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Hackaday Links: November 9, 2014

จันทร์, 11/10/2014 - 07:00

After many years of searching, [Dan Wood] finally got his hands on something he’s wanted for the past twenty-two years: an Amiga 4000. No, it’s not the queen bee of Amiga land – that honor would fall to the 68060-equipped 4000T, but [Dan]‘s 4000 is decked out. It has a 256MB RAM expansion, Ethernet, USB, and a Picasso IV graphics card that gives it better resolution and color depth than most modern laptops.

[Pistonpedal] has a fully automatic pneumatic can crusher that is far too cool to be wasted on a case of Keystone. A funnel at the top guides the cans in to be crushed one at a time and ejected into a garbage can underneath. Great for recycling.

Coming over from ‘normal’ programming into the world of embedded development? [AndreJ] has the AVR C Macro for you. It’s a great way to get away from all those ~=, |=, and &=s that don’t make any sense at all.

[CNLohr] has a reputation for running Minecraft servers on things that don’t make any sense at all. The latest build is a light up redstone ore block equipped with an ESP8266 WiFi chip.

Oh, the Hackaday overlords and underlings are in Munich for this little shindig we’re doing. If you in town for Electronica come on down. If you have a copy of Neil Young’s Trans, bring it to the party.


Filed under: Hackaday links

Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants

จันทร์, 11/10/2014 - 04:00

If you want your plants to stay healthy, you need to make sure they stay watered. [Dimbit] decided to build his own solar powered circuit to help automatically keep his plants healthy. Like many things, there is more than one way to skin this cat. [Dimbit] had seen other similar projects before, but he wanted to make his smarter than the average watering project. He also wanted it to use very little energy.

[Dimbit] first tackled the power supply. He suspected he wouldn’t need much more than 5V for his project. He was able to build his own solar power supply by using four off-the-shelf solar garden lamps. These lamps each have their own low quality solar panel and AAA NiMH cell. [Dimbit] designed and 3D printed his own plastic stand to hold all of the solar cells in place. All of the cells and batteries are connected in series to increase the voltage.

Next [Dimbit] needed an electronically controllable water valve. He looked around but was unable to find anything readily available that would work with very little energy. He tried all different combinations of custom parts and off-the-shelf parts but just couldn’t make something with a perfect seal. The solution came from an unlikely source.

One day, when [Dimbit] ran out of laundry detergent, he noticed that the detergent bottle cap had a perfect hole that should be sealable with a steel ball bearing. He then designed his own electromagnet using a bolt, some magnet wire, and a custom 3D printed housing. This all fit together with the detergent cap to make a functional low power water valve.

The actual circuit runs on a Microchip PIC microcontroller. The system is designed to sleep for approximately nine minutes at a time. After the sleep cycle, it wakes up and tests a probe that sits in the soil. If the resistance is low enough, the PIC knows that the plants need water. It then opens the custom valve to release about two teaspoons of water from a gravity-fed system. After a few cycles, even very dry soil can reach the correct moisture level. Be sure to watch the video of the functioning system below.


Filed under: green hacks

Deck the Halls with a Raspberry Pi Controlled Christmas Tree

จันทร์, 11/10/2014 - 01:00

You know the holiday season is getting close when the Christmas light projects start rolling in! [Osprey22] is getting a jump on his holiday decorations with his Christmas Tree light show controlled by a Raspberry Pi. Yes, we know he could have done it with an Arduino, or a 555, but the Raspi makes for a convenient platform. With a WiFi module, code changes can be made remotely. The Raspberry Pi’s built-in audio interface also makes it easy to sync music to flashing lights, though we’d probably drop in a higher quality USB audio interface.

[Osprey22's] Raspberry Pi is running his own custom python sequencer software. It takes an mp3 file and a sequence file as inputs, then runs the entire show. When the music isn’t playing, the Pi loops through a set of pre-defined scenes, changing once per minute.

The hardware itself is pretty straightforward. The Raspberry Pi controls 8 solid state relays through its GPIO interface. 8 strings of lights are more than enough for the average tree. [Osprey22] topped the tree off with a star made of wood and illuminated by a string of 25 WS2801 RGB LED pixels.

Click past the break to see [Osprey22's] tree in action!

[Via Instructables]


Filed under: Holiday Hacks, Raspberry Pi

Mobile Planter Chases the Sun

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 22:01

There are two types of people: ones with green thumbs, and ones that kill their cacti  because they forgot to water them for over a year. Sadly, we are of the latter group. We currently have a resilient spider plant that looks like it could use more sun. Now there’s a way for it to catch those rays wherever they may shine, thanks to [Dot Matrix] of Instructables. She made a mobile planter that actively seeks out sunlight.

The planter’s base was made of plywood, topped with fake grass and a watering can to hold the plant. Anything above the planter base can be modified to whatever desired aesthetic. A CRT planter may be too heavy, but there are countless ways to personalize it. [Dot] used an Afinia 3D printer to make various mounts and brackets with ABS plastic. The planter was controlled by an Arduino Micro and used a pair of 0.5W solar panels and Parallax PING))) sensors to decide how it should move from its current position. If the planter would fall or hit an object moving forward, it would reverse and turn on wheels powered by Parallax continuous rotation servos. It would evaluate its new position, repeating the process if it was in danger. Once the planter was safe, it used the solar panels to detect the most sunlight: the sum of the panels determines the area’s brightness while the individual panels’ readings were used to move the planter towards a brighter area. The sun-seeking continued until the sunniest spot was found (defined in the code). Here, the planter remained idle for 10 minutes before restarting the process.

We think [Dot's] planter is a fun way to keep plants happy and healthy in spite of us. See a video of the planter after the break.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, green hacks

Monitor Shield Leaves No Pin Unused

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 19:00

What doesn’t this Arduino Mega shield have? Ponder that as you realize that it doesn’t just attach itself to the pin headers, but uses every single one of the mega’s connections.

This isn’t a bunch of components kludged together either. [Carsten] is an a EE and that explains a lot of the really great choices he made like buffering, opto-isolation, and the clean assembly despite a schematic that’s so busy it’s difficult figure out where to start.

So, what does it do? Looks like a one-stop-shop for quick prototyping needs. For instance, there’s a pushbutton, toggle-switch, and a couple of trimpots for quick and easy input. At the center of the board is a 7-segment display, and multiple rows of LED bar displays (assembled from SMD components and protoboard) to provide feedback to the user.

There are also a number of sensors at the party, including a mercury shake sensor, temperature sensor, microphone, thermistor, and light dependent resistor. If what you need isn’t on the board there are multiple options for connecting external gear including opto-isolated input and output, and a LEMO for digital I/O with another for analog. All of that and we forgot to mention the moving coil voltmeter that measures PWM.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Interactive Sound with Glove and Tape

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 16:00

Here’s a way to explore new spaces in untraditional manners: a sonophore, or a glove equipped with a tape heads meant to explore spaces with magnetic tape tracing the walls.

This project is a followup to the analogue tape glove from a few years ago. In that project, aligned strips of magnetic tape cover a canvas, leaving anyone wearing the glove to track their hand horizontally swiping across different tracts, or vertically listening to each track.

This project takes a glove similar to the analogue tape glove, but the tape is spread out along the walls of the installation. There’s no way of knowing what strange voices are contained on the tapes; the only way to know is to explore the space.

Video of the project below. It’s a Vimeo, so you know it’s artistic.


Filed under: classic hacks, misc hacks

Breadboarding a 68000 Computer in Under a Week

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 13:01

We’ve been lurking over at Big Mess ‘o Wires as [Steve] geared up for his 68000 computer build. One of his previous posts mentioned a working breadboard version but we figured it would be a ways off. Surprise, he’s got it working and what you see above took just 6 days of “occasional work” to get running.

The chip in use is actually a 68008 but we remember reading that he does plan to migrate to a 68000 because this one lacks the memory pins to address more than 1 MB of RAM. The trick here was just to get the thing running and he made some common choices to get there. For instance, he grounded the /DTACK in much the same way [Brian Benchoff] explained in his own 68k build.

We’re not sure if his address decoding was a time saver or not. If you study [Steve's] original planning post you’ll learn that he’s going to use programmable logic to handle the address decoding. But above he wired up 74-series logic chips to perform these functions. On the one hand you know your Hardware Description Language isn’t the problem, but did you terminate one of those wires where you ought not?

Additional tripping points include a bouncing reset pin. Looking at that we’d tell [Steve] there’s a problem with his chip, except that this was his first thought as well. He went the extra mile by building and testing a replica of the reset system. This makes our brain spin… shouldn’t the reset be among the most reliable parts of a processor?

At any rate, great work so far. We can’t wait to see where this goes and we hope that it unfolds in a way that is as exciting as watching [Quinn Dunki's] Veronica project take shape.


Filed under: classic hacks, computer hacks

Tesla Truck Wants to Bring The Makerspace To The Children

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 10:01

With so many budget cuts, many public schools find themselves having to cut “unnecessary” programs such as shop, art, and music classes. They simply can’t afford to keep those things running and also teach other important concepts like math, language, and history. The obvious side effect is that kids don’t have a safe place to be creative and learn to make things with their hands.

Luckily, the maker movement has been rapidly growing over the last few years with makerspaces popping up all over the globe. These places are picking up the slack left behind by the budget cuts that hurt our public schools. But while makerspaces are getting more and more common, they still don’t exist everywhere. Even in those places lucky enough to have a makerspace, not everyone is aware that they exist and not everyone can afford to be a full-time member. This is where Tesla Truck comes in.

The Tesla Truck’s mission statement is “to provide a cutting-edge, mobile, hands-on STEM lab, where students, teachers, and makers can teach, learn, collaborate, create, and innovate.” It’s a noble cause for sure, but how do they plan to do this? This group intends to outfit a truck with the kinds of tools every maker dreams of. These would include a 3D printer, laser cutter, CNC plasma cutter, mill and lathe, electronics bench, and more.

Obviously just having a bunch of high-end tools is not going to cut it. Someone is going to have to teach people how to properly use these tools. The group behind the Tesla Truck is made up of educators, engineers, and published researches who have been doing this kind of thing for a while now. This group has been packing up their own personal tools into their hatchbacks and setting up shop in school classrooms around New York City, only to have to break down at the end of the day and bring them all home again. Together with the students, this group has built things like robots, quadcopters, and water purifiers. The Tesla Truck will give them the ability to reach more people much more easily.

The Tesla Truck is looking to raise a total of $62,804.01 to make their dream a reality. They have raised more than half of that outside of crowd funding. They’ve now turned to Indiegogo to raise the last $24,300. They have ten days left and they are almost halfway to their goal. You can watch their campaign video below to get a better feel for what they are all about.


Filed under: Crowd Funding

Using Tetris Like MS Paint

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 07:01

Check out Samus looking boss in this pixelated image. Who would have thought of using Tetris as a canvas for these types of graphics? Coming up with the original idea of strategically clearing and leaving Tetris pieces to end up with what is shown above is hard enough. But how in the heck do you implement the algorithm that generated this programmatically?

First off, two thing should not be surprising about this. It wasn’t manually generated during normal gameplay. That would be beyond savant level. The other thing to note is that the order in which pieces occurred was not random, but strategically calculated by the algorithm. The challenge is not only to occupy and clear the correct pixels, but to make sure the correctly colored pieces remain.

You need to see the fast-motion video embedded after the break to fully appreciate the coding masterpiece at work. We’re not going to try to paraphrase how the algorithms functions, but get comfy with the link above which walks through all of the theory (in addition to supplying the code so you can try it yourself).

[via Reddit]


Filed under: software hacks

Dog Tracker Knows Where the Dirt is

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 04:00

[Eric] is well on his way to making one of the less pleasant chores of pet ownership a bit easier with his dog tracking system. The dog tracker is actually a small part of [Eric's] much larger OpenHAB system, which we featured back in July.

As a dog owner, [Eric] hates searching the yard for his pet’s droppings. He had been planning a system to make this easier, and a local hackerspace event provided just the opportunity to flesh his ideas out. The Dog Tracker’s primary sensor is a GPS. Most dogs remain motionless for a few seconds while they go about their business. [Eric's] Arduino-frgbased system uses this fact, coupled with a tilt sensor to determine if the family pet has left any presents.

The tracker relays this information to the home base station using a HopeRF RFM69 transceiver. The RFM69 only has about a 900 foot range, so folks with larger properties will probably want to spring for a cellular network based tracking system. Once the droppings have been tracked, OpenHAB has an interface

[Eric] has also covered runaway dogs in his design. If Fido passes a geo-fence, OpenHAB will raise the alarm. A handheld dog tracker with its own RFM69 can be used to chase down dogs on the run. Future plans are to miniaturize the dog tracker such that it will be more comfortable for a dog to wear.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, gps hacks

Nanobots Swim like Scallops in Non-Newtonian Fluids

อาทิตย์, 11/09/2014 - 01:00

The idea of using nanobots to treat diseases has been around for years, though it has yet to be realized in any significant manner. Inspired by Purcell’s Scallop theorem, scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems have created their own version . They designed a “micro-scallop” that could propel itself through non-Newtonian fluids, which is what most biological fluids happen to be.

The scientists decided on constructing a relatively simple robot, one with two rigid “shells” and a flexible connecting hinge. They 3D-printed a negative mold of the structure and filled it with a polydimethylsiloxane (PDMS) solution mixed with fluorescent powder to enable detection. Once cured, the nanobot measured 800 microns wide by 300 microns thick. It’s worth noting that it did not have a motor. Once the mold was complete, two neodymium magnets were glued onto the outside of each shell. When a gradient-free external magnetic field was applied, the magnets make the nanobot’s shells open and close. These reciprocal movements resulted in its net propulsion through non-Newtonian media. The scientists also tested it in glycerol, an example of a Newtonian fluid. Confirming Purcell’s Scallop theorem, the nanobot did not move through the glycerol. They took videos of the nanobot in motion using a stereoscope, a digital camera with a colored-glass filter, and an ultraviolet LED to make the fluorescent nanobot detectable.

The scientists did not indicate any further studies regarding this design. Instead, they hope it will aid future researchers in designing nanobots that can swim through blood vessels and body fluids.  We don’t know how many years it will be before this becomes mainstream medical science, but we know this much: we will never look at scallops the same way again!

The video below shows an example of the nanobot with asymmetric, symmetric, and no actuation.  It is one of many AVI files linked in the paper, so you may need to paste the link in your address bar to open it:

http://www.nature.com/ncomms/2014/141104/ncomms6119/extref/ncomms6119-s10.avi

For something a bit more basic, here is another video explaining the experiment and non-Newtonian fluids:

[via Engadget]


Filed under: Medical hacks, news

Adding a Battery Gauge to a Project With Zero Parts

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 22:00

The typical way of doing a low battery detector is throwing a comparator in the circuit, setting it to measure a certain threshold voltage, and sending that signal off to a microcontroller or other circuit to notify someone the battery is going dead. [Josh] has a simpler way using an 8-bit AVR and zero other parts.

The chip [Josh] is using is the ATtiny84. The ADC in this chip is usually used to measure an unknown voltage against a reference voltage. The trick [Josh] is using is to do this in reverse: The internal 1.1 Volt reference voltage is measured against an unknown scale, namely the input voltage.

The value provided by the ADC on the chip will always be Vin times 1024 over the reference voltage. Since Vin will be 1.1 V in this case, the ADC value is known, it’s only a matter of doing some 6th grade algebra to determine the value of the input voltage.

[Josh] put together a small demonstration where the chip blinks out the number of volts its receiving from a bench power supply. By blinking a LED, it can blink out the current value of VCC as integers, but by using this technique you should be able to get a fairly fine-grained reading of what VCC actually is. Video below.


Filed under: ATtiny Hacks, Microcontrollers

Ask Hackaday: Why Don’t We Have Flexible Displays Yet?

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 19:00

A few times a month we receive extremely well crafted crowdfunding campaigns in our tip line that make us doubt our sense of reality. While this article therefore isn’t a hack, we felt it would be a good place to start a discussion around OLED flexible displays.

As the dedicated Wikipedia article states flexible displays have been around for a few years already. In 2013, the Samsung Galaxy Round was unveiled as the world’s first mobile phone with a 5.7″ flexible display. The phone (and the screen) were curved in shape but the phone itself was solid. The same goes for the recent Samsung Gear S smart watch.

Yet for only $350 in a $50k goal crowdfunding campaign the Portal flexible wearable smartphone seems to have all the answers. It is scratch & shatter proof, water-resistant, flexible, includes a ‘Portal proprietary flexible battery’, the ‘Fastest multi-core CPU’, gyro, compass, barometer, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC, GPS…. Specifications are even subject to change to ensure the best available components… and it is 89% funded. As they mention,

building a smartphone or a tech company isn’t rocket science.

We also found a 70% funded €100k crowdfunding campaign for a watch bracelet (right click to translate) that will include GPS, Bluetooth, NFS (not a typo), a uSD card, a 4 lines LED screen and a battery for a few days autonomy… how surprising that no major manufacturer thought of that.

This leads us to the title of this post: why don’t we have truly flexible displays yet? We’ll let our readers discussion this point in the comments section below…


Filed under: Crowd Funding, Hackaday Columns

Talking Tactile 3D Prints

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 16:00

Cell biology professor [Mike] has created a way for blind students to decipher microscope slides using 3D prints and the magic of capacitive sensing. His write-up focuses on a slide showing the anaphase stage of mitosis in whitefish blastula, a popular choice for studying cell division. When a student touches a certain area of the print, the capacitive sensor triggers audio playback to tell them what they’re feeling.

[Mike] started by turning a 2D image of a cell into a 3D print. To do this, he made the image black and white, and then inverted the colors so that the 3D print’s topography will correspond correctly. The talking part is handled by an Arduino Duemilanove and a Spikenzie voice shield. The latter has a somewhat limited amount of space, but is more than adequate for the audio labels [Mike] made, which are all less than three seconds long.

A hard copy of the 2D file comes in handy for making sure the cap sensors are in the right places. To make those, [Mike] cut up some floor protector pads and covered the sticky side with copper tape. These are held on the 2D image with double-sided tape. The 3D print sits on top, separated by more furniture pads at the corners. He labeled this scientific sandwich model with a 3D printed Braille label that reads ‘anaphase’. [Mike] has made the referenced STL file along with a few others available at the National Institutes of Health’s 3D print exchange site.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Triple Sensor Mailbox Alert Really Delivers

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 13:00

Messing with the U.S. Mail is not something we generally recommend. But if you build your own mailbox like [Bob] did, you stand a much better chance of doing what you want without throwing up any flags.

Speaking of throwing up flags, one of the coolest parts of this project is the toy mailbox inside the house that monitors the activity of the real box. When there is mail waiting, the flag on the toy mailbox goes up. Once [Bob] retrieves the mail, the flag goes back down automatically. A magnet in the real box’s flag prevents false alarms on the toy box provided the Flag Raised On Outgoing protocol is followed. Best of all, he built in some distress handling: If the mailbox door is left hanging open or the battery is low, the toy mailbox waves its flag up and down.

So, where do the three sensors come in? A magnetic reed switch on the wall of the real mailbox pairs with a magnet in the flag. To determine whether the door is open, [Bob] initially used another magnetic reed switch on the underside of the box. This didn’t work well in wet weather, so he switched to a mechanical tilt sensor. An IR LED on the ceiling and a phototransistor on the floor of the box work together to detect the presence of mail.

[Bob]‘s homebrew mailbox has a false back that hides a PIC 16F1825. When the door opens, the PIC wakes up, turns on a MOSFET, and checks the battery level. It waits two minutes for the mailman to do his job and then reads the flag state. After comparing the IR LED and phototransistor’s states, it sends a message to the toy mailbox indicating the presence or absence of mail.

The toy mailbox holds a modified receiver board and a servo to control its flag. [Bob] has made the code and schematics available on his site. Walk-through video is after the jump.


Filed under: home hacks, lifehacks, Microcontrollers

Medical Tricorder Mark I

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 10:01

A handheld tricorder is as good a reason as any to start a project. The science-fiction-derived form factor provides an opportunity to work on a lot of different areas of hardware development like portable power, charging, communications between sensor and microcontroller. And of course you need a user interface so that the values being returned will have some meaning for the user.

[Marcus B] has done a great job with all of this in his first version of a medical tricorder. The current design hosts two sensors, one measures skin temperature using infrared, the other is a pulse sensor.

For us it’s not the number of sensors that makes something a “tricorder” but the ability of the device to use those sensors to make a diagnosis (or to give the user enough hints to come to their own conclusion). [Marcus] shares similar views and with that in mind has designed in a real-time clock and an SD card slot. These can be used to log sensor data over time which may then be able to suggest ailments based on a known set of common diagnosis parameters.

Looking at the image above you may be wondering which chip is the microcontroller. This build is actually a shield for an Arduino hiding underneath.

There’s a demonstration video after the break. And if you find this impressive you won’t want to miss the Open Source Science Tricorder which is one of the finalists for the 2014 Hackaday Prize.

 


Filed under: Medical hacks

The KIM-1 Computer Minified

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 07:00

The KIM-1 wasn’t the first microcomputer available to computer hobbyists and other electron aficionados, but it was the first one that was cheap. It was also exceedingly simple, with just a 6502 CPU, a little more than 1k of RAM, 2k of ROM, a hexadecimal keypad and a few seven-segment displays. Still, a lot of software was written for this machine, and one of these boards can be found in every computer history museum.

[Oscar] thought the KIM-1 was far too cool to be relegated to the history books so he made his own. It’s not a direct copy – this one uses an Arduino for the brains, only breaking out some buttons, a pair of four-digit seven-segment displays, and the I2C and SPI pins on the ‘duino. The KIM-1 is emulated by the Arduino, allowing for the same interface as an original connected up to an old teletype, and [Oscar] got his hands on the original code for Microchess and the first 6502 disassembler from [Woz] and [Baum].

[Oscar] put the schematics for his version of the KIM-1 up, and has the PCBs up on SeeedStudio. If you’re looking for an awesome replica of a vintage computer and a nice weekend project, here ‘ya go.


Filed under: classic hacks

Hackaday’s Most Excellent Munich Adventure

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 04:01

Bags are packed… it’s insane the amount of random electronics I carry with me on a trip. But who doesn’t want to do some prototyping on the plane?

In case you haven’t heard, the Hackaday Crew is headed to Munich. The coming week is Electronica. We’ll be prowling “the world’s leading trade show for electronic components” looking for the jewels of interest to the hacking community. Watch our Twitter feed for updates on those adventures.

But of course, Thursday the 13th is all about Hackaday Munich. The place will be packed! During the afternoon we feature hands-on hacking of embedded systems. The hardware we’re supplying is already spoken for. But you should bring along your own dev boards to hack on, or just come to watch the fun.

Get a ticket to The Hackaday Prize party. This includes a talk by [Sprite_TM], the announcement of the Grand Prize winner for the 2014 Hackaday Prize, followed by a party with music by [DJ Muallen]. Nobody should miss this event so please help get the word out. See you there!


Filed under: cons, Featured

Printing In Metal with a MIG Welder

เสาร์, 11/08/2014 - 01:00

Whenever the question of metal 3D printers comes up, someone always chimes in that a MIG welder connected to a normal 3D printer would work great. A bit of research would tell this person that’s already been done, but some confirmation and replication is nice. A few students at TU Delft University strapped a welder to a normal, off-the-shelf 3D printer and made a few simple shapes.

This project builds on the work of [Joshua Pearce] et al. at Michigan Tech where an MIG welder and delta bot was used to lay down rather complex shapes on a metal plate substrate. The team at TU Delft used a cartesian bot – a Prusa i3 – for their replication because of the sheer mass of moving a metal build plate, firebricks, and welder around.

In the first few prints on their machine, the team was able to lay down enough metal to build a vertical wall. It’s not much, and to turn this into a finished part would require some machining, but these are only the beginning steps of what could become a legitimate way of creating metal parts. Video below.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks

Hackaday Prize Finalist: A Network of Satellite Ground Stations

ศุกร์, 11/07/2014 - 22:00

There are astonishing things you can do with a network of sensors spread across the globe, all connected to the Internet. Thousands of people have already installed hardware to detect lightning and flightaware gives out subscriptions to their premium service to anyone who will listen in to airplane transponders and send data back to their servers. The folks behind SatNOGS, one of the five finalists for The Hackaday Prize are using this same crowdsourced data collection for something that is literally out of this world: listening to the ever-increasing number of amateur satellites orbiting the planet.

There are dozens of cubesats and other amateur satellites flying every year, and they have become an extremely popular way of experimenting in a space environment, giving some budding engineers an awesome project in school, and testing out some technologies that are just too weird for national space agencies. The problem with sending one of these birds up is getting the data back down; a satellite will pass above the horizon of a single location only a few times a day, and even then for only minutes at a time. The SatNOGS team hopes to change that by planting receivers all around the globe, connecting them to the Internet, and hopefully providing real-time telemetry from dozens of orbiting satellites.

[Pierros] from the SatNOGS team was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions for us about his entry to The Hackaday Prize. That’s below, right after their finalist video. Some of the SatNOGS team will also be at our Munich event where we announce the winner of the Prize.

Are you surprised over the success of your project so far? Distributed systems like yours are extremely valuable, but they're not as sexy to the casual observer as 3D printers and electric cars.

Initially we created the project as an open ground station to meet our own needs (as amateur satellite observers). Quickly though, it became apparent that many other people and communities would benefit from an open ground station network. Thus, the Network idea became core to the SatNOGS project early on. Since then, the focus has been on the global scale of it and the possibilities for the future it creates, for open ideals in satellite communications. Given the hackaday audience, we are not exactly surprised by the positive response we have been getting. Relying on community participation and feedback is always a recipe for success. That’s how strong and catalyzing projects grow and succeed.

Of all the finalists, yours is the only one whose ultimate success is a function of the network effect. Have there been many people offering to install the hardware and contribute to tracking satellites? How much would it cost for someone to build a minimal ground station?

The participation and interest we have been getting so far is impressive. We were actually pleasantly surprised by it. Our development processes are open (dev mailing list) and that enabled people to customize their versions (notably, the imperial one!). We already have 11 people from around the world building their own SatNOGS (from USA, Greece, Cyprus, Spain, UK. Netherlands, and Australia). Funny anecdote: A researcher stationed in Antarctica reached out to us for building a SatNOGS but we haven’t been able to figure out the logistics around it yet :) A fully operational SatNOGS Ground Station (complete with antennas, embedded pc, reception hardware and tripod) would cost just under 300 USD.

Besides putting ground stations in the middle of the ocean, what is the biggest challenge to getting to the goal of worldwide coverage of LEO and MSO amateur satellites? What was the biggest challenge in getting to where you are now?

Earth is not really temperate in its entirety. In order to achieve worldwide coverage, SatNOGS will have to cope with adverse environmental conditions, and that would be a big challenge for us moving forward. We have already touched briefly on the subject but we firmly believe that a global community with ideas and testing capacity will help us mitigate this issue.

The biggest challenge to get where we are now was navigating through the existing ecosystem, trying to abstract the best practices and re-utilize existing protocols to achieve ultimate modularity. We had to re-architect, re-write and re-design many of our initial ideas to get in the current state of optimal modularity and co-existence with the ecosystem.

Are there any amateur satellites that are relying on your project? Have you been in contact with any groups that would like to use SatNOGS for the majority of their mission?

Given that SatNOGS Network is still in deployment, we wouldn’t expect any satellite mission to rely solely on us at this phase. That been said, we had a couple of promising contacts with present and future missions (like LambdaSat) to accommodate their communication needs.

From your documentation, a 'parabolic antenna design is in the works.' A reasonable-sized dish is not easy to build. What's the story with that?

Our calculations show that given most satellites in LEO and MEO S-Band TX/RX properties we will be able to pick up signals reliably using a parabolic antenna that can fit on the current tracker setup. S-Band 2.4Ghz dishes are not really hard to build. Cross sections of the dish, cut in aluminum and then a wire mesh layer on top of it, is the current thinking we have. We are focusing on VHF and UHF bands for now, but will be experimenting with S-Band soon.

There are a few amateur satellites going up that will be working on much higher frequencies than what an RTL-SDR can support. Will you be expanding the SatNOGS network based on this?

For frequencies higher than 1 Ghz (like S, Ku, C or X Bands) we will be using a Downconverter coupled with a Low Noise Amplifier. Those LNB we are experimenting with have become increasingly cheap and configurable to meet our needs. Designing and building a LNB from scratch would be a nice challenge for the future too. Using the downconverters would bring the frequency down to RTL-SDR supported levels, expanding the functionality of SatNOGS.

Hypothetical, and we’re not going to hold you to whatever answer you give. You win the grand prize, a trip to space or about $200,000 USD. Which one to you take, and what is your reasoning for doing so? Since you're the only project in the finalists with a huge team, who gets the ride into space if you take that route?

A trip to space has been a childhood dream for most of us. Our love and fascination about space is what pushed us towards starting this project in the first place! It is hard to not take this into account when thinking about the prize :)

All things considered though, we are determined that investing $200K back to SatNOGS would have a tremendous impact on open source hardware, software and data in space. Opting in for the cash prize will give us the ability to fund enough SatNOGS Stations around the world to achieve global coverage, further the research for reliability and extension on other bands, and creating a solid community with tools and resources around the project. A successful SatNOGS project has the ability to revolutionize the way we think about space communications and how we design and utilize satellites. Such a possibility is beyond our wildest childhood dreams and that’s what we are shooting for.


Filed under: Featured, Interviews, The Hackaday Prize

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