Send In The Drones: Putting Wheels And Wings On The Internet Of Things

Imagine you’re a farmer trying to grow a crop under drought conditions. Up-to-the-minute data on soil moisture can help you to decide where and when to irrigate, which directly affects your crop yield and your bottom line. More sensors would mean more data and a better spatial picture of conditions, but the cost of wired soil sensors would be crippling. Wireless sensors that tap into GSM or some sort of mesh network would be better, but each sensor would still need power, and maintenance costs would quickly mount. But what if you could deploy a vast number of cheap RFID-linked sensors in your fields? And what if an autonomous vehicle could be tasked with the job of polling the sensors and reporting the data? That’s one scenario imagined in a recent scholarly paper about a mobile Internet of Things (PDF link).

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In the paper, authors [Jennifer Wang], [Erik Schluntz], [Brian Otis], and [Travis Deyle] put a commercially available quadcopter and RC car to the hack. Both platforms were fitted with telemetry radios, GPS, and an off-the-shelf RFID tag reader and antenna. For their sensor array, they selected passive UHF RFID tags coupled to a number of different sensors, including a resistance sensor used to measure soil moisture. A ground-control system was developed that allowed both the quad and the car to maneuver to waypoints under GPS guidance to poll sensors and report back.

Beyond agriculture, the possibilities for an IoT based on cheap sensors and autonomous vehicles to poll them are limitless. The authors rightly point out the challenges of building out a commercial system based on these principles, but by starting with COTS components and striving to keep installed costs to a minimum, we think they’ve done a great proof of concept here.

A Tweeting Vending Machine

[Sigurd] manage to obtain an old vending machine from his dorm. The only problem was that the micocontroller on the main board was broken. He and his friend decided they could most likely get the machine back into working order, but they also knew they could probably give it a few upgrades.

This system uses two Arduino Pro Minis and an Electric Imp to cram in all of the new features. One Arduino is connected to the machine’s original main board. The Arduino interfaces with some of the shift registers, relays, and voltage regulators. This microcontroller also lights up the buttons on the machine as long as that particular beverage is not empty. It controls the seven segment LED display, as well as reading the coin validator.

The team had to reverse engineer the original coin validator in order to figure out how the machine detected and counted the coins. Once they figured out how to read the state of the coins, they also built a custom driver board to drive the solenoids.

A second Arduino is used to read NFC and RFID cards using a Mifare RC522 reader. The system uses its own credit system, so a user can be issued a card with a certain amount of pre-paid credit. It will then deduct credit appropriately once a beverage is vended. The two Arduinos communicate via Serial.

The team also wanted this machine to have the ability to communicate with the outside world. In this case, that meant sending cheeky tweets. They originally used a Raspberry Pi for this, but found that the SD card kept getting corrupted. They eventually switched to an Electric Imp, which worked well. The Arduino sends a status update to the Imp every minute. If the status changes, for example if a beverage was dispensed, then the Imp will send a tweet to let the world know. It will also send a tweet to the maintenance person if there is a jam or if a particular slot becomes empty. Continue reading “A Tweeting Vending Machine”

Coffee Payment System Doesn’t Void Your Warranty

[Oliver] is back with an update to his recent coffee maker hacks. His latest hack allowed him to add a coffee payment system to an off-the-shelf coffee maker without modifying the coffee maker itself. This project is an update to his previous adventures in coffee maker hacking which logged who was using up all of the coffee.

The payment system begins with an Arduino Uno clone inside of a small project enclosure. The Arduino communicates with the coffee maker via serial using the coffee maker’s service port. This port is easily available from outside the machine, so you won’t have to crack open the case and risk voiding your warranty.

The system also includes an RFID reader and a Bluetooth module. The RFID reader allows each user to have their own identification card. The user can swipe their card over the reader and the system knows how many credits are left in their account. If they have enough credit, the machine will pour a delicious cup of coffee.

The Arduino communicates to an Android phone using the Bluetooth module. [Oliver’s] Android app was built using MIT’s app inventor. It keeps track of the account credits and allows the user to add more. The system can currently keep track of up to forty accounts. [Oliver] also mentions that you can use any Bluetooth terminal program to control the system instead of a smart phone app. Continue reading “Coffee Payment System Doesn’t Void Your Warranty”

Ping Pong For The IT Office

The office environment over at [Adam]’s place of employment has recently become one of the many IT-related offices with a ping pong table, a cliché that he readily points out. However, [Adam] and the other folks at the office decided to step up their game a little bit by making this automated ping pong table.

The table first keeps track of the players with specialized RFID tags that are placed in the handle of the paddles. The paddles are unique to each player, and when they are swiped past a reader on the table the scoring system registers the players at the table.

Small capacitive touch sensors on the underside of the table allow the players to increment their score when a point is made. The scoreboard is a simple but a very well-polished interface that has audio cues for each point. The system is also able to keep track of the winners and the overall records are tracked, allowing for office-wide rankings.

This is the best table-related game hack since the internet-connected foosball table, and should be welcome in any office for some extra break room fun at work! All of the code is available on the project site.

Arduino-Powered Alarm System Has All The Bells And Whistles

Put aside all of the projects that use an Arduino to blink a few LEDs or drive one servo motor. [IngGaro]’s latest project uses the full range of features available in this versatile microcontroller and has turned an Arduino Mega into a fully-functional home alarm system.

The alarm can read RFID cards for activation and control of the device. It communicates with the front panel via an I2C bus, and it can control the opening and closing of windows or blinds. There is also an integrated GSM antenna for communicating any emergencies over the cell network. The device also keeps track of temperature and humidity.

The entire system can be controlled via a web interface. The Arduino serves a web page that allows the user full control over the alarm. With all of that, it’s hard to think of any more functionality to get out of this tiny microcontroller, unless you wanted to add a frickin’ laser to REALLY trip up the burglars!

RFID Audio Book Reader For the Visually Impaired

RFID audio book reader

When [Willem] visited home last year, he stopped in at his grandparents’ house and found that his very active 93-year-old grandfather had recently gone almost completely blind and was passing the days just sitting in a chair. [Willem] suggested that he listen to audio books, but his grandfather wasn’t receptive to the idea until [Willem] convinced him that the well-narrated ones can be very gripping and entertaining. Once his grandfather was on board, [Willem] knew that he needed a much more accessible solution than a tiny device with tiny controls, so he built an RFID audio reader using a Raspberry Pi.

[Willem] has posted the build details at his personal site. Essentially, the box you see above contains a Raspi and an RFID reader. He created different ‘books’ by placing RFID cards inside of DVD boxes, which makes them more tangible and accessible. When a book is placed on the box, the RFID reader tells the Pi which mp3 files to load. The large colored buttons let the user pause, rewind 20 seconds, and control the volume.

We love to see this kind of build. It’s simple, effective, and greatly enhances the user’s quality of life. [Willem]’s grandfather loves it and uses it every day.

Disabling Tap To Pay Debit Cards

XRAY of Debit Card

Some people aren’t too crazy about the rush of RFID enabled credit & debit cards, and the problem is, you don’t really have a choice what card you get if the bank sends you a new one! Well if you really don’t like this on your card for whatever reason, it’s pretty easy to disable.

[James Williamson] recently got a new debit card with RFID technology — the problem is it was messing with his access card at work, the readers would beep twice, and sometimes not work. He decided to disable it because of this and that he didn’t really use the tap to pay feature, nor was he completely convinced it was as secure as the bank said.

Since these RFID chips use antennas made of copper wire, he could have just started slicing his card with a knife to break the antenna — but, since he has access to a CT scanner, he thought he’d scan it to figure out where everything was.

Simply make a small notch in the edge of your card, or snip off one of the corners. This breaks the antenna and prevents power to the chip when held near a reader — though if you don’t have access to a CT scanner you might want to double-check next time you buy something!

Now there is another side to this — maybe you actually like the whole tap to pay thing, well, if you wanted to you could get a supplemental card, dissolve it in acetone, and then install the RFID chip into a finger ring for Jedi-like purchasing powers!