Dog-Harnessing The Power Of Walkie Talkies

[javier.borquez] likes to take his dog to the hang out at the dog park around dusk. But once the sun goes down and [Rusio]’s off the leash, running amok with the other dogs, it’s almost impossible to keep track of him.

Sure, there are probably glow-in-the-dark or lighted collars out there, but if you go commercial, chances are good that someone else’s dog will be wearing the same thing. Besides, what’s the fun in buying something that you can do a better job making yourself? With this dog distance indicator harness, you don’t even have to program anything. Instead, it uses a cheap pair of modified walkie talkies to show green LEDs on the harness while the dog is in range, and red when it isn’t.

Although [javier]’s pupper is the best pupper yes he is, [Rusio] can’t be expected to hold down the button and bark his location. His walkie talkie uses a 555-based frequency generator and a glued-down button to speak at 1 kHz.

Over in [javier]’s walkie, there’s a resistor in place of the speaker to keep the talkie parts working. There’s also a half-wave bridge rectifier that charges a capacitor when [Rusio] is within range, and a resistor that drains it when he’s outside the 6-8 meter range. The rectifier’s output goes to a second 555 set up as a Schmitt trigger, which tells a transistor to turn the red LEDs on instead.

If you got stuck on the idea of hearing your dog talk to you over distances, here’s a Bluetooth Babelfish collar.

Fail Of The Week: The Arduino Walkie That Won’t Talkie

There’s something seriously wrong with the Arduino walkie-talkie that [GreatScott!] built.

The idea is simple: build a wireless intercom so a group of motor scooter riders can talk in real-time. Yes, such products exist commercially, but that’s no fun at all. With a little ingenuity and a well-stocked parts bin, such a device should be easy to build on the cheap, right?

Apparently not. [GreatScott!] went with an Arduino-based design, partly due to familiarity with the microcontroller but also because it made the RF part of the project seemingly easier due to cheap and easily available nRF24 2.4 GHz audio streaming modules. Everything seems straightforward enough on the breadboard – an op-amp to boost the signal from the condenser mic, a somewhat low but presumably usable 16 kHz sampling rate for the ADC. The radio modules linked up, but the audio quality was heavily distorted.

[GreatScott!] assumed that the rat’s nest of jumpers on the breadboard was to blame, so he jumped right to a PCB build. It’s a logical step, but it seems like it might be where he went wrong, because the PCB version was even worse. We’d perhaps have isolated the issue with the breadboard circuit first; did the distortion come from the audio stage? Or perhaps did the digitization inject some distortion? Or could the distortion be coming from the RF stage? We’d want to answer a few questions like that before jumping to a final design.

We love that [GreatScott!] has no issue with posting his failures – we’ve covered his suboptimal CPU handwarmer, and his 3D-printed BLDC motor stator was a flop too. It’s always nice to post mortem these things to avoid a similar fate.

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Fail Of The Week: ESP Walkie, Not-So-Talkie

The ESP8266 has become such a staple of projects in our community since it burst onto the scene a few years ago. The combination of a super-fast processor and wireless networking all on the same chip and sold in retail quantities for relative pennies has been irresistible. So when [Petteri Aimonen] needed to make a wireless intercom system for cycling trips it seemed an obvious choice. Push its internal ADC to sample at a high enogh rate for audio, and stream the result over an ad-hoc wi-fi network.

The result was far from satisfactory, as while early results with a signal generator seemed good, in practice it was unusable. Significant amounts of noise were entering the pathway such that the resulting audio was unintelligible. It seems that running a wireless network causes abrupt and very short spikes of power supply current that play havoc with audio ADCs.

He’s submitted it to us as a Fail Of The Week and he’s right, it is a fail. But in a way that’s an unfair description, because we can see there is the germ of a seriously good idea in there. Perhaps with an external ADC, or maybe with some as-yet-to-be-determined filtering scheme, an ESP8266 walkie-talkie is one of those ideas that should be taken to its conclusion. We hope he perseveres.

Kids Explore Engineering With Cartoon Tech Build

“To the Tortuga!” my husband and I heard the announcement from the backyard. Our two boys, Ben (7) and Miles (3), had become pleasantly obsessed with the coolest brothers in nature – the Kratt Brothers. From the moment that these two energetic animal-loving brothers were discovered by our kids, they’ve been huge fans. Our house has been transported to the Sonora Desert where we saved a Gila Monster, then to the Australian Outback to learn about the Thorny Devil. We even went to swing with the Spider Monkeys in South America and then back to the good ‘ole U.S. of A to harness the speed of the Roadrunner – since we are, after all, a family of runners!

creaturepod-from-show
Creaturepod [Source: WildKratts Wiki]
Our boys have been the Grand Brothers for months and there are no signs of it letting up. At the end of summer, I decided to reward the kids with a Creaturepod, a plastic toy meant to look like the fictional walkie talkie of the same name used on PBS Kids’ Wild Kratts program. They loved it, but soon found that it didn’t do anything on its own. They both have wild imaginations and like to bring to life most of their play, but the toy just wasn’t doing it for them. Being that Chris and Martin Kratt are brothers in real life, and Ben and Miles Grand are brothers in real life, Ben thought it would only be right to have “real life” Creaturepods. Real walkie talkies that he could use to communicate with his friends and have Wild Kratts adventures. This natural interest provided an opportunity to make learning, designing, and building a source of fun for the boys. It is an amazing way to teach that you can change the world around you by having an idea, making a plan, and gathering everyone with the skills needed to complete the project.

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Extending The Range Of Wireless Weather Stations With Walkie Talkies

[Roel] wanted to put a wireless weather station in his greenhouse. Even though the weather station was supposed to transmit over fairly long distances, the geometry of his back yard and a few stone walls killed the radio signal even after putting a good antenna on the receiving side of his wireless weather station setup. Wanting to get his weather station working, [Roel] did the sensible thing and built a packet radio setup out of a pair of walkie talkies, greatly increasing the range of his weather station.

This build comes after [Roel] spent a great deal of time reverse engineering the wireless protocol of his Thierry Mugler weather station. With a little bit of code, [Roel] is able to get the current temperature and humidity reading into his Linux box. This system relies on the transmitter inside the weather station, so the system falls apart over any sufficiently large distance.

To increase the range of his weather station, [Roel] took his existing hardware and added a pair of inexpensive FRS walkie talkies. The build uses the hardware from his previous build to get the radio data from the weather station. This data is sent over to an ATmega88 where it’s converted to packet radio and sent over the walkie-talkie. On the receiving side, the output of a second walkie-talkie is piped into the Linux soundmodem app (link, but it’s down as of this writing) where it’s decoded. Sending the received data to gnuplot makes a very nice graph of the temperature and humidity.

[Roel] put the code for both the tx and rx sides of the build up on his build page. Very nice work that uses very inexpensive hardware.