Radiosondes: Getting Data from Upstairs

Ever since I first learned about radiosondes as a kid, I’ve been fascinated by them. To my young mind, the idea that weather bureaus around the world would routinely loft instrument-laden packages high into the atmosphere to measure temperature, pressure, and winds aloft seemed extravagant. And the idea that this telemetry package, having traveled halfway or more to space, could crash land in a field near my house so that I could recover it and take it apart, was an intoxicating thought.

I’ve spent a lot of time in the woods over the intervening years, but I’ve never seen a radiosonde in the wild. The closest I ever came was finding a balloon with a note saying it had been released by a bunch of schoolkids in Indiana. I was in Connecticut at the time, so that was pretty cool, but those shortsighted kids hadn’t put any electronics on their balloon, and they kind of left me hanging. So here’s a look at what radiosondes are, how they work, and what you can do to increase your chances of finding one.

Continue reading “Radiosondes: Getting Data from Upstairs”

Conductive Concrete Confounds Circuitry

There’s a fairly good chance you’ve never tried to embed electronics into a chunk of concrete. Truth be told, before this one arrived to us via the tip line, the thought had never even occurred to us. After all, the conditions electronic components would have to endure during the pouring and curing process sound like a perfect storm of terrible: wet, alkaline, and with a bunch of pulverized minerals thrown in for good measure.

But as it turns out, the biggest issue with embedding electronics into concrete is something that most people aren’t even aware of: concrete is conductive. Not very conductive, mind you, but enough to cause problems. This is exactly where [Adam Kumpf] of Makefast Workshop found himself while working on a concrete enclosure for a color-changing barometer called LightNudge.

While putting a printed circuit board in the concrete was clearly not workable, [Adam] was hoping to simplify manufacturing of the device by embedding the DC power jack and capacitive touch sensor into the concrete itself. Unfortunately, [Adam] found that there was a resistance of about 200k Ohm between the touch sensor and the power jack; more than enough to mess with the sensitive measurements required for the touch sensor to function.

Even worse, the resistance of the concrete was found to change over time as the curing process continued, which can stretch out for weeks. With no reliable way to calibrate out the concrete’s internal conductivity, [Adam] needed a way to isolate his electronic components from the concrete itself.

Through trial and error, [Adam] eventually found a cheap method: dipping his sensor pad and wire into an acrylic enamel coating from the hardware store. It takes 24 hours to fully cure, and two coats to be sure no metal is exposed, but at least it’s an easy fix.

While the tip about concrete’s latent conductivity is interesting enough on its own, [Adam] also gives plenty of information about casting concrete parts which may be a useful bit of knowledge to store away for later. We have to admit, the final result is certainly much slicker than we would have expected.

This is the first one we’ve come across that’s embedded in concrete, but we’ve got no shortage of other capacitive touch projects if you’d like to get inspired.

DIY Barometer: It’s For Your Health!

[Taciuc Marius] and his colleague noticed that days with low atmospheric pressure plus caffeine in their system meant a spike in blood pressure. Considering how this might impact his cardiovascular health, he decided to make a relative pressure barometer out of a jar to help him decide whether he should really have another cup of coffee.

Aside from a 3D printer, you’ll need to assemble a small jar with a lid, some screws, lock washers, nuts, and a flexible membrane — a piece of a rubber glove or balloon will do nicely. [Marius] details the build process on his project page, advising others to print the parts at 0.2 resolution — potentially even upping the extrusion multiplier to 1.1 — to prevent gaps in the print that would compromise the airtight seal needed for the barometer to work properly.

Additionally, thick glue or epoxy is recommended for the rest of the assembly process — it doesn’t have to be pretty, but it does need to be sealed! The final product can be easily tested by simply holding the jar.

While this barometer helps one make healthy choices, not all are created equal. This one tells you flat out how you should consider getting to work, while others have been tricked into behaving like touch sensors.

Solar-powered Weather Station Has the Complete Suite of Sensors

There was a time when getting weather conditions was only as timely or as local as the six o’clock news from the nearest big-city TV station. Monitoring the weather now is much more granular thanks to the proliferation of personal weather stations. For the ultimate in personalized weather, though, you might want to build your own solar powered weather station.

It looks like [Brian Masney] went all out in designing his weather station. It supports a full stack of sensors – wind speed and direction, rain, temperature, pressure, and dew point. About the only other parameters not supported (yet) are solar radiation, UV, and soil moisture and temperature. The design looks friendly enough that adding those sensors should be a snap – if fact, the 3D models in his GitHub repo suggest that he’s already working on soil sensors. The wind and rain sensor boom is an off-the-shelf unit from Sparkfun, and the temperature and pressure sensors are housed in a very professional 3D printed screen enclosure. All the sensors talk to a Raspberry Pi living in a (hopefully) waterproof enclosure topped with a solar panel for charging the stations batteries. All in all it’s a comprehensive build; you can check out the conditions at [Brian]’s place on Weather Underground.

Weather stations are popular around these parts, as witnessed by this reverse-engineered sensor suite or even this squirrel-logic based station.

Introducing the F*Watch, a Fully Open Electronic Watch

As one of their colleagues was retiring, several CERN engineers got together after hours during 4 months to develop his gift: a fully open electronic watch. It is called the F*Watch and is packed with sensors: GPS, barometer, compass, accelerometer and light sensor. The microcontroller used is a 32-bit ARM Cortex-M3 SiLabs Giant Gecko which contains 128KB of RAM and 1MB of Flash. In the above picture you’ll notice a 1.28″ 128×128 pixels Sharp Memory LCD but the main board also contains a micro-USB connector for battery charging and connectivity, a micro-SD card slot, a buzzer and a vibration motor.

The watch is powered by a 500mA LiPo battery. All the tools that were used to build it are open source (FreeCAD, KiCad, GCC, openOCD, GDB) and our readers may make one by downloading all the source files located in their repository. After the break is embedded a video showing their adventure.

Continue reading “Introducing the F*Watch, a Fully Open Electronic Watch”

Building touch sensors from digital barometer chips

A couple of Harvard researchers have developed a method of using digital barometers as a touch sensor. The good news for us is that they’ve open sourced the project, including Eagle board files, firmware, and details about the materials they used.

The digital barometers were chosen for their characteristics, availability, and low-cost. The sensor uses an array of Freescale MPL115A2 chips, a MEMS Barometer designed for use in altimeters. The mass production makes them cheap (Octopart found some in single quantities for $1.71 at the time of writing). The chips are soldered onto a board which is then cast in rubber. This distributes the force while protecting the sensors. The video after the break shows them standing up to rubber hammer blows and supporting a 25 pound weight.

There are a few tricks to reading the array. The first is that the devices are designed to be used one-to-a-project so they have a fixed i2 address. A separate chip must be used to address them individually. But one it’s up and running you should be able to use it as feedback for the fingertips of that robot arm you’ve been building.

Continue reading “Building touch sensors from digital barometer chips”