An MSP430-based Automatic Fish Feeder

[Dmitri] wanted to buy an automatic feeding setup for his aquarium, but he found that most off-the-shelf feeders are really inaccurate with portion control. [Dmitri]’s fish is sensitive to overfeeding, so an off-the-shelf feeder wouldn’t get the job done. Since [Dmitri] knows a thing or two about electronics, he set out to build his own microcontroller-based automatic feeding machine.

[Dmitri]’s machine is based around a MSP430 that starts feeding at scheduled times and controls how much food is dispensed. The MSP lives on a custom PCB that [Dmitri] designed, which includes a stepper motor driver and input for an endstop sensor. The board is wired to a stepper motor that advances a small wooden board with a series of holes in it. Each hole is filled with a single serving of food. The board slides along a piece of U-channel, and food drops out of each hole into the aquarium when the hole reaches the end of the channel.

The whole build is very well documented, and [Dmitri] explains each block of his schematic in detail. His firmware is also open-source, so you can build your own fish feeder based off of his design. Check out the video after the break to see the feeder in action.

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Chinese Temperature/Humidity Sensor is Easily Hacked

There’s a new piece of electronics from China on the market now: the USR-HTW Wireless Temperature and Humidity Sensor. The device connects over Wi-Fi and serves up a webpage where the user can view various climate statistics. [Tristan] obtained one of these devices and cracked open the data stream, revealing that this sensor is easily manipulated to do his bidding.

Once the device is connected, it sends an 11-byte data stream a few times a minute on port 8899 which can be easily intercepted. [Tristan] likes the device due to the relative ease at which he could decode information, and his project log is very detailed about how he went about doing this. He notes that the antenna could easily be replaced as well, just in case the device needs increased range.

There are many great reasons a device like this would be useful, such as using it as a remote sensor (or in an array of sensors) for a homemade thermostat, or a greenhouse, or in any number of other applications. The sky’s the limit!

A Wooden LED Matrix Coffee Table

[johannes] writes in with a pretty impressive LED table he built. The table is based around WS2801 serially addressable LEDs which are controlled by a Raspberry Pi. The Pi serves up a node.js-driven web interface developed by [Andrew Munsell] for a room lighting setup. The web interface controls the pattern shown on the display and the animation speed.

[johannes] built a wooden coffee table around the LED matrix, which includes a matte glass top to help diffuse the lighting. An outlet to plug in a laptop and two USB charging ports are panel-mounted on the side of the enclosure, which are a nice touch. The power supply for the LEDs is also inside the enclosure, eliminating the need for an external power brick.

While [johannes] hasn’t written any software of his own yet, he plans on adding music synchronization and visualizations for weather and other data. Check out the video after the break to see the table in action.

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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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