Test Ideas Now With Sensors Already In Your Pocket

When project inspiration strikes, we’d love to do some quick tests immediately to investigate feasibility. Sadly we’re usually far from our workbench and its collection of sensor modules. This is especially frustrating when the desired sensor is in the smartphone we’re holding, standing near whatever triggered the inspiration. We could download a compass app, or a bubble level app, or something similar to glimpse sensor activity. But if we’re going to download an app, consider Google’s Science Journal app.

It was designed to be an educational resource, turning a smartphone’s sensor array into a pocket laboratory instrument and notebook for students. Fortunately it will work just as well for makers experimenting with project ideas. The exact list of sensors will depend on the specific iOS/Android device, but we can select a sensor and see its output graphed in real-time. This graph can also be recorded into the journal for later analysis.

Science Journal was recently given a promotional push by the band OK Go, as part of their OK Go Sandbox project encouraging students to explore, experiment, and learn. This is right up the alley for OK Go, who has a track record of making music videos that score high on maker appeal. Fans would enjoy their videos explaining behind-the-scene details in the context of math, science, and music.

An interesting side note. Anyone who’s been to Hackaday Superconference or one of the monthly Hackaday LA meetups will likely recognized the venue used in many of the OK Go Sandbox videos. Many of them were filmed at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena. It’s also nice to see AnnMarie Thomas (Hackaday Prize Judge from 2016 and 2017) collaborated with OK Go for the Sandbox project.

While the Science Journal app has provisions for add-on external sensors, carrying them around would reduce its handy always-available appeal. Not that we’re against pairing smartphones with clever accessories to boost their sensing capabilities: we love them! From trying to turn a smartphone into a Tricorder, to an inexpensive microscope, to exploring serious medical diagnosis, our pocket computers can do it all.

[via Engadget]


Measuring Light With ChipKIT

light meter showing LUX value

How does one go about measuring the amount of light in a given area? With a Light Meter of course! Maintaining proper lighting levels can be very important in places like schools, hospitals and even your own workbench.

[Raj] over at Embedded Labs has put together an excellent tutorial on how to construct your very own light meter based upon the chipKIT platform. The chipKIT Uno32 is similar to Arduino, but boasts a much more powerful PIC32MX320F128 microcontroller.  We’ve seen projects that feature the chipKIT Uno (pdf warning) here before. From playing pong to hosting several temperature sensors, it’s certainly a versatile platform.

The light meter uses an I/O shield and communicates to a BH1750FVI digital light sensor via I2C. The firmware divides the raw data coming off the sensor by a constant, and displays the light intensity data on an OLED display in Lux, foot-candles, and Watts/m^2 units. Be sure to check out the tutorial for full schematics and source.

Light-sensing circuit for power saving applications


Instructables user [MacDynamo] was thinking about home security systems and wondered how much electricity is being wasted while such systems are powered on, but not activated. He pondered it awhile, then designed a circuit that could be used to turn a security system on or off depending on the time of day, but without using any sort of clock.

His system relies on a 555 timer configured as a Schmitt trigger, with a photoresistor wired to the reset pin. When the ambient light levels drop far enough, the resistance on the reset pin increases, and the 555 timer breaks out of its reset loop. This causes the circuit to power on whatever is connected to it. When the sun rises, the resistance on the reset pin drops and the 555 timer continually resets until it gets dark again. He notes that this behavior can be easily reversed if you were to put the photoresistor on the trigger pin rather than the reset pin.

We like the idea, though we are a bit wary about using this for any sort of real security system. An errant insect or debris could cause the system to be turned on, and we’d feel pretty foolish if someone disabled our alarm with a flashlight. That said, this sort of circuit still has plenty of practical, power-saving applications outside the realm of home security.