A Solar Freakin’ Walkway

Looking to add a little pizzazz to your back garden? Are those strings of lights hung in the trees looking a little dated? Why not try lighting your garden path with DIY solar-powered pavers?

If [jfarro]’s project looks like a miniature version of the much-touted solar freakin’ roadways concept, rest assured that there are huge differences. For one, these lighted pavers actually work — trust me on this; I live not far from the demo site for the Solar Roadways and the degree to which it underwhelms cannot be overstated. Granted, a garden path is a lot simpler to engineer than a road, but many of the challenges remain.

Using recycled glass blocks that are usually reserved for walls and windows, [jfarro] figured out how to attach Neopixel rings to the underside and waterproof them with a silicone conformal coating. The 12 lighted pavers he built draw considerable current, so a 45-watt solar array with charge controller and battery were installed to power the pavers. An Arduino and a motion sensor control the light show when someone approaches; more complicated programs are planned.

Hats off the [jfarro] for taking on a project like this. We don’t often see builds where electrical engineering meets civil engineering, and even on a small scale, dealing with dirt, stone, and water presents quite a few challenges. Here’s hoping his project lasts longer than the Solar Roadways project did.

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Making Ice Cream With Heavy Metal

After his last project left him with an eleven-pound block of aluminum, [Jason] got to thinking of what most of us would in that situation: fresh made ice cream. His mind was on the frozen concoctions of the aptly named Cold Stone Creamery, a mall food court staple where a chilled stone is used to turn fresh ingredients into made to order sundaes.

[Jason] did the math and found that an eleven-pound chunk of aluminum can absorb a little over 67,000 joules, which is over twice the energy required to freeze 100 g of water. In place of water he would be using cream, condensed milk, and strawberries, but believed there was a large enough safety factor to account for the differences between his ingredients and pure water.

His first attempt didn’t go exactly as planned, but with his Flir One he was able to back up his theoretical numbers with some real-world data. He found that he needed to start the aluminum block at a lower temperature before adding his ingredients, and through experimentation determined the block only had enough energy to freeze 30 g of liquid.

In the end [Jason] was satisfied with the frozen treat he managed to make from the leftovers of his radial mill project, but theorizes that an ever better solution would be to use a brine solution and drop the aluminum block all together.

Of course, if putting food on a slab of metal from your workshop doesn’t sound too appealing, you could always go the NASA route and freeze dry it. Either method will probably make less of a mess than trying to print objects with it.

Casa Jasmina Two Years On

[Bruce Sterling], author of fiction and nonfiction tomes aplenty, wrote up one of his projects for Makezine: Casa Jasmina, an IoT “house of the future”. Located in Torino, Italy, it was built upstairs from the Torino Fab Lab as a collaboration between [Bruce], his wife [Jasmina Tesanovic], and a number of other contributors. The original vision was for Casa Jasmina to be jam packed with cool laser-cut furniture, glowing LED projects, and other Maker Faire goodies.

In his piece, however, [Bruce] dials back Casa Jasmina’s technology focus. At a time when people add dodgy WiFi-capable devices to their house willy-nilly, he made it clear that it’s not just a huge assembly of projects no one fully understands. The concept of “making”, [Bruce] writes in his piece, involves algorithms and circuit boards and computer-controlled fabrication machines, and marginalizes those who don’t understand or find fascinating technological innovations. To those who love fabrication, for instance, there is a giddiness involved in creating one’s own chair out of plywood — but end users mostly just care that the creation works like a chair. The place is an AirBNB which makes it a great testbed for providing only what is needed, trusted, and stable.

For  more futuristic houses, check out our coverage of 3D-printed concrete houses and this Pi-controlled automated green house.

 

 

Power Through a Hurricane

When living in an area that is prone to natural disasters, it’s helpful to keep something on hand for backup power. While a large number of people chose to use generators, they are often unreliable (or poorly maintained), noisy, produce dangerous carbon monoxide, or run on a fuel supply that might not be available indefinitely. For truly reliable backup power, [Jay] has turned to a battery bank to ride through multi-day power outages.

While the setup doesn’t run his whole house, it isn’t intended to. One of the most critical things to power is the refrigerator, so this build focuses on keeping all of his food properly stored through the power outage. During the days following Hurricane Irma, the system could run the refrigerator for 10-11 hours, and the thermal insulation could keep everything cold or frozen overnight. Rather than using solar panels to charge the batteries, the system instead gets energy from the massive battery of his electric vehicle. [Jay] was out of power for 64 hours, and this system worked for him (and at a better cost) than a generator would have.

With the impact of major storms on many areas this year, we’ve been seeing a lot of interesting ways that people deal with living in areas impacted by these disasters. Besides riding through power outages, we’ve also seen the AARL step in to help, and also taken a look at how robust building codes in these areas help mitigate property damage in the first place.

 

Hotline Helps Toddler Keep in Touch with Mom and Dad

Even though the age for first carrying a smartphone seems to be decreasing, there’s a practical lower minimum age at which a kid can reliably use one to make a call. So how do you make sure your tot can reach out and touch mommy or daddy? This toddler-friendly Raspberry Pi hotline is a good start.

With a long trip to Hawaii pending and a toddler staying behind, [kuhnto] wanted a way to make communication as simple as possible. In the days of pervasive landlines, that would have been as simple as a feature phone with a couple of numbers on speed dial buttons. With nothing but cell phones to rely on, [kuhnto] turned to a Raspberry Pi running PBX software and a command line SIP client for making calls over a Google Voice line. The user interface is as simple as can be – a handset and two lighted buttons on a wall-mounted box. All Junior needs to do is pick up the handset and push green to talk to Daddy, blue for Mommy. Something similar might even be useful for elder care.

Kudos to [kuhnto] for thinking through the interface issues to come up with a successful build. We’ve seen other UIs simplified for kids before, such as this button-free jukebox or this special-needs media player.

[via r/DIY]

Drag Your Office Aircon Into The 21st Century With Wi-Fi Control

We’ll all have worked in offices that have air-conditioning, but a little too much of it. It’s wonderful on a baking-hot day to walk into the blessèd cool of an air-conditioned office, but after an hour or two of the icy blast you’re shivering away in your summer clothing and you skin has dried out to a crisp. Meanwhile on the other side of the building [Ted] from Marketing has cranked up the whole system to its extreme because he’s got a high metabolism and an office in the full force of the midday sun.

Wouldn’t it be nice if individual air-conditioning units could be easily controlled. To that end, [Maya Posch] has made a rather nicely designed board that takes a NodeMCU board with its ESP8266 processor, and uses four of its outputs as PWM to produce 0-10 volt analogue outputs via filters and op-amps to control individual units. In addition there is an onboard CO2 sensor and a temperature sensor, with provision for an external temperature sensor. The whole fits very neatly into a standard electrical outlet enclosure.

Software wise, the system uses the Sming framework providing an MQTT  communication with a backend server that allows the users to control their aircon experience. This is very much a work in progress, so the software has yet to be put up. (Hint, [Maya], hint!) The whole project though is an extremely tidy build, in fact a thing of beauty to a standard you’d expect from a high-quality commercial product. It’s this that tipped the balance into our featuring it before the software is released, it’s one to keep an eye on, because quality like this doesn’t come every day.

This isn’t the first aircon control we’ve brought you, take a look at this one controlled through Slack.

Manufacturing Your Own Single-Origin Tea

It’s nice to take a break from hacking together the newest bleeding-edge technology, relax, and enjoy a beverage. It’s no surprise that hacks devoted to beer and coffee roasting are popular. We’ve also seen a few projects helping brew the perfect cup of tea, but none involving the actual production of tea. Today we’re going to take a short recess from modernity and explore this ancient tradition.

Consumption of tea is about equal to all other manufactured beverages, such as coffee and alcohol, combined. It is hands-down the most popular manufactured beverage in the world, and we thought it would be interesting to make some ourselves. Also the local tea is so bitter that it’s used to clean things, and it works alarmingly well. To each their own!

I started by driving into Vietnam’s Central Highlands, down what Google simply refers to as ‘unnamed road’, to about 11°52’59.3″N 108°33’49.5″E. I asked around until I found a street vendor that knew a farmer at the nearby tea plantation, and would sell us five kilograms of fresh tea. I carried it 330 kilometers back to the city, because I’m a sane person that does normal things.

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