Aruna: An Open Source ROV For Affordable Research

Underwater exploration and research can be exceedingly dangerous, which is why remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) are so commonly used. Operators can remotely command these small submersibles to capture images or collect samples at depths which would otherwise be unreachable. Unfortunately, such technology comes at a considerable price.

Believing that the high cost of commercial ROVs is a hindrance to aquatic conservation efforts, [Noeël Moeskops] has been developing an open source modular ROV he calls Aruna. Constructed largely from off-the-shelf components and 3D-printed parts, the Aruna promises to be far more affordable than anything currently on the market. Hopefully cheap enough to allow local governments and even citizens to conduct their own underwater research and observations.

More than just the ROV itself, Aruna represents an entire system for developing modular underwater vehicles. Whether you decide to build the boilerplate ROV documented and tested by [Noeël], or implement individual components into your own design, the project is a valuable source of hardware and software information for anyone interested in DIY underwater robotics.

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Seek And Ye Shall Command

If we count all the screens in our lives, it takes a hot minute. Some of them are touchscreens, some need a mouse or keyboard, but we are accustomed to all the input devices. Not everyone can use the various methods, like cerebral palsy patients who rely on eye-tracking hardware. Traditionally, that only works on the connected computer, so switching from a chair-mounted screen to a tablet on the desk is not an option. To give folks the ability to control different computers effortlessly [Zack Freedman] is developing a head-mounted eye-tracker that is not tied to one computer. In a way, this is like a KVM switch, but way more futuristic. [Tony Stark] would be proud.

An infrared detector on the headset identifies compatible screens in line of sight and synchs up with its associated HID dongle. A headset-mounted color camera tracks the head position in relation to the screen while an IR camera scans the eye to calculate where the user is focusing. All the technology here is proven, but this new recipe could be a game-changer to anyone who has trouble with the traditional keyboard, mouse, and touchscreen. Maybe QR codes could assist the screen identification and orientation like how a Wii remote and sensor bar work together.

Push Pedal For Privacy

Many of us in the secret Hackaday lair use gaming hardware at our work desks because it is reliable and performs well. We are not alone, and maybe you are reading this on your coffee break over a 20-button mouse. We wager that [Thiago Ribeiro de Azeredo] has this mindset because he converted some old analog gaming pedals into teleconferencing tools for his home office. Now that he is not racing to the office, he has to take a lot of computer calls, and he must quickly and covertly mute his microphone when his howling son tries to take the stage.

The pedals were gathering dust when he started working from home, but they are unretired for the upgrade. Inside, there is no mystery, just a couple of spring-loaded variable resistors, so he adds an Arduino Nano a couple of 4.7 kΩ resistors to create a voltage divider. The Nano doesn’t have native Human Interface Device (HID) functionality, so a Python script receives the serial port signals and toggles an application bar notification so he can see the microphone status. With two pedals, he can press-to-talk or lock his microphone on and off. We have to wonder, did he write the software during a meeting?

We love the idea of controlling our battle stations with our feet or seeing a bunch of RGB keyboards used as a low-res display.

Finalists Announced For The 2020 Hackaday Prize

In light of everything going on in 2020, the 7th annual Hackaday Prize is devoted to nurturing ideas that could literally help change the world. In a first, we partnered with several nonprofits to help identify some of today’s most difficult problems, ranging from conservation and disaster relief to the need for advanced assistive technology. With over $200,000 up for grabs, including microgrants to help teams work full-time on their projects, this year’s competition was designed to help bring critical solutions to fruition which otherwise might never see the light of day.

But it hasn’t been easy. The global pandemic has made it far more difficult to collaborate on projects in the way we’re all used to, parts have become harder to source, and many makers found themselves so engaged with grassroots efforts to combat COVID-19 that they found little time for anything else. But despite all of this uncertainty, we received hundreds of incredible entries from all over the globe.

It’s never easy to select who will move on to the next round of the competition. But with the help of our nonprofit partners, the panel of expert judges was able to whittle the list of entries down to the 34 finalists that produced some of the most impressive and impactful ideas the Hackaday Prize has ever seen. Let’s take a look at just a few of the projects that will be vying for the top prizes in November.

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Hackaday Prize And Conservation X Labs Issue Design Challenges To Address Extinction Crisis

When most people think of extinct species, they likely imagine prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs or woolly mammoths. Extinction is something you read about in history books, nature’s way of removing contestants in the great game of life. It’s a product of a cruel and savage world, and outside of a few remaining fringe cases, something that humanity’s advanced technology has put a stop to.

Unfortunately, the truth is far more complicated than that. The planet is currently going through its sixth major extinction event, and this time, it’s our fault. Humanity might not be willfully destroying the natural habitats of the plants, fish, birds, and other lifeforms that have been eradicated, but we’re responsible for it just the same. Humans are an apex predator unlike any the world has ever seen before, and the only force that can stop us is ourselves.

Founded in 2015, Conservation X Labs is devoted to doing everything it can to end this sixth wave of extinction. Unsatisfied with the pace of traditional conservation, they leverage technology and open innovation to develop unique new ways of combating the damage our species has done to life on this planet. After all, it’s the only one we’ve got.

We’ve partnered with this organization to help develop solutions to some of these problems. This includes an open call challenge that anyone can enter, and a Dream Team program that you can get involved with if you act quickly. Let’s take a look at what Conservation X Labs is all about, and what is involved with the challenges at hand.

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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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