Home Depot is simplifying shopping using connected devices!

December 23, 2015

I have been frantically printing ornaments for the Christmas tree using my new M3D printer (my review of the M3D coming soon). The incessant printing clogged my printer yesterday and I needed a steel wire to unclog the extruder.

I checked the availability of a steel wire at the nearest Home Depot using their website. Apart from providing the availability information at a particular store, Home Depot also provides information related to the aisle where the steel wire is located. I was surprised to find additional information including the ‘bay’ where I could find this steel wire. The site also has provisions to text this info to someone.

 

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Location of the item inside the store

I was not sure about locating the item at that particular aisle using the bay information. It turns out Home Depot has started labeling different sections/bays of an aisle using numbers.

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Bay Numbers at Home Depot

Home Depot is probably maintaining its inventory at all stores using RFID readers, bar code scanners etc for a while now.

I am glad that they have started helping their customers by providing more resolution to the location of an item in a store than merely stating that “Item X is available at your local store”.

At this year’s ARM TechCon keynote sessions, one of the speakers noted that we are past the era of designing variations of connected sensors. He pointed out that companies have started directing their focus towards enforcing behavior change using connected devices.

It is interesting to learn that stores like Home Depot have already started helping their customers save time by sharing more information about their products using their existing infrastructure of connected sensors.

I am certain that Home Depot has invested in some user experience research to improve their web store shopping experience (for e.g. Paypal integration, text messaging option on the item’s web page) as well as enhance the shopping experience using their current infrastructure of inventory scanners.

Way to go Home Depot!


Jaguarboard – Yet another (not so impressive) SBC

December 29, 2015

I usually back Kickstarter projects(in the DIY electronics domain) that peek my interest. I recently backed the Pine A64, UP and the Latte Panda boards but the Jaguarboard is not one of them.

I usually look for a cool feature that would enable me to build a cool project using the backer reward. For e.g. The Latte Panda comes with onboard Wi-Fi/Bluetooth. It has an ATmega32U4 microcontroller that enables easier interface of sensors.

The Jaguarboard failed to impress me for a couple of reasons:

  1. Lack of sufficient GPIO count – They provide access to only 4 GPIO pins. I usually make use of more than 4 GPIO pins in my projects. However, it does come with an I²C port which could be used to expand the GPIO capabilities.
  2. Incompatible with the Raspberry Pi/Arduino add-on boards – It is not possible to port Raspberry Pi/Arduino projects that makes use of an add-on board to the JaguarBoard platform. It also doesn’t make sense developing expansion modules for the JaguarBoard as the lack of a broad user base is a distinct possibility.
  3. Comparison of specs on the campaign page – The campaign creators have compared the specifications of the board to the Raspberry Pi Model 1 rather than Model 2. The Raspberry Pi Model 2 comes with 1 GB RAM while Model 1 comes with 512 MB RAM. I think that is not a fair comparison.
  4. Unrealistic campaign schedule – In my opinion, the promised delivery date of the board is a tad unrealistic. They promised to deliver the boards by January 2016. The Kickstarter campaign itself ends only on January 22, 2016. As far as I know, Kickstarter takes at least 10 days to transfer the campaign money to your pocket. This puts the campaign roughly in the first week of February. Unless the campaign creators, plan to ship the boards using money out of their pocket, this is not possible.

They also have not released any planned timeline of the project. This is possible only if they already have a stash of boards manufactured, packed and stored in a warehouse.

In summary, I am not impressed by the JaguarBoard Kickstarter campaign.

 


Digikey is selling a red Adafruit Metro!

December 28, 2015

I came across this tweet from DigiKey announcing a red colored Adafruit Metro.

What is the Adafruit Metro?

The Adafruit Metro is a variant of the Arduino Uno. It is enabled by an Atmega328 microcontroller. The main distinction between the Metro and the Uno is the chipset used for the virtual COM port. While the UNO makes use of an Atmega16 family microcontroller for the USB interface, the Metro makes use of the FT231X chipset.

I liked the red color and ordered a unit for myself. The rear side of the PCB contains the Adafruit Metro’s BOM from DigiKey.

At the time of writing this post, the special edition Metro was still in stock @ DigiKey. The packaging gave me the impression that the board could have been possibly manufactured by Adafruit on behalf of DigiKey.


The S.F. Bay Area is not a haven for the electronics hobbyist!

November 29, 2015

Note: This post is not a hate fest!

I realized this when I was at the Orange County Microcenter in SoCal to get my hands on the Raspberry Pi Zero.

Yep, you read that right! I had to drive 392 miles to get a $5 Raspberry Pi Zero! I plan to share the details of my trip in a later post. While I did this trip for fun, it is quite difficult to buy some discrete components in the Bay Area.

Chicago v.s. S.F. Bay Area

Chicago

I lived in the Chicago suburbs for 2 years and 3 months before I moved to the Bay Area in May/June 2014.  While living in Chicago, I had several options to buy discrete electronic components:

  • Microcenter– (2 stores in Chicago!) – Carries a lot of DIY kits (I am not talking about the Arduino and Raspberry Pi). Open Sundays.
  • American Science and Surplus (Milwaukee/Foster Ave neighborhood) – This store sells stepper motors, cool DIY science kits, test tubes, conical flasks etc. Open Sundays.
  • Chicago Electronics Distributors (Winnetka)- A distributor of Adafruit products. This guy is awesome. He used to let me arrange a late evening local pickup for emergencies.  I do not recall buying anything on a Sunday from this guy.
  • Fry’s electronics (Downer’s Grove) – The Chicago store is somewhat far away from the city. Open Sundays.
  • Radio Shack – This is no longer an option but Radio Shack carries a couple of components.

Given these options, I could always find a part locally (unless my requirement is very specific/exotic).

Hackerspaces:

There are 3 hackerspaces in the Chicago area. Pumping Station 1, Workshop 88 and the South Side hackerspace. I was a member of Pumping Station 1. It was so easy to build your own enclosures using a laser cutter. Pumping Station 1 is easily accessible from different parts of the city and the starving hacker membership was approximately $40 a month.

S.F. Bay Area:

  • Radio Shack – This is no longer an option. Radio Shack has gotten rid of a part its DIY electronics shelf. Now you could buy some basic accessories like solder.
  • Fry’s electronics – Open Sundays. You could buy some discrete resistors, capacitors etc. Arduino kits etc are ridiculously expensive.
  • Jameco – They have  a store front in Belmont. They are open only Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. It is best to order your stuff online and pick it up. They sell a variety of discrete components, kits etc. They do have an online chat support to discuss your order. Good luck driving from San Francisco to Belmont in rush hour traffic.
  • oddWires – This store also allows local pick up but only on week days. I have never used this store as it is very far away from where I live.
  • Hobby engineering – This store provides pickup on all days of the week upon prior arrangement. Their store collection is not so extensive and I never had the chance to use their business.
  • Evil Mad Scientist (Sunnyvale CA) – A re-seller of Adafruit products and they also carry a lot of DIY electronics kits.  The pickup option is available only on week days during business hours.
  • Al Lasher’s Electronics – This store is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on all week days and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays.  They are a distributor of Sparkfun and they do sell a vast variety of components that peeked my interest.

 

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A sign inside Al Lasher’s electronics

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Al Lasher’s electronics, Berkeley CA

Craigslist!!!

If you have plenty of time in your hands and if you are trying to buy an Arduino or a Raspberry Pi, you can try crawling through craigslist. If you are lucky, there might be some one in your area who is trying to getting rid of their electronics stash.

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Search results for arduino in the SF Bay Area Craigslist

 

Hackerspaces

I learned of 2 hackerspaces in the Bay Area namely Noisebridge and Tech Shop that is equipped with tools like a laser cutter. While TechShop is a bit pricey, applying for Noisebridge’s membership is a tad complicated.  You need two members who could potentially support your membership application. This is probably to prevent abuse of the hackerspace equipment. Given my socialization skills,  securing a membership is next to impossible.  I decided to navigate this situation by getting my own 3D printer.

It might appear that the Bay Area has several options for a hobbyist. It is just difficult getting to these places when they are open.

As you may have noticed, most of these places are open only on week days except for the hackerspaces. The traffic in the Bay Area is insane until around 7 p.m. (more like 7:30 ish). Most of these stores are closed for business by 7 p.m..

When I was at the Orange County Microcenter to buy the Raspberry Pi Zero, I recalled all the options I had back in Chicago.  I was told that there used to be a Micro Center in the Bay Area but they had to shut down.

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Fully stocked aisles at the Micro Center

The Bay Area is home to a lot of semiconductor manufacturers, smart device manufacturers etc. Yet, you have to go online to buy parts for your project.

As the title states, the S.F. Bay Area is not a haven for the electronics hobbyist.

P.S.: If you know of a great resource that I missed here, leave a comment.


Raspberry Pi Zero + Pi Supply’s giveaway

November 26, 2015

The Raspberry Pi foundation announced a new variant of the Raspberry Pi this morning (around 2 a.m. ET). It is called the Raspberry Pi Zero. I have written more about it in this post. Check it out!

The Pi Zero is here! | DIY with Pi

Pi Supply’s giveaway

The Pi Supply store is giving away a Raspberry Pi Zero to a lucky winner. Entries are accepted until December 2, 2015 and the winner would be announced on December 6, 2015. Click this link to enter the contest.

Disclosure: For every person that enters the contest using the above link, the chances of my winning increases since I get 3 entries for every referral. Do enter the contest if you are interested.

 


Notes from the Sigfox “Connect your city” Hackathon

November 24, 2015

I attended the Connect your City hackathon organized by Sigfox and the city of San Francisco. It was absolute fun.

What is Sigfox?

Sigfox is a European company that has installed low power wide area networks across several cities in Europe and San Francisco.  Sigfox’s radio network enables interfacing low power sensors to a network enabled by radio transceivers installed in San Francisco’s public libraries.

This radio network enables transmitting a 12 byte message at a time and it is capped at 140 messages per day. This network is very useful in the case of interfacing sensors that do not provide real time updated. For example. sensors that report their status every hour or so, panic buttons that transmit emergency alerts to first responders etc.

The Hackathon

In the hackathon, teams were given the Texas Instruments Sigfox boosterpack, access to the Sigfox backend, assistance from Microsoft’s Azure team and Plasma/Connect2me. The hackathon’s objective was to build proof-of-concepts that would have a civic impact in the city of San Francisco.

My team’s project

My team picked a project that enabled collecting information related to the number of people assembled in any room of a building. This information is transmitted to the Sigfox network in the event of an earthquake (detected by an accelerometer installed in the building) or whenever a panic button is pressed.

We also used a PIR sensor, temperature sensor and a force detecting sensor to simulate events like large pillar columns falling down, buildings catching fire etc. This information could be used by first responders to effectively deploy resources in an emergency.

We built two gadgets. I built one of them and is shown in the figure below. It includes a panic button, temperature sensor and a force detecting sensor.

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Gadget that I built includes panic button, temperature and force sensors

My team mate Yingxian built another radio that gathered information from an accelerometer and a PIR sensor.

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Photo Courtesy: Yingxian Wang

The radios transmitted the messages to the Sigfox radio network. The transmitted messages were supposed to be used for visualization in a web dashboard like the one shown below.

 

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Dashboard by Tim Strickland

How does this gadget work?

The figure below provides a simple description of how these radios interact with the “cloud”.

Workflow

We got an unlimited evaluation license for our radios and our radios did not have any daily cap on the number of messages that could be transmitted to the network for development purposes.

The radios were very easy to use. They transmit any message received through the serial port. We used an Arduino Yun to interface our sensors. The Arduino Yun transmits the message to the radio via serial port. It also talks to a processor running linux on the Arduino Yun. Here is a short video of my project: It sends an emergency alert to the Sigfox network and plays an audio alert.

 

Here is another video where we simulated an earthquake. My teammate,  Yingxian wrote the code to detect earthquake like movements to detect earthquake simulations using an accelerometer.

My team

I met my team mates at the hackathon and I am amazed by how we were able to get along with each other. Here is a pic of my team after the hackathon prizes were announced.

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Left to Right: Yingxian, me, Tim, Louis, Albert and Alex.

Who were the winners?

AudioArgus – A team that built a service that predicts faulty rotary/reciprocating equipment requiring service and alerts the city about it. I see this as a project that enforces behavior change using the Internet of Things.

Dry Water – A water sprinkler controller project that considers several weather factors to turn on/off a sprinkler. I see this one also a behavior change tool by building connected devices

There was also a bike project that enabled enhancement of bike rental experience. I am not sure that I am able to recall the project’s theme correctly.

  1. The radio network’s coverage spans between parts of San Bruno in the San Francisco Bay peninsula, Hayward in the eastern side of the Bay, parts of Marin County and Berkeley.
  2. The sketch used to transmit messages is available from here.

What next?

I had fun working on this project last weekend. This has motivated me to register for another smart city hackathon on December 5th. If you are interested in working on a similar project (not the same one) at that hackathon, you should write to me @ yamanoorsaiatgmaildotcom or ping me via twitter using the same handle.

 


DIY IoT Project | Planning a trip to the Sierras using a Raspberry Pi | Part 1 | DIY with Pi

June 1, 2015

Re-blogging my own post from another blog on using a Raspberry Pi to retrieve California state highway road conditions.

Mono Lake, California

DIY IoT Project | Planning a trip to the Sierras using a Raspberry Pi | Part 1 | DIY with Pi.