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.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Reverse Engineering Blood Glucose Monitors

Blood glucose monitors are pretty ubiquitous today. For most people with diabetes, these cheap and reliable sensors are their primary means of managing their blood sugar. But what is the enterprising diabetic hacker to do if he wakes up and realizes, with horror, that a primary aspect of his daily routine doesn’t involve an Arduino?

Rather than succumb to an Arduino-less reality, he can hopefully use the shield [M. Bindhammer] is working on to take his glucose measurement into his own hands.

[Bindhammer]’s initial work is based around the popular one-touch brand of strips. These are the cheapest, use very little blood, and the included needle is not as bad as it could be. His first challenge was just getting the connector for the strips. Naturally he could cannibalize a monitor from the pharmacy, but for someone making a shield that needs a supply line, this isn’t the best option. Surprisingly, the connectors used aren’t patented, so the companies are instead just more rigorous about who they sell them to. After a bit of work, he managed to find a source.

The next challenge is reverse engineering the actual algorithm used by the commercial sensor. It’s challenging. A simple mixture of water and glucose, for example, made the sensor throw an error. He’ll get it eventually, though, making this a great entry for the Hackaday Prize.

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Walnut Guitar Back Yields Wood for Classy Word Clock

Word clocks are cool, but getting them to function correctly and look good is all about paying attention to the details. One look at this elegant walnut-veneered word clock shows what you can accomplish when you think a project through.

Most word clocks that use laser-cut characters like [grahamvinyl]’s effort suffer from the dreaded “stencil effect” – the font has bridges to support the islands in the middle of characters like “A” and “Q”. While that can be an aesthetic choice and work perfectly well, like in this word clock we featured a few months back, [grahamvinyl] was going for a different look. The clock’s book-matched walnut guitar back was covered in tape before being laser cut; the tape held the letters and islands in place. After painstakingly picking out the cutouts and tweaking the islands, he used clear epoxy resin to hold everything in place. The result is a fantastic Art Deco font and a clean, sleek-looking panel to sit on top of an MDF light box for the RGB LED strips.

The braided cloth cable adds a vintage look to the power cord, and [grahamvinyl] mentions some potential upgrades, like auto-dimming and color shifting. This is very much a work in progress, but even at this point we think it looks fabulous.

[via r/diy]

Door Iris Porthole is the Perfect Fix for Detroit Hackerspace

In order to resolve the problem of congestion at the entrance to their hackerspace, the minds at i3Detroit installed a motion-activated mechanical iris in their door’s porthole.

Grabbing the design online (which they are now hosting on their site here), the parts were laser cut out of wood, gold leaf was added for effect, and it was relatively easy to assemble. PIR sensors detect movement on both sides of the door and an FET resistor connected to an orange LED add some old-school science fiction flair. The iris is actuated by a 12V car window motor — which works just fine on the 5V power that it’s supplied with — and an Arduino filling in as a controller. Start and stop positioning required some limit switches that seem to do the trick.

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Digital Opponent In An Analog Package

Unsatisfied with the present options for chess computers and preferring the feel of a real board and pieces, [Max Dobres] decided that his best option would be to build his own.

Light and dark wood veneer on 8mm MDF board created a board that was thin enough for adding LEDs to display moves and for the 10mm x 1mm neodymium magnets in the pieces to trip the reed switches under each space. The LEDs were wired in a matrix and connected to an Arduino Uno by a MAX7219 LED driver, while the reed switches were connected via a Centipede card. [Dobres] notes that you’ll want to test that the reed switches are positioned correctly — otherwise they might not detect the pieces!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Open Source FFT Spectrum Analyzer

Every machine has its own way of communicating with its operator. Some send status emails, some illuminate, but most of them vibrate and make noise. If it hums happily, that’s usually a good sign, but if it complains loudly, maintenance is overdue. [Ariel Quezada] wants to make sense of machine vibrations and draw conclusions about their overall mechanical condition from them. With his project, a 3-axis Open Source FFT Spectrum Analyzer he is not only entering the Hackaday Prize 2016 but also the highly contested field of acoustic defect recognition.

open_fft_machineFor the hardware side of the spectrum analyzer, [Ariel] equipped an Arduino Nano with an ADXL335 accelerometer, which is able to pick up vibrations within a frequency range of 0 to 1600 Hz on the X and Y axis. A film container, equipped with a strong magnet for easy installation, serves as an enclosure for the sensor. The firmware [Ariel] wrote is an efficient piece of code that samples the analog signals from the accelerometer in a free running loop at about 5000 Hz. It streams the digitized waveforms to a host computer over the serial port, where they are captured and stored by a Python script for further processing.

From there, another Python script filters the captured waveform, applies a window function, calculates the Fourier transform and plots the spectrum into a graph. With the analyzer up and running, [Ariel] went on testing the device on a large bearing of an arbitrary rotating machine he had access to. A series of tests that involved adding eccentric weights to the rotating shaft shows that the analyzer already makes it possible to discriminate between different grades of imbalance.

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A Pi Robot Without a Hat

Daughter boards for microcontroller systems, whether they are shields, hats, feathers, capes, or whatever, are a convenient way to add sensors and controllers. Well, most of the time they are until challenges arise trying to stack multiple boards. Then you find the board you want to be mid-stack doesn’t have stackable headers, the top LCD board blocks the RF from a lower board, and extra headers are needed to provide clearance for the cabling to the servos, motors, and inputs. Then you find some boards try to use the pins for different purposes. Software gets into the act when support libraries want to use the same timer or other resources for different purposes. It can become a mess.

The alternative is to unstack the stack and use external boards. I took this approach in 2013 for a robotics competition. The computer on the robots was an ITX system which precluded using daughter boards, and USB ports were my interface of choice. I used a servo controller and two motor controllers from Pololu. They are still available and I’m using them on a rebuild, this time using the Raspberry Pi as the brain. USB isn’t the only option, though. A quick search found boards at Adafruit, Robotshop, and Sparkfun that use I2C.

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