The Robot Light Switch

Automating your home is an awesome endeavor — but playing with mains AC can be risky business if you don’t know what you’re doing. So why not play it safe and make use of your light switch?

Admittedly, it wasn’t because [Tyler Bletsch] didn’t want to mess around with AC directly, but rather out of necessity. You see, he just moved into a new office and his “smart” air conditioner… doesn’t turn itself off at night.

There’s a remote control to set the target temperature, but the unit isn’t smart enough to turn off at night. Instead, there’s a physical wall switch so you can turn it off with your actual physical hands, like a barbarian.

Refusing to be a barbarian (and to stay at work late), he decided to simplify the problem by building a servo driven light switch plate. It’s not the prettiest — but it does the trick. Continue reading “The Robot Light Switch”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Gas Grenade Helps Instead of Exploding

If someone lobs a grenade, it’s fair to expect that something unpleasant is going to happen. Tear gas grenades are often used by riot police to disperse an unruly crowd, and the military might use a smoke grenade as cover to advance on an armed position, or to mark a location in need of an airstrike. But some gas grenades are meant to help, not hurt, like this talking gas-sensing grenade that’s a 2015 Hackaday Prize entry.

Confined space entry is a particularly dangerous aspect of rescue work, especially in the mining industry. A cave in or other accident can trap not only people, but also dangerous gasses, endangering victims and rescuers alike. Plenty of fancy robots have been developed that can take gas sensors deep into confined spaces ahead of rescuers, but [Eric William] figured out a cheaper way to sniff the air before entering. An MQ2 combination CO, LPG and smoke sensor is interfaced to an Arduino Nano, and a 433MHz transmitter is attached to an output. A little code measures the data from the sensors and synthesizes human voice readings which are fed to the transmitter. The whole package is stuffed into a tough, easily deployed package – a Nerf dog toy! Lobbed into a confined space, the grenade begins squawking its readings out in spoken English, which can be received by any UHF handy-talkie in range. [Eric] reports in the after-break video that he’s received signals over a block away – good standoff distance for a potentially explosive situation.

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Cheap, Easy To Build Robot For beginners

Robotics kits are a great way to get folks , young and old, interested in hacking and learning the basics. Quite often, the cost puts them off – it’s no fun if you mess things up while learning how to put an expensive kit together. Many kits are too polished and that leads to beginners feeling that they’ll never be able to build something complex like a robot. The Shonkbot is what the team at Bristol Hackspace came up with for a robot that is obvious in its working and encouragingly easy to build, even for kids (with supervision).  To that effect, they completely avoided custom PCBs and laser cut bits. The Shonkbot is built from easily available parts and some commonly available materials. They aimed to build it for £5, but managed £15. With proper planning and time, they guess it can be brought down to £10.

The Shonkbot is built using an Arduino Nano, two stepper motors with their drivers, a 3xAA battery box and some bits and bobs. Assembly takes about an hour for a 10-year-old and then they can reprogram it in another workshop or at home. The “frame” of the Shonkbot is an old CD-ROM or DVD disk. Everything is hot glued to this frame. At the centre of the disk, a Sharpie is inserted and the Arduino code then allows the robot to draw on paper. Upgrades include adding an IR LED, a photo transistor and a buzzer to allow the Shonkbot to detect objects, or communicate with other Shonkbots. Build instructions are detailed in this document, and the code is available from the Github repository. Here is a photo album from their first build workshop which was held recently.

Thanks to [Matthew Venn] from the Bristol Hackspace for sending in this tip. Check the robot in action in the video below.

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Pendulum MIDI Controller Really Swings

Once in a while, we see a project that makes us want to stop whatever we’re doing and build our own version of it. This time, it’s Modulum, a pendulum-based MIDI controller. It’s exactly what it sounds like. The swinging pendulum acts as a low-frequency oscillator. In the demo video configuration, you can hear it add a watery, dreamlike quality, sort of like a lap steel guitar on LSD.

The pendulum’s motion is detected by four pieces of stretchy, conductive cord. These are wired to an Arduino Nano in a voltage divider fashion. [Evan and Kirk] used the Maxuino library to determine x and y mapping of possible pendular positions as well as perform the necessary MIDI processing. Get your groove on after the break, and check out some of the many other fantastic MIDI controllers we’ve had the pleasure of covering.

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ShakeIt – an interactive light game

Learning becomes interesting when you make it fun, interactive and entertaining. [Arkadi] built ShakeIt – an interactive game for the Mini MakerFaire in Jerusalem to demonstrate to kids and grownups how light colors are mixed. It is a follow up to his earlier project – Smart juggling balls which we featured earlier.

The juggling balls consist of a 6 dof sensor (MPU 6050), a micro controller, transmitter (NRF24L01+), some addressable RGB LED’s and a LiPo battery. An external magnet activates a reed switch inside the balls and triggers them in to action. The ShakeIt light fixture consists of an Arduino Nano clone, NRF24L01+ with SMA Antenna, buck converter, 74 addressable RGB LED’s, and a bluetooth module. The bluetooth module connects to a smartphone app.

[Arkadi] starts out by handing three juggling balls, each with a predefined color (Red, Green, Blue). When the ball is shaken, the light inside the ball becomes stronger. The ShakeIt light fixture is used as a mixer. It communicates with the balls and receives the value of how strong the light inside each of the smart balls is, mixing them up, and generating the mixed color.

The fun starts when the interactive game mode is enabled. Instead of just mixing the light, the Light fixture generates patterns based on how strong the balls are shaken. At first the light fixture shows all three colors filling up the central ball. The three contenders then fight out to get their color to fill up the sphere completely until only one color remains and the winner is declared.

The kids might be learning some color theory here, but it seems the adults are having a “ball” playing the crazy game. If you’d like to build your own shoulder dislocating ShakeIt game, head over to [Arkadi]’s github repository for the ShakeIt and the Juggling Balls. Check the video below to see the adults having fun.

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Pump Up the Volume with the 3D Printed Syringe Pump Rack

Syringe pumps are valuable tools when specific amounts of fluid must be dispensed at certain rates and volumes. They are used in many ways, for administering IV medications to liquid chromatography (LC/HPLC). Unfortunately, a commercial pump can cost a pretty penny. Not particularly thrilled with the hefty price tag, [Aldric Negrier] rolled up his sleeves and made a 3D-printed version for 300 USD.

[Aldric] has been featured on Hackaday before, so we knew his latest project would not disappoint. His 3D Printed Syringe Pump Rack contains five individual pumps that can operate independently of each other. Five pieces are 3D-printed to form the housing for each pump. In addition, each pump is composed of a Teflon-coated lead screw, an Arduino Nano V3, a Pololu Micro stepper motor driver, and a NEMA-17 stepper motor. The 3D Printed Syringe Pump Rack runs on a 12V power supply using a maximum of 2 amps per motor.

While the standard Arduino IDE contains the Stepper library, [Aldric] wanted a library that allowed for more precise control and went with the Accelstepper library. The 3D Printed Syringe Pump Rack has a measured accuracy of 0.5µl in a 10ml syringe, which is nothing to laugh at.

Syringe pump racks like [Aldric’s] are another great example of using open source resources and the spirit of DIY to make typically expensive technologies more affordable to the smaller lab bench. If you are interested in other open source syringe pump designs, you can check out this entry for the 2014 Hackaday Prize.

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Fixing A Product Design Flaw In A Misting System

[Xerxes3rd] works at a place where they raise reptiles in terrariums. Such enclosures require controlled lighting, temperature and humidity. Humidity is maintained using “misting” devices. These are usually water containers with a pump whose outlet ends in a series of very fine spray nozzles which create the mist. A timer controls the pump’s on and off cycles.

[Xerxes3rd] purchased an Exo Terra Monsoon RS400 misting system – a low-cost misting device and soon discovered that it had a serious design flaw. The built-in timer malfunctions, and it mists a hundred times more than it should! A lot of folks who buy a product and discover it has an inherent design flaw will return it back for a refund. Instead,  [Xerxes3rd] decided to break in and fix it instead –  “warranty void if tampered” be damned.

To start with, he needed to figure out what the problem was. He went about it in clinical fashion, eventually creating a slick document (PDF) outlining his observations and diagnosis. The timer controller board has a PIC micro, some buttons, potentiometers, LED’s and an IR receiver. The misting cycles are set using the two potentiometers – Off time and On time for the pump. His analysis and resolution makes for interesting reading.

What he found was that the PIC micro was reading inconsistent values from the potentiometers. More specifically, the software isn’t doing any smoothing on the analog values it reads from the potentiometers. Since the PIC that controls the system wasn’t easily re-programmable, he opted to replace it with an Arduino Nano. At the same time, he got rid of the potentiometers that were used to set the misting frequency and duration, and added a 16×2 LCD. Time setting is now done using the three on board buttons. He removed the PIC micro and replaced it with two female header sockets, onto which he plugged a small board containing an Arduino Nano and a few components. He also cut the original PCB in half, removing the potentiometers and crystal oscillator in order to make room for the 16×2 character LCD.

The lizards are now probably thanking him for their perfectly timed doses of moisture. Having done this, he could probably add in more features such as a temperature-humidity sensor, a water level sensor or maybe even throw in an ESP8266 module and have the Lizards tweet when they need to be hydrated. Because that’s another thing hackers love – feature creep.