Useless Machine For An Existential Quandary

There’s no project that dives into existential quandaries more than a useless machine, as they can truly illustrate the futility of existence by turning themselves off once they have been powered on. Typically this is done with a simple switch, but for something that can truly put the lights out, and then re-illuminate them, [James]’s latest project is a useless machine that performs this exercise with a candle.

The project consists of two arms mounted on a set of gears. One arm has a lighter on it, and the other has a snuffer mounted to a servo motor. As the gears rotate, the lighter gets closer to the candle wick and lights it, then the entire assembly rotates back so the snuffer can extinguish the flame. Everything is built around an Arduino Nano, a motor driver powering a Pitman gear motor, and a set of Hall effect sensors which provide position data back to the microcontroller.

If you’re in the mood for a little existential angst in your own home, [James] has made the project files available on his GitHub page. We always appreciate a useless machine around here, especially a unique design like this one, and one which could easily make one recognize the futility of lighting a candle at all.

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Laundry Monitor Won’t Generate Static With Roommates

Laundry. It’s one of life’s inescapable cycles, but at least we have machines now. The downside of this innovation is that since we no longer monitor every step — the rock-beating, the river-rinsing, the line-hanging and -retrieving — the pain of laundry has evolved into the monotony of monitoring the robots’ work.

[Adam] shares his wash-bots with roommates, and they aren’t close enough to combine their lights and darks and turn it into a group activity. They needed an easy way to tell when the machines are done running, and whose stuff is even in there in the first place, so [Adam] built a laundry machine monitor that uses current sensing to detect when the machines are done running and sends a text to the appropriate person.

Each machine has a little Hall effect-sensing module that’s carefully zip-tied around its power cable. The signal from these three-wire boards goes high when the machine is running and low when it’s not. At the beginning of the load, the launderer simply presses their assigned button on the control box, and the ESP32 inside takes care of the rest.

Getting a text when your drawers are clean is about as private as it gets. Clean underwear, don’t care? Put it on a scrolling marquee.

Minimalist Magnetic Minute Minder Mesmerizes

Timepieces are cool no matter how simplistic or granular they are. Sometimes its nice not to know exactly what time it is down to the second, and most of the really beautiful clocks are simple as can be. If you didn’t know this was a clock, it would still be fascinating to watch the bearings race around the face.

This clock takes design cues from the Story clock, a visual revolution in counting down time which uses magnetic levitation to move a single bearing around the face exactly once over a duration of any length as set by the user. As a clock, it’s not very useful, so there’s a digital readout that still doesn’t justify the $800 price tag.

[tomatoskins] designed a DIY version that’s far more elegant. It has two ball bearings that move around the surface against hidden magnets — an hour ball and a minute ball. Inside there’s a pair of 3D-printed ring gears that are each driven by a stepper motor and controlled with an Arduino Nano and a real-time clock module. The body is made of plywood reclaimed from a bed frame, and [tomatoskins] added a walnut veneer for timeless class.

In addition to the code, STLs, and CAD files that birthed the STLs, [tomatoskins] has a juicy 3D-printing tip to offer. The gears had to be printed in interlocked pieces, but these seams can be sealed with a solution of acetone and plastic from supports and failed prints.

If you dig minimalism but think this clock is a bit too vague to read, here’s a huge digital clock made from small analog clocks.

Feel The Force With A Pocket Magnetometer

With the rise of affordable 3D printers, we just don’t see the projects in Tic Tac boxes that we used to. That’s kind of a shame. Not only are you upcycling existing plastic when you use one, they’re decently sized component vessels for pocket builds such as [rgco]’s portable magnetometer, especially if you can get the 100-count box. Best of all, they’re see-through!

Sure, you could get a magnetometer app for your phone to test out the strength of your Buckyballs, but this is more fun, and you can use it in more places. This build doesn’t take much — an Arduino Nano reads from a Hall effect sensor and outputs the magnetic flux density in militeslas (mT) on an OLED. Fortifying the sensor by mounting it inside the body of an old (also see-through!) ballpoint pen body is a nice touch.

In order to calibrate it, [rgco] made a solenoid by wrapping a length of PVC with magnet wire. The code for this very portable and low-cost magnetometer measures the magnetic field 2000 times in under three-tenths of a second, and outputs both the mean and the standard deviation of these measurements.

Magnetometers can ID all kinds of things from submarines to Suburbans. Here’s an ESP8266 magnetometer that opens a driveway gate when it detects the car.

Tracking The Office Coffee Machines Using Current Draw

Coffee is the lifeblood of hackers, IT workers, and apparently, IT workers who are also hackers. [Omerfarukz] is clearly the latter. He works as part of a large team spread over multiple floors, all with coffee machines, any one of which is fair game. The problem is knowing which one has coffee that is ready to pour. He needed a non-invasive way to monitor the coffee machines.

Coffee machine sensor voltage chartAfter contemplating a few solutions, he opted for one which wouldn’t offend the coffee gods. The machines use a high current to produce their heat, so he adapted some old remote control power sockets for the machines to plug into which would now monitor the current. A high current means the coffee is brewing and he knew that brewing takes one minute per cup, so the duration of the high current tells him the number of cups.

Having had no success with a current sensing transformer, he opted for an ACS712 chip, at heart a Hall effect sensor which outputs a voltage proportional to the test current. That goes to the IO pins of an ATtiny, and from there via serial to an ESP8266 and thence to Google Firebase for processing and notifying of IT workers in need of stimulation. For those wishing to partake, he’s posted the circuit on Github.

We’ve seen a few other non-invasive ways to do this monitoring. For example, there’s weighing the machines using a bathroom scale and the more manual phone-notifying alarm button.

Completely Scratch-Built Electronic Speed Controller

Driving a brushless motor requires a particular sequence. For the best result, you need to close the loop so your circuit can apply the right sequence at the right time. You can figure out the timing using a somewhat complex circuit and monitoring the electrical behavior of the motor coils. Or you can use sensors to detect the motor’s position. Many motors have the sensors built in and [Electronoobs] shows how to drive one of these motors in a recent video that you can watch below. If you want to know about using the motor’s coils as sensors, he did a video on that topic, earlier.

The motor in question was pulled from an optical drive and has three hall effect sensors onboard. Having these sensors simplifies the drive electronics considerably.

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Mechanisms: The Reed Switch

Just about everywhere you go, there’s a reed switch nearby that’s quietly going about its work. Reed switches are so ubiquitous that you’re probably never more than a few feet away from one at any given time, especially at home or in the car. You might have them on your doors and windows as part of a burglar alarm system. They keep your washing machine from running when the lid is open, and they put your laptop to sleep when you close the lid. They know if the car has enough brake fluid and whether or not your seat belt is fastened.

Reed switches are interesting devices with a ton of domestic and industrial applications. We call them switches, but they’re also sensors. In fact, they only do the work of a switch while they can sense a magnetic field. They are capable of switching AC or DC at low and high voltages, but they don’t need electricity to work. Since they’re sealed in glass, they are impervious to dirt, dust, corrosion, temperature swings, and explosive environments. They’re cheap, they’re durable, and in low-current applications they can last for about a billion actuations.

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