If you’re dealing with a chronic illness, the ability to continuously monitor your symptoms is indispensable, helping you gain valuable insights into what makes your body tick – or, rather, mis-tick. However, for many illnesses, you need specialized equipment to monitor them, and it tends to be that you can only visit your doctor every so often. Thankfully, we hackers can figure out ways to monitor our conditions on our own. With a condition called BPH (Benign Prostate Hyperplasia), one of the ways to monitor it is taking measurements of urinary flow rate. Being able to take these measurements at home provides better insights, and, having found flow rate measurement devices to be prohibitively expensive to even rent, [Jerry Smith] set out to build his own.
This build is truly designed to be reproducible for anyone who needs such a device. Jerry has intricately documented the project and its inner workings – the 31-page document contains full build instructions, BOM for ordering, PCB description and pinout diagrams, calibration and validation instructions, and even software flowcharts; the GitHub repo has everything else you might need. We’re pleasantly surprised – this amount of documentation isn’t typically seen in hacker projects, and is even more valuable considering that this is a medical device that other hackers in need will want to reproduce.
For the hardware, [Jerry] took a small digital scale of a certain model and reused its load cell-based weighing mechanism using an HX711 amplifier, replacing the screen and adding an extra box for control electronics. With an Arduino MKR1010 as brains of the operation, the hardware’s there to log flow data, initially recorded onto the SD card, with WiFi connectivity to transfer the data to a computer for plotting; a DS3234 RTC breakout helps keep track of the time, and a custom PCB ties all of these together. All of these things are easy to put together, in no small part due to the extensive instructions provided.
Corralling electrons is great and what most of us are pretty good at, but the best projects have some kind of interface to the real world. Often, that involves some sort of fluid such as water or air moving through pipes. If you don’t grasp hydraulics intuitively, [Practical Engineering] has a video you’ll enjoy. It explains how flow and pressure work in pipes.
Granted, not every project deals with piping, but plumbing, sprinkler systems, cooling systems, and even robotics often have elements of hydraulics. In addition, as the video points out, fluid flow in a pipe is very similar to electrical current flowing through wires.
Some things about the human body are trivial to measure. Height, weight, blood pressure, pulse, temperature — these are all easily quantifiable with the simplest of instruments and can provide valuable insights into our state of health. Electrical activity in the heart and the brain can be captured with more complex instruments, too, and all manner of scopes can be inserted into various orifices to obtain actionable information about what’s going on.
But what about, err, going? Urine flow can be an important leading indicator for a host of diseases and conditions, but it generally relies on subjective reports from the patient. Is there a way to objectively measure how well urine is flowing? Of course there is.
The goal for [GreenEyedExplorer]’s simple uroflowmeter is simple: provide a cheap, easy to use instrument that any patient can use to quantify the rate of urine flow while voiding. Now, we know what you’re thinking — isn’t liquid flow usually measured in a closed system with a paddlewheel or something extending into the stream? Wouldn’t such a device for urine flow either be invasive or messy, or both? Rest assured, this technique is simple and tidy. A small load cell is attached to an ESP8266 through an HX711 load cell amp. A small pan on the load cell receives urine while voiding, and the force of the urine striking the pan is assessed by the software. Reports can be printed to share with your doctor, and records are kept to see how flow changes over time.
All kidding aside, this could be an important diagnostic tool, and at 10€ to build, it empowers anyone to take charge of their health. And since [GreenEyedExplorer] is actually a urologist, we’re taking this one seriously.
With today’s technology, art can be taken in directions that have never before been possible. Taking advantage of this, [teamlab] — an art collective from Japan — have unveiled an art installation that integrates the attendee into the spectacle. In the dark room of the piece ‘Moving Creates Vortices and Vortices Create Movement,‘ you are the brush that paints the flowing display.
Inspired by the movement of ocean plankton, this borrows your movement to create tapestries of light with mirrored walls to aggrandize the effect. As attendees walk about the room, their movements are tracked and translated into flowing patterns projected onto the ground. The faster the people move, the greater the resultant flow. Even those who have stopped to take in the scene are themselves still part of it; their idle forms mimic boulders in a river — as eddies would churn about the obstacle, so too does the light flow around the attendee.
Measuring air flow in an HVAC duct can be a tricky business. Paddle wheel and turbine flow meters introduce not only resistance but maintenance issue due to accumulated dust and debris. Being able to measure ducted airflow cheaply and non-intrusively, like with this ultrasonic flow meter, could be a big deal for DIY projects and the trades in general.
The principle behind the sensor [ItMightBeWorse] is working on is nothing new. He discovered a paper from 2015 that describes the method that measures the change in time-of-flight of an ultrasonic pulse across a moving stream of air in a duct. It’s another one of those “Why didn’t I think of that?” things that makes perfect sense in theory, but takes some engineering to turn into a functional sensor. [ItMightBeWorse] is using readily available HC-SR04 sensor boards and has already done a proof-of-concept build. He’s getting real numbers back and getting close to a sensor that will go into an HVAC automation project. The video below shows his progress to date and hints at a follow-up video with more results soon.
Most people wish they were more productive. Some buckle down and leverage some rare facet of their personality to force the work out. Some of them talk with friends. Some go on vision quests. There are lots of methods for lots of types of people. Most hackers, I’ve noticed, look for a datasheet. An engineer’s reference. We want to solve the problem like we solve technical problems.
There were three books that gave me the first hints at how to look objectively at my brain and start to hack on it a little. These were The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, Flow By Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and Getting Things Done By David Allen.
I sort of wandered into these books in a haphazard path. The first I encountered was The Power of Habit which I found to be a bit of a revelation. It presented the idea of habits as functions in the great computer program that makes up a person. The brain sees that you’re doing a task over and over again and just learns to do it. It keeps optimizing and optimizing this program over time. All a person needs to do is trigger the habit loop and then it will run.
For example: Typing. At first you either take a course or, if your parents left you alone with a computer for hours on end, hunt-and-peck your way to a decent typing speed. It involves a lot of looking down at the keyboard. Eventually you notice that you don’t actually need to look at the keyboard at all. Depending on your stage you may still be “t-h-i-n-k-i-n-g”, mentally placing each letter as you type. However, eventually your brain begins to abstract this away until it has stored, somewhere, a combination of hand movements for every single word or key combination you typically use. It’s only when you have to spell a new word that you fall back on older programs.
Physics gives us the basic tools needed to understand the universe, but turning theory into something useful is how engineers make their living. Pushing on that boundary is the subject of this week’s Fail of the Week, wherein we follow the travails of making a working magnetic flowmeter (YouTube, embedded below).
Theory suggests that measuring fluid flow should be simple. After all, sticking a magnetic paddle wheel into a fluid stream and counting pulses with a reed switch or Hall sensor is pretty straightforward, right? In this case, though, [Grady] of Practical Engineering starts out with a much more complicated flow measurement modality – electromagnetic detection. He does a great job of explaining Faraday’s Law of Induction and how a fluid can be the conductor that moves through a magnetic field and has a measurable current induced in it. The current should be proportional to the velocity of the fluid, so it should be a snap to whip up a homebrew magnetic flowmeter, right? Nope – despite valiant effort, [Grady] was never able to get a usable signal out of the noise in his system.
The theory is sound, his test rig looks workable, and he’s got some pretty decent instrumentation. So where did [Grady] go wrong? Could he clean up the signal with a better instrumentation amp? What would happen if he changed the process fluid to something more conductive, like salt water? By his own admission, electrical engineering is not his strong suit – he’s a civil engineer by trade. Think you can clean up that signal? Let us know in the comments section.