A Trip Down The Vacuum Clamping Rabbit Hole

We all know how easy it is to fall down the rabbit hole,  something that turns a seemingly simple job into an accidental journey of experimentation and discovery. And perhaps nobody is more prone to rabbit-holing than [Matthias Wandel], at least judging by his recent foray into quantitating different techniques for vacuum clamping in the woodshop. (Video, embedded below.)

To understand where this all came from, you’ll have to dial back to [Matthias]’s first video, where he was just trying to make a simple corkboard. In an effort to get even pressure over the whole surface of the board, he came up with a shop-expedient vacuum clamp, made from a sheet of thick plastic, some scraps of wood and clamps, and a couple of vacuums. With the workpiece sandwiched between a smooth, flat table and the plastic sheet, he was able to suck the air out and apply a tremendous amount of force to the corkboard.

The comments to the first video led to the one linked below, wherein [Matthias] aimed to explore some of the criticisms of his approach. Using a quartet of BMP280 pressure sensor breakout boards and a Raspberry Pi, he was able to nicely chart the pressure inside his clamping jig. He found that not only did the sensors make it easy to find and fix leaks, they also proved that adding a porous layer between the workpiece and the vacuum bag wouldn’t likely improve clamping. He was also able to show which of his collection of vacuums worked best — unsurprisingly, the Miele sucked the hardest, although he found that it wasn’t suitable for continuous clamping duty.

We can see a lot of uses for a jig like this, and we really like it when trips down the rabbit hole yield such interesting results. Especially quantitative results; remember [Matthias]’s exploration of basement humidity?

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This Barometer Looks Mighty Fine, Rain Or Shine

Mythological legend has it that Tempestas, the Roman goddess of storms and sudden weather, saved the consul Scipio when his fleet of ships got caught in a storm off of Corsica. In return, she demanded that a temple be dedicated to her.

[SephenDeVos]’ beautiful barometer, dubbed Tempestas II,  demands nothing of the viewer, but will likely command attention anyway because it looks so cool. If the weather is anything but clear and sunny, the appropriate sun-obscuring weather actor, be it clouds, more clouds, rain, or lightning will swing into place, blocking out the blue sky in layers, just like real life.

There’s a total of five weather-serving servos, and they’re all controlled by an Arduino Nano through a 16-channel PWM driver. The Nano gets the news from a BMP280 barometric pressure/temperature sensor and drives the servos accordingly.

Nine layers of nicely-decorated Plexiglas® hide the clouds and things in the wings while it’s nice outside. We totally love the way this looks —  it’s even pretty on the back, where the sun don’t shine. This one is new and ongoing, so it seems likely that [Sephen] will post the code before the sun sets on this project. In the meantime, check out the demo after the break.

We don’t see too many barometers builds around here — maybe there’s too much pressure. This one tells you to lay off the coffee when the pressure’s too low.

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Torturing An Instrumented Dive Watch, For Science

The Internet is a wild and wooly place where people can spout off about anything with impunity. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about and throw around a few bits of the appropriate jargon, chances are good that somebody out there will believe whatever you’re selling.

Case in point: those that purport that watches rated for 300-meter dives will leak if you wiggle them around too much in the shower. Seems preposterous, but rather than just dismiss the claim, [Kristopher Marciniak] chose to disprove it with a tiny wireless pressure sensor stuffed into a dive watch case. The idea occurred to him when his gaze fell across an ESP-01 module next to a watch on his bench. Figuring the two needed to get together, he ordered a BMP280 pressure sensor board, tiny enough itself to fit anywhere. Teamed up with a small LiPo pack, everything was stuffed into an Invicta dive watch case. A little code was added to log the temperature and pressure and transmit the results over WiFi, and [Kristopher] was off to torture test his setup.

The first interesting result is how exquisitely sensitive the sensor is, and how much a small change in temperature can affect the pressure inside the case. The watch took a simulated dive to 70 meters in a pressure vessel, which only increased the internal pressure marginally, and took a skin-flaying shower with a 2300-PSI (16 MPa) pressure washer, also with minimal impact. The video below shows the results, but the take-home message is that a dive watch that leaks in the shower isn’t much of a dive watch.

Hats off to [Kristopher] for doing the work here. We always love citizen science efforts such as this, whether it’s hardware-free radio astronomy or sampling whale snot with a drone.

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Building An Army Of ESP32 Air Quality Sensors

The ESP8266 and its heavyweight sibling the ESP32 are fantastic boards to develop with as they allow you to quickly and easily get a project online. Just tack a few sensors and some LEDs on them, and you’re well on the way to producing your own “Internet of Things”. The real challenge is utilizing the incredible capabilities these boards offer us to do something meaningful.

Judging by what he’s got so far, we think [Samuel Klit] is well on his way. He’s using the ESP32 and some off-the-shelf modular components to create an Internet-connected air quality monitoring station. But he’s not just building one or two of them, he’s building enough so they can be distributed and collect data over a wide area. Who knows, perhaps you’ll be building one next.

[Samuel] is using the CCS811 sensor which can pick up potentially harmful Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) and determine carbon dioxide concentrations, as well as a BMP280 sensor to read ambient temperature and atmospheric pressure. There’s also an SD card reader for local data storage, a 1602 LCD display that provides a basic user interface, and the electronics required to support the 18650 Li-Ion batteries which power the unit for up to 12 hours on a charge. Everything’s held in a professional looking enclosure that we’ll be sure to add to our next AliExpress order.

Collecting data is one thing, but what do you do with it once you’ve got it? To that end, each node runs a web interface that not only allows you to view current hardware status and download the locally stored data, but also provides an easy to understand visual representation of the environmental conditions. To get around the limited storage space for web assets on the chip, [Samuel] is calling out to Chart.js to inject some slick graphics into the web interface on-demand. The web interface is a particularly nice touch, and an excellent use of the power and capabilities offered by the ESP32.

We’ve previously seen air quality sensors added to Taxi cabs in Peru, the homes surrounding Barcelona’s Plaza del Sol, and of course [Radu Motisan] has done incredible work towards the goal of creating city-wide environmental monitoring networks. With increasingly capable technologies, it looks like citizens are studying the world around them in greater numbers than ever before.

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