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.

Continue reading “Vinduino Water-Smart Farming – Now with LoRa!”

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.

Continue reading “Watch This Tiny Dome Auto-open and Close into a Propeller”

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.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Oscilloscope for the Masses

If you head down to your local electronics supply shop (the Internet), you can pick up a quality true-RMS multimeter for about $100 that will do almost everything you will ever need. It won’t be able to view waveforms, though; this is the realm of the oscilloscope. Unlike the multimeter’s realistic price point, however, a decent oscilloscope is easily many hundreds, and often thousands, of dollars. While this is prohibitively expensive for most, the next entry into the Hackaday Prize seeks to bring an inexpensive oscilloscope to the masses.

The multiScope is built by [Vítor] and is based on the STM32-O-Scope which is built around a STM32F103C8T6 microcontroller. This particular chip was chosen because of its high clock speed and impressive analog-to-digital resolution, which are two critical specifications for any oscilloscope. This particular scope has an inductance meter built-in as well, which is another feature which your otherwise-capable multimeter probably doesn’t have.

New features continue to get added to this scope by [Vítor]. Most recently he’s added features which support negative voltages and offsets. His particular scope is built inside of a model car, too, but we believe this to be an optional feature.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Device for Seismic Noise Analysis

Whenever there is an earthquake somewhere in the world, our TV screens fill with images of seismic data. Those news report graphics with simplified bite-sized diagrams that inform the masses, but usually get something wrong. Among the images there will invariably be one of a chart recorder drawing a significant earthquake trace on paper, which makes good TV, but is probably miles away from the state of the art in seismology.

We are not seismologists here at Hackaday, so it was extremely interesting to find [Michael D]’s project, Device for Seismic Noise Analysis. In it, he gives a basic primer in seismic sensors, and outlines his take on the subject, a sensitive wideband seismic sensor designed to capture the seismic background noise. It seems that many seismic sensors are designed to capture big events, yet ignore the noise between them from which using suitable software one can glean advance warning of seismic events.

The sensor is a simple design, a ball of significant mass rests upon three piezoelectric microphone elements spaced at 120 degree intervals. An extremely high impedance op-amp circuit converts and integrates the charge from the piezo element to a voltage that can be read by an Arduino Yun which harvests the data. It is a bold claim, but the device is said to have already given advance warning of minor seismic events near its Tennessee test site.

Seismology has featured here a few times before. There was this seismometer using a subwoofer as its sensor, and this project using commercial geophones, just to name a couple of examples.