Start Your Day the Arduino Way with this IoT Shower Controller

No longer content with adding value to the thermostat in the hallway or making your fridge smarter than it should be, IoT vendors are pushing into the inner sanctum of homes, the holy of holies – the bathroom. Sure, you can spend big bucks on an electronically controlled valve to turn your shower into a remote-controlled spa that shares your bathing habits with the cloud, but if you’re on a more modest budget and have the hacker spirit, you might want to check out this DIY automated shower valve with IoT features.

When we last ran into [TVMiller], he was opening gates using Jedi mind tricks, and before that he was shrinking a floating golf green to a manageable size. Such hacks work up a sweat, and while a clean hacker is a happy hacker, all that pesky valve-twisting and temperature-fiddling is so annoying. So with a few parts acquired from the waste stream, like an acrylic box, some salvaged servos, popsicle sticks, and a hell of a lot of caulk, [TVMiller] hacked together a feature-packed controller for his existing shower valves. An Arduino MKR1000 reads the water temperature and controls the servos that allow him to start the shower from his phone. Time and temperature data are sent to the cloud using ThingSpeak. You can see the whole thing in action in the mildly-NSFW video after the break.

Admittedly, this is a pretty janky setup, but it falls under the universal hacker disclaimer of “it’s just a prototype.” Still, we like the idea of retrofitting standard shower valves, and the popsicle-stick parallelograms for increasing leverage is a neat trick. We’ll be watching to see where this goes next.

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Hard Drive Disassembly is Easy and Rewarding

Have any dead hard drives kicking around? Hackaday alum [Jeremy Cook] shows how easy it is to disassemble a hard drive to scavenge its goodies. The hardest part is having the patience and the tools to get past all those screws that stand between you and the treasure inside.

The case screws are frequently of the Torx variety. Any self-respecting hacker probably has one or two of these already, but if you’re in the market, [Jeremy] recommends a nice set that looks way better than ours. Once the case is open, you can find rare earth magnets, bearings, and one or more platters.

Those terrifically strong magnets are good for all kinds of projects. Glue a couple of them to the back of an attractive piece of wood, mount it on the kitchen wall, and you have yourself a knife block. Keep a couple on the bench to temporarily magnetize tools. Use them to build a pickup to amplify a cigar box guitar or thumb piano. Or run the pickup into a small amplified speaker and wave it like a stethoscope near your electronics to hear them hum. As far as liberating the magnets goes, [Jeremy] resorted to clamping his in a vise and using a hammer and chisel to pry it away from the actuator hardware.

You’ve no doubt seen clocks made from old hard drives that were kept mostly intact. Many makers including [Jeremy] will extract the shiny platters to use as bases for clock faces and engrave the numbers, etch them, or glue them on. Those platters also make excellent chimes. Even if you just hang one platter off of a finger and tap it with a fingernail, it sounds really nice.

If simple chimes don’t really butter your muffin, there are all kinds of sonic projects for dead hard drives. How about making a microphone or speakers? Maybe an HDD MIDI controller or a synthesizer is more your speed. Speaking of synths, watch [Jeremy] take a hard drive apart to some sweet sounds after the break.

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High Energy Gardening Means Nuking Plants

We live in a world transformed by our ability to manipulate the nucleus of atoms. Nuclear power plants provide abundant energy without polluting the air, yet on the other hand thousands of nuclear warheads sit in multiple countries ready to annihilate everything, even if it’s not on purpose. There are an uncountable number of other ways that humanity’s dive into nuclear chemistry has impacted the lives of people across the world, from medical imaging equipment to smoke detectors and even, surprisingly, to some of the food that we eat.

After World War 2, there was a push to find peaceful uses for atomic energy. After all, dropping two nuclear weapons on a civilian population isn’t great PR and there’s still a debate on whether or not their use was justified. Either way, however, the search was on to find other uses for atomic energy besides bombs. While most scientists turned their attention to creating a viable nuclear power station (the first of which would only come online in 1954, almost ten years after the end of World War 2), a few scientists turned their attention to something much less obvious: plants.

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Power from Paper

Comedian Steven Wright used to say (in his monotone way):

“We lived in a house that ran on static electricity. If we wanted to cook something, we had to take a sweater off real quick. If we wanted to run a blender, we had to rub balloons on our head.”

Turns out, all you need to generate a little electricity is some paper, Teflon tape and a pencil. A team from EPFL, working with researchers at the University of Tokyo, presented just such a device at a MEMS conference. (And check out their video, below the break.)

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Finally, a Power Meter Without Nixies

We’ve had quite a spate of home-brew energy meters on the tip line these days, and that probably reflects a deep inner desire that hackers seem to have to quantify their worlds. Functionally, these meters have all differed, but we’ve noticed a distinct stylistic trend toward the “Nixies and wood” look. Ironically, it is refreshing to see an energy meter with nothing but a spartan web interface for a change.

Clearly, [Tomasz Salwach] had raw data in mind as a design goal, and his Raspberry Pi-based meter delivers. After harvesting current sensing transformers from a bucket of defunct power meter PC boards, [Tomasz] calibrated them with a DIY oscilloscope and wired them and the voltage sensors up to an STM32 Nucleo development board. Data from the MCU goes to the Pi for processing and display as snazzy charts and GUI elements served internally. [Tomasz] was kind enough to include a link to his meter in his tip line post, but asked that we not share it publicly lest HaD readers love the Pi to death. But we can assure you that it works, and it’s kind of fun to peek in on the power usage of a house in Poland in real time.

It’s a nice project that does exactly what it set out to do. But if you missed the recent spate of Nixie-based displays, check out this front hallway meter or this one for a solar-power company CEO’s desk.

Swiss Project Looking To Harness Kite Power

Switzerland has bought us many things: the cuckoo clock, cheese with holes in it, and.. kite power? That’s the idea of a Swiss project that is trying to tap the energy of a regular wind that blows between Lake Geneva and the Alps. The group hopes to build large kites that fly at about 150 meters above the ground, with a generator and other components on the ground. The way that this wind energy is converted into electricity is interesting: the kite is pulled up by the wind, spiraling higher and pulling the cable which drives the generator. Once it reaches a maximum height, the kite is trimmed so it sinks down to a lower altitude, and the kite is trimmed again to catch the wind and climb.

It’s a fascinating idea: by controlling the kites, the system could produce power on demand. As long as the wind is up, of course, but in this region of Switzerland, that isn’t an issue, as the wind is very predictable. It doesn’t require as much permanent infrastructure as a wind turbine, and kites are much more attractive than turbines. This makes us wonder if a system like this would be adaptable to a smaller scale: could you build a portable or off-grid system for hiking in windy areas that could charge a battery this way?

The project webpage hasn’t seen any updates since 2013, but the research project seems to still be alive and kicking. Anyone have any details or wild speculation?

(Related, but only tangentially, video of Thomas Dolby lip-synching below the break.)

Via The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, thanks to [Austin Bentley]

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Nixie Tubes Adorn Steampunk Solar Power Meter

The appeal of adding Nixie tube displays to a project seems to know no end. First it was Nixie clocks, now it’s Nixie power meters, with the latest addition being this Nixie-Steampunk hybrid solar power monitor.

We’re suckers for a project with a vintage look, and this one pushes all the buttons. Built on commission for a solar power company CEO’s office, [Paul Parry]’s build is based on a Depression-era Metropolitan-Vickers combined voltmeter and ammeter. The huge meters with mirrored scales and the rich wood of the case – our guess is that it’s mahogany – made a great starting point, and after some careful hole drilling, nine IN-18 Nixies were sprouting from the case. A strip of RGB LEDs below decks added the requisite backlighting of the envelopes, and a Raspberry Pi was enlisted to interpret data from the company’s solar farm and drive the tubes and the meters. The project was capped off with a new finish on the case and a couple of fancy brass plaques.

[Paul] sent us the tip for his build after seeing the last power meter we covered, and we have to say they’re both great looking and functional projects. Keep the Nixie projects coming!