Hack Your Cat’s Brain to Hunt For Food

This cat feeder project by [Ben Millam] is fascinating. It all started when he read about a possible explanation for why house cats seem to needlessly explore the same areas around the home. One possibility is that the cat is practicing its mobile hunting skills. The cat is sniffing around, hoping to startle its prey and catch something for dinner. Unfortunately, house cats don’t often get to fulfill this primal desire. [Ben] thought about this problem and came up with a very interesting solution. One that involves hacking an electronic cat feeder, and also hacking his cat’s brain.

First thing’s first. Click past the break to take a look at the demo video and watch [Ben’s] cat hunt for prey. Then watch in amazement as the cat carries its bounty back to the cat feeder to exchange it for some real food.

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Control Nest Devices with Amazon Echo

[ZPriddy] was looking for a way to control his Nest thermostats with Amazon Echo. He didn’t want to settle for using AWS or some other hosted service. [ZPriddy] wanted something that he could host and manage completely on his own. The end result is what he calls EchoNestPy.

[ZPriddy] started by learning how to use the Alexa Skills Kit (ASK). ASK is the official SDK that allows enthusiasts to add functionality to their Amazon Echo. Unfortunately for [ZPriddy], most of the example code he found was designed to be used on Amazon Lambda, but that didn’t stop him. After finding a few examples of Amazon Echo requests and responses, he was on his way.

[ZPriddy] chose to implement a simple web server using Flask. The web server listens for the Amazon requests and responds appropriately. It also Oauth2 authentication to ensure some level of security. The server is capable of synchronizing the temperature of multiple Nest devices in the same home, but it can also increment or increment the temperature across the board. This is accomplished with some simple voice commands such as “Tell Nest that I’m a little bit chilly”. If you like Amazon Echo hacks, be sure to check out this other one for controlling WeMo devices. Continue reading “Control Nest Devices with Amazon Echo”

Home Automation with a Custom Wireless Sensor Network

We’re no strangers to home automation projects around here, but it’s not often that you see one described in this much detail. [Paul] designed a custom home automation system with four teammates for an undergraduate thesis project.

The system is broken into two main components; the server and the peripherals. The team designed their peripherals from early prototypes of an upcoming ArduIMU v4 measurement unit. They removed all of the default sensors to keep costs down and reduce assembly time. The units can them be hooked up to various peripherals such as temperature sensors, mains relays, RGB color strips, etc.

The central management of the system is performed using a web-based user interface. The web server runs on Java, and interacts with the peripherals wirelessly. Basic messages can be sent back and forth to either read the state of the peripherals or to change the state. As far as the user is concerned, these messages appear as simple triggers and actions. This makes it very simple to program the peripherals using if, then, else logic.

The main project page is a very brief summary of what appears to be a very well documented project. The team has made available their 182 page final report (pdf), which goes into the nitty-gritty details of the project. Also, be sure to watch the demonstration video below. Continue reading “Home Automation with a Custom Wireless Sensor Network”

Twittering Chicken Coops, Batman!

By now you’ve seen almost anything Tweet. But have you seen the (French) twittering chicken coop? (Google translate link) [Hugo] had kept two chickens as part of a household-waste reduction campaign, and then afterward started work.

Even if you don’t read French, the chickens’ twitter feed basically tells the story.

The setup can take IR photographs of sleeping chickens and notify [Hugo] when it’s time to collect the eggs. Naturally, an abundance of other sensors are available. The coop can tweet based on ambient temperature, nest temperature, light level, motion sensor status, or the amount of remaining chicken feed. You can easily follow whether the two fowl are in the coop or out in the yard. It’s like Big Brother, only for birds.

The application is, frankly, ridiculous. But if you’re into home (or coop) automation, there’s a lot to be learned and the project is very well documented. [Hugo] used OpenCV for visual egg detection, and custom Python code to slightly randomize the tweets’ text. All of these details are up on his Github account.

And if you just can’t get enough chicken-coop hacks, be sure to check out this mobile chicken coop, this coop in the shape of a golden spiral, or this Bluetooth-enabled, talking chicken coop, among others. You’d think our name was Coop-a-Day.

A 1920’s Doorbell is Upgraded with 2010’s Technology

When you move into an old house, you are bound to have some home repairs in your future. [Ben] discovered this after moving into his home, built in 1929. The house had a mail slot that was in pretty bad shape. The slot was rusted and stuck open, it was covered in old nasty caulk, and it had a built-in doorbell that was no longer functional. [Ben] took it upon himself to fix it up.

The first thing on the agenda was to fix the doorbell. After removing the old one, [Ben] was able to expose the original cloth-insulated wiring. He managed to trace the wires back to his basement and, to his surprise, they seemed to be functional. He replaced the old doorbell button with a new momentary button and then hooked up a DIY doorbell using an XBee radio. [Ben] already had an XBee base station for his Raspberry Pi, so he was wrote a script that could send a notification to his phone whenever the doorbell was pushed.

Unfortunately, the old wiring just didn’t hold up. The push button only worked sporadically. [Ben] ended up purchasing an off the shelf wireless doorbell. He didn’t want to have to stick the included ugly plastic button onto the front of his house though, so [Ben] had to figure out how to trigger the new doorbell using the nice metallic button. He used the macro lens on his iPhone to follow the traces on the PCB until he was able to locate the correct points to trigger the doorbell. Then it was just a matter of a quick soldering job and he had a functional doorbell.

Once the electronics upgrades were complete, he moved on to fixing up the look of the mail slot. He had to remove the rust using a wire brush and sandpaper. Then he gave it a few coats of paint. He replaced the original natural insulation with some spray foam, and removed all the old nasty caulk. The final product looks as good as new and now includes a functional wireless doorbell.

We’re big fans of salvaging old-school home hardware. Another example that comes to mind is this set of door chimes with modernized driver.

Python powered sprinkler system wastes no water

rain-gauge

One thing that annoyed [Jashua] to no end was hearing his automated sprinkler system kick on in the middle of the night, when it had rained earlier in the day. He wished that his sprinklers were a bit smarter, so he decided to give the system an upgrade.

Rather than pay hundreds of dollars for a more sophisticated automation system, he spent about $45 on supplies and scrounged together some items he had sitting around the house to make a rain-sensing module of his own.

The resulting project, Pysprinklers, uses Python along with a handful of components to better manage his water usage. He got his hands on a cheap rain gauge, and modified it with a game controller and a set of magnetic surface contacts. If there has been a significant amount of rain in the last 24 hours, his system will prevent the sprinklers from turning on. Additionally, if there is rain in the forecast, the sprinklers will be delayed a bit to see if rain makes its way into the area.

We’re all for saving money (and water), so we think [Jashua’s] system looks great, especially because he ended up using a handful of things he already had on hand.

DIY servo activated door lock with capacitive touch keypad

diy_servo_activated_door_lock_capacitive_touch

Since he was a kid [Giorgos Lazaridis] has always loved the idea of having an electronic door locking mechanism, and now that he has the means, he’s decided to construct one for securing the door to his apartment. He calls the project “simple and cheap”, though we’re not sure about the first part. Taking a look at his very detailed build log, you can see that he has invested quite a bit of time and effort into this impressive project.

Buying an off the shelf product was expensive and not a whole lot of fun, so [Giorgos] disassembled his door’s locking mechanism to see how he might be able to actuate the lock electronically himself. With minimal modifications to the lock, he was able to add a servo which reliably opens the it when triggered.

With the mechanical portion of the project out of the way, he spent a great deal of time working on the door’s electronic components, including the PIC-based controller and capacitive keypad. The keypad proved to be a bit of a problem, but after a few revisions he found a design that was both reliable and pleasing to the eye.

The locking mechanism works pretty well, as you can see in the video below, and [Giorgos] is quite pleased with the results.

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