Earth Day: Environmental Sensors

Before you attempt to solve a problem, you must first study the problem. If there’s a problem with the environment, you must therefore study the environment at a scale never seen before. For this year’s Hackaday Prize, there are a lot of projects that aim to do just that. Here are a few of them:

[Pure Engineering]’s C12666 Micro Spectrometer has applications ranging from detecting if fruit is ripe, telling you to put sunscreen on, to detecting oil spills. Like the title says, it’s based on the Hamamatsu C12666MA spectrometer, a very tiny MEMS spectrometer that can sort light by wavelength from 340 to 780nm.

The project is to build a proper breakout board for this spectrometer. The best technologies are enabling technologies, and we can’t wait to see all the cool stuff that’s made with this sensor.

[radu.motisan]’s portable environmental monitor isn’t just one sensor, but an entire suite of them. The design of the project includes toxic and flammable gas sensors, radiation detectors, dust sensors, and radiation detectors packaged together in a neat, convenient package.

[radu] has already seen some success with environmental sensors and The Hackaday Prize; last year, his entry, the uRADMonitor placed in the top fifty for creating a global network of radiation sensors.

 

New Part Day: Time Of Flight Sensors

Every robotics project out there, it seems, needs a way to detect if it’s smashing into a wall repeatedly, acting like the brainless automaton it actually is. The Roomba has wall sensors, just about every robot kit has some way of detecting obstacles its running into, and for ‘wall-following robots’, detecting objects is all they do.

While the earliest of these robots used a piece of wire and a metal contact to act like a switch for these object detectors, ultrasonic sensors – the kind you can buy on eBay for a few bucks – have replaced this clever wire spring switch. Now there’s a new sensor for the same job – the VL6180 – and it measures the speed of light.

The sensors that are used for object and collision detection now use either ultrasonic or infrared light. They’re susceptible to noise, and if you’re doing anything automated, you really don’t want rogue measurements. A time of flight sensor clocks out photons and records how long it takes them to return at 299,792,458 meters per second. It’s less sensitive to noise, and if you can believe this SparkFun demo of this sensor, extremely accurate

This is not the first Time of Flight distance sensor on the market; earlier this week we saw a project use a sensor called the TeraRanger One. This sensor costs €150.00. The VL6180 sensor costs about $6 in quantity one from the usual suspects, and breakout boards with the proper level converters and regulators can be found for about $25. More expensive sensors have a greater range, naturally; the VL6180 is limited to somewhere between 10cm (on paper) and 25cm (in practice). But this is cheap, and it measures the time of flight of pulses of light. That’s just cool.

Wireless Water Level Sensor from PVC Pipe

[Bob] was having trouble keeping up with his water troughs. He had to constantly check them to make sure they weren’t empty, and he always found that the water level was lower than he thought. He decided it was time to build his own solution to this problem. What he ended up with was a water level sensor made from PVC pipe and a few other components.

The physical assembly is pretty simple. The whole structure is made from 1/2″ PVC pipe and fittings and is broken into four nearly identical sensor modules. The sensors have an electrode on either side. The electrodes are made from PVC end caps, sanded down flat at the tip. A hole is then drilled through the cap to accommodate a small machine screw. The screw threads are coated in joint compound before the screw is driven into the hole, creating its own threads. These caps are placed onto small sections of PVC pipe, which in turn connect to a four-way PVC cross connector. 

On the inside of the electrode cap, two washers are placed onto the screw. A stranded wire is placed between the washers and then clamped in place with a nut. All of the modules are connected together with a few inches of pipe. [Bob] measured this out so it would fit appropriately into his trough, but the measurements can easily be altered to fit just about any size container. The wires all route up through the pipe. The PVC pipe is cemented together to keep the water out. The joint compound prevents any leaks at the electrodes.

A piece of CAT 5 cable connects the electrodes to the electronics inside of the waterproof controller box. The electronics are simple. It’s just a simple piece of perfboard with an XBee and a few transistors. The XBee can detect the water level by testing for a closed circuit between the two electrodes of any sensor module. The water acts as a sort of switch that closes the circuit. When the water gets too low, the circuit opens and [Bob] knows that the water level has lowered. The XBee is connected to a directional 2.4GHz antenna to ensure the signal reaches the laptop several acres away. Continue reading “Wireless Water Level Sensor from PVC Pipe”

Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy

[Tyler] was looking for a gift for his friend’s one year old son. Searching through the shelves in the toy store, [Tyler] realized that most toys for children this age are just boxes of plastic that flash lights and make sound. Something that he should be able to make himself with relative ease. After spending a bit of time in the shop, [Tyler] came up with the Pandaphone.

The enclosure is made from a piece of 2×4 lumber. He cut that piece into three thinner pieces of wood. The top piece has two holes cut out to allow for an ultrasonic sensor to poke out. The middle piece has a cavity carved out using a band saw. This would leave room to store the electronics. The bottom piece acts as a cover to hide the insides.

The circuit uses an ATtiny85. The program watches the ultrasonic PING sensor for a change in distance. It then plays an audio tone out of a small speaker, which changes pitch based on the distance detected. The result is a pitch that is lower when your hand is close to the sensor, but higher when your hand is farther away. The case was painted with the image of a panda on the front, hence the name, “Pandaphone”. Based on the video below, it looks like the recipient is enjoying it! Continue reading “Pandaphone is a DIY Baby Toy”

MIDI Keyboard with Frickin’ Laser Keys

MIDI instruments are cool, but they’re not laser cool. That is, unless you’ve added lasers to your MIDI instrument like [Lasse].

[Lasse] started out with an old MIDI keyboard. The plan was to recycle an older keyboard rather than have to purchase something new. In this case, the team used an ESi Keycontrol 49. They keyboard was torn apart to get to the creamy center circuit boards. [Lasse] says that most MIDI keyboards come withe a MIDI controller board and the actual key control board.

Once the key controller board was identified, [Lasse] needed to figure out how to actually trigger the keys without the physical keyboard in place. He did this by shorting out different pads while the keyboard was hooked up to the computer. If he hit the correct pads, a note would play. Simple, but effective.

The housing for the project is made out of wood. Holes were drilled in one piece to mount 12 laser diodes. That number is not arbitrary. Those familiar with music theory will know that there are 12 notes in an octave. The lasers were powered via the 5V source from USB. The lasers were then aimed at another piece of wood.

Holes were drilled in this second piece wherever the lasers hit. Simple photo resistors were mounted here. The only other components needed for each laser sensor were a resistor and a transistor. This simple discreet circuit is enough to simulate a key press when the laser beam is broken. No programming or microcontrollers required. Check out the demonstration video below to see how it works. Continue reading “MIDI Keyboard with Frickin’ Laser Keys”

Chinese Temperature/Humidity Sensor is Easily Hacked

There’s a new piece of electronics from China on the market now: the USR-HTW Wireless Temperature and Humidity Sensor. The device connects over Wi-Fi and serves up a webpage where the user can view various climate statistics. [Tristan] obtained one of these devices and cracked open the data stream, revealing that this sensor is easily manipulated to do his bidding.

Once the device is connected, it sends an 11-byte data stream a few times a minute on port 8899 which can be easily intercepted. [Tristan] likes the device due to the relative ease at which he could decode information, and his project log is very detailed about how he went about doing this. He notes that the antenna could easily be replaced as well, just in case the device needs increased range.

There are many great reasons a device like this would be useful, such as using it as a remote sensor (or in an array of sensors) for a homemade thermostat, or a greenhouse, or in any number of other applications. The sky’s the limit!

Using the ESP8266 as a Web-enabled sensor

A few months ago, the ESP8266 came onto the scene as a cheap way to add WiFi to just about any project that had a spare UART. Since then, a few people have figured out how to get this neat chip running custom firmware, opening the doors to an Internet of Things based around an ESP8266. [Marc] and [Xavi] just wrote up a quick tutorial on how to turn the ESP8266 into a WiFi sensor platform that will relay the state of a GPIO pin to the Internet.

If you’re going to replicate this project, you won’t be using the stock firmware on the ESP. Instead of the stock firmware, [Marc] and [Xavi] are using the Lua-based firmware that allows for access to a few GPIOs on the device and scripting support to make application development easy. To upload this firmware to the ESP, [Marc] and [Xavi] needed a standard FTDI USB to serial converter, a few AT commands through a terminal program, and a few bits of wire.

The circuit [Marc] and [Xavi] ended up demoing for this tutorial is a simple webpage that’s updated every time a button is pressed. This will be installed in the door of their hackerspace in Barcelona, but already they have a great example of the ESP8266 in use.