Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants

 

If you want your plants to stay healthy, you need to make sure they stay watered. [Dimbit] decided to build his own solar powered circuit to help automatically keep his plants healthy. Like many things, there is more than one way to skin this cat. [Dimbit] had seen other similar projects before, but he wanted to make his smarter than the average watering project. He also wanted it to use very little energy.

[Dimbit] first tackled the power supply. He suspected he wouldn’t need much more than 5V for his project. He was able to build his own solar power supply by using four off-the-shelf solar garden lamps. These lamps each have their own low quality solar panel and AAA NiMH cell. [Dimbit] designed and 3D printed his own plastic stand to hold all of the solar cells in place. All of the cells and batteries are connected in series to increase the voltage.

Next [Dimbit] needed an electronically controllable water valve. He looked around but was unable to find anything readily available that would work with very little energy. He tried all different combinations of custom parts and off-the-shelf parts but just couldn’t make something with a perfect seal. The solution came from an unlikely source.

One day, when [Dimbit] ran out of laundry detergent, he noticed that the detergent bottle cap had a perfect hole that should be sealable with a steel ball bearing. He then designed his own electromagnet using a bolt, some magnet wire, and a custom 3D printed housing. This all fit together with the detergent cap to make a functional low power water valve.

The actual circuit runs on a Microchip PIC microcontroller. The system is designed to sleep for approximately nine minutes at a time. After the sleep cycle, it wakes up and tests a probe that sits in the soil. If the resistance is low enough, the PIC knows that the plants need water. It then opens the custom valve to release about two teaspoons of water from a gravity-fed system. After a few cycles, even very dry soil can reach the correct moisture level. Be sure to watch the video of the functioning system below. Continue reading “Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants”

Sci-Fi Contest Roundup: The Valve Universe

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While most of the entries to our Sci-Fi contest come from movies and TV shows, a select few are based on the Valve universe, including a few builds based on Portal and Team Fortress 2.

Deadly neurotoxinGLADOS

Who wouldn’t want a gigantic articulated sociopathic robot hanging around? Two groups are building a clone of GLaDOs from the Portal series. and already the builds look really great.

[AmarOk], developed an open-source personal assistant called RORI that intends to be a more helpful version of GLaDOs, without all the testing and killing. He, along with [Peterb0y] and [n0m1s] are turning this personal assistant software into a GLaDOs replica.

Taking a slightly different tack, [Eric] and [jjyacovelli] built a GLaDOs-like robot with a camera in the ‘face’. This camera connects to a Google Glass and tracks the user’s head movements. There’s also a Nerf gun attached to the end of the robot body, triggered by double winking. Yep, it’s a heads-up display GLaDOs, perfect for punishing your test subjects.

Heavy load comin’ through!

Sentry

Not to be out done by a malevolent, hyper-intelligent artificial intelligence, [Tyler] and [Ryan] are building the cutest gat’ dern weapon in all of west Texas. It’s the level one sentry from Team Fortress 2, and the guys are turning one into a paintball sentry.

The TF2 sentry is a cute little bugger capable of motion tracking and perimeter defense, filling enemies with lead should they ever come too close.

While the end result probably won’t be as large or as heavy as the “official” real-life turret, a smaller table-top sized model is probably a little more practical. Even if it doesn’t live up to expectations, upgrading the sentry is simply a matter of whacking it with a wrench a few times.

 

There’s still time for you to cobble together an awesome Sci-Fi project and have a chance to win some awesome prizes.

A real car remote controlled with an Arduino… what could go wrong?

[Gilad] tipped us about his latest project, where he adds plenty of pneumatics and electronics into his wife’s car to remote control it.

The brake/throttle pedals are actuated by pistons controlled by electronic valves, and a standard DC motor is in charge of turning the wheel. The Arduino code tells us that the valves will be opened as long as the remote up/down channel is above/under given values. The frame is based on Festo aluminium profiles and we’re not sure where the mains used for the DC/DC converters is coming from.  As the valves use 24V and the motor 12V, standard N-Mosfets and power relays are used for voltage conversion. The remote controller [Gilard] used is actually 20 years old, so the output signal of the receiver isn’t actually really clean.

We do hope to never see this car on the road….

Build your own water rocket launcher

We feel like the days when you want to play in the water are far behind us. But if you can still find a warm afternoon here or there this water rocket launcher build is a fun undertaking. We figure most of the time spent on the project will be in shopping for the parts. They’re all quite common, and once you have them on hand it can be assembled in under an hour.

The concept is simple, but that doesn’t stop people from building rather complicated water rocket rigs. This one which [Lou] devised is rather simple but it does offer connections to a hose and air compressor (the alternative being to fill the bottle with water ahead of time and use a bike pump for air pressure). PVC is used to connect the two inputs to the bottle via a pair of valves. The bottle is held in place while water and air are applied. The launch happens when a pull on that rope  releases the bottle.

Check out the build process and bottle launch after the break. We think that rocket needs a few fins.

Continue reading “Build your own water rocket launcher”

Force carbonating root beer with dry ice

[Paul] is sick and tired of his homemade root beer being flat. He analyzed the problem with his carbonation techniques and ended up with a method of force carbonating beverages using dry ice.

He starts of by discussing the various methods that are used to carbonate beverages. There’s the old yeast and sugar trick that takes place inside of a sealed bottle. But this takes time, and if you don’t calculate the mixture correctly you could have over or under carbonated bottles (or exploding bottles in the case of glass beer bottling). [Paul] himself has tried the dry ice in a cooler full of root beer method. The problem is that the cooler isn’t pressurized so the carbonation level is very low. You need to have cold temperatures, high pressure, and the presence of carbon dioxide all at the same time in order to achieve high levels of carbonation.

His solution is to use a 60 PSI safety valve. He drilled a hole in a plastic bottle cap to receive the valve. He then drops a few chunks of dry ice in and seals it up. The valve will automatically release the gas as the pressure builds past the 60 PSI mark. What he ends up with is a highly carbonated beverage in a matter of minutes.

If you don’t mind spending some cash you can use an adjustable pressure regulator. This way you can carbonate just about anything.

[Thanks Steven]

Valve scoops up bright young electrical engineers

Several bright young engineers have been swiped up to work for Valve. Yes, that Valve, the game company. Amongst them are [Jeff Keyser] aka [Mighty ohm] and [Jeri Ellsworth], both names that we have seen on these pages many times. We’ve heard that Valve is a fun and very unique company to work for. Apparently there’s no solid hierarchy.

What we, and everyone else in the universe wants to know is what they are building! There were rumors and speculation of a game console that were quickly squashed. [Michael Abrash] let out some information in an interview that he was doing R&D into wearable computing. He also points out that he was not making a product.  So, let the speculation begin!

We asked [Jeri] if this meant she couldn’t publish her own hacks anymore due to contractual agreements, but she said that she can still do them and has some cool stuff coming out soon.

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Portal Radio is why Valve needs to build hardware

We’ve seen Portal gun builds, a few cute turret replicas, and even a miniaturized version of GLaDOS, but [John]‘s Portal radio replica is the first physical version of this oft-forgotten Portal item.

Interestingly, the entire radio is made from scrap. The spheroid body shell is made from the foam insulation from a commercial freezer, carefully sculpted, Bondoed, and painted over the course of 300 hours. The radio guts are taken from an upcycled radio, and powered by either an internal battery or a wall wart DC adapter – perfect for carrying around a test chamber with a portal gun.

Right now, there’s an AM/FM receiver inside the radio along with an audio input so an iPod or such can be plugged in. While we would have loved to see a loop of theuptempo version Still Alive, we’re guessing [John] hasn’t found an easy way to do that with junked parts yet.

Check out [John]‘s build video after the break.

Continue reading “Portal Radio is why Valve needs to build hardware”