[CuriousMarc] likes to go to surplus stores even though there are fewer of them around. On a recent trip, he found a box that had some parts he thought would work for a temperature controller project. It was marked Dial-A-Level and proudly proclaimed that it had a patent pending. The box was from the 1970s and [Marc] was wondering what the device was meant to do.
The device was a bit of a puzzle since it had three oddly-marked probe inputs. A search through the patent database revealed the device was a “capacitance probe for detecting moisture with very long cables.” The idea was to create a capacitor at the end of the cable and use the liquid as a dielectric. The sensor creates a 10 kHz sine wave it uses to excite the probe and an op amp measures the relative capacitive reactance of the probe versus a reference capacitor. The rest of the circuit is a comparator that reacts when the level is at a threshold.
We love seeing the old hand-drawn boards from that era. Component designations are in copper and there’s no solder mask visible. There was a clever application of a silicon controlled rectifiers and a relay to create a type of flip flop, that [Marc] explains.
Interestingly, the company that made the device, Expo Instruments, is still around and [Marc] contacted them. The actual patent holder replied and was amazed that [Marc] had possession of this antique. You can only wonder if anything you build today will wind up on whatever passes for YouTube three or four decades from now.