DIY Clapper is 1980s Style With Raspberry Pi Twist

Home automation isn’t all that new. It is just more evolved. Many years ago, a TV product appeared called the Clapper. If you haven’t heard of it, it was basically a sound-operated AC switch. You plug, say, a lamp into the device and the clapper into the wall and you can then turn the lamp on or off by clapping. If you somehow missed these — and you can still get them, apparently — have a look at the 1984 commercial in the video below. [Ash] decided to forego ordering one on Amazon and instead built her own using a Raspberry Pi.

[Ash’s] prototype uses an LED and could — in theory — drive anything. If you wanted to make a real Clapper replacement you’d need a relay or some other kind of AC switch suitable for the load. The actual clap detection software is from [nikhiljohn10] and simply waits for two loud noises. No fancy machine learning to differentiate between a clap and a cat knocking over a vase. Just a threshold and some timing.

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Designing A Toilet Roll Holder

Everything needs to be designed, at one point or another. There are jobs for those who design kitchens, and stadiums, and interplanetary spacecraft. However, there are also jobs for those who design cutlery, hose fittings, and even toilet roll holders. [Eric Strebel] is here to share just such a story.

[Eric] covers the whole process from start to finish. In the beginning, a wide variety of concepts are drawn up and explored on paper. Various ideas are evaluated against each other and whittled down to a small handful. Then, cardboard models are created and the concepts further refined. This continues through several further phases until it gets down to the fun part of choosing colours and materials for the final product.

Watching the effects of cost and manufacturing process shape the finished item is instructive as to how the design process works in the real world. The toilet paper holder itself is an interesting unit, too – using adjustable magnetic detents to enable one-handed use, as well as including a cell phone holder.

We’ve seen [Eric]’s work before – such as his primer on the value of cardboard in design. Video after the break.

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ESP8266 AC Controller Shows Whats Possible

People often get the impression that home built hardware is destined to have a certain amateurish look or feel to it. It’s as though just because you didn’t buy it in a store, it will look cheap or thrown together. While it’s true a hacked together device could look like it was built from the parts bin (and to be fair, sometimes it is), there are plenty of examples of DIY hardware that could give commercial offerings a run for their money.

A case in point is this fantastic ESP8266 air conditioner controller created by [Sitinut Waisara] (Google Translate). Between the simple yet elegant 3D printed enclosure to the very slick user interface on its OLED screen, this project could easily pass as a commercial device. In fact, we’ve seen commercial offerings that didn’t look half this good, let alone offer the same features for what this cost in components and printer filament. It’s a perfect example of what the modern hacker or maker is capable of with the wide array of tools and components currently available to us.

What’s perhaps the most impressive about this project, especially given how good it looks on the outside, is how little there really is on the inside. Beyond the NodeMCU board and SSD1332 OLED display, the only components inside the device are the three tactile buttons, a photoresistor so it can dim the display’s brightness based on ambient light level, an IR LED so it can send commands to the AC unit, and a handful of passives. The hardware side of this design is so simple that [Sitinut] was able to put the whole thing together on a scrap of perfboard. Not that you’d be able to tell when it gets installed into the 3D printed wall-mount enclosure, complete with printed button caps.

While the hardware side of the project might be rather light, the software is anything but. [Sitinut] really went all-in writing his code for the ESP, adding in the little features like the automatic screen dimming and pulling the current time from NTP that often get overlooked in our rush to get a project out the door. He even included a whole collection of icons to display on the OLED screen, which goes a long way towards selling that professional look. But his effort wasn’t limited to cosmetics or clever features, there was also plenty of work put into decoding the IR signals used to control the AC unit and getting all the features and functions plugged into MQTT.

We’ve seen a number of projects that aimed at dragging an existing HVAC system kicking and screaming onto the “Internet of Things”, some considerably less complex than others. But few have had the level of polish that [Sitinut] has put into his controller, so we take our hats off to him.

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State Machine Controls Garage Door Over The Internet

Home automation has been a hot-button topic time and again since the dawn of the personal computer age. These days, thanks to modern communications technology, it’s possible to do some pretty cool stuff. [Brad Harbert] decided to automate his garage door, controlling it over the Internet.

The build relies on a Particle Photon to do the heavy lifting of connecting the door to the Internet. Particle offer a cloud service that makes setting up such a project easy for the first timer, and [Brad] was able to get things working quickly. A relay is used to activate the garage door remote button, as it was desired to leave the main control board of the garage door opener untouched. Reed switches are used to sense the position of the door, and [Brad] coded a state machine to ensure the door’s current state is always known.

It’s a simple project, but [Brad]’s use of state machine techniques and position sensing mean it’s less likely he’ll get home to find his garage open and his possessions missing. If you’re new to programming simple physical devices, you could take a page out of his logbook. Of course we’ve seen similar builds before, like this one from parts from the scrapbin.

An Electronic Love Letter to the Wind

Home weather stations are a great way for hackers and makers to put their skills to practical use. After all, who wants to hear the current conditions for the whole city when they could setup their own station which drills that information down to their very own street? Such a setup doesn’t need to be any more complex than a temperature sensor wired up to a microcontroller, but then not all of us are quite the weather fanatic that [Richard] clearly is.

The system he’s built to monitor the wind over his home is, to put it mildly, incredible. We might not all share the obsession [Richard] apparently has with the wind, but we can certainly respect the thought and design that went into this comprehensive system. From his scratch built anemometer to the various ways he’s come up with to display the collected environmental data throughout his home, if this build doesn’t inspire you to hack together your own weather station then nothing will.

At the heart of the system is the anemometer itself, which makes use of several scavenged parts such as the bottom halves of plastic Easter eggs as wind cups. The cups spin on a short length of M5 threaded rod inside of a 635ZZ bearing, which ultimately rotates a “light chopper” placed between a red LED and a OPL550A optical sensor. In a particularly nice touch, [Richard] has even included a few power resistors arranged around the moving parts to use as a heater which keeps the device from freezing up when the temperature drops. The sensor creates eight digital pulses per revolution, and feeds data into the base station though a 30 meter (98 feet) cable.

From there, the base station uses an ESP8266 to upload wind and temperature data to ThingSpeak and Weather Underground to be viewed through their respective web interfaces and applications. The project really could have ended here and still been impressive in its own right, but the station also includes 433 MHz and NRF24L01 transmitters to send the data to the other display devices which [Richard] has designed.

The 433 MHZ display is built into the frame of a lantern, and shows the current time and temperature on an LED readout as well as historical wind and temperature graphs on a 2.2 inch ILI9341 TFT screen which [Richard] has rotated into a portrait layout. There’s a red light on top that blinks whenever a signal is received to show that the system is working, and even a touch sensor which can be used to turn off the TFT screen at a tap if you’re not interested in seeing the full charts.

The other display, which [Richard] calls the “picture frame” utilizes a dizzying array of single LEDs, a handful of digital LED readouts, and even an OLED screen for good measure. They all work together to show the current wind speed as well the averages for the past day in three hour segments. As this display features a real time display of current wind conditions and averages for as short a period of two minutes, it uses the NRF24L01 receiver to get data from the base station at a rate of 3 Hz.

In the past we’ve seen 3D printed weather stations, and of course some pretty simple affairs using little more than an ESP8266 board and some sensors. But few have ever put so much thought into how to present the collected data to the user. If you’re serious about knowing what it’s like outside the confines of your bunker, [Richard] has got some tricks to show you.

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Building An ESP8266 Doorbell On Hard Mode

It certainly seems as though it should be an easy enough project; all [Miguel De Andrade] wanted was to receive a notification when somebody was pressing his doorbell, and thought it would be a good project to get his feet wet in the wonderful world of ESP8266 hacking. But as fate would have it, not everything went according to plan. In the end he got it sorted out, but it’s an interesting look at how even the “easy” projects can call the gremlins out of hiding.

Arguably, the problems started when [Miguel] picked up an ESP-01 module from a local electronics retailer. While the convenience of buying the hardware in a brick and mortar store can’t be overstated, it did mean he was stuck with a slightly more spartan experience compared to the more common ESP “development boards”. Programming it externally with a Teensy ended up not being much of an obstacle, but it did mean he was stuck with only two GPIO pins.

At any rate, with ESP in hand, the next step was figuring out how the existing bell and intercom system even worked. Unfortunately, after some experimentation [Miguel] found there was a bit more going on there than he’d hoped. According to his multimeter, the one line from the intercom sits at approximately 5 VDC when it’s open, and drops down to 2.5 VDC when pressed. If that wasn’t bad enough, picking up the handset to answer the intercom sent the voltage up to a microcontroller-killing 12 VDC. To complicate maters further, the supply line for the intercom was 23 VAC, so he’d need to rectify that somehow if he wanted to avoid a separate power supply for the ESP.

To turn this jumble of voltages into a nice clean 0 – 3.3 V signal for the ESP8266, he came up with a circuit based around the LM358 comparator that utilizes an LM117 regulator to power itself and the ESP at the same time. A couple of diodes are there to block the AC component from causing trouble, and an A2N2222A transistor is used as a buffer amplifier to boost the output of the comparator so it registers as a digital HIGH on the ESP. The circuit took a bit of fiddling to get sorted out, but in the end [Miguel] says it seems to get the job done.

You might think the problems were solved, but this is where it gets really annoying. The system would work fine for awhile, and then inexplicably go silent. In diagnosing the problem he realized that his circuit connected to GPIO_0 was inadvertently putting the ESP8266 into programming mode, since it was holding the pin LOW unless the intercom button was pressed. He assumed he could just move the circuit to the other GPIO pin, but as that one has the board’s LED on it, that caused its own problems. For now, [Miguel] hasn’t come up with a solution to this issue, and has learned to live with the fact that the system won’t come back up cleanly should it lose power for any reason.

If you’re looking for a slightly classier look than a scrap of perfboard stuck on the wall with what appears to be chewing gum, we’ve also seen the ESP8266 used in some more ornate doorbell setups. Of course if you still haven’t gotten your head wrapped around the whole Internet-connected button thing, you can always start with something a little easier.

Controlling Non-Googley Devices With Google Assistant

In the near future of the Smart Home, you will be able to control anything with your voice. Assuming that everything supports the Smart Home standard you chose, that is. If you have a device that supports one of the other standards, you’ll end up uselessly yelling at it. Unless you use gBridge. As the name suggests, gBridge is a bridge between Google Assistant devices and the rest of the smart home universe. It’s an open source project that is available as a Docker image can be run on a low power device in the home, or on a hosted service.

Fundamentally, gBridge is a Google Assistant to MQTT translator. Message Queuing Telemetry Transport (MQTT) is the messaging protocol that many smart home devices use, as it runs over TCP and doesn’t take much power to implement. We’ve covered how to bash around in MQTT and do much of this yourself here, but gBridge looks to be somewhat easier to use. It’s just come out of beta test, and it looks like it might be a good way to get into Smart Home hacking.

There are, of course, plenty of other ways of doing this, such as IFFFT, but [Peter Kappelt], the brains behind gBridge, claims that it is more flexible, as it offers support for the whole Google Assistant vocabulary, so you can do things like put devices into groups or do more conditional control (such as if the light level in the hallway rises above a certain amount, start recording with a camera) with non-Google devices. [Peter] is also looking to run gBridge as a hosted service, where he does the behind the scenes stuff to update servers, etc, in return for a small fee.

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