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26
Mar

We Have a Problem: Household Electrical

Hackaday, we have a problem. The electricity in your house is on. It’s always on. How fast are those kilowatt-hours ticking by and what is causing it? For most people the only measurement they have of this is the meter itself (which nobody looks at), and the electric bill (which few people actually analyze). Is it silly that people pay far more attention to the battery usage on their phone than the electricity consumption in their abode? I think it is, and so appears another great seed idea for Hackaday Prize entries.

A Better Way to Measure

breaker-panelThe tough part of the problem here is getting at reliable data. Just yesterday we saw an incredible resource monitoring project that uses an optical sensor to measure the turning or the wheel in an electric meter. We’ve seen similar projects for meters that have a blinking LED, and a few other methods. But in many cases the electrical meter is outdoors which makes cheap, easily installed sensors a difficult goal to achieve. Even if we did, this still provides just one stream of data, the entire house.

Alternatively you could tap into the breaker box. We’ve seen [Bill Porter] do just that and there are some commercially available kits that include an octopus of clamp-style current sensors. This is a bit of an improvement, but still requires the user to open the electrical panel (don’t scoff at that statement, you know most people shouldn’t be doing that) to install them. I’m sure there are other methods that I’m missing and would love to hear about them in the comments below.

The Point

To sum up what I’m getting at here, think about the Kill-A-Watt which proved to be a very interesting hack. People liked not just seeing how much power something uses but extending where that data can be accessed. We don’t remember seeing any successful efforts to move the concept ahead a few generations. But if someone can crack that nut it could yield a wave of energy savings as people are able to be better connected with what is using a lot of electricity in their homes.

Your Turn (and Lessons from Last Week)

As with last week, now it’s your turn to come up with some ideas… wild, fantastic, good, bad, outlandish, let’s hear them. Better yet, document your idea on Hackaday.io and tag it with “2015HackadayPrize“. You can win prizes just for a well presented idea!

Speaking of last week, I shared the idea of adding some feedback to how long you’ve been in the shower. There were many opinions about the value and worthiness of that idea so I thought I’d close by covering some of them. Yes, there are much bigger wastes of water (and electricity in this case) in the world but why limit our solutions to only the largest offenders? The low-hanging fruit tends to be stuff a lot of people can understand and relate to. If we only talked about large-scale fixes (I dunno; reducing mercury emissions from power plants?) there is little momentum to crank-start a movement. If you found yourself thinking the ideas from this week and last are far too simple to win The Hackaday Prize that means you better get your project going. The world is hacked together by those who show up.

I’d love to hear suggestions for future installments of We have a problem. Leave those ideas in the comments and we’ll see you here next week!


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, The Hackaday Prize
Hackaday

26
Mar

Apple also acquired data company Aculu to improve cloud infrastructure

 

Apple’s acquisition of FoundationDB was confirmed this week, and it wasn’t the first takeover the company has made in an effort to improve its cloud services. Apple also acquired U.K.-based data analysis firm Acunu Ltd. some time ago.
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25
Mar

Mustachioed Nintendo Virtual Boy Gone Augmented Reality

Some people just want to watch the world burn. Others want to spread peace, joy and mustaches. [Joe Grand] falls into the latter group this time around. His latest creation is Mustache Mayhem, a hack, video game, and art project all rolled into one. This is a bit of a change from deconstructing circuit boards or designing electronic badges, but not completely new for [Joe], who wrote SCSIcide and Ultra SCSIcide for the Atari 2600 back in the early 2000’s.

Mustache Mayhem is built into a Nintendo Virtual Boy housing. The Virtual Boy itself was broken, and unfortunately was beyond repair. [Joe] removed most of the stock electronics and added a BeagleBone Black, Logitech C920 webcam, an LCD screen and some custom electronics. He kept the original audio amplifier, speakers, and controller connector. Angstrom Linux boots into [Joe’s] software, which uses OpenCV to detect faces and overlay mustaches. Gameplay is simple: Point the console at one or more faces. If you see a mustache, press the A button on the controller! The more faces and mustaches on-screen at once, the more points, or “mojo” the player gets. The code is up on Github, and can be built with Xcode targeted to the Mac, or directly on the BeagleBone Black.

[Joe’s] goal for the project was to make a ridiculous game that looks like it could have come out in the 90’s. He also used Mustache Mayhem as a fun way to learn some new skills which will come in handy for more serious projects in the future.

We caught up with [Joe] for a quick interview about his new creation.

How did you come up with the idea for Mustache Mayhem?

I was selling a bunch of my video game collection at PRGE (Portland Retro Gaming Expo) a few years ago and had a broken Virtual Boy that no one bought. A friend of mine was at the table and said I had to do something with it. I thought “People wear cosplay and walk around at conventions, so what if I could do something with the Virtual Boy that you could walk around with?” That was the seed.

A few months later, Texas Instruments sent me the original production release of the BeagleBone Black (rev. A5A). Eighteen months after that I actually started the project. The catalyst was to do something for an upcoming Portland, OR art show (Byte Me 4.0), which is an annual event that shows off interactive technology-based artwork. I wrote up a little description and got accepted. I had less than 2 months to actually get things working and it ended up taking about a month of full-time work. It was much more work than I expected for such a silly project. I originally was going to do something along the lines of walking around in a Doom-like perspective and shooting people when their faces were detected.

That would be pretty darn cool. How did you get from Doom to Mustaches? 

I saw a TI BeagleBoard demo called “boothstache” which drew mustaches on faces and tweeted the pictures. I thought that doing something non-violent with mustaches would be more suitable (and funny) to actually show my kids. I also secretly wanted to use this project as a way to experiment with Linux, write some code, and learn about face detection and image processing with OpenCV, which I plan to use for some actual computer security research in the future. Mustache Mayhem turned out to be a super cool project and I’m really happy with it. I sort of feel guilty spending so much time on it, since it’s basically just a one-off prototype, but I just got so obsessed with making it exactly as I wanted.

You mentioned on your website that Mustache was “designed to challenge the paradigms of personal privacy and entertainment.” What exactly did you mean there?

Many people post images (and all sort of other personally identifiable information) of themselves online without thinking about the ramifications. I noticed that players willingly put their faces in front of the camera to see what they’d look like with a “virtual mustache.” I can’t really blame them, because mustaches are pretty cool, but if I can use a single-board Linux machine to detect faces, think about what cities, states, and nation-states can do/are doing on a much larger scale. The statement is sort of an underlying theme for people to think more carefully about their personal privacy and how it is or isn’t okay to sacrifice it in the name of having fun.

What was your favorite part of the project?

I loved the freedom of being able to create whatever I wanted to just for the hell of it. I have a real affinity for retro/classic gaming, so it was fun to try to make the game look like it could have belonged in the 90s (when the Virtual Boy was originally released). Being able to use the stock Virtual Boy controller was another highlight, since it made the game look more complete and less of hack (from outside appearance).

Did you have to figure the protocol out from scratch?

Nope, and that saved me a lot of time. I found a document online about the Virtual Boy controller pinout and interface, so I used that as a starting point. It didn’t take long to write the code to communicate with the controller (which uses a synchronous serial interface and basically just shifts out a bunch of bits with each one corresponding to a button on the controller).

16574514939_9a793b1fe4_zDid your run into any unexpected challenges?

This was my first time really working in-depth with Linux. I ran into all sorts of trouble with configuring the system, compiling various packages, and generally just forcing it to do what I wanted it to do. This was purely a limitation of my own skills. Without the huge amount of open source tools and resources for both Linux and the BeagleBone Black, I would have been completely screwed. I’m a hardware guy, so this was truly a trial by fire.

A more significant unexpected challenge was realizing that the batteries I selected (Energizer L91 Lithium AA primary cells) couldn’t handle the power requirements (~7W) of the system. This was a major oversight on my part and I didn’t notice the problem until opening night of the art show when I started getting seemingly random shutdowns of the unit. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It was like a bad dream and reminded me of the stress while filming Prototype This when the cameras were rolling and everyone was looking at you.

How did you get around it for the show?

I thought that the batteries were just running low (and, technically, they were), so I switched over to using the stock Virtual Boy wall wart. Unbeknownst to me, that was also underpowered for my design. The system shutdown twice that night, but luckily attendees still got to experience the wonder of Mustache Mayhem.

After the show, I figured out the root cause of the problem: When running on batteries (the Virtual Boy controller uses six AAs in series), the system voltage was already sagging down to 7V (from a nominal 10.2V) before the game even started. As soon I started the game (which enabled the webcam), the voltage dropped below the 7V minimum limit of my DC/DC converter, causing the system to shutdown. With the wall wart (10V, 850mA), its output under load was actually a triangle (!) wave. On occasion, this would also cause the DC/DC converter to shutdown. It’s amazing nothing got damaged in the process. For most of my development, I had the USB connection plugged in (for network access to the BeagleBone Black from my computer), which supplements the main power, so I never noticed the poor performance of both the wall wart and batteries.

I ultimately hacked the Virtual Boy AC adapter pack (that connects to the back of the Virtual Boy controller) to fit a standard 2.1mm barrel jack and used a high-quality CUI 12V, 2.5A supply. The output under load is totally clean and stable with no noise whatsoever. I wasn’t able to find any battery chemistry in a AA package (or a pack that can fit into the space of the Virtual Boy battery holder) that will handle the high-current drain of the system while staying above 7V and don’t want to change my DC/DC converter to one with a lower minimum input voltage. So, for now, I’m stuck with wall power. I’m OK with that, though.

We want to thank [Joe] for taking the time to talk with us. We don’t know what he’ll be working on next, but we’re sure it will be a [Grand] Idea!

Filed under: Featured, nintendo hacks, slider
Hackaday

24
Mar

Retrotechtacular: Basic Telephony in the Field

Here is a great introduction to a practical application of electromagnetic theory—the field telephone. It’s a training film from 1961 that covers the sound-powered, local battery, and common battery systems along with the six basic components they use: generators, ringers, transmitters, receivers, induction coils, and capacitors.

Clear illustrations and smart narration are the hallmarks of these Army training films, and this one begins with a great explanation of generator theory. The phone’s ringer uses electromagnetic attraction and repulsion to do the mechanical work of striking the bells. Similarly, the sound waves generated by a caller’s speech move an armature to create an alternating electrical current that is transmitted and converted back to sound waves on the receiving end.

In the local battery system, the battery pushes pulsating DC to carry the voice transmission. An induction coil increases the capabilities of this system, but capacitors are required to filter out the frequencies that would overload the receiver, passing only the higher speech frequencies.

In order for several stations to communicate, the use of a switchboard is required to patch the calls through. There are many advantages of a common battery system with regard to call switching: no local battery is necessary, nor is a generator needed at each station. Calls are easier to place, and communication is much faster.

Part One:

Part Two:

Retrotechtacular is a weekly column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.

Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Retrotechtacular
Hackaday

23
Mar

Apple now offering Pay decals for businesses to order

Apple Pay has seen plenty of adoption since its launch late last year, and it looks like Apple is making it easier for businesses to promote the checkout option.

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23
Mar

Build a Precision Voltage Reference Box

So you just scored a vintage piece of test gear, or maybe you just bought a fancy new DMM (Hmm…We love that new multimeter smell!) But can it read voltage accurately? How can you be sure? Well, that’s why you should build yourself a voltage reference box.

Youtuber [Scullcom’s] latest video has you covered. Wants some specs? Sure. How does a precision 10v and 5v output with only ±0.025% and an amazing 2.5ppm/°C sound? That’s very impress for something you can cobble together yourself.  We find it interesting that he actually uses some ebay parts to pull off this build. The LiPo battery, USB LiPo charging circuit, and boost regulator are all sourced from ebay. Not to worry though, as these parts are only used to supply power to a 15 volt linear regulator. The real magic happens in the Texas Instruments REF102 precision voltage reference. You give it a decently clean 12-36 volts, and it will give you a 10 volt reference out.  These amazing chips are able to obtain such precision in part because they are calibrated (or more specifically “laser trimmed”) from the factory. A secondary output of 5 volt is achieved by using a differential amplifier.

Warning: The video after the break is a bit on the long side(43 mins), so you might want to make some popcorn. But we find [Scullcom’s] teaching style to be lovely, and he does a wonderful job of explaining the project start to finish, soup to nuts.

 

Filed under: hardware
Hackaday

22
Mar

14 Wheel Drive Vehicle Climbs Over Most Things

What do you get when you cross 7 hobby gearboxes with 14 wheels and a LiPo battery? Instead of speculating an answer, we can just check out one of [rctestflight’s] projects.

He came across those hobby gearboxes and thought it would be fun to build a 14 wheel drive contraption. Each gearbox has its own motor and is wrapped up in a nice tidy package also including the axle and wheels. All of the wheels mounted on a straight board wouldn’t be much fun so [rctestflight] used heavy duty zip ties that act as a flexible frame to connect one gearbox to the next. This allows the vehicle to bend and climb over obstacles while keeping as many wheels in contact with the ground as possible.

14 Wheel Drive

All 7 motors are powered by a single cell LiPo battery. In the video after the break it appears the vehicle can steer or that it is remotely controlled, but that is not the case. Once the battery is plugged in it just goes forward. This isn’t the first time one of [rctestflight’s] projects has been featured on Hackaday, check out his Free Falling Quadcopter Experiment.

Filed under: robots hacks
Hackaday

22
Mar

RaspPi/Keyboard Project called Kiiboard, Still Pronounced ‘keyboard’

[b10nik] wrote in to tell us about a pretty sweet project that he just finished up. It’s a mechanical keyboard with an integrated Raspberry Pi 2 Model B inside.

[b10nik] purchased a new Filco Ninja Majestouch-2 keyboard just for this project. Although it may make some people cringe, the keyboard was immediately taken apart in order to find an open cavity for the Raspberry Pi. Luckily there was space available towards the left rear of the keyboard case.

RaspPi2 Keyboard insideIf you are familiar with the Raspberry Pi 2 Model B, you know that all of the connections are not on the same side of the board. The USB, audio, HDMI and Ethernet jacks were removed from the PCB. The Ethernet port is not needed since this hack uses WiFi, but those those other ports were extended and terminated in a custom 3D printed I/O panel . The stock keyboard case had to be cut to fit the new panel which results in a very clean finished look.

There’s one more trick up this keyboard’s sleeve, it can be used with the internal Raspberry Pi or be used as a standard keyboard. This is done by way of a FSUSB30MUX USB switch IC that completely disconnects the Raspberry Pi from the keyboard’s USB output.

For another RaspPi/Keyboard solution, check out this concept from a few years ago using a Cherry G80-3000 mechanical keyboard.

 

Filed under: Raspberry Pi
Hackaday

21
Mar

Get the Wireless Bluetooth Cloud Buds and More On Sale Before these Deal End [Deals Hub]

There are so many great offers in the iPhone Hacks Deals Hub that it’s easy to miss one. We try to alert you to all of the best deals around, and this is your chance to catch those savings that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks. Take a look at the best deals of the week from the iPhone Hacks Deals Hub. You’ll be glad you did, and your wallet will thank you, too.

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21
Mar

GT2 Belt Drive Conversion of Printrbot Simple

The early versions of the Printrbot Simple at about 0 were cheap enough for even the most cash-strapped hackers to put on their desks. Obviously, for that cost, a lot of design compromises were needed to keep it cheap. Sometimes, changes carry forward to the next iteration at no cost increase. One such improvement in the current version of the Printrbot is the belt drive. Unfortunately, if you have one of the late 2013 – early 2014 wood models, it is most likely being driven by a fishing line that loops over a rubber hose attached to the stepper motor. [jason] describes the process of upgrading the Printrbot Simple to a GT2 belt drive , using the designs posted by Thingiverse contributor [iamjonlawrence].

The trouble with the fishing line drive was that it would tend to get loose over time and needed to be pulled taut. Also, it affected precision when the line tended to wander over the drive shaft. The good thing with having rapid prototyping tools is you can make bootstrap improvements using them. Once the parts for the upgrade were printed, [jason] only needed some bearings, GT2 belts and pulleys to complete the upgrade. For those wanting to upgrade their old Printrbot Simple machines, [jason] guides you through the whole process via some detailed photographs and listing out the gotcha’s that you need to be careful about.

Filed under: 3d Printer hacks
Hackaday