Parts bin Emergency Lights Deal with Tornado’s Aftermath

Sometimes having a deep inventory of parts in your shop is a pain – the clutter, the dust, the things you can’t rationally justify keeping but still can’t bear to part with. But sometimes the parts bin delivers and lets you cobble together some emergency lighting when a tornado knocks out your power.

It has been hard to avoid discussions of the weird weather in the US this winter. The eastern half of the country has had record warm temperatures, the west has been lashed by storms, and now December tornadoes have ripped through Texas and other parts of the south, with terrible loss of life and wide-ranging property damage. [TheTimmy] was close enough to one massive EF4 tornado to lose power on Saturday night, and after the charm of a candlelight Christmas evening wore off, he headed to the shop. He had a bunch of sealed lead acid batteries from old UPSs and a tangle of 12V LED modules, and with the help of some elastic bands and jumper clips he wired up a bunch of lights for around the house. Safer than candles by a long shot, and more omnidirectional than flashlights to boot.

The power came back before the batteries ran out of juice, so we don’t get to see any hacks for recharging batteries in a grid-down scenario. Still, it’s good to see how a deep parts bin and good mindset can make a positive impact on an uncomfortable situation. We’ve seen similar hacks before, like this hacked cordless tool battery pack or powering a TV with 18650 batteries. Be sure to share your story of epic power-outage hacks in the comments below.

Old School Analog Meters Tell you the Weather

A home weather station is great geek street cred. Buying a commercially available station will get you all the bells and whistles, but the look tends to the utilitarian. And then there’s the trouble of placing the sensor array somewhere. To solve both problems, [GradyHillhouse] built this unique weather station with analog meters.

Based on a Particle Photon pulling weather data from the API, values for temperature, pressure and the like are sent to analog IO pins. Each pin has a meter with a trimmer pot for calibration and a custom printed label. There’s also a digital output that goes high when a severe weather alert is posted; that drives an LED behind the bezel of one of the meters. Everything is mounted in a walnut plaque which makes for a nice presentation. The video after the break details the build.

As you can imagine, we’ve featured lots of weather stations before. Some display their data on a screen, some in more unique ways. But we really like the old school look and simplicity of this project.

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Listen to the Rain, Raspberry Pi Style

There’s an old proverb algebra teachers often recite: You have to use what you know to find out what you don’t know. The same could be said about sensors. For example, analog to digital converters use something computers are good at finding (like time) and use it to determine something they aren’t good at finding (like voltage). So how do you detect rainfall? If you are [lowflyerUK], you use the microphone in your web camera and a Raspberry Pi.

The idea was to reduce irrigation usage based on rainfall, so an exact measurement isn’t necessary. The Python code that analyzes the audio input is calibrated with three configuration parameters and attempts to remove wind noise. Even so, it needs to be in a room that gets a lot of noise from rainfall and ambient noise can throw the reading off.

The weather service is never going to adopt this system. Still, it is a great example of taking something you know and using it to get something you don’t know. If you want a more complete weather station, we have a few options for you.

Raspberry Pi Sense HAT Super Weather Dashboard

[InitialState] posted a great multipart tutorial about building what he calls a “Hyper-local Weather Dashboard.” In plain language, he created a Raspberry Pi-based web page that fuses weather data from Wunderground along with locally sensed weather data.

The tutorial has thee parts. The first part covers reading data from Wunderground using their developer’s API (you’ll need an API key; a free one is good for 500 queries a day). The second part covers using the Pi Sense HAT to measure local temperature, humidity, and pressure. The final part ties it all together using producing the hyper-local weather dashboard (whatever that really means).

We talked about the Sensor HAT earlier (and there’s more info in the video, below). Seems like those lights could do something, although that wouldn’t do you any good over a web interface. This is a good-looking project (and tutorial) and easy enough that it would be a good place to start
experimenting with the Raspberry Pi.

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WiFi Fob Acquaints OLED with ESP

When you think of WiFi in projects it’s easy to get into the rut of assuming the goal is to add WiFi to something. This particular build actually brings WiFi awareness to you, in terms of sniffing what’s going on with the signals around you and displaying them for instant feedback.

[0miker0] is working on the project as his entry in the Square Inch Project. It’s an adapter board that has a footprint for the 2×4 pin header of an ESP8266-01 module, and hosts the components and solder pads for a 128×64 OLED display. These are becoming rather ubiquitous and it’s not hard to figure out why. They’re relatively inexpensive, low-power, high-contrast, and require very few support components. From the schematic in the GitHub Repo it looks like 5 resistors and 7 caps.

The video below shows off two firmware modes so far. The first is an AP scan that reads out some information, the second is a weather-display program. Anyone who’s worked with the ESP modules knows that they have the potential to gather all kinds of data about WiFi signals — one of our favorite demos of this is when [cnlohr] used it to create a 3d light painted map of his WiFi signal strength. Chuck a rechargeable LiPo on this thing, tweak the example code for your needs, and you have a new gadget for wardriving-nouveau.

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Raspberry Pi Weather Station In Progress

[Jeremy Morgan] is building a weather station from scratch using a Raspberry Pi, and he has put together a nice write up that shows where he is at, and how it works. Currently, his setup is in the breadboard stage and is measuring humidity, temperature, pressure and light level using sensors that connect over one wire and I2C. He also shows how he is using Google Docs to store the data, by getting the Pi to write to a Google Spreadsheet over email: the Pi emails the data to Google every 30 seconds.

There is an analysis portion, with a Microsoft Azure web site that graphs the data over time. It’s a bit of a dogs breakfast (he might have used one interface technology for all of the sensors, for instance), but it is still a nice overview of the overall process.

Automatically channeling data into an easily accessible medium has been the target of many hacks going way back. We’ve seen a ton of companies pop up to help satisfy the need but between those and the hacked together (usually) open source solutions, there doesn’t seem to be a clear winner. What’s your favorite method of gathering and displaying data from projects like this onto the web? Let us know in the comments.

Build a Sensor Network Around a Weather Station

[Yveaux] had a problem. The transmitter on his outdoor weather station had broken, rendering the inside display useless. He didn’t want to buy a new one, so, like the freelance embedded software designer that he is, he decided to reverse engineer the protocol that the transmitter uses and build his own. He didn’t just replace the transmitter module, though, he decided to create an entire system that integrated the weather system into a sensor network controlled by a Raspberry Pi. That’s a far more substantial project, but it gave him the ability to customize the display and add more features, such as synching the timer in the display with a network clock and storing the data in an online database.

Fortunately for [Yveaux], the transmitter itself was fairly easy to replace. The weather station he had, like most, transmitted on the 868MHz frequency, which is a license-free ISM (Industrial, Scientific and Monitoring) spot on the spectrum. After some poking around, he was able to figure out the protocol and teach the Pi to speak it. He then added a Moteino and an nRF2401+ transmitter to the weather station, so it can send data to the Pi, which then sends it to the display. It is a more complicated setup, but it is also much more flexible. He’s had it running for a couple of years now and has collected more than a million sensor readings.