Python keeps a gecko happy: terrarium automation with Raspberry Pi

For better or worse, pets often serve as inspiration and test subjects for hardware hacks: smarten up that hamster wheel, tweet the squirrel hunting adventures from a dog’s point of view, or automate and remote control a reptile enclosure. [TheYOSH], a gecko breeder from the Netherlands, chose the latter and wrote TerrariumPi for the Raspberry Pi to control and monitor his exotic companion’s home through a convenient web interface.

The right ecosystem is crucial to the health and happiness of any animal that isn’t native to its involuntarily chosen surroundings. Simulating temperature, humidity and lighting of its natural habitat should therefore be the number one priority for any pet owner. The more that simulation process is reliably automated, the less anyone needs to worry.

TerrariumPi supports all the common temperature/humidity sensors and relay boards you will find for the Raspberry Pi out of the box, and can utilize heating and cooling, watering and spraying, as well as lighting based on fixed time intervals or sensor feedback. It even supports location based sunrise and sunset simulation — your critter might just think it never left Madagascar, New Caledonia or Brazil. All the configuration and monitoring happens in the browser, as demonstrated in [TheYOSH]’s live system with public read access (in Dutch).

It only seems natural that Python was the language of choice for a reptile-related system. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be strictly used for reptiles or even terrariums; TerrariumPi will take care of aquariums and any other type of vivarium equally well. After all, we have seen the Raspberry Pi handling greenhouses and automating mushroom cultivation before.

Etching a PCB In Ten Minutes.

Most circuit boards any maker could need for their projects can be acquired online at modest cost, but what if you need something specific? [Giorgos Lazaridis] of has designed his own etching bath complete with a heater and agitator to sped up the process of creating your own custom circuit boards.

[Lazaridis] started by building a circuit to control — in a display of resourcefulness — a fish tank heater he would later modify. The circuit uses a PIC 16F526 microcontroller and two thermristors to keep the temperature of the etching bath between 38 and 41 degrees Celsius. The fish tank heater was gingerly pried from its glass housing, and its bimetallic strip thermostat removed and replaced with a wire to prevent it shutting off at its default 32 degrees. All of it is mounted on a small portable stand and once heated up, can etch a board in less than 10 minutes.

Continue reading “Etching a PCB In Ten Minutes.”

Training Fish to feed Themselves

We’ve featured quite a few aquarium and fish feeder hacks on our blog. [RoboPandaPDX] thought of taking it up a notch and make an interactive fish feeder. He built a Fish feeder that train’s them to feed themselves.

A copper bar hangs from the middle of a metal cylinder – much like a bell. The end of the bar has a fish lure. When a fish pushes the lure, the copper bar touches the metal cylinder and  closes the circuit. This signal goes to an Arduino. To catch the attention of the fishes and to “teach” them, an RGB LED is used. The fish need to figure out that the feeder will dispense food only when the LED is ON and the Lure is pushed. If the fish figure that out, and push the lure when the LED is on, a servo is activated which pushes the feeder to deliver 1 unit of fish food. While at it, he added a couple of bells and whistles. A buzzer to indicate when the Lure switch is closed and a 2 line LCD shows how many times the switch has been activated and how long the program has been running.

A Sparkfun  open logger stores the hit count and the minutes and seconds of the hit for data analysis later on. The good news is that it seems to be working. The current code activates the feeder for 30 to 60 minutes every day, which is indicated by the LED. At the end of 9 days,  [RoboPandaPDX] found that the goldfish would hit the Lure when the LED turned on, and then turn around to face where the feeder would dispense food in to the tank. His next plan is to put up some obstacles along the path to see if the fish learn some new tricks. His schematic looks a little iffy (the Lure switch is connected to the RST pin of the Arduino), and it seems he cannot remember why he ever did that. He’s happy that it works though, but we’re sure that’s not the right way to wire it up.

[RoboPandaPDX] is looking for suggestions on improving his interactive feeder, so if you have any, do add them in the comments below.

If you need some more fish feeder ideas, check out this and this that we blogged about earlier.

Making the Dune “Pain Box” a Reality

If you are unfamiliar with Dune, then you may not know what the pain box is. The pain box is a fictional device that produces an excruciating burning sensation without causing any actual damage. [Bryan] has been working on a project to duplicate this effect in the real world. It sounds like he may be on the right path by using the “thermal grill illusion”.

The thermal grill illusion is a sensory trick originally demonstrated back in 1896. The trick is made up of two interlaced grills. One is cool to the touch, and the other is warm. If the user touches a single grill, they won’t experience any pain because neither temperature is very extreme. However if the user places their hand over the interlaced grills simultaneously they will immediately experience a burning heat. This usually causes the person to pull their hand away immediately. It’s a fun trick and you can sometimes see examples of it at science museums.

The thermal grill illusion sounded like the perfect way to make the pain box a reality. [Bryan] has set specific constraints on this build to make it more true to the Dune series. He wants to ensure the entire package fits into a small box, just big enough to place an adult hand inside. He also wants to keep safety in mind, since it has the potential to actually cause harm if it were to overheat.

[Bryan] has so far tried two methods with varying success. The first attempt involved using several thermoelectric coolers (TECs). [Bryan] had seen PCBs etched a certain way allowing them to radiate heat. We’ve seen this before in 3D printer surfaces. He figured if they could become hot, then why couldn’t they become cold too? His idea was very simple. He etched a PCB that had just two large copper pours. Each one branched out into “fingers” making up the grill.

Each side of the grill ultimately lead to a flat surface to which a TEC was mounted. One side was cold and the other was hot. Heat sinks we attached to the open side of the TECs to help with performance. Unfortunately this design didn’t work. The temperature was not conducted down to the fingers at all. The back side of the PCB did get hot and cold directly under the TECs, but that wouldn’t work for this illusion.

The latest version of the project scraps the PCB idea and uses small diameter copper tubing for the grill. [Bryan] is working with two closed loop water systems. One is for warm water and the other is for cold. He’s using an aquarium pump to circulate the water and the TECs to actually heat or cool the water. The idea is that the water will change the temperature of the copper tubing as it flows through.

While the results so far are better than the previous revision, unfortunately this version is having problems of its own. The hot water eventually gets too hot, and it takes over an hour for it to heat up in the first place. On top of that, the cold water never quite gets cold enough. Despite these problems, [Bryan] is hopefully he can get this concept working. He has several ideas for improvements listed on his blog. Maybe some Hackaday readers can come up with some clever solutions to help this project come to fruition.

Hackaday Links: December 21, 2014

Most of the incredible flight simulator enthusiasts with 737 cockpits in their garage are from the US. What happens when they’re from Slovenia? They built an A320 cockpit. The majority of the build comes from an old Cyprus Airways aircraft, with most of the work being wiring up the switches, lights, and figuring out how to display the simulated world out of the cockpit.

Google Cardboard is the $4 answer to the Oculus Rift – a cardboard box and smartphone you strap to your head. [Frooxius] missed being able to interact with objects in these 3D virtual worlds, so he came up with this thing. He adapted a symbol tracking library for AR, and is now able to hold an object in his hands while looking at a virtual object in 3D.

Heat your house with candles! Yes, it’s the latest Indiegogo campaign that can be debunked with 7th grade math. This “igloo for candles” will heat a room up by 2 or 3 degrees, or a little bit less than a person with an average metabolism will.

Last week, we saw a post that gave the Samsung NX300 the ability to lock the pictures taken by the camera with public key cryptography. [g3gg0] wrote in to tell us he did the same thing with a Canon EOS camera.

The guys at Flite Test put up a video that should be handy for RC enthusiasts and BattleBot contenders alike. They’re tricking out transmitters, putting push buttons where toggle switches should go, on/off switches where pots should go, and generally making a transmitter more useful. It’s also a useful repair guide.

[Frank Zhao] made a mineral oil aquarium and put a computer in it. i7, GTX 970, 16GB RAM, and a 480GB SSD. It’s a little bigger than most of the other aquarium computers we’ve seen thanks to the microATX mobo, and of course there are NeoPixels and a bubbly treasure chest.

An MSP430-based Automatic Fish Feeder

[Dmitri] wanted to buy an automatic feeding setup for his aquarium, but he found that most off-the-shelf feeders are really inaccurate with portion control. [Dmitri]’s fish is sensitive to overfeeding, so an off-the-shelf feeder wouldn’t get the job done. Since [Dmitri] knows a thing or two about electronics, he set out to build his own microcontroller-based automatic feeding machine.

[Dmitri]’s machine is based around a MSP430 that starts feeding at scheduled times and controls how much food is dispensed. The MSP lives on a custom PCB that [Dmitri] designed, which includes a stepper motor driver and input for an endstop sensor. The board is wired to a stepper motor that advances a small wooden board with a series of holes in it. Each hole is filled with a single serving of food. The board slides along a piece of U-channel, and food drops out of each hole into the aquarium when the hole reaches the end of the channel.

The whole build is very well documented, and [Dmitri] explains each block of his schematic in detail. His firmware is also open-source, so you can build your own fish feeder based off of his design. Check out the video after the break to see the feeder in action.

Continue reading “An MSP430-based Automatic Fish Feeder”

Microbial Fuel Cell with a Side of Betta Fish

Move over, potato batteries: DIY microbial fuel cells are here to stay! A microbial fuel cell (MFC) is a device that uses bacteria in an anaerobic (oxygen-poor) environment to convert chemical energy into electricity. [drdan152] posted steps on how to make a soil-based MFC  with a neat twist: it’s also a fishbowl for a betta fish.

[drdan152] used soil from the wetlands, referred to as “muck.” This nutrient-rich soil provided a hearty supply of bacteria, especially Geobacter species, known for their uncanny ability to transport electrons outside their cells using bacterial nanowires. The proton exchange membrane (PEM) was made up of salt, water, and agar. After some initial runs, [drdan152] determined that flat char cloth made the best anode, while red copper wire served as the cathode. Assembling the MFC was as simple as surrounding the anode with a thick layer of muck on all sides, adding the PEM on top, followed by water. The cathode was situated halfway out of the water.

After a couple of days, the voltage increased in proportion to the amount of bacteria growing on the anode. The betta fish can happily live in this habitat for a short period of time(it still has to be fed, of course), and the bacteria certainly won’t mind – the fish’s excrement provides an additional food supply. As a bonus, the water is kept clean. However, like any aquarium, the water will need to be changed periodically as carbon dioxide byproduct accumulates from the fish’s respiration and the MFC (high carbon dioxide levels = dead betta fish).

The MFC generates 725 mV. [drdan152] is not satisfied with that number, and is testing out charge pump circuits to generate as much as 3V. We are looking forward to seeing the results. We also wonder if a small aquatic plant could help make it a more self-sustaining environment for the fish. In the meantime, [drdan152] is encouraging others to try larger-scale versions of this MFC. Perhaps MFC-powered carnivorous robots doubling as mobile aquariums are in our near future.