Internet of Laundry — Let the ESP8266 Watch Your Dirty Drawers Get Clean

When you think of world-changing devices, you usually don’t think of the washing machine. However, making laundry manageable changed not only how we dress but how much time people spent getting their clothes clean. So complaining about how laborious our laundry is today would make someone from the 1800s laugh. Still, we all hate the laundry and [Andrew Dupont], in particular, hates having to check on the machine to see if it is done. So he made Laundry Spy.

How do you sense when the machine — either a washer or a dryer — is done? [Andrew] thought about sensing current but didn’t want to mess with house current. His machines don’t have LED indicators, so using a light sensor wasn’t going to work either. However, an accelerometer can detect vibrations in the machine and most washers and dryers vibrate plenty while they are running.

The four-part build log shows how he took an ESP8266 and made it sense when the washer and dryer were done so it could text his cell phone. He’d already done a similar project with an Adafruit HUZZAH. But he wanted to build in some new ideas and currently likes working with NodeMCU. While he was at it he upgraded the motion sensor to an LIS3DH which was cheaper than the original sensor.

[Andrew] already runs Node – RED on a Raspberry Pi, so incorporating this project with his system was a snap. Of course, you could adapt the approach to lots of other things, as well. The device produces MQTT messages and Node – RED subscribes to them. The Pushover handles the text messaging. Node – RED has a graphical workflow that makes integrating all the pieces very intuitive. Here’s the high-level workflow:

You might wonder why he didn’t just have the ESP8266 talk directly to Pushover. That is possible, of course, but in part 2, [Andrew] enumerates some good reasons for his design. He wants to decouple components in the system for easier future upgrades. And MQTT is simple to publish on the sensor side of things compared to API calls which are handled by the Raspberry Pi for now.

Laundry monitoring isn’t a unique idea and everyone has a slightly different take on it, even some Hackaday authors. If phone notification is too subtle for you, you can always go bigger.

Welcome to the Internet of Hamsters

It was only a matter of time. Everything else is getting its data logged and reported to the Internet for detailed analysis, so why should our rodents be any different? The cover story is that [Nicole Horward] hooked her pet hamster Harold up to the web because she wanted to see if he was getting as much exercise as he should. The real reason is, of course, that Harold wanted to show off to his “friends” on Hamsterbook.

The hardware side of this hack is very simple, a magnetic door sensor (like the kind used in alarm systems) is used to detect each time the wheel makes a complete rotation. The sensor is hooked up to the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi, where it’s read by a Python script. A small LCD screen was added to give some visual feedback on Harold’s daily activity, and the whole thing was boxed up in a laser cut enclosure.

That gave [Nicole] a cute little display next to Harold’s cage, but it didn’t do much for analyzing his activity. For that, a script is used to upload the data every minute to a ThingSpeak channel via MQTT. This automatically generates attractive graphs from the raw data, making it much easier to visualize what’s happening over the long term.

Now might be a good time to brush up on your MQTT knowledge, so that your pet could be the next to join the IoT revolution.

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Microsoft Kinect Episode IV: A New Hope

The history of Microsoft Kinect has been of a technological marvel in search of the perfect market niche. Coming out of Microsoft’s Build 2018 developer conference, we learn Kinect is making another run. This time it’s taking on the Internet of Things mantle as Project Kinect for Azure.

Kinect was revolutionary in making a quality depth camera system available at a consumer price point. The first and second generation Kinect were peripherals for Microsoft’s Xbox gaming consoles. They wowed the world with possibilities and, thanks in large part to an open source driver bounty spearheaded by Adafruit, Kinect found an appreciative audience in robotics, interactive art, and other hacking communities. Sadly its novelty never translated to great success in its core gaming market and Kinect as a gaming peripheral was eventually discontinued.

For its third-generation, Kinect retreated from gaming and found a role in Microsoft’s HoloLens AR headset running “backwards”: tracking user’s environment instead of user’s movement. The high cost of a HoloLens put it out of reach of most people, but as a head-mounted battery-powered device, it pushed Kinect technology to shrink in physical size and power consumption.

This upcoming fourth generation takes advantage of that evolution and the launch picture is worth a thousand words all on its own: instead of a slick end-user commercial product, we see a populated PCB awaiting integration. The quoted power draw of 225-950mW is high by modern battery-powered device standards but undeniably a huge reduction from previous generations’ household AC power requirement.

Microsoft’s announcement heavily emphasized how this module will work with their cloud services, but we hope it can be persuaded to run independently from Microsoft’s cloud just as its predecessors could run independent of game consoles. This will be a big factor for adoption by our community, second only to the obvious consideration of price.

[via Engadget]

Checking The Weather Without A Window

Making a weather display is great because it’s a simple project that shows off some skills and has an obvious daily use. So [ACROBOTIC Industries] decided to make an easy kit for the Hackaday Prize to make weather displays even more accessible.

Calling it the ESPecter, [ACROBOTIC Industries] wanted to make this a simple project for anyone, regardless of skill with a soldering iron or Arduino toolkit. So they decided to base the guts on common components that can be put together easily, specifically a Wemos Mini D1 with an OLED shield as a bright display. They also designed a cool tiltable 3D-printed enclosure for this small device so that you can orient it to your eye level.

ESPecter breadboarded prototype.

While they already have a breadboarded prototype, and a 3D printed case, some software work remains to make the project really shine. They plan to add nice features like a web interface to configure location and network information, alerts, additional locations, and historical weather data. They also want to create a weather library to display well on a low-resolution screen and add battery operation.

We look forward to seeing the final version later in the Hackaday Prize!

This isn’t the first weather project we’ve seen around here. Other variants include mirror weather displays, an ESP8266-based weather monitoring station, a very low-power weather station, and this roundup of weather displays which might give you some inspiration.

Microsoft Secures IoT from the Microcontroller Up

Frustrated by the glut of unsecured IoT devices? So are Microsoft. And they’re using custom Linux and hardware to do something about it.

Microsoft have announced a new ecosystem for secure IoT devices called “Azure Sphere.” This system is threefold: Hardware, Software, and Cloud. The hardware component is a Microsoft-certified microcontroller which contains Microsoft Pluton, a hardware security subsystem. The first Microsoft-certified Azure Sphere chip will be the MediaTek MT3620, launching this year. The software layer is a custom Linux-based Operating System (OS) that is more capable than the average Real-Time OS (RTOS) common to low-powered IoT devices. Yes, that’s right. Microsoft is shipping a product with Linux built-in by default (as opposed to Windows Subsystem for Linux). Finally, the cloud layer is billed as a “turnkey” solution, which makes cloud-based functions such as updating, failure reporting, and authentication simpler.

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The IoT (Internet of Teeth)

Get ready for another step towards our dystopian future as scientists have invented a way to track and monitor what we eat. This 2mm x 2mm wireless sensor can be mounted on to teeth and can track everything that goes into your mouth. Currently it can monitor salt, glucose, and alcohol intake. The sensor then communicates wirelessly to a mobile device that tracks the data. Future revisions are predicted to monitor a wide range of nutrients and chemicals that can get ingested.

It uses an interesting method to both sense the target chemicals and communicate its data. It consists of a sandwich of three layers with the central layer being a biosensor that reacts to certain chemicals. The complete sandwich forms a tiny RFID antenna and when RF signals are transmitted to the device, some of the signal gets absorbed by the antenna and the rest reflected back.

The mechanism is similar to how chromatography works for chemical analysis where certain chemicals absorb light wavelengths of specific frequencies. Passing a calibrated light source through a gas column and observing the parts of the spectrum that get absorbed allows researchers to identify certain chemicals inside the column.

This technology is based on previous research with”tooth tatoos” that could be used by dentists to monitor your oral health. Now this tiny wireless sensor has evolved to monitoring the dietary intake of people for health purposes but we’re pretty sure Facebook is eyeing it for more nefarious purposes too.

Build Your Own Antenna for Outdoor Monitoring with LoRa

LoRa and LPWANs (Low Power Wide Area Networks) are all the range (tee-hee!) in wireless these days. LoRa is a sub 1-GHz wireless technology using sophisticated signal processing and modulation techniques to achieve long-range communications.

With that simplified introduction, [Omkar Joglekar] designed his own LoRa node used for outdoor sensor monitoring based on the HopeRF RFM95 LoRa module. It’s housed in an IP68 weatherproof enclosure and features an antenna that was built from scratch using repurposed copper rods. He wrote up the complete build, materials, and description which makes it possible for others to try their hand at putting together their own complete LoRa node for outdoor monitoring applications.

Once it’s built, you can use this simple method to range test your nodes and if you get really good, you might be setting distance records like this.