Honey, When Did We Get an Indoor Pool?

Is it too much to ask for a home to have a little ‘smart’ built-in? If you’ve ever woken up (or come home) to your dwelling being flooded, you’ll know how terrible it feels, how long it can take to recover from, and how stressful it can be. Yeah, it’s happened to us before, so we really feel for [David Schneider]. He woke up one Sunday morning to a whole lot of water in his house. The inlet valve for his washing machine somehow got stuck in the open position after putting a load of laundry in the previous night.

[David] took progressively complex measures to prevent a broken water feed flood from happening in the future. First, he lined the entire floor of his laundry closet with a steel tray. OK, that’s a good start but won’t prevent another disaster unless it is caught very quickly. How about a simple audible water alarm? That’s good and all if you’re home, but what if you’re not?

Next, he installed a valve with a mechanical timer on the water line for the washing machine which closes automatically after 2 hours of being opened. Much better, but what about all the other thirsty appliances around the house? After searching online a little, he found plenty of whole house systems that would work for him, but there were 2 problems with these. First, most were network-based and he didn’t want to IoT-ify his house’s water system. Second, they were overpriced.

Of course the solution was to put together his own system! First, he purchased a few mostly inexpensive things — a wireless alarm, some water sensors, and a motorized ball valve. Then he collected the last few things he needed from what he had on hand around the house, and got to work connecting the 4 LEDs on the alarm to 4 analog input pins on his Arduino. Next, he added a relay between the Arduino and the motorized ball valve.

If a sensor detects water, it tells the alarm about it (wirelessly), which triggers the Arduino to energize a relay that is connected to the motorized ball valve, causing it to shut off the main water line for the entire house. Disaster averted! Sure, it’s a fairly simple hack, but it works, meets his requirements, and now he sleeps better at night knowing he won’t wake up (or come home) to an indoor swimming pool.

It’s surprising that we haven’t seen more hacks like this given it’s such a common problem. The closest thing we can remember is an overflow sensor for an aquarium. If homes came standard with a water main shutoff system, it would remove a stressful event from our lives and maybe even lower our insurance premium.

Logs For A Toilet

The Internet of Things, as originally envisioned in papers dating to the early to mid-90s, is a magical concept. Wearable devices would report your location, health stats, and physiological information to a private server. Cameras in your shower would tell your doctor if that mole is getting bigger. Your car would monitor the life of your cabin air filter and buy a new one when the time arrived. Nanobots would become programmable matter, morphing into chairs, houses, and kitchen utensils. A ubiquity of computing would serve humans as an unseen hive mind. It was paradise, delivered by ever smaller computers, sensors, and advanced robotics.

The future didn’t turn out like we planned. While the scientists and engineers responsible for asking how they could make an Internet-connected toaster oven, no one was around to ask why anyone would want that. At least we got a 3Com Audrey out of this deal.

Fast forward to today and we learn [Christopher Hiller] just put his toilet on the Internet. Why is he doing this? Even he doesn’t know, but it does make for a great ‘logs from a toilet’ pun.

The hardware for this device is a Digistump Oak, a neat little Arduino-compatible WiFi-enabled development board. The Digistump Oak is able to publish to the Particle Cloud, and with just five lines of code, [Chris] is able to publish a flush to the Internet. The sensor for this build is a cheap plastic float switch. There are only three components in this build, and one of them is a 4k7 resistor.

Right now, there are a few issues with the build. It’s battery-powered, but that’s only because [Chris]’ toilet isn’t close enough to a wall outlet. There’s a bit of moisture in a bathroom, and clingfilm solves the problem for now, but some silly cone carne would solve that problem the right way. [Chris] also has two toilets, so he’ll need to build another one.

Replicating a Victorian Era Console

[Dt99jay] lives in a historic Victorian-era district in the UK.  Most homes in the area have ornate exterior window dressings with stone consoles holding up heavy stone hood molding.

The window hood molding turned out to be wood — most likely the result of damage repaired after the blitzkrieg bombings of WWII. The 1940’s era work is now rotting away, so it was time for a repair. When the hood was pulled away from the window, disaster struck. One console completely crumbled, while the other lost large chunks of material. The They weren’t solid stone after all, but replacements most likely molded with Coade stone.

There are no ready replacements for consoles like this. [dt99jay] couldn’t just swap them out for modern looking replacements, so he set about replicating the consoles. The remaining console was much too delicate to remove from the building, so [dt99jay] glued the missing pieces back on. He then filled any missing parts and carefully scraped way all the loose paint. Then came the difficult part — making a mold while the console was still mounted on the house.

Room Temperature Vulcanizing (RTV) silicone rubber was carefully applied to the console. The RTV is thick enough to stay on while it dries. After several thick layers of RTV, the console was covered. [Dt99jay] then covered the mold with plaster of Paris bandages to support it. The finished mold was carefully removed from the house, and [dt99jay] filled all the low spots and air bubbles with RTV.

New castings were made using a mixture of cement and playground sand. Once painted, the results matched perfectly. The historic conservation committee was pleased, and the window was once again structurally sound.

A Cool Mist that Dries Your Clothes

This one is both wild enough to be confused as a conspiracy theory and common sense enough to be the big solution staring us in the face which nobody realized. Until now. Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric (GE), working on a grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE), have been playing around with new clothes dryer technology since 2014 and have come with something new and exciting. Clothes dryers that use ultrasonic traducers to remove moisture from garments instead of using heat.

If you’ve ever seen a cool mist humidifier you’ll know how this works. A piezo element generates ultrasonic waves that atomize water and humidify the air. This is exactly the same except the water is stored in clothing, rather than a reservoir. Once it’s atomized it can be removed with traditional air movement.

This is a totally obvious application of the simple and inexpensive technology — when the garment is laying flat on a bed of transducers. This can be implemented in a press drying system where a garment is laid flat on a bed or transducers and another bed hinges down from above. Poof, your shirt is dry in a few seconds.

But individual households don’t have these kinds of dryers. They have what are called drum dryers that spin the clothes. Reading closely, this piece of the puzzle is still to come:

They play [sic] to scale-up the technoloogy to press drying and eventually a clothes dryer drum in the next five months.

We look at this as having a similar technological hurdle as wireless electricity. There must be an inverse-square law on the effect of the ultrasonic waves to atomize water as the water moves further away from the transducers. It that’s the case, tranducers on the circumference of a drum would be inefficient at drying the clothing toward the center. This slide deck hints that that problem is being addressed. It talks about only running the transducers when the fabric is physically coupled with the elements. It’s an interesting application and we hope that it could work in conjunction with traditional drying methods to boost energy savings, even if this doesn’t pan out as a total replacement.

With a vast population, cost adds up fast. There are roughly 125 M households in the United States and the overwhelming majority of them use clothes dryers (while many other parts of the world have a higher percentage who hang-dry their clothing). The DOE estimates $9 billion a year is spent on drying clothes in the US. Reducing that number by even 1/10th of 1% will pay off more than tenfold the $880,000 research budget that went into this. Of course, you have to outfit those households with new equipment which will take at least 8-12 years through natural attrition, even if ultrasonics hit the market as soon as possible.

Continue reading “A Cool Mist that Dries Your Clothes”

How Many Watts Are You Using?

One of the best smart home hacks is implementing an energy monitor of some kind. It’s easy enough to say that you’re trying to save energy, but without the cold hard data, it’s just talk. Plus, it’s easy and a great way to build up something DIY that the whole family can use.

[Bogdan] built up a simple whole-apartment power monitor from scratch over the weekend, and he’s been nice enough to walk us through the whole procedure, starting with picking up a split-core CT sensor and ending up with a finished project.

The brains of his project are an ESP8266 module, which means that he needed to adapt the CT sensor to put out a voltage that lies within the chip’s ADC range of 0 V to 3.3 V. If you’re undertaking an energy monitor project, it’s as easy as picking the right burden resistor value and then shifting the ground-centered voltage up by 1.6 V or so. We say it’s easy, but it’s nice to have a worked example and some scope shots. The microcontroller reads the ADC frequently, does a little math, and you’re done. Continue reading “How Many Watts Are You Using?”

The Internet of Rice Cookers

You’d be forgiven for thinking this was going to be an anti-IoT rant: who the heck needs an IoT rice cooker anyway? [Microentropie], that’s who. His rice cooker, like many of the cheapo models, terminates heating by detecting a temperature around 104° C, when all the water has boiled off. But that means the bottom of the rice is already dried out and starting to get crispy. (We love the crust! But this hack is not for us. This hack is for [Microentropie].)

So [Microentropie] added some relays, a temperature sensor, and an ESP8266 to his rice cooker, creating the Rice Cooker 2.0, or something. He tried a few complicated schemes but was unwilling to modify any of the essential safety features of the cooker. In the end [Microentropie] went with a simple time-controlled cooking cycle, combined with a keep-warm mode and of course, notification of all of this through WiFi.

There’s a lot of code making this simple device work. For instance, [Microentropie] often forgets to press the safety reset button, so the ESP polls for it, and the web interface has a big red field to notify him of this. [Microentropie] added a password-protected login to the rice cooker as well. Still, it probably shouldn’t be put on the big wide Internet. The cooker also randomizes URLs for firmware updates, presumably to prevent guests in his house from flashing new firmware to his rice cooker. There are even custom time and date classes, because you know you don’t want your rice cooker using inferior code infrastructure.

In short, this is an exercise in scratching a ton of personal itches, and we applaud that. Next up is replacing the relays with SSRs so that the power can be controlled with more finesse, adding a water pump for further automation, and onboard data logging. Overkill, you say? What part of “WiFi-enabled rice cooker” did you not understand?

A Smart Switch Board For The ESP8266

With a plethora of IoT projects and inexpensive commercial smart light fittings and mains switches appearing, you might be forgiven for thinking that another offering in this crowded marketplace would be superfluous. But there is always room for improvement in any field, and in this particular one [Xose Pérez] has done just that with his Espurna board.

This board is a very well executed ESP8266 mains relay, with an on-board mains power supply and power monitoring. It was designed with his Espurna (“Spark” in Catalan) custom firmware in mind, which offers support for Alexa, Domoticz, Home Assistant and anything that supports MQTT or HTTP REST APIs.

Best of all, it’s a piece of open source hardware, so you can download everything you need from his GitHub repository to create your own. For the ultimate in convenience you can even order the PCB ready-made from OSH Park.

As a demonstration of the Espurna board in a real application, he’s produced a smart socket project neatly enclosed in a wall-wart style box with an inbuilt Euro style plug and socket.

We’ve featured [Xose]’s work several times before here at Hackaday, he’s something of an IoT wizard. Most recently there was his work with Alexa and the ESP8266, but before that was his MQTT LED array for his laundry monitor.