Dumb Box? Make it Really Smart!

[Stephen Harrison]’s Really Smart Box is a great concept, it’s simultaneously a simple idea while at the same time being super clever. The Really Smart Box isn’t really a box; it’s a drop-in platform that can be made any size, intended to turn any dumb storage box into one that helps manage and track levels and usage of any sort of stock or consumable.

It does this by measuring the weight of the stuff piled on top of it, while also monitoring temperature and humidity. The platform communicates this information wirelessly to a back end, allowing decisions to be made about stock levels, usage, and monitoring of storage conditions. It’s clearly best applied to consumables or other stock that comes and goes. The Really Smart Box platform is battery-powered, but spends most of its time asleep to maximize battery life. The prototype uses the SigFox IoT framework for the wireless data, which we have seen before in a wireless swimming pool monitor.

This is still just a prototype and there are bugs to iron out, but it works and [Stephen] intends to set-and-forget the prototype into the Cambridge Makespace with the task of storing and monitoring 3D printer filament. A brief demo video is embedded below.

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Instrument Packed Pedal Keeps Track of Cyclist’s Power

Exactly how much work is required to pedal a bike? There are plenty of ways to measure the power generated by a cyclist, but a lot of them such as heavily instrumented bottom brackets and crank arms, can be far too expensive for casual use. But for $30 in parts you can build this power-measuring bike pedal. and find out just how hard you’re stoking.

Of course it’s not just the parts but knowing what to do with them, and [rabbitcreek] has put a lot of thought and engineering into this power pedal. The main business of measuring the force applied to the crank falls to a pair of micro load cells connected in parallel. A Wemos, an HX711 load-cell amp, a small LiPo pack and charging module, a Qi wireless charger, a Hall sensor, a ruggedized power switch, and some Neopixels round out the BOM. Everything is carefully stuffed into very little space in a modified mountain bike pedal and potted in epoxy for all-weather use. The Hall sensor keeps tracks of the RPMs while the strain gauges measure the force applied to the pedal, and the numbers from a ride can be downloaded later.

We recall a similar effort using a crank studded with strain gauges. But this one is impressive because everything fits in a tidy package. And the diamond plate is a nice touch.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Dynamometer for Post Stroke Rehabilitation

For those who have suffered a stroke, recovery is a long and slow process that requires rehabilitation to start as early as possible. Quite often, secondary stroke attacks complicate matters. Spasticity — muscle contraction and paresis — muscular weakness, are two of the many common after-effects of stroke. Recovery involves doing repeated exercises to strengthen the muscles and bring back muscle memory. Benchmarking progress becomes difficult when caregivers are only able to use qualitative means such as squeezing tennis balls to monitor improvement. To help provide quantitative measurements in such cases, [Sergei V. Bogdanov] is building a Dynamometer for Post-Stroke Rehabilitation. It is an Open Source, 4-channel differential force gauge for measuring and logging the progress of the patient. The device measures, graphs, and logs the force exerted by the four fingers when they push down on the four force gauges.

The device consists of four strain gauges obtained from cheap kitchen scales. The analog outputs from these are fed to HX-711 24-bit ADC boards. An Arduino Nano processes the data and displays it on two banks of eight-digit LED modules. [Sergei] also experimented with a 20×4 character LCD in place of the LED display. In the standalone mode, the device can only indicate the measured forces on the LED (or LCD) display which is calibrated to display either numerical values or a logarithmic scale. When connected to a serial port and using the (Windows only) program, it is possible to not only view the same information but also save it at regular, set intervals. The data can also be viewed in graphical form.

The project page provides links to their Arduino code, Windows monitor program as well as build instructions. Check out the related assistive technology project that [Sergei] is working on — A Post Stroke Spasticity Rehab Helper.

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Load Cells Tell You to Lay Off the Donuts

Our old algebra teacher used to say, “You have to take what you know and use it to get what you don’t know.” That saying always reminds of us sensors that convert physical quantities into things our microcontrollers can measure. Sometimes the key to a project is knowing what kind of sensor will read the physical properties of the system you are interested in. If that physical property is weight, you can use what is known as a load cell. [DegrawSt] uses four 50 kg load cells to create a bathroom scale using an Arduino.

Load cells typically contain strain gauges that change resistance when deformed. This actually measures force, but if you mount them so they measure the force exerted by you standing on a platform, you get a scale. A load cell usually has four strain gauges in a bridge configuration. This causes a voltage across the bridge, although the output can be noisy and on the order of millivolts.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: CPAP Humidifier Monitor Alarm

CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) machines can be life-changing for people with sleep apnea. [Scott Clandinin] benefits from his CPAP machine and devised a way to improve his quality of life even further with a non-destructive modification to monitor his machine’s humidifier.

With a CPAP machine, all air the wearer breathes is air that has gone through the machine. [Scott]’s CPAP machine has a small water reservoir which is heated to humidify the air before it goes to the wearer. However, depending on conditions the water reservoir may run dry during use, leading to the user waking up dried out and uncomfortable.

To solve this in a non-invasive way that required no modifications to the machine itself, [Scott] created a two-part device. The first part is a platform upon which the CPAP machine rests. A load cell interfaced to an HX711 Load Cell Amplifier allows an Arduino Nano to measure the mass of the CPAP machine plus the integrated water reservoir. By taking regular measurements, the Arduino can detect when the reservoir is about to run dry and sound an alarm. Getting one’s sleep interrupted by an alarm isn’t a pleasant way to wake up, but it’s much more pleasant than waking up dried out and uncomfortable from breathing hot, dry air for a while.

The second part of the device is a simple button interfaced to a hanger for the mask itself. While the mask is hung up, the system is idle. When the mask is removed from the hook, the system takes measurements and goes to work. This makes activation hassle-free, not to mention also avoids spurious alarms while the user removes and fills the water reservoir.

Non-invasive modifications to medical or other health-related devices is common, and a perfect example of nondestructive interfacing is the Eyedriveomatic which won the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Also, the HX711 Load Cell Amplifier has an Arduino library that was used in this bathroom scale refurb project.

Bike Power Meter with Crank-mounted WiFi Strain Gauges

In any motorsport, the more you know about how the engine is performing, the better a driver is likely to do in a race. That holds for bicycles, too, where the driver just happens to also be the engine. There are plenty of cheap bike computers on the market, but the high-end meters that measure power output are a bit pricey. [chiprobot] is looking to change that with a home-brew, low-cost bike power meter.

The project still appears to be in the proof-of-concept phase, but it’s an interesting concept for sure. The stock crank arms are carefully fitted with two pairs of tiny strain gauges. The gauges are wired in a Wheatstone bridge arrangement, with one gauge in each pair mounted perpendicular to the force on the crank to serve as a static reference. Output from the bridge is fed to an HX711 instrumentation amplifier. The demo video below shows how sensitive the bridge and 24-bit amp are.

The goal is to send crank data to a handlebar-mounted UI via WiFi with a pair of ESP8266 modules. We like the idea of a bicycle area network, but [chiprobot] has his work cut out for him in terms of ruggedizing and weatherproofing all this gear. We’ll be sure to keep an eye on this project. In the meantime, there’s plenty to learn from this bike power meter project we covered last year.

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Father and Son Fix a Scale

It’s awesome when you can tag-team with your dad to fix stuff around the house. [Ilias Giechaskiel], with help from his dad, did a complete refurbishing of a broken bathroom weighing scale, but not before trying to fix it first. The voltage regulator looked bust. Powering the rest of the circuit directly didn’t seem to work, and none of the passives looked suspect. Most of the chips had their markings scratched off and the COB obviously couldn’t be replaced anyway.

Instead of reverse engineering the LCD display, they decided to retain just the sensor and the switches, and replace everything else. The ATtiny85 seemed to have enough IO pins to do the job. But the strain-gauge based load cell, connected in a bridge configuration, did not have a signal span large enough to be measured using the 10 bit ADC on the ATtiny. Instead, they decided to use the HX711 (PDF) – a 24 bit ADC with selectable gain, specifically meant for use in weighing scales. Using a library written for the HX711 allowed interfacing it to the Arduino easy. The display was built using a 4 digit 7 segment display driven by the MAX7219. A slightly modified LEDcontrol library made it easy to hook up the display to the ATtiny. The circuit was assembled on a prototyping board so that it could be plugged in to another Arduino for programming.

Since they were running out of pins, they had to pull out a trick to use a single pin from the ATtiny to act as clock for the display driver and the ADC chip. Implementing the power-on and auto-off feature needed another interesting analog circuit block. Dad did the assembly of the circuit on a prototype board. In hindsight, the lack of IO pins on the ATtiny limited the features they could implement, so the duo are planning to put in an Arduino Nano to improve the hack. If you’re ever stuck with a broken scale, he’s made the schematic (PNG) and code available for use.