Scrobby’s on Your Roof, Cleaning Your Solar Panels

scrobbySolar panels are a great, sustainable addition to your home’s energy scheme. They’re bound to get dirty, but they can’t withstand harsh chemicals and still be effective. While there are companies that will come out and clean your installation a few times a year, the service is a recurring cost that adds up quickly. With Scrobby, his entry into The Hackaday Prize, [Stefan] sought to build a highly affordable and sustainable solution that, after installation, requires no dangerous trips back up to the roof.

Scrobby is solar-powered and cleans using rainwater. The user can set and alter the cleaning schedule over Bluetooth from their phone. [Stefan]‘s prototype was built around a Teensy 3.0, but he will ultimately use custom boards based on the Freescale KL26. In addition to the Bluetooth module, there are six ultrasonic sensors, rain and temperature sensors, and motor-driven spools for tethered movement.

Make the jump to see Scrobby get his prototype bristles installed and show off his abilities in [Stefan]‘s demo video. To register for updates, check out Scrobby’s website. If you hurry, you can donate to Scrobby’s Kickstarter campaign. The question is, who will clean Scrobby’s solar panels?


SpaceWrencherThis project is an official entry to The Hackaday Prize that sadly didn’t make the quarterfinal selection. It’s still a great project, and worthy of a Hackaday post on its own.

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Freescale and Texas Instruments Goodies and World Maker Faire

Freescale was very kind to Hackaday at Maker Faire this weekend, showing off a few boards and answering a few questions about why old Motorola application notes aren’t available on the Internet.

The Hummingboard from SolidRun comes in an oddly familiar form factor to anyone who has ever handled a Raspberry Pi. It also has an interesting feature: the CPU is on a small module, allowing anyone to upgrade the chipset to something significantly more powerful. In the top of the line configuration, it has a two core iMX6 CPU with a Gig of RAM, LVDS output, and Gigabit Ethernet. All the complex bits for this board are on a single module, allowing anyone to take the module and put it in another project, a la the Intel Edison.

Also in the Freescale booth was the pcDuino, a dual core ARM Cortex A7 with Ethernet, WiFi, and a SATA, with Arduino form factor pinouts. It’s a somewhat niche product, but being able to stack shields on something comparable to a Raspi or BeagleBone is a nice feature.

[Trey German] from Texas Instruments showed off some very cool stuff, including a quadcopter board for a Launchpad microcontroller. This isn’t a board with an IMU and a few servo outputs; this is the whole shebang with a frame, motors, and props. The frame was cut from some odd composite that’s usually used for road signs, and even though it wasn’t flying at the Faire (nothing was flying, by the way), it’s pretty light for a quad made at a board house.

Also from TI was their CC3200 dev board. This is a single chip with an ARM Cortex M4 and a WiFi radio that we’ve seen before. The CC3200 runs TI’s Wiring/Arduino inspired development environment Energia, and at about $30 for the CC3200 Launchpad board, it’s an easy and cheap way to build an Internet of Things thing.

Organ pedals fill in when your bass player is missing

organ-foot-pedals-instead-of-string-bass

Since his string bass player isn’t always around [Antoine] built his own electric bass stand-in using the pedals from an old organ. The project — which he calls the Organ Donor — was inspired by a similar standalone organ pedal bass project. That instrument was built using a 555 timer to generate the sound. But [Antoine] has a little more room for growth as he’s using an old microcontroller development board to generate sound.

The octaves worth of pedals were pulled from an old broken Yamaha A55 Electone organ. After extracting the assembly from the instrument he built a nice wooden case around it. This doubles as a stand for the amplifier which broadcasts the sound. An old Freescale development board is wired up to twelve of the keys (the top C is unused). It generates a square wave at the appropriate frequency for each key. This signal is fed through a low-pass filter before being routed to the audio jack on the back of the case.

Future improvements include building an amplifier into the pedal assembly. We would also love to see different signal processing to expand the range of sounds the pedals can generate. We’re not sure of the capabilities of that microcontroller, but it would be neat to hear tone generation using stored samples.

Building touch sensors from digital barometer chips

A couple of Harvard researchers have developed a method of using digital barometers as a touch sensor. The good news for us is that they’ve open sourced the project, including Eagle board files, firmware, and details about the materials they used.

The digital barometers were chosen for their characteristics, availability, and low-cost. The sensor uses an array of Freescale MPL115A2 chips, a MEMS Barometer designed for use in altimeters. The mass production makes them cheap (Octopart found some in single quantities for $1.71 at the time of writing). The chips are soldered onto a board which is then cast in rubber. This distributes the force while protecting the sensors. The video after the break shows them standing up to rubber hammer blows and supporting a 25 pound weight.

There are a few tricks to reading the array. The first is that the devices are designed to be used one-to-a-project so they have a fixed i2 address. A separate chip must be used to address them individually. But one it’s up and running you should be able to use it as feedback for the fingertips of that robot arm you’ve been building.

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Very inexpensive RF module tutorial

Let’s say you need a way to make a project wireless, but don’t have the scratch for a ZigBee or its ilk. You could use IR, but that has a limited range and can only work within a line of sight of the receiver. [Camilo] sent in a project (Spanish, translation) to connect two devices via a wireless serial connection. As a small bonus, his wireless setup is cheap enough to create a wireless network of dozens of sensors.

[Camilo] used the TLP434A transmitter/receiver combination to get his wireless project off the ground. These small devices only cost about $5, but being so inexpensive means the hardware designer needs to whip up their own communications protocol.

For a microcontroller, [Camilo] chose a Freescale MC9S08QC, a pleasant refrain from the AVR or PIC we normally see. After making a small board for his transmitter, [Camilo] had a very small remote control, able to send button presses or other data to a remote receiver.

After the break, you can see a short demo video [Camilo] posted of his wireless transmitter turning on an LED attached to his receiver. Unfortunately, this video was filmed with a potato, but all the schematics and code is on his web site for your perusal.

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Monitoring a clothes washer with an accelerometer

[Viktor's] washing machine did a good job of cleaning his clothes, but it kept a bit too quiet about it. The machine doesn’t have an audible alert to let him know the cycle has finished. He decided to build his own alarm which can just be slapped on the side of the machine.

You can see that a couple of magnets hold the board to the metal housing of the washer. The board doesn’t actually connect to any of the machine’s circuitry so this should work about equally as well for any unit. The detection is based on motion, thanks to a Freescale MMA7361 3-axis accelerometer. When he starts a load of wash he flips the power switch for the board on. The PIC 12F683 that drives the device starts monitoring the accelerometer for changes. If it goes for more than about one minute without reading motion the piezo buzzer starts beeping. It’s a fun and easy solution along the same line of this oven pre-heat alarm add-on.

Spectrum analyzer users custom characters on an HD44780 display

[Camilo] built a spectrum analyzer to use with his audio system (translate). The hardware is quite simple, using an op-amp, microcontroller and LCD display. He chose an LMV324M low-voltage op-amp which connects to the incoming audio signal and feeds its output to the microcontroller’s ADC. In this case, he chose a Freescale microcontroller from the HCS08 family which is running at 20 MHz. This gives the project enough speed to properly analyze the incoming audio. He mentions that he’s following the guidelines set forth in the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem and using the Fast Fourier Transform when processing the samples.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a character LCD used as a display for a frequency analyzer. This other ATmega8-based rendition supported several different screen layouts. These displays have enough RAM to store eight custom characters. Each character is 5×8 pixels, lending eight levels to each character for a total of 16 for each column seen above. We love the simplicity of the hardware in the project but we wouldn’t mind seeing an additional potentiometer to fine-tune how the data is displayed on the screen to take advantage of its full range. See the project in action in the clip after the break.

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