Automatic Plant Care Minus the Microcontroller

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.

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Electricity Usage Monitor is Linked to Google Spreadsheets

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.

Temperature Data Logger Logs Temperature Over Time

Temperature Data Logger[Husham] not only likes his electronics projects but clearly enjoys documenting them as well. He’s written a nice Instructable on a Temperature Data Logger that he has built and thankfully makes his code available for others to use. The end product is cleanly designed and made for weather-proof outdoor applications.

As you may expect, the brains behind this operation is an Arduino. It is coupled with a Real Time Clock to maintain accurate timing as well as an SD Card Module which is used to store the data collected. In this case, the temperature is read by a LM35 temperature sensor and that value, along with the time, is recorded to a .csv file on the SD card in one minute intervals.

There is also an LCD screen that displays the date, time and current temperature. To save battery life the LCD backlight is normally off. It can be turned on using a magnet that interacts with a hall effect sensor on the top of the case. This worked so well that [Husham] installed a second hall effect sensor on the side of the case that resets the Arduino. Speaking of the case, it is a weather proof PVC electrical box with a conduit adapter installed on the bottom side. A battery pack made up of two used laptop cells housed in a piece of conduit supplies 7.2 volts to the Arduino and other components. Unfortunately, there’s no word on how long the battery pack lasts. Once the data is logged, the SD card can be removed and the .csv file opened in spreadsheet software to make a graph showing temperature change over time.

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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