The Swiss Army Knife Of Bench Tools

[splat238] had a ton of spare sensors laying around that he had either bought for a separate project or on an impulse buy, so he knew he had to do something with them. He decided to build his own digital multi-tool focusing on sensors that would be particularly useful in a workshop setting. Coincidentally, he was inspired by a previous hack that we covered a while back.

He’s equipped his device with a bubble level, tachometer, IR thermometer, protractor, laser pointer, and many, many more features that would make great additions to any hacker’s workspace. There’s a good summary of each sensor, making his Instructable somewhat of a quick guide to common sensing modalities for hardware designers. The tachometer, thermometer, laser pointer, and a few other capabilities are notable upgrades from the project we highlighted previously. We also appreciate the bigger display, allowing for more detailed user feedback particularly in using the compass and bullseye digital level among other features.

The number of components in [splat238’s] build is too extensive to detail one-by-one in this article, so please see his Instructable linked above for all the details. [splat238] made his own PCB for mounting each sensor and did a good job making the design modular so you wouldn’t need to add certain components if you don’t need them. Most of the components take some through-hole soldering with only a handful of 0805 resistors required otherwise. The housing was designed such that the user can handle the tool with one hand and can switch between each function with a push of a button.

Finally, the device is powered using a rechargeable lithium-polymer battery making it very reusable. And, if there weren’t enough features already, the battery can be charged via USB or through two solar panels mounted into the housing unit. Okay, solar charging might be a case of featuritis, but still a cool build either way.

Check out some other handy DIY tools on Hackaday.

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Weather Station Gets Much-Needed Upgrades

Weather stations are a popular project, partly because it’s helpful (and interesting) to know about the weather at your exact location rather than a forecast that might be vaguely in your zip code. They’re also popular because they’re a good way to get experience with microcontrollers, sensors, I/O, and communications protocols. Your own build may also be easily upgradeable as the years go by, and [Tysonpower] shows us some of the upgrades he’s made to the popular Sparkfun weather station from a few years ago.

The Sparkfun station is a good basis for a build though, it just needs some updates. The first was that the sensor package isn’t readily available though, but some hunting on Aliexpress netted a similar set of sensors from China. A Wemos D1 Mini was used as a replacement controller, and with it all buttoned up and programmed it turns out to be slightly cheaper (and more up-to-date) than the original Sparkfun station.

All of the parts and code for this new station are available on [Tysonpower]’s Github page, and if you want to take a look at a similar station that we’ve featured here before, there’s one from three years ago that’s also solar-powered.

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Hackaday Links: October 13, 2019

Trouble in the Golden State this week, as parts of California were subjected to planned blackouts. Intended to prevent a repeat of last year’s deadly wildfires, which were tied in part to defective electrical distribution equipment, the blackouts could plunge millions in the counties surrounding Sacramento into the dark for days. Schools have canceled classes, the few stores that are open are taking cash only, and hospitals are running on generators. It seems a drastic move for PG&E, the utility that promptly went into bankruptcy after being blamed for last year’s fires, but it has the support of the governor, so the plan is likely to continue as long as the winds do. One group is not likely to complain, though;  California amateur radio operators must be enjoying a greatly decreased noise floor in the blackout areas, thanks to the loss of millions of switch-mode power supplies and their RF noise.

Good news, bad news for Fusion 360 users. Autodesk, the company behind the popular and remarkably capable CAD/CAM/CAE package, has announced changes to its licensing scheme, which went into effect this week. Users no longer have to pay for the “Ultimate” license tier to get goodies like 5-axis machining and generative design tools, as all capabilities are now included in the single paid version of Fusion 360. That’s good because plenty of users were unwilling to bump their $310 annual “Standard” license fee up to $1535 to get those features, but it’s bad because now the annual rate goes to $495. In a nice nod to the current userbase, those currently on the Standard license, as well as early adopters, will get to keep the $310 annual rate as long as they renew, and The $495 pricing tier went into effect in November of 2018, while anyone still on the $310 annual price was grandfathered in (and will remain to be). At that time there was still a $1535 tier called Ultimate, whose price will now be going away but the features remain in the $495 tier which is now the only pricing option for Fusion 360. Ultimate users will see a $1040 price drop. As for the current base of freeloaders like yours truly, fear not: Fusion 360 is still free for personal, non-commercial use. No generative design or tech support for us, though. (Editor’s Note: This paragraph was updated on 10/14/2019 to clarify the tier changes after Autodesk reached out to Hackaday via email.)

You might have had a bad day at the bench, but was it as bad as Román’s? He tipped us off to his nightmare of running into defective Wemos D1 boards – a lot of them. The 50 boards were to satisfy an order of data loggers for a customer, but all the boards seemed caught in an endless reboot loop when plugged into a USB port for programming. He changed PCs, changed cables, but nothing worked to stop the cycle except for one thing: touching the metal case of the module. His write up goes through all the dead-ends he went down to fix the problem, which ended up being a capacitor between the antenna and ground. Was it supposed to be there? Who knows, because once that cap was removed, the boards worked fine. Hats off to Román for troubleshooting this and sharing the results with us.

Ever since giving up their “Don’t be evil” schtick, Google seems to have really embraced the alternative. Now they’re in trouble for targeting the homeless in their quest for facial recognition data. The “volunteer research studies” consisted of playing what Google contractors were trained to describe as a “mini-game” on a modified smartphone, which captured video of the player’s face. Participants were compensated with $5 Starbucks gift cards but were not told that video was being captured, and if asked, contractors were allegedly trained to lie about that. Contractors were also allegedly trained to seek out people with dark skin, ostensibly to improve facial recognition algorithms that notoriously have a hard time with darker complexions. To be fair, the homeless were not exclusively targeted; college students were also given gift cards in exchange for their facial data.

For most of us, 3D-printing is a hobby, or at least in service of other hobbies. Few of us make a living at it, but professionals who do are often a great source of tips and tricks. One such pro is industrial designer Eric Strebel, who recently posted a video of his 3D-printing pro-tips. A lot of it is concerned with post-processing prints, like using a cake decorator’s spatula to pry prints off the bed, or the use of card scrapers and dental chisels to clean up prints. But the money tip from this video is the rolling cart he made for his Ultimaker. With the printer on top and storage below, it’s a great way to free up some bench space.

And finally, have you ever wondered how we hackers will rebuild society once the apocalypse hits and mutant zombie biker gangs roam the Earth? If so, then you need to check out Collapse OS, the operating system for an uncertain future. Designed to be as self-contained as possible, Collapse OS is intended to run on “field expedient” computers, cobbled together from whatever e-waste can be scrounged, as long as it includes a Z80 microprocessor. The OS has been tested on an RC2014 and a Sega Master System so far, but keep an eye out for TRS-80s, Kaypros, and the odd TI-84 graphing calculator as you pick through the remains of civilization.

Breakout Board Becomes Pogo Pin Programmer

Making a programming jig becomes exponentially more difficult after two pins and who would even consider building one if they were not setting up more than twenty boards? If it were easy for novices to construct jigs, we might all have a quiver of them on the shelf next to our microprocessors. Honestly, a tackle box full of homemade programming fixtures sounds pretty chic. The next advantage to ditching the demo boards is that bare processors take up less room and don’t draw power for unnecessary components like unused voltage regulators and LEDs. [Albert David] improves the return-on-time-investment factor by showing us how to repurpose a WeMos board to program a bare ESP8266 module.

[Albert]’s concept can apply to many other surface-mount chips and modules. The first step is to buy a demo board which hosts a programmable part and remove that part. Since you’ve exposed some solder pads in the process, put pogo pins in their place. Pogo pins are small spring-loaded probes that can be surface mounted or through-hole. We’ve used them for programming gorgeous badges and places where the ESP8266 has already been installed. When you are ready to install your software, clamp your Franken-porcupine to the controller and upload like normal. Rinse, wash, repeat. We even get a view of the clamp [Albert] uses.

Better Debating Through Electronics

Watch any news panel show these days, and you’ll see that things can very quickly become unruly. Guests compete for airtime by shouting over one another and attempting to derail their opponent’s talking points. [cutajar.sacha] had encountered this very problem in the workplace, and set about creating a solution.

The result is the Debatable Deliberator, and it combines the basics of “Talking Stick” practices with behavioural training through humiliation. Two participants each wear a headband, fitted with electronics. The holder of the magic ball may speak for as long as the timer counts down. If their opponent speaks during this time, their headband reprimands them with gentle slapping to the face. If the holder speaks over their assigned time, they are similarly treated to mechanical slapping.

It’s an amusing way to help police a discussion between two parties, and it’s all made possible with a trio of WeMos D1 ESP8266 boards. The headbands act as clients, while the ball acts as a server and keeps track of how many times each speaker has broken the rules.

WiFi projects such as this one have become much easier in the past few years with the wide availability of chips like the ESP8266. Of course, if you need more grunt, you can always upgrade to the ESP32.

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The Internet Of Claw Machines

Remote administration of machines is a very useful tool for all manner of commercial, industrial, and home applications. Now, it’s available for claw machines, too – thanks to [Code Your Venture Free].

The project uses an ESP32 board that includes a battery case on the back for a standard 18650 lithium battery that makes getting small battery powered projects off the ground much easier. You can find them at Banggood and AliExpress, but we’re not 100% sure that they’re kosher because they’re branded WeMos, but don’t show up on WeMos’ website or their official online retail store. Anyway, it’s a cute idea to strap a LiPo cell to the back like that. Let us know in the comments if you know more.

Back to the claw! An off-the-shelf thumbstick is then connected to the ESP32 which is programmed to send packets over the network to control the claw machine, which is wired up with its own network-connected microcontroller. It’s all wrapped up in the usual 3D printed case.

The one problem that the project doesn’t solve is delivery – how does the remote player, whether on the local network or online, collect their prize? We can only assume some cutting-edge form of drone delivery is the solution. It’s not the first remote claw machine we’ve seen, either. Video after the break.

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Checking The Weather Without A Window

Making a weather display is great because it’s a simple project that shows off some skills and has an obvious daily use. So [ACROBOTIC Industries] decided to make an easy kit for the Hackaday Prize to make weather displays even more accessible.

Calling it the ESPecter, [ACROBOTIC Industries] wanted to make this a simple project for anyone, regardless of skill with a soldering iron or Arduino toolkit. So they decided to base the guts on common components that can be put together easily, specifically a Wemos Mini D1 with an OLED shield as a bright display. They also designed a cool tiltable 3D-printed enclosure for this small device so that you can orient it to your eye level.

ESPecter breadboarded prototype.

While they already have a breadboarded prototype, and a 3D printed case, some software work remains to make the project really shine. They plan to add nice features like a web interface to configure location and network information, alerts, additional locations, and historical weather data. They also want to create a weather library to display well on a low-resolution screen and add battery operation.

We look forward to seeing the final version later in the Hackaday Prize!

This isn’t the first weather project we’ve seen around here. Other variants include mirror weather displays, an ESP8266-based weather monitoring station, a very low-power weather station, and this roundup of weather displays which might give you some inspiration.