Tag Archives: Spark Core

Take your essential appliances off the grid with this solar power controller

This system allows you to ‘UNplug’ from the grid during the day and re-plug at night.

In today’s ‘always on’ era, there are over 100 million refrigerators, Internet modems and laptops running on fossil fuels in the United States alone, all of which adds roughly 33 billion pounds of CO2 to the atmosphere annually. That is the equivalent of four coal burning power plants, just to put things into perspective. As a way to curb this never-ending problem, Markus Löffler has developed a solution that starts with taking essential household appliances off the grid during daylight hours.


The idea for this project first came about after the Maker and his family suffered a power outage that left his home in total darkness and their refrigerated food spoiled. Upon brainstorming, he decided to absorb the endless sun of Southern California through a series of solar panels and take his refrigerator off the grid during peak hours of the day, which also happen to be when energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions are the highest. What’s more, the aptly named UNplug system automatically reverts back to electricity at night.


Now live on Kickstarter and a recent entry in this year’s Hackaday Prize, UNplug supplies automatic uninterrupted power with built-in surge protection by controlling the power source that goes to an appliance, switching between the grid, solar power and batteries. Meaning, should a thunderstorm, hurricane or a tree falling on a line cause a power outage, the solution is capable of switching back via battery. This lets users keep their most critical home equipment up and running in a time when they’re needed most, whether it’s the lights, security monitors, smoke detectors or phone chargers. One solar panel is enough to take a refrigerator, laptop and modem off of the grid.


The unit is comprised of three main functional blocks: a120V AC unit, a 12/24V DC unit, as well as the sensors and microprocessors. Speaking of which, two configurations are available. The first employs an Arduino-compatible ATmega328 controller without the need for a Wi-Fi signal, while the second uses a Spark Core to wirelessly send data and sync with IFTTT recipes.

“The UNplug firmware will be pre-installed onto the processors so each unit is ready right out of the box. But you can even go ‘fully hacker friendly’ and download and compile your own programs. There is an Arduino and Spark compatible C-library that allows you to program your own functionality and go be beyond the intended use. There are two interfaces (Serial and I2C) to wire connect the unit to other hardware like the Raspberry Pi,” Löffler writes.


In order to completely construct the appliance power system requires a 12V or 24V power inverter, batteries and at least 250W of solar panels. An online dashboard allows the user to monitor energy usage, cost savings and other metrics from just about anywhere. These algorithms and programs are all open source and available on Github.

“UNplug is essentially an Automatic Transfer Switch that switches a load between two sources. It automatically switches when it senses one of the sources has lost power,” the Maker notes. “The ATS will automatically tell the inverter to start. Once the ATS sees that the inverter is ready to provide electric power, the ATS breaks the home’s connection to the utility grid and connects the inverter. The inverter supplies power to the electric load, but is not connected to the electric utility lines.”


What’s nice is that thanks to its modular design, each component can be updated independently. This includes adding more solar modules and batteries, replacing the inverter with a more more efficient unit, swapping out the universal socket MCU with a Bluetooth-enabled controller, integrating a cellular network, and receiving automatic firmware updates via Wi-Fi.

UNplug isn’t only limited to in-home use either; in fact, it can be implemented pretty much anywhere, from RVs and campers to boats and cabins. Head over to its Kickstarter campaign, where Löffler is currently seeking $55,000. Delivery is slated for October 2015.

VIPER is a cross-platform Python IoT design suite

VIPER is a smart object development suite that brings cloud and IoT connectivity to your projects with just a click of the mouse.

New York City-based startup ThingsOnInternet has launched a Kickstarter campaign for their new easy-to-use development suite for interactive Internet of Things (IoT) designs. As its name implies, VIPER — or “Viper Is Python Embedded in Real-time” — makes it possible for Makers and embedded designers to create their next connected project in Python for Arduino, UDOO and Spark, all in in real-time. And, unlike other solutions that already exist today, this collection of products is platform-agnostic and compatible with all sensors and kits.


The idea was first conceived after conducting some detailed market analysis, where the company discovered that designers, Makers and programmers all faced a similar set of challenges. In hopes of simplifying how “things” are brought onto the Internet, VIPER converged a series of components to better streamline the process. This included an IDE to manage and program the boards, a Virtual Machine to serve as its operating system, a plug-and-play TOI Shield, an extensive library of ready-to-use functions, and a mobile app to act as the interface for smart objects. On top of that, it’s also cloud-ready. With just a little coding, users can develop a wide-range of IoT applications, ranging from interactive storefronts, to home and industrial automation systems, to art and museum installations, to smart farming.


“Designers aim to create behaviors that can co-exist at the same time and they are often frustrated by ‘anomalous’ and unexpected results on their projects. Makers, who have higher competences, invest a lot of time in understanding how to code multithreaded behaviors, how to manage interrupts in C++, etc. and sometimes their code become really hard to be maintained. Programmers are frustrated by executing ‘boring’ tasks for their customers, one of them is related (again) to multithread, interrupts, callbacks, timers and exceptions,” ThingsOnInternet writes.

Since millions of developers already know Python, VIPER decided to make the programming language readily accessible for commercial interactive products as well, therefore amplifying the potential for smart objects to be as pervasive as mobile devices in their ease of design interactivity. To do this, VIPER provides a browser-based, minimal-installation development environment where users can write code with extensive library support and have it executed on any Arduino-like board. What’s great for designers is that, with VIPER, it leaves them able to focus on the features and functionality, not the tediousness, along with a mobile app to control their creation for free.


“Devices like Arduino, UDOO, ST Nucleo, Spark Core, Photon and the last released Spark Electron are microcontroller boards that revolutionized the world of amateur and semiprofessional electronics. They allowed hundreds of thousands of people around the world to give objects a new life by making them interactive, able to communicate and interact with humans,” the team explains. “Unfortunately, programming them is quite easy for engineers and computer scientists, while most of the users are able to exploit only part of the huge potential of such incredible boards. Here comes the idea of TOI to extend the world of smart and interactive object design to everyone. VIPER allows in a few clicks to convert a common lamp in a smart assistant that reminds us to take the umbrella, turn on the air conditioning while monitoring the house for intrusions.”

In order to use the suite, Makers and developers simply download a one-time package from the company’s website onto either their PC or USB stick. Beyond that, VIPER includes an embedded, portable Python 3.0 engine to help make everything as easy as can be. Users can then launch the VIPER IDE and begin making. All that’s left from there is connecting its accompanying mobile app to serve as the UI for the project.


VIPER runs on an Arduino Due (SAM3X8E), and can even be ported onto the recently-revealed Atmel | SMART Cortex-M7 family. As its creators reveal, code developed on an Arduino Due can also be implemented onto these new MCUs in a matter of two clicks. Furthermore, the suite features an Arduino and Spark Proton-compatible, plug-and-play TOI shield. Simply attach either a Due or Photon to the shield and start playing with any of the VIPER examples found in its library. (This collection of modules includes CC3000 Wi-Fi for Spark Core and Adafruit Shield, Adafruit/Sparkfun Thermal Printer, Adafruit NeoPixel LED, RTTTL smart melody player, Streams library, as well as TCP and UDP network protocols.) Aux ports are even included, enabling the use of other sensors like Grove, ThinkerKit, Phidgets, and Adafruit NeoPixel LED strips.

Through its IDE, users can ‘viperize’ theirs boards by installing them using the VIPER Virtual Machine. Once completed, a board is no longer a simple Arduino Due, Spark Photon or UDOO; instead, it has a multi-threaded, real-time operating system running on it, and a virtual machine ready to execute compiled Python 3 scripts. Ready to design your next smart project? You can head over to its official website, or check out the team’s recent successfully-funded Kickstarter campaign here.

This DIY cube turns music into your own LED light show

What better way to ring in the holidays than by transforming your living room into a dance party? With the L3D Cube, now you can. Developed by the Looking Glass Factory crew, the 3D fixture is a true DIY kit allowing Makers to create their own “volumetric” display in just 30 minutes. After constructing the easy-to-assemble box, users can download a number of visualization apps to it or program it themselves using either Arduino or Processing language.


The L3D comes in both 8 x 8 x 8 and 16 x 16 x 16 cubes comprised of 512 or 4,096 multi-color LEDs, respectively, which are all driven by an [Atmel based] Arduino unit (interchanged with a Spark Core). The vibrant lights then flash in such a way that they create 3D geometric patterns, ranging from squares and circles to waves and spirals.

As our friends at Hackaday note, using WS2812Bs means less I/O pins and no need for LED driver chips, which makes it ideal for Arduino and Spark boards.


The system is also wired to dance to tunes. In fact, each L3D Cube is equipped with a built-in microphone enabling music reactive applications. According to its team, the device can also be connected with various sensors — ranging from Kinect and LEAP motion to the ATmega32U4  based based Makey Makey — for an assortment of other stunning interactions.


As an entirely open-source project, new programs are constantly being created for new visualizations. Furthermore, L3D cubers can also communicate with one another, meaning Makers can actually devise programs that make new shapes that move and coordinate across L3D cubes.


“The L3D Cube is just the first step toward a ‘volumetric display revolution,’ where high-res 3D displays that allow for realistic images will be commonplace,” says Shawn Frayne, Looking Glass Factory President.

Want a kit for yourself this holiday? You’re in luck. The team has unveiled a Christmas special cube! Already having attained well over $120,000, you can head over to its official Kickstarter page here to learn more. Meanwhile, the team has shared a detailed log of its build over on Instructables