Hackaday Prize 2022: Solar Powered LoRa Weather Station For The Masses

[Debasish Dutta] has designed a few weather stations in the past, and this, the fourth version of the system has had many of the feature requests from past users rolled in. The station is intended to be used with an external weather sensor unit, provided by Sparkfun. This handles wind speed and direction, as well as measuring rainfall. A custom PCB hosts an ESP32-WROOM module and an Ai-Thinker Ra-02 LoRa module for control and connectivity respectively. A PMS5003 sits on the PCB to measure those particulate densities, but most sensors are connected with simple 4-way I2C connectors. Temperature, humidity, and pressure are handled by a BME280 module, UV Index (SI1145), visible light (BH1750) even soil humidity and temperature with a cable-mounted SHT10 module.

All this is powered by a solar panel, which charges a 18650 cell, and keeps the show running during the darker hours. For debugging and deployment, a USB-C power port can also be used to provide charge. A 3D printed Stevenson screen type enclosure allows the air to circulate amongst the PCB-mounted sensor modules, without hopefully too much moisture making it in there to cause mischief.

On the data collection and visualization side, a companion LoRa receiver module is in progress, which is intended to pass along measurements to a variety of services. Think Home Assistant, ESP home, and that kind of thing. Software is still a work in progress, so maybe check back later to see how [Debasish] is getting on with that?

This kind of multi-sensor hosting project is nothing new here, here’s a 2019 Hackaday prize entry along the same lines. Of course, gathering and logging measurement data is only part of the problem, visualization of those measurements is also important. Why not use a mechanical approach, such as a diorama?

A graphing calculator with a 3D-printed enclosure, with a circuit board next to it

2022 Cyberdeck Contest: The Galdeano Is More Than A Graphing Calculator

Graphing calculators have evolved from expensive playthings for rich nerds to everyday tools for high schoolers worldwide. Even though teenagers nowadays carry powerful internet-connected computers in their pockets, math teachers often prefer them to use a clunky Z80-powered calculator in class, if only because their limited performance reduces the potential for distraction. The worst thing a lazy student can do is play a simple game like Snake or Tetris.

But what if you’re not a student anymore and you want a graphing calculator that has up-to-date hardware and infinite customizability in software? Look no further than [Angel Cabello]’s Galdeano, a handheld that has all the features of a modern graphing calculator plus a lot more. The heart of the device is an ESP32, which sits on a custom PCB that also holds a 6×7 array of push-buttons and a 320×240 touch-sensitive color display. It can be powered through a lithium-polymer battery or, like a classic calculator, through four AAA cells. The entire thing is housed in a 3D printed enclosure with color-coded buttons indicating various built-in functions.

The ESP32 runs MicroPython along with a symbolic math engine called Eigenmath. This enables the Galdeano to  manipulate expressions, perform integration and differentiation, and plot functions. Porting Eigenmath to a memory-constrained platform like the ESP32 was quite a challenge and required a few workarounds, including a memory partition scheme and even a custom compact font with mathematical symbols.

Thanks to the flexibility of MicroPython and the ESP’s WiFi system, the Galdeano is not limited to implementing a calculator: it can also perform various general-purpose tasks ranging from file editing to controlling a set of smart light bulbs. The project page doesn’t mention any games yet, but we’re sure it won’t take long before someone ports Tetris to this system as well.

Of course, even classroom-grade calculators can be pushed to do much more than their designers intended: they can receive GPS signals, run Debian or even perform ray tracing. If you’re looking for a powerful open-source calculator, this BeagleBoard-based machine runs the R statistical computing environment.

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A black PCB with an ESP32 and an SBM-20 geiger counter

Flexible Radiation Monitoring System Speaks LoRa And WiFi

Radioactivity has always been a fascinating phenomenon for anyone interested in physics, and as a result we’ve featured many radioactivity-related projects on these pages over the years. More recently however, fears of nuclear disaster have prompted many hackers to look into environmental radiation monitoring. [Malte] was one of those looking to upgrade the radiation monitor on his weather station, but found the options for wireless geiger counters a bit limited.

So he decided to build himself his own Wifi and LoRa compatible environmental radiation monitor. Like most such projects it’s based on the ubiquitous Soviet-made SBM-20 GM tube, although the design also supports the Chinese J305βγ model. In either case, the tube’s operating voltage is generated by a discrete-transistor based oscillator which boosts the board’s 5 V supply to around 400 V with the help of an inductor and a voltage multiplier.

Graphs showing temperature, humidity and radiation levels
Data can be visualized in graphs, together with other data from the weather station like temperature and humidity

The tube’s output signal is converted into clean digital pulses to be counted by either an ESP32 or a Moteino R6, depending on the choice of wireless protocol. The ESP can make its data available through a web interface using its WiFi interface, while the Moteino can communicate through LoRa and sends out its data using MQTT. The resulting data is a counts-per-minute value which can be converted into an equivalent dose in Sievert using a simple conversion formula.

All design files are available on [Malte]’s website, including a PCB layout that neatly fits inside standard waterproof enclosures. Getting more radiation monitors out in the field can only be a good thing, as we found out when we tried to detect a radiation accident using community-sourced data back in 2019. Don’t like WiFi or LoRa? There’s plenty of other ways to connect your GM tubes to the internet.

Scroll Through ESPHome With IPod-style Click Wheel

While you’d be hard pressed to find a Hackaday writer that feels any nostalgia for the DRM nonsense the iPod helped to introduce, we’ve got to admit that we miss that click wheel. Spinning your way through long lists was a breeze, and the tactile response made it easy to stop exactly where you wanted. These days, we’re stuck fumbling our way through touch screen interfaces that make simple tasks like seeking to a particular spot in a song or video all but impossible to do with any kind of accuracy.

If you too yearn to once again feel that subtle thumping under your thumb, then check out this project from [landonr]. Technically the handheld gadget is intended to be used as a wireless remote for a home automation system powered by ESPHome, but that’s only one possible application for this particular combination of off-the-shelf components.

If you must, there’s a version with buttons.

Building your own version of the handheld device is a simple as mounting a LILYGO ESP32 T-Display TTGO, an ANO Rotary Navigation Encoder from Adafruit, and a battery pack to a scrap of perfboard. We’d probably look into 3D printing a case to make it a bit less…pokey, but that’s up to you. The result actually bears quite a resemblance to Apple’s iconic media player, but without that pesky walled garden to hold you back.

As mentioned previously, [landonr] wrote the firmware with the intention of controlling a home automation system. So there’s a lot of stuff in there about turning on lights and such. But there are also functions for media playback that look very promising. Whatever software you end up running on it, one thing is for sure: running through the menus is going to feel like a dream.

We’ve covered several other home automation remotes over the years. This handsome wooden model kept things simple with just a few physical buttons, while this somewhat more whimsical approach repurposed Nintendo’s Zapper light gun.

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Automate Your Desk With The Upsy Desky

It might be surprising for some, but humans actually evolved to be long-distance runners. We aren’t very fast comparatively, but no other animal can run for as long or as far as a human can. Sitting at a desk, on the other hand, is definitely not something that we’re adapted to do, so it’s important to take some measures to avoid many of the problems that arise for those that sit at a desk or computer most of the day. This build takes it to the extreme, not only implementing a standing desk but also a ton of automation for that desk as well.

This project is an improvement on a prior build by [TJ Horner] called the WiFi Standing Desk Controller. This new version has a catchier name, and uses an ESP32 to run the show. The enclosure is 3D printed and the control board includes USB-C and a hardware UART to interface with the controller. The real perks of this device are the automation, though. The desk can automatically lift if the user has been sitting too long, and could also automatically lift if it detects no one is home (to help keep a cat off of the desk, for example). It also includes presets for different users, and can export data to other software to help analyze sitting and standing patterns.

The controller design is open source and could be adapted to work on a wide-array of powered desks. As we’ve seen in the past, with the addition of a motor, even hand-crank standing desks can be upgraded. If you haven’t gotten into the standing desk trend yet, we hope that you are at least occasionally going for a run.

2022 Hackaday Prize: Boondock Echo Connects Your Radios With The Cloud

[Mark J Hughes] volunteers as a part of a local community fire watch which coordinates by radio. The La Habra Heights region of Los Angeles is an area of peaks and valleys, which makes direct radio connections challenging. Repeaters work well for range improvement, but in such areas, there is no good place to locate these. [Mark] says that during an emergency (such as a wildfire) the radio usage explodes, with him regularly tracking as many as eight radio frequencies and trying to make sense of it, whilst working out how to send the information on and to whom.

This led him together with collaborator [Kaushlesh Chandel] to create Project Boondock Echo, to help alleviate some of the stress of it all. The concept is to use a cheap Baofeng radio to feed into a gateway based around an ESP32 audio development kit. Mount this in a box with a LiPo based power supply, and you’ve got yourself a movable radio-to-cloud time-shift audio recorder.

By placing one or more of these units in the properties of several of the community group radio operators, all messages can be captured to an audio file, tagged with the radio frequency and time of transmission, and uploaded to a central server. From there they can be retrieved by anybody with access, no matter the physical location, only an internet connection is needed.

The next trick that can be performed, is to reverse the process and queue up previous recordings, and send it back over the cloud to remote locations for re-transmission via radio into the field. This is obviously a massive asset, because wherever there is some urbanization, there is likely an internet connection. With the addition of a Boondock Echo unit, anyone that has a receiver within a few miles can be fully connected with what’s going on outside the range of direct radio communications.

Source for the ESP32’s firmware as well as the web side of things can found on the project Boondock Echo GitHub, complete with some STLs for a 3D printed box to sit it in. Like always, there’s more than one way to solve a particular problem. Here’s an amateur radio repeater based using an RTL-SDR and a Raspberry Pi.

Reverse-Engineering A Smoker

In certain parts of the world, cooking meat in a regionally-specific way is a critical part of the local culture. From barbeque in the American south to boerewors and braaivleis in South Africa to Montréal smoked meat in French Canada, almost every location has its cookout specialty. So much so that various manufacturers of the tools used for these foods include all kinds of gadgets to monitor the sometimes days-long process of cooking various cuts of meat. [megamarco833]’s smoker, though, includes some tools of his own design.

The smoker is made by a company called Pitboss and includes a rotary switch and control board for maintaining a precise temperature in the smoker. The switch works by changing the voltage value sent to a small microcontroller. By interfacing an ESP32 to this switch, [megamarco833] can remotely change the smoke level and temperature of the smoker. On the software side, it uses a combination of Node-RED and Domoticz to handle the automation and control.

For a cookout that can last hours (if not days) a remotely accessible smoker like this is an invaluable tool if you want to do something other than manually monitor the temperature of your meat for that much time. And, if your barbeque grill or smoker of choice doesn’t already have an embedded control board of some type, we’ve seen analog cooking tools adapted to much the same purpose as this one.

Thanks to [Peter] who sent in the tip and also helped [megamarco833] with the reverse-engineering of the control board!