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.

A Low-Cost Modular High Altitude Balloon Tracker with Mesh Networked Sensors

[Ethan] just tipped us about a project he and a few colleagues worked on last year for their senior design project. It’s a low-cost open hardware/software high altitude balloon tracker with sensors that form a mesh network with a master node. The latter (shown above) includes an ATmega644, an onboard GPS module (NEO-6M), a micro SD card slot, a 300mW APRS (144.39MHz) transmitter and finally headers to plug an XBee radio. This platform is therefore in charge of getting wireless data from the slave platforms, storing it in the uSD card while transmitting the balloon position via APRS along with other data. It’s interesting to note that to keep the design low-cost, they chose a relatively cheap analog radio module ($~40) and hacked together AFSK modulation of their output signal with hardware PWM outputs and a sine-wave lookup table.

The slave nodes are composed of ‘slave motherboards’ on which can be plugged several daughter-boards: geiger counters, atmospheric sensors, camera control/accelerometer boards. If you want to build your own system, be sure to check out this page which includes all the necessary instructions and resources.

Hackaday Links: October 6, 2013

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The iBeacon has been all over the interwebs lately. Here’s a riff on the Arduino Pro MIni that adds a BLE module. It can be used to make an iBeacon clone. You can also hack a VTag keyfinder to operate in much the same way.

Remember that post about pulling a QR Code generator into Google Docs? One could argue that the best use of this functionality is to add labels to your parts storage that lead back to the product page for the component. [Thanks Nicholas]

[Michael] wrote in to share his crowd funding campaign. He is a school teacher and wants to publish a detective story that gets kids excited about STEM.

Our own [James Hobson] made the first cut to be [Adam Savage's] new assistant. He’s the [TheHacksmith] (read our staff page if you don’t believe us) and is the third entry featured in this vignette. Apparently they’ve got something against Canadians because they say he’s ineligible due to his nationality!?

If you’ve ever been confused about the features of different Xbee modules this comparison chart may be of assistance.

A couple of weeks ago we learned about a contest put on by TheControllerProject. [TouchStone936] gets credit for quick, easy, and functional. His solution to making shoulder buttons more accessible includes hot-glue, a golf tee, and a binder clip. Pretty clever!

Wanting a better color of backlight for his eReader, [Vivek Gani] cracked it open and applied Kapton Tape as a gel to soften the hue.

And finally something very silly. If you put a strong enough prop on the front, you can get just about anything to fly. This instance involves a flying pizza box which to us looks particularly un-flight-worthy. [via Gizmodo]

Obstacle avoiding LEGO rover uses CDs for wheels

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This rover built by [Sath02] is a great example that you don’t have to be a mechanical engineering wizard to get into robotics. He used LEGO pieces to help ease the difficulty of getting a rover up and running.

In this case the use of LEGO is strictly structural. The electronics are not the NXT parts you would expect to see when working with these popular toy blocks. Instead he’s put the Arduino Palm Plus into service. It’s an Arduino board that has rows of holes at either end to make it LEGO compatible. It also carries an LM293D motor controller and [Sath02] added an XBee module for wireless control.

At the top of the assembly is an IR distance sensor which is used for obstacle avoidance. You may not be interested in building and exact replica, but the techniques he uses for attaching the distance sensor, CD wheels,  and fabricating the rest of the rover are good examples if you take on a LEGO build in the future.

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Turning anyone into a casuality

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EMTs and other first responders don’t just sit around waiting for a disaster to happen. If they need to train for a disaster – environmental, terrorist, or otherwise – they put together a mass injury simulation, or their version of a war game. As you can imagine, coordinating one of these simulations is a nightmare, but [David] came up with a way to simulate a casualty with a few XBees, a Parallax Propeller, and a few RFID cards.

This triage training simulator consists of an ‘acting coach’ on each simulated victim that includes a speech-to-text module that speaks instructions into the actors ear, a pulse simulator and a readout for vital signs that correspond to twelve major injuries. When an EMT triages a victim, they swipe an RFID card for each medical procedure they perform – intubating is one card, while a bandage is another – and all this is sent back to the coordinator’s tablet.

The coordinator has direct control over each of the actors through a two-way radio link, and can initiate changes in each victim, monitor a paramedic’s responses, and “escalate” the situation by setting off another simulated bomb.

All this is created with off-the-shelf hardware, vastly reducing the cost of this type of training device. An amazing application of what we usually consider to be just robot parts, and we’re happy for [David] to share it with us.

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Long distance PS3 controller

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Sony’s DualShock 3 controller can be seen in a number of projects here on Hackaday. There’s a reason for this: it’s easy to sniff the Bluetooth signals coming out of this controller and make any electronics project do your remote control bidding. Bluetooth has a fairly limited range, though, so what happens if you’d like to use this very comfortable and very functional controller over a mile or so? Just replace the mainboard of the controller with a new design using an Xbee radio. It’s a great project from the workbench of [Marcel] and looks to be just the solution for an awesome Xbee remote control.

The Sony DualShock 3 controller is designed around a single main board for the bulk of the electronics and analog sticks with three daughterboards used for every other button on the controller. [Marcel] took the main board out of his controller and stated to reverse engineer the thing, keeping the USB charging, PC communication, force feedback and LED indicators. Instead of Bluetooth as in the original circuit, [Marcel] used a 60mW XBee radio, allowing him to control just anything connected to another XBee radio with a range of up to a mile.

[Marcel]‘s new main board is a direct drop in replacement for the original DualShock 3 mainboard, and the only modification to the controller is drilling a small hole for the new antenna. It’s a great piece of kit for RC vehicles of any kind, and it’s fully programmable for whatever robotics project you might have in mind.

Thanks {Roel] for sending this one in.

Quadruped walks of four legs, rolls on four treads

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This robot doesn’t know if it’s a walker or a tank. It’s the brain-child of [Marc Hamende] who works as a mechanical engineer by day and mad roboticist at night. The best place to find full details is by digging into the long thread he’s been posting to for about six weeks. It will give you a pretty good snapshot of his approach, starting with SolidWorks renderings of the project, and adding in assembled components as he brings the project together.

The mechanism for each foot is fascinating. He milled the white pieces which stack together to encapsulate the motor that runs the treads. These assemblies pivot to bring the metal rod serving as a walking foot in contact with the ground. But they also make it possible to adjust the treads to deal with rough terrain. A Propeller chip drives the device, with an Xbee module to communicate with the controller.

Don’t miss the video after the break. You’ll hear some skidding as it makes turns, but [Marc] plans to add code to adjust motor speed in order to compensate for the inside/outside differential issues. He’s also posted an image album over at Flickr.

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