THP Hacker Bio: hackersbench

 

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Remote sensing applications that make sense and cents? (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves) That’s what [hackersbench], aka [John Schuch], aka [@JohnS_AZ] is working on as his entry for The Hackaday Prize.

He received a multi-thousand-dollar water bill after having an underground pipe break and leak without knowing it. His idea will help you notice problems like this sooner. But if you actually have a way to capture data about your own water use you also have a tool to help encourage less wasteful water use habits. We wanted to learn more about the hacker who is working on this project. [John's] answers to our slate of questions are after the break.

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Gas, Water, and Electricity monitoring

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From the look of this you can tell that [Jasper Sikken] has some pretty interesting stuff going on to monitor the utilities in his home. But it’s important to note that this is a rental home. So adding sensors to the gas, water, and electric meters had to be done without making any type of permanent changes.

The module above is his own base PCB which accepts an mbed board to harvest and report on usage. His electric meter has an LED that will flash for every Watt hour that is used. He monitors that with a light dependent resistor, crafting a clever way to fasten it to the meter using four magnets. The water meter has a disc that makes one revolution for each liter of water that passes through it. Half of the disc is reflective so he uses a photoreflective sensor to keep track of that. And finally the gas meter has a reflective digit on one of the wheels. The sensor tracks each time this digit passes by, signifying 10 liters of gas used. He also monitors temperature which we’re sure comes in handy when trying to make sense of the data.

[Thanks Stephen]

 

Water tank level meter prevents overflow

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Most of the homes in the area where [Raikut] lives have tanks on the roof to hold water. Each is filled from a well using a pump, with gravity serving as a way to pressurize the home’s water supply. The system isn’t automatic and requires the home owner to manually switch the pump on and off. [Raikut] made this process a lot easier by designing an LED bar indicator to monitor the water level.

The sensor is very simple. Each LED is basically its own circuit controlled by a transistor and a few resistors. A 5V signal is fed from 7805 linear regulator into the tank. The base of each transitor is connected to an insulated wire, each extending different depths in the tank. As the water rises it completes the circuit, illuminating the LED.

[Raikut] is conservation minded and built a buzzer circuit which is activated by the LED indicating the highest water level. If someone walks away from the pump switch while it’s filling the alarm will sound as it gets to the top and they can turn it off before it wastes water.

[via Reddit]

Testing caps with a DIY ESR meter

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There’s a problem with collecting old tube amps and vintage electronics – eventually the capacitors in these machines will die. It’s not an issue of a capacitor plague that causes new electronics to die after a few years; with time, just about every capacitor will dry out, rendering antique electronics defective. The solution to getting old gear up and running is replacing the capacitors, but how do you know which ones are good and which are bad? With [Paulo]‘s DIY ESR meter, of course.

An ideal capacitor has a zero equivalent series resistance, and failure of a capacitor can be seen as an increase in its ESR. Commercial ESR meters are relatively cheap, but [Paulo] was able to build one out of a 555 chip, a small transformer, and a few other miscellaneous components.

The entire circuit is built on stripboard, and if you’re lucky enough to find the right parts in your random parts bin, you should be able to build this ESR meter with components just laying around.

Donation meter raises alarm when not plugged with coins

This is something of a mandatory donation meter. If you don’t feed it with coins it sounds a very loud alarm continuously.

[Piet De Vaere] built the device for a free festival in Ghent, Belgium. The intent is to help raise awareness that although free of an admission price, the success of the event depends on donations. It works much like a parking meter. When you feed it coins time is added to the meter. When it runs all the way down that large loudspeaker on the right side of the case sounds the alarm.

In the video after the break [Piet] walks us through a demonstration, followed by a tour of the hardware. The pointer on the meter is a piece of cardboard connected to a servo. An Arduino board controls the servo, adding time in two-minute intervals whenever a coin enters the chute and passes by an optical sensor. There is no distinction between types of coins.

The use of a pizza box as a prototyping board shows that you don’t have to be fancy to build something neat.

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Visual rain sensor — so you never have to look outside

Now you can find out how hard it is raining outside without leaving the confines of your mancave/womancave. Pictured above is the sensor portion of what [Frapedia] calls his visual rain sensor.

Most rain gauges just use a graduated cylinder to capture water as it falls from the sky. That will give you a reasonably accurate measure of how much it rained, but it tells you nothing about how hard it rained. The measurement made here is based on sound. The harder it rains, the lounder the sound will be from water hitting an up-turned metal bowl. The unit above turns the system on when water bridges the traces, then a microphone is used to monitor the sound from the bowl. This is visualized by a VU-meter chip on a column of LEDs mounted inside the house.

After the break you can see the project box that houses the status display. We say it’s too small an needs to be replaced with a much larger LED meter.

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Wristwatch measures your perception of time; also tells time

This wristwatch is hiding a lot of features in its hardware and its software. It’s called the TicTocTrac and it’s a Senior project for a pair of students at Cornell University. Judging from the sheer volume and quality of the project documentation we wonder if someone has a science writing career ahead of them? Be we digress… It’s a clock and we love it!

First off, this does more than just tell the time. In fact, that’s almost an ancillary function in this case. The wristwatch is more of a metering device to record your own time-based behaviors. Find yourself checking your watch frequently as the lunch break approaches? This watch records that activity and you can later graph the data. This allows you to analyze how you percieve the passage of time. The more often you check the time, the slower you feel time progressing. The documentation does a much better job of describing this than we have time for, so check it out.

On the hardware side of things we’re quite impressed. The housing is 3D printed. It hides two half-circle PCBs below the full-circle PCB face plate. The half-boards leave space for a tiny rechargeable battery, and host a vibrating motor and RTC chip. Instead of using buttons, there’s a piezo sensor which detects when you tap on the top of the watch.

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