Solar Powered Hydroponics

[Dan Bowen] describes the construction of a backyard hydroponics set-up in an angry third person tirade. While his friends assume more nefarious, breaking, and bad purposes behind [Dan]’s interest in hydroponics; he’d just like some herbs to mix into the occasional pasta sauce.

Feel particularly inspired one day after work, he stopped by the local hardware store and hydroponics supply. He purchases some PVC piping, hoses, fittings, pumps, accessories, and most importantly, a deck box to hide all the ugly stuff from his wife.

The design is pretty neat. He has an open vertical spot that gets a lot of light on his fence. So he placed three lengths of PVC on a slant. This way the water flows quickly and aerates as it goes. The top of the pipes have holes cut in them to accept net baskets.

The deck box contains a practically industrial array of sensors and equipment. The standard procedure for small-scale hydroponics is just to throw the water out on your garden and replace the nutrient solution every week or so. The hacker’s solution is to make a rubbermaid tote bristle with more sensors than the ISS.

We hope his hydroponics set-up approaches Hanging Gardens of Babylon soon.

Put a Reverse Engineered Power Meter in Your Toolkit

It seems that one can buy cheap power meters online and, well, that’s it. They work just fine, but to use them for anything else (like datalogging or control or…) they need a bit more work. The good news is that [Thomas Scherrer], alias [OZ2CPU], just did that reverse engineering work for us.

Inside these budget power meters, you’ll find an LCD driver, a power-monitoring chip, and an STM32F030, which is a low-cost ARM Cortex M0 chip that’s fun to play with on its own. [Thomas] traced out the SPI lines that the power-monitoring chip uses to talk to the microcontroller and broke in to snoop on the signals. Once he got an understanding of all the data, tossing an ATmega88 chip on the SPI line lets him exfiltrate it over a convenient asynchronous serial interface.

If you’re going to do this hack yourself, you should note that the internals of the power meter run at line voltage — the 3.3 V that powers the microcontroller floats on top of the 230 V coming out of [Thomas]’s wall plug. He took the necessary precautions with an isolation transformer while testing the device, and didn’t get shocked. That means that to get the serial data out, you’ll need to use optoisolation (or radio!) on the serial lines.

Now that we know how this thing works on the inside, it’s open-season for power-management hacks. Toss a mains socket and an ESP8266 in a box and you’ve got a WiFi-logging power meter that you can use anywhere, all for under $20. Sweet.

Dumbing Down a Smart Switch

Internet of Everything is the way to go for home automation these days. ITEAD makes an ESP-8266 switch that IoT-ifies your appliances. If you still have an ancient, 433 MHz style radio switch system, they even make one that does WiFi and 433 MHz. But if you’re too cheap to shell out for the dual-mode version, you can always add a $1 433 MHz radio yourself. Or at least, that’s what [Tinkerman] did.

IMG_20160522_163814x_thumbnailAside from the teardown and reverse-engineering of the WiFi-enabled switch, [Tinkerman] also flashed custom firmware into the switch’s ESP-8266, and worked it all into his existing home Node-RED framework. Now he’s got more possible ways to turn on his living-room lights than any person could possibly hope for!

If you want to get into this whole WiFi-based home automation game, you could do worse than to have a look at the series we ran on MQTT just a little while ago. Seeing [Tinkerman]’s Node-RED demo makes us think that we’ll have to give that a look for our home system as well.

Brasilia Espresso Machine PID Upgrade Brews Prefect Cup of Energy

Coffee, making and hacking addictions are just bound to get out of control. So did [Rhys Goodwin’s] coffee maker hack. What started as a little restoration project of a second-hand coffee machine resulted in a complete upgrade to state of the art coffee brewing technology.

coffee_hack_arduinoThe Brasilia Lady comes with a 300 ml brass boiler, a pump and four buttons for power, coffee, hot water and steam. A 3-way AC solenoid valve, wired directly to the buttons, selects one of the three functions, while a temperamental bimetal switch keeps the boiler roughly between almost there and way too hot.

To reduce the temperature swing, [Rhys] decided to add a PID control loop, and on the way, an OLED display, too. He designed a little shield for the Arduino Nano, that interfaces with the present hardware through solid state relays. Two thermocouples measure the temperature of the boiler and group head while a thermal cut-off fuse protects the machine from overheating in case of a malfunction.

Also, the Lady’s makeup received a complete overhaul, starting with a fresh powder coating. A sealed enclosure along with a polished top panel for the OLED display were machined from aluminum. [Rhys] also added an external water tank that is connected to the machine through shiny, custom lathed tube fittings. Before the water enters the boiler, it passes through a custom preheater, to avoid cold water from entering the boiler directly. Not only does the result look fantastic, it also offers a lot more control over the temperature and the amount of water extracted, resulting in a perfect brew every time. Enjoy [Rhys’s] video where he explains his build:

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One Man’s Journey To Build Portable Concrete 3D Printer Produces Its First Tiny House

[Alex Le Roux] want to 3D print houses.  Rather than all the trouble we go through now, the contractor would make a foundation, set-up the 3D printer, feed it concrete, and go to lunch.

It’s by no means the first concrete printer we’ve covered, but the progress he’s made is really interesting. It also doesn’t hurt that he’s claimed to make the first livable structure in the United States. We’re not qualified to verify that statement, maybe a reader can help out, but that’s pretty cool!

The printer is a very scaled gantry system. To avoid having an extremely heavy frame, the eventual design assumes that the concrete will be pumped up to the extruder; for now he is just shoveling it into a funnel as the printer needs it. The extruder appears to be auger based, pushing concrete out of a nozzle. The gantry contains the X and Z. It rides on rails pinned to the ground which function as the Y. This is a good solution that will jive well with most of the skills that construction workers already have.

Having a look inside the controls box we can see that it’s a RAMPS board with the step and direction outputs fed into larger stepper drivers, the laptop is even running pronterface. It seems like he is generating his STLs with Sketch-Up.

[Alex] is working on version three of his printer. He’s also looking for people who would like a small house printed. We assume it’s pretty hard to test the printer after you’ve filled your yard with tiny houses. If you’d like one get in touch with him via the email on his page. His next goal is to print a fully up to code house in Michigan. We’ll certainly be following [Alex]’s tumblr to see what kind of progress he makes next!

How To Keep An Unruly Dryer In Line

If necessity is the mother of invention, then inconvenience is its frustrating co-conspirator. Faced with a finicky dryer that would shut down mid-cycle with a barely audible beep if its load was uneven (leaving a soggy mass of laundry), [the0ry] decided to add the dryer to the Internet of Things so it could send them an email whenever it shut itself down.

After opening a thinger.io account, adding the soon-to-be device, and setting up the email notification process, [the0ry] combined the ESP8266 Development Board, a photosensitive resistor, and a 5V power supply on a mini breadboard. All that was left was to mount it on the dryer and direct the LDR (light-dependent resistor) to the machine’s door lock LED to trigger an email when it turned off — indicating the cycle had finished or terminated prematurely. A little tape ensured the LDR would only be tripped by the desired light source.

If you’re an apartment-dweller have WiFi in the wash area it would be awesome to see a battery-powered version you take with you. But in general this is a great hardware blueprint as many device have status LEDs that can be monitored in a similar way. If you want to keep the server in-house (literally in this case) check out the Minimal MQTT series [Elliot Williams] recently finished up. It uses a Raspberry Pi as the center server and an ESP8266 is one of the limitless examples of hardware that plays nicely with the protocol.

We love seeing hacks like this because not only does it conserve water and energy by reducing instances of rewashing, but it’s also a clever way to extend the life of an appliance and potentially save hundreds of dollars in replacing it. Add this to the bevvy of hacks that add convenience to one’s home — some of which produce delicious results.

Turn Down the Bed, Turn Down the Lights

Home automation seems to be working its way to a computer-controlled future in which humans will be little more than an afterthought. Eventually they will take over Skynet-style, but until then, we will enjoy the relative comfort that a good home automation project provides. The latest from [Clement] certainly goes a long way towards this goal by automating his bed (Google Translate from French).

With four load cells and a microcontroller, [Clement]’s bed can tell whether or not he is sleeping. After taking a weight reading, the bed can send commands to the rest of his home automation system and tell it to turn off his stereo and turn the lights off in the house (or change them to a different color). And it doesn’t stop with just going to bed, but when he wakes up as well. The system can begin turning on lights, starting the coffee machine, and opening the blinds without any interaction from him at all.

This project goes well beyond simple home automation. With a little configuration and extrapolation, [Clement] can tell where in the bed he slept at night, what stages of sleep he was in at specific times, and the overall quality of his sleep. This could go a long way for someone who has a hard time sleeping and needs a little more information on how to correct the problem.

While we’ve seen various takes on tying a bed into one’s home automation system, this one goes above and beyond with the amount of data collected. You could even go one step further and have it turn on some Barry White if the normal weight in the bed suddenly doubles, for whatever reason. Maybe that will be a feature in Version 2.