For decades, Gordon Clark and his company Clark Foam held an almost complete monopoly on the surfboard blank market. “Blanks” are pieces of foam with reinforcing wood strips (called “stringers”) in a rough surfboard shape that board manufacturers use to make a finished product, and Clark sold almost every single one of these board manufacturers their starting templates in the form of these blanks. Due to environmental costs, Clark suddenly shuttered his business in 2005 with virtually no warning. After a brief panic in the board shaping industry, and a temporary skyrocketing in price of the remaining blanks in existence, what followed next was rather surprising: a boom of innovation across the industry.
There’s a big to-do going on right now in Germany over particulate-matter air pollution. Stuttgart, Germany’s “motor city” and one of Dante’s seven circles of Hell during rush hour, had the nation’s first-ever air pollution alert last year. Cities are considering banning older diesel cars outright. So far, Stuttgart’s no-driving days have been voluntary, and the change of the seasons has helped a lot as well. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a problem.
But how big is the issue? And where is it localized? Or is particulate pollution localized at all? These questions would benefit from a distributed network of particulate sensors, and the OK Lab in Stuttgart has put together a simple project(translated here) to get a lot of networked sensors out into the wild, on the cheap.
The basic build is an ESP8266 with an SDS011 particulate sensor attached, with a temperature and humidity sensor if you’re feeling fancy. The suggested housing is very clever: two 90° PVC pipe segments to keep the rain out but let the dust in through a small pipe. The firmware that they supply takes care of getting the device online through your home WiFi. Once you have it running, shoot them an e-mail and you’re online. If you want help, swing by the shackspace.
We love these sort of aggregated, citizen-science monitoring projects — especially when they’re designed so that the buy-in is low, both in terms of money spent and difficulty of getting your sensor online. This effort reminds us of Blitzortung, this radiation-monitoring network, or of the 2014 Hackaday-Prize-Winning SATNOGS. While we understand the need for expensive and calibrated equipment, it’s also interesting to see how far one can get with many many more cheap devices.
[Nurgak] shows how one can use some of the great robotic tools out there to simulate a robot before you even build it. To drive this point home he builds the tutorial off of the easily 3D printable and buildable Robopoly platform.
The robot runs on Robot Operating System at its core. ROS is interesting because of its decentralized and input/output agnostic messaging system. For example, if you leave everything alone but swap out the motor output from actual motors to a simulator, you can see how the robot would respond to any arbitrary input.
[Nurgak] uses another piece of software called V-REP to demonstrate this. V-REP is a simulation suite for robotics and has a few ROS nodes built in. So in order to make a simulated line-following robot, [Nurgak] tells V-REP to send a simulated camera image to the decision making node of the robot in ROS. It then sends the movement messages back to V-REP which drives the pretend robot around.
He runs through a few more examples, proving that it’s entirely possible to become if not a roboticist, at least a really good AI programmer without ever dropping the big money on parts to build a robot.
Air quality is becoming a major issue these days, and not just for cities like Beijing and Los Angeles. It’s important for health, our environment, and our economy no matter where we live. To that end, [Radu] has been working on air quality monitors that will be widely deployed in order to give a high-resolution air quality picture, and he’s starting in his home city of Timisoara, Romania.
[Radu] built a similar device to measure background radiation (a 2014 Hackaday Prize Semifinalist), and another to measure air quality in several ways (a 2015 Hackaday Prize Finalist and a Best Product Finalist; winners will be announced next weekend). He is using the platforms as models for his new meter. The device will use a VOC air sensor and an optical dust sensor in a mobile unit connected to a car to gather data, and from that a heat map of air quality will be generated. There are also sensors for temperature, pressure, humidity, and background radiation. The backbone of the project is a smart phone which will upload the data to a server.
We’ve seen other air quality meters before as well, and even ones based around the Raspberry Pi, but this one has a much broader range of data that it is acquiring. Its ability to be implemented as an array of sensors to gather data for an entire city is impressive as well. We can envision sensor networks installed on public transportation but to get to all parts of every neighborhood it would be interesting to team up with the Google Streetview Cars, Uber, or UPS.
Electricity, Gas and Water – three resources that are vital in our daily lives. Monitoring them using modern technology helps with conservation, but the real impact comes when we use the available data to reduce wasteful usage over time. [Sébastien] was rather embarrassed when a problem was detected in his boiler only during its annual inspection. Investigations showed that the problem occurred 4 months earlier, resulting in a net loss of more than 450 cubic meters, equivalent to 3750 liters per day (about 25 baths every day!). Being a self professed geek, living in a modern “connected” home, it rankled him to the core. What resulted was S-Energy – an energy resource monitoring solution (translated) that checks on electricity, gas and water consumption using a Raspberry Pi, an Arduino, some other bits of hardware and some smart software.
[Sébastien] wanted a system that would warn of abnormal consumption and encourage his household folks to consume less. His first hurdle was the meters themselves. All three utilities used pretty old technology, and the meters did not have pulse data output that is commonplace in modern metering. He could have replaced the old meters, but that was going to cost him a lot of money. So he figured out a way to extract data from the existing meters. For the Electricity meter, he thought of using current clamps, but punted that idea considering them to be suited more for instantaneous readings and prone for significant drift when measuring cumulative consumption. Eventually, he hit upon a pretty neat hack. He took a slot type opto coupler, cut it in half, and used it as a retro-reflective sensor that detected the black band on the spinning disk of the old electro-mechanical meter. Each turn of the disk corresponds to 4 Watt-hours. A little computation, and he’s able to deduce Watt-hours and Amps used. The sensor is hooked up to an Arduino Pro-mini which then sends the data via a nRF24L01+ module to the main circuit located inside his house. The electronics are housed in a small enclosure, and the opto-sensor looks just taped to the meter. He has a nice tip on aligning the infra-red opto-sensor – use a camera to check it (a phone camera can work well).
You should already know about the 2015 Hackaday Prize, but have you submitted your entry yet? All it takes to get started is talking about one idea you have to address a problem faced by a large number of people. To help get the ball rolling we’re giving away some prizes to three entries that discuss possible solutions to Environment-Related problems.
For your chance at this week’s goodies all you need to do is document your idea on Hackaday.io and tag it “2015HackadayPrize”.
This Week’s Prizes:
On Monday, March 30th we’ll take a look at all the entries tagged 2015HackadayPrize and choose three that best fit the topic of Environment-Related. The best will receive the SmartMatrix 32×32 RGB LED matrix along with a Teensy 3.1 to drive it. The next pick will receive a Bus Pirate and probe cable. The final prize will be a Hackaday Robot Head Tee.
An Idea is All You Need for Entry
We’re not messing with you; all you need to win these early prizes is an idea. One of the most powerful pieces of the Hackaday Prize is the pollination of thought. Your idea might be the tipping point for someone else’s breakthrough or vice-versa. Start a project on Hackaday.io and add the tag “2015HackadayPrize”.
Pictured to the right is a whiteboard sketch by [MechaTweak] which illustrates one very simple shower water-saving idea (we think this was prompted by our column on the topic last week). The idea here is that instead of running water down the shower drain as you wait for it to heat up, the water cold be sequestered in a holding tank and used for flushing the toilet the rest of the day. This will certainly be in the running as it addresses the issue of water conservation. Going along with our Environment-related topic you might also tackle alternative energy production, helping detect or curb pollution, making recycling easier, reducing waste, etc.
As we move along we’ll be awarding bigger and better prizes. Submitting an idea now will give you an early start on your planning. You’ll still be eligible for future prizes, and you may submit as many entries as you like.
The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:
It’s not as flashy as Tesla coils or electric vehicles going 200 mph, but the environment is more important than a bunch of cool baubles and sparks flying everywhere. When it comes to this year’s Hackaday Prize, you’re going to need a project that matters, and what’s a better way to do it than with something to help the environment?
While not traditionally a domain that rocks people’s socks, there are a lot of cool builds that can help the environment like this hyperspectral imager that’s a mashup of a spectrometer and a camera, or something that takes an image of an object, complete with the spectral data of each pixel. It’s useful for everything from farming, to forestry, to medicine.
Perhaps you want to get your hands messy by mucking about in the dirt. You’ll probably find something interesting to build for this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the modular farmer’s market we saw in Detroit last year. How about an urban farming and aquaponics setup? Tilapia do well in giant buckets, you know.
If robots are more your speed, then how about an RC tractor or an entire robotic farm? You could always eradicate invasive plants with a quadcopter if flying around is more suited to your expertise. There are plenty of ways to do something that matters for this year’s Hackaday prize, but we’d be lying if we had all the answers. That’s where you come in with your entry for The Hackaday Prize.