Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Robotic Baby Steps

The New Stack

She then looked directly into my eyes and with a subtle “trust me” expression, made the decision to let go of my fingers. Some say that robots and automation are going to take all the jobs. When I see the amazing feats of a tiny baby, enthusiastically discovering the world and learning at an exponential rate, which we typically take for granted, I know the future is going to be incredible. The JeVois platform is quite sophisticated and complex.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Build a Hand Held Object Recognizer

The New Stack

The JeVois machine vision sensor can recognize a wide variety of objects and symbols. My own project, Hedley the Robotic Skull , uses one to track me as I walk around in his field of view. The sensor communicates with an Arduino microcontroller, which moves the pan servo to keep me centered in his visual frame. I’d like to branch out and look at a few new applications of the JeVois technology. More advanced functionality will come in the near future.

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Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Capture a Screen Demo on Video

The New Stack

Using your cell phone video camera to document the movements of a physical computing gadget is pretty straightforward. Point the camera at your project, set your brilliant mechatronic creation into motion, hit the “record” button to start your movie, then the “stop” button when you are finished. Upload the video to your Linux notebook or directly to YouTube and then embed it in your article copy, for readers to view. Recording the Screen.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Tell Me What You See

The New Stack

” my optometrist asked as I handed her the little blue JeVois camera. She was suitably impressed and appreciated my showing her the $50 gadget. Don’t let the seeming simplicity fool you, there is an awful lot going on when visually identifying an object then correctly saying its name. The magic is in the off-the-shelf parts and a tiny bit of extra programming to tie it all together. The project has a couple of parts.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Open Source Video Production with Kdenlive

The New Stack

The Generation-5 badge has a Raspberry Pi 2, a 3.5-inch color LCD touchscreen and is capable of running short informational videos without freezes or flicker. Although you could hack together a video on the badge (Raspberry Pi) in a pinch, it’s much easier and faster do it on a modern Linux notebook. Then just transfer it over to the badge when finished. You can use the video on a Pi-powered big screen at your tech booth or at the entrance to your tech talk.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: The Art of Soldering

The New Stack

Quite a while back I covered the basics of soldering for off-the-shelf hackers. While it’s great to solder every connection in sight, you’ll still need to deal with the header connections on many DIY/Maker circuit boards. The process makes it easy to plug a wire into an Arduino header. Soldering a small wire to a header pin seems obvious to experienced off-the-shelf hackers. The Technique.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Simulate Sensor Data with an Arduino

The New Stack

We read the sensor, scale the value to something practical, then print the data out to the USB port. A companion program, on Linux display machine, can suck in the data and do something like spin the needle of an on-screen analog gauge according to the sensor readings. Occasionally the sensor isn’t available yet. It could be on the proverbial slow boat (or plane) from China or something. You get the idea.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: ‘I See a Machine Vision Sensor’

The New Stack

Last week we covered the basics of object recognition with voice synthesis. A JeVois smart machine vision sensor “sees” objects, the eSpeak command-line program “says” the name, the guvcview program interfaces to the sensor and a Processing script manages the whole works. I ran it on the old war-horse ASUS Linux notebook. We also no longer need to send commands to the JeVois through the Arduino serial monitor.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Raspberry Pi vs. Arduino

The New Stack

While talking with a guest right before this month’s Orlando Robotics And Maker Club meeting, the question of starting out with a Raspberry Pi or an Arduino came up. As fate would have it, our club organizer had asked me if I could do a little show and tell since we didn’t have any formal presentations planned for the day. Jerry, one of my robot club colleagues, who teaches physical computing, said he gets the same question all the time.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Exploring JeVois Vision Sensor Algorithms

The New Stack

My latest project, Hedley, the robotic skull, has a JeVois smart machine vision sensor in his right eye socket. He also tracks me using the “salient” algorithm , which is influenced by movement and light sources. He works great on the desk or on top of his tripod at a conference. I figured it would be much easier to get familiar with some of the other algorithms in the JeVois on something more manageable. Check out my five-minute mods to the badge.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Mosquitto on the Bone

The New Stack

We explored using a CHIP single board computer to run the Mosquitto MQTT broker , back in 2017. While the gadget worked fine, it got pushed to the back of the desk due to other projects. Sad to say, the CHIP-based broker gave up the ghost about six months ago. The board no longer boots and the vendor has also since gone out of business. What to do with a few new MQTT projects on the horizon? ” Why the Bone and Not a Pi?

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: More Linux Command Line Commands

The New Stack

The Raspberry Pi was invented for learning how to program. You can load up nearly any language imaginable and the relatively low price of the board puts the technology within reach of everybody. Hook up a decent power supply, keyboard and mouse along with a cable going to an HDMI big screen and you are off and running. Open the lid and there sits the text-based command line, one of the most useful tools on the Pi. The Text Flies By.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Why Do You Hack?

The New Stack

Working on Heathkit and Erector sets of the late ’60s and early ’70s kept me entertained for hours. Tech was a huge focus back then, usually referred to as the “Space Age.” Best of all, the gadgets and designs were a very visible way to accomplish something tangible. What we call hacking today pushed my ideas out into the real world. As we speed toward the end of the 20-teens, I think it’s helpful to occasionally reflect on why we hack.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Build a Dedicated Messaging Broker

The New Stack

The sprinkler controller and yard light project both use MQTT messaging for data communications. Up until now, my Linux notebook served as the broker during initial development efforts. I use my notebook for daily consulting work too, so it makes sense to transition over to a dedicated machine for the broker as the projects move forward. I’ve had good luck with the Mosquitto version of the client and broker, on both Ubuntu and Raspbian Linux.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Of Steampunk and Tech Time

The New Stack

The yellow paper signs led me up and down through the grassy lot above the open-air building full of booths. I parked the car, put on my pin-striped vest, top hat and Raspberry Pi-powered steampunk conference badge, then proceeded down the hill into the event. The world-famous The Cog Is Dead band played on the stage in the adjacent meadow. The tech isn’t ready for the prime-time.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Microcontroller Wireless Messaging with MQTT

The New Stack

I even ordered a single-channel relay board that mounts the tiny ESP8226 and a USB programmer that could be used for flashing firmware. Alas, I haven’t been able to get the USB programming board to work, so putting firmware on the 01 microcontroller is a pain. I also forgot that the 8266-01 only has two semi-usable general-purpose I/O (GPIO) pins. One goes to the relay and the other is used for resetting the processor or some such thing.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Keep Your Projects Moving

The New Stack

Work, family and social commitments around the busy holiday season make designing, building and writing a monumental challenge. This week I’ll lighten up the typical off-the-shelf hacker tech detail a bit and share some of my everyday observations on keeping the momentum going with projects. Readers know that there’s considerable behind-the-scenes work fielding just about any type of hardware project. You get the point.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Hands-On Fast Prototyping

The New Stack

Producing a weekly Off-The-Shelf Hacker story is a bit of work. I write the pieces from scratch and have to shoot/edit the little video that goes with each article. There’s also uploading the copy to the content management system (CMS) with attendant edits and possibly scratch-built or heavily edited graphics. And, let’s not forget all the initial project development and trial builds that precede the actual article drafting.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Instantly Upgrade Your Arduino Project Design

The New Stack

My own project, Hedley the Robotic Skull now uses an Arduino Nano clone as a driver board for his jaw servo. I recently replaced the old Arduino NG with the Nano. I was sitting there looking at the skull and it struck me. Could I swap an ESP8266-based module, commonly known as a NodeMCU dev kit , in place of the Arduino Nano and still have Hedley be able to talk to me. The two boards are about the same size. First off, they are pretty pricey.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Throw a Thermocouple on the Grill

The New Stack

The plan was to upgrade the old high-temperature thermocouple rig and then talk about integrating it with an on-screen analog gauge showing the readings. The gauge, written in Processing , looks steampunky and matches the aesthetics of the wearables and portable systems I build. Well, I got sidetracked testing the new and improved thermocouple module, a component to measure temperatures at 500º F and beyond. Keep up the good work.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Conversations with Hedley, the Robotic Skull

The New Stack

One of my dreams has always been to carry on a conversation with Hedley , the robotic skull , during shows and small-scale demos. Alexa-styled responses are possible, although it requires a solid connection to the internet. Like others in the talking robot niche , my solution is to “simulate” a conversation using scripted replies from Hedley. He and I become actors who say our lines at the right time. A button push will increment to the next audio file.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Use Picture-in-Picture in Your Next Tech Video

The New Stack

I didn’t have the video ready by press time for last week’s story , so I just went with the meter moving up and down on-screen. Readers had to take it on faith that the thermocouple actually worked. Today, we’ll do a quick tutorial on making a video that details using the “PiP” technique in Kdenlive open source video editor. The finished video is of the entire Linux desktop with the meter running under the Processing IDE.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Building Your Own Compact Portable Power Brick

The New Stack

Fortunately, modern off-the-shelf parts are available at reasonable prices, so you can pretty much get whatever you need. The trick is that you have to build it yourself. For example, I needed a portable power supply for Hedley, the robotic skull. Sadly, I didn’t take a 100-foot long extension cord with me to the venue. I tried to run Hedley off of the USB ports on my notebook and an external power brick.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Control Your Home Projects with Amazon Alexa

The New Stack

One of the great things about working with modern microcontrollers is that you can massively alter device behavior by simply modding the firmware and maybe adding a circuit or two. This project uses MQTT messaging to control the light and possibly post a notice that an “intruder” has passed in front of the PIR sensor. I recently ran across an article about FauxmoESP , an Arduino library that works with the Amazon Alexa voice services.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Adding MQTT and Cron to the Lawn Sprinkler Project

The New Stack

The project highlights key design and implementation concepts that off-the-shelf hackers will face in the systems they build. While we could just program on/off times for each individual sprinkler head, directly on a standalone Arduino, a networked approach presents several benefits. Additionally, network-enabled Arduino clones, such as the NodeMCU boards are nearly as cheap as a plain old non-networked Arduino. I used the notebook for testing.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Build a Sensor System to Watch the Backyard

The New Stack

They worked OK, although they were a bit kludgy and I never really was that happy with the results. Time marches on and much has changed in the physical computing world. Today, we’ll take a first look at the prototype for my new and improved PIR yard sensor. We’ll summarize the project, explore the parts and discuss next steps. The All Seeing Eye. I recently picked up a few late-model NodeMCU WiFi boards from one of the big Internet vendors.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: How to Use the Dial Caliper for Extra Precise Measurement

The New Stack

Off-the-Shelf hackers are certainly familiar with measuring parts using a common, everyday tape measure. What if you want to measure parts in the range of a couple of thousandths of an inch, say for fabbing up a few 3D printed parts? No problemo, just get yourself a dial caliper, which can offer precision down to the micrometer. A small thumbwheel adjusts the jaws of the tool when making a measurement and a dial indicates the smallest increments.

Assessing Commercial Off-The-Shelf & 3rd-Party Software

Security Innovation

Commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) is a staple in today’s modern software development world. However, it also introduces risks that can adversely impact the proper operation of your system or product and the information processed, stored, or transmitted by it - risks like theft, counterfeits, tampering, malware insertion, poor development practices, and defective components.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Super Simple App For The Yard Sensor

The New Stack

We’ve worked on the passive infrared (PIR) yard sensor for a while now, mostly on the hardware and software side. Last week we discussed firmware for the NodeMCU WiFi module that allows the device to send and receive MQTT messages to a broker and switch the relay on or off. It would be fun to operate the lights from other devices, too. We’ll use one of the libraries specifically for graphical user interfaces, like buttons and sliders.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: First Look at the Raspberry Pi 4

The New Stack

A shiny new Raspberry Pi 4 board arrived to the Dr. Torq headquarters last week, along with a Raspberry Pi Zero W , some Hall effect sensors and a 3.0-amp wall wart. I’ve been anxious to see how the thing works in a few projects. Reports on the web and the specs say that the Pi 4 is a significant jump in performance over older models. Ordering the 4GB memory version set me back $59 through Sparkfun. The 3.0-amp power supply was another $8.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Tips for Your Next Tech Conference Proposal

The New Stack

It’s that time of year again, the tech conference proposal season. If you’ve ever wanted to showcase your latest techno-gadget or hacker technique to an eager audience, now is the time to get going. Rest assured that predicting what your audience will want to see and know about months from now, in the fast-moving world of modern tech, is quite a challenge. The All Important Submission Deadline. Note that if you are on the U.S.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: How to Solder Tubing with a Propane Torch

The New Stack

Because we’ve been on the subject of soldering in recent articles, I felt like it would be a good time to go back and add a nice copper tubing base to my steampunk monitor project. Dark composite wood flooring formed the original base and it worked pretty well. I need a place to mount the battery and a handle, so copper tubing will work much better than the wood. Today, we’ll discuss the basic process of soldering a piece of tubing to an elbow.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Add Stereo Audio to Your DIY Gadgets

The New Stack

The sound will come from a small speaker in the roof of his mouth, which coupled with synchronized jaw movement will make him speak. I’m currently searching for the perfect speaker to fit into his noggin. Along with Hedley’s voice, I occasionally need to output stereo sound from his Raspberry Pi 3, such as when running him in “skull top” mode with the portable Steampunk monitor. Let’s throw something together for the job.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: Use Processing’s Meter Library to Build Gauges

The New Stack

I’ve cobbled together several gauge interfaces using the Processing programming language. In one, I programmatically built the gauge elements from lines, arcs and text. In another project, I put an image of a gauge on the screen then rotated an image of the needle around a central pivot point. It uses the programmatic gauge element building method and has a ton of parameters you can adjust to suit your needs. Just set a value and the gauge display changes.

Off-The-Shelf Hacker: From the Space Age to the Age of DIY

The New Stack

There has been scant little coverage of the Apollo 8 space mission that occurred just 50 years ago around this past Christmas season. In a small capsule, three American astronauts successfully circled the moon and made it back to Earth in one piece. Those were the heady tech days of 1968. The moon mission was an absolutely astounding achievement. And, that burn happened on the dark side of the moon out of communication with Houston.