Triple Sensor Mailbox Alert Really Delivers

Messing with the U.S. Mail is not something we generally recommend. But if you build your own mailbox like [Bob] did, you stand a much better chance of doing what you want without throwing up any flags.

Speaking of throwing up flags, one of the coolest parts of this project is the toy mailbox inside the house that monitors the activity of the real box. When there is mail waiting, the flag on the toy mailbox goes up. Once [Bob] retrieves the mail, the flag goes back down automatically. A magnet in the real box’s flag prevents false alarms on the toy box provided the Flag Raised On Outgoing protocol is followed. Best of all, he built in some distress handling: If the mailbox door is left hanging open or the battery is low, the toy mailbox waves its flag up and down.

So, where do the three sensors come in? A magnetic reed switch on the wall of the real mailbox pairs with a magnet in the flag. To determine whether the door is open, [Bob] initially used another magnetic reed switch on the underside of the box. This didn’t work well in wet weather, so he switched to a mechanical tilt sensor. An IR LED on the ceiling and a phototransistor on the floor of the box work together to detect the presence of mail.

[Bob]’s homebrew mailbox has a false back that hides a PIC 16F1825. When the door opens, the PIC wakes up, turns on a MOSFET, and checks the battery level. It waits two minutes for the mailman to do his job and then reads the flag state. After comparing the IR LED and phototransistor’s states, it sends a message to the toy mailbox indicating the presence or absence of mail.

The toy mailbox holds a modified receiver board and a servo to control its flag. [Bob] has made the code and schematics available on his site. Walk-through video is after the jump.

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Fail of the Week: Robotic 1950 Mercury Boogies, Won’t Come Back From Dead Man’s Curve

[Dave] wanted to make an Arduino robot out of a remote-control 1950 Mercury. He removed the RC portion from the car and kept the drive and steering motors. The idea was to use three ultrasonic rangefinders in the grille real estate and move the car forward based on the longest distance detected.

He initially used a Seeed motor controller and some Grove cables soldered to his sensors to power the steering. It went forward, but only forward, and [Dave] decided the motor controller and the car’s steering motor weren’t playing well together.

[Dave] had the idea to use relays instead to both power the motor and determine polarity. Now, the Merc was turning and avoid obstacles about half the time, but it was also getting dinged up from hitting walls. He figured out that his sensor arrangement was making the car turn immediately and decided to give the program information from the wheels with a reed switch and a rare earth magnet. The only problem is that the caliber of magnet required to trip the reed switch is too heavy and strong. [Dave] and has concluded that he simply can’t exercise the kind of control over the car that he needs. and will build his own robot chassis.

Update: Check out a video of [Dave]’s car after the break.


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.

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Solar Powered Lawn Mower Cuts the Grass So You Don’t Have To

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It takes a lot of power and energy to keep grass levels down to an appropriate level; especially when it’s hot out. If cool glasses of lemonade aren’t around, the task at hand may not be completed any time soon causing the unkempt blades of green (or yellow) vegetation outside to continue their path of growth towards the sun.

Instead of braving the oven-like temperatures which will inevitably drench the person in sweat, this solar powered robot has been created ready to take on the job. With the heart of an Arduino, this device shaves down the grass on a regular basis, rather than only chopping down the material when it gets too long. This helps to save electricity since the mower is only dealing with young and soft plants whose heads are easily lopped off without much effort.

Internally, the robot’s circuitry interfaces with an underground wiring system that defines the cutting zones within the lawn, and proves to be a simple, accurate, and reliable approach to directing the robot where to go. If the device travels under a shaded area, a battery kicks in supplying energy to the engine. When sunlight is available, that same battery accumulates the electricity, storing it for later.

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Hidden Reed Switches for DIY Home Security

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[Rhys] wanted to secure his home against burglars, but didn’t want to go the normal route of using those bulky plastic magnet and reed switch deals. So he sourced some glass reed switches and made his own completely hidden security system.

By using small glass reed switches [Rhys] was able to mount them flush to the wood paneling just above the window frames. To do this he drilled and then chiseled two slots for the reed switches to go in, with the wires routed into the house. A bit of bondo or drywall filler and some paint later and they are completely invisible! To finish it off he glued small neodymium magnets to the top of the window frame which close the switches. It’s a very clean build and quite inexpensive to do — the possibilities for wiring up your entire home like this are quite tempting!

He’s got the switches installed already… why not couple it all to a complete home security setup? We shared a project last year that does just that!

Electric Imp makes a cat door Tweet its activities

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This Tweeting cat door uses the Electric Imp to read a sensor and report back to the server. The hardware is pretty neat. The board hosts an ARM Cortex-M3 processor and gets on your home network via WiFi. The mini-USB cable simply provides the power. Programming is done over the network. Our own [Brian Benchoff] had a chance to try the Imp out earlier in the Fall.

Monitoring a cat door is as good a reason as any to undertake a project. The hardware added to the board includes a reed switch mounted on the jamb along with a magnet on the door itself. There is also a blue LED that gives a bit of user feedback. The software isn’t quite as easy but it still wasn’t that bad. As with most web-connected projects getting all the parts to talk to each other was a bit of a chore. The Imp reports back to a server on the local network which then activates a PHP script that uses Sen.se to push out a Tweet.

[Thanks Pat]

Morse code flower is trying to tell you something

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To the casual observer this flower looks nice as its illuminated center fades in and out. But there’s hidden meaning to that light. Some of the blinks are longer than others; this flower is using Morse Code.

[Renaud Schleck] wanted to try a few different things with his MSP430 microcontroller. He decided on an LED that looks like a flower as it will be a nice piece of decor to set around the home. To add the Morse Code message he wanted something a bit more eloquent (and less distracting) than purely digital flashing. So he took the dots and dashes of the hard-coded message and turned them into fading signals by using Pulse-Width Modulation.

He free-formed the circuit so that it, and the coin cell that powers it, would fit in the flower pot. A reed switch is responsible for turning the juice on and off. When placed near a magnet the flower begins its gentle playback.

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Adding task lighting inside a desk

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[Mahesh Venkitachalam] wanted to light up the dark recesses of his desk. What good is all that storage if you can’t see a darn thing in there? His solution was to add LED strips which turn on automatically when the door is opened.

The design is quite simple. A 2N2222 NPN transistor is responsible for connecting the ground rail of the LED strips mounted under each shelf. The base of that transistor is held high with a pull-up resistor. But a reed switch always connects the base to ground when the door is shut. Opening the door removes the magnet that keeps that reed switch closed. This allows current to flow from the pull-up to the base, connecting the ground rail to the LED strips and turning them on. You can see the video demo after the break.

One problem that we see with the design is that these are driven by a 9V battery. Over a long period of time that pull-up resistor will drain the cell. You can pick up a magnetic reed switch at the hardware or electronics store that is rated for 500 mA. If you can stay under that with the LED strips, and get one that is open when the magnet is present you will have zero power drain when the lights aren’t being used.

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