Dimming the living room lights using your TV remote

As part of a complete home theater setup [Andy] wanted to be able to control the lights from his couch. He started thinking about the best way to do this when he realized that his TV remote has buttons on it which he never uses. Those controls are meant for other components made by the same manufacturer as the TV. Since he doesn’t have that equipment on hand, he built his own IR receiver to switch the lights with those unused buttons.

He monitors and IR receiver using an AVR microcontroller. It is powered from mains via the guts from a wall wart included in the build. Also rolled into the project is a solid state relay capable of switching the mains feed to the light circuit. [Andy] mentions that going with a solid state part mean you don’t get that clicking associated with a mechanical relay. An electrical box extension was used to give him more room for mounting the IR receiver and housing his DIY circuit board.

Bluetooth control in a power strip

[Mansour] had a ceramic space heater mounted near the ceiling of his room. Since heat rises this is not the best design. He upgraded to an infrared heater which works a lot better, but lacks the timer function he used on the old unit. His solution wasn’t just to add a timer. He ended up building a Bluetooth module into a power strip in order to control the device wirelessly. He ends up losing all but two outlets on the strip, but everything fits inside the original case so we think it’s a reasonable trade-off.

He uses relays on both the live and neutral wires to switch the two outlets. These are driven via MOSFETs to protect the ATmega168 which controls the board. The microcontroller and Bluetooth module both need a regulated DC power source, so he included a transformer and regulator in the mix. After the break you can see him demonstrating the system using two lamps. There’s even a terminal interface which lets you select different control commands by sending the appropriate character. This interface makes script a breeze.

At least this power strip doesn’t spy on you.

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How’s the 60Hz coming from your wall?

If you’ve ever wondered why NTSC video is 30 frames and 60 fields a second, it’s because the earliest televisions didn’t have fancy crystal oscillators. The refresh rate of these TVs was controlled by the frequency of the power coming out of the wall. This is the same reason the PAL video standard exists for countries with 50Hz mains power, and considering how inexpensive this method of controlling circuits was the trend continued and was used in clocks as late as the 1980s. [Ch00f] wondered how accurate this 60Hz AC was, so he designed a little test.

Earlier this summer, [Ch00f] bought a 194 discrete transistor clock kit and did an amazing job tearing apart the circuit figuring out how the clock keeps time. Needing a way to graph the frequency of his mains power, [Ch00f] took a small transformer and an LM311 comparator. to out put a 60Hz signal a microcontroller can read.

This circuit was attached to a breadboard containing two microcontrollers, one to keep time with a crystal oscillator, the other to send frequency data over a serial connection to a computer. After a day of collecting data, [Ch00f] had an awesome graph (seen above) documenting how fast or slow the mains frequency was over the course of 24 hours.

The results show the 60Hz coming out of your wall isn’t extremely accurate; if you’re using mains power to calibrate a clock it may lose or gain a few seconds every day. This has to do with the load the power companies see explaining why changes in frequency are much more rapid during the day when load is high.

In the end, all these changes in the frequency of your wall power cancel out. The power companies do the same thing [Ch00f] did and make sure mains power is 60Hz over the long-term, allowing mains-controlled clocks to keep accurate time.

Proximity switch for your mains devices

[Ivan’s] friend built a proximity sensor to switch his LED bench lighting off every time he walked away. The idea is pretty neat, so [Ivan] decided to implement it for mains devices by making this proximity switched outlet box.

A Sharp GP2D12 infrared distance sensor is the key to the system. It has an emitter and receiver that combine to give distance feedback base on how much of the light is reflected back to the detector. This is presented as a voltage curve which is monitored by an ATtiny85 (running the Arduino bootloader). It is small enough to fit inside the outlet box along with a tiny transformer and linear regulator to power to logic circuitry. The mains are switched with a relay using an NPN transistor to protect the chip’s I/O pins.

Check out the video after the break to see this in action. It should be a snap to add a count-down timer that gives you a bit more freedom to move around the workshop. With that in place this is a fantastic alternative to some other auto-shutoff techniques for your bench outlets.

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Christmas prep starts early: MIDI control for strings of lights

If you’re planning to outdo yourself with this year’s Christmas decorations now’s the time to start planning. After all, what else have you got going on since the dreadful heat is making outdoor activities a sweat-soaked misery? Take some inspiration from [Tim] who just finished prototyping a wireless MIDI controller for his strings of Christmas lights. You can just see the four spools in the distance which are lighting up as he tickles the ivories.

The wireless link is provided by a WiFi access point which uses its USB port to control the external hardware. This is a USB Bit Whacker board which in turn drives a relay board that was designed to switch mains voltages. The high voltage parts of the rig are housed in a plastic food storage container which hosts two pair of outlets to drive four channels in total. [Tim] is happy with the outcome, which he shows off in the video after the break, and hopes to expand to a total of sixteen channels for this year’s festivities.

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Under-bench timed outlets won’t let you leave the iron on

When we used to use firesticks (the pen style plug-in soldering irons) it was always a worry that we might leave them on. But now we use a base unit which has an indicator light to serve as a reminder. Still, [FoxxTexx] isn’t taking any chances and instead built this timer-based outlet which kills the power automatically.

The parts are all pretty common. The timer itself is the same form factor as a light switch and is commonly used for heat lamps or hot tub jets. It feeds the outlet next to it by way of the indicator switches to the right. We like the use of the switches but since mains voltage is still running through them we would suggest using a three-gang box and mounting them on the cover plate so that all the wiring is contained. If done this way you could just have the electrical box siting on your bench, but it is a nice touch to have it mounted this way.

We’ve long been proponents of a timer system. Back when we put together our Hacker’s Soldering Station we just used a plug-in timer unit.

Home automation with RC wall plugs and Raspberry Pi

[Jake] took some cheap hardware and figured out a way to use it as a huge home automation network. He’s chose a Raspberry Pi board to connect the radio controlled power outlets to his network. He wrote about his project in two parts, the first is hacking the RC outlet controller and the second is using the Raspberry Pi to manipulate it.

These RC outlets are a pass-through for appliances that connect to mains (lamps, consumer electronics, christmas trees, etc). Often the protocol used by the cheap-as-dirt remote is difficult to work with, but [Jake] really hit it out of the part on this one. In addition to simulating button presses for up to fifteen devices on the remote, he replaced the DIP switch package. This lets him change the encoding, essentially allowing the one device to control up to 32 sets of outlets. Theoretically this lets him command 480 devices from the Raspberry Pi. Since that board is a web server it’s just a matter of coding an interface.

Some of the inspiration for this hack came from the whistle-controlled appliance hack.