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.

Unjettisoned Inkjet Turned Tumbler

printer parts tumblerDon’t throw out that old printer! Not that you would, but even if you’ve already scavenged it for parts, you can use the shell and the rollers to make a rock/coin/what-have-you tumbler. If your printer is part scanner, it might end up looking as cool as [th3_jungle_inv3ntor]‘s. You’ll have to laser-cut your own arachnid to supervise from above, though.

Somewhere between having an irreparable printer, being inspired by another tumbler, and the desire to make a mancala set for his sister-in-law, [th3_jungle_inv3ntor] was sufficiently motivated to get out his hacksaw and gut the printer. He used the main paper roller and its motor to do the tumblin’, and a smaller roller to help accommodate different jar sizes.

Aside from adding those sweet blue LEDs, he wired in a toggle switch, a speed control pot, and an LM317 to govern the tumbling rate. Unfortunately, the rocks in [th3_jungle_inv3ntor]‘s town are too soft and crumbly, so he can’t make that mancala set after all. But hey, (almost) free stuff tumbler.

No dead printers lying around? If you have a drill and a vise, you could always make a tumbler that way, and nothing is compromised but the peaches jar.

Automated Watering System Uses Neat DIY Water Valve

[Valentin] is an engineering student and hobbyist gardener. He was planning on going home for a 3 week semester break and certainly could not leave his balcony plants to fend for themselves. The clearly obvious solution was to make an automated watering system!

The most interesting part of this build is the valve. Anyone could have bought an off-the-shelf solenoid valve, not [Valentin], he designed his own. It is simple and just pinches the water supply tube to stop the flow of water coming from the elevated 20-liter water container. The ‘pinching’ arm is raised and lowered by an RC Car servo. When the valve is in the closed position, the servo does not need to continually apply pressure, the servo is powered down and the valve stays closed. This works because when the valve is closed, all forces are acting in a strictly radial direction on the servo’s drive disk. Since there is no rotation force, the drive disk does not rotate and the valve stays closed.

The servo is controlled by a microcontroller. Instead of rotating the servo to a certain degree, the servo rotates until it hits a limit switch. Those limit switches tell the microcontroller that the valve is either in the open or closed position. You must be asking yourself ‘what happens if the limit switch fails and the servo wants to keep rotating?’ [Valentin] thought of that too and has his code measure how long it is taking to reach the limit switch. If that time takes too long, the servo is powered down.

Video below.

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Hydropower from a Washing Mashine

Living off the grid is an appealing goal for many in the hacker community, perhaps because it can fulfill the need to create, to establish independence, to prepare for the apocalypse, or some combination of all those things. [Buddhanz1] has been living off the grid for awhile now by harnessing power from a nearby stream with an old washing-machine-turned-generator.

He started with a Fisher & Paykel smart drive, which he stripped down to the middle housing, retaining the plastic tub, the stator, the rotor, the shaft, and the bearings. After a quick spot check to ensure the relative quality of the stator and the rotor, [Buddhanz1] removed the stator and rewired it. Unchanged, the stator would output 0-400V unloaded at 3-4 amps max, which isn’t a particularly useful range for charging batteries. By rewiring the stator (demonstration video here) he lowered the voltage while increasing the current.

The key to this build is the inclusion of a pelton wheel—which we’ve seen before in a similar build. [Buddhanz1] channeled the water flow directly into the pelton wheel to spin the shaft inside the tub. After adding some silicon sealant and an access/repair hatch, [Buddhanz1] painted the outside to protect the assembly from the sun, and fitted a DC rectifier that converts the electricity for the batteries. With the water pressure at about 45psi, the generator is capable of ~29V/21A: just over 600W. With a larger water jet, the rig can reach 900W. Stick around for the video after the break.

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