Lighting The Great Indoors With A Solar Security Light

Look at any list of things to do to make your house less attractive to the criminal element and you’ll likely find “add motion sensing lights” among the pro tips. But what if you don’t want to light up the night? What if you want to use a motion sensor to provide a little light for navigating inside a dark garage? And what if the fixture you’ve chosen is a solar fixture that won’t quite cooperate? If you’re like [r1ckatkinson], you do a teardown and hack the fixture to do your bidding.

[r1ckatkinson]’s fixture was an inexpensive Maplin solar unit with PIR motion sensing, with the solar panel able to be mounted remotely. This was perfect for the application, since the panel could go outside to power the unit, with the lamp and PIR sensor inside. Unfortunately, the solar cell is also the photosensor that tells the unit not to turn on during the day. Armed with scratch pad and pencil, [r1ckatkinson] traced the circuit and located the offending part – a pull-down resistor. A simple resistor-ectomy later and he’s got a solar-powered light working just the way he likes it.

A simple hack, but effective. Seeing off-the-shelf gear modified is always a treat. Of course there’s something to be said for the more home-brew approach to security lighting, too.

Become a Mad Scientist, Build A Power Distribution Panel

One practical use of large switches and indicator lamps is to make a power distribution panel which can be useful when you want to control and monitor the power consumption of numerous devices such as your electronics work bench or amateur radio station. Old-school in appearance and using military surplus electronics, this power distribution panel allows for control of outlet on back. Did I mention I built it when I was 16?

Building it was easy, 120 VAC line enters through a main breaker. It is fed through an AC amp meter (with built-in shunt) then to a line filter. From the line filter it goes to a line voltage meter and filament transformer to power the indicator lamps. This AC line is then bussed out to the circuit breakers. Each breaker controls one outlet on the rear panel. As devices are switched on or off the current draw can be measured. This is well demonstrated in the video overview found after the break.

Be creative. Use military surplus switches, indicators, and other unique looking hardware. Customize to give your preferred mad scientist look while also providing valuable functionality.

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Wired Hive Counts Bees, Keeps Them Cozy

The world has a bee problem. Honey bees are a major pollinator for all sorts of tasty crops, but an estimated one-third of all colonies in the US have vanished since 2006. These mass disappearances are collectively known as Colony Collapse Disorder, and everything from pesticides to global warming to a new bee virus has been blamed for bees going MIA. Regardless of the cause, keeping the bees that do remain alive and pollinating is important work, and an intelligent bee hive could go a long way toward that goal.

Normally, bee hives are a black – err, white –  box, where the bees go about their business without revealing much about it. While bees are amazing animals with an incredibly rich social structure that allows them to, for instance, team together to ventilate a too-warm hive with their wings, or gang up on invading predators, they have their limits, and knowing what’s going on in the hive helps the beekeeper to maintain an optimal environment. [Miguel’s] system, which appears to still be in the prototyping phase, aims to provide the beekeeper with data on temperature and humidity within each hive. GPS tagging allows the beekeeper to track where a hive is, which is important since hives are moved around as various crops begin to flower. The system can even keep track of the comings and goings of bees using photoelectric sensors; while [Miguel] doesn’t go into detail, we imagine that aspect working something like this bee counter we featured a few years back. And being from Portugal, [Miguel] has incorporated cork into the design of the hive, a sustainable material available locally and offering great thermal properties.

Sounds like [Miguel] is onto something here. The bees need all the help they can get, and anything that improves their husbandry will go a long way toward keeping the world fed. We’ll be watching to see where [Miguel] takes this system.

Shapeshifting Material For Weather Adaptive Structures

Where [Isaac Newton] had his apple (maybe), [Chao Chen] found inspiration in a pine cone for a design project that lead to a water-sensitive building material. He noticed the way some pine cones are sensitive to water, closing up tight when it rains, but opening up with dry conditions. Some dissection of a pine cone revealed [Mother Nature’s] solution – different layers that swell preferentially when exposed to moisture, similar to how a bimetallic strip flexes when heated. [Chao Chen’s] solution appears to use balsa wood and a polystyrene sheet laminated to a fabric backing to achieve the same movement – the wood swells when wet and pulls the laminate flat, but curls up when dry.

As [Chao] points out, the material is only a prototype, but it looks like a winner down the road. The possibilities for an adaptive material like this are endless. [Chao] imagines a picnic pavilion with a roof that snaps shut when it rains, and has built a working model. What about window shutters that let air and light in but close up automatically in that sudden summer storm? Self-deploying armor for your next epic Super Soaker battle? Maybe there are more serious applications that would help solve some of the big problems with water management that the world faces.

Make sure you check out the video after the break, with a more decorative application that starts out looking like an [M.C. Escher] print but ends up completely different.

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Why Build Furniture When you can Grow it?

[Gavin Munro] is turning the standard paradigm of furniture making on its head. Instead of harvesting trees and slicing them up into boards – or worse, turning them into sawdust to be used for particle board – [Gavin] is literally growing furniture.

Supple young willow saplings are pruned and trained using wire and plastic form work. The trees are encouraged to grow in the right directions to form legs, arms, seat and back, and eventually the individual pieces are grafted Fg_3_chairs_growingtogether to continue growing into one solid piece. When the chair is mature, the leaves are removed, the chair is cut free from the ground, and with a little seasoning and finishing, you’ve got a unique and functional chair. And what’s more, since it’s a solid piece of wood, there are no joints to loosen over time.

You’ve got to admire the dedication that goes into these chairs. The current crop is about nine years old and still a few years from harvest. There’s a lot to be learned from the organization of a project like this – planning a production line where the first finished pieces are a decade or more from the showroom is no mean feat. Looks like [Gavin] has thought that through as well, by starting a line of lamps that will be turning a profit sooner. The video after the break demonstrates not only [Gavin’s] chairs and lamps, but also features his first harvest of tables.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Saving Water with the Vinduino

[Reinier van der Lee] owns a vineyard in southern California – a state that is in a bit of a water crisis. [Reinier van der Lee] also owns an arduino and a soldering iron. He put together a project the reduces his water usage by 25%, and has moved it to open source land. It’s called the Vinduino.

water animationIts operation is straight forward. You put a water sensor in the dirt. You turn on the water. When the water hits the sensor, you turn the water off. This was not, however, the most efficient method. The problem is by the time the sensor goes off, the soil is saturated to the point that the plant cannot take it all up, and water is wasted.

The problem was solved by using three sensors. The lowest most sensor is placed below the roots. So it should never go off. If it does, the plant is not taking in all the water, and you can reduce the output. The two sensors above it monitor the water as it transitions through the soil, so it knows when to decrease the water amount and watering cycle times.

Be sure to check out the project details. All code and build files are available on his github under the GNU General Public License 3.0

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Juice-Spewing Wind Turbine Bootstrapped from Bike Parts

Wind Turbines are great, they let us humans harness the energy of the wind. Wind is free and that is good, but spending a ton of money on a wind turbine setup begins to make the idea less appealing. [Ted] has spent many years building low cost wind turbines and this one is not only simple but can be made from mostly found parts.

It’s easy to identify the main rotor hub and blade frame which are made from an old bicycle wheel. The blades are standard aluminum flashing normally used in home construction and are attached directly to the spokes of the bike wheel. Mounted below the bike rim is a permanent magnet motor that acts as a generator. A belt couples the motor to the main rotor and uses the tire-less rim as a pulley.

[Ted] has strapped this beast to the roof of his car to measure how it performs. At 12 mph, he’s getting between 18-20 volts at 2 amps. Not too bad! Bikes and bike parts are cheap (or free) and there is no surprise that they have been used in wind turbine projects before, like this one that hangs from a kite.