Air Quality Readings at a Glance

Since the industrial age, air pollution has increasingly become a problem on society’s radar. Outside of concerns about global warming and greenhouse gases, particulate emissions can be highly hazardous to human health. Over time, various organizations have set up measuring systems to check and report the particulate pollution level in cities around the world – but what if you could get an immediate idea on the pollution in your immediate vicinity? Enter less-smog.org.

The prototype under test.

In an integration sense, it’s a straightforward project. An ESP-12F is used as the brains behind the operation. This then talks to a combination of sensors to measure the local air quality. The system is set up to use a variety of temperature or humidity sensors depending on what the builder has to hand. As for particulate concentration measurements, those are achieved with the use of a PMS7003 sensor. This device shines a laser into a cavity containing an air sample from the surrounding environment and measures the scattered light to determine the concentration of particles in the PM2.5 range. This is the range most commonly used to make judgments on air quality regarding human health.

Data is collected and then output to a series of bright RGB LEDs. By turning the numerical PM2.5 reading into a color output, it becomes much simpler to get an instant idea of the pollution conditions in the immediate area. This has the benefit of being readable by even very young children, or those with poor eyesight, at the cost of leaving the colorblind and otherwise vision impaired at a loss.

The project presents a tidy way to create a series of indicators in a modern public environment that can give the average person an at-a-glance reading of whether its advisable to stay out or to head inside until conditions improve. We’d love to see this project deployed in cities to both collect data and help people gain a better understanding of the air quality around them.

A Graph Plotting Metal Detector

Metal detectors can be a great source of fun, and occasionally even found wealth. They allow the detection of metal objects at a distance, enabling hidden treasures to be discovered. They’re also highly critical to the work of minesweepers and unexploded ordnance disposal teams. [Andrius] wanted to add such a device to his kit when motorcycling through the woods of Lithuania, and thus decided to undertake a build of his own.

The detector is a thoroughly modern one – fans of the 555 may want to look away now. A Collpits oscillator, built from two transistors, is used to generate a frequency that is passed through the detection coil. This frequency is measured by an Arduino that plots a graph of the received frequency on an OLED display. As the coil is passed near metal objects, the oscillator frequency changes, and this is visible on the frequency plot on-screen.

Not only is it a quick and easy build that is achievable from what are now junkdraw components, it’s also one that would be readily usable by the hearing-impaired, too. It’s a great project to tackle if you’re looking to get to grips with basic oscillators, frequency measurement, or just microcontroller programming in general.

Still need more inspiration? We’ve seen a similar concept executed before.

LEDs Make An “Analog” Wristwatch

If you just came down in the last shower, you’re probably used to living in a world where LEDs are cheap, awesome, and practically everywhere. Spare a thought for those of us who lived before the invention of high brightness LEDs – these things still amaze us! A great example of how far we’ve come is this “analog” watch build by [Kevin], featuring no less than 73 of the critters.

The microcontroller running the watch is an STM32, chosen for its easy programmability. It’s running the LEDs in an emulation of the dial of an analog clock, hence the high part count. Naturally, it’s no simple task to cram 73 LEDs and all the necessary connections into the confines of a watch-sized PCB. [Kevin] goes into great detail about the challenges involved, from routing the traces to a tricky power draw problem caused by some odd blue LEDs.

Watch builds are always fun, and they make great conversation pieces for when you want to amaze strangers with your tales of battles fought in the PCB design suite. Now check out this similar build with an entirely different style. 

 

Build Your Own Rowing Machine, Now With Digital Readout!

An ergometer is a fancy fitness word for a rowing machine, a device which can be used to work out the muscles used in rowing. It’s an excellent cardio workout that can also build upper body strength, and resistance can be varied depending on the individual’s fitness goals. But perhaps you need to measure your workout to see your progress – in which case, [Dave]’s instrumentation package might be right up your alley.

The basic mechanical build involves a wooden frame, fitted with a rowing setup built around a modified bicycle wheel. The wheel has vanes attached, made of what appears to be cut sections of PVC pipe. These act essentially as dampers, using the air to create the resistance for the rower to work against.

The wheel is instrumented with a chopper wheel and an IR optical switch, which measures the rotational speed of the wheel during rowing. This signal is fed into an ATMega328 which runs the calculations on the rower’s performance. It’s all fed to a Nokia 5110 screen for display, which makes a lovely throwback for those that remember the brick fondly.

[Dave] touches not only on the electronic aspects of the build, but also does an excellent job of breaking down the mathematics behind rowing performance. It’s a great resource that builds on top of the excellent work by the OpenErgo project.

If we’ve whet your thirst for exercise machine hacks, you’d better check out this treadmill to belt grinder mod.

Roboshield Helps Your Robot Walk and Talk

The joy of building robots comes from being able to imbue them with as much or as little personality and functionality as you wish during the design and build process. While creative flair and originality is always a good thing, there’s a lot of basic needs many robots have in common with each other, so where possible it’s good to avoid reinventing the wheel so more time can be spent on more advanced features. Roboshield aims to help make the basics easy so you can let your robot freak flag fly!

At its core, it’s an Arduino shield that packs in a host of hardware to get your robot up and running. As far as motion is concerned, a PCA9685 module is used to allow the control of 8 servos, plus there’s a TB6621FNG dual motor speed controller that offers both speed control and forward/reverse. That’s enough to get your electronic buddy scooting about the floor and waving its arms in the air.

The party piece, however, is the Vstamp text-to-speech module. This device produces a beautiful cliche electronic voice, which your robot is legally required to use to recite Asimov’s Laws of Robotics. Overall, it’s a tidy project that can take the hassle out of getting your robot design up and running, leaving you to focus on the fun bits like death rays and tractor beams. We can’t wait to see it powering the next wave of sassy DIY robots.

OpenDeck Makes Spinning Your Own MIDI Controller Easy

These days, MIDI controllers are just plain cool. There are a million of them out there, and they’re all dressed to the nines in flashing LEDs and sporting swag like USB MIDI interfaces and sliders that just feel right. With our italics budget running out, I should get to the point – you can make your own, and the OpenDeck platform makes it easy.

The OpenDeck board. Readily apparent is the fact that it has tons of IO.

In its most refined form, the OpenDeck is a board covered in pin headers. To these, you may connect an absolute truckload of buttons, encoders, sliders, and LEDs. The OpenDeck handles all of the inputs and outputs, while you get to have fun attaching your various gizmos to the control surface/keytar/birthday cake you happen to be building. It saves you reinventing the wheel as far as reading switches and potentiometers goes, allowing you to focus on the creative side of your project. All configuration is handled through a simple web interface.

Boards are available on Tindie,  but it’s also possible to take the code and run it on various Arduinos and the like, as it’s wonderfully opensource. This gives you the power to take things to a higher level once you’re good and ready.

We’ve seen a rather cool OpenDeck build already, and if you’ve got more, you know where to reach us.

 

Furniture And Motors Make A Strange Bedfellow

Beds! They don’t move around enough, so the young people say. They need more motors, more horsepower, more self-driving smarts – right? Honestly, we’re not sure, but if that’s the question being asked, [randofo] has the answer.

Aptly named, Bedfellow is an art project that sought to create a bed that could explore and socialise with occupants aboard. The core principle was not just to create a bed that could move under its own power, but one that could intelligently drive around and avoid obstacles, too. This is achieved through the use of ultrasonic sensors, with an Arduino Mega as the brains. The bed chooses a random direction in which to move, checking for obstacles on the way. It’s pretty basic as far as “self-driving” technology goes, but it gets the job done.

Far from being a lightweight artistic statement, the bed has some serious performance credentials. The drivetrain is a couple of 4 horsepower DC motors with speed controllers cribbed from a golf cart. These are fed through a 20:1 gear reduction to boost torque and avoid the bed moving too quickly. [Randofo] reports it can comfortably haul 12 people without slowing down, and we don’t doubt it. With that much power, your average flatback bed would be ripped to pieces, but never fear for this one – there’s plenty of heavy engineering holding it together.

It’s refreshing to see an art project executed with both elegant aesthetics and brutally powerful hardware. Sure, it might not be much good for sleeping unless you live in a loft with a concrete floor, but hey – they’re awfully popular these days. Now all it needs are some ground effects.