes behind each step are well-understood and bringing them all together in a single machine is an intriguing approach.

Desktop production of PCBs can be done in a few ways, including etching via the toner transfer method (whose results our own Elliot Williams clearly explained how to take from good to great). An alternative is to mill the PCBs out directly, a job a tool like the Othermill is designed specifically to do. It’s interesting to see an approach that includes applying a solder mask.