Electronifying A Horror Fraught Hydraulic Press

[Josh] is replacing the springs in his car’s suspension. He wanted to know the travel rates of these springs, but apparently, this is a closely guarded trade secret in the industry. One company did manage to publish the spring rates, but they weren’t believable. Instead of taking this company’s word, [Josh] built a spring tester.

The theory behind a spring tester is pretty simple: apply a force to a spring, measure it, then measure how much the spring has traveled. Or compress a spring an inch or so, measure the force, and compress it some more. Either gets you the same data.

This spring tester is built around a Harbor Freight hydraulic press. Yes, the spring is completely captured and won’t fly out of the jig if you look at it wrong. The bottom of the press contains a few load cells, fed into an ATmega8, which displays a value on an LCD. For the displacement measurement, a ruler taped to the side of the press will suffice, but [Josh] used a Mitutoyo linear scale.

What were the results of these tests? You shouldn’t buy coils from Bilstein if these results are correct. The rates for these springs were off by 70%. Other springs fared better and won’t bind when going over bigger bumps. That’s great work, and an excellent application of Horror Fraught gear.

Bandsaw Tension Gauge Uses Raspberry Pi And Load Cell

No matter what material you’re cutting, getting the blade tension right is one of the keys to quality cuts on the bandsaw. Unfortunately, most bandsaws come with only a rudimentary tension gauge, and while there are plenty of tricks for measuring blade tension indirectly, nothing beats a digital blade tension gauge for repeatable results.

Despite being an aftermarket accessory for his beefy Hitachi CB-75F bandsaw, [Stephen B. Kirby]’s Pi-based tension guide looks like an OEM product. Housed in a sturdy case and sporting a sealed membrane keypad and four-line LCD display, the interface electronics are pretty straightforward. The tricky bit is sensing the amount of tension on the bandsaw blade. For that task, [Stephen] mounted a load cell in place of the original tensioning spring. A few adapters helped that job, and with a little calibration, the gauge is capable of displaying the tension by measuring the force over the cross-sectional area of the current blade.

We really like it when electronics can bring a new level of precision to old-school hardware, whether it’s a simple DRO for a manual lathe or a more accomplished build like [Stephen]’s. Sometimes adding new silicon can make old iron a little easier to use.

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.

High Tech, Low Cost Digital Torque Meter

Ever obsessed with stripping the hype from the reality of power tool marketing, and doing so on the cheap, [arduinoversusevil] has come up with a home-brew digital torque meter that does the job of commercial units costing hundreds of times as much.

For those of us used to [AvE]’s YouTube persona, his Instructables post can be a little confusing. No blue smoke is released, nothing is skookum or chowdered, and the weaknesses of specific brands of tools are not hilariously enumerated. For that treatment of this project, you’ll want to see the video after the break. Either way you choose, he shows us how a $6 load cell and a $10 amplifier can be used to accurately measure the torque of your favorite power driver with an Arduino. We’ve seen a few projects based on load cells, like this posture-correcting system, but most of them use the load cell to measure linear forces. [AvE]’s insight that a load cell doesn’t care whether it’s stretched or twisted is the key to making a torque meter that mere mortals can afford.

Looks like low-end load cells might not be up to measuring the output on your high-power pneumatic tools, at least not repeatedly, but they ought to hold up to most electric drivers just fine. And spoiler alert: the Milwaukee driver that [AvE] tested actually lived up to the marketing. Continue reading “High Tech, Low Cost Digital Torque Meter”

Wirelessly Weighing Plants with the ESP8266

There’s a good number of hacks, and commercial products, for telling you when a plant needs watering. Most of them use an ADC to measure the resistance in the soil. As the soil’s moisture content drops, the resistance increases. High impedance, dead plant.

[Dani]’s Thirsdee takes a different approach to plant health monitoring. Instead of measuring resistance, it simply weighs the plant. As the soil dries up, it gets lighter. By measuring the change in weight, the amount of water in the pot can be estimated.

Thirsdee uses a load cell to measure the weight. It’s read using an HX711 ADC, which is controlled by a NodeMCU. This development board is based on the ESP8266 chip. Since Thirsdee has WiFi, it can push notifications to your phone and log data on ThingSpeak. If you’re looking at the plant, an OLED shows you the current status of the plant. For us viewing from home, we can see a graph of [Dani]’s plant drying out in real time.

[Dani] provides us with a list of suppliers for the parts, and all the source code on Github.

Instrumentation Amplifiers and How to Measure Miniscule Change

These days there a large number of sensors and analog circuits that are “controller friendly” meaning that their output signal is easily interfaced to the built-in Analog to Digital Convertors (ADCs) often found in today’s micro-controllers. This means that the signals typically are already amplified, often filtered, and corrected for offset and linearity. But when faced with very low level signals, or signals buried in a larger signal an Instrumentation Amplifier may be what’s needed. The qualities of an Instrumentation Amplifier include:

  • A differential amplifier with high impedance and low bias current on both inputs.
  • Low noise and low drift when amplifying very small signals.
  • The ability to reject a voltage that is present on both inputs, referred to as Common Mode Rejection Ratio (CMRR)

Continue reading “Instrumentation Amplifiers and How to Measure Miniscule Change”

A Tweeting Litter Box

SmartLitterBox

How can you not be interested in a project that uses load cells, Bluetooth, a Raspberry Pi, and Twitter. Even for those of our readers without a cat, [Scott’s] tweeting litter box is worth the read.

Each aspect of this project can be re-purposed for almost any application. The inexpensive load cells, which available from eBay and other retailers, is used to sense when a cat is inside the litter box. Typically sensors like the load cell (that contain a strain gauge) this use a Wheatstone bridge, which is very important for maximizing the sensitivity of resistive sensor. The output then goes to a HX711, which is an ADC specifically built for load cells. A simple alternative would be using an instrumentation amplifier and the built-in ADC of the Arduino. Now, the magic happens. The weight reading is transmitted via an HC-06 Bluetooth module to a Raspberry Pi. Using a simple Perl script, the excreted weight, duration, and the cat’s resulting body weight is then tweeted!

Very nice work! This is a well thought out project that we could see being expanded to recognize the difference between multiple cats (or any other animal that goes inside).