Modern WiFi-enabled microcontrollers have made it affordable and easy to monitor everything from local weather information to electricity usage with typically no more than a few dollars worth of hardware and a little bit of programming knowledge. Monitoring one’s own utility data can be a little bit more difficult without interfering with the metering equipment, but we have seen some clever ways of doing this over the years. The latest is this water meter monitoring device based on a Raspberry Pi Pico.
The clever thing here isn’t so much that it’s based on the tiniest of Raspberry Pis, but how it keeps track of the somewhat obscured water flow information coming from the meter. Using a magnetometer placed close to the meter, the device can sense the magnetic field created as water flows through the meter’s internal sensors. The magnetic field changes in a non-obvious way as water flows through it, so the program has to watch for specific peaks in the magnetic field. Each of these specific waveforms the magnetometer detects counts to 0.0657 liters of water, which is accurate for most purposes.
Burning wood, while not a perfect heating solution, has a number of advantages over more modern heating appliances. It’s a renewable resource, doesn’t add carbon to the atmosphere over geologic time scales like fossil fuels do, can be harvested locally using simple tools, and it doesn’t require any modern infrastructure to support it. That being said, wood stoves aren’t something that are very high-tech and don’t lend themselves particularly well to automation as a result, at least with the exception of this wood stove from [jotulf45v2].
While this doesn’t automate the loading or direct control of a modern pellet stove, it does help [jotulf45v2] know when the best times are for loading more wood into the stove and helps keep the stove in the right temperature range to avoid the dangerous formation of creosote on the inside of his chimney caused by low temperature burns. Two temperature sensors, one on the stovetop and the other on the stove pipe, monitor the stove exhaust temperature. They feed data to a Node-RED system running on a Raspberry Pi which automatically notifies the user by text message when certain stove temperatures are reached.
For anyone heating with wood, tools like this are indispensable to help avoid spending an otherwise unnecessary amount of time getting a fire up to temperature quickly without over-firing the stove. Modern pellet stoves have some more modern conveniences like this built in, but many of the perks of using cord wood are lost with these devices. There are plenty of other ways to heat with wood too; take a look at this custom wood boiler which serves as a hot water heater.
Cog railways are a somewhat unusual way of train locomotion, typically only installed when a train needs to climb steep terrain. Any grade above about 10% needs the extra traction since the friction between the wheels and rails won’t be enough to push the train forward or keep it from falling backwards. Even without a steep hill to climb, sometimes a cog railway is necessary for traction as [Max Maker] discovered while building a train for his garbage cans.
The build started out as a way to avoid having to wheel his seven waste bins to the curb every month. Originally he built a more standard railway with a simple motor to drive the train, but he quickly realized that there wasn’t enough grip even when using plastic wheels, even though this track follows fairly flat terrain. Since the rail is built out of steel he quickly welded up a rack-and-pinion system to one of the rails. The build goes through many iterations before he finally settles on a design that solves the problem, and it includes several other features as well such as remote control and a spring-loaded automatic charger for the train at its station in the back yard.
While we always appreciate the eccentricity of those who would automate a relatively simple task that only happens once a month, [Max Maker] hopes to build this into a commercial product aimed at the elderly or disabled who would really benefit from a reliable, semi-automatic system that takes their trash bins to the curb for them. And, if your system only involves a single trash can, there are other ways of automating the task of taking the garbage to the curb.
[Zak]’s two-floor apartment has a typical door entry control system, but the setup is less than ideally convenient. The wall-mounted telephone-like intercom is downstairs, but [Zak] is usually upstairs. What’s an enterprising hacker to do? Obviously the most elegant solution is to simply do without visitors in the first place, but [Zak] opted for a more full-featured solution to the problem.
The first interesting bit is how [Zak] rolled his own opto-isolation. The door entry system uses 14 VAC and is frankly — electromagnetically-speaking — a very noisy device. Attaching GPIO pins directly to this system from the ESP board for interfacing is not an option. The solution in situations like this is to use opto-isolation, so that interfaced devices can be electrically isolated from one another.
Rather than use off-the-shelf options, [Zak] opted to keep things small and economical by rolling his own solution using side-mounted IR LEDs on the small interface PCB. LEDs can also act as photodiodes, so by pointing two LEDs directly at one another and driving one LED from the door control system and measuring the small amount of resulting current on the other LED, [Zak] can detect states without having to directly connect a GPIO pin.
Energy costs around the world are going up, whether it’s electricity, natural gas, or gasoline. This is leading to a lot of people looking for ways to decrease their energy use, especially heading into winter in the Northern Hemisphere. As the saying goes, you can’t manage what you can’t measure, so [Steve] has built this system around monitoring the fuel oil level for his home’s furnace.
Fuel oil is an antiquated way of heating, but it’s fairly common in certain parts of the world and involves a large storage tank typically in a home’s basement. Since the technology is so dated, it’s not straightforward to interact with these systems using anything modern. This fuel tank has a level gauge showing its current percentage full. A Raspberry Pi is set up nearby with a small camera module which monitors the gauge, and it runs OpenCV to determine the current fuel level and report its findings.
Since most fuel tanks are hidden in inconvenient locations, it makes checking in on the fuel level a breeze and helps avoid running out of fuel during cold snaps. [Steve] designed this project to be reproducible even if your fuel tank is different than his. You have other options beyond OpenCV as well; this fuel tank uses ultrasonic sensors to measure the fuel depth directly.
It might be surprising for some, but humans actually evolved to be long-distance runners. We aren’t very fast comparatively, but no other animal can run for as long or as far as a human can. Sitting at a desk, on the other hand, is definitely not something that we’re adapted to do, so it’s important to take some measures to avoid many of the problems that arise for those that sit at a desk or computer most of the day. This build takes it to the extreme, not only implementing a standing desk but also a ton of automation for that desk as well.
This project is an improvement on a prior build by [TJ Horner] called the WiFi Standing Desk Controller. This new version has a catchier name, and uses an ESP32 to run the show. The enclosure is 3D printed and the control board includes USB-C and a hardware UART to interface with the controller. The real perks of this device are the automation, though. The desk can automatically lift if the user has been sitting too long, and could also automatically lift if it detects no one is home (to help keep a cat off of the desk, for example). It also includes presets for different users, and can export data to other software to help analyze sitting and standing patterns.
The controller design is open source and could be adapted to work on a wide-array of powered desks. As we’ve seen in the past, with the addition of a motor, even hand-crank standing desks can be upgraded. If you haven’t gotten into the standing desk trend yet, we hope that you are at least occasionally going for a run.
Smart homes are becoming an increasingly popular way to automate one’s home, whether it’s turning on lights, closing blinds, or even feeding pets. But the commercial offerings often rely on an internet connection to reach servers in order to work, which invites a lot of privacy concerns for a large percentage of us as well as being inconvenient when the internet is down. Essentially the only way to have a privacy-respecting, self-sufficient smart home is to build one on your own from the ground up, which is exactly what [Xasin] has done with this project.
This build is based on ESP32 modules with a Raspberry Pi as a hub, but it’s not as simple as a MQTT implementation. Not only does the self-contained home automation setup not rely on any outside services, but a failure of the central Pi server will not impact the nodes either as they are configured to continue operating independently even without central control. This allows for a robust home automation implementation without a single point of failure, and also includes some other features that are helpful as well including voice control, all while retaining a core design philosophy that makes it relatively easy to build.
Not only is the build technologically impressive for its standalone capabilities and its elimination of privacy concerns, but [Xasin] also did an excellent job with the physical design as well, adding plenty of RGB and a hexagonal enclosure that gives it a unique look wherever its is placed. If you’re renting right now or otherwise unable to interface any automation with your current home, be sure to take a look at some projects that do home automation without making any permanent changes.