Streamlining The Toolchain

Sometimes I try to do something magical, and it works. Most of the time this happens because other people have done a good part of the work for me, and shared it. I just cobble a bunch of existing tools into a flow that fits my needs. But the sum of all the parts is often less than the whole, when too many of the steps involve human intervention. Tools made for people simply keep the people in the loop.

For instance, I wanted to take a drawing that my son made into a stamp, by way of a CNC machine and whatever scrap wood we have kicking around in the basement. It’s easy enough, really. Take the photo, maybe use a little tweaking in GIMP to get the levels right, export it into Inkscape for the line detection and maybe even make the GCode right there, or take it off to any convenient SVG-to-GCode tool.

While this works straight out of the box for me, it turns out that’s because I have experience with all of the sub-tools. First, it helps a lot if you get the exposure right in the first place, and that’s not trivial when your camera’s light meter is aiming for grey, but the drawing is on white paper. Knowing this, you could set it up to always overexpose, I guess.

Still, there’s some experience needed in post-processing. If you haven’t played around with both image processing and image editing software, you don’t know how they’re going to interact. And finally, there are more parameters to tweak to get the CNC milling done than a beginner should have to decide.

In short, I had a toolchain up and running in a jiffy, and that’s a success. But in terms of passing it on to my son, it was a failure because he would have to learn way too many sub-tools to make it work for him. Bummer. I’m left wondering if I can streamline all of the parts to work together well enough, or whether I’m simply needed in the loop.

The Ease Of Wireless Charging, Without The Wait

Historically, there have been a few cases of useful wireless power transmission over great distances, like a team at MIT that was able to light up a 60 W bulb at several meters, and of course Nikola Tesla had grand dreams of drawing energy from the atmosphere. But for most of us wireless power is limited to small, short-range devices like cellphone chargers. While it’s not a lot of work to plug in a phone when it needs a charge, even this small task can be automated.

This build begins with a 3D printed cradle for the smartphone to sit in. When the device detects that the phone has been placed in the cradle, it uses a linear actuator to drive a custom-built charging cable into the phone’s USB port. Similarly, when the phone is lifted from the cradle the cable is automatically removed. It appears that there is some play in the phone’s position that lets the charger be plugged in smoothly, and the project’s creator [Larpushka] points out that the linear actuator is not particularly strong so we don’t imagine the risk of damage is very high.

While wireless charging still may have the edge when it comes to keeping debris out of the port, we still really enjoy a project like this that seems to be done for its own sake. There are some improvements that [Larpushka] plans to make, but for now we’re delighted by this build. For anyone looking to add true wireless charging to any phone that doesn’t have it, though, it’s not too difficult to accomplish either.

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: Plant Monitoring System Grows To Include LoRa

Change on industrial scales is slow, but if you’re operating your own small farm or simply working in a home garden there are some excellent ways to use water more effectively. The latest tool from [YJ] makes it possible to use much less water while still keeping plant yields high.

This is an improvement on a previous project which automates watering and lighting of a small area or single pot. This latest creation, called FLORA, includes a LoRa module for communication up to 3 kilometers, and the ESP32 on board also handles monitoring of soil moisture, humidity and other sensors. It also includes a pump driver for managing irrigation systems so that smart decisions can be made about when to water. Using this device, the water usage when testing was reduced by around 30% compared to a typical timed irrigation system.

Using a smart system like this is effective for basically any supply of water, but for those who get water from something like an off-grid rainwater system or an expensive water utility, the gains are immediate. If you aren’t already growing your own food to take advantage of tools like this, take a look at this primer to get you started.

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 MontrĂ©al 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!

Automate Internet Life With Python

Most of us are adept enough with computers that you know what they can easily do and what they can’t. Invent a new flavor of ice cream? Not easy. Grab the news headlines related to Arduinos from your favorite news feed? Relatively easy. But, of course, the devil is in the details. FreeCodeCamp has a 3-hour course from [Frank Andrade] that dives into the gory details of automating web tasks using Python and a variety of libraries like Path, Xpath, and Selenium. You can watch the course, below.

Topics start off with grabbing tables from websites and PDFs. But it quickly graduates to general-purpose web scraping and even web automation. These techniques can be very useful for testing browser-based applications, too.

By the end, you’ve created an executable that grabs news every day and automatically generates an Excel report. There’s also a little wind down about WhatApp automation. A little something for everyone. We also greatly approved of [Frank]’s workspace which appears in the background. Looks like he would enjoy reading Hackaday.

Honestly, while we’ve seen easier methods of automating the browser, there’s something appealing about having the control something like Python affords. Sure beats building hardware to simulate a human-in-the-loop.

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Automated Mushroom Cultivation Yields Delicious Fried Goodies

[Kyle Gabriel] knows mushrooms, and his years of experience really shine through in his thorough documentation of an automated mushroom cultivation environment, created with off-the-shelf sensors and hardware as much as possible. The results speak for themselves, with some delicious fried oyster mushrooms to show for it!

Fried oyster mushrooms, grown from scratch.

The most influential conditions for mushroom cultivation are temperature, humidity, and CO2 concentration, and to automate handling the environmental conditions [Kyle] created Mycodo, an open-source system that leverages inexpensive hardware and parts while also having the ability to take regular photos to keep an eye on things.

Calling [Kyle]’s documentation “comprehensive” doesn’t do it justice, and he addresses everything from setting up a positive pressure air filtration system for a work area, to how to get usable cultures from foraged mushrooms, all the way through growth and harvesting. He even includes a delicious-looking recipe for fried mushrooms. It just doesn’t get more comprehensive than that.

We’ve seen [Kyle]’s earlier work before, and it’s fantastic to see the continued refinement. Check out a tour of the whole thing in the video embedded below (or skip to 16:11 if you want to make yourself hungry.)

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