What Is Home Automation?

Perhaps the buzziest among buzzwords when it comes to electronics is Home Automation. This is a branch of IoT where you can actually go to the home store and come out with bags filled with products. The current Hackaday Prize round challenges you to automate your life and setting your sights on the home seems like an area open to everyone. But we’re having trouble putting our finger on what exactly makes a home automated, and more importantly, the best ways to benefit those who live beside that technology. So we want to know what you think.

Do you have a great idea for what makes an automated home more than a buzz word? Perhaps you are already sold and have been building your own; tell us about it! We want to know how (and when) you think this will turn from a buzzword to something most people want running their house. We’ll round up the best from this discussion for a future post. As a thank you, we’ll select some of the best comments and send you a T-shirt from the Hackaday store.

automatic-ice-maker
Who doesn’t love an automatic ice maker?

You can go back fifty years to the cartoons of the 1960’s and see that home automation was just around the corner. The Flintstones had dinosaurs to handle the mundane, and The Jetsons had a robot maid reigning over a cadre of whimsical gadgets in the home. At that point in time the home was already moving into the automation realm with thermostatically controlled air conditioning and water heaters. This was around the same time that automatic ice makers started to appear in a home’s freezer and remote garage door openers came into use.

Beginning in the 1970’s and 80’s it became common to find a dishwasher under the counter in the kitchen. The porch light option of dusk-until-dawn sensors came into use and were followed later by motion detecting lights which used PIR sensors. Automatic lawn sprinklers started to appear in the yards surrounding the home, and security systems that monitor doors, windows, and often motion (using PIR sensors again) became a thing.

These are great examples of home automation which is often overlooked. Even smarter thermostats are all the rage today, and security system add-ons that let you monitor cameras and locks over the Internet.

Which brings us back to the question. Where is this all going? What kind of automation will be developed now in our time, and looked back in 50 years as obvious technology wanted in every home? Do we already have the automated hardware in place and just need something to stitch it all together? Let us know what you think below, and if you’re already working on your own automation project don’t forget to enter it in the Hackaday Prize.

45-Year Old Nixie Calculator Turned UDP Server

In this beautiful and well-documented reverse engineering feat of strength, [Eric Cohen] reverse-engineered a 1971 Singer calculator to gain control of the fabulous Nixie tubes inside. Where a lesser hacker would have simply pulled the tubes out and put them in a more modern housing, [Eric] kept it all intact.

Not even content to gut the box and toss some modern brains inside, he snooped out the calculator’s internal wiring, interfaced a Raspberry Pi to it, and overrode the calculator’s (860 Hz) bus system. With the Pi on the inside, controlling the Nixie tubes, he did what any of us would do: set up a UDP server and write an Android app for his phone to push ASCII data over to the former calculator. When it’s not running in its default clock mode, naturally.

nixie-internals

All of this is extraordinarily well documented both on his website, in a slide presentation (PDF), and in video (embedded below). Our hats are tipped to the amazing attention to detail and fantastic documentation.

Now where is that Singer EC1117 calculator from 1971 that we’ve been saving for just such an occasion?

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Ask Hackaday: Does Apple Know Jack About Headphones?

If you’ve watched the tech news these last few months, you probably have noticed the rumors that Apple is expected to dump the headphone jack on the upcoming iPhone 7. They’re not alone either. On the Android side, Motorola has announced the Moto Z will not have a jack. Chinese manufacturer LeEco has introduced several new phones sans phone jack. So what does this mean for all of us?

This isn’t the first time a cell phone company has tried to design out the headphone jack. Anyone remember HTC’s extUSB, which was used on the Android G1? Nokia tried it with their POP Port. Sony Ericsson’s attempt was the FastPort. Samsung tried a dizzying array of multi-pin connectors. HP/Palm used a magnetic adapter on their Veer. Apple themselves tried to reinvent the headphone jack by recessing it in the original iPhone, breaking compatibility with most of the offerings on the market. All of these manufacturers eventually went with the tried and true ⅛” headphone jack. Many of these connectors were switched over during an odd time in history where Bluetooth was overtaking wired “hands-free kits”, and phones were gaining the ability to play mp3 files.

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Two Great Radios Taste Great Together

[Johan Kanflo] sent us his latest recipe: a blend of one part RFM69 sub-gigahertz radio transceiver with one part ESP8266 module. The resulting dish looks absolutely delicious!

We’re all charmed with the ease of use that the ESP8266 brings to the table — plug it in and you’re talking to your existing WiFi network — but we hate the power consumption for battery-powered applications. WiFi is a power hog. And although ISM-band radio modules make point-to-point communications cheap and power-saving, getting them to talk with your computer takes an adapter.

So [Johan] combined the two radios and made a sweet ISM-radio-to-WiFi bridge. His demo application takes whatever data is sent over the ISM band and pushes it to an MQTT broker on his WiFi network. Hardware and firmware are up on GitHub.

We’ve been wanting a device like this for our home network for a while now. Kudos, [Johan] for making it so easy!

This Motorless Pull-Behind Mower is Made From Junk

Cutting a field of grass is a straightforward and satisfying process, given a suitably powered mover. A tractor with a rotary topper to hang on its three-point linkage and power-take-off will make short work of the task.

[Donn DIY] had an agricultural quad-bike, but when it came to mowing its lack of a power-take-off meant it wasn’t much use. When he saw a home-made mower for a quad-bike online he had to give it a go himself, and came up with his own take on a mower made from junk.

He started with the rear axle and differential from a Russian built Lada, which he reconditioned, before mounting in a wooden jig with its input shaft pointing upwards. He then made a frame for three mower shafts, onto which he mounted his custom-made rotors and their machined bearing housings. Some pulley machining, and he could then link the rotor shafts to the differential with a series of V-belts and a further shaft to step up the rotor speed.

He wasn’t finished there, after the rotors came a lever mechanism for lifting the cutters off the ground, and a pair of weight baskets to ensure traction was maintained. The result is a mover that takes its drive from its wheels, and cuts grass very effectively when towed behind the quad-bike. The unguarded blades would probably give a farm insurance assessor an apoplexy, but for the purposes of the video below the break at least we can see everything.

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