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« June 2007 | Main | August 2007 »

5-Minute Project Video: The Coffee Can Cellphone Antenna

Cellphones have been around for quite some time now; you would think that, by now, the technology would have evolved to the point where our homes would no longer be subject to cruel, phantom areas of poor reception. But alas, dense concrete, wire-mesh stucco and some kinds of metallic siding can still render your home an annoyingly cell-free zone.

Here, How 2.0 solder-meister Mike Haney shows you a quick and cheap method of using your phone's hidden antenna-out and the garbage from your coffee and cookie consumption into a workable solution for improving your cell reception at home.

iRobot iNstitute Lesson 3: Add Custom Hardware to Your Create

Now that you’ve learned how to program your Create (see Lesson 1) and wirelessly communicate with your Create (see Lesson 2), it’s time to explore the iRobot Command Module expansion ports—and expand your create. Armed with four ports, dubbed ePorts, the Command Module provides unprecedented access to the I/O pins of its onboard Atmel ATmega 168 AVR microcontroller.

The only trouble is how can you tap into these I/O pins?

While the jury is still out on the iRobot Command Module Breakout Board (#4818; suggested retail should be $5.99), Element Products sells the eProto board which can plug into any of the four Command Module ePorts. Priced at $4.95, eProto is supplied as a two-part kit: DB-9 male plug and a sweet 1 3/16 x 1 1/4-inch PCB. What’s so sweet about a PCB without any components? Plenty, you can add your own.


Assembly is easy enough—just solder the supplied DB-9 plug to the underside of the PCB. Done. Hey, time yourself; you just assembled an electronic kit is less than 5 minutes.

Continue reading "iRobot iNstitute Lesson 3: Add Custom Hardware to Your Create" »

Cue Chorus of Angels: Google Maps on Your GPS

Google MyMaps—the new customizable maps feature that lets you add placemarks and routes and save them on a map—is awesome. GPS devices are awesome. How awesome would it be if you could put your MyMaps on your GPS device? Okay, so the title of the post sorta gives away that this extreme awesomeness has been achieved, and the video here is the how-to. The middle man making it possible is a new site quite stupidly named takitwithme, that takes your MyMaps URL and converts it to a Garmin-friendly format using Garmin's new Communicator API, or to a plain GPX file for other devices.

This is a capability I've been begging GPS companies to enable for years: Give us a map-like online interface where we can easily create our own routes and waypoints and transfer them to a GPS device. This would not only make trip planning much easier, but think of all the custom routes and points of interest you could create. If I had a friend headed to Austin, I could send them Mike's Tour of Central Texas BBQ. Businesses could make maps available with all their locations, enthusiast groups could put together maps with all the best bike shops, or sewing circles, or whatever. To me, this capability could make GPS devices (or GPS-capable phones) infinitely more useful on a day-to-day basis. The most frustrating thing about the lack of such a service is that every GPS engineer and PR person I've suggested this to over the years has agreed that it's a great idea. So where is it?!

Takitwithme + Garmin isn't the perfect implementation, to be sure—it only works on certain Garmin devices, and although I haven't tested it yet, I get the feeling it's a little wonky. But I love the direction it's headed. Hopefully, enough people will jump on this that Garmin or one of the other GPS makers will finally make this a standard feature.—Mike Haney

Takitwithme.com via NaviGadget

Introducing the PopSci 5-Minute Project Videos: Bottle Cap Tripod

Hello and welcome to our new recurring video feature--the PopSci 5-Minute Project. In every issue of the magazine, we highlight a quick and easy project that anyone could tackle in the time it takes to, well, read this blog post. We'll be expanding our favorites here into handy instructional video form here on the How 2.0 blog, showing you first-hand how to build some seriously useful stuff—and it's so easy, even the clumsiest of the clumsy can succeed. To prove that point, the PopSci 5 team is made up of editors from all walks of the DIY circle—from How 2.0 editor Mike Haney (who definitely knows his way around a soldering iron) all the way down the spectrum to folks rating fairly low on the handiness spectrum (like yours truly). If we can do it, so can you! And you don't even need a custom PopSci jumpsuit (although it definitely helps). Yes, we wear them around the office all the time.

First up is PopSci's deputy editor Jake Ward and the bottle cap tripod. When we first spotted this over on Jake Ludington's MediaBlab blog, we were hooked—such an easy and inexpensive way to utilize the often-overlooked tripod mount on the bottom of your digital point-and-shoot to take beautiful, rock-solid shots in low light (thanks Jake!). So check out our video how-to above, and stay tuned right here for more 5-Minute Project videos rolling out in the coming days. —John Mahoney

The Robot Geek's Shopping Mecca


Every now and again, I come across a site or a place that makes me really wish the boss would fire me so I could move to a city where I could afford a workshop and just build crap all day. Fazzio's metalyard comes to mind, as does Faztek's site of slotted aluminum components. But stumbling upon Robot Marketplace is like falling down the fabled rabbit hole. Page after page of robotics kits, components, platforms, metal, batteries, electronics—they even sell subscriptions to PopSci.

I don't know what this thing in the photo is, but I know I want to buy it and build it into one bad metal, t-slotted robotic coffee table.

Anyone shopped there? Built anything from the site? Let us know in the comments.—Mike Haney

Robot Marketplace

Just a touch of Transformers


Okay, so maybe that's a stretch, but the car doors on this 1993 Lincoln Mk 8 are pretty amazing. Watch the video below to see what I mean. The car is apparently up for sale at eBay right now, but the $20,000 reserve hasn't yet been met.

Personally, you can keep your Lincolns—I want to see these incorporated into our latest lust object around H20 HQ: the TerraCross.

eBay auction via OhGizmo

iRobot iNstitute Lesson 2: Bluetooth, or Sever the Tether Altogether

The Bluetooth specification is a low-cost, low-power radio standard that is used for wirelessly connecting devices. Global acceptance of this specification has helped incorporate limited range wireless communication into everything from automobiles to web players. Based on a nifty time-sharing architecture featuring frequency-hopping and tiny packet sizes, Bluetooth uses the 2.4GHz radio band with a range of approximately 30 feet.

Apple PowerBook G4 portables were the first big time, mainstream computers to offer Bluetooth 2.0+ Enhanced Data Rate (EDR). At that time, other computers were saddled with the older Bluetooth 1.x support. Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, while backwards-compatible with Bluetooth 1.x, is up to three times faster than the older standard. A maximum data rate of up to 3 Mbps is possible with Bluetooth 2.0+EDR. This throughput plus the peripheral nature of the connectivity feature has enabled some vendors to describe Bluetooth as “wireless USB.”


Lucky for you, the iRobot Create can be equipped with a Bluetooth Adapter Module (BAM) for enabling wireless control from any Bluetooth-equipped host. In fact, with very little technical expertise you can replace the Create USB serial cable with BAM for piping Open Interface (OI) command strings wirelessly to your Create. Take that:
128 132  140 0 4 62 12 69 12 62 36  141 0 
There, BAM, sever the tether.

Continue reading "iRobot iNstitute Lesson 2: Bluetooth, or Sever the Tether Altogether" »

Hackers of the world, I beg you ...

Iphoneicons_2 The first shot has been fired in the race to hack the iPhone. Engadget reports that a firmware image is now floating around the Web. The firmware is the operating instructions that live between the hardware and the OS, so being able to peer into that code is often the first step to real hacks. We'll be keeping our eyes glued to places like howardforums.com to see what the first cracks are—and there will be cracks. Here's our initial wishlist:

  • Enable the other Bluetooth protocols. Right now, the Bluetooth is crippled so it can only be used for headsets, but with the right uncrippling, you could stream music to wireless speakers, transfer files (like songs and photos) to and from your computer wirelessly and surf the Web on your laptop using your iPhone's data connection.
  • Unlock the device so you can put other sim cards into it; particularly useful for taking overseas.
  • Enable support for more music and video format
  • Upgrade the memory
  • Replace the battery yourself (sure to come)
  • And the holy grail: Let it run third-party apps. If this has a full OS in it, there should be endless uses. Then we'd really be talking Jesus Phone.
  • Oh, and play Tetris Blocks. Every device must eventually play Tetris Blocks.

What do you want to see it do? Let us know in the comments.

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