Building a Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox

This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.

It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.

The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.

We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.

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Now You’re Printing with Water

How do you earn a place in a flower festival with a handful of Arduinos and a 3D printer? By building a water curtain that draws flowers. That’s exactly what Tecnoateneu Vilablareix, a hacking community in Spain did. They built this project specifically for Temps de Flors, a popular annual gathering in Girona, Spain. More than just a flower festival, the event opens gardens and courtyards of culturally importance to the general public that are closed the rest of the year.

A pile of nozzle fail.

The water curtain uses four Arduino Nanos to control the valves, which work in pairs to draw flowers, words, and patterns. A Mega provides a wifi connection  to receive commands. Over 16 continuous days worth of print time went into the 128 valves and 64 nozzles that make up the water curtain. It took the group around 24 iterations to get the valve design just right—they have to be able to shut off quickly.

There’s an eight-video playlist after the break and a special video that shows how much we love pandering. Most of the ones in the playlist are quite short and demonstrate the final version of the water curtain. Others show the valve testing. The last is a time-lapse of the group setting it up at the festival. If you’re in the area, the festival runs until May 15th.

Now that you’re in the mood for computer-controlled water shows, here is a fountain controlled with a RaspPi.

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This Billboard Kills Zika Mosquitoes

Once in a great while, effective advertising doesn’t require any human engagement at all. This billboard, designed and built by a pair of Brazilian ad agencies and set free under the Creative Commons license offers a reproducible solution for trapping Aedes Aegypti mosquitoes, the primary carrier of the Zika virus.

Click to embiggen.
Click to embiggen.

The design seems pretty simple, although the plans leave a bit of explanation to be desired. Inside the billboard are canisters of Lurex 3, a lactic acid-based mosquito attractant that is available pretty cheaply on Amazon. The lactic acid mimics the scent of human sweat and is released outward to distances up to 4km (2.5 miles) in a fine mist along with CO₂. Together, the Lurex and CO₂ act like a sweaty, mouth-breathing human beacon to lure mosquitoes into the billboard, where they become trapped and are doomed to die of dehydration.
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3D Printing Hailstone Molds for Science

Hollywood would have you believe that tornadoes are prevalent in the Midwest. We’re much more likely to see hail in the springtime—balls of slushy ice that pelt our roofs and dimple our cars. [Dr. Ian Giammanco] and his wife and fellow scientist [Tanya Brown-Giammanco] have been studying hail at the Insurance Institute for Business and Home Safety’s research lab since 2012. In 2013, their team created over 9,000 artificial hailstones and fired them at a mock-up of  a house in the first indoor full-scale hailstorm.

As fun as it sounds to shoot balls of ice at different things, they did it to better understand the humble hailstone and the damage it can do to insurable goods. Those hailstones from a few years ago were created manually by injecting molds and freezing them. Recently, [the Giammancos] and  have taken a more advanced approach to creating artificial hail so they can study the physical characteristics. They scan actual hailstones in order to create models of them. Then they make a 3D-printed mold and use it in a hail-making machine that uses diffused carbon dioxide to mimic the layering that occurs when natural hailstones are formed.

While it would be nice to be able to control hail, the next best thing is mitigating the damage it causes. The better that scientists understand hail, the better materials will become that can withstand its impact. Perhaps someone can perfect a shape-shifting building material and make it resistant to hail.

Wooden Antikythera Mechanism is Geared for Greatness

[Dave] builds custom wooden orreries, which are mechanical models of the solar system. It’s no surprise then that he’s interested in the Antikythera Mechanism—a small geared device discovered off the coast of the Greece in 1900 that is believed to be the first analog computer and one of the oldest known geared systems, built partly to predict the positions of celestial bodies in the solar system as it was understood in ancient Greece.

wooden-antikythera-mechanism[Dave] decided to build a wooden version of the Antikythera Mechanism as a proof of concept that it can be done in wood rather than the brass of the original. He also sought to incorporate all the modern theories of the device’s gear train. The entire system is made out of 6mm birch plywood that [Dave] cut by hand on a scroll saw. That’s right — no CNC or lasers here. This has as much to do with replicating the craftsmanship of the original as it does with practicality. Besides, the pitch of the gear teeth is too small to be effectively cut with a laser.

There are no motors, either. The gears are centrally connected to nested brass tubing and the mechanism is actuated with a hand crank. The six pages of forum discussion are worth combing through just to see the pictures of [Dave]’s progress and all of those meticulously hand-cut gears.

It took [Dave] the better part of two years to complete this work of art, and you can see it in motion after the break. With the first version complete, he has begun Mk. II which will feature all of the spiral dials and pointers of the original. If you’re interested in exploring the Antikythera Mechanism further, here is Hackaday’s own in-depth look at it.

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Retro Rotary Raspi Phone Rings Alexa

[MisterM] is a man after our own heart. He loves to combine the aesthetic of vintage equipment with the utility of new technologies. His latest venture is AlexaPhone, which marries the nearly instantaneous retrieval and computation power of Amazon’s Alexa voice service with the look and feel of a 1970s rotary phone. Best of all, there’s no need to spin the dial and wait for it to go whirring back around. AlexaPhone is ready to take questions as soon as the handset is lifted.

Questions are transmitted through a salvaged USB VOIP phone plugged into the Pi. The user must hang up the receiver in order to trigger the search. Once Alexa has an answer, the audio comes back through a small external amplified speaker with a USB-rechargeable battery. Since the hardware is a bit atypical for Alexa, [MisterM] had a bit of trouble at first trying to query the service with a physical button until he came across this AlexaPi code.

This phone is actually a reproduction of a classic BT Trimphone, which explains the asterisk and octothorpe on the dial.  The modern internals meant that [MisterM] could take advantage of the ribbon cable coming off of the receiver hook to trigger the Pi to send the query. Watch [MisterM]’s kids put Alexa through her paces after the break.

If this has you feeling nostalgic, check out this vintage Chromecast TV we covered recently or this old Russian radio reborn as a Bluetooth speaker.

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Are Powdered Metal Fuels Just a Flash in the Pan?

It’s no secret that fossil fuels are quickly becoming extinct. As technology charges ever forward, they are disappearing faster and faster. Many of our current dependencies on fossil fuels are associated with high-energy applications like transportation. Since it’s unlikely that global transportation will ever be in decline for any reason other than fuel shortage itself, it’s imperative that we find something that can replicate the high energy density of fossil fuels. Either that, or go back to the drawing board and change the entire scope of global transportation.

Energy, especially solar and wind, cannot be created all over the world. Traditionally, energy is created in situ and shipped to other places that need it. The proposed solutions for zero-carbon energy carriers—batteries and hydrogen—all have their weaknesses. Batteries are a fairly safe option, but their energy density is pretty poor. Hydrogen’s energy density is higher, but its flammability makes it dangerously volatile to store and transport.

Recently, a group of researchers at McGill University in Canada released a paper exploring the use of metal powders as our zero-carbon fuel of the future. Although metal powders could potentially be used as primary energy sources, the transitory solution they propose is to use them as secondary sources powered by wind and solar primaries.

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