Sustainability Hacks: The final word

This theme has been tricky to write for. On one hand, here at Hackaday, we are excited about doing anything that will allow us to not consume as many resources but on the other hand, when you really look closely at things, pretty much everything that we do in our modern lives isn’t sustainable. We can certainly find ways to get by with less but doing without really isn’t an option. The exciting thing about the current state of technology is that things are becoming a lot more efficient so the things that we do every day, such as using a computer require less and less energy. Even our cars, which for nearly 100 years drove around at 25 miles per gallon are starting to slowly require less fuel to get from point A to point B. We have a long way to go but there are signs that we (or our children) might not have to give up a modern life to continue on when coal and oil start to become scarce.

Shown above is an oil lamp made to look like a light bulb created by Opossum Design. It is an interesting use of modern technology to create light in a much more sustainable way.

Tomorrow we will be starting a new unofficial theme that will continue for the rest of October. For the past several years, we have been a bit behind the curve about Halloween stuff but we intend to make up for that in a big way. Halloween is one of those holidays that brings out the tinkerer in a lot of us. We would like to show off those projects. Hit us up on our tip line. If we like what we see, we will post about your project. We’re expecting a bunch of projects so unlike our prior themes, if we happen to get more than one that we like on a given day, we’ll post more.

Open-source sprinkler controller keeps your lawn looking great


[Ray] wrote in to share a great project he just recently wrapped up, an open-source sprinkler valve controller. Built in collaboration with Wired Magazine’s editor-in-chief [Chris Anderson], the sprinkler controller is designed to replace the limited commercial sprinkler timers that typically come with a new home sprinkler setup.

Their system greatly expands on the idea of a standard sprinkler timer, adding Ethernet connectivity, web-based scheduling, and 8 separate controllable zones. At the heart of the controller is an ATmega328 running the Arduino bootloader, which means that the system is easily tweakable to fit your specific needs. The controller works off a standard 24V AC sprinkler transformer, which means that the controller can easily act as a drop-in replacement for your existing system.

The pair sells kits through the web site, but you can always simply download the schematics, PCB layout files, and BoM to build one yourself. Whichever path you choose, be sure to swing by [Ray’s] site and take a good look around – there is an incredibly detailed assembly and programming guide there that will be a great resource as you go along.

Continue reading to see a video of the sprinkler controller in action.

Continue reading “Open-source sprinkler controller keeps your lawn looking great”

Linear motor can be built from trash

[Raul] built a cheap linear actuator out of a drawer slide and a surplus flatbed scanner.

A few builds we’ve seen, like the PCB drill press or the horribly inefficient thermostat, used linear actuators as key components of their builds. These linear actuators are fairly expensive compared to other parts we usually have lying around so going the homebrew route to reduce costs is always a welcome idea.

The first step of [Raul]’s build is to mount a drawer slide to a piece of wood. A stepper motor is attached to one end of the actuator and a timing belt is strung along the length of the assemblage. After a bracket is connected the drawer slide and the belt, you’ve got a very inexpensive linear motor.

In our days of dumpster diving, we can’t count the number of times we’ve passed up on drawer slides in unwanted furniture. Stepper motors, gear trains and timing belts from old ScanJets can be found for pocket change any day of the week. For cheap and accurate linear motion, we couldn’t come up with a build that does better than [Raul]’s.

Workbench overhead camera boom made from PVC

pvc_overhead_camera_ boom

It looks like [Dino] is getting settled into his new digs, and while the moving process has kept him pretty busy, he’s slowly but surely getting his workshop area set up. One thing that he really wanted from his new bench was a better way to record video, for both his Hack a Week series as well as broadcasting over Ustream.

He bought a nice little Hi-Def web cam for making videos and set out to build a camera boom for his bench. The boom is constructed mostly from PVC piping along with some other odds and ends for mounting. In the video below, he walks through the construction step by step, making it easy for anyone to follow along and build one of their own.

The boom looks like it works very well, and is a bargain at under $40. It articulates every which way giving him complete coverage of his workbench, and makes it easy to film whatever he’s working on – big or small.

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Improving a cheap espresso machine

For those of us that would like a good cup of coffee but don’t want to put up with the ‘burnt butt’ taste of Starbucks and don’t have a decent coffee shop nearby, we’ve had very few options. Most of us have been made to suffer with an el-cheapo espresso machine. [Joe] sent in a great build that improves these el-cheapo models and brings them up to the quality we would expect from their more expensive brethren.

For the best pull from an espresso machine, the great [Alton Brown] says 200° F water must be forced through the grind at around 10 PSI atm. [Joe]’s espresso machine can’t build up pressure because the heating element is only active when the lever is in the ‘brew’ or ‘froth’ position. To build up pressure in the water reservoir, [Joe] simply added a pressure gauge to the frothing attachment. When the gauge reads the necessary 10 atmospheres, just move the lever over to the ‘brew’ position and enjoy a nice cup of espresso.

[Joe] has already tested the pressure relief valve of his espresso machine. With the gauge in the way, [Joe] can’t make use of his frother, but a secondary valve could easily remedy that. [Joe] hasn’t published his espresso hack anywhere, but he did email us some pics of his build. We’ve embedded them as a slideshow after the break. Check out the pressure gauge on the frothing attachment and the pressure relief valve below.

Continue reading “Improving a cheap espresso machine”

Upgrading an old Super Scope


[Brian Knoll] still uses his Super Nintendo with relative frequency, and he just can’t get enough Super Scope action. If you never owned one, the Super Scope can be a ton of fun, but it’s also an incredible battery hog. It eats through AA batteries by the caseful, so [Brian] wanted to make the switch to rechargeable cells. Since NIMH AA batteries just don’t cut it in the Super Scope, he put together a rechargeable solution of his own.

He started off by calculating what sort of battery he would need for 8 hours of game play, then he started work on designing his circuit. The board he built contains both a DC/DC converter to provide the 9V required by the Super Scope, as well as built-in LiPo charger. He had his board made by BatchPCB, and after working through a small production error, he put everything together and gave his revamped scope a shot.

Things worked great, and while he says that he really should have built a low-voltage shutoff into his circuit, he is very happy with the results.

Tinywrench controls motors with ATtiny24 chips

Tinywrench is [Tanjent’s] take on a motor controller board. It aims to replicate all of the functions that a standalone motor controller chip offers at as low a cost as possible. Early results are in. It works, and as seen can be assembled for about $8.

The top of the device offers a terminal block for connecting motors, ground, and 24V input. A pin header on the bottom has all the connections you would expect to find with a stepper motor driver board. Looking back on top there’s also a pair of ATtiny24 chips, each with its own trimpot for balancing the constant current output. Hiding on the underside of the board are two H-bridges built using high and low-side MOSFETs along with some diodes for protection, and various passive components for driving them.

As it stands, each of those H-bridges can handle around 9 amps which should be more than enough for projects with small motors. [Tanjent] mentions that one of the main advantages of working with this instead of a single motor-driver chip is that if you fry one of the MOSFETs you can replace it instead of trashing the entire board.