Electricity, Gas and Water – three resources that are vital in our daily lives. Monitoring them using modern technology helps with conservation, but the real impact comes when we use the available data to reduce wasteful usage over time. [Sébastien] was rather embarrassed when a problem was detected in his boiler only during its annual inspection. Investigations showed that the problem occurred 4 months earlier, resulting in a net loss of more than 450 cubic meters, equivalent to 3750 liters per day (about 25 baths every day!). Being a self professed geek, living in a modern “connected” home, it rankled him to the core. What resulted was S-Energy – an energy resource monitoring solution (translated) that checks on electricity, gas and water consumption using a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, some other bits of hardware and some smart software.
[Sébastien] wanted a system that would warn of abnormal consumption and encourage his household folks to consume less. His first hurdle was the meters themselves. All three utilities used pretty old technology, and the meters did not have pulse data output that is commonplace in modern metering. He could have replaced the old meters, but that was going to cost him a lot of money. So he figured out a way to extract data from the existing meters. For the Electricity meter, he thought of using current clamps, but punted that idea considering them to be suited more for instantaneous readings and prone for significant drift when measuring cumulative consumption. Eventually, he hit upon a pretty neat hack. He took a slot type opto coupler, cut it in half, and used it as a retro-reflective sensor that detected the black band on the spinning disk of the old electro-mechanical meter. Each turn of the disk corresponds to 4 Watt-hours. A little computation, and he’s able to deduce Watt-hours and Amps used. The sensor is hooked up to an Arduino Pro-mini which then sends the data via a nRF24L01+ module to the main circuit located inside his house. The electronics are housed in a small enclosure, and the opto-sensor looks just taped to the meter. He has a nice tip on aligning the infra-red opto-sensor – use a camera to check it (a phone camera can work well).
Continue reading “Resource monitoring solution”
[Peter] obviously enjoys getting to work in his wood shop. He also likes turning things into other things. With his latest project, he combines his two hobbies by turning plastic milk jugs into a plastic joiner’s mallet.
[Peter] started out by collecting and “processing” the milk jugs. Milk jugs are commonly made with HDPE. HDPE is a petroleum-based plastic with a high strength-to-density ratio. It’s easy to recycle, which makes it perfect for this type of project. We’ve even seen this stuff recycled into 3D printer filament in the past. The “processing” routine actually just consists of cutting apart the jugs with a razor blade. [Peter] mentions in the past that he’s used a blender to do this with much success, but he’s unfortunately been banned from using the blender.
Next, all of the plastic pieces are piled up on a metal try to placed into a small toaster oven. They are melted into one relatively flat, solid chunk. This process is performed three times. The final step was to pile all three chunks on top of each other and melt them into one massive chunk of plastic.
While waiting for the plastic to melt together, [Peter] got to work on the handle. He put his woodworking skills to good use by carving out a nice wooden handle from a piece of cherry wood. The handle was carefully shaped and sanded with a variety of tools. It is finished with some linseed oil for a nice professional look.
When the plastic was mostly melted together, [Peter] had to get to work quickly while the plastic was still soft. He pried the plastic off of the metal tray and stuffed it into a rectangular mold he made from some fiber board. He used a heat gun to soften the plastic as needed while he crammed it all into the mold. With the mold suitably stuffed, he closed it up and clamped it all shut.
Once the plastic cooled, [Peter] had to cut it into the correct shape and size. He took the solid chunk of plastic to his band saw to cut all the appropriate angles. He then used both a drill press and a chisel to cut the rectangular mounting hole for the handle. The plastic piece was then shaped into its final form using a belt sander. All that [Peter] had left to do was slide it up and only the handle. The shape of the handle and mounting hole prevent the plastic piece from flying off of the top of the handle. Check out the video below to see the whole process. Continue reading “Turning Plastic Milk Jugs into a Useful Tool”
[Shane] recently built an automated plant watering system for his home. We’ve seen several similar projects before, but none of them worked quite like this one. Shane’s system is not hooked into the house plumbing and it doesn’t use any off-the-shelf electronic valves.
Instead, [Shane’s] build revolves around a device that looks like it was intended to spray weed killer. The unit works sort of like a Super Soaker. The user fills the jug with water and then pumps a handle multiple times to build up some pressure inside the jug. Then a button can be pressed and the air pressure forces water out of the nozzle. [Shane] came up with a way to automate all of these mechanical motions.
First [Shane] had to find a way to pump up the bottle. He purchased a car door electronic lock actuator from eBay. It’s a pretty simple device. It’s just a DC motor with a gear box that turns the rotational motion of the motor into linear motion. This is mounted to a wooden jig and attached to the pump. A dsPIC microcontroller rotates the motor back and forth, which in turn pumps up the bottle.
The dsPic is also hooked up to a small servo. The servo is mounted to the same wooden jig as the car door actuator. A small arm is mounted to the servo so that when it rotates, the arm presses the pressure release button. This sends the water out of the bottles nozzle. [Pat] hooked up a small length of hose to the nozzle so he can direct the water into his plants. The video below demonstrates how the unit works. Continue reading “Automated Plant Watering System Uses Car Parts”
Lots of people have developed their own systems for automating the growth of plants. Keeping the environment under tight control leads to better yield, and computers are better than humans at remembering to water the plants regularly. [Kyle] is into growing mushrooms (the legal, edible type) and automating things. This led to his system for automated mushroom cultivation.
We’ve seen an automated system for growing fungi before, but [Kyle]’s project is a bit bigger. He’s built a sealed room for growing mushrooms. The room is sealed with a plastic sheet, using magnetic strips to create a doorway. Within the room, a heater, humidifier, and circulation fan control the environment. Temperature, humidity, and dew point in the chamber are constantly monitored and adjusted as necessary.
The entire system is controlled with a Raspberry Pi and custom software, which is available on Github. GNUPlot is used to generate graphs, which are accessible through a web server. The web interface also allows the parameters of the chamber to be tweaked remotely. Based on the settings, the Raspberry Pi controls a set of relays to keep the chamber in an ideal state.
Plants are a nice addition to most any habitat. Many of them bear flowers or attractive foliage, some of them help filter the air, and others, like aloe vera, have medicinal properties. While some plants require very little care, they all need a little moisture at some point. Overall, plant care is a bit fiddly: water them too much and you run the risk of root rot; water too little and risk death by dehydration. Hackaday alum [Kevin Darrah] would prefer not to gamble with either condition, and so in the course of a weekend’s time, he constructed a solar-powered automatic plant watering system from components he had on hand.
While he likely had a microcontroller or two lying around, he didn’t use one. His is a system of MOSFETs that trigger a motorized pump from one of those automatic bug spray bottles to draw from a reservoir and water the plant. The solar panel charges a bank of 6800µF capacitors that [Kevin] took out of an old receiver. When the desired charge is reached, the small soil sensor module is powered, assessing the moisture level. If the level is below the threshold determined by a trimmer pot, the power from the capacitor bank is dumped to the water pump and his plant gets a drink.
[Kevin]’s design deals nicely with the possible pitfalls of solar power. He’s included a 0.1µF cap to ensure latching through the system, and added a bleed resistor so that the pump is never powered unnecessarily. After running it for a couple of days, he’s already seeing moisture regulation in the soil. His complete demonstration and theory of operation is after the break. If you’re into solar power but aren’t quite ready to ditch the µC, check out this Arduino-controlled solution for thirsty tomatoes or this PIC-powered plant pacifier.
Continue reading “Automatic Plant Care Minus the Microcontroller”
If you want to make your home more energy-efficient, chances are you will need a way to monitor your electricity usage over time. There are off-the-shelf solutions for this of course, but hackers like us tend to do things our own way. Take [Karl] for example. He recently built himself a solution with only a few smart components. We’ve seen similar projects in the past, but none quite like this.
[Karl’s] home has a power meter that blinks an LED to indicate the current amount of used electricity in Watt-hours. He knew all he needed was a way to electronically detect the blinking LED and he’d be able to accurately track his usage without modifying the meter.
The primary components used in this project were a CC3200 development kit and a photoresistor module. The dev kit contained a WiFi module built-in, which allows the system to upload data to Google spreadsheets as well as sync the built-in clock with an accurate time source. The photoresistor module is used to actually detect the blinking LED on the power meter. Everything else is done easily with code on the dev kit.