Touch Sensitive Cement with Just a Dash of Neon

For quite some time now we’ve seen people casting their own countertops and other surfaces out of cement. It’s a combination of mold-making and surface finishing that produces a smooth and durable surface at quite a low cost, if you don’t factor in damage done to your back when lifting the thing for installation.

This offering is a little bit different. [Elliott Spelman] built his own touch sensitive cement table top. When you place your grubby hands on the polished surface, a loop of neon lighting is switched on. This is thanks to a 4:1 mix of quick setting cement and iron oxide powder. Bare copper wire was laid around the edges of the surface to be encased by the cement for making connections later.

There were some sad moments when [Elliott] was removing the cast surface from the mold. He ended up cracking it and suggests others be liberal with their use of both wax on the mold before casting, and patience in removing the cement afterward. We might also suggest a strengthening agent like fiber reinforcement. The edges and surface can be sanded to the finish desired and in this case, attaching table legs was easy since the wooden underside of the mold remains on the bottom of the cement.

The neon lighting adds a retro touch to this build. It’s sad to see this technology dying away, so a resurgence of artisanal neon is great in our book. [Elliott] found a Bay Area arts collective called the Crucible which does a lot of art glass education to help him make two hoops of glass tube and fill them with the appropriate gasses. A capacitive touch sensor (once Atmel, now Microchip part) AT42QT2120 (datasheet) monitors the wire coming from the slab and switches the power supply for the tubes using a combination of relay board and Arduino Uno.

We find the prospect of positional sensing in doped cement fascinating. Anyone have ideas for adapting this technique so that a more long and narrow slab could have positional awareness within, say, a few inches? Let us know in the comments.

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Custom Parts Put IKEA Window Shades On IoT

No matter what the project is about, we’re always suckers for nicely integrated builds with good fit and finish. There’s a certain appeal to rat’s nest wiring on a breadboard, and such projects are valuable because they push the limits. But eventually you need to go from prototype to product, and that’s where this IKEA window shade automation project shines.

Integration is more than just putting everything in a nice box, especially for home automation gear – it really needs to blend. [ehsmaes] roller blind motorization project accomplishes that nicely with a 3D-printed case for the electronics, as well as a custom case for the geared stepper motor to drive the shade. The drive replaces the standard spring-loaded cap on the end of the IKEA Tupplur shade, and the neutral color of both cases blends nicely with the shade and surroundings. The control electronics include a NodeMCU and a motor shield; [eshmaes] warns that narrow shades work just fine off of USB power, but that wider windows will need a power boost. The IoT end of things is taken care of by MQTT and OpenHab, allowing the shades to be raised and lowered to any position. The short video below shows the calibration procedure for the shade.

Need a primer on MQTT? We’ve got you covered. Or perhaps you need to control the windows rather than the treatments.

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Monitor All the Laundry Things with this Sleek IoT System

If like us you live in mortal fear of someone breaking into your house when you’re on vacation and starting a dryer fire while doing laundry, this full-featured IoT laundry room monitor is for you. And there’s a school bus. But don’t ask about the school bus.

In what [seasider1960] describes as “a classic case of scope creep,” there’s very little about laundry room goings on that escapes the notice of this nicely executed project. It started as a water sensor to prevent a repeat of a leak that resulted in some downstairs damage. But once you get going, why not go too far? [seasider1960] added current sensing to know when the washer and dryer are operating, as well as to tote up power usage. A temperature sensor watches the dryer vent and warns against the potential for the aforementioned tragedy by sounding an obnoxious local alarm — that’s where the school bus comes in. The whole system is also linked into Blynk for IoT monitoring, with an equally obnoxious alarm you can hear in the video below. Oh, and there are buttons for testing each alarm and for making an Internet note to reorder laundry supplies.

We’ve seen a spate of laundry monitoring projects lately, all of which have their relative merits. But you’ve got to like the fit and finish of [seasider1960]’s build. The stainless face plate and in-wall mount makes for a sleek, professional appearance which is fitting with the scope-creepy nature of the build.

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Hacking on the Weirdest ESP Module

Sometimes I see a component that’s bizarre enough that I buy it just to see if I can actually do something with it. That’s the case with today’s example, the ESP-14. At first glance, you’d ask yourself what AI Thinker, the maker of many of the more popular ESP8266 modules, was thinking.

The ESP-14 takes the phenomenally powerful ESP8266 chip and buries it underneath one of the cheapest microcontrollers around: the 8-bit STM8S003 “value line” chip. Almost all of the pins of the ESP chip are locked inside the RF cage’s metal tomb — only the power, bootloader, and serial TX/RX pins see the light of day, and the TX/RX pins are shared with the STM8S. The rest of the module’s pins are dedicated to the STM8S. Slaving the ESP8266 to an STM8S is like taking a Ferrari and wrapping it inside a VW Beetle.

I had never touched an STM8 chip before, and just wanted to see what I could do with this strange beast. In the end, ironically, I ended up doing something that wouldn’t be too far out of place on Alibaba, but with a few very Hackaday twists: a monitor for our washer and dryer that reports power usage over MQTT, programmed in Forth with a transparent WiFi serial bridge into the chip for interactive debugging without schlepping down into the basement. Everything’s open, tweakable, and the Forth implementation for the STM8S was even developed here on Hackaday.io.

It’s a weird project for the weirdest of ESP modules. I thought I’d walk you through it and see if it sparks you to come up with any alternative uses for the ESP8266-and-STM8S odd couple that is the ESP-14.

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An Astronomical Observatory For Your Front Yard

[Barry Armstead] is an astronomy enthusiast who built his own observatory in his front yard, in Canberra, Australia. It was a fine observatory as home-made observatories go, but he describes it as being small and cramped. His replacement was on an entirely different scale though, a building created by hand and which no doubt many readers would be pleased to own.

asign2modelanimationHis design started with a cardboard model, and has a downstairs room upon which sits a rotatable dome with two sliding sections to form the observation window. The original observatory’s concrete pillar on which the telescope mount stood remained post-demolition, and a larger concrete pad was laid. There followed the assembly of a steel frame with a skeletal dome able to rotate on rollers, followed by cladding with steel sheet. The dome cladding was done in segments marked against the dome steelwork and cut to shape.

The final building has a fully finished interior downstairs, plus a rustic staircase to the upper deck. The concrete post has been extended, and now carry’s [Barry]’s telescope which he controls not with his eye clued to an eyepiece like the astronomers of old, but from a computer at the adjacent desk. The full construction details are on the observatory’s web site, though since it seems in danger of disappearing due to an expired hosting account we’ll also give you a Wayback Machine link direct to the relevant page. Meanwhile he offers a tour in a video we’ve placed below the break. Even a non-astronomer would find this an asset in their garden!

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Ikea Standing Desk Goes Dumb to Smart on LIN Bus

IKEA’s products are known for their clean, Scandinavian design and low cost, but it is their DIY or “assemble it yourself” feature that probably makes them so popular with hackers. We seem to receive tips about IKEA hacks with a consistent regularity. [Robin Reiter] has a Bekant Sit/Stand motorized table with buttons to raise and lower the surface, but it doesn’t have any memory presets. That’s a shame because it requires a lot of fiddling with the up/down buttons to get it right every time. It would be nice to press a button, go grab a Coffee, and come back to find it adjusted at the desired height. With a little bit of hacking, he was able to not only add memory preset buttons, but also a USB interface for future computer control.

The existing hardware consists of a PIC16LF1938 micro-controller with two buttons for movement control and a LIN bus  protocol which communicates with the automotive grade motors with integrated encoders that report position values. After a bit of sniffing around with his oscilloscope and analyzer, he was able to figure out the control codes for the motor movements. For some strange reason, however, the LIN signals were inverted, so he had to introduce a transistor signal inverter between the PIC master and the Arduino Nano that would act as a slave LIN node. Software was made much easier thanks to an Arduino library developed by [Zapta] for the LIN Bus signal Injector, The controls now have four buttons — two to replicate the original up/down movements, and the other two to act as memory presets.

The code, schematic and a simple wiring layout are posted on Github, in case there are others out there who’d like to replicate this hack. Check out the video after the break where he gives a walk through the code.

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A Blissful Microwave

[Tim] had a problem with his microwave. The buzzer was exceptionally annoying, and once his hot pockets or pizza rolls were done, the buzzer wouldn’t shut off. A two-kilohertz tone infected his soul. It was the only sound echoing in a Boschian nightmare of reheated frozen food.

Unlike an existential ennui, an annoying buzzer in a microwave is something anyone can fix. [Tim] just took a pair of pliers to the buzzer and ripped it off the PCB. This left him with another problem — how to tell when his food was done. This was solved by putting the Windows XP startup sound in his microwave.

With the buzzer out of the way, [Tim] took an Arduino nano and loaded it up with the Windows XP startup sound. There isn’t much Flash on the Arduino, but it could hold an 18kB sample, enough to play the startup sound at 8kHz. The sound itself is PCM audio and easily stuffed into a sketch.

The Arduino listens for the 2kHz tone generated by the microwave and sends the XP startup sound through a tiny class D amplifier. After mounting a speaker inside the microwave, [Tim] has a very vaporwavemicrowave.

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