Automatic Plant Care Minus the Microcontroller

Plants are a nice addition to most any habitat. Many of them bear flowers or attractive foliage, some of them help filter the air, and others, like aloe vera, have medicinal properties. While some plants require very little care, they all need a little moisture at some point. Overall, plant care is a bit fiddly: water them too much and you run the risk of root rot; water too little and risk death by dehydration. Hackaday alum [Kevin Darrah] would prefer not to gamble with either condition, and so in the course of a weekend’s time, he constructed a solar-powered automatic plant watering system from components he had on hand.

While he likely had a microcontroller or two lying around, he didn’t use one. His is a system of MOSFETs that trigger a motorized pump from one of those automatic bug spray bottles to draw from a reservoir and water the plant. The solar panel charges a bank of 6800µF capacitors that [Kevin] took out of an old receiver. When the desired charge is reached, the small soil sensor module is powered, assessing the moisture level. If the level is below the threshold determined by a trimmer pot, the power from the capacitor bank is dumped to the water pump and his plant gets a drink.

[Kevin]’s design deals nicely with the possible pitfalls of solar power. He’s included a 0.1µF cap to ensure latching through the system, and added a bleed resistor so that the pump is never powered unnecessarily. After running it for a couple of days, he’s already seeing moisture regulation in the soil. His complete demonstration and theory of operation is after the break. If you’re into solar power but aren’t quite ready to ditch the µC, check out this Arduino-controlled solution for thirsty tomatoes or this PIC-powered plant pacifier.

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Triggering Remote Fireworks with an Arduino and an Android


With Canada day and Independence day fast approaching, some makers are looking towards setting up their own fireworks to shoot off in celebration – sure you could use a match or lighter… or you could crack out your trusty Arduino and a cellphone! (translated)

To ignite the fuse, [Oscar] is using a short length of Nichrome wire which is controlled via a Mosfet by the Arduino. To control the Arduino he’s using ArduDroid with a Bluetooth module. The app lets you trigger the various digital and analog outputs, and send and receive data.

Stick around to see a few different demonstration videos of the circuit, testing, and launching some little bottle rockets!

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Hackaday Video: Safe Area Operation for Components (and Helicopters)

We’re back and this time talking about Safe Operating Area also called Safe Area Operation (SAO) which is short for the combination of things that can conspire to ruin your design. We also talk about helicopters.

Why take all of this time to discuss SAO you might ask, and what is that business about helicopters? Depending on the design there may be quite a bit of tedious math involved and sometimes there is just no avoiding it. Alternatively if you can get a feel for when math is and is not critical (based on design choices), it should be easier to get your next project up and running while still obeying the rules of the road.

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Fail of the Week: Frying FETs with 500mA


When [Simon] fried his 3A rated FET with just 500mA of current he wrote it off to an inability of the SOT23 package to dissipate the heat without a heatsink. For the next iteration of the project he upgraded to a 12A rated part. Luckily he decided to test the circuit one more time before sending his board off for fab. He threw together this constant current load test which led him to discover his failure.

The switching circuit, which was for his home security system project that we’ve seen at least twice, worked just fine up to 500mA. But when he drove it above that threshold the package quickly warmed up. It got so hot that it actually reflowed its solder joints! The problem has to do with oscillation, but even with further testing he couldn’t get the FET to reliably shut off all the way. Take a look at his fail write-up linked at the top and then let us know some possible remedies for the situation.

2013-09-05-Hackaday-Fail-tips-tileFail of the Week is a Hackaday column which runs every Wednesday. Help keep the fun rolling by writing about your past failures and sending us a link to the story — or sending in links to fail write ups you find in your Internet travels.

RFID RGB Lamp Goes the Distance


[Philippe Chrétien’s] project makes it to our front page just based on its completeness. When you hear about a multicolored lamp which changes based on an RFID tag you might not get too excited. When you look at the refined electronics and the quality of the wooden enclosure it’s another story entirely.

As we’ve said many times before, coming up with the idea for a project is the hardest part… especially when you just want to start hacking. With his kids in mind [Philippe] figured this would be something fun for them to play around with, opening the door to discussing the electronics concepts behind it.

He prototyped on a breadboard using three N-type MOSFETs to drive the colors of an RGB LED strip. The proven circuit was laid out and etched at home to arrive at the clean-looking Arduino shield shown off above. The entire thing gets a custom enclosure cut using layered plywood, a paper template, and a bandsaw.

Need a use for this once the novelty has worn off? Why not mod it to use as a motion activated night light? Alas the actual project link for that one is dead, but you get the idea.

Tricky Repair of Power Driver for CNC Machine


Designing and building something from scratch is one thing. But repairing fried electronics is a much different type of dark art. This video from [Mike’s Electric Stuff] is from more than a year ago, but we didn’t think you’d mind since what he accomplishes in it is so impressive. He’s got a burnt out pick and place hybrid power module which isn’t going to fix itself.

The power module construction includes a part that has chip-on-board-style MOSFETs and the circuitry that goes with them enclosed in a black plastic housing. It’s kind of like a submodule was encapsulated using the same plastic as integrated circuits. After cracking it open it appears the bonding wire has burnt away. [Mike] connects a jumper wire to one of the board traces in order to use an external MOSFET. This is much easier said than done since the module substrate is ceramic designed to dissipate heat. We’re amused by his technique of melting the jumper into the plastic housing to protect it from the heat sink that goes over the package. In the end he gets his CNC running again. This may not be the best long-term fix but he just needed to continue running until a proper replacement part arrives.

Oh, one more thing: the Metcal vacuum desolderer he uses in the video… do want!

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Battery Backup for RasPi Keeps Your Data Safe

We’ve all raised a clench fist in anger over lost data, and it’s usually the result of unjustified optimism and lack of planning. [George] shared his solution that prepares for the worst: a circuit that provides backup power to a RasPi and its hard drives. [George’s] Pi setup runs as both an Apple Time Machine server and a website backup server, and a power outage could corrupt the data stored on the Pi’s attached hard drives.

Rather than turn to commercial solutions, however, [George] wanted to take advantage of the Pi’s low power consumption and create an inexpensive custom circuit that would safely and automatically power down the devices upon loss of power. To detect a power failure, the build connects one of the Pi’s GPIOs to an opto-isolator, which—through a zener diode—connects to the 12V wall adapter: though [George] welcomes suggestions for alternative methods of safely identifying a mains power loss. The rest of the circuit serves as a trickle charger for the two attached 9V batteries and as a regulator to supply the correct voltage to the RasPi. Power MOSFETs connected to a GPIO handle the delayed power off.

You can view (and edit!) the circuit online here and find the relevant source code on [George’s] website. If you want to build your own RasPi file server, try cramming all the parts into an old optical drive enclosure.