Shower Occupancy Sensor Keeps Peace/Eliminates Odor at the Office

When the first two prototype ingredients listed are paperclips and Post-it notes you know it’s going to be good. The problem: one shower stall at work with numerous co-workers who bike to the office. The solution: a occupancy monitor that is smart enough to know that someone is actually in the room. You know what we’re talking about, a sensor that knows more than whether the door is open or closed. [James] got wise and built a sensor to monitor whether the door is bolted or not. We think this method is far superior to motion-based systems.

This uber-smart sensor is simply a pair of paperclips anchored on a rolled Post-it note substrate and shoved in the receiver on the door jamb. When the bolt is locked from the inside it pushes the paperclips together completing the simple circuit. This is monitored by a Spark Core but will work with just about any monitoring system you can devise. What we’re trying to figure out is how to ruggedize the paper-clip hack which we can’t think will perform well for very long. It looks like there’s room to bore out a bit more inside the receiver hole. Perhaps leaf switch with a 3D printed mounting bracket?

Oh, and kudos on the Ikea food storage container for the enclosure. That’s one of our favorite tricks for hacks which are installed for the long-run.

Amazon Echo Becomes A Better Home Automation Appliance

There’s a bright future ahead of us, filled with intelligent computerized assistants that will listen to everything we say and do our bidding. It’ll be like HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, but without unverified mission-critical software and a bunch of killing. Until then, we have a few Amazon Echo hacks that tease out a reasonably capable home automation system without a proper API.

This build was inspired by an earlier project that polled the to do list looking for key phrases. Saying, “Alexa, to do, lights on” would turn on an Internet-connected light bulb. Saying, “Alexa, to do, call home” would call a phone number set up with the ‘home’ keyword.

[Glen] has improved that earlier setup somewhat, mostly by getting rid of the requirement to say, ‘to do.’ The Git for the project still shows it’s exploiting the Amazon to do list, but this is a much cleaner build that should end up having a lot more possibilities.

So far, [Glen], or rather, Alexa, can control the temperature of the house through a Nest thermostat, the lighting of a room with a Phillips Hue light bulb, and other random tasks like playing an audio file through the speakers. Not bad, and something that really demonstrates the potential of a smart, connected home.

Reading Power Use Data with a Webcam and Python

As any hacker will attest to, whenever an important tool is missing, you might as well just build a new one! That’s the position that [Matt] found himself in when he was attempting to measure the power consumption at his parents’ house. He left the transmitter for the power meter at home, and so the logical thing to do was to set up a webcam and a python script to monitor his dad’s power meter instead of going back to get his.

The power meter that he had handy was a GEO Minim Electricity Monitor. He found it very difficult to extract the data directly from this particular meter, so instead of digging into any of the communications protocols int he meter, he set up a webcam in a box with an LED and monitored it with a specially-written Python script. The script is able to see the particulars of the meter, and then reports back to the computer with all of the relevant data. [Matt] has put this code up on his project site for anyone to use.

This is a great workaround that doesn’t involve delving too deep into the inner workings of the meter in question. You could always build your own power monitoring system though, if that’s more of your style!

Hanging Monitors Keeps Your Desk Slightly Less Messy

[Gertlex] – like just about everyone reading this, I’m sure – has a messy desk with monitors, keyboards, mice, several other input devices, tablets, and a laptop. He wanted a system that would reduce the wire clutter on his desk and after thinking a bit came up with a really cool solution for arranging his monitors. He’s hanging the monitors from a shelf above his desk using nothing but some aluminum and a few 3D printed brackets.

The main structure is a shelf of ‘bridge’ above his desk, made from 3/4″ ply. The inventive bit of this build is the two 1″ square aluminum tubes spanning the width of this shelf. From these, a few bits of aluminum angle pieces slide along the 1″ rails. a mount holds a 1″ round pipe to these supports, and a VESA mount is clamped to the pipe. There’s an imgur album that goes through the entire design. It’s certainly an improvement over the earlier battlestation, and the wiring loom cleans everything up nice and tidy.

[Gertlex]’s new system of hanging monitors is great, but this simple puts some even cooler builds on the table. The sliding system is great, but by putting one monitor on its own carriage, you could have an infinitely reconfigurable monitor setup. Some proper bearings, 3D printed VESA mounts, and maybe even a few stepper motors would make a build like this the coolest battlestation rig since the great ‘capacitor plague and I have a soldering iron so free monitors’ spectacular of 2005.

 

Christmas Village Spin on the Weasley Clock

Have we seen any Christmas village hacks before? None come to mind and our Google-fu didn’t turn up any either. No matter, even if there were a handful this would rank quite high. [Kyle Anderson] built models of the homes each of his loved-ones inhabit. Each model lights up when its occupant is at home.

This reminds us of the Weasley Clock, itself a popular concept to hack on. The idea is that each family member’s location is shown with a unique clock hand and a set of whimsical locations on the clock face.

The Etherhouse, as [Kyle] calls it, performs a similar action. The WiFi access point in each loved one’s home is monitored for their smart phone. When it is detected, the light for their home model is illuminated. Since each person has their own copy of the village, everyone knows who is home and who is away.

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Secret Attic Library Door

We have a pretty good guess where [Krizbleen] hides away any seasonal presents for his family: behind his shiny new secret library door. An experienced woodworker, [Krizbleen] was in the process of finishing the attic in his home when he decided to take advantage of the chimney’s otherwise annoying placement in front of his soon-to-be office. He built a false wall in front of the central chimney obstacle and placed a TV in the middle of the wall (directly in front of the chimney) flanked on either side by a bookcase.

If you touch the secret book or knock out the secret sequence, however, the right-side bookcase slides gently out of the way to reveal [Krizbleen’s] home office. Behind the scenes, a heavy duty linear actuator pushes or pulls the door as necessary, onto which [Krizbleen] expertly mounted the bookcase with some 2″ caster wheels. The actuator expects +24V or -24V to send it moving in one of its two directions, so the Arduino Uno needed a couple of relays to handle the voltage difference.

The effort spent here was immense, but the result is seamless. After borrowing a knock-detection script and hooking up a secondary access button concealed in a book, [Krizbleen] had the secret door he’d always wanted: albeit maybe a bit slow to open and close. You can see a video of its operation below.

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Home Automation With The Amazon Echo

The Amazon Echo is the answer to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana, and [Orwell]’s Telescreen – a device that sits in your home, listens to everything you say, and will gladly oblige if you want to buy something on Amazon. Brilliant. Despite being a pretty cheap device, there’s not really a whole lot it can do; sure, Echo, or more accurately Alexa, the personality in the Echo, can tell you the weather, queue up a playlist, or read a Wikipedia entry, but there’s a definite lack of imagination when it comes to the Echo.

Now, thanks to some clever API hacks, you can do far more with the Echo. [Noel] is using the Echo to turn lights in his house on and off, ring his home phone, and basically everything else you can do with some wire and a bit of code.

[Noel] got his idea from [Owen Piette] who recently investigated the Echo API. It’s all unpublished by Amazon, but it is possible to poll the todo list for random key phrases. By polling this API and getting new results, it’s pretty easy to set up some logic to do arbitrary actions.

Right now [Noel] can turn a light on and off and call his phone, but the sky really is the limit here. If you have a web-enabled thermostat, Alexa can turn the heat on or off. Want to text yourself something? That’s easy too. Anything that can be put in a todo list can be done with the Echo, the only obstacle is doing all the programming and electronics.