Posts Tagged ‘Open Source’

GardenBot Brings Geek Power to Green Thumbs

Gardening is about getting your hands dirty and back in touch with nature. But if you are a geek like Andrew Frueh, a graphic designer who lives in Philadelphia, the hobby can take on a high-tech twist.

For less than $200, Frueh has created a garden automation system called GardenBot that uses open source hardware (such as the Arduino) to monitor humidity, temperature and soil conditions. The data is then poured into charts so you can view the world as the plants see it, he says.

“It’s not terribly complicated,” says Frueh, who has put the system into his 120-square-foot backyard garden that has about 20 tomato plants, collard greens, kale and peppers. “The biggest hurdles would be understanding Arduino and having some soldering experience.”

High-tech farming using soil sensors and intelligent management of water resources has been growing among professional farmers. For home gardeners, there are products such as the $50 EasyBloom Plant Sensor that will measure sunlight, temperature, water drainage and fertilizer. But some of those features require subscription, and users can’t hack or tweak it.

Chart shows the conditions in Andrew Freuh's garden over three days.

The GardenBot’s brain is the Arduino board. The rest of the system has a garden station, which is a junction box for all the sensors and a place to secure the wiring.

The key modules for the system are soil moisture sensor, soil temperature sensor, light level and water value. Each of these modules can be built separately and integrated into GardenBot.

Once GardenBot is live, it can send data to a computer so that the information is plotted on a chart and updated every 15 minutes.

Frueh decided to use open source hardware because he was excited by the Arduino microcontroller and the potential to build a system that would be based on modules.

GardenBot has made his gardening experience better and easier, says Frueh.

“We ended up using much less water this year, which was nice,” he says. “It changed how I was thinking about watering the plants.”

Frueh’s GardenBot has been running for about two months with no downtime.

If you would like to build the GardenBot yourself, check out Freuh’s well illustrated and step-by-step instructions on his website.

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Photos: Andrew Frueh

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GardenBot Brings Geek Power to Green Thumbs

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DIY Graphing Calculator Is Built From Open Source Hardware

A homebrewed graphing calculator called Open SciCal promises to put a powerful machine built entirely from open source hardware into the pockets of quant jocks and statisticians.

“This is for the alpha nerds of the geek kingdom,” says Matt Stack who built Open SciCal. “The calculator used to be the ultimate status symbol among the nerdiest of the nerds and I wanted to bring that back.”

Open SciCal has a 4.3 inch color touchscreen and is just a little bigger than an iPhone. The device uses a BeagleBoard, a low-power, single-board computer that’s based on the same 1-GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor that drives most sophisticated smartphones today. It also has a 8 GB SD card, Wi-Fi capability and can run a web browser.

“It’s about the same weight as my Logitech G9 mouse (which weighs about 1.6 pounds),” says Stack.

A graphing calculator can take data sets and plot graphs in addition to running scientific functions on it. Many graphing calculators allow users to attach sensors to them so they can log data directly into the device. But as data sets increase in size and complexity, they are outgrowing traditional graphing calculators available from companies such as HP and Texas Instruments. Add to that restrictions on the kind of external sensors that can be attached and it makes a device built on open source components an attractive alternative, says Stack.

Open SciCal can run Linux, R–a programming language used in statistical computing–and will let users can program in C or Perl. All this for just $200.

“Texas Instruments has a calculator called Nspire that cost about as much but doesn’t do half that this calculator does,” says Stack.

To test Open SciCal, Stack used existing data to predict sunspots and understand the statistical significance of a recent solar storm.

Another task for the Open SciCal: Pull stock data from the sites like Yahoo Finance and run auto-correlation on the data to discern trends in the stock.

“It’s like every hedge fund quant’s dream,” says Stack, “and I have a device in my pocket now that can do that.”

Check out more photos of the Open SciCal:

The SciCal calculator is not much bigger than an iPod.

The SciCal can predict sunspots by using existing data to create graphs.

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Photos: Matt Stack

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DIY Graphing Calculator Is Built From Open Source Hardware

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DIY Graphing Calculator Is Built From Open Source Hardware

A homebrewed graphing calculator called Open SciCal promises to put a powerful machine built entirely from open source hardware into the pockets of quant jocks and statisticians.

“This is for the alpha nerds of the geek kingdom,” says Matt Stack who built Open SciCal. “The calculator used to be the ultimate status symbol among the nerdiest of the nerds and I wanted to bring that back.”

Open SciCal has a 4.3 inch color touchscreen and is just a little bigger than an iPhone. The device uses a BeagleBoard, a low-power, single-board computer that’s based on the same 1-GHz ARM Cortex A8 processor that drives most sophisticated smartphones today. It also has a 8 GB SD card, Wi-Fi capability and can run a web browser.

“It’s about the same weight as my Logitech G9 mouse (which weighs about 1.6 pounds),” says Stack.

A graphing calculator can take data sets and plot graphs in addition to running scientific functions on it. Many graphing calculators allow users to attach sensors to them so they can log data directly into the device. But as data sets increase in size and complexity, they are outgrowing traditional graphing calculators available from companies such as HP and Texas Instruments. Add to that restrictions on the kind of external sensors that can be attached and it makes a device built on open source components an attractive alternative, says Stack.

Open SciCal can run Linux, R–a programming language used in statistical computing–and will let users can program in C or Perl. All this for just $200.

“Texas Instruments has a calculator called Nspire that cost about as much but doesn’t do half that this calculator does,” says Stack.

To test Open SciCal, Stack used existing data to predict sunspots and understand the statistical significance of a recent solar storm.

Another task for the Open SciCal: Pull stock data from the sites like Yahoo Finance and run auto-correlation on the data to discern trends in the stock.

“It’s like every hedge fund quant’s dream,” says Stack, “and I have a device in my pocket now that can do that.”

Check out more photos of the Open SciCal:

The SciCal calculator is not much bigger than an iPod.

The SciCal can predict sunspots by using existing data to create graphs.

See Also:

Photos: Matt Stack

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DIY Graphing Calculator Is Built From Open Source Hardware

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DIY Wearable Computer Turns You Into a Cyborg

Someday humans and computers will meld together to create cyborgs. But instead of waiting for it, Martin Magnusson, a Swedish researcher and entrepreneur, has taken the first step and created a wearable computer that can be slung across the body.

Magnusson has hacked a pair of head-mounted display glasses and combined it with a homebrewed machine based on a open source Beagleboard single computer. Packed into a CD case and slung across the shoulder messenger-bag style, he is ready to roll.

A computer is a window to the virtual world, says Magnusson.

“But as soon as I get up and about, that window closes and I’m stuck within the limits of physical reality,” he says. “Wearable computers make it possible to keep the window open. All the time.”

Magnusson’s idea is interesting though one step short of integrating a machine inside the body. In 2008, a Canadian film maker Rob Spence decided to embed a tiny video camera into his prosthetic left eye. Spence who is still working on the project hopes to someday record everything around him as he sees it and lifecast it.

For his wearable computer, Magnusson is using a pair of Myvu glasses that slide on like a pair of sunglasses but have a tiny video screen built into the lens. A Beagleboard running Angstrom Linux and a Plexgear mini USB hub that drives the Bluetooth adapter and display forms the rest of this rather simple machine. Four 2700 mAh AA batteries are used to power the USB hub. Magnusson has used a foldable Nokia keyboard for input and is piping internet connectivity through Bluetooth tethering to an iPhone in his pocket.

Magnusson says he wants to use the wearable computer to “augment” his memory.

“By having my to-do list in the corner of my eye, I always remember the details of my schedule,” he says.

Check out photos of his gear:

The innards of the homebrewed machine are glued to a CD case. The CD case is slung across the shoulder by attaching it to a strap using velcro.

What the homebrewed computer looks like:

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Photos: Susanna Nilsson

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DIY Wearable Computer Turns You Into a Cyborg

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DIY Wearable Computer Turns You Into a Cyborg

Someday humans and computers will meld together to create cyborgs. But instead of waiting for it, Martin Magnusson, a Swedish researcher and entrepreneur, has taken the first step and created a wearable computer that can be slung across the body.

Magnusson has hacked a pair of head-mounted display glasses and combined it with a homebrewed machine based on a open source Beagleboard single computer. Packed into a CD case and slung across the shoulder messenger-bag style, he is ready to roll.

A computer is a window to the virtual world, says Magnusson.

“But as soon as I get up and about, that window closes and I’m stuck within the limits of physical reality,” he says. “Wearable computers make it possible to keep the window open. All the time.”

Magnusson’s idea is interesting though one step short of integrating a machine inside the body. In 2008, a Canadian film maker Rob Spence decided to embed a tiny video camera into his prosthetic left eye. Spence who is still working on the project hopes to someday record everything around him as he sees it and lifecast it.

For his wearable computer, Magnusson is using a pair of Myvu glasses that slide on like a pair of sunglasses but have a tiny video screen built into the lens. A Beagleboard running Angstrom Linux and a Plexgear mini USB hub that drives the Bluetooth adapter and display forms the rest of this rather simple machine. Four 2700 mAh AA batteries are used to power the USB hub. Magnusson has used a foldable Nokia keyboard for input and is piping internet connectivity through Bluetooth tethering to an iPhone in his pocket.

Magnusson says he wants to use the wearable computer to “augment” his memory.

“By having my to-do list in the corner of my eye, I always remember the details of my schedule,” he says.

Check out photos of his gear:

The innards of the homebrewed machine are glued to a CD case. The CD case is slung across the shoulder by attaching it to a strap using velcro.

What the homebrewed computer looks like:

See Also:

Photos: Susanna Nilsson

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DIY Wearable Computer Turns You Into a Cyborg

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Open Hardware Summit

Image from OpenHardwareSummit.org

The concept of open source hardware has interested me for some time. There are a number of wildly popular (at least with the geeks) products available for “free”. This particular type of free is akin to freedom and not cost. If you have the materials and tools on hand you could build a Makerbot from scratch or mill a circuit board and solder up your own Arduino compatible board, but even then it isn’t completely free. The freedom comes from sharing the design, making incremental improvements, and combining the community effort with a product to make it better.

The Open Hardware Summit has been organized to nail down some of the vague definitions to the term “open source hardware” and produce a real, and enforceable license, much like the Creative Commons License does for artistic creations and the GPL does for software.

ArduPilot marketing image from DIY Drones

Definition v.0.3 of the Open Source Hardware (OSHW) has been released for public comment, and you can join in the discussion on the Forum. Ayah Bdeir and Alicia Gibb will be chairing the Open Hardware Summit as part of MakerFaire NY on September 26, 2010. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but I will be watching the blogs for information.

Chris Anderson, founder of GeekDad, has developed a respectable business around his open hardware products ArduPilot (pictured above), ArduCopter, and now Parrot ARDrone. All of the source code, schematics, and board layouts are available for free online. If you have the facilities and parts, you could solder one up and start flying in a week or so. If you aren’t so patient or doubt your soldering foo, you can buy preassembled boards from SparkFun. More information is available at DIY Drones.

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Droid X Debut Leaves Hardcore Android Fans Leery

Many Android fans are lining up to get Motorola’s latest phone, the Droid X, which hit retail shelves Thursday morning. But the phone has raised the hackles of some Android geeks.

Motorola has reportedly made it difficult for hackers to mod the Droid X by using a bootloader and chip combination that could potentially brick the phone if it is broken. The bootloader is the software component that loads the operating system in a gadget.

Some Android hackers say Motorola’s move has made it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to load custom versions of Android on the Droid X.

“Motorola wants to keep people from modding their devices,” says Ryan Mills, an Android modder and blogger. “I don’t know if they are just afraid for security purposes, or they just want to stay proprietary.”

However, not everyone agrees that the Droid X will be un-hackable — and it’s impossible to confirm at this point, because almost no one has yet attempted the mod.

Motorola did not respond to a request for comment, while Verizon declined to comment.

The questions around the ability to hack the Droid X have stirred up a debate about how much a handset maker can control Android, which otherwise touts itself as an open source operating system. Android’s ability to be hacked and modded is one of the major draws of the OS.

Handset makers and wireless carriers decide which operating system can run on a phone and customers usually have no choice in the matter. In the case of Android, hackers have created their own versions of the read-only memory, or ROM, on their cellphones, which holds the firmware. These custom ROMs can be loaded on an Android device to unlock features in a process known as “flashing.” That means devices that run the custom ROMs can boast features that the handset manufacturer or carrier may not have otherwise included. DIYers have gone so far as to buy phones running Windows Mobile OS and replace it with Android.

In case of the Droid X, the phone’s processor includes a feature invented by IBM called eFuse. IBM’s eFuse, which is baked into the chips, gives manufacturers the ability to make changes to information on a chip that would otherwise be “hard coded.” It also helps manage power and memory in the device.

Commenter p3Droid on the MyDroidWorld forum speculates that the eFuse technology looks for information from the bootloader associated with the device. If it doesn’t get that, the eFuse trips the boot up process, leading to a potential bricking of the phone.

“The bootloader in the Droid X is signed with the recovery and the kernel for the device,” explains Steven Bird, who has created custom ROMs for other devices. ” If those don’t correspond it won’t work. It’s not any sort of self-destruct in there.”

The Droid X is not the only Motorola phone to have this technology, he says. Bird says that many of Motorola’s phones including the Droid, Droid X and Milestone all have chips that integrate the eFuse technology.

“HTC has a similar technology with the Incredible that made it very difficult to write custom ROMs for it,” says Bird. “It just means it takes longer to mod the device.”

But at this point, almost all of this talk around the Droid X is “conjecture,” says Steve Klondik, aka Cyanogen, an Android hacker who runs the highly popular Cyanogen Mod community.

“From what I have gathered, no one has really tested anything to see if it is true,” he says. “One person who has tried to modify the bootloader says the system broke but we know nothing about how the mod was done and if it was done right.”

Klondik says the first step will be to root — the Android equivalent of jailbreaking — the device. From there, building custom ROMs for the Droid X may be difficult but it can be done, he says.

But it may not be enough to soothe modders like Mills. Mills and a few other Android developers are questioning if Motorola should be part of Android’s Open Handset Alliance if it doesn’t really want its phones to be toyed with.

Photo: Stefan Armijo/Wired.com

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Hands-On With the Quad-Sync LumoPro Flash

For the last couple of weeks I have been testing out the low-cost LP160 camera-flash. The successor to the LP120, the flash is designed for full manual control, and can be triggered pretty much any way you like. The strobe is aimed at Strobists, photographers who use small, off camera flashes in manual mode to get amazing, creative results.

For a full spec list, check out the preview from last month. The short form is this: The flash-head spins almost 360-degrees and tilts up 90-degrees (and down by seven-degrees). There’s a slave sensor on the front, and – in addition to on/off and test buttons – zoom, slave and power-output buttons on the back.

The quad-sync part of the name comes from the triggering methods: hot-shoe, PC-sync cable, 3.5mm jack cable and slave. The hard-wired methods all work as expected (although you’ll want to use the 3.5mm jack as the cables are cheaper and the plugs don’t fall out – a design problem with all PC-sync cords).

The real power is in that slave mode. The front-mounted slave unit watches for another flash and fires its own lamp. This can be hit or miss but in regular daylight (not full, midday sun) the LP160 hits it pretty much every time. The shot above, for instance, is taken with a Panasonic GF1. The built-in flash is the trigger, but to keep it from adding light to the photograph, I blocked it with a white card. Enough light bounced around the room to trigger the LumoPro for every exposure.

The slave has two modes. One is what you’d expect – it sees a flash and fires. The second, reached by sliding the switch across one more notch, is called Si. This is for use with compact cameras, and will ignore any pre-flashes. I tried it with the red-eye setting switched on on the GF1 and it worked great.

The other buttons control the zoom motor (24-105mm), which lets you change the concentration of the beam, and the power output. This goes from full power, or 1/1, down to 1/64. This, aside from all the other functions, is what you need to do manual photography. You just hit the button to cycle through the levels, and a red LED shows you what is selected.

Build quality is ok. The plastic is lightweight but flexible, so although it isn’t as solid as a Nikon speedlight, it shouldn’t shatter on impact. Would I buy one? Sure. At $160, it is in range of most photographers, and it works as it should. There are no frills, but a lot of thought has gone into what features have been added. And at the price, you can buy a clutch of LumoPros for the price of one Nikon SB900.

LP160 Quad-sync Manual Flash [LumoPro. Thanks, Moishe!]

LumoPro LP160: Quad Sync v.2.0 [Strobist]

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Palm webOS Headed to HP Tablet, Printer

Now that HP  has sealed its acquisition of Palm, the PC maker is working hard to get Palm’s webOS mobile operating system onto HP products.

Palm’s webOS will power HP upcoming tablet, says HP CTO Phil McKinney. The tablet known as HP Slate had earlier been designed using Microsoft’s Windows 7 operating system. HP also plans to put webOS on printers, says McKinney.

“There’s a gap for devices that are larger than a smartphone but smaller than a netbook,” he told attendees at the ongoing Mobile Beat conference in San Francisco. “Slates could fit in that category.”

Unlike rival Dell, which chose the Google-designed open source Android OS to create its cellphone and tablet, HP spent $1.2 billion to buy Palm. The transaction closed earlier this month.

HP wants to control all pieces of the mobile ecosystem, says McKinney.

“If you look at success in the market, they are those companies who can control the end user experience and the entire experience stack,” he says.

That sounds more like Apple and less like Google. But it is clearly the direction that HP wants to go. In March, HP seemed poised to launch its Slate tablet offering sneak peeks of the device through carefully edited videos. Leaks of the company’s plans for the Slate pegged the price of the device at $550.

But in a surprise move in April, HP announced its buying Palm and with that it sent the Slate back to the drawing board.  McKinney says HP is not yet ready to announce a launch date for the Slate.

“I am not going to pre-announce products but I will say that we are investing money into research & development and marketing at Palm.”

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Photo:HP

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Android Grows at a Blistering Pace

Google’s open source Android operating system ranks fourth in terms of market share among smartphone platforms in the U.S. but is growing at a faster pace than its rivals.

About 13 percent of U.S. smartphone subscribers used an Android phone in the quarter that ended May, up 4 percent from the previous quarter, according to comScore’s Mobilens service.

Research In Motion’s BlackBerry remained the number one smartphone platform with 41.7 percent share among consumers.

Apple ranked number two with 24.4 percent share and Microsoft third with 13.2 percent, while Palm rounded out the top five with 4.8 percent.

Android’s growth should come as no surprise to mobile enthusiasts. More than 20 Android phones are available in the U.S. currently. Handset makers such as LG and Samsung that have been slower than rivals Motorola and HTC in adopting Android are now planning to launch new Android devices.

Earlier this week, LG said it will have two Android smartphones and an Android-based tablet available by the end of the year. Samsung has already announced that its first 4G Android phone on Sprint will be available this summer.

This focus on Android has taken its toll on other mobile operating systems. Almost all platforms, with the exception of Android, lost some market share in the quarter. BlackBerry market share was down 0.4 percent, while Apple lost about 1 percent. The data does not include the iPhone 4, which launched in June.

Android’s growth doesn’t mean other smartphone systems are losing ground, says comScore. The number of people who own a smartphone in the U.S. grew 8.1 percent last quarter to 9.1 million people, which indicates that the overall pie is growing.

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Photo: (bump/Flickr)

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