Home Automation Setup Keeps You Informed

[johannes] wrote in to tell us about his latest project, a home automation setup he named Botman. While he calls it a home automation system, controlling lights and home appliances (which it does wirelessly on 433MHz) is just a small part of its functionality. The front panel of Botman includes a servo which points to laser-etched icons of the current weather. It also has a display which shows indoor and outdoor weather conditions along with the status of public transportation around [johannes]’s house.

Botman is built around an Arduino with an Ethernet shield. The Arduino has very little memory, so [johannes] used the Google Apps engine as a buffer between his Arduino and the JSON APIs of his data sources. This significantly reduces the amount of data the Arduino has to keep in memory and parse.

[johannes] also wrote an Android app that communicates with Botman. The app has buttons for controlling lights in his house and duplicates all the information shown on the front panel. [johannes] also built some logging features into Botman. The temperature readings and other information are uploaded from the Arduino to a Google Docs spreadsheet where he can view and graph them from anywhere. Check out the video after the break to see Botman in action.

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Five Dollar RF Controlled Light Sockets

This is tens of thousands of dollars worth of market research I’m about to spill, so buckle up. I have a spreadsheet filled with hundreds of projects and products that are solutions to ‘home automation’ according to their creators. The only common theme? Relays. Home automation is just Internet connected relays tied to mains. You’re welcome.

[Todd] over at Fabricate.io found an interesting home automation appliance on Amazon; a four-pack of remote control light sockets for $20, or what we would call a microcontroller, an RF receiver, and a relay. These lamp sockets are remote-controlled, but each package is limited to four channels. Terrible if you’re trying to outfit a home, but a wonderful exploration into the world of reverse engineering.

After cracking one of these sockets open, [Todd] found the usual suspects and a tiny little 8-pin DIP EEPROM. This chip stores a few thousand bits, several of which are tied to the remote control. After dumping the contents of the EEPROM from the entire four-pack of light sockets, [Todd] noticed only one specific value changed. Obviously, this was the channel tied to the remote. No CRC or ‘nothin. It doesn’t get easier than this.

With the new-found knowledge of what each lamp socket was looking for, [Todd] set out to clone the transmitter. Tearing this device apart, he found a chip with HS1527 stamped on it. A quick Googling revealed this to be an encoder transmitter, with the datasheet showing an output format of a 20-bit code and four data bits. This was a four-channel transmitter, right? That’s where you put each channel. The 20-bit code was interesting but not surprising; you don’t want one remote being able to turn of every other 4-pack of lamp sockets.

With all the relevant documentation, [Todd] set out to do the obvious thing – an Arduino transmitter. This was simply an Arduino and a transmitter in the right frequency, loaded up with bit of carefully crafted code. [Todd] also figured out how to expand his setup to more than four lamp sockets – by changing the 20-bit code, he could make his Arduino pretend to be more than one transmitter.

With Arduino-controlled lamp sockets, the world is [Todd]’s oyster. He can add Ethernet, WiFi, Bluetooth LE, and whatever trendy web front end he wants to have a perfect home automation setup. It’s actually a pretty impressive build with some great documentation, and is probably the cheapest way to add Arduino/Internet-enabled relays we’ve ever seen.

 

Triple Sensor Mailbox Alert Really Delivers

Messing with the U.S. Mail is not something we generally recommend. But if you build your own mailbox like [Bob] did, you stand a much better chance of doing what you want without throwing up any flags.

Speaking of throwing up flags, one of the coolest parts of this project is the toy mailbox inside the house that monitors the activity of the real box. When there is mail waiting, the flag on the toy mailbox goes up. Once [Bob] retrieves the mail, the flag goes back down automatically. A magnet in the real box’s flag prevents false alarms on the toy box provided the Flag Raised On Outgoing protocol is followed. Best of all, he built in some distress handling: If the mailbox door is left hanging open or the battery is low, the toy mailbox waves its flag up and down.

So, where do the three sensors come in? A magnetic reed switch on the wall of the real mailbox pairs with a magnet in the flag. To determine whether the door is open, [Bob] initially used another magnetic reed switch on the underside of the box. This didn’t work well in wet weather, so he switched to a mechanical tilt sensor. An IR LED on the ceiling and a phototransistor on the floor of the box work together to detect the presence of mail.

[Bob]’s homebrew mailbox has a false back that hides a PIC 16F1825. When the door opens, the PIC wakes up, turns on a MOSFET, and checks the battery level. It waits two minutes for the mailman to do his job and then reads the flag state. After comparing the IR LED and phototransistor’s states, it sends a message to the toy mailbox indicating the presence or absence of mail.

The toy mailbox holds a modified receiver board and a servo to control its flag. [Bob] has made the code and schematics available on his site. Walk-through video is after the jump.

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Water Softener Level Detector Keeps You Out Of Trouble With Wife

Some households have water supplies that contain higher than desired levels of minerals. This condition is called hard water. There is nothing harmful about hard water but it does leave mineral deposits on pipes and appliances and makes cleaning a little bit more difficult. The solution is to have a water softener system which is basically a tank filled with salt that the household water passes through. This tank has to be refilled about every month and [David] was catching a little flak from his wife because he kept forgetting to fill it. He then set out to do what any great husband would do and built a Water Softener Monitor that reports the quantity of salt in the basement tank up to the living quarters.

[David] started thinking that he should test the salinity of the water to determine if salt needed to be added but after thinking about it for a while decided against it because any metal in that salty water would surely corrode. A non-contact approach would be to use an IR distance sensor mounted to the top of the tank and measure the distance to the pile of salt that slowly lowers as it dissolves into the water. In this case, he used a Sharp GP2D12 that can measure accurately from 10 to 80cm.

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Digital Data from a Cheap Power Meter

Power meters like the Kill-A-Watt are great for keeping track of energy usage, and are also very hackable. The Kill-a-Watt in particular puts out analog signals proportional to current and voltage, which makes it easy to interface with a microcontroller.

Although reading analog voltages is easy enough, [Kalle] found a cheap Chinese power meter that is even more hackable. These inexpensive power meters cost about the same as a first-generation Kill-a-Watt, but they directly stream out digital data. The power meter [Kalle] hacked has a non-US plug, but the meter is available from the usual suppliers (eBay, Aliexpress, etc) with a 3-prong US plug and 120v rating.

After breaking out a logic analyzer, [Kalle] discovered that the meter constantly streams voltage, current, and power data from the measurement board to the display board on a SPI-like bus. The ribbon cable inside the meter even has the clock and data bus lines clearly labelled. [Kalle] went on to reverse-engineer the protocol and write an Arduino sketch that parses the stream, making it even easier to integrate this meter into your next power monitoring project.

DIY Auto Fish Feeder Feeds Fish Automatically

[Brian] has a fairly large 400 liter aquarium and loves the fish that call it home. Unfortunately, sometimes life gets in the way of keeping those fish fed on a regular basis. There are automatic fish feeders out there on the market and [Brian] gave one a try. Although it worked, it dropped one huge clump of food in at a time (rather than sprinkling it in), the food hopper held a very small amount of food and the unit drained a new set of batteries in less than a week. Fifty euros were spent on purchasing that auto feeder and in the end it wasn’t any more convenient than just feeding the fish.

Faced with a tough decision on whether or not to buy another product he may not be happy with, [Brian] decided to make his own automatic fish feeder system out of parts anyone can find lying around the house. The main housing is a small Tupperware bin, inside of which 3 pieces of plastic were glued together to make a v-shaped hopper. The fish food is loaded into the hopper and as it falls to the bottom it meets a reverse-spinning drill bit that acts like an auger, pushing the food out of the container. The drill bit is powered by a small stepper motor connected to the drill bit by an improvised coupling made from a silicone sealant cap!

The control system is an Arduino and a stepper motor driver chip. Through trial and error [Brian] figured out that 100,000 half steps of the motor dumped a good amount of food into the tank. The drill bit delivery method even sprinkles the food nicely for total fish enjoyment. To keep the food flowing at regular intervals, an AC timer unit controls how often the Arduino is powered on and subsequently feeds the fish.

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New Brain for an Old Washing Machine

When the washing machine at [hydronucleus]’s place went on the fritz, he went straight to the toolbox to try to repair it. The problem was with the old mechanical control unit, so [hydronucleus] got an Arduino out of the parts bin to create a brand new electronic controller for his washing machine. (Imgur Link)

drumThe old mechanical controller functioned like a player piano. A rotating drum with ridges actuate different cycles in the washing machine. Some of the cycles weren’t working properly so [hydronucleus] ripped them out. With the help of a schematic posted on the washing machine itself, the cycles were able to be programmed into the Arduino.

The other obstacle in this repair was getting enough relays together to switch everything in the washing machine. This was solved with a Sainsmart 16 relay block, which has more than enough relays for the job. [hydronucleus] wired up an LCD and a pushbutton to control it and his washing machine is as good as new! The cost of the repair certainly beats a new machine, too. Although if it finally gives up the ghost completely, he could always turn it into a windmill.

Want to read more about [hydronucleus]’s washing machine hack? Check out his Reddit thread!