Chili-Gation With The MSP430

[Dave] used to grow chili peppers, but after moving to Texas he noticed his plants were drying up and dying off. This is understandable; Texas is freaking hot compared to his old home in the UK. These chilis needed a watering system, and with a pump, relay module, and an MSP430 launchpad, it was pretty easy to put together.

The core of the build is an MSP430 launchpad, a Sharp Memory LCD BoosterPack for the user interface, and a few bits and bobs for pumping water from a large soda bottle to the plant.

Before beginning his build, [Dave] took a look at commercial watering systems, but could only find huge irrigation systems for greenhouses or gardens. This was obviously overkill, but with a few parts – a six volt pump and a relay control board – [Dave] was able to make a simple system that keeps chilis watered for seven days between refilling the reservoir.

Snow Blower Turned Power Wagon

Winter is now gone and it’s time to put away that snowblower. Well, it seems that [SWNH] either didn’t hear the news or thought not using his snowblower for most of the year was a waste of a great resource. No, he’s not using it to blow dirt around, he converted it into a Power Wagon.

A Power Wagon is just what it sounds like, a wagon that is motorized and it is used for moving stuff around your yard. [SWNH] started by disassembling the 2 stages of the snowblower. They came off as a unit with only 6 bolts. Next up, the wagon bed was made, starting with an angle iron frame with a plywood bottom and sides. Two large casters with rubber wheels supports the front of the wagon.

Using the power wagon is easy, fill up the bin and use the snowblower controls to drive the cargo around. [SWNH] says that it steers like a shopping cart. And since the wagon bed is bolt-on, it can be removed and the blower assembly re-installed next winter to take care of that pesky snow.

Switch Mains Power with an ESP8266

Before we begin, we must begin with an obligatory disclaimer: handling mains voltage can be very dangerous. Do not do so unless you are qualified! You could burn your house down. (Without the lemons.) That being said, [TJ] has created an interesting dev board for controlling mains voltage over WiFi with the now-ubiquitous ESP8266 module. At only 50mm x 25mm, it is easily small enough to fit inside a junction box!

Called the MPSMv2, the core of the project is the ESP8266 module. The dev board itself can support anything with GPIO pins, whether it’s an Arudino, Raspberry Pi, or anything else with those features. Flashing the NodeMCU firmware is pretty much all that needs to be done in order to get the device up and running, and once you get the device connected to your WiFi you’ll be able to control whatever appliances you want.

The device uses a triac to do the switching, and is optically isolated from mains. Be sure to check out the video after the break to see the device in action. All in all, this could be a great way to get started with home automation, or maybe just do something simple like build a timer for your floor lamp. Anything is possible!

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Ask Hackaday: Is Amazon Echo the Future of Home Automation?

Unless you’ve been living under a case of 1 farad capacitors, you’ve heard of the Amazon Echo. Roughly the size of two cans of beans, the Echo packs quite a punch for such a small package. It’s powered by a Texas Instrument DM3725 processor riding on 256 megs of RAM and 4 gigs of SanDisk iNAND ultra flash memory. Qualcomm Atheros takes care of the WiFi and Bluetooth, and various TI chips take care of the audio codecs and amplifiers.

What’s unique about Echo is its amazing voice recognition. While the “brains” of the Echo exist somewhere on the Internets, the hardware for this circuitry is straight forward. Seven, yes seven microphones are positioned around the top of the device. They feed into four Texas Instrument 92dB SNR low-power stereo ADCs. The hardware and software make for a very capable voice recognition that works from anywhere in the room. For the output sound, two speakers are utilized – a woofer and a tweeter. They’re both powered via a TI 15 watts class D amplifier. Check out this full tear down for more details of the hardware.

circuit board

Now that we have a good idea of the hardware, we have to accept the bad news that this is a closed source device. While we’ve seen other hacks where people poll the to-do list through the unofficial API, it still leaves a lot to be desired. For instance, the wake word, or the word which signals the Echo to start listening to commands, is either “Alexa” or “Amazon”. There is no other way to change this, even though it should be easily doable in the software. It should be obvious that people will want to call it “Computer” or “Jarvis”. But do not fret my hacker friends, for I have good news!

It appears that Amazon sees (or had seen all along) that home automation is the future of the Echo. They now officially support Philips Hue and Belkin WeMo gadgets. The Belkin WeMo, which is no stranger to the hacker’s workbench, has a good handle on home automation already, making the ability to control things in your house with the Echo tantalizingly close. See the video below where I test it out. Now, if you’re not excited yet, you haven’t heard of the WeMo Maker, a device which they claim will let you “Control nearly any low-voltage electronics device“. While the WeMo Maker is not supported as of yet, it surely will be in the near future.

We know it sucks that all of this is closed source. But it sure is cool! So here’s the question: Is the Echo the future of home automation? Sure, it has its obvious flaws, and one would think home automation is not exactly Amazon’s most direct business model (they just want you to buy stuff). However, it works very well as a home automation core. Possibility better than anything out there right now – both closed and open source.

Do you think Amazon would ever open the door to letting the Echo run open source modules which allow the community to add control of just about any wireless devices? Do you think that doing so would crown Amazon the king of home automation in the years to come?

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Modded Microwave Sets Its Own Clock

Of all the appliances in your house, perhaps the most annoying is a microwave with a flashing unset clock. Even though a lot of devices auto-set their time these days, most appliances need to have their time set after being unplugged or after a power outage. [Tiago] switches off power to some of his appliances while he’s at work to save a bit of power, and every time he plugs his microwave back in he has to manually reset the clock.

Thankfully [Tiago] wrote in with his solution to this problem: an add-on to his microwave that automatically sets the time over the network. [Tiago]’s project uses an ESP8266 running the Lua-based firmware we’ve featured before. The ESP module connects to [Tiago]’s WiFi network and pulls the current time off of his Linux server.

Next, [Tiago] ripped apart his microwave and tacked some wires on the “set time” button and on the two output pins of the microwave’s rotary encoder. He ran all three signals through optoisolators for safety, and then routed them to a few GPIO pins on his ESP module. When the microwave and the ESP module are powered up, [Tiago]’s Lua script pulls the time from his server, simulates a press of the “set time” button, and simulates the rotary encoder output to set the microwave’s time.

While [Tiago] didn’t post any detailed information on his build, it looks like a great idea that could easily be improved on (like adding NTP support). Check out the video after the break to see the setup in action.

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Blink Thrice To Let Me In

Now here’s a really cool home hack. [Luis Rodrigues] has automated his garage door to open, simply by flashing his headlights at it.

But wait, doesn’t that mean anyone could break into his house? Nope. At first we thought he had just added some photo-sensors and a bit of computer logic in order to turn a pattern of lights into an output to open the garage, but no, it’s actually specific to his car only. Which is awesome because if anyone ever tried to copy him to break in, all they break into is a very confused state of mind.

You see how it actually works is the headlight output is connected to a control box under the hood of his car. A Moteino (RF Arduino variant) reads the input signal of the headlights flashing three times, and then communicates wirelessly to the garage door in order to open it.

But [Luis] also has a gate outside his property — so if you hold the lights on for a second, both the garage door and the external gate will open as well.

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Thar be Beer in These Walls

When you need a cold one and walking downstairs to your twin-keg refrigerator just won’t do, it’s time to break out the tools to deliver that frothy goodness where it’s needed. And so began [DaveLondres’] inspiring tale of piping beer through the walls of his home.

Now we know what you’re thinking… that beer is going to get mighty warm sitting in long lines from the fridge up to the ground floor. [Dave] thought about that too and designed a double-pipe system to overcome the issue. A run of PVC pipe for each keg connect the in-wall taps to holes drilled in the side of a second-hand fridge. An ingenious branching job yields an extra port for each run which was fitted with computer case fans to keep the cold air circulating. Plastic tubing is snaked inside of the PVC to carry the beer.

Rounding out the craftsmanship on this one is the inclusion of a plumbed drain to whisk away the drippings. If you’re not going to have a beautifully adorned chest-freezer-gone-kegerator in your livingroom this is the best alternative we’ve seen.

[via reddit]