Automated aquarium chemical dispenser is extremely precise


[Robovergne] prides himself on the beautiful reef aquarium that he has set up in his home. These sorts of water displays require constant maintenance due to the mineral requirements of living coral. Rather than add mineral solutions manually, he decided to build a nano-doser using espresso machine pumps (Google Translation).

These vibration pumps run on mains voltage, so he had several options as far as how to control them. Using relays would likely make things pretty noisy, so he chose to use a zero crossing detection circuit to precisely control the pumps’ duty cycles and output.

His setup uses a PIC to control everything from the zero crossing circuit to the display LCD. An amount of product and the distribution time frame are entered using a handful of buttons mounted on the front of his control box, leaving the PIC to do the heavy lifting. It will calculate the proper length of time to run the pump based on several factors, including fluid viscosity and height of release.

It really is an impressive system, and while his needs are very precise, we imagine this sort of setup would be quite useful in building less complicated dispensers, such as those found in an automated bar.

Continue reading to see a few videos of his Nano-doser in action.

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Aquarium overflow sensor saves your fish and your floors


If you’ve ever had a water leak in your home, you know the sinking feeling that comes over you as you walk through the door to the sound of running water. [Greg] knows this feeling quite well, having returned home to a sopping wet floor and an overflowing reef aquarium on more than one occasion.

Both of the overflows he experienced were due to a clogged drain in his display, but there was little he could do as far as walling off the drain from potential blockages. With all of the delicate creatures living in the tank, the only possible solution that came to mind was monitoring the aquarium’s water level.

Unfortunately he had no idea how to get this done aside from using probes (which would rust in the salt water) or expensive off the shelf systems. [erich_7719] from the All About Circuits forums helped [Greg] out and designed a circuit for him which would monitor the water level using an IR sensor. The circuit simply shuts off the pump if the water level gets precariously high. As you can see in the video below it works quite well, and as a safety measure, requires a manual restart of the pump once the high water sensor has been tripped.

If you have a need for the same sort of setup, swing by his site for a detailed schematic as well as a bill of materials.

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Junkyard fish tank

So your house looks like a dumping ground for useless junk? Yeah, we know it’s the hacker’s curse… you just can’t stop salvaging stuff. But follow [Pontazy69's] lead by building something useful out of that junk. He took an old polystyrene box and made it into this fishtank. You can see that the sides and back of the box has gone unaltered, but the front wall is missing. [Pontazy69] marked and cut straight lines while leaving a lip around the edge. Silicone was used to glue some acrylic (or perhaps glass?) to the inside of this lip. Once dried he added another bead around the outside to ensure it doesn’t leak. Few fish would be happy here without some type of filter so he built one of those out of an old plastic bottle and some other pieces. See videos that show you how to build both the tank and the filter after the break.

We love aquarium hacks almost as much as clock hacks. So check out the water exchange system, and a couple of different lighting systems. Then document your own aquarium projects and let us know about them.

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Fertilizing a planted aquarium using air freshener hardware

Keeping live plants in an aquarium happy can be quite a chore. One of the frequent rituals is adding fertilizer, which is called dosing. [Majstor76] came up with a creative way to automatically dose using an air freshener. He got rid of the canister that holds the scent and re-purposed a hand soap pump to move the nutrient-rich liquid. After the break you can see that there’s no shortage of power to actuate the pump and the powered air freshener base has a delay circuit, allowing for a few different time-release options. As long as the volumetric output is fairly consistent we figure you can dilute your fertilizer to fine-tune the dose.

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Aquarium water exchanger

If you want happy fish you’re going to need to do regular aquarium maintenance. Part of this is exchanging a portion of the tank’s water on a regular basis. [Bill Porter] came up with a water exchanger that means less manual labor, but makes the process just a bit more complicated.

So, what he would do before is fill a few buckets from the aquarium and dump them down the toilet. Then mix up a few buckets of salt water and add them back to the aquarium. This meant carrying several trips worth of heavy, dripping buckets through the house. What he has now is a gravity fed system into the orange bucket with a bilge pump to evacuate the old water from that bucket into the kitchen sink. The bilge can then be used to circulate water through the aquarium and the bucket, while filling with a hose from the kitchen sink and mixing in salt and chemicals. Less trips, no drips, but you’ve got to know what you’re doing with all of those valves.

We love seeing aquarium hacks like [Bill's], or cooling the tank lights while heating the water, or just a fancy lighting setup in general. So if you’ve got some of your own, don’t forget to send in a tip about them.

Quick, cheap, and simple vacuum tweezers

[Ken] found that using traditional tweezers is a good way to lose tiny surface mount parts and so set out to make his own vacuum tweezers (PDF). He already had a small aquarium pump that he used as a bubbler for etching circuit boards. After opening up the case he found it was possible to connect tubing to the input of the pump to use as the source for the vacuum. The business end of the device is a syringe which he already had for applying oil in tight spaces. A file took off the sharp tip, and a small hole lined with a bit of soft tubing serves as a valve. Put the needle tip in place and plug the hole with your finger to pick it up. Works like a charm and will go well with our next feature, building your own reflow skillet.

We like [Ken's] work. We just looked in on his copper clad enclosures yesterday.

Replicating connectors by machining PVC

[Alex] bought a hang on tank filter for his aquarium. Unfortunately it was made for a different water level than he was using and didn’t have the ability to adjust that he needed. Add to that the non-standard pipe sizing which compounded the problem by making it difficult to extend the intake and output tubes. He overcame this by machining PVC pipe to match the stock connectors. After turning the PVC on a lathe he added a neoprene o-ring and painted the assembly black. The new connector allows standard size PVC fittings for easy changes in the future, and it keeps his turtles healthy and happy.