The MorningRod Wants Your Mornings Easier, Not Harder

Curtains are about as simple as household devices get, but they can be remarkably troublesome to automate. Everyone’s window treatments slightly different, which frustrates a standardized solution. [dfrenkel] has a passion for DIY and wanted his mornings flooded with sunlight for more peaceful awakenings, so the MorningRod Smart Curtain Rod was born.

Replacing the curtain rod with aluminum extrusion and 3D printed fixtures goes a long way towards standardizing for automation.

MorningRod’s design takes advantage of affordable hardware like aluminum extrusions and 3D printed parts to create a system that attempts to allow users to keep their existing curtains as much as possible.

The curtain rod is replaced with aluminum extrusion. MorningRod borrows ideas from CNC projects to turn the curtain rod into a kind of double-ended linear actuator, upon which the curtains are just along for the ride. An ESP32 serves as the brains while a NEMA17 stepper motor provides the brawn. The result is a motorized curtain opening and closing with a wireless interface that can be easily integrated into home automation projects.

[dfrenkel] is offering a kit, but those who would prefer to roll their own should check out the project page on Thingiverse.

Make “Wireless” Earbuds Truly Wireless

[Don] bought some off-brand Bluetooth earbuds online that actually sound pretty good. But while it’s true that they don’t require wires for listening to tunes, the little storage/charging box they sleep in definitely has a micro USB port around back. Ergo, they are not truly wireless. So [Don] took it upon himself to finish what the manufacturer started. Because it’s 2019, and words have meaning.

Finally, he had a use for that Qi charger he’s had lying around since the Galaxy S5 era. [Don] pried the earbud case open with a guitar pick and found a nicely laid-out charging circuit board without any black goop.

Once he located ground and Vcc pads, it was just a matter of performing a bit of surgery on the coil’s pins so he could solder wires there instead. Miraculously, the Qi coil fit perfectly inside the bottom of the case and the plastic is thin enough that it doesn’t interfere with the charging.

Want to try it for yourself? [Don]’s done an excellent job of documenting this hack, with clear pictures of every step. Soon you’ll be able to rid yourself of all those pesky USB cables.

Of course, [Don] still has to plug the charging base into the wall. If he ever wanted to add another level of wireless, he could always retrofit the base coil into his laptop.

PVC Pipe Turned Portable Bluetooth Speaker

We’ve always felt that sections of PVC pipe from the home improvement store are a criminally underutilized construction material, and it looks like [Troy Proffitt] feels the same way. Rather than trying to entirely 3D print the enclosure for his recently completed portable Bluetooth speaker, he combined printed parts with a piece of four inch pipe from the Home Depot.

While using PVC pipe naturally means your final hardware will have a distinctly cylindrical look, it does provide compelling advantages over trying to print the entire thing. For one, printing an enclosure this large would have taken hours or potentially even days. But by limiting the printed parts to accessories like the face plate, handle, and caps, [Troy] reduced that time considerably. Of course, even if you’re not in a rush, it’s worth mentioning that a PVC pipe will be far stronger than anything your desktop FDM printer is likely to squirt out.

[Troy] provides links for all the hardware he used, such as the speakers, tweeters, and the Bluetooth audio board itself. The system is powered by an 1800 mAh 3S RC-style battery pack that he says lasts for hours, though he also links to a wall adapter that can be used if you don’t mind being tethered. Unfortunately it doesn’t look like he has any internal shots of the build, but given the relatively short parts list, we imagine it’s all fairly straightforward inside.

While this is certainly a respectable looking build considering it started life in the plumbing aisle, we have to admit that we’ve seen some portable Bluetooth speakers with fully 3D printed enclosures in the past that looked absolutely phenomenal. The tradeoff seems pretty clear: reuse existing materials to save time, print them if you don’t mind reinventing the wheel occasionally.

Smartphone Case Doubles As Chording Keyboard, With Gesture Inputs

Smartphones and other modern computing devices are wonderful things, but for those with disabilities interacting with them isn’t always easy. In trying to improve accessibility, [Dougie Mann] created TypeCase, a combination gestural input device and chording keyboard that exists in a kind of symbiotic relationship with a user’s smartphone.

With TypeCase, a user can control a computer (or the smartphone itself) with gestures, emulate a mouse, or use the device as a one-handed chording keyboard for text input. The latter provides an alternative to voice input, which can be awkward in public areas.

The buttons and motion sensors allow for one-handed button and gestural input while holding the phone, and the Bluetooth connectivity means that the device acts and works just like a wireless mouse or keyboard. The electronics consist mainly of an Adafruit Feather 32u4 Bluefruit LE, and [Dougie] used 3D Hub’s on-demand printing service to create the enclosures once the design work was complete. Since TypeCase doubles as a protective smartphone case, users have no need to carry or manage a separate device.

TypeCase’s use cases are probably best expressed by [Dougie]’s demo video, embedded below. Chording keyboards have a higher learning curve, but they can be very compact. One-handed text input does remind us somewhat of a very different approach that had the user make gestures in patterns reminiscent of Palm’s old Graffiti system; perhaps easier to learn but not nearly as discreet.

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ESPcopter: A Fully Customizable Drone

With so many capabilities for obstacle avoidance, the only natural progression for drones would be for them to be hand-controlled. For Turkish inventor [metehanemlik], even this wasn’t enough of a challenge, as he decided to create the ESP8266-Powered Mini Drone: ESPcopter, a programmable Arduino-compatible modular drone that is open to modding through expansion shields. Not only can DIY enthusiasts modify the algorithms used for obstacle avoidance, but the drone can be sized to whatever dimensions fit their needs.

The drone is almost entirely built from expansion shields, including the multi-ranger shield with four VL53L0x laser-ranging sensors on the forward, backward, right, and left directions of the drone. The website for the ESPcopter comes with an SDK that lets users easily modify the software running on the drone’s MCU as well as pinouts to better understand its hardware functionality. Impressively, it was fully funded through a 60-day crowdfunding campaign, and will be undergoing a second launch shortly, with some new and improved features.

Power comes from a 26 0mAh LiPo battery that allows for up to six minutes of flight time; includes a 3-axis gyroscope, accelerometer, and magnetometer; runs on an ESP8266-12S 32-bit MCU; fully charges within 45 minutes through a USB connection; weighs around 35 g; and is about 90 mm from motor to motor. Continue reading “ESPcopter: A Fully Customizable Drone”

Fighting Household Air Pollution

When Kenyan engineer [Aloise] found out about the health risks of household air pollution, they knew there had to be a smart solution to combatting the problem while still providing a reasonable source of energy for families cooking without the luxury of cleaner fuels. Enter OpenHAP, a DIY household air pollution monitor that provides citizen scientists and researches the means to measure air particulates in developing countries.

The device is based on an ESP32 communicating with a ZH03B Particulate matter sensor over UART; a DS3231SN real-time clock (RTC), temperature and humidity sensor, and MLX90640 2D thermal sensor array over I2C; and wirelessly sending the data received to a Bluetooth low energy wrist-strap beacon and an Internet enabled phone. The device also uses a TCA9534 GPIO expander to control the visual and auditory notifiers (buzzers and LEDs) and to interface to a SD card.

The project uses the libesphttpd project modified for the ESP32 for the webserver, which is used to stream data to a mobile handset or computer using the WiFi capabilities of the ESP32. The data includes real-time sensor information, system status, storage media status, visualizations of the thermal array sensor data (to ensure the camera is facing the source of heat), and tag information to test the limits of the Bluetooth tag with regards to distance.

Power input is provided through a Micro-USB connector, protected with a TVS diode and a Schottky diode in series to prevent reverse power flow.

The project was tested in two real-life scenarios: one with a household in rural Kenya and another with an urban low-income family of four. In the first test, the family used a three stone open fire stove. A FLiR thermal camera captured the stove temperatures, while a standard camera was enough to capture the high levels of smoke inside the kitchen. The readings from OpenHAP were high enough to exceed the upper detection threshold for the particulate sensor, showing that the woman cooking in the house was receiving the equivalent of 8 cigarettes a day, about 8 x the WHO’s recommended particulate levels.

Within the second household, a typical energy mix of charcoal briquettes and kerosene was typically used for cooking, with kerosene used during the day and briquettes used at night. The results from measuring pollution levels using OpenHAP showed that the mother and child in the household regularly received around 1.5 x the recommended limit of pollutants, enough to lead to slow suffocation.

There’s already immense potential for this project to help researchers test out different energy sources for rural households, not to mention the advantage of having a portable low-energy pollution monitor for citizen scientists.

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LoRa-Based Plant Monitoring

Croatian engineers [Slaven Damjanovic] and [Marko Čalić] have developed a wireless system for farmers to monitor plant conditions and weather along their agricultural fields. The system uses an RFM95W module for LoRa communication, and devices are designed to be plug-and-play, battery-powered, and have long-range communication (up to 10km from the gateway).

It uses an ATMega328 microprocessor, and includes sensors for measuring soil moisture (FC28 sensor), leaf moisture (FC37 sensor), pressure (BME280 sensor), and air temperature and humidity (DHT22 or SHT71 sensor). The data is sent to a multichannel The Things Network  gateway that forwards the information to an external database, which then displays the data through a series of graphs and tables.

The software for sending messages to the gateway is based on the LoRa MAC in C (LMIC) and LowPower libraries and was developed by [ph2lb].

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