A Stress Monitor Designed Specifically To Help You Work From Home

There are quite a bit of mixed emotions regarding working from home. Some people love it and are thriving like they haven’t before, but others are having a bit of a hard time with it all. [Brandon] has been working from home for the last 12 years, but even after so many years of managing this type of work culture, he admits that it can still be a little stressful. He says he doesn’t take enough time in between tasks to simply relax and to breathe a little and the day-to-day minutia of his work can drive his stress level up if he doesn’t take some time to calm himself. He figured he could make something to monitor his stress level and remind himself to take a break and the results are pretty impressive.

He develops a system to monitor his heart rate and the ambient noise level in his room and uses these metrics as a measure of stress. If his heart rate or the ambient noise level goes above a certain threshold, then he sends himself a text message reminding himself to relax and take a break. You’ve probably seen people use heart rate as a measure of stress already, but you’re probably less familiar with using sound. [Brandon] basically thought the sound sensor would detect if he starts ranting for prolonged periods of time or if he’s in a Zoom meeting that gets too heated. We thought that was pretty neat.

[Brandon] used an off-the-shelf chest strap heart rate monitor to save himself a bit of time in trying to build his own. The device sends heart rate data to an nRF52840 over Bluetooth and then pushes the data to the cloud using a Blues Wireless Notecard. The Notecard also offers data encryption which gave [Brandon] some added peace of mind knowing his biometric data wasn’t floating around in the cloud without any sort of protection. This certainly isn’t medical-grade encryption, but it gave him a bit of comfort, nonetheless. All that data is processed in his custom-designed web app and when the appropriate thresholds are reached, he sends a text message to himself using Twilio reminding him to relax and unwind for a bit.

For his next iteration, [Brandon] might try making his own heart rate monitor. But until then, stay safe everybody, and remember to take a break whenever you need it.

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Ten Projects Won The Refresh Work-From-Home-Life Round Of The Hackaday Prize

Here we are, a year and change into this pandemic, and if you were new to working-from-home every day at the start, surely it has lost its luster by now. We asked you to stand back and assess what can be better about WFH life and you took it from there, building incredibly useful things we couldn’t have dreamed of. From a pool of more than one hundred entries, the judges have selected ten projects whose creators have each been awarded a $500 prize, and will advance to the final round of the 2021 Hackaday Prize in October.

Are your prototypes a mess of wires? Or do you spend way too much time making sure each jumper is cut to the perfect length? Either way, you’re better off using breadWare, which takes a standard breadboard and changes the connection process into a software solution. That’s right — any rail including the power rails can connect to any other thanks to a handful of analog CMOS switch chips.

Maybe you’d love to build the perfect keyboard to grace your battlestation, but are afraid of all that hand wiring. Make it easier on yourself by soldering each key switch to its own little PCB.

If your home office is sometimes overrun by little humans that need immediate attention, you’ll no doubt appreciate the value of a device that can deactivate your web camera and mic automatically when it no longer senses your presence.

You may have left that awful office lighting behind, but you’re still getting plenty of prolonged exposure to blue light. This project aims to head that off a bit by replicating the current outdoor light temperature with indoor lighting. And don’t forget — air quality is just as important, so crack open a window once in a while and build yourself a smart lamp that can give you hard numbers.

This was the second of five challenges in the 2021 Hackaday Prize, which means that the ten finalists linked below will have until the end of October to flesh out and polish their projects before the final round of judging. Meanwhile, we’ve kicked off the next round with the Re-imagine Supportive Tech challenge. Show us how you would make electronics and devices more accessible, as in more modular, hackable, or affordable.

Ten Finalists from the Refresh Work From Home Challenge:

If you like these, take some time to kick back and peruse the entire list of entries in this challenge. You deserve it.

This Horrifying Robot Is Here To Teach You A Lesson

No, despite what it might look like, this isn’t some early Halloween project. The creepy creation before you is actually a tongue-in-cheek “robot” created by the prolific [Nick Bild], a topical statement about companies asking their remote workers to come back into the office now that COVID-19 restrictions are being lifted. Why commute every day when this ultra realistic avatar can sit in for you?

OK, so maybe it’s not the most impressive humanoid creation to ever grace the pages of Hackaday. But if you’re looking to spin up a simple telepresence system, you could do worse than browsing through the Python source code [Nick] has provided. Using a Raspberry Pi 4, a webcam, and a microphone, his client-server architecture combines everything the bot sees and hears into a simple page that can be remotely accessed with a web browser.

Naturally this work from home (WFH) bot wouldn’t be much good if it was just a one-way street, so [Nick] has also added a loudspeaker that replays whatever he says on the client side. To prevent a feedback loop, his software includes a function that toggles which direction the audio stream goes in by passing the appropriate commands to the bot over SSH; a neat trick to keep in mind for your own, less nightmarish, creations.

If you’re looking for something a bit more capable and have some cardboard laying around, this DIY telepresence mount for your phone might be a good place to start.

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Today’s Challenge Is All About Work-From-Home Life

You sure do learn a lot when life suddenly makes it impossible to go into the office and asks that you instead do the same work remotely. Sure, there are the obvious challenges like needing a device to do the work on and an internet connection that’s not going to melt down when family or roommates are trying to Zoom at the same time as you one-on-one with the boss. But there’s way more to it. The Refresh Work-From-Home Life challenge takes this on as the next phase of the Hackaday Prize gets under way this morning.

If the global pandemic caused you to find yourself working from home, I’m sure it’s been quite a ride. Maybe you learned what your spine feels like after hunching over a MacBook in bed for 40 hours. Others discovered that the commute had been silently serving as a power-down sequence for your “work brain” — without it you never stopped thinking about, or more likely worrying about, work. And without that change in venue, it’s far too easy to feel like you were now living at work. So let’s invent the things that can make us productive from home while maintaining physical health and preserving our sanity.

Ten entries in this challenge will be awarded with $500 and ushered into the final round where the grand prize of $25,000 and four other top prizes await. What kind of things are we looking for? The best ideas are the ones we haven’t had yet, but I can spitball a bit to get things rolling.

Mirror with a bracket turns a laptop webcam into an overhead project for Zoom classrooms

Furniture and other infrastructure can be a real sore-spot when not a good fit. We’d love to see your design that uses a single sheet of plywood (I know, those cost a bazillion dollars these days but just go with it) to build an adjustable workspace that fits your chair height and needs. Bonus points for one that folds away at quitting time to reassure you that work is done!

Office interruptions from co-works sometimes feel like a distraction. But without them you might not get your body moving for hours on end… not good for you! Design an assistant that watches for your poor sedentary habits and sasses you until you take some time to stretch your old bones. Or show off the gadgets that make living the digital nomad life easier like the awesome document camera hacks we saw from teachers when classrooms were closed last year.

Show off your proof of concept by starting a project page on Hackaday.io and using the dropdown in the left sidebar to enter it into the 2021 Hackaday Prize. You can continue to update it until judging begins at the end of July.

We’re already living in the future. Working or learning remotely is a big part of that. Let’s bend our homes and our habits to find a better way to do it!

DIY USB Microphone Seems Overkill; Is Surprisingly In-Depth

Those of us who have been working from home through video calls for the past year can attest to the rising demand for conferencing gear such as webcams and microphones. Not wanting to spring for a boring off-the-shelf solution, serial hacker [Andy Brown] decided to design his own USB solution from scratch and show us the process from start to finish.

Deciding to go for a full digital design for the circuitry, the peripheral is based off of a MEMS microphone and an STM32 microcontroller doing the heavy lifting between it and a USB connection. [Andy] notes that MEMS microphones are very delicate and you have to design the PCB around the hole where the sound enters, which is why he went with a breakout board which has the component already soldered onto it.

As for the MCU, he reasons that since this is a off-one project which won’t be produced in large numbers, the 180 MHz ARM core shouldn’t be seen as overkill, since it also gives him more than plenty of headroom to do signal processing to make the sound clearer before sending it through to a computer by the USB audio device descriptor.

Once the components are chosen and the board designed, [Andy] goes into detail explaining the firmware he wrote for the STM32 to translate the PCM samples from the microphone’s I²S interface into a format better suited for the computer. He also describes how it then processes the audio, applying a graphic equalizer to reduce noise and then ST’s own Smart Volume Control filter, which works more like a compressor than a simple amplitude multiplication.

Finally, all files for the project, including board gerbers and the STM32 firmware are available at the bottom of his post, and to boot, a video demonstrating the project which you can check here after the break. [Andy]’s choice of microcontroller for this project is no surprise to us, given he’s already made his own development board for the STM32 G0 series. But if this digital microphone project is a bit too modern for you, why not try your hand at building a ribbon microphone instead?

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Distance Learning Land

[familylovermommy] has been homeschooling her kids even before the pandemic, so she’s pretty well-versed on being a learning coach and a teacher. One of the activities she designed for her boys has them creating 3D models using Tinkercad. In the spirit of openness and cultivating freethinking, she did not give them very many constraints. But rather, gave them the liberty to creatively design whatever scene they imagined.

In the Instructable, she shares her sons’ designs along with instructions to recreate the models. The designs as you’ll see are pretty extensive, so she embedded the Tinkercad designs directly into it. You can even see a number of video showcases as well.

This is a really cool showcase of some pretty stellar workmanship. Also, maybe a bit of inspiration for some of our readers who are creating work from home activities of their own.

While you’re at it, check out some of these other work-from-home hacks.

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Four Years Later, Off-Grid Office Shed Still Rocks

About four years ago, [Russell Graves] created what was, to him, the ultimate work-from-home environment: an off-grid office shed. The shed might look a bit small, but it’s a considerably larger workspace than most people in an office are granted. Four years later, in the middle of a global pandemic, working from home has become much more common and [Russel] shares some thoughts on working from home and specifically reflects on how his off-grid, solar powered shed office (or “shoffice” as he likes to call it) has worked out. In short, after four years, it rocks hard and is everything he wanted and more.

Its well-insulated plywood walls let him mount monitor arms and just about anything else anywhere he wants, and the solar power system allows him to work all day (and into the night if he wants, which he doesn’t) except for a few spells in the winter where sunlight is just too scarce and a generator picks up the slack. Most importantly, it provides a solid work-life separation — something [Russell] is convinced is critical to basic wellness as a human being.

That’s not to say an off-grid solar shed is the perfect solution for everyone. Not everyone can work from home, but for those who can and who identify with at least some of the motivations [Russell] expressed when we covered how he originally created his office shed, he encourages giving it some serious thought.

The only thing he doesn’t categorically recommend is the off-grid, solar powered part. To be clear, [Russell] is perfectly happy with his setup and even delights in being off-grid, but admits that unless one has a particular interest in solar power, it makes more sense to simply plug a shed office into the grid like any other structure. Solar power might seem like a magic bullet, but four years of experience has taught him that it really does require a lot of work and maintenance. Determined to go solar? Maybe give the solar intensity sensor a look, and find out just how well your location is suited to solar before taking the plunge.