This Is Your Solution For Open Source Motion Tracking

The HTC Vive Tracker adds real-world objects to your virtual world. While these real-world objects in virtual environments are now mostly limited to a Nintendo Zapper for a Duck Hunt clone and a tennis racket, the future is clear: we’re going to be playing Duck Hunt and Wii Sports while wearing headsets. The future is so bright, it burns.

Of course, with any piece of neat computing hardware, there’s an opportunity for building an Open Source clone. That’s what [Drix] is doing with his Hackaday Prize entry. He’s created an Open Source Vive Tracker. It’s called the HiveTracker, and it is right now the best solution for tracking objects in a 3D space.

After a few missteps with ultrasonic and magnetic approaches, the team decided to piggyback on the HTC Vive lighthouses. These two base stations scan a laser beam across the room, first vertically, then horizontally. It’s an incredible piece of technology that [Alan Yates] talked about at the 2016 Hackaday Superconference.

While most microcontrollers don’t operate fast enough to see these laser sweeps, the team behind the HiveTracker found one microcontroller, with Bluetooth, and a feature called ‘PPI’. This programmable peripheral interconnect is kinda, sorta like a cross-bar, but designed for more real-time control of applications. With the right software, the team behind the HiveTracker was able to detect the lighthouses and send position and orientation data back to a computer.

This is a stupendous amount of work, and the results are remarkable. You can check out the video below and see that, yes, this is a real, Open Source Vive Tracker.

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Turning A Tile Into A Car Tracker

A Tile is a small Bluetooth device which you can put on your keychain, for example, so that you can find your keys using an app on your phone. Each Tile’s battery life expectancy is one year and after that year you’re expected to trade it in at a discount for a new one. Right away your hacker senses are tingling and you know what’s coming.

Hacked tile with buck converter
Hacked tile with buck converter

[Luis Rodriguez] had switched to Samsung SmartThings and had accumulated box of these Tiles with dead batteries. So he decided a fun project would be to put a Tile in his wife’s car to track it. Given that it’s using Bluetooth, the range isn’t great for car tracking, but the Tile’s app can network with other user’s apps to widen the search area.

Since the Tile’s battery was dead, he cracked it open and soldered wires to its power terminals. He then found a handy 12 volt source in the car and added a DC to DC buck converter to step the voltage down to the Tile’s 3 volts. Finding a home for the hacked tracker was no problem for [Luis]. He was already using an ODB-II dongle for a dash cam so he tapped into the 12 V rail on that.

You’ll be surprised what you can find by hacking these small tracking devices. Here’s an example of hacking of a fitness tracker with all sorts of goodies inside.

Our thanks to [Maave] for tipping us off about this hack.

Tiny Transmitter Tracks Targets

It is a staple of spy movies. The hero — or sometimes the bad guy — sticks a device never any bigger than an Alka Seltzer to a vehicle or a person and then tracks it anywhere it goes in the world. Real world physics makes it hard to imagine a device like that for a lot of reasons. Tiny power supplies mean tiny lifetime and low power. Tiny antennas and low power probably add up to short range. However, [Tom’s] project maybe as close as you can get to a James Bond-style tracker. You can see a video of the device, below.

The little transmitter is smaller than a thumbnail — not counting the antenna and the battery — and draws very little current (180 uA). As you might expect, the range is not great, but [Tom] says with a Yagi and an RTL-SDR he can track the transmitter on 915 MHz for about 400 meters.

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Inside an Amateur Bugging Device

[Mitch] got interested in the S8 “data line locator” so he did the work to tear into its hardware and software. If you haven’t seen these, they appear to be a USB cable. However, inside the USB plug is a small GSM radio that allows you to query the device for its location, listen on a tiny microphone, or even have it call you back when it hears something. The idea is that you plug the cable into your car charger and a thief would never know it was a tracking device. Of course, you can probably think of less savory uses despite the warning on Banggood:

Please strictly abide by the relevant laws of the state, shall not be used for any illegal use of this product, the consequences of the use of self conceit.

We aren’t sure what the last part means, but we are pretty sure people can and will use these for no good, so it is interesting to see what they contain.

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GPS Tracker Gets SMS Upgrade

In May of 2000, then-President Bill Clinton signed a directive that would improve the accuracy of GPS for anyone. Before this switch was flipped, this ability was only available to the military. What followed was an onslaught of GPS devices most noticeable in everyday navigation systems. The large amount of new devices on the market also drove the price down to the point where almost anyone can build their own GPS tracking device from scratch.

The GPS tracker that [Vadim] created makes use not just of GPS, but of the GSM network as well. He uses a Neoway M590 GSM module for access to the cellular network and a NEO-6 GPS module. The cell network is used to send SMS messages that detail the location of the unit itself. Everything is controlled with an ATmega328P, and a lithium-ion battery and some capacitors round out the fully integrated build.

[Vadim] goes into great detail about how all of the modules operate, and has step-by-step instructions on their use that go beyond what one would typically find in a mundane datasheet. The pairing of the GSM and GPS modules seems to go match up well together, much like we have seen GPS and APRS pair for a similar purpose: tracking weather balloons.

A Simple, DIY GPS Tracker

Today, there are dozens of off-the-shelf solutions for a GPS tracking device. Most of them use GSM, some of them use satellites, and all of them are astonishingly inexpensive. If you want to track a car, dog, or your luggage, you’ve never had more options.

[Emilio] wanted to track his own car, and the original solution for this was a smartphone. This smartphone was also a good choice, as it’s a programmable GPS device connected to a cell network, but there had to be a simpler solution. It came in the form of an eight euro GPS module and a three euro GSM module (Google Translatrix right here). The rest of the hardware is an ATMega48V [Emilio] had sitting around and a 2500 mAh lithium cell. It’s a cellular tracker make out of eleven euro’s worth of hardware and some junk in a drawer.

There are only a few caveats to this hardware. First, the ATmega48V only has one UART. This is connected to the GPS module at 9600, 8N1. The connection to the GSM M-590 module is only 2400 bps, and slow enough for a bitbanged UART. This hardware is soldered to a piece of perfboard, thus ending the hardware part of this build.

The software is a little more complex, but not by very much. The GPS part of the firmware records the current latitude and longitude. If the GSM module receives a call, it replies with an SMS of the current GPS coordinates and a few GPS coordinates seen earlier. Of course, a pre-paid SIM is required for this build, but those are cheap enough.

Not even ten years ago, a simple, DIY GPS tracker would have cost a small fortune. Now that we have cheap GPS modules, GSM modules, and more magical electronics from the East, builds like this are easy and cheap. What a magical time to be alive.

Real-Time Planet Tracker With Laser-Point Accuracy

Space. The final frontier. Unfortunately, the vast majority of us are planet-locked until further notice. If you are dedicated hobbyist astronomer, you probably already have the rough positions of the planets memorized. But what if you want to know them exactly from the comfort of your room and educate yourself at the same time? [Shubham Paul] has gone the extra parsec to build a Real-Time Planet Tracker that calculates their locations using Kepler’s Laws with exacting precision.

An Arduino Mega provides the brains, while 3.5-turn-pan and 180-degree-tilt servos are the brawn. A potentiometer and switch allow for for planet and mode selection, while a GPS module and an optional MPU9250 gyroscope/magnetometer let it know where you are. Finally a laser pointer shows the planet’s location in a closed room. And then there’s code: a lot of code.

The hardware side of things — as [Shubham Paul] clarifies — looks a little unfinished because the focus of the project is the software with the intent to instruct. They have included all the code they wrote for the RTPT, providing a breakdown in each section for those who are looking to build their own.

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