Using Ultrasonic Sensors to Measure and Log Oil Tank Levels

[Mike] lives in a temperate rainforest in Alaska (we figured from his website’s name) and uses a 570 gallon oil tank to supply his furnace. Until now, he had no way of knowing how much oil was left in the tank and what his daily usage was. As he didn’t find any commercial product that could do what he wanted, he designed his own solution. In his write-up, [Mike] started by listing all the different sensors he had considered to measure the oil level and finally opted for an ultrasonic sensor. In his opinion, this kind of sensor is the best compromise between cost, ease of use, range and precision for his application. The precise chosen model was the ping))) bought from our favorite auction website for around $2.5.

[Mike] built the custom enclosure that you can see in the picture above using PVC parts. Enclosed are the ultrasonic sensor, a temperature sensor and an LED indicating the power status. On the other side of the CAT5 cable can be found an Arduino compatible board with an XBee shield and a 9V battery. Using another XBee shield and its USB adapter board, [Mike] can now wirelessly access the tank oil level log from his computer.

We are the Borg. We will add heat and distance sensing to your vision.


[Gregory McRoberts] was born with reduced vision in one eye and has never experienced the three dimensional sight which most of us take for granted. Recently he was inspired by the concept of a hearing aid to build a device which can augment his vision. Behold, the very Borg-like eye-patch that he wears to add distance and heat to his palette of senses.

The hardware he chose is an Arduino-compatible Lilypad board. It is wired to an ultrasonic rangefinder and an infrared sensor which monitor the area in front of him. The function of his right eye is still capable of seeing light and color, so a pair of LED boards are mounted on the inside. One is connected to the thermal sensor, displaying blue when below eighty degrees Fahrenheit and red when above. The other LED is green and flashes at a different speed based on the range sensor’s reading.

This is distracting when a person with normal sight wears it because of the intensity of the LEDs. We found [Gregory's] explanation of this (called Helmet Fire) quite interesting.

[via Adafruit]

$15 toy becomes fully programmable robot

[Kevin] undertook a robot build partly for his own enjoyment, but also to include his kids in the action. He acquired a cheap toy and packed it full of programmable goodness. The starting point was a $15 toy called Rad 2.0. It’s a great starting point as it already included some motorized parts, and takes care of much of the mechanical issues like joints and structure.

The image on the left is the fourth update which [Kevin] has posted. The robot now responds to voice commands (with the same syntax as Chippu uses), moving its gaze to face forward or to either side. You’ll notice there’s a wireless webcam which lets him spy on what’s in front of the robot’s gaze. An ultrasonic range finder makes itself at home in the beak of the bot, and a Larson Scanner is nestled in the brow using the kit from Evil Mad Scientist Labs. Check out the video after the break for an overview of the hardware modifications.

The build log for this project is a forum post. That forum is run by [DJ Sures], a veteran at taking cheap toys and making them awesome. It seems like he’s taken a web forum and made it awesome too because the conversation about [Kevin's] project is packed with constructive tips and encouragement.

[Read more...]

Halloween Hacks: Motion sensing fog machine

Halloween Hacks Banner


[monkeysinacan] wanted to add a fog machine to his Halloween display, but he says that the cheaper consumer-grade models are pretty unruly beasts. He cites short duty cycles and tricky fog control as his two biggest gripes with these sorts of foggers. He decided make the fogging process a little more manageable, and modified his to only generate fog when someone was walking nearby.

One obvious concern with this sort of setup is the warm-up time required to get the device ready to produce fog. If it were to only turn on when someone walked by, [monkeysinacan] would miss his mark each and every time. To ensure that his machine was accurate, he rigged it so that the heat exchanger stayed powered on, triggering the fog juice pump as needed.

To do this, he used an ultrasonic sensor similar to, but cheaper than a Parallax Ping unit. Paired with an Arduino, the sensor triggers the fog machine’s pump for 20 seconds whenever anyone gets within 6 feet of it.

While he hasn’t posted video of the modified fogger at work, it sounds like a solid plan to us.

Obstacle avoiding hexapod from reused parts


[Rob] built this hexapod one day when he had some free time after work. Just like the last hexapod we saw, he based the build on the Pololu design which uses three servo motors for surprisingly reliable movement.

The hardware is very straight forward. A Dorkboard serves as the brain. It’s a PCB that is wider on each side by the width of one female pin-header than a standard AVR 28-pin microcontroller. This gives easy access to all of the pins on the Arduino chip while making it small and light. You can see that a four-pack of batteries hangs below the servo motors to provide power.

Protruding above the 6-legger is a PING ultrasonic rangefinder. This adds autonomy to the little robot, which you can see running some obstacle avoidance routines in the video after the break. We’ve asked [Rob] if is able to share his code and will update this post if we hear back from him.

Update: Here’s a link to the sketch, and we’ve updated the picture with one that [Rob] sent to us.

[Read more...]

Self parking lego mindstorms

er, [Hybrid] sent along this video of a lego mindstorm self parking car. I don’t think I’d want it parking next to my ride considering how much damage it did to the blocks. Man, I need to upgrade my legos. Sadly, this video just re-iterates one of the my problems with Youtube videos. Video posters tend to fail to provide links with more information about their projects/hacks. Via [techblog]
Update: [ralphn] found the car. It uses an ultrasonic sensor to find a space big enough to park in – when it does, it automatically parks.

Don’t forget, Prizes and glory await the winner of the Design Challenge. Just 12 days left to get em in.

Just a quick bonus hack: The giant altoids tin battery pack w/voltmeter. [Via Make]