Blog - Sketching with Hardware

Team 8 – RunSoMeter

Published on: | Author: Markus Friesenegger | Categories: 2015b, Projects

The theme of the internship of “Sketching With Hardware 2015b” was “Internet of old things”. Eight teams with two persons each had five days to choose, to think, to design, to develop and at least to bugfix their ideas concerning old things interacting with the internet over WiFi. It all began on a sunny Monday morning, when our two supervisors Bernhard and Patrick introduced all participants to the theme and the idea behind “Sketching With Hardware”.

First steps in new territory:

It all started with basic theory about electrical engineering and the combination with hard- and software (especially with the Arduino Board). For this week, we got the bigger version namely the “Arduino Mega”.
The first two days offered plenty of time to get in first touch with the topic: Connecting the first few wires by brazing and soldering, lighten up LEDs, turning on little servos and even completing a little keyboard-hacking challenge, where we had to design a controller out of “garbage” to play a simple self chosen online game.
We decided to play the famous “Beer Game”, where we had to map the up- and down keys as well as the spacebar into our “device”. Our first approach seemed to be promising and we were hungry for more!

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Our simple Beer Game controller

Collecting Ideas:

So finally on Wednesday our instructors told us the topic: “Internet of old things“. It was time for brainstorming. What do we want to build up in only five days? It has to be old, it has to be connected to and communicate with the internet and of course it should be awesome!
The following three ideas came to our mind:

1) a barometer which displays fitness data (e.g. with the help of the app “Runtastic”)
2) a manipulated compass which can locate another device (like another compass or a smartphone)
3) an old typewriter which is able to send E-mails or create simple text documents and put them into the cloud (e.g. Dropbox)

After a long group discussion where every team had to present their ideas, we decided to go for the concept of a fitness barometer, because collecting fitness data is extremely popular nowadays. To reach our goal we had to analyse which materials we needed. We thought about buying an old barometer which we can manipulate in a certain way to change the behaviour of the needles and the thermometer to display data retrieved from a fitness platform. Luckily we got the opportunity to buy an old barometer in Munich on the same day.
We also decided, that we’ll use the offical “Runtastic” fitness platform. We downloaded the smartphone app and registrated in that portal. It was obvious, that our little Arduino board couldn’t analyse too big chunks of data, so we also decided to set up a little PHP script, which uses an open library that connects to our Runtastic account and retrieves the data of our latest activities.

Now get it on!

So far, so good on Thursday! We had our little PHP script which gave us our required data (we only displayed speed, distance, fitness level and burned calories). Unfortunately we had to accept, that our old barometer was not that easy to “hack“. So we decided to buy a newer version which consisted of three “clocks“ and one thermometer over the internet and design the “old look” single-handedly. Therefore we first bought a wood plate…which was too thick for the lasercutter, a fact we noticed after it got scorched pretty much. So we bought another two pieces of wood, this time thinner and better for precise cutting.
We also wrote the first lines of code, which served as a basis to develop the final implementation afterwards. At this time we were totally unaware, that WiFi will be the biggest problem for all the participating teams! But more about that later on….

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On the left: first old barometer which was too tricky too hack…at least the thermometer was useful 🙂

On the right: the second one with three clocks

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Our first sketch

Puttering around in the workshop:

Finally Friday was our big day to ambitiously put our ideas into practise! Our package with the “new” barometer which we wanted to hack up and redesign to make it look really old arrived at last! Now it was time to get it done in the workshop, which turned out to be the “hotspot” for all the teams ;-). The workshop provided every tool, equipment and electronic component that was needed and so it was really easy and straight forward to solder LEDs, to cut something, to use glue to attach necessary parts and so on.
We cutted the wood to build up our old chassis for the barometer with the laser cutter and with a little piece of sandpaper and different acrylcolors we found the perfect “old look”.

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Creating the “old look” and trimming the thermometer with LEDs

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We also managed to attach three servos to all three needles which turned out to be a little frustrating for an informatic student with not that much patience. 😉

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Our barometer newly named “Runsometer” was ready to assemble and connected to our Arduino board!

It’s gettin’ hooot – Programming in hell:

The temperature didn’t stop to rise that day, which made the workshop on the upper floor feel like a little oven for those who had to work there. But in spite of all those brains getting hotter and fuzzier we remained optimistic about the success of our program which would have been a perfect end of the week and a satisfying start into the weekend. Everybody was relaxed and we had a lot of fun…
But it all came down to multiple problems which seemed to be unresolvable in a short amount of time. First of all, each team had to get along with multiple Wifi connection errors, which was crucial due to live testing. In our case, it was more the problem of moving the needles to the parsed values. At first, there was too little power for three servos. Fortunately that issue was quickly fixed by adjusting the voltage. Next we didn’t get any feedback from the servos although the sourcecode defined the right functions to start them. After some code hacking which turned out to last at least five hours we got it fixed and all the needles moved to their respective positions according to the retrieved data.

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Connecting the pieces:

Well, now we had much respect for the amount of time eating affairs our project Runsometer still implied. So we came in on Saturday as well to get going. First we build an attachment for the Arduino board. Than we connected all the wires of the calorie-LEDs and the servos with the board and tested them. One servo-needle was broken which was really annoying but we got the nerves to only fix this problem the next day…

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Sunny Hardware Bugfixing:

After fixing the bullheaded needle on another beautiful summers day: What a true pleasure to see all three servos work! 🙂 Although every servo-needle seemed to cut down its own unique path we were very happy. Out of sheer euphoria we furthermore connected two led-stripes together with transistors to the Arduino in the hope that the lights might pulsate according to the heart rate retrieved from a breast strap via bluetooth. Unfortunately this dream was shattered due to the fact, that our breast strap didn’t want to communicate with Runsometer. However the lights still looked beautiful so they will be used!!

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On the way to the finish line:

Runsometer still appeared to be a bit too naked. That’s why on Monday we designed some Ornaments which also should serve as attachments for the led stripes. Besides we created special dials with little pictures for our clocks.

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Ornaments and dials

Ziffernblätter        Ziffernblätter - Arbeitskopie 3         Ziffernblätter - Arbeitskopie 2


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In the end (and a refreshing after work beverage was already waiting in the fridge) we painted our poster for the presentation.

PRESENTATION DAY – the final tense hours:
After another stressful moments because the Wifi connection didn’t work now and then we finally presented Runsometer to the audience. What a wonderful day, everything worked in the exact right moment! 🙂

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This really was a fun adventure!

Watch the video:

linked categories 2015b, Projects


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