The Electric Imp Sniffs out California Wildfires

The wildfires in California are now officially the largest the state has ever seen. Over 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes, hundreds are missing, and the cost in property damage will surely be measured in the billions of dollars when all is said and done. With a disaster of this scale just the immediate effects are difficult to conceptualize, to say nothing of the collateral damage.

While not suggesting their situation is comparable to those who’ve lost their homes or families, Electric Imp CEO [Hugo Fiennes] has recently made a post on their blog calling attention to the air quality issues they’re seeing at their offices in Los Altos. To quantify the problem so that employees with respiratory issues would know the conditions before they came into work, they quickly hacked together a method for displaying particulate counts in their Slack server.

The key to the system is one of the laser particle sensors that we’re starting to see more of thanks to a fairly recent price drop on the technology. A small fan pulls air to be tested into the device, where a very sensitive optical sensor detects the light reflected by particles as they pass through the laser beam. The device reports not only how many particles are passing through it, but how large they are. The version of the sensor [Hugo] links to in his blog post includes an adapter board to make it easier to connect to your favorite microcontroller, but we’ve previously seen DIY builds which accomplish the same goal.

[Hugo] then goes on to provide firmware for the Electric Imp board that reads the current particulate counts from the sensor and creates a simple web page that can be viewed from anywhere in the world to see real-time conditions at the office. From there, this data can be plugged into a Slack webhook which will provide an instantaneous air quality reading anytime a user types “air” into the channel.

We’ve covered a number of air quality sensors over the years, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to become any less prevalent as time goes on. If anything, we’re seeing a trend towards networks of distributed pollution sensors so that citizens can collect their own data on their air they’re breathing.

[Thanks to DillonMCU for the tip.]

Internet of Things Opens Possibilities

While a lot of hardware gets put on the “Internet of Things” with only marginal or questionable benefits (or with hilariously poor security), every now and then a project makes use of this new platform in a way that illustrates the strengths of IoT. [ThingEngineer] turned to this platform as a cost-effective solution for an automatic gate, since new keyfobs were too expensive and a keypad was not an option.

Using an Electric IMP, [ThingEngineer] began by installing his IoT patch into the LiftMaster gate control box. This particular gate has easily accessible points that the controller can access to determine the gate’s status, so from there, an API was written to do the heavy lifting. A web server was deployed as well, so anyone with access can use a smartphone or other device to open the gate.

For anyone else looking to deploy a similar IoT solution, [ThingEngineer] has put all of the project code, schematics, and a thorough write-up about the project on his GitHub page. There are many useful ways to get on board the Internet of Things, though; so many that it’s been possible to win a substantial prize for using it in a creative way.

Exquisitely Crafted Nixie Tube Weatherclock

The Weatherclock is more than just a clock sporting Nixie tubes and neon lamps. There is even more to it than the wonderful workmanship and the big, beautiful pictures in the build log. [Bradley]’s Weatherclock is not only internet-connected, it automatically looks up local weather and sets the backlights of the numbers to reflect current weather conditions. For example, green for roughly room temperature, blue for cold, red for warm, flashing blue for rain, flashing white for lightning, scrolling white for fog and ice, and so on.

neonixieclock_02The enclosure is custom-made and the sockets for the tubes are seated in a laser-cut plastic frame. While seating the sockets, [Bradley] noticed that an Adafruit Neopixel RGB LED breakout board fit perfectly between the tube leads. By seating one Neopixel behind each Nixie indicator, each number could have a programmable backlight that just happened to look fabulous.

Witpreboxh an Electric Imp board used for WiFi the capabilities of the Weatherclock were rounded out on the inside. On the outside, a custom enclosure ties it all together. [Bradley] says his family had gotten so used to having the Weatherclock show them the outside conditions that they really missed it when it was down for maintenance or work – which shouldn’t happen much anymore as the project is pretty much complete.

It’s interesting to see new features in Nixie clocks. Nixie tubes have such enduring appeal that using them alone has its own charm, and at least one dedicated craftsman actually makes new ones from scratch.

Critter Twitter Trap Traps Critters, Pings Twitter

Got aliens in your attic? Squirrels in the skirting board? You need a trap, and [John Mangan] has come up with an interesting way to let you know that you have caught that pesky varmint: the IoT Critter Twitter Trap. By adding a ball switch, Electric Imp and a couple of batteries to a trap, he was able to set the trap to notify him when it caught something over Twitter. To do this, he programmed the Electric Imp to send a message over when a varmint trods on the panel inside the trap, slamming its door shut. The whole thing cost him less than $60 and can be seen in action after the break.

This is a pretty neat hack. I used to help with a Feral Fix program, where feral cats would be trapped, neutered and returned to the wild. This involved baiting the trap, then waiting hours in the cold nearby for the ferals to get comfortable enough to climb inside and trigger the trap. [John’s] version would only work indoors (as it uses WiFi), but it wouldn’t be that difficult to add a cell phone dongle or other RF solution to extend the range. With this hack, I could have at least waited somewhere warmer, while the trap would ping me when it was triggered.

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Internet of Cowbell

If this is a sign of the times, the Internet of Things promises a lot of entertainment for hackers who can come up with wacky ideas and interactive projects. [Brandon] built a cowbell that rings when you tweet #morecowbell. Why? Because!

On the hardware side it is quite simple, and can be built in a number of different ways depending on the parts you have lying around. [Brandon] used an Electric Imp and its corresponding breakout board. A Sparkfun mini FET shield helps drive the solenoid that hits the cowbell. And because he had one lying around, he added a counter across the solenoid to count the number of times the Twitterati have rung the Cowbell.

The code for the Electric Imp consists of two parts – the “agent code” that runs on a server in the Electric Imp Cloud and the “device code” that runs on the imp itself – and is available at this Git link. Once you tweet with the hashtag, the Cowbell replies back, randomly selecting one from a list of stored responses. Would be nice to see a video of the Cowbell in action. And if it can be made to play the Salsa beat.

Help! There’s an Imp in my Coffee Pot!

Coffee. The lifeblood of our society. The sweet nectar of bean, whose chemical compound makes us feel so, so good. Doesn’t it deserve a place in the Internet of Things? [Matt] and [Don] thought so — so they connected their old coffee pot to their phones.

After receiving their developer version of the Electric Imp board, the two started thinking of small projects to test it out on; ones that might even have a real-world application. Since the Imp is capable of receiving inputs via the web, it’s super easy to write an app to control things — in this case, a coffee pot.

Hardware-wise it was actually pretty simple. The coffee pot control board provides power for the Imp, and the On/Off switch of the coffee maker is wired to one of the Imp’s outputs. One simple app later, and boom we have wireless java capabilities. Heh. Java.

Continue reading “Help! There’s an Imp in my Coffee Pot!”

A Tweeting Vending Machine

[Sigurd] manage to obtain an old vending machine from his dorm. The only problem was that the micocontroller on the main board was broken. He and his friend decided they could most likely get the machine back into working order, but they also knew they could probably give it a few upgrades.

This system uses two Arduino Pro Minis and an Electric Imp to cram in all of the new features. One Arduino is connected to the machine’s original main board. The Arduino interfaces with some of the shift registers, relays, and voltage regulators. This microcontroller also lights up the buttons on the machine as long as that particular beverage is not empty. It controls the seven segment LED display, as well as reading the coin validator.

The team had to reverse engineer the original coin validator in order to figure out how the machine detected and counted the coins. Once they figured out how to read the state of the coins, they also built a custom driver board to drive the solenoids.

A second Arduino is used to read NFC and RFID cards using a Mifare RC522 reader. The system uses its own credit system, so a user can be issued a card with a certain amount of pre-paid credit. It will then deduct credit appropriately once a beverage is vended. The two Arduinos communicate via Serial.

The team also wanted this machine to have the ability to communicate with the outside world. In this case, that meant sending cheeky tweets. They originally used a Raspberry Pi for this, but found that the SD card kept getting corrupted. They eventually switched to an Electric Imp, which worked well. The Arduino sends a status update to the Imp every minute. If the status changes, for example if a beverage was dispensed, then the Imp will send a tweet to let the world know. It will also send a tweet to the maintenance person if there is a jam or if a particular slot becomes empty. Continue reading “A Tweeting Vending Machine”