LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology

A career as a lab biologist can take many forms, but the general public seems to see it as a lone, lab-coated researcher sitting at a bench, setting up a series of in vitro experiments by hand in small tubes or streaking out a little yeast on an agar plate. That’s not inaccurate at all – all of us lab rats have done time with a manual pipettor while trying to keep track of which tube in the ice bucket gets which solution. It’s tedious stuff.

But because biology experiments generally scale well, and because more data often leads to better conclusions, life science processes can quickly grow beyond what can be handled manually. I’ve seen this time and again in my 25 years in science, from my crude grad school attempts to miniaturize my assays and automate data collection to the multi-million dollar robotic systems I built in my career in the pharmaceutical industry. Biology can get pretty big in a hurry. Continue reading “LEGO Liquid Handler and Big Biology”

WiFi Power Bar!

Ever wanted to access a file or run some program on your computer while away from home, but the darned thing is turned off? Finding themselves occasionally working away from home and not wanting to leave their computer on for extended periods, [robotmaker]’s solution was to hack into existence a WiFi-controlled power bar!

esp8266-powerbar-thumbInside the junction box, an eight-channel relay is connected to an ESP8266 module. The module uses MQTT to communicate with Home Assistant and is powered by a partially dismembered USB AC adapter — wrapped in kapon tape for safe-keeping. The entire bar is wired through a 10A fuse, while also using a fire resistant 4-gang electrical box. Once the outlets were wired in, closing it up finished up the power bar.

[robotmaker] controls the outlets via a cheap smartphone — running HADashboard — mounted to a wall with a 3D printed support. Don’t worry — they’ve set up the system to wait for the PCs to power down before cutting power, and the are also configured to boot up when the relay turns on.

The best part — the power bar only cost $25.

[via /r/homeautomation]

DIY Wire Spooler with Clever Auto-Tensioning System

[Solarbotics] have shared a video of their DIY wire spooler that uses OpenBeam hardware plus some 3D printed parts to flawlessly spool wire regardless of spool size mismatches. Getting wire from one spool to another can be trickier than it sounds, especially when one spool is physically larger than the other. This is because consistently moving wire between different sizes of spools requires that they turn at different rates. On top of that, the ideal rate changes as one spool is emptying and the other gets larger. The wire must be kept taut when moving from one spool to the next; any slack is asking for winding problems. At the same time, the wire shouldn’t be so taut as to put unnecessary stress on it or the motor on the other end.

There aren’t any build details but the video embedded below gives a good overview and understanding of the whole system. In the center is a tension bar with pulleys on both ends though which the wire feeds. This bar pivots at the center and takes up slack while its position is encoded by turning a pot via a 3D printed gear. Both spools are motor driven and the speed of the source spool is controlled by the position of the tension bar. As a result, the bar automatically takes up any slack while dynamically slowing or speeding the feed rate to match whatever is needed.

Continue reading “DIY Wire Spooler with Clever Auto-Tensioning System”

Talking Arduino Tells GoPro What To Do

It’s 2017 and even GoPro cameras now come with voice activation. Budding videographers, rest assured, nothing will look more professional than repeatedly yelling at your camera on a big shoot. Hackaday alumnus [Jeremy Cook] heard about this and instead of seeing an annoying gimmick, saw possibilities. Could they automate their GoPro using Arduino-spoken voice commands?

It’s an original way to do automation, for sure. In many ways, it makes sense – rather than mucking around with trying to make your own version of the GoPro mobile app (software written by surfers; horribly buggy) or official WiFi remote, stick with what you know. [Jeremy] decided to pair an Arduino Nano with the ISD1820 voice playback module. This was then combined with a servo-based panning fixture – [Jeremy] wants the GoPro to pan, take a photo, and repeat. The Arduino sets the servo position, then commands the ISD1820 to playback the voice command to take a picture, before rotating again.

[Jeremy] reports that it’s just a prototype at this stage, and works only inconsistently. This could perhaps be an issue of intelligibility of the recorded speech, or perhaps a volume issue. It’s hard to argue that a voice control system will ever be as robust as remote controlling a camera over WiFi, but it just goes to show – there’s never just one way to get the job done. We’ve seen people go deeper into GoPro hacking though – check out this comprehensive guide on how to pwn your GoPro.

Servo-Controlled IoT Light Switches

The Internet of Things is fun to play with; there’s all manner of devices to automate and control remotely. It can be sketchy, though — make a mistake when coding your automatic plant watering system and you could flood your house. Make a mistake with a space heater and you could burn it down. Combine these risks with the fact that many people live in rental properties, and it can be a difficult proposition to bring the Internet of Things to your home.

[Suyash] came up with a way around this by building 3D printed light switch covers that add servo control. It’s a great solution that it doesn’t require the modification of any mains wiring, and interfaces with the standard switches in the normal way. It makes it a lot safer this way — there are municipal wiring codes for a reason. This is a great example of what you can do with a 3D printer, above and beyond printing out Yoda heads and keychains.

The backend of things is handled by the venerable ESP8266, with [Suyash]’s custom IoT library known as conduit doing the heavy lifting. The library is a way to quickly build IoT devices with web interfaces, and [Suyash] claims it’s possible to be blinking an LED from the cloud within 5 minutes using the tool.

For another take on an IoT light switch, check out this Hackaday Prize entry from 2016.

Garage Door Opener Logs to Google Drive

A garage door opener is a pretty classic hack around these parts. IR, Bluetooth, WiFi, smartphone controlled, web interfaces — we’ve seen it all.  But if you want to keep track of people going in and out, you need some way of logging what’s happening. You could go ahead and roll up your own SQL based solution, tied into a custom web page. But there’s an easier way; you can build a garage door opener that logs events to Google Drive.

[WhiskeyTangoHotel] was looking for an ESP8266 project, and a garage door opener seemed just the ticket. It’s simple enough to code up, and control over WiFi comes in handy. Interfacing with the garage door was simple enough — the existing opener uses a simple push button, which is easily controlled by wiring up a relay to do the job. Logging is as simple as having the ESP8266 send requests to IFTTT which is set up to make posts to a Google Sheet with status updates.

The project is fairly basic, but there’s room for expansion. By using separate Maker Channel triggers on IFTTT, different users of the garage door could be tracked. It would also be easy to add some limit switches or other sensors to detect the door’s position, so it can be determined whether the door was opened or closed.

There’s always another take on the garage door opener — check out this hack that opens the garage door in response to flashing headlights.

Mod Your Camera With ModBus

Industrial hardware needs to be reliable, tough, and interoperable. For this reason, there are a series of standards used for command & control connections between equipment. One of the more widespread standards is ModBus, an open protocol using a master-slave architecture, usually delivered over RS-485 serial. It’s readily found being used with PLCs, HMIs, VFDs, and all manner of other industrial equipment that comes with a TLA (three letter acronym).

[Absolutelyautomation] decided to leverage ModBus to control garden variety digital cameras, of the type found cluttering up drawers now that smartphones have come so far. This involves getting old-school, by simply soldering wires to the buttons of the camera, and using an Arduino Nano to control the camera while talking to the ModBus network.

This system could prove handy for integrating a camera into an industrial production process to monitor for faults or defective parts. The article demonstrates simple control of the camera with off-the-shelf commercial PLC hardware. Generally, industrial cameras are very expensive, so this hack may be useful where there isn’t the budget for a proper solution. Will it stand up to industrial conditions for 10 years without missing a beat? No, but it could definitely save the day in the short term for a throwaway price. One shortfall is that the camera as installed will only save pictures to its local memory card. There’s a lot to be said for serving the images right to the engineer’s desk over a network.

We’ve seen [Absolutelyautomation]’s work before – check out this implementation of Pong on an industrial controller.