UK IT Specialist Unable to Boil Water, Make Tea

In our latest episode of “IoT-Schadenfreude Theater” we bring you the story of [Mark], a British man who can’t boil water. Or more specifically, a man who can’t integrate MQTT with Amazon Echo, or IFTTT with HomeKit.

Yes, yes. We all love to laugh at a technology in its infancy. It’s like when robots fall down: it’s a cheap shot and things will surely get better, right? Indeed, the Guardian has had its fun with this particular WiFi kettle before — they’re British and nothing is more important than a remote-controlled cuppa.

Every time we hear about one walled-garden protocol not speaking to another, and the resulting configuration mayhem that ensues, we can’t help think that [Mike] was right: home automation has a software problem. But that’s putting the blame on the technology. (We’re sure that [Mark] could have made the kettle work if he’d just applied a little Wireshark.)

Strongbad's VCR
Strongbad’s VCR

There’s another mismatch here — one of expectations about the users. A water kettle is an object that should be usable by grandmothers, and a complex networked device is clearly aimed at techies and early adopters. Combining the two is asking for trouble. Non-functioning IoT devices are the blinking 12:00 of our generation.

What do you think? Where’s the blame here? Poor design, bad software stack, stupid users, or failure of mega-corps to integrate their systems together? More importantly, how could we make it better?

Headline image:Fredy Velásquez Orozco, via Wikimedia Commons Thumbnail image: Markus Schweiss, also Wikimedia Commons.

Hacklet 121 – Tea Hacks

Last week on the Hacklet I covered coffee hacks. Not everyone likes coffee though. A good portion of the world’s population enjoys a nice cup of tea. Different cultures are rather particular with how they prepare their drink of choice. Americans tend to use teabags, while British, Chinese (and much of the rest of the globe) generally prefer loose tea leaves. Everyone has their own particular style, which has led to quite a few tea hacks. This week’s Hacklet is all about some of the best tea projects on Hackaday.io!

teapiWe start with [James P.] and Tea Pi. Tea Pi is designed to emulate commercial tea makers costing hundreds of dollars. The heart of the operation is a Raspberry Pi, making this one of the first Linux powered tea makers we’ve ever heard of. An Adafruit PowerSwitch Tail allows the Pi to control a standard tea kettle. The Pi monitors water temperature with a DS18B20 temperature sensor. A simple servo drops a tea basket into the water for brewing. When the time is up, the servo pulls the basket up and the tea is ready to serve. [James P] planned to add voice control to his tea creation. I’m betting that would be pretty easy with Amazon’s voice services for the Raspberry Pi.

eyeoteaNext up is [Tom] with Eye-O-Tea. With this project, even your cup of tea can join the Internet of Things. Eye-O-Tea essentially is a web connected coaster with temperature monitoring built right in. Temperature is measured with a Melexis MLX90615 IR thermometer. An Arduino Pro Mini reads the temperature and passes it on to an ESP8266 WiFi module. The entire device is powered by a LiPo battery, and neatly housed in a gutted cup warmer. On the cloud side, [Tom] used ThinkSpeak and freeboard.io to make an interface he can access with his cell phone. If his tea is too hot, Eye-O-Tea will let him know. It will also send him an SMS if he’s forgotten his cup and it’s going cold.

chaiNext we have [Adrian] and ChaiBot. Chaibot was created by [Adrian’s] son [Oliver] to combat a common problem. Both father and son would pour cups of tea, then get involved in a project. By the time they came back, they had ink. ChaiBot steeps the tea for a set amount of time, stirring every minute. The mechanics of the project came from an old CD-ROM drive. A PIC16F887 runs the show, ensuring the steep time is accurate, and activating the motor drive. When the tea is done, an ESP8266 sends a push notification to the user’s phone. The project is housed in a wooden case that fits perfectly on the kitchen counter.

inductFinally, we have [Siggi] with Camper Induction Cooker, a 2016 Hackaday Prize entry. [Siggi] needed hot liquids on the go, but he didn’t want to fool around with heating elements. An induction heater was the way to go. A Cypress PSOC micro controls the system. Metal travel style mugs can be used without modification. For ceramic or plastic mugs, a metal washer (hopefully coated with something food safe) acts as an immersion heater. The project is definitely a bit unwieldy at the moment, but I could see [Siggi’s] idea being incorporated into automotive cup holders. [Siggi] put his project on hold back in June. I hope seeing his work on the front page will get development moving again.

If you want to see more tea projects, check out our new tea projects list. See a project I might have missed? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Ask Hackaday: Whatever Happened to LED Light Sensors?

If you’re a long-time Hackaday reader like we are, you’ll certainly remember a rash of projects from around ten years ago that all (mis-)used an LED as a light sensor. The idea wasn’t new, but somehow it made the rounds and insinuated itself into our collective minds. Around the same time, a cryptographic cipher with an exceptionally small memory footprint was also showing up in hacker projects: TEA (Tiny Encryption Algorithm).

This old project by [Marcin Bojanczyk], [Chris Danis], and [Brian Rogan] combines both the LED-as-light-sensor meme and TEA to make a door-entry keyfob that works over visible light. And they do so using almost nothing — a few LEDs and just over 2Kb of code. It’s pretty sweet.

Which brings us to the question: where are they (LED-sensors and TEA) now?

ledtouch_photoLED-as-light-sensor was just cool. We certainly loved the idea back in 2006. But [Forrest Mims] had been using the phenomenon for decades back then. It certainly makes sense when you’re trying to squeeze as much as possible out of as little as possible, or when budget is a main concern and you just can’t afford an extra photodiode.

But our own experience with LEDs as light sensors is that the results are extremely variable across different LEDs. Code that works with water-clear red LEDs might not work with the ones that come in red-tinted plastic, for instance. Is that why they went extinct?
4746123271_7888160588Similarly, the TEA family of ciphers showed up in a bunch of projects around this time, from the badge for the HOPE conference in 2010 to a widely used RFM12B radio library. There are a couple of attacks on XXTEA, but they only affect reduced-round versions of the cipher, and rely on a tremendous amount of intercepted data — more than we’d see in a home-automation network over years.

Over the last five years or so, there’s been a lot more Internet of Things, which means using standard Internet-style encryption methods (AES and so on) that are widespread on non-memory-constrained computers. Is that what happened to XXTEA?

Anyway, we got tipped off to a project that combined a few of our favorite (old) ideas in one, so we thought that we’d share. Thanks [Blue Smoke] for the walk down memory lane. Any of you out there keeping the flame(s) alive? Have you used sensing LEDs or XXTEA? Are those projects still going, or do you have any future projects planned with these tricks still up your sleeve? Let us know in the comments below.

ChaiBot: A Tea Robot Steeped in Utility

On the surface, a cup of tea is a simple thing to make. Heat up some water, insert tea leaves, and wait for it to steep. The wait time is a matter of taste, and it is absolutely crucial to remove the bag or infuser before it’s too late. Otherwise, you end up with a liquid that’s almost, but not quite, entirely unlike tea.

[Adrian] and his son would often find themselves lost in conversation during the steeping process and let it go too long. But that was before they built ChaiBot, an automatic tea minder. This fine-looking machine uses an old CD drive to raise and lower the tea bags, which are held by a thin piece of stainless steel mesh. Once the bags are lowered, [Adrian] pours hot water into the cups. The weight of the water is detected by a capacitive sensor under the cup cutouts, and this triggers the timer to start counting down to the perfect cuppa.

One of the coolest features of ChaiBot is the built-in circulation. Every minute, the bags are lifted out briefly and reinserted, disturbing the water so the steeping is more uniform. Since the final step to making great tea is drinking it before it goes cold, ChaiBot sends a push notification to [Adrian]’s phone. Be sure to check out the demo after the break.

Here’s another CD drive-based tea bot we covered a while back. It’s not quite as pretty, but it gets the job done. If you’re not one to wander off while your tea steeps but prefer not to watch a clock, here’s a compact timer that’ll fit in your pocket.

Continue reading “ChaiBot: A Tea Robot Steeped in Utility”

Tiny Tea Timer for Your Perfect Cuppa

If you’re serious about your tea, you know that the line between a perfect brew and over-steeped dreck is a fine one. Seconds can make a difference, and for the tinkering tea drinker, this might lead you to build a tiny timer with just the features it needs to achieve tea perfection.

The circuit that tea-loving [acidbourbon] came up with for his timer is simplicity itself. It’s just an ATtiny25, an  LED, two pushbutton switches and a piezo buzzer on one side of the PCB, with a coin battery on the flip side. The battery holder is an interesting design – a couple of rows of pin headers and a bit of springy metal. The user interface is as simple as the circuit – the buttons increment the time either one or ten minutes. The timer starts right away, the LED heartbeat counts down the seconds, and a distinctly British tune announces when it’s time for tea.

One possible improvement might be to have the LED flash the number of minutes remaining rather than just a single pulse heartbeat. That would be good feedback that you entered the right time in the first place. Other than that, it’s small enough to be handy, does just one job, and does it well – sounds like good design to us. Of course, if you want to complicate it a bit, you could always automate the tea steeping process.

Continue reading “Tiny Tea Timer for Your Perfect Cuppa”

Automated Tea Maker

[Pariprohus] wanted to make an interesting gift for his girlfriend. Knowing how daunting it can be to make your own tea, he decided to build a little robot to help out. His automated tea maker is quite simple, but effective.

The device runs off of an Arduino Nano. The Nano is hooked up to a servo, a piezo speaker, an LED, and a switch. When the switch is turned to the off position, the servo rotates into the “folded” position. This moves the steeping arm into a position that makes the device easier to store and transport.

When the device is turned on to the “ready” position, the arm will extend outward and stay still. This gives you time to attach the tea bag to the arm and place the mug of hot water underneath. Finally the switch can be placed into “brew” mode. In this mode, the bag is lowered into the hot water and held for approximately five minutes. Each minute the bag is raised and lowered to stir the water around.

Once the cycle completes, the Nano plays a musical tune from the piezo speaker to remind you to drink your freshly made tea. All of the parameters including the music can be modified in the Nano’s source code. All of the components are housed in a small wooden box painted white. Check out the video below to see it in action. Continue reading “Automated Tea Maker”

Hacklet 14 – Hacks Around the House

In this weeks Hacklet we’re looking at household hacks. Not necessarily globally connected home automation hacks, but task specific hacks that we want in our lives yesterday!

We’ve all had it happen, you’re burning the midnight oil on a project when you realize it’s garbage night. The mad dash to collect empty anti-static bags, last night’s Chinese food, and the rest of the trash before actually venturing outside in the dark.

bins2[Mehmet-cileli] doesn’t have to deal with any of that, thanks to My Bins, his automated trash and recycling can moving system. Normally the bins are stationed near the house. Each garbage night, the system springs into action. The cans and their platform pivots 90 degrees. The entire system then rolls along a track to the curb. Once the cans have been collected, everything rolls back ready for more trash. We just hope [Mehmet’s] garbage men are nice enough to put the bins back on their platform!

teatimeNext we have the perfect cup of tea. [Marcel] kept forgetting his tea while it was steeping. After ending up with ink a few times, he built this Automatic Tea Timer. A button starts the timer, and after a few minutes, the tea bag is automatically lifted and a light illuminates to let you know your tea is ready. [Marcel] used a Raspberry Pi Arduino 555 simple R-C timer circuit to create his delay. The lift arm is a discarded hard drive read arm. The light bulb limits current through the voice coils.

greenhouse1[Juan Sandu] always has veggies with his Smart Small Greenhouse. [Juan] has created a desktop sized greenhouse that gives plants what they crave. No, not Brawndo, we’re talking water, warmth, and light. An Arduino Uno uses sensors to monitor humidity, temperature, light, and moisture. Based upon one of two pre-set plant types, the system determines when to water, turn on lights, or even power up a fan to keep temperatures plant friendly.  [Juan] is still working on his greenhouse, but his code is already up on Github.

 

grillupNext up is [nerwal] with his entry in The Hackaday Prize, GrillUp. GrillUp is a remote grill temperature monitoring system with a cooling spray. Up to 6 food grade thermometers provide GrillUp with its temperature data. If things are getting a bit too hot, Grillup cools the situation down by spraying water, beer, or your favorite marinade. The system is controlled over Bluetooth Low Energy from an android smart phone. A laser pointer helps to aim the water spray. Once the cooling zones are set up, the system runs automatically. It even has a sprinkler mode, where it sprays everything down.

led-lightsEvery hacker’s house needs some Sci-fi mood lights, right? [spetku and maehem] round out this weeks Hacklet with their Fifth Element Stone Mood Lighting. Originally an entry in the Hackaday Sci-fi contest, these mood lights are based on the elemental stones in everyone’s favorite Bruce Willis movie. The lights are 3D printed in sections which stack over foamboard cores. The actual light comes from a trio of RGB LEDs. LED control is from the same brain board which controls the team’s Robot Army. The lights are designed to open up just like the ones in the movie, though fire, earth, wind, and water are not required. The servos [spetku and maehem] selected weren’t quite up to the task, but they mention this will be remedied in a future revision.

That’s a wrap for this week’s Hacklet. As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!