Depending where you are in the world, the techniques used to build houses can sometimes seem to be stuck in another century. Bricks and mortar, for instance, we build with them because we are used to them and have a large workforce of people trained to work with them and not much else. But in the 21st century with more advanced building technologies sitting relatively unused and looming housing crises at every turn, does it make sense to still build houses the slow and expensive way our great-grandparents did? Probably not.
Wooden houses are a promising solution to some of the problems outlined in the previous paragraph, and indeed in large parts of the world wood is the housing material of choice. It’s eco-friendly, not too expensive, and can be applied easily to multiple different types of structure. If you think of a wooden house, does the image of a log cabin come to mind, or perhaps a weatherboard house? Both construction methods that would be familiar again to your great-grandparents, so perhaps you might not call it an advanced building technology.
It’s interesting then to see an innovation from France, a system of interlocking wood sections that can be built into walls that look very similar to brick (Here’s the French language original). These are short sections of board cleverly designed with dovetailing to engage with vertical sections that interlock between different courses and leave a gap between wooden inner and outer faces of the wall that can be filled with insulation material. The effect is to create a wooden building system that can produce a vast range of structures that can be assembled in a very short time indeed. This isn’t prefabricated housing, but it delivers the speed you’d expect from it.
They have a video shoving construction of a typical house in rather idyllic French countryside, which we’ve put below the break. It has French language annotations, however for non Français speakers the context is pretty obvious.
What do you do if your light switch is too far from your desk, and you’re in a rental property so you can’t put in extra wiring to install an electronic control for it? Get up and turn it on or off by hand? Of course not!
If you are [Guyfromhe], you solve this problem with a servo attached to a screw-on light switch faceplate, and you control it with a pair of Arduino/nRF24L01 combos. It’s a pretty simple arrangement, the wireless link simply takes the place of a serial cable that instructs the Arduino on the light switch to operate the servo that in turn moves the switch. The whole thing is triggered through his home automation system, which in turn responds to an Amazon Dash button on his desk. Yes, it’s complex. But turning on the light has been automated without intrusion into his landlord’s domain, and that’s all that matters.
On a more serious note, he’s put some Arduino code up on his write-up, as well as a YouTube video we’ve put below the break.
This radial residence was materialized out of concrete in Stupino, Russia by [Apis Cor], and six collaborating companies, as a prototype. As opposed to traditional — such as it is for tech largely in its infancy — assembly of pre-printed or fabricated pieces, the building was printed as a whole, with the printer removed by crane before finishing the rest of the construction. It features a bathroom, hallway, living room, and a compact kitchen — everything a bachelor or bachelorette needs.
For some folks, tea is a simple pleasure – boil water, steep tea, enjoy. There are those for whom tea is a sacred ritual, though, and the precise temperature control they demand requires only the finest in water heating technology. And then there are those who take things even further by making a PID-controlled electric tea kettle an IoT device with Amazon Echo integration.
Nothing worth doing isn’t worth overdoing, and [luma] scores points for that. Extra points too for prototyping an early iteration of his design on a RadioShack Electronics Learning Lab – the one with a manual written by Forrest Mims. [luma] started out using an Arduino with a Zigbee shield but realized the resulting circuit would have to live in an external enclosure. Switching to an ESP8266, the whole package – including optoisolators, relays, and a small wall-wart – is small enough to fit inside the kettle’s base. The end result is an MQTT device that publishes its status to his SmartThings home automation system, and now responds when he tells Alexa it’s time for tea.
Projects that hack the means of caffeine are no strangers to Hackaday, whether your preferred vector is tea, coffee, or even straight up.
The war of the currents was fairly decisively won by AC. After all, whether you’ve got 110 V or 230 V coming out of your wall sockets, 50 Hz or 60 Hz, the whole world agrees that the frequency of oscillation should be strictly greater than zero. Technically, AC won out because of three intertwined facts. It was more economical to have a few big power plants rather than hundreds of thousands of tiny ones. This meant that power had to be transmitted over relatively long distances, which calls for higher voltages. And at the time, the AC transformer was the only way viable to step up and down voltages.
But that was then. We’re right now on the cusp of a power-generation revolution, at least if you believe the solar energy aficionados. And this means two things: local power that’s originally generated as DC. And that completely undoes two of the three factors in AC’s favor. (And efficient DC-DC converters kill the transformer.) No, we don’t think that there’s going to be a switch overnight, but we wouldn’t be surprised if it became more and more common to have two home electrical systems — one remote high-voltage AC provided by the utilities, and one locally generated low-voltage DC.
Why? Because most devices these days use low-voltage DC, with the notable exception of some big appliances. Batteries store DC. If more and more homes have some local DC generation capability, it stops making sense to convert the local DC to AC just to plug in a wall wart and convert it back to DC again. Hackaday’s [Jenny List] sidestepped a lot of this setup and went straight for the punchline in her article “Where’s my low-voltage DC wall socket?” and proposed a few solutions for the physical interconnects. But we’d like to back it up for a minute. When the low-voltage DC revolution comes, what voltage is it going to be?
Ever wanted to access a file or run some program on your computer while away from home, but the darned thing is turned off? Finding themselves occasionally working away from home and not wanting to leave their computer on for extended periods, [robotmaker]’s solution was to hack into existence a WiFi-controlled power bar!
Inside the junction box, an eight-channel relay is connected to an ESP8266 module. The module uses MQTT to communicate with Home Assistant and is powered by a partially dismembered USB AC adapter — wrapped in kapon tape for safe-keeping. The entire bar is wired through a 10A fuse, while also using a fire resistant 4-gang electrical box. Once the outlets were wired in, closing it up finished up the power bar.
[robotmaker] controls the outlets via a cheap smartphone — running HADashboard — mounted to a wall with a 3D printed support. Don’t worry — they’ve set up the system to wait for the PCs to power down before cutting power, and the are also configured to boot up when the relay turns on.
The project itself is very simple: getting push notifications via MQTT when a wireless doorbell sounds. But as [Robin Reiter] points out, as the “Hello, world!” program is a time-honored tradition for coders new to a language, so too is his project very much the hardware embodiment of the same tradition. And the accompanying video build log below is a whirlwind tour that will get the first-timer off the ground and on the way to MQTT glory.
The hardware [Robin] chose for this primer is pretty basic – a wireless doorbell consisting of a battery-powered button and a plug-in receiver that tootles melodiously when you’ve got a visitor. [Robin] engages in a teardown of the receiver with attempted reverse engineering, but he wisely chose the path of least resistance and settled on monitoring the LEDs that flash when the button is pushed. An RFduino was selected from [Robin]’s ridiculously well-organized parts bin and wired up for the job. The ‘duino-fied doorbell talks Bluetooth to an MQTT broker on a Raspberry Pi, which also handles push notifications to his phone.
The meat of the build log, though, is the details of setting up MQTT. We’ve posted a lot about MQTT, including [Elliot Williams]’ great series on the subject. But this tutorial is very nuts and bolts, the kind of thing you can just follow along with, pause the video once in a while, and have a working system up and running quickly. There’s a lot here for the beginner, and even the old hands will pick up a tip or two.