Home Safety Monitoring With IoT

Home automation is a popular project to undertake but its complexity can quickly become daunting, especially if you go further than controlling a few lights (or if you’re a renter). To test the waters you may want to start with something like this home safety monitor, which is an IoT device based on an Arduino. It allows remote monitoring of a home for things such as temperature, toxic gasses, light, and other variables, which is valuable even if you don’t need or want to control anything.

The device is built around an Arduino Nano 33 IOT which has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities as well as some integrated security features. This build features a number of sensors including pressure/humidity, a gas/smoke detector, and a light sensor. To report all of the information it gathers around the home, an interface with Ubidots is configured to allow easy (and secure) access to the data gathered by the device.

The PCB and code for the project are all provided on the project page, and there are a number of other options available if Ubidots isn’t your preferred method of interfacing with the Internet of Things. You might even give Mozilla’s WebThings a shot if you’re so inclined.

Mozilla WebThings: An Open Platform For Building IoT Devices

Mozilla recently officially released their IoT platform. This framework comes with “Gateway” software that can run on a Raspberry Pi and a framework that can run on any number of devices.

As we’ve seen, IoT is a dubious prospect for consumers. When you throw in all the privacy issues, support issues, and end-of-life issues; it gets even worse. Nobody wants their light bulbs to stop working because a server in faraway land shut down, but that’s an hilariously feasible scenario.

WebThings comes with a lot out of the box. It comes with a user interface, logging, rules, and an easy-to-understand API. Likewise the actual framework allows for building on many common devices and can be written in Node, Python, Java, Rust, Micropython, and used as an Arduino library. This opens it up for everything from a eBay ESP32 to a particle board.

We’ve started to notice some projects that use it trickling in on the tip line and on hackaday.io. We’re interested to see what kind of community grows around this, and are curious if it won’t be too long before easy-to-hack kits start showing up on your favorite online retailers.

There’s good documentation and of course, being open source, you can check out the source for yourself.

Another Way To Make PCBs At Home

One of the more popular ways of rolling out your own custom PCB is to simply create the model in your CAD program of choice and send it off to a board manufacturer who will take care of the dirty work for you. This way there is no need to deal with things like chemicals, copper dust, or maintaining expensive tools. A middle ground between the board manufacturer and a home etching system though might be what [igorfonseca83] has been doing: using an inexpensive laser engraver to make PCBs for him.

A laser engraver is basically a low-power laser CNC machine that’s just slightly too weak to cut most things that would typically go in a laser cutter. It turns out that the 10W system is the perfect amount of energy to remove a mask from a standard PCB blank, though. This in effect takes the place of the printer in the old toner transfer method, and the copper still has to be dissolved in a chemical solution, but the results are a lot more robust than trying to modify a printer for this task.

If you aren’t familiar with the days of yore when homebrew PCBs involved a standard desktop printer, many people still use this method, although the results can be mixed based on printer reliability. If you want to skip the middleman, and the need for a chemical bath, a more powerful laser actually can cut the traces for you, too.

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Always Have A Square To Spare

Some aspects of humanity affect all of us at some point in our lives. Whether it’s getting caught in the rain without an umbrella, getting a flat tire on the way to work, or upgrading a Linux package which somehow breaks the entire installation, some experiences are truly universal. Among these is pulling a few squares of toilet paper off the roll, only to have the entire roll unravel with an overly aggressive pull. It’s possible to employ a little technology so that none of us have to go through this hassle again, though.

[William Holden] and [Eric Strebel] have decided to tackle this problem with an innovative bearing of sorts that replaces a typical toilet paper holder. Embedded in the mechanism is a set of magnetic discs which provide a higher resistance than a normal roll holder would. Slowly pulling out squares of paper is possible, but like a non-Newtonian fluid becomes solid when a higher force is applied, the magnets will provide enough resistance when a higher speed tug is performed on the toilet paper. This causes the paper to tear rather than unspool the whole roll, and also allows the user to operate the toilet paper one-handed.

This is a great solution to a problem we’ve all faced but probably forgot about a minute after we experienced it. And, it also holds your cell phone to keep it from falling in the toilet! If you’d like to check out their Kickstarter, they are trying to raise money to bring the product to market. And, if you want to upgrade your toilet paper dispenser even further, there’s also an IoT device for it as well, of course.

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Give The Clapper A Hand

While “The Clapper” probably first conjures images of low-budget commercials, it was still a useful way to remotely switch lights and other things around the house. But if the lights you want to switch weren’t plugged into the wall, like a ceiling fan, for example, The Clapper was not going to help you. To add some functionality to this infamous device, [Robin] built one from scratch that has all the extra features built in that you could ever want.

First, the new Clapper attaches to the light switch directly, favoring mechanical action of the switch itself rather than an electromechanical relay which requires wiring. With this setup, it would be easy to install even if you rent an apartment and can’t do things like rewire outlets and it has the advantage of being able to switch any device, even if it doesn’t plug into the wall. There’s also a built-in microphone to listen for claps, but since it’s open-source you could program it to actuate the switch when it hears any sound. It also includes the ability to be wired in to a home automation system as well.

If the reason you’ve stayed out of the home automation game is that you live in a rental and can’t make the necessary modifications to your home, [Robin]’s Clapper might be just the thing you need to finally automate your living space. All the files are available on the project site, including the 3D printing plans and the project code. Once you get started in home automation, though, there’s a lot more you can do with it.

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Location Sharing With Google Home

With Google’s near-monopoly on the internet, it can be difficult to get around in cyberspace without encountering at least some aspect of this monolithic, data-gathering giant. It usually takes a concerted effort, but it is technically possible to do. While [Mat] is still using some Google products, he has at least figured out a way to get Google Home to work with location data without actually sharing that data with Google, which is a step in the right direction.

[Mat]’s goal was to use Google’s location sharing features through Google Home, but without the creepiness factor of Google knowing everything about his life, and also without the hassle of having to use Google Maps. He’s using a few things to pull this off, including a NodeRED server running on a Raspberry Pi Zero, a free account from If This Then That (IFTTT), Tasker with AutoRemote plugin, and the Google Maps API key. With all of that put together, and some configuration of IFTTT he can ask his Google assistant (or Google Home) for location data, all without sharing that data with Google.

This project is a great implementation of Google’s tools and a powerful use of IFTTT. And, as a bonus, it gets around some of the creepiness factor that Google tends to incorporate in their quest to know all the data.

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The Aluminum Wiring Fiasco

Someone who decides to build a house faces a daunting task. It’s hard enough to act as the general contractor for someone else, but when you decide to build your own house, as my parents did in the early 1970s, it’s even tougher. There are a million decisions to make in an information-poor and rapidly changing environment, and one wrong step can literally cast in stone something you’ll have to live with forever. Add in the shoestring budget that my folks had to work with, and it’s a wonder they were able to succeed as well as they did.

It was a close call in a few spots, though. I can recall my dad agonizing over the wiring for the house. It would have been far cheaper to go with aluminum wiring, with the price of copper wire having recently skyrocketed. He bit the bullet and had the electrician install copper instead, which ended up being a wise choice, as houses that had succumbed to the siren call of cheaper wiring would start burning down all over the United States soon thereafter.

What happened in the late 60s and early 70s in the residential and commercial electrical trades was an expensive and in some cases tragic lesson in failure engineering. Let’s take a look at how it all happened.

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