Mechanized One-Man Sawmill

The title of ‘maker’ is conventionally applied to the young-adult age group. In the case of 84 year-old Ralph Affleck, a lifelong sawmiller, ‘maker’ perhaps undersells the accomplishment of building a fully functioning sawmill that can be operated by a single individual.

Starting in the trade at the age of 16 under his father’s tutelage, fifty years of working in sawmills saw him still loving what he did as retirement loomed. So, with pen, paper, and a simple school ruler he designed the entire shop from scratch. Decades of expertise working with wood allowed him to design the machines to account for warping and abnormalities in the timber resulting in incredibly accurate cuts.

With no other examples to guide his design — aside from perhaps old style steam-powered sawmills, and newer portable ones that he feels are inadequate for the job — much of the shop is built from scratch with scavenged parts. And, that list is impressive: four hydraulic cylinders from a Canberra bomber, levers from an old locomotive, differentials and gearboxes from a MAC and 1912 Republic trucks, a Leyland engine that operated for 13 years without the need for maintenance, and an assortment of old military and air force vehicle parts. This is complimented by his log skidder — also custom — that would look at home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Built from two tractors, it combines three gearboxes for 12 forward and 8 reverse gears(what!?), and can hit 42mph in reverse!

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What Is Home Automation?

Perhaps the buzziest among buzzwords when it comes to electronics is Home Automation. This is a branch of IoT where you can actually go to the home store and come out with bags filled with products. The current Hackaday Prize round challenges you to automate your life and setting your sights on the home seems like an area open to everyone. But we’re having trouble putting our finger on what exactly makes a home automated, and more importantly, the best ways to benefit those who live beside that technology. So we want to know what you think.

Do you have a great idea for what makes an automated home more than a buzz word? Perhaps you are already sold and have been building your own; tell us about it! We want to know how (and when) you think this will turn from a buzzword to something most people want running their house. We’ll round up the best from this discussion for a future post. As a thank you, we’ll select some of the best comments and send you a T-shirt from the Hackaday store.

Who doesn’t love an automatic ice maker?

You can go back fifty years to the cartoons of the 1960’s and see that home automation was just around the corner. The Flintstones had dinosaurs to handle the mundane, and The Jetsons had a robot maid reigning over a cadre of whimsical gadgets in the home. At that point in time the home was already moving into the automation realm with thermostatically controlled air conditioning and water heaters. This was around the same time that automatic ice makers started to appear in a home’s freezer and remote garage door openers came into use.

Beginning in the 1970’s and 80’s it became common to find a dishwasher under the counter in the kitchen. The porch light option of dusk-until-dawn sensors came into use and were followed later by motion detecting lights which used PIR sensors. Automatic lawn sprinklers started to appear in the yards surrounding the home, and security systems that monitor doors, windows, and often motion (using PIR sensors again) became a thing.

These are great examples of home automation which is often overlooked. Even smarter thermostats are all the rage today, and security system add-ons that let you monitor cameras and locks over the Internet.

Which brings us back to the question. Where is this all going? What kind of automation will be developed now in our time, and looked back in 50 years as obvious technology wanted in every home? Do we already have the automated hardware in place and just need something to stitch it all together? Let us know what you think below, and if you’re already working on your own automation project don’t forget to enter it in the Hackaday Prize.

Challenge Accepted: Automation

Today marks the beginning of the Automation Challenge round for the 2016 Hackaday Prize. We want to see what you can create that automates life. It’s a terrifically fun jumping off point for a project, and done just right, it can score you some amazing prizes.

Technology can make life better and automation is one place that is about to see huge expansion. This is a chance to put your mark on the future by envisioning, prototyping, and explaining your ideas. The animated image at the top of this post is a perfect example of how fun automation builds can be. It’s the part of the Sunday Morning Breakfast Machine which steeps the tea. We covered this Rube-Goldberg like device a few weeks ago. About 1,000 hours went into building a completely automated breakfast machine.

Building something whimsical is fine for entering this round — a lot of discovery happens when having fun with interesting ideas. But there is plenty of room for serious builds as well. Technological development has always included iterating on automation; asking and answering the question of how can we do more with less effort.

AutomationFor instance, you can boil coffee in a pot but then you have to use some filtering technique to sequester the grounds. You can use a French press but that this hasn’t saved you much effort. So someone invented the percolator but you still must watch that you don’t burn your brew. From there we have espresso machines and drip brewers that both regulate how much water is used and at what temperature (in addition to keeping the grounds separate). And now we’re seeing single-unit machines like Nespresso and Keurig which make everything a one-step process, if you’re happy with the pods they sell you. I like to refill my own pods, which lets me choose my own grind. I’d love to see someone automate this entire process of cleaning, grinding, filling and presenting a reusable pod. That would make a great entry and help move more people away from disposable plastic/metal.

All I see when I look around me are ways that life should be more automated, and I bet you have the same proclivity. Now you have a reason to take on the challenge. Automate something and enter it in the Hackaday Prize. Twenty of those entries will be awarded $1,000 and move on to vie for the grand prize of $150,000 and a residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena, plus four other huge top prizes.

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Turn Down the Bed, Turn Down the Lights

Home automation seems to be working its way to a computer-controlled future in which humans will be little more than an afterthought. Eventually they will take over Skynet-style, but until then, we will enjoy the relative comfort that a good home automation project provides. The latest from [Clement] certainly goes a long way towards this goal by automating his bed (Google Translate from French).

With four load cells and a microcontroller, [Clement]’s bed can tell whether or not he is sleeping. After taking a weight reading, the bed can send commands to the rest of his home automation system and tell it to turn off his stereo and turn the lights off in the house (or change them to a different color). And it doesn’t stop with just going to bed, but when he wakes up as well. The system can begin turning on lights, starting the coffee machine, and opening the blinds without any interaction from him at all.

This project goes well beyond simple home automation. With a little configuration and extrapolation, [Clement] can tell where in the bed he slept at night, what stages of sleep he was in at specific times, and the overall quality of his sleep. This could go a long way for someone who has a hard time sleeping and needs a little more information on how to correct the problem.

While we’ve seen various takes on tying a bed into one’s home automation system, this one goes above and beyond with the amount of data collected. You could even go one step further and have it turn on some Barry White if the normal weight in the bed suddenly doubles, for whatever reason. Maybe that will be a feature in Version 2.

Home Automation and Monitoring with Edison

[Tyler S.] has built a home automation and monitoring system dubbed ED-E, or Eddie. The name is an amalgam of its two main components, the Edison board from Intel, and some ESP8266 modules.

ED-E’s first job is to monitor the house for extraordinary situations. It does this with a small suite of sensors. It can detect flame, sound, gas, air quality, temperature, and humidity. With this array, it’s probably possible to capture every critical failure a house could experience, from burglars to water pipe leaks. It uploads all this data to Intel’s Analytics Cloud where we assume something magical happens to it.

ED-E can also sense the state of other things in the house, such as doors, with remote sensors. The door monitors, for example, are an ESP8266 and a momentary switch in a plastic case with a lithium ion battery. We’re not sure how long they’ll run, but presumably the Analytic Cloud will let us know if the battery is low via the aforementioned magic.

8728871444406519500_smallLastly, ED-E, can turn things in the house on and off. This is accomplished in 100% Hackaday-approved (if not UL-approved) style with a device that appears to be a lamp cable fed into a spray painted Altoids tin.

ED-E wins some style points for its casing. It’s a very well executed hack, and we’d not previously considered just how many awful situations can be detected with off the shelf sensors.

Roll Your Own Amazon Echo on a Raspberry Pi

Speech recognition coupled with AI is the new hotness. Amazon’s Echo is a pretty compelling device, for a largish chunk of change. But if you’re interested in building something similar yourself, it’s just gotten a lot easier. Amazon has opened up a GitHub with instructions and code that will get you up and running with their Alexa Voice Service in short order.

If you read Hackaday as avidly as we do, you’ve already read that Amazon opened up their SDK (confusingly called a “Skills Kit”) and that folks have started working with it already. This newest development is Amazon’s “official” hello-world demo, for what that’s worth.

There are also open source alternatives, so if you just want to get something up and running without jumping through registration and licensing hoops, you’ve got that option as well.

Whichever way you slice it, there seems to be a real interest in having our machines listen to us. It’s probably time for an in-depth comparison of the various options. If you know of a voice recognition system that runs on something embeddable — a single-board computer or even a microcontroller — and you’d like to see us look into it, post up in the comments. We’ll see what we can do.

Thanks to [vvenesect] for the tip!

Ridiculously Automated Dorm Room

Take three NRF24L0+ radios, two Arduino Nanos, and a Raspberry Pi. Add a bored student and a dorm room at Rice University. What you get is the RRAD: Rice Ridiculously Automated Dorm. [Jordan Poles] built a modular system inspired by BRAD (the Berkeley Ridiculously Automated Dorm).

RRAD has three types of nodes:

  • Actuation nodes – Allows external actuators like relays or solenoids
  • Sensory nodes – Reports data from sensors (light, temperature, motion)
  • Hub nodes – Hosts control panel, records data, provides external data interfaces

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