Category Archives: Uncategorized

Tracking Planes with an ESP8266

While there are apps that will display plane locations, [squix78] wanted to build a dedicated device for plane spotting. The ESP8266 PlaneSpotter Color is a standalone device that displays a live map with plane data on a color TFT screen. This device expands on his PlaneSpotter project, adding a color display and mapping functions.

First up, the device needs to know where planes are. The ADS-B data that is transmitted from planes contains useful data including altitude, velocity, position, and an identifier unique to the aircraft. While commercial services exist for getting this data, the PlaneSpotter uses ADS-B Exchange. You can set up a Raspberry Pi to record this data, and provide it to ADS-B Exchange.

With the plane data being received from the ADS-B Exchange API, it’s time to draw to the screen. The JPEGDecoder fork for ESP8266 is used for drawing images, which are fetched from the MapQuest API as JPEGs.

Finally, geolocation is needed to determine where in the world the PlaneSpotter is. Rather than adding a GPS module, [squix78] went with a cheap solution: WiFi geolocation. This uses identifying information and signal strengths from nearby WiFi access points to determine location. This project uses a public API by [Alexander Mylnikov], which returns a JSON object with longitude and latitude.

This project demonstrates what the ESP8266 is capable of, and brings together some neat techniques. If you’re looking to geolocate or display maps on an ESP8266, the code is available on Github.

Filed under: transportation hacks

The Poynting Vector Antenna

Radio amateurs are inventive people, and though not all of them choose to follow it there is a healthy culture of buildng radio equipment among them. In particular the field of antennas is where you’ll find a lot of their work, because the barrier to entry can be as low as the cost of a reel of wire.

Over the years a number of innovative antenna designs have come from radio amateurs’ experimentation, and it’s one of the more recent we’d like to share with you today following a [Southgate ARC] story about a book describing its theory (Here’s an Amazon link to the book itself). The Poynting Vector antenna has been one of those novel designs on the fringes for a while now, it has been variously described as the “Super-T”, or the “flute”. Its party piece is tiny dimensions, a fraction of the size of a conventional dipole, and it achieves that by the interaction between a magnetic field across the plates of a capacitor in a tuned circuit and the electric field between a very short pair of dipole radiators. The trade-off is that it has
an extremely high Q and thus a narrow bandwidth, and since its feeder can become part of its resonant circuit it is notoriously difficult to match to a transmitter. [Alan MacDonald, VE3TET] and [Paul Birke, VE3PVB] have a detailed page on the development of their Poynting antenna which takes the reader through the details of its theory and the development of their practical version.

In the roof space above the room in which this is being written there hangs a traditional dipole for the 20m amateur band. Though it is a very effective antenna given that it is made from a couple of pieces of wire and a ferrite core it takes most of the length of the space, and as we’re sure Hackaday readers with callsigns will agree a relatively tiny alternative is always very welcome.

If antennas are a mystery to you then we’d suggest you read an introduction to antenna basics to get you started.

Filed under: radio hacks

Amstrad on an FPGA

If you are from the United States and of a certain age, it is very likely you owned some form of Commodore computer. Outside the US, that same demographic was likely to own an Amstrad. The Z80-based computers were well known for game playing. [Freemac] implemented a working Amstrad CPC6128 using a Xilinx FPGA on a NEXYS2 demo board.

The wiki posting is a bit long, but it covers how to duplicate the feat, and also gives technical details about the design. It also outlines the development process used ranging from starting with a simple Z80 emulation and moving on to more sophisticated attempts. You can see a video of the device below.

Computers of that era often made compromises to save money and work around limited horsepower. For example, the Sinclair computer famously blinked its video when you were typing because the CPU couldn’t drive the display and read the keyboard at the same time. The Amstrad restricted CPU access to memory to avoid conflict with the video hardware, so the 4 MHz CPU was effectively throttled to just over 3 MHz. Exploring these old architectures can show you a different way of thinking compared to the modern web browser eating up dozens or hundreds of megabytes of memory.

We’ve seen Amstrad clones before. We’ve also seen the unholy union of a real Amstrad and an iPod Shuffle where the iPod stood in for a data cassette. Wonder if the FPGA simulator can read tapes?

Filed under: classic hacks, FPGA

Keep an Old Real Time Clock Module Ticking

Sometimes we run into real problems restoring old machines. [RedruM69] recently ran into a system with a dead Real Time Clock (RTC) module. These modules were used on computers and all sorts of other equipment, storing time, date, and 100 or so bytes of battery backed SRAM (before the days of cheap, plentiful flash memory). Often an external coin cell would supply power to the module. In some cases though, cost savings would take over, and the battery would be incorporated into the module. Such is the case with many Dallas Semiconductor models, and the benchmarq bq3287 module [RedruM69] was working with. If we’re reading the date code right, the module was produced in mid 1995 so we’re well past the advertised 10 year battery life.

Apparently Texas Instruments is the current owner of this design, and they even have a datasheet online. (PDF link). It turns out that the bq3287 is a descendant of the bq3285, except that the battery pin is internally disconnected. For most people this would mean a search for a compatible replacement. An industrious hacker might even whip up something compatible from modern components. Not [RedruM69] though. He broke out his Dremel tool and cut into the potted case. Exposing the internal connections above pins 16 and 20 allowed him to solder two wires on. Connecting these wires to an external coin cell brought the module back to life.

[RedruM69] isn’t the first one to perform this hack. Sun computers kept their MAC address in chips like this. When the battery went dead, the computer was off the network. Hackers have been cutting the modules open and adding batteries for years. You could always forgo RTC modules completely and use the power grid as your timebase.

Filed under: classic hacks

Air Conditioner Speaks Serial, Just Like Everything Else

Like so many other home appliances, it’s likely that even your air conditioner has a serial interface buried inside it. If you’re wondering why, it’s because virtually every microcontroller on the planet has a UART built in, and it’s highly useful for debugging during the development process, so it makes sense to use it. Thus, it was only a matter of time before we saw a hacked airconditioner controlled by a Raspberry Pi.

[Hadley] was growing frustrated with the IR remote for his Mitsubishi air conditioner; it can issue commands, but it’s a one way interface – there’s no feedback on current status or whether commands are received, other then the occasional beep or two. Deciding there had to be a better way, [Hadley] grabbed a Saleae Logic Analyser and started probing around, determining that the unit spoke 5 V TTL at 2400 bps with even parity. The next step was to start talking back.

The post doesn’t go into detail about how the messaging protocol was decoded – we’d love to see the process involved. From there it was a simple matter of rolling up some Python scripts to talk serial to the air conditioner. The system allows control over HTML using MQTT over websockets.

The real benefit here is the two-way communication – not only can commands be sent to the unit, but messages can be received as well. The air conditioner will both confirm commands received, as well as send updates when changes are made using the IR remote – this allows the controller to remain in sync with the air conditioner’s current state.

This project demonstrates a much more powerful way of automating your HVAC system at home than just simple on-off control, and merely requires some basic digital hacking skills along with the know-how to safely work with mains-powered appliances. As proof you can try this yourself, someone’s ported the code to the ESP8266 already! If you’re keen to learn more about working with your HVAC hardware, why not read up on what it takes to be a HVAC technician?

[Thanks Bob!]

Filed under: home hacks

Default Folder X 5.1.2

Maintenance release with a number of bug fixes for the Open/Save dialog enhancement utility. ($34.95 new, free update, 6.3 MB)

 

Read the full article at TidBITS, the oldest continuously published technology publication on the Internet. To get a full-text RSS feed, help support our work and become a TidBITS member! Members also enjoy an ad-free version of our Web site, email delivery of individual articles, the ability to make long comments with live links, and discounts on Take Control orders and other Apple-related products.

CES 2017: Gizmos from the PEPCOM Digital Experience

Jeff Porten continues his CES death march across all of Las Vegas with highlights from the PEPCOM Digital Experience.

 

Read the full article at TidBITS, the oldest continuously published technology publication on the Internet. To get a full-text RSS feed, help support our work and become a TidBITS member! Members also enjoy an ad-free version of our Web site, email delivery of individual articles, the ability to make long comments with live links, and discounts on Take Control orders and other Apple-related products.

CES 2017: Gizmos from the PEPCOM Digital Experience

Jeff Porten continues his CES death march across all of Las Vegas with highlights from the PEPCOM Digital Experience.

 

Read the full article at TidBITS, the oldest continuously published technology publication on the Internet. To get a full-text RSS feed, help support our work and become a TidBITS member! Members also enjoy an ad-free version of our Web site, email delivery of individual articles, the ability to make long comments with live links, and discounts on Take Control orders and other Apple-related products.

CES 2017: Cool Products from CES Unveiled

Jeff Porten continues his CES 2017 adventure by showcasing some gizmos from the CES Unveiled event.

 

Read the full article at TidBITS, the oldest continuously published technology publication on the Internet. To get a full-text RSS feed, help support our work and become a TidBITS member! Members also enjoy an ad-free version of our Web site, email delivery of individual articles, the ability to make long comments with live links, and discounts on Take Control orders and other Apple-related products.

CES 2017: Cool Products from CES Unveiled

Jeff Porten continues his CES 2017 adventure by showcasing some gizmos from the CES Unveiled event.

 

Read the full article at TidBITS, the oldest continuously published technology publication on the Internet. To get a full-text RSS feed, help support our work and become a TidBITS member! Members also enjoy an ad-free version of our Web site, email delivery of individual articles, the ability to make long comments with live links, and discounts on Take Control orders and other Apple-related products.