Build Your Own Sensor Skin

Scientific research, especially in the area of robotics, often leverages cutting-edge technology. Labs filled with the latest measurement and fabrication gear are unleashed on the really tough problems, like how to simulate the exquisite sensing abilities of human skin. One lab doing work in this area has taken a different approach, though, by building multi-functional sensors arrays from paper.

A group from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia, led by [Muhammad M. Hussain], has published a fascinating paper that’s a tour de force of getting a lot done with nothing. Common household items, like Post-It notes, kitchen sponges, tissue paper, and tin foil, are used to form the basis of what they call “paper skin”. Fabrication techniques – scissors and tape – are ridiculously simple and accessible to anyone who made it through kindergarten.

They do turn to a Circuit Scribe pen for some of their sensors, but even this nod to high technology is well within their stated goal of making it possible for anyone to fabricate sensors at home. The paper goes into great detail about how the sensors are made, how they interact, and how they are interfaced. It’s worth a read to see what you can accomplish with scraps.

For another low-tech paper-based sensor, check out this capacitive touch sensor keyboard.

Thanks for the tip, [Mattias]

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.

Know Your Speed on Rollerblades

[Anurag] is a computer engineering student with a knack for rollerblading. Rollerblades are not a transportation device that are often fitted with speedometers, so [Anurag] took that more as a challenge and designed this Arduino-powered computer to give him more information on his rollerblade rides.

The device uses an Arduino as the brain, and counts wheel revolutions (along with doing a little bit of math) in order to calculate the speed of the rider. The only problem with using this method is that the wheels aren’t on the ground at all times, and slow down slightly when the rider’s foot is off the ground. To make sure he gets accurate data, the Arduino uses an ultrasonic rangefinder to determine the distance to the ground and deduce when it should be taking speed measurements.

In addition to speed, the device can also calculate humidity and temperature, and could be configured to measure any number of things. It outputs its results to a small screen, but it could easily be upgraded with Bluetooth for easy data logging. If speed is truly your goal, you might want to have a look at these motorized rollerblades too.

Chinese Temperature/Humidity Sensor is Easily Hacked

There’s a new piece of electronics from China on the market now: the USR-HTW Wireless Temperature and Humidity Sensor. The device connects over Wi-Fi and serves up a webpage where the user can view various climate statistics. [Tristan] obtained one of these devices and cracked open the data stream, revealing that this sensor is easily manipulated to do his bidding.

Once the device is connected, it sends an 11-byte data stream a few times a minute on port 8899 which can be easily intercepted. [Tristan] likes the device due to the relative ease at which he could decode information, and his project log is very detailed about how he went about doing this. He notes that the antenna could easily be replaced as well, just in case the device needs increased range.

There are many great reasons a device like this would be useful, such as using it as a remote sensor (or in an array of sensors) for a homemade thermostat, or a greenhouse, or in any number of other applications. The sky’s the limit!

The Smart Humidor

humidor

If you’re a cigar aficionado, you know storing cigars at the proper temperature and humidity is something you just need to do. Centuries of design have gone into the simple humidor, and now, I guess, it’s time to put some electronics alongside your cigars.

The design of [dzzie]’s smart humidor consists of an Arduino, WiFi shield, LCD + button shield, and most importantly, a DHT22 temperature and humidity sensor. In a bit of thoughtfulness, only the DHT22 is mounted inside the humidor; everything else is in an enclosure mounted outside the humidor, including a few buttons for clearing alerts and logging when water is added.

The smart humidor reads the DHT22 sensor every 20 minutes and uploads the data to a web server where useful graphs are rendered. The control box will send out an alert email to [dzzie] if the temperature or humidity is out of the desired range.

A Smart Clothes Dryer

dryer6 Here’s a question that will rack your brain: does your clothes dryer stop when the clothes are dry? It seems if you have a machine that guzzles power for one single purpose, you’d like it to stop when its job is done, or for the sake of convenience, keep going until the clothes are dry. Temperature and humidity sensors are cheap, and if you don’t have an auto sensing clothes dryer, a DIY smart clothes dryer seems both efficient and convenient.

[Andy] figured when clothes are dry, they stop emitting moisture. Based on that premise, he could monitor the operation of a clothes dryer and either shut off the machine or send a message that it’s time to take the clothes out. It’s a simple enough idea, and with an Arduino and a DHT11 temperature and humidity sensor, it was pretty easy to put together.

The clothes dryer used for this experiment was a self-ventilating model that doesn’t vent to the outside. Instead, it condenses the water in your towels and jeans into a tub to be emptied by hand later. This might introduce a little error into tests, but [Andy] did come up with a way to mount the temperature sensor without modifying his dryer in any way. From the initial data, the ventless dryer might be introducing a little experimental error, but it’s still too good of an idea to not try out with a traditional dryer that vents to the outside. Here’s the code should you want to try this yourself.

Humidity Activated Bathroom Fan

bathroom humidifier

[Andrea] recently moved into an apartment with a few of his friends. Unfortunately the bathroom lacks one of the most important things — A fan. Or at least a window!

Using the case of an air freshener, a simple DHT11 Humidity/Temperature sensor, an LCD, a 12V fan, and ATmel328 microcontroller, he created this handy gadget.

When the humidity in the bathroom passes the 50% threshold, an LED flashes to prompt the user to open the door. After a short delay, one of the transistors flips causing the moist air to circulate out of the room.

We’re surprised the little 12V fan is powerful enough to clear the room, but apparently it helps a lot and can clear the room in less than 20 minutes.

To see it in action, stick around after the break.

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