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.

Boxing Trainer Uses DIY Force Sensors

A team of Cornell students have designed and built their own electronic boxing trainer system. The product of their work is a game similar to Whack-A-Mole. There are five square pads organized roughly into the shape of a human torso and head. Each pad will light up based on a pre-programmed pattern. When the pad lights up, it’s the player’s job to punch it! The game keeps track of the player’s accuracy as well as their reaction time.

The team was trying to keep their budget under $100, which meant that off the shelf components would be too costly. To remedy this, they designed their own force sensors. The sensors are basically a sandwich of a few different materials. In the center is a 10″ by 10″ square of ESD foam. Pressed against it is a 1/2″ thick sheet of insulating foam rubber. This foam rubber sheet has 1/4″ slits cut into it, resulting in something that looks like jail bars. Sandwiching these two pieces of foam is fine aluminum window screen. Copper wire is fixed the screen using conductive glue. Finally, the whole thing is sandwiched between flattened pieces of corrugated cardboard to protect the screen.

The sensors are mounted flat against a wall. When a user punches a sensor, it compresses. This compression causes the resistance between the two pieces of aluminum screen to change. The resistance can be measured to detect a hit. The students found that if the sensor is hit harder, more surface area becomes compressed. This results in a greater change in resistance and can then be measured as a more powerful hit. Unfortunately it would need to be calibrated depending on what is hitting the sensor, since the size of the hitter can throw off calibration.

Each sensor pad is surrounded by a strip of LEDs. The LEDs light up to indicate which pad the user is supposed to hit. Everything is controlled by an ATMEGA 1284p microcontroller. This is the latest in a string of student projects to come out of Cornell. Make sure to watch the demonstration video below. Continue reading “Boxing Trainer Uses DIY Force Sensors”

Twittering Chicken Coops, Batman!

By now you’ve seen almost anything Tweet. But have you seen the (French) twittering chicken coop? (Google translate link) [Hugo] had kept two chickens as part of a household-waste reduction campaign, and then afterward started work.

Even if you don’t read French, the chickens’ twitter feed basically tells the story.

The setup can take IR photographs of sleeping chickens and notify [Hugo] when it’s time to collect the eggs. Naturally, an abundance of other sensors are available. The coop can tweet based on ambient temperature, nest temperature, light level, motion sensor status, or the amount of remaining chicken feed. You can easily follow whether the two fowl are in the coop or out in the yard. It’s like Big Brother, only for birds.

The application is, frankly, ridiculous. But if you’re into home (or coop) automation, there’s a lot to be learned and the project is very well documented. [Hugo] used OpenCV for visual egg detection, and custom Python code to slightly randomize the tweets’ text. All of these details are up on his Github account.

And if you just can’t get enough chicken-coop hacks, be sure to check out this mobile chicken coop, this coop in the shape of a golden spiral, or this Bluetooth-enabled, talking chicken coop, among others. You’d think our name was Coop-a-Day.

Smart Citizen: Arduino-compatible and packed with sensors

smartCitizenBoard

If you’re going to develop another Arduino-compatible board these days, you might as well take a “kitchen sink” approach. The Smart Citizen Kit piles it on, including Wi-Fi, an SD card slot, and EEPROM on its base. The attached shield—dubbed the “Ambient Board”—is a buffet of sensors: temperature, humidity, CO, NO2, light intensity, and a microphone for reading sound levels. The board’s intended purpose is to provide an open-source, interactive, environmental database by crowdsourcing data from multiple Smart Citizen Kits, but you can add your own stuff or yank the shield off altogether. Additional shields are also under development, aimed at providing agricultural data, monitoring biometrics, and more.

Stick the Smart Citizen somewhere and it can send sensor data to the web over a WiFi connection. The result is worth a look. Here’s the map with the real-time data from early release models scattered over Europe, most of which appear to be solar-powered with a small LiPo battery to keep them going overnight. There’s also an accompanying iPhone app that lets you set up the Smart Citizen, retrieve data from nearby sensors, and allows you to match your phone’s GPS location to any data you collect while carrying the board around.

The developers met their Kickstarter goals earlier this summer and the board has recently entered the manufacturing process, Rummage through their GitHub files here, and watch a video preview of the Smart Citizen below.

Continue reading “Smart Citizen: Arduino-compatible and packed with sensors”

BeagleBone SensorCape lets you measure just about anything

beaglebone-sensor-cape

Here’s another entry in the 2013 Intern Design Challenge which motivates summer Interns at Texas Instruments to build something cool for one of a handful of embedded platforms. This entry, developed by [Michael Leonard] is a cape for the BeagleBone Black which has footprints for a bunch of different sensors.

Use it to turn your BeagleBone into a weather station by populating the temperature, pressure, and humidity sensors. Or perhaps you’d prefer an IMU for your next quadcopter by populating the MPU-9150 chip on the pad labeled ‘9-Axis’. This part is an accelerometer, gyroscope, and digital compass all in one. There’s also room for a light sensor and an IR remote control receiver, with the large square pads on the right servung as breakouts for input buttons. If you want all the nitty-gritty on the sensors he designed for [Michael’s] done a great job of compiling a reference manual for the board.

[Michael] didn’t send us a link until he saw the retro-gaming cape we featured on Tuesday. Come on people! Don’t hide in the basement and build stuff unless you’re going to tell us about it.

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Reading Sensors with Scratch

Scratch + Arduino

Scratch, a graphical programming language developed by MIT’s Media Lab, is an excellent tool for teaching programming. [Daniel] created an Arduino Sensor Shield to interface with Scratch, allowing for real-world input to the language.

This board is a derivative of the Picoboard, which is designed for use with Scratch. Fortunately, the communication protocol was well documented, and [Daniel] used the same protocol to talk to the graphical programming environment. The shield includes resistance sensing, a light sensor, a sound sensor, and a sliding potentiometer.

The main goal was to create a board that could easily be built by DIY etching. This meant a one sided board with as few jumpers as possible. The final design, which can be downloaded and etched at home, is single sided and uses only one jumper. Detailed steps on testing the board are provided, which is very helpful for anyone trying to build their own.

This board is perfect for educational purposes, and thanks to [Daniel]’s optimizations, it can be built and tested at at home.

Artificial skin lets robots feel

BioTac Artificial Skin Technology is sure to be a storm with Robotics Designers. Giving them the opportunity to add a third sense to there robotic marvels. Now they can have the sense of touch to go along with existing technologies of sight and of sound.  Thanks to the technology coming out of the University of Southern California making this possible.

They have chosen to call their sensor BioTac, which is a new type of tactile sensor designed to mimic the human fingertip with its soft flexible skin. The sensor makes it possible to identify different types of texture by analyzing the vibrations produced as the sensor brushes over materials. This sensor is also capable of measuring pressure applied and  ambient temperature around the finger tip, expect to see this technology in next gen prosthetics. Let us know your thoughts on it.

[via technabob]
Continue reading “Artificial skin lets robots feel”