Soda Fridge Hack to Fix a Lazy People Problem

[Paul] participated in a hackathon at work and created a hack to help solve what was ultimately a people problem. A soda fridge at work wasn’t getting refilled when empty. Instead of trying to make people less lazy, [Paul] went with making the fridge more needy.

The first thing [Paul] did was make a soda fridge refill sensor from a scale. As the fridge got emptier, it got lighter. The scale senses that and can decide it’s time for a refill. The only part missing was how to read the output from the scale. To do that, he took an unusual approach.
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Weight Tracking, Wise Cracking IoT Bathroom Scale

For those fighting the battle of the bulge, the forced discipline of fitness bands and activity tracking software might not be enough motivation. Some who are slimming down need a little gentle encouragement to help you lose weight and keep it off. If that sounds like you, then by all means avoid building this weight-tracking IoT scale with an attitude.

Then again, if you live in fear of your scale, [Jamie Bailey]’s version is easy to hate, at least when your numbers are going in the wrong direction. Centered around a second-hand Wii Balance Board talking to a Raspberry Pi via Bluetooth, the scale really only captures your weight and sends it up to InitialState for tracking and feedback. Whether the feedback is in the form of jokes at your expense is, of course, is entirely up to you; if you’d rather get gentle nudges and daily affirmations, just edit a few files. Or if your tastes run more toward “Yo momma so fat” jokes, have at it.

Bathroom scales are a good hacking target, whether it’s reverse engineering a digital scale or eavesdropping on a smart scale. This build is snarky good fun, and if nothing else, it’s good for pranking your roommate. Unless your roommate is your husband or wife, of course. That’s just – no.

Instrumentation Amplifiers and How to Measure Miniscule Change

These days there a large number of sensors and analog circuits that are “controller friendly” meaning that their output signal is easily interfaced to the built-in Analog to Digital Convertors (ADCs) often found in today’s micro-controllers. This means that the signals typically are already amplified, often filtered, and corrected for offset and linearity. But when faced with very low level signals, or signals buried in a larger signal an Instrumentation Amplifier may be what’s needed. The qualities of an Instrumentation Amplifier include:

  • A differential amplifier with high impedance and low bias current on both inputs.
  • Low noise and low drift when amplifying very small signals.
  • The ability to reject a voltage that is present on both inputs, referred to as Common Mode Rejection Ratio (CMRR)

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How to Weigh an Eyelash

So you’re a boxer, and you’re weighing in just 80 micrograms too much for your usual weight class. How many eyelashes do you need to pluck out to get back in the ring? Or maybe you’re following the newest diet fad, “microcooking”, and a recipe calls for 750 micrograms of sugar, and you need to know how many grains that is. You need a microgram scale.

OK, we can’t really come up with a good reason to weigh an eyelash, except to say that you did. Anyway, not one but two separate YouTube videos show you how to build a microgram balance out of the mechanism in a panel meter. You know, the kind with the swinging pointer that they used to use before digital?

Panel meters are essentially an electromagnet on a spring in the field of a permanent magnet (a galvanometer). When no current flows through the electromagnet, the spring pulls the needle far left. As you push current through the electromagnet, it is attracted to the fixed permanent magnet, fighting the spring, and tugs the pointer over to the right. More current equals more pull.

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Fixing a Broken Postage Scale

[Starhawk] had an old Pitney Bowes G799 postage scale that wasn’t working as it should. After years of faithfully measuring packages and cooking ingredients, the scale stopped working. At first it fell out of calibration. Then the power up sequence stopped working. The scale normally would turn on, light up the entire display, then change to dashes, and finally set itself to 0.0 lbs. In this case, it would get stuck at the dashes and never change to 0.0.

[Starhawk] ended up purchasing another duplicate scale from eBay, only to find that when it arrived it had the exact same power up problem. Using deductive reasoning, he decided that since the scale was broken during shipping the problem would likely be with a mechanical component. He turned out to be correct. The cheap momentary power button was at fault. When pressing the button, the contact would get stuck closed preventing the scale from zeroing out properly. [Starhawk] easily fixed his problem by replacing the switch.

Next [Starhawk] replaced the old scale’s LCD module with one from the new scale, since the old one looked to be on its way out. The scale still had a problem correctly measuring weight. [Starhawk] tried swapping the load cell from the new scale to the old one, but he found that the new load cell had some kind of problem that prevented the scale from zeroing out properly. The solution ended up being to use the newer “analog board” as [Starhawk] calls it.  The end result was the old scale with two newer circuit boards, an older load cell, and a new power switch. Next time it might be easier to just build his own scale.

Reverse Engineering a Bathroom Scale for Automated Weight Tracking

[Darell] recently purchased a fancy new bathroom scale. Unlike an average bathroom scale, this one came with a wireless digital display. The user stands on the scale and the base unit transmits the weight measurement to the display using infrared signals. The idea is that you can place the display in front of your face instead of having to look down at your feet. [Darell] realized that his experience with infrared communication would likely enable him to hack this bathroom scale to automatically track his weight to a spreadsheet stored online.

[Darell] started by hooking up a 38khz infrared receiver unit to a logic analyzer. Then he recorded the one-way communication from the scale to the display. His experience told him that the scale was likely using pulse distance coding to encode the data. The scale would start each bit with a 500ms pulse. Then it would follow-up with either another 500ms pulse, or a 1000ms pulse. Each combination represented either a 1 or a 0. The problem was, [Darell] didn’t know which was which. He also wasn’t sure in which order the bits were being transmitted. He modified a software plugin for his logic analyzer to display 1’s and 0’s on top of the waveform. He then made several configurable options so he could try the various representations of the data.

Next it was time to generate some known data. He put increasing amounts of weight on the scale and recorded the resulting data along with the actual reading on the display. Then he tried various combinations of display settings until he got what appeared to be hexadecimal numbers increasing in size. Then by comparing values, he was able to determine what each of the five bytes represented. He was even able to reconstruct the checksum function used to generate the checksum byte.

Finally, [Darell] used a Raspberry Pi to hook the scale up to the cloud. He wrote a Python script to monitor an infrared receiver for the appropriate data. The script also verifies the checksum to ensure the data is not corrupted. [Darell] added a small LED light to indicate when the reading has been saved to the Google Docs spreadsheet, so he can be sure his weight is being recorded properly.

Small-Scale Projects Use Snail-Mail Mail-Scale

stamps.com scale

Stamps.com offers a free USB scale when you sign up for their service. The first versions of this scale did not have a display. In order to find the weight of an object the scale had to be connected to a computer running the stamps.com software. If you happen to have one of these old scales or are able to pick one up cheap, you may be interested in using it outside of the stamps.com service. There are several options on how to do that.

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