Why Build Furniture When you can Grow it?

[Gavin Munro] is turning the standard paradigm of furniture making on its head. Instead of harvesting trees and slicing them up into boards – or worse, turning them into sawdust to be used for particle board – [Gavin] is literally growing furniture.

Supple young willow saplings are pruned and trained using wire and plastic form work. The trees are encouraged to grow in the right directions to form legs, arms, seat and back, and eventually the individual pieces are grafted Fg_3_chairs_growingtogether to continue growing into one solid piece. When the chair is mature, the leaves are removed, the chair is cut free from the ground, and with a little seasoning and finishing, you’ve got a unique and functional chair. And what’s more, since it’s a solid piece of wood, there are no joints to loosen over time.

You’ve got to admire the dedication that goes into these chairs. The current crop is about nine years old and still a few years from harvest. There’s a lot to be learned from the organization of a project like this – planning a production line where the first finished pieces are a decade or more from the showroom is no mean feat. Looks like [Gavin] has thought that through as well, by starting a line of lamps that will be turning a profit sooner. The video after the break demonstrates not only [Gavin’s] chairs and lamps, but also features his first harvest of tables.

Continue reading “Why Build Furniture When you can Grow it?”

Hope it’s real: 3D Printing Houses with Bricks

You’ve just got to go with the hype on this one, because it’s obviously not ready for prime time yet. But a few days ago murmurs started circling the net that an Australian inventor had developed a robot capable of building complicated structure from brick all by itself.

bricklaying-robotBefore you go off your rocker… we’re definitely not calling this real. It’s a proof of concept at best, but that doesn’t prevent us from getting excited. How long have you been waiting for robots that can build entire structures on our behalf? We were excited at the prospect of extruding walls of concrete. But this is more like LEGO buildings in the real world. The beast cuts brick to length, conveys each brick along the telescoping arm, and butters them as it lays them in place. At least that’s what the rendered video after the break shows.

We’re hearing about this now because FastBrick Robotics, the company [Mark Pivac] founded and has spent ten years developing the Hadrian project at, was just sold to a company called DMY Capital Limited. Of course they’re going to want to get some press out of the sale.

There is an image of the brick feeder on an existing excavator that frankly looks photoshopped. And some real images like the one seen here and another of the “print head” holding some bricks. But it’s enough to think there’s potential here.

The idea is that the base of the robot is fixed with the arm long enough to reach any part of the structure being built. Precise positioning is achieved by a fixed marker in a different position from the robot. The head triangulates its position using laser range-finding with the marker (having said that we now assume there needs to be more than one marker).

So what do you think? Are we ever going to see this incredibly complicated bucket of awesome producing structures in our neighborhood which the Big Bad Wolf simply cannot blow down?

Continue reading “Hope it’s real: 3D Printing Houses with Bricks”

Electric Lawn Mower Converted to RC Control

Not too many people like pushing a lawn mower around the yard, but unfortunately, it is a necessary chore. Anti-push-mower advocate [imadethis2014] decided to (as his moniker suggests) make a solution to his pushing-problem. He was a fan of radio controlled devices so it made sense to convert his mower to RC!

The mower itself is powered by an off the shelf battery and has a 21-inch deck. The stock wheels and handle were removed and replaced with a new extruded aluminum frame. Out back are a pair of used electric wheelchair motors sourced from eBay. These drive motors are mounted to the new frame via a pair of aluminum brackets that [imadethis2014] designed and cut out on his Shakepoko CNC machine. Since both rear drive wheels work independent of each other, a pair of swiveling casters up front allow the mower to turn.

A large car-sized battery box houses the two smaller wheel chair batteries as well as the motor control and RC electronics. Check out the video after the break, the mower seems to do fairly well. [imadethis2014] admits he needs some new wheels as the current ones don’t get a lot of traction on the grass. He’s also thinking of adding GPS for automated mowing but isn’t quite there yet.

Continue reading “Electric Lawn Mower Converted to RC Control”

Wirelessly Weighing Plants with the ESP8266

There’s a good number of hacks, and commercial products, for telling you when a plant needs watering. Most of them use an ADC to measure the resistance in the soil. As the soil’s moisture content drops, the resistance increases. High impedance, dead plant.

[Dani]’s Thirsdee takes a different approach to plant health monitoring. Instead of measuring resistance, it simply weighs the plant. As the soil dries up, it gets lighter. By measuring the change in weight, the amount of water in the pot can be estimated.

Thirsdee uses a load cell to measure the weight. It’s read using an HX711 ADC, which is controlled by a NodeMCU. This development board is based on the ESP8266 chip. Since Thirsdee has WiFi, it can push notifications to your phone and log data on ThingSpeak. If you’re looking at the plant, an OLED shows you the current status of the plant. For us viewing from home, we can see a graph of [Dani]’s plant drying out in real time.

[Dani] provides us with a list of suppliers for the parts, and all the source code on Github.

Crawlspace Warehouse Includes Midget Forklift

Meet [Cliff Stoll], producer and entrepreneur-extraordinaire of the ACME Klein Bottles. Years back he helped a friend program a glass oven to get the right temperature profiles for glass blowing. When asked how he wanted to get paid for his help, he asked if they could blow a Klein bottle — and so they did.

Excited at the prospect of his creation, he showed it around to some friends, and was surprised to find out that people wanted to buy it! The one he created took 3 days of sweat and tears to build, so he wasn’t about to start manufacturing them himself. Instead, he decided to call around to some glass manufacturers and see how much he could get Klein bottles made for… That’s when he discovered the power of buying in large quantities.

So what do you do with over 1000 Klein bottles? You build a mini-warehouse in your crawlspace — that’s what.

Continue reading “Crawlspace Warehouse Includes Midget Forklift”

Wireless Weather Station

High schooler [Vlad] spent about a year building up his battery-operated, wireless weather station. Along the way, not only has he learnt a lot and picked up useful skills, but also managed to blog his progress.

The station measures temperature, humidity, pressure and battery voltage, and he plans to add sensors for wind speed, wind direction and rainfall soon. It is powered via a solar panel and can run on a charged battery for a full month. The sensor module transmits data to a remote receiver connected to a computer from where it is published to the internet. Barometric pressure is measured using the BMP180 and the DHT22 provides temperature and humidity values. The link between the transmit and receive sections uses a 433MHz Superhetrodyne RF Kit which gives [Vlad] a range of 50m. There’s an ATMega328 on the transmitter and receiver side. He’s taking measurements once every 12 minutes, and putting the micro controller in low power mode using the Rocket Scream Low Power Library. A 5W, 12V solar panel charges the 6V Lead Acid battery via a LM317 based charge circuit. This ensures the battery gets charged even when the solar panel is not receiving optimal radiation. One hour of sunlight provides enough charge to keep it going for 2 days. And a fully charged battery will keep it running for a full month even when there’s no sunlight.

The server software consists of two parts. The first pushes serial data to a mySQL database. This is written in Visual Studio C# using help from Oracle mySQL connector. The second part publishes the entries in the mySQL database to the web server. This is written in php, and uses  Libchart for graphing. He’s got the code, schematics, parts list and a lot of other information available for download on his blog. There’s a couple of items pending on his to-do list, so if you have any tips to offer post your comments below.

Arduino Controlled Air Conditioner

Now that summer is coming, it’s time to break out the Air Conditioners! There are some old AC units out there that still work just fine, but nowadays we are used to everything being remotely controlled and automatic. [Phil] had an old window-mounted AC unit that still worked but was installed in a not-so-convenient place. To access the AC’s controls, one would have to climb over a large desk. This is a perfect opportunity to use the plethora of widely available hobby electronics to make an automatic AC controller retrofit.

First things first, there needs to be a way to turn the current control knob on the AC. [Phil] modeled up a 3D bracket to hold an RC car servo to the AC control panel. Attached to the servo horn is a slotted cylinder sized appropriately to fit the shape of the control knob. An Arduino measures the temperature of the room via a DS18B20 temperature sensor which then has the servo turn the control knob to the appropriate position, on or off. The Arduino sends temperature data back to a PC via MegunoLink Pro which graphs past data and also displays current temperature data. Using MegunoLink Pro, the min/max temperature points can also be set without uploading a new sketch to the Arduino.

Arduino Controlled AC

From the temp vs time graph, it looks like the room temperature stays a consistent 23 +/- 1 °C. [Phil] did us summer-swelterers a favor and made all his design files available. This is a great idea but wonder if leaving the air conditioner unit switch in the ‘on’ position and turning the unit on/off via a relay connected to the 120vac line would work just as well.