Snapchat Spectacles : Do They Have a Future?

To be honest, I thought the Snapchat spectacles were a waste of money when I first heard about them. “Oh great, another company trying to make glasses with a gimmick”. So I put them out of my mind and moved on despite hearing about all the craze in Los Angeles and New York regarding their pop-up Spectacle vending machines.

snapchat-spectacles

Fast forward to this past weekend. I was on a trip with a group of friends and a couple of them brought their Spectacles along. Every now and then they would press the button on the side of the glasses to start recording a 10 second video. Although they used it quite regularly, I almost never noticed them filming except for in darker areas where the ring of light around the camera would animate while it was recording. At this moment I had revised my opinion of them to “They’re great “spy-like” glasses for recording video”.

The true “aha” moment came at the end of each day when my friends would view the footage and transfer it to their phones. As we watched each clip I felt that I was seeing each moment through their eyes, not just some video they had recorded. It turns out that the 115 degree angle lens being placed on a pair of glasses right next to your eyes is a great POV (Point of View) recording combo. This led to the next realization, “Why bother taking out a camera/phone, or strapping a GoPro to your head to record?” Just throw on a pair of Spectacles and press the button to record while still living in the moment. There’s no need to check a screen to make sure you’ve got the shot, or fumble with opening up an app or sending it right then an there. The key to the future of the Spectacles (in my opinion) is that it allows you to live in the moment, record the moment, and relive the moment.

However, there are a couple of improvements that I think would greatly increase its adoption for “capturing the moment”.

  1. Waterproof it (allows you to take it to more areas)
  2. Hide the camera better or make it smaller (allows you to put it into other styles)
  3. Make the lenses swappable so that you can have clear ones for night-time or indoors but shades for the day (allows you to wear it in more areas)
  4. Make the battery last longer (always on the list for any electronic)
  5. Make the video capture capabilities longer (having options is always better and being able to select the default length of clips would be nice. Press the button again in the middle of recording to stop it earlier)

Will I buy one now? Maybe. But I’ll be looking out for the V2 for sure.

 

 

Finishing Touches: Installing Nest w/ Line Voltage

If you haven’t seen the information on how I set it up initially, check out the first post here: http://blog.anthonyngu.com/2016/12/12/bridging-the-gap-between-nest-and-line-voltage-thermostats/

dsc02761

This is how it was left hanging for about a week before I bought an electrical box at a nearby Home Depot that would fit next to my original electrical box so I could begin mounting it. Steps for the finishing touches were as follows:

  1. Cut out a bigger hole in my drywall (making sure that it was still small enough to fit under the included mounting plate)
    dsc03972
  2. Mount the transformer/relay next to the original electrical box. (Something to keep in mind: Double check to see if your original electrical box is bigger than its opening. If it does, you will most likely not be able to place another box right next to it without have to do some patching of the drywall after)
  3. Paint over any small marks or discrepancies with the mounting so that it would look as good as new!

The bigger hole was still small enough for the face plate to cover (included with the Nest) and I was able to paint over the edges to make it look as good as new!

dsc03976

Bridging the Gap Between Nest and Line Voltage Thermostats

nest

I recently decided to switch my old thermostat to a Nest and figured that it should be easy considering my current thermostat just controlled a simple electric wall heater. Unfortunately, it was only after taking my old thermostat off the wall that I realized that it was in fact a line voltage thermostat (Honeywell’s T410AA), which means that it uses high voltage (240 V) and acts as an in-line switch between the electric wall heater and the power supply. The problem with this is that systems like the Nest run off of low voltage (24 V) and can’t be used to switch a high voltage system.

To fix the issue I started researching. Surely I wasn’t the only person who wanted to switch their old school line voltage thermostat with a Nest! Unfortunately, a bunch of the solutions were on Nest’s old community site which had since been taken down. However, I was able to find out about a relay/transformer that according to the reviews should be able to bridge the gap between line voltage (240 V) and the typical low voltage setup used for modern thermostats like the Nest (24 V). The schematic for it shows the method for hooking it up to known thermostat wires.

aube-relay

The Aube Relay RC840T-240 does exactly that. It takes 3 wires carrying the line voltage (connected to Black, Blue, and Red) and then connects them out via 3 wires (R, C, W) carrying low voltage. This works to connect the line voltage wall heater with controls from the Nest system.

thermostat-wiring

After connecting everything up, I tested the Nest to see if it worked and low and behold! It worked like expected. The only thing left after wiring and testing the setup is to mount it properly. However, the relay/transformer does not fit inside the original electrical box so I will need to devise a workaround to get it to all fit within the wall up to code.

Read the Continuation here: http://blog.anthonyngu.com/2017/01/10/finishing-touches-installing-nest-w-line-voltage/

DJI Phantom 4 vs. 3DR Solo

TL;DR – The DJI Phantom 4 is the better drone by far. The only case in which you should buy the 3DR Solo is if you are able to get it during its $600 sales (Drone + Gimbal), already own a GoPro, and are willing to use the lesser product.

Pros of the Phantom 4

  • Lighter
  • Better Battery Life
  • Better video from their in-house camera
  • More sturdy for travel with the connected legs and rigid camera attachment
  • Charger comes as one instead of separate ones for the controller and the drone batteries
  • Longer range
  • Better design with the controller (Allows for extender to be dropped)
  • USB connection instead of WiFi for connecting the controller to your phone or tablet
  • Quick connect propellers
  • White – turns out it gets less hot on sunny days (who would have figured)
  • Can easily be flown without a GPS Lock (The 3DR Solo requires you to turn on Advanced flying and also set one of the dedicated “A” or “B” buttons up for “Manual Flight” which flies it without GPS)

Pros of the 3DR Solo

  • Can be made to go faster
  • More modular (possible future attachments & Easier to fix or replace components)
  • Really cool smart flying capabilities.

Price Breakdown

 

Just a little insight into my drone purchase history. I bought both drones. I owned a DJI Phantom 4 first and had an awesome experience with it, but found it to be a bit too pricey for me. Then I saw a deal on the 3DR Solo + gimbal for $600 and I figured I would return the DJI Phantom 4 and get that instead. After obtaining the 3DR Solo, I noticed immediately a couple areas where the DJI was better, but figured I could handle it. But as I continued to fly it, the cons started adding up a bit too much and so I returned it. I am planning on obtaining a DJI Phantom 4 again in the future.

Making a New Amazon Skill for The Echo

I was prompted to dive back into the Amazon Alexa Skill development by the new Alexa Hackster.io contest.

I quickly classified the development of Alexa Skills into two major categories. They don’t break them down this way, but it makes more sense to think of their development by the requirements of the developer and setup.

  1. Not user specific – Generic information and interactions available to everyone
  2. User specific – Needs information from the user like configurations, links to their devices, or specific user instances.

The non-user-specific Alexa skills are fairly simple to create and for this guide I will be creating one using Node.js in an Amazon Lambda function (their version of a cloud run process) combined with an Amazon Skill.

  1. Set up a new Amazon Lambda function (Needs to be in N.Virginia in the top right of your dashboard screen)
  2. Set up a new Amazon Skill
  3. Grab the Application Id from the newly created Amazon Skill and replace the part in the AlexaSkill.js file relating to the ApplicationId.
  4. Then upload the zip file to your Amazon Lambda function.
  5. Then define the Voice Interface using the two files in the speechAssets folder. (IntentSchema.json and SampleUtterances.txt)
  6. In your lambda function, go to the Event Sources tab, and add the “Alexa Skills Kit” Event source.
  7. Then copy your Amazon Lambda’s ARN (Amazon Resource Name) and past that into the Endpoint textbox in the Configurations Tab of your Alexa Skill – something like arn:aws:lambda-us-east-2:9081209381:function:hello-world

The user-specific Alexa skills require an endpoint that allows the user to login to your own authentication service. This in turn will require a web app and a database of stored information per user. Stay tuned for more information on how to make that happen.

At the end of my investigation of the non-user-specific Alexa skill, I created and deployed a Wind Reporting service to Alexa that allows me to use the Echo to find out what the current Wind conditions are in my city before I take my drone out for flights.

linea_2ec(0)_512

Check out the Hackster.io post for the Alexa Wind Reporting Service: https://www.hackster.io/anthony-ngu/alexa-wind-reporting-service-7aada2

Publishing an Alexa Skill

Some things to keep in mind if you are making your own Alexa Skill for global publishing.

  • You will need icons for your Alexa Skill
  • You will need to process the generic Help intent
  • You will need to process the generic Stop / Cancel intents

 

Creating the Smart Home Universal Remote

It’s been a while since I last made a smart home device, not because my home is fully automated or because there wasn’t a need for another device, but because I still live in a rented unit and didn’t want to to spend the time making and setting up custom devices that would need to be torn down in the future.

Well the other day I realized that I could build another home automation device without a long-term stationary placement requirement! Not too long ago I built voice integration into my smart home system using the Amazon Echo (check out the articles here). While this worked well for moments without ambient noise, it failed to work well during parties, while watching movies, or while listening to music on my sound system. Obviously I needed another way to interact with these smart home devices and the current method of pulling out a phone or tablet, unlocking it, then switching between apps just didn’t appeal to me. What I really wanted was a universal remote that could also talk to my smart home devices.

So I started designing and planning out the features that I would want in my smart home controller and it had to be wireless charged (because replacing batteries or being tethered to a wall is archaic). Here’s the requirements I came up with:

Essentially, the goal is to get it all placed inside of an enclosure like this:

universal-button

Here’s a video of the very early prototype’s functionality:

As well as a more in depth Hackster post:

https://www.hackster.io/anthony-ngu/universal-smart-home-remote-wirelessly-powered-896f3c

Unboxing the Bluz Dev Kit – Kickstarter

logo_nobg
In April of 2015 I found a Kickstarter called Bluz which offered a cloud-connected Bluetooth LE development kit that could be run off a coin cell battery for months or even years on end. The Bluz is very similar to a product called the Particle Photon released earlier last year and the Photon has quickly become one of my favorite development platforms for developing Maker projects. I figured that a Bluetooth LE dev kit would be a great addition to my maker tools.
DSC_5101.00_00_11_32344.Still001
After a bit of wait, it arrived on my doorstep and I figured that I would record an unboxing video and a simple test with the Bluz.
Since I pledged $49, I received what they call the Wearables Kit which included one Bluz dev kit, a Coin Cell Battery Shield and an Accelerometer shield.
sparkfun_imu
The accelerometer shield that I received was not a custom Bluz created one, but actually a Sparkfun branded shield that I had already purchased on my own (an extra never hurt).
battery_shield
The coin cell battery shield is unique to the Bluz and allows it to be powered off a single coin cell battery. Included in this shield is an on/off switch that is surprisingly missing from the number of other battery shields that I’ve bought and tested.
bluz
The Bluz itself looks very similar to the Particle Photon and actually has the same footprint so that it can take advantage of the same shields as the Photon. It even piggybacks off the Particle’s online development tools and the same deployment pattern (aside from the need to be hooked to a gateway that I’ll talk more about later). One big difference in the immediate presentation of the Bluz is that it does not have a micro USB port for powering it. This is partly due to the fact that it can supposedly last longer periods of time on very little battery and its primary purpose is to not be continually connected to an outlet. The’ recommended method of powering it is to use the coin cell shield, or the VIN, or 3.3V pin
For my unboxing, I didn’t have a method of powering it through the Vin or 3.3V pin directly or a coin cell battery lying around, so I decided to use a Particle Shield Shield in order to breakout a DC Power connection (which ends up powering it through the Vin pin anyways).
The major thing to know about the Bluz is that it needs to be connected to a gateway or the Bluz iOS or Android apps in order to communicate to the cloud. While there are plans to open source the iOS and Android connection code, they haven’t been released yet and this is a pretty big limitation for anyone like myself that wants to use a direct communication line between Bluetooth devices and the Bluz. However, Bluz sells a gateway shield that can be attached to a Particle that allows up to 8 Bluz to connect to it and communicate to the cloud.
gw_shield
Also, I have yet to test out the claim that it can last months or years on a single coin cell battery, but will be using it future projects and will be testing this out. There is one difference in the code that supposedly helps the Bluz achieve this feat. The code inside the loop function contains a System.sleep call in the default sketch.

I expect the Bluz to be a worthwhile investment and can’t wait to see what kinds of projects I can build with this low powered Bluetooth LE dev platform. I love that they leveraged the Particle ecosystem and online development IDE as well.