“Why not control your RC car with smart phone?” asks the “Smart Racer’s” product description. Though certainly rhetorical, if you, like many engineers (including myself) take things way too literally, the implied answer is, “no reason.” Or so I would have to believe.
If you’d like to give it a try, this board from “Some1” uses either WiFi or Bluetooth for control, depending on the version you order. It takes the place of a normal receiver in your RC car, and is powered by the electronic speed control (ESC). In addition to speed and direction, it allows you to control up to 5 lights, potentially giving your car a fun new look.
You can see the setup demonstrated below, accelerating and turning left and right. Perhaps if there is a reason not to do this, it’s that the interface might be a bit clunky compared to a dedicated transmitter. On the other hand, all the code for it is available here, so if you’d like to modify how it works, you certainly can. Though meant for RC vehicle control, especially with the “light” outputs, the potential for this little board would seem to go way beyond its original purpose!
Bicycle theft is a real problem in certain parts of the world. Around 20,000 bikes are stolen in London each year and roughly 5,000 per year are stolen in Dublin. Even having a top of the range bicycle lock won’t be much use against something like a 42 inch foldable boltcutter as shown in the image below.
Bolt cutters. (Vaccum cleaner for scale)
Sure you can make a bike less appealing to a bike thief by using multiple locks etc., but really if they want it they will eventually get through any defenses you have. Tracking the whereabouts of your bike is a great second line of defense to have, especially if you’ve shelled out a few hundred euros for a decent bicycle. The second generation GSM/GPS tracker made by Fusion is still undergoing development and not yet for sale on Tindie, but we have blogged about the first generation which you can buy. Fusion has streamlined the design to focus specifically on fitting it into handlebars.
A post to the r/electronics subreddit by Fusion about the new design has gotten a considerable amount of attention and people have been commenting with all kinds of possible additions to the project. Reddit user camomile came up with the great idea to add Bluetooth and link to a smartphone. This way alerts could be set up to notify you of any movement of your bike away from your relatively close proximity — like locked right outside your office.
It’s great to see a project like this that gets people thinking and throwing their suggestions into the ring. The fact that this tracker is Teensy based means it wouldn’t be all that hard to go adding in new features you want.
The tracker comes with a nano sim card slot and communicates via 2G. The GPS co-ordinates and battery voltage are sent back to an SQL database for you to access. There are other places besides bicycles where this device would be useful, several people mentioned motorcycles as an obvious other application. It will be interesting to see this second version in action — currently living in metal handlebars is a connectivity design hurdle that needs to be overcome — and who knows, there might well be more revisions after this.
I’ve now been writing for Tindie for a few months, mostly talking about various items that people sell here. Admittedly, I haven’t listed anything on Tindie, so take my ideas with a grain of salt, but I have browsed around quite a bit at this point. Some listings are better than others, and here are a few things I’ve noticed that will hopefully help you sell your awesome and wacky items!
Listing a product on Tindie is free and each listing goes through approval before appearing in your store. In addition to making potential customers feel great about their purchase, ensuring you have great images and that you have done a thorough job of proofreading will get your listing approved post-haste. If you’re just starting out it is worth your time to check out this roundup of all the basics in this Tindie listing guide.
Descriptions, in my opinion, should be longer than a paragraph or two, but not too long. From my perspective of writing up a summary on a project, even if the item looks cool, I need details on how it was made, what it could be used for, and what sets it apart from the crowd. This can, or course, take the form of a video, but if there’s just a paragraph and a picture, it’s tough to get a feel for what the product is all about. In many cases actual customers will be better convinced to buy something if they know a little more about it with a minimum of effort.
That being said, if it’s too long for someone to easily read, perhaps it’d be best to cut it down, or host an expanded description on another site like Hackaday.io or GitHub. Strive to do an excellent job of explaining your product, but instead of leaving out a wealth of details you can point the more motivated engineers to your “making-of” or “taking this further” page. When in doubt, sometimes it helps to put yourself in the place of many different types of readers. Are you appealing to the beginner, the ‘this just needs to work’ crowd, and the experts who want to know every component and why it was chosen?
For some items, what it does is pretty self-explanatory with just a few pictures and some text. “Oh, it’s an adapter for a USB cable to plug into X-Y-Z?” On the other hand, if you’re showing off a new MIDI device or something that flashes LEDs, it’s really good to see and/or hear how it works! For that matter, even if you don’t need a video, it’s a great format to personally describe your item and what it’s good for.
The holo clock video seen above is a great example. It’s entertaining, fairly short, shows how it works, and how the device is assembled!
Though many of us build eclectic items, it might be helpful to keep your store focused on one theme, such as breakout boards, camera accessories, or 3D printing. Though I don’t have hard data to tell me this, if I were looking for a certain product, I might look for a store that sells “X” over one that sells “X, Y, Z, and sometimes Q.” For that matter, there is no reason one couldn’t open two or even more stores to keep things separate!
If you want to go even deeper into what can make your store a success, check out this analysis published last year by a data scientist.
Robotic applications take many forms, but much of the time it comes down to creatively controlling servo motors. If you’d like to control up to 16 servos over WiFi, here’s a solution called the WiFinch. It’s board allows you to control servos via WiFi using an Android app, or you can reconfigure it using Arduino, NodeMCU, or MicroPython. You can see it below controlling a robotic arm via a smartphone.
It can also control electronic speed controllers (ESCs) or any other device compatible with a digital servo signal, so there are certainly quite a few interesting possibilities.
If you’re sure you’re going to build a robot with this device, or just want a few accessories to go along with the board, you could also step up to their “Robot Maker Kit” featuring 5 servos, a battery holder, and a USB cable. Though you could certainly find a use for those components, if you need some ideas, Rototeurs has you covers with their “Printabots” designs.
Electronic loads are used to draw power from a source at either a constant current or a constant voltage. This comes in useful for things like battery discharge testing or making sure that PCB you designed can actually power those motors without releasing the all important magic smoke. Another cool thing about electronic loads is that you can do all the testing in your workshop and if nothing catches fire, take it out into the real world.
The MightyWatt is a programmable electronic load that sits on top of an Arduino Uno/Zero/Due. Thanks to the built-in heat-sink and fan you can draw 70W before the FET on the board starts overheating. The included Digital to Analog converter lets you set the desired load characteristics through the Arduino. The board creator, Kaktus has made a C# program which you can run on Windows as a simple user interface for the electronic load. The design is fully open source and you can find the documentation over Kaktus’ blog.
In the Discworld series of books there is a character named Lord Vetinari, who, in addition to being a large city’s ruler, owns a clock that ticks irregularly, but still keeps accurate time. In this series, he keeps the clock in his waiting room in order to unnerve people.
As I haven’t read the books, I’m not sure how effective this is thought to be, but perhaps one would assume that someone who is willing to “modify the flow of time” shouldn’t be trifled with. If you too would like to unnerve your friends and enemies as they patiently wait for you, this kit will allow you to build your own Vetinari clock. As seen in the video below, it ticks irregularly, but always averages out to the correct amount of time.
The kit comes with a circuit board and parts for you to solder onto a provided wall clock. If you’re not crazy about the clock provided, the movement mechanism looks like a standard model that you could find at a hobby shop or at various online outlets. You should be able to disassemble it and make your own custom body. On the other hand, the “ordinariness” of this clock might be an advantage, since your guests wouldn’t initially suspect anything!
Electric motors are an essential part of modern society. Although you’re not going to power an electric car or even a phone’s vibration function with it, if you’d like to build your own simple motor, this kit from the Mscharlotte store looks like a great place to start. Not only does it allow you to wrap your own coils and make a mass rotate with a AA battery, it also features creatively formed lions to help with these tasks. It is the most visually please learn-about-motors kit we’ve ever seen.
According to the product writeup, it’s inspired by Tesla’s brushless motor, and can be used to demonstrate the relationship between magnetism and electricity. You can see it assembled below, and the results can be seen just after the 19:00 mark.
If you browse around that store, you might also notice a hot wire cutter kit that uses two C batteries. It looks like it could be quite useful if making models, and like the motor seen here, the kit sells for just $10 before shipping.
Wireless voice transmit and receive is not something you see used in many projects, normally this would be an entire project in itself. The helpful shortcut is to make use of pre-existing modules to get the job done, the SA828 Walkie-talkie module made by NiceRF will do just what you want.
The great thing about these modules is you can embed them into any project easily. Run them off battery power or from a wall wart. Having easy access to the audio input and audio output pins on the module opens up some interesting project ideas. For example you could speak into one Walkie-talkie, and have the output of the other Walkie sampled by something like a microcontroller or a Raspberry Pi to give your RC robot an unhuman voice. You could also do cool things with this like voice recognition and so on.
The output power of these modules is 1 Watt in the 400-480Mhz band which gives you 3km of range in open area. Various parameters can be changed by connecting the module to a computer via the supplied USB-to-serial converter board. Volume control is achieved by soldering on a simple variable resistor.
What would you make with a Walkie-talkie module? Tweet us @tindie
If you started out working with electronics in an industrial environment, soldering may seem like a pain, and using a solderless breadboard means the potential for wires to come loose. If you long to instead use screw terminals for your maker projects, featuring positive locking without the need to heat up an iron, here’s a solution for you in the form of the Arduino Screw Terminal Shield, available in red or blue!
Ironically perhaps, the shield is offered as a kit that requires some soldering to put together. After that though, it allows access to all of the Arduino UNO’s pins, including the extra pins on the R3 board without having to solder or worry (as much) about whether something will stay plugged in. It also accommodates wire sizes between 24 and 14 AWG, which would include sizes much larger than what would normally be used with a breadboard.
OpenMV fills the niche of having a small camera connected to a microcontroller whilst having the whole thing be accessible and easy to use. The ARM microcontroller on the board is the powerful STM32F427 running at 180MHz. Thankfully the dark and scary world of bare bones arm programming has been abstracted out to the nicer and much less traumatizing Micro Python. This means you can start taking images, detecting faces, tracking markers, detecting blobs and all of that good stuff in no time at all.
OpenMV comes with its own IDE which has built in Micro Python examples. The best part about using Python is you can easily modify the examples to suit your needs. If you have never used Python before, good news, it’s amazing, and has a shallow learning curve for getting started. There is a great and free Codeacademy course to get you started.
If you are interested in digging down deeper into how this project was put together, the whole thing is documented over on Hackaday.io. Amazingly, the entire board has a Bill of Materials (BOM) of only $15 USD. For a tiny board that can do so much that really is surprisingly cheap. Of course to buy one pre-made costs more but seeing as the designs are all open source it is nice to support those hardware designers who give you the option of making it yourself.
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