Saving The Planet One Flush At A Time

Water is a natural resource that some of use humans take for granted. It seems that we can turn on a facet to find an unlimited supply. That’s not true in all parts of the world. In the US, toilets use 27% of household water requirements. That’s a lot of water to only be used once. The water filling the toilet after the flush is the same as that comes out of the sink. [gregory] thought it would make sense to combine toilet tank filling with hand washing as those two activities happen at the same time.

To accomplish this, a DIY sink and faucet were put in-line with the toilet tank fill supply. The first step was to make a new tank lid. [gregory] used particle board and admits it probably isn’t the best material, but it is what he had on hand. A hole was cut in the lid where a metal bowl is glued in. Holes were drilled in the bottom of the bowl so that water could drain down into the tank. The faucet is just standard copper tubing. The curve was bent by hand using a wire wrap method to keep it from kinking. The only remaining part was to connect the fill line (after the fill valve) to the faucet. Now, when the toilet is flushed, the faucet starts flowing.

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Cordless Drill Turned Into Bicycle-Powered Generator

The bicycle is a great invention. It is an extremely efficient method of transportation, even more so than walking. So why not harness that efficiency for other things? [Tony] had that same thought so he ordered a bike generator but after waiting too long for the company to send it, he decided to make his own.

[Tony] is an bicycle enthusiast so he had an old bike and an old training stand he could use for the project. Generating electricity from pedaling the bike requires some sort of generator. Lucky for him, [Tony] happened to have a cordless drill that stopped going in reverse. Since he had since upgraded, this was the perfect candidate for the generator. The drill was mounted to the training stand so that a pulley inserted in the chuck pressed against the rear wheel. Wires were added to connect the drill’s battery connectors to a 12vdc to 120vac inverter. As the bike is pedaled, the rear wheel spins the drill, which spins the drill motor creating DC voltage. That DC voltage is then converted to AC by the inverter. With a multimeter connected to the output from the drill, it is easy to adjust the pedaling speed to keep the output in the 11-14v range which is required by the inverter.

In the photo above, you can see a light bulb being powered by the bike. However, the bike powered generator could not power the larger load of a computer. The remedy for this was to purchase a solar charge controller and a 12 volt battery. The bike charges the battery and the battery can power the computer through the inverter.

Geopolymer Concrete, Perfecting Roman Technology Today

For all the things Romans got wrong (lead pipes anyone?) did you know we’re still using a less advanced concrete than they did? Consider some of the massive structures in Rome that have passed the test of time, lasting for more than 2000 years. The typical concrete that we use in construction starts to degrade after only 50 years.

Researchers at Berkeley think they’ve finally figured it out with thanks to a sample that was removed from the Pozzuoli Bay near Naples, Italy. This could vastly improve the durability of modern concrete, and even reduce the carbon footprint from making it. The downside is a longer curing time, and resource allocation — it wouldn’t be possible to completely replace modern cement due to the limited supply of fly ash (an industrial waste product produced by burning coal). Their research can be found in a few articles, however they are both behind pay walls.

Lucky for us, and the open source community at large, someone from MIT has also been working on perfecting the formula — and he’s shared his results thus far.

So, who wants to give it a shot? Any material scientists in our midst?

Starry Walkway In the Netherlands Lights Up the Night

When functional engineering blends itself with design and aesthetics, the things we encounter in daily life make the world a more exciting place to be. Artist, [Daan Roosegaarde’s] solar-powered walkway was unveiled last night in Nuenen, Netherlands, illuminating a kilometer long pathway with swirling light, transforming the space visually with functionality.

If the blue and green flowing spirals look familiar, that’s because they were inspired by the painting, Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh, who was a resident of Nuenen for part of his life. The mosaic-like shapes arranged throughout the path are coated in a special paint containing a chemical that absorbs sun light in order to glow effectively for up to ten hours over night.

starryBikepathThis project is the second installment of [Studio Roosegaarde’s] Smart Highways Research; the larger goal of which is to integrate new technology with roads in an artistically inspired approach to make commuting safer and more energy-efficient. In a few other similar incentives, [Roosegaarde] envisions using this same glowing paint for road markings as a means to help replace the need for street lights. The paint coating he proposes would also be temperature sensitive and capable of creating images to indicate to drivers when there may be ice present due to freezing. His ideas for upgraded roads include a priority lane that could recharge electric cars by means of induction coils built-in underneath them. Even cooler yet, [Roosegaarde] has also proposed the possibility of engineering trees to contain the bioluminescent qualities of some jellyfish and mushrooms so that they too can help replace costly artificial light outdoors. Since some of these technologies are set to be implemented in parts of the Netherlands in the coming years, the re-envisioned environmentally aware future could very well look like a fantasy scene from a painting.

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Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants

 

If you want your plants to stay healthy, you need to make sure they stay watered. [Dimbit] decided to build his own solar powered circuit to help automatically keep his plants healthy. Like many things, there is more than one way to skin this cat. [Dimbit] had seen other similar projects before, but he wanted to make his smarter than the average watering project. He also wanted it to use very little energy.

[Dimbit] first tackled the power supply. He suspected he wouldn’t need much more than 5V for his project. He was able to build his own solar power supply by using four off-the-shelf solar garden lamps. These lamps each have their own low quality solar panel and AAA NiMH cell. [Dimbit] designed and 3D printed his own plastic stand to hold all of the solar cells in place. All of the cells and batteries are connected in series to increase the voltage.

Next [Dimbit] needed an electronically controllable water valve. He looked around but was unable to find anything readily available that would work with very little energy. He tried all different combinations of custom parts and off-the-shelf parts but just couldn’t make something with a perfect seal. The solution came from an unlikely source.

One day, when [Dimbit] ran out of laundry detergent, he noticed that the detergent bottle cap had a perfect hole that should be sealable with a steel ball bearing. He then designed his own electromagnet using a bolt, some magnet wire, and a custom 3D printed housing. This all fit together with the detergent cap to make a functional low power water valve.

The actual circuit runs on a Microchip PIC microcontroller. The system is designed to sleep for approximately nine minutes at a time. After the sleep cycle, it wakes up and tests a probe that sits in the soil. If the resistance is low enough, the PIC knows that the plants need water. It then opens the custom valve to release about two teaspoons of water from a gravity-fed system. After a few cycles, even very dry soil can reach the correct moisture level. Be sure to watch the video of the functioning system below. Continue reading “Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants”

Mobile Planter Chases the Sun

There are two types of people: ones with green thumbs, and ones that kill their cacti  because they forgot to water them for over a year. Sadly, we are of the latter group. We currently have a resilient spider plant that looks like it could use more sun. Now there’s a way for it to catch those rays wherever they may shine, thanks to [Dot Matrix] of Instructables. She made a mobile planter that actively seeks out sunlight.

The planter’s base was made of plywood, topped with fake grass and a watering can to hold the plant. Anything above the planter base can be modified to whatever desired aesthetic. A CRT planter may be too heavy, but there are countless ways to personalize it. [Dot] used an Afinia 3D printer to make various mounts and brackets with ABS plastic. The planter was controlled by an Arduino Micro and used a pair of 0.5W solar panels and Parallax PING))) sensors to decide how it should move from its current position. If the planter would fall or hit an object moving forward, it would reverse and turn on wheels powered by Parallax continuous rotation servos. It would evaluate its new position, repeating the process if it was in danger. Once the planter was safe, it used the solar panels to detect the most sunlight: the sum of the panels determines the area’s brightness while the individual panels’ readings were used to move the planter towards a brighter area. The sun-seeking continued until the sunniest spot was found (defined in the code). Here, the planter remained idle for 10 minutes before restarting the process.

We think [Dot’s] planter is a fun way to keep plants happy and healthy in spite of us. See a video of the planter after the break.

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Robotic Farms Invade Urban Landscapes

Now there is no excuse to not have a garden, even if you are located in an urban area. The Robotic Urban Farm System (RUFS for short) solves the problems of growing many plants in a small area. The system’s high plant density is attributed to it’s vertical orientation. The entire system is even made from easy to find parts from your local hardware store. The water usage is keep to a minimum thanks to the closed loop watering system. Instead of flowing down into the ground, any excess water is collected and saved for use later.

Plants are placed in holes made in the side of a standard plastic downspout that hangs from a PVC frame, each hole several inches apart from it’s neighbor. A standard plastic plant pot is place inside each hole and is filled with hydroponic media. That’s right, there is no dirt in this system. Plants will grow happily in the hydroponic media providing they get all the nutrients and water they need.

Robotic Urban Farm SystemThe potential urban farmer may not be super excited about tending to his crops. This is where the robot portion of the RUFS system comes into play. There are two control systems that work independantly of each other. The first is for indoor applications and controls light cycles and circulation fans. The second is a little more complex and controls the watering portion of the system. Not only does it water the plants at pre-determined intervals but it also monitors the pH, nutrient and water levels inside the reservoir. Both these systems are Arduino-based. For extreme control freaks, there is one more add-on available. It’s Raspberry Pi based and has an accompanying mobile app. The Pi records and logs sensor data from the Arduinos and also allows remote updating of the watering and light schedules. The mobile app lets you not only look at current conditions of the system but also displays the historical data in a nice visual graph.