Extending the range of wireless weather stations with walkie talkies

[Roel] wanted to put a wireless weather station in his greenhouse. Even though the weather station was supposed to transmit over fairly long distances, the geometry of his back yard and a few stone walls killed the radio signal even after putting a good antenna on the receiving side of his wireless weather station setup. Wanting to get his weather station working, [Roel] did the sensible thing and built a packet radio setup out of a pair of walkie talkies, greatly increasing the range of his weather station.

This build comes after [Roel] spent a great deal of time reverse engineering the wireless protocol of his Thierry Mugler weather station. With a little bit of code, [Roel] is able to get the current temperature and humidity reading into his Linux box. This system relies on the transmitter inside the weather station, so the system falls apart over any sufficiently large distance.

To increase the range of his weather station, [Roel] took his existing hardware and added a pair of inexpensive FRS walkie talkies. The build uses the hardware from his previous build to get the radio data from the weather station. This data is sent over to an ATmega88 where it’s converted to packet radio and sent over the walkie-talkie. On the receiving side, the output of a second walkie-talkie is piped into the Linux soundmodem app (link, but it’s down as of this writing) where it’s decoded. Sending the received data to gnuplot makes a very nice graph of the temperature and humidity.

[Roel] put the code for both the tx and rx sides of the build up on his build page. Very nice work that uses very inexpensive hardware.

Aquarium automation keeps the fish fed and the lights on


Anyone who owns a fish tank knows that a good amount of care is required to keep fish happy, healthy, and most of all – alive. [Vicente Jiménez] usually has no problem keeping up on the day to day maintenance such as feeding and switching the tank light, but he wanted to automate these processes for times when he can’t be home to take care of the fish (Translation).

His aquarium automation project is meant to cover three separate parts of the operation: light control, feeding, and pump regulation during feeding times. [Vincente] picked up an STM8L Discovery board to control his system, which enabled him to easily control the automation of all three.

He constructed the feeding mechanism using an old cassette player motor, which turns his food drum (an old film canister), twice a day at specified feeding times. Before the drum is turned to dispense food, the STM8L turns off the aquarium’s pump via a relay to ensure it doesn’t get clogged in the process. During the day he keeps the tank illuminated, but once night falls, the microcontroller shuts the lights off so the fish can get their rest.

There’s no video of the system in action, but [Vincente] has detailed its construction pretty thoroughly in his blog, so be sure to check it out if you are in need of something similar.

IR helicopter controller hacked into a Linux game pad


[Mike Kohn’s] Syma S107 helicopter wasn’t flying as well as it used to due to a broken gear, he figured he might as well find some use for the toy’s controller, since it was currently sitting around collecting dust. Having done a bunch of work with Syma IR protocols earlier this year, he decided it would be pretty easy to get the remote working as a game pad for his Linux desktop.

He patched an IR receiver into an MSP430 board, which decodes the incoming IR signals, sending them to his computer over a serial connection. [Mike] dug around in the Linux source for some good joystick driver code to borrow and found something that was close enough to work. After a bit of tweaking he loaded up his driver module and fired up Mame to give [Ms. Pacman] a try.

He says that the controller worked without much trouble, though as he discovered in previous projects, there are some quirks in the controller that make it somewhat less than convenient to use full time. Check out his site if you’re interested in taking a look at the code that he used to get things running.

An iTunes rating box for everyone

If you’ve ever scoffed at the idea of opening up iTunes every four minutes to rate a song, [Steve] is the guy to talk to. He built a small hardware box with five illuminated buttons to rate the current song playing on iTunes.

This build comes after [Steve]‘s earlier Arduino-based rating box that was functional, but didn’t have the level of polish he desired. To get to the current iteration, [Steve] designed a custom board around a PIC18F microcontroller programmed as a USB HID device. After a great deal of frustration soldering teeny SMD components, [Steve] had a functioning USB five-star iTunes rating box. With a custom acrylic case the build was finally completed.

We’re very impressed with the finished version of [Steve]‘s TuneConsole, as he calls it. We can certainly imagine other people wanting a similar device. Whether that comes from releasing the schematics and boards or selling PCBs on Seeed Studio is something we’re eager to find out.

Racing with Dyson’s spare parts

When it comes time to unwind at the Dyson design facility these engineers know how to do it right. Recently, the company challenged their engineers to a grown-up version of the Pinewood Derby in which they raced their own cars powered by a Dyson motor.

The video after the breaks shows a large collection of these time trials on a track made from upturned wooden pallets. Most of the vehicles are made from parts which we don’t recognize. But some of them are very familiar like our favorite hand dryer ever (seen above) and the iconic goldenrod manifold from the Dyson ball vacuum cleaner.

The course ends abruptly, as you can see in the last run of the video. There is one entry that included a human rider and he seems to be going nearly as fast as the riderless carriages are. The video cuts away before he hits the wall, but we can’t image he had the time to include brakes in that design.

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