A person sits on a couch in the background wearing a VR headset. A keyboard is on their lap and a backpack studded with antennas and cables sits in the foreground.

2022 Cyberdeck Contest: Cyberpack VR

Feeling confined by the “traditional” cyberdeck form factor, [adam] decided to build something a little bigger with his Cyberpack VR. If you’ve ever dreamed of being a WiFi-equipped porcupine, then this is the cyberdeck you’ve been waiting for.

Craving the upgradability and utility of a desktop in a more portable format, [adam] took an old commuter backpack and squeezed in a Windows 11 PC, Raspberry Pi, multiple wifi networks, an ergonomic keyboard, a Quest VR headset, and enough antennas to attract the attention of the FCC. The abundance of network hardware is due to [adam]’s “new interest: a deeper understanding of wifi, and control of my own home network even if my teenage kids become hackers.”

The Quest is setup to run multiple virtual displays via Immersed, and you can relax on the couch while leaving the bag on the floor nearby with the extra long umbilical. One of the neat details of this build is repurposing the bag’s external helmet mount to attach the terminal unit when not in use. Other details we love are the toggle switches and really integrated look of the antenna connectors and USB ports. The way these elements are integrated into the bag makes it feel borderline organic – all the better for your cyborg chic.

For more WiFi backpacking goodness you may be interested in the Pwnton Pack. We’ve also covered other non-traditional cyberdecks including the Steampunk Cyberdeck and the Galdeano. If you have your own cyberdeck, you have until September 30th to submit it to our 2022 Cyberdeck Contest!

A black PCB with an ESP32 and an SBM-20 geiger counter

Flexible Radiation Monitoring System Speaks LoRa And WiFi

Radioactivity has always been a fascinating phenomenon for anyone interested in physics, and as a result we’ve featured many radioactivity-related projects on these pages over the years. More recently however, fears of nuclear disaster have prompted many hackers to look into environmental radiation monitoring. [Malte] was one of those looking to upgrade the radiation monitor on his weather station, but found the options for wireless geiger counters a bit limited.

So he decided to build himself his own Wifi and LoRa compatible environmental radiation monitor. Like most such projects it’s based on the ubiquitous Soviet-made SBM-20 GM tube, although the design also supports the Chinese J305βγ model. In either case, the tube’s operating voltage is generated by a discrete-transistor based oscillator which boosts the board’s 5 V supply to around 400 V with the help of an inductor and a voltage multiplier.

Graphs showing temperature, humidity and radiation levels
Data can be visualized in graphs, together with other data from the weather station like temperature and humidity

The tube’s output signal is converted into clean digital pulses to be counted by either an ESP32 or a Moteino R6, depending on the choice of wireless protocol. The ESP can make its data available through a web interface using its WiFi interface, while the Moteino can communicate through LoRa and sends out its data using MQTT. The resulting data is a counts-per-minute value which can be converted into an equivalent dose in Sievert using a simple conversion formula.

All design files are available on [Malte]’s website, including a PCB layout that neatly fits inside standard waterproof enclosures. Getting more radiation monitors out in the field can only be a good thing, as we found out when we tried to detect a radiation accident using community-sourced data back in 2019. Don’t like WiFi or LoRa? There’s plenty of other ways to connect your GM tubes to the internet.

Hackaday Prize 2022: Soviet Geiger Counter Gets WiFi

[Marek] has an impressive collection of old Soviet-style Geiger counters. These are handy tools to have in some specific situations, but for most of us they would be curiosities. Even so, they need some help from the modern world to work well, and [Marek] has come up with some pretty creative ways of bringing them into the 21st century. This version, for example, adds WiFi capabilities.

This build is based on the STS-5 Geiger tube but the real heavy lifting is handled by an ESP8266 which also provides a wireless network connection. There are some limitations to using an ESP8266 to control a time-sensitive device like a Geiger tube, especially the lack of local storage, but [Marek] solves this problem by including a real-time clock and locally caching data until a network connection is re-established. Future plans for the device include adding temperature and atmospheric temperature sensors.

Eventually this Geiger counter will be installed in a watertight enclosure outside so [Marek] can keep an eye on the background radiation of his neighborhood. Previously he was doing this with another build, but that one only had access to the network over an Ethernet cable, so this one is quite an upgrade.

Sketch of the two proprietary carriers showing their differences - one of them has a cutout under the antenna, while the other one does not.

Design Your CM4 Carrier With WiFi Performance In Mind

The Raspberry Pi Compute Module 4 has a built-in WiFi antenna, but that doesn’t mean it will work well for you – the physical properties of the carrier board impact your signal quality, too. [Avian] decided to do a straightforward test – measuring WiFi RSSI changes and throughput with a few different carrier boards. It appears that the carriers he used were proprietary, but [Avian] provides sketches of how the CM4 is positioned on these.

There’s two recommendations for making WiFi work well on the CM4 – placing the module’s WiFi antenna at your carrier PCB’s edge, and adding a ground cutout of a specified size under the antenna. [Avian] made tests with three configurations in total – the CMIO4 official carrier board which adheres to both of these rules, carrier board A which adheres to neither, and carrier board B which seems to be a copy of board A with a ground cutout added.

Graph plotting WiFi RSSI for each of the three carriers in each of the six locations. CMIO4 consistently outperforms both, while carrier B outperforms the carrier A, but by a more narrow margin.After setting up some test locations and writing a few scripts for ease of testing, [Avian] recorded the experiment data. Having that data plotted, it would seem that, while presence of an under-antenna cutout helps, it doesn’t affect RSSI as much as the module placement does. Of course, there’s way more variables that could affect RSSI results for your own designs – thankfully, the scripts used for logging are available, so you can test your own setups if need be.

If you’re lucky to be able to design with a CM4 in mind and an external antenna isn’t an option for you, this might help in squeezing out a bit more out of your WiFi antenna. [Avian]’s been testing things like these every now and then – a month ago, his ESP8266 GPIO 5V compatibility research led to us having a heated discussion on the topic yet again. It makes sense to stick to the design guidelines if WiFi’s critical for you – after all, even the HDMI interface on Raspberry Pi can make its own WiFi radio malfunction.

APPLE2IDIOT Expansion Card Lets Your Apple II (Sort Of) Access The Internet

[Nathanial Hendler]’s Apple2Idiot expansion card for the Apple II family of computers is a nifty mix of modern and vintage, and provides a clever means of allowing the host computer to (indirectly) access the internet over WiFi while keeping things simple from the host computer’s perspective.

The PCB has plenty of space on which to silkscreen reference data. Click to enlarge.

It does this by embedding an ESP32 module and a dual-port RAM chip onto an expansion card. The Apple2Idiot, when installed into a host machine, presents as a memory location which the host machine can access. The ESP32 then takes care of all the WiFi communications and tasks requiring internet access, and the host computer directs these tasks (and reads their output) via PEEK and POKE commands.

This means that there are two pieces of software for any given task: one running on the ESP32 doing the actual work, and one running on the Apple II that communicates with the ESP32 on the card by reading and writing to memory. It’s a simple system, and one that [Nathanial] thinks works quite well for specific tasks.

Example programs include things like scanning and selecting a WiFi network, fetching weather data, and sending a message to Slack. Making new applications does mean having to write software on two ends, but the simplicity of the system also means flexibility, because anything the ESP32 does can have its complexity abstracted away by the time its data is presented to the host machine. Not that the Apple II is incapable of dealing with the modern internet more directly; we’ve seen a basic Apple II web server written in BASIC.

ESP32: Is Two Better Than One?

We’ve looked at the WROOM-DA module before. It’s an ESP32 with two antennas, and [Andreas Spiess] says it is the ugliest ESP32 he’s ever seen. But beauty is only skin deep, after all. Did [Andreas] find beauty in the twin antennas? Watch the video below and see for yourself.

According to the block diagram, the twin antennas are not used simultaneously but offer diversity one at a time. There is also 8GB 8 MB of flash, double the amount on traditional WROOM modules. Mounting the device was a bit difficult since most ESP32 carrier boards will block some portion of the antenna array.

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Flashing TI Chips With An ESP

Texas Instruments is best known to the general public for building obsolete calculators and selling them at extraordinary prices to students, but they also build some interesting (and reasonably-priced) microcontrollers as well. While not as ubiquitous as Atmel and the Arduino platform, they can still be found in plenty of consumer electronics and reprogrammed, and [Aaron] aka [atc1441] demonstrates how to modify them with an ESP32 as an intermediary.

Specifically, the TI chips in this build revolve around the 8051-core  microcontrollers, which [Aaron] has found in small e-paper price tags and other RF hardware. He’s using an ESP32 to reprogram the TI chips, and leveraging a web server on the ESP in order to be able to re-flash them over WiFi. Some of the e-paper displays have built-in header pins which makes connecting them to the ESP fairly easy, and once that’s out of the way [Aaron] also provides an entire software library for interacting with these microcontrollers through the browser interface.

Right now the project supports the CC2430, CC2510 and CC1110 variants, but [Aaron] plans to add support for more in the future. It’s a fairly comprehensive build, and much better than buying the proprietary TI programmer, so if you have some of these e-paper displays laying around the barrier to entry has been dramatically lowered. If you don’t have this specific type of display laying around, we’ve seen similar teardowns and repurposing of other e-paper devices in the past as well.

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