LED Brightness Adjustment Uses Itself As Sensor

This is a story about a successful system that nevertheless failed to make the cut. An experimental LED brightness adjustment is something [Mitxela] explored in a project for a high-precision clock; one that shows time down to the nearest millisecond, and won’t flicker or otherwise look weird when photographed with a high-speed camera. To pull this off means reinventing many things about a clock display, including how to handle brightness adjustment elegantly. Now, to be clear, the brightness adjustment idea described here is something that did not end up being used, but it’s interesting enough that [Mitxela] wrote it up and we’re very glad he did.

The idea was to have a smooth and seamless automatic brightness adjustment, ideally with no added components. Since LEDs can be used as light sensors, [Mitxela] saw an opportunity to use elements of the clock displays themselves as sensors. This is how it works: a charge in the p-n junction that makes up an LED will decay at a rate proportional to the amount of light hitting the junction. By measuring the speed of this decay, it’s therefore possible to tell how much light is hitting the LED. It’s effective and elegant, but there are a few practical issues to deal with.

The first failed idea was to employ as sensors the unused decimal points in the seven-segment LED modules, but that turned out to have issues. One was the common-cathode wiring of the display modules; this makes them very convenient to drive as displays, but made using the decimal point as a light sensor impractical. The other issue was that the built-in diffuser that makes the displays easier to read absorbs a lot of ambient light. A much better option was to use the LEDs in the colon separators between digits, since they’re independent. Naturally they still have to light up in addition to being used as sensors, but [Mitxela] made a successful prototype by performing the necessary measurements in between the LEDs being driven by PWM.

Despite how clever and efficient the solution was, in the end what sank it was the fact that the LEDs just don’t do a very good job of sensing ambient light for this purpose. The LEDs are simply too directional. Even after sanding away the top (lens) part of the LEDs, they still had a very narrow field of view. As [Mitxela] describes it, tilting the clock towards the ceiling could send it to full brightness, and the shadow of one’s head falling across the clock would plummet it into “night mode” dimness. In short, it responded to what was directly in front of it, rather than the ambient light level as a whole.

It’s a reminder that sometimes a solution simply won’t tick all the right boxes, and it can happen for unexpected reasons. Still, LEDs are versatile things. Not only can they sense light, but as the name implies they’re also diodes. As diodes can be used as temperature sensors that means LEDs can as well.

Serving The Feline Masters: A Chair To Follow The Sunny Spot

Terry Pratchett once wrote, “In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this”. [Jonathan]’s cat has clearly not forgotten, and makes it loudly known whenever her favorite chair needs to be moved to stay in the spot of sunlight. He was looking for a fun hack anyway, so he decided to give in to her majesty’s demands, and automated the task.

[Jonathan] first considered adding motorizing the chair itself, but decided to keep it simple and just drag the chair across the room with a spool attached to a motor. The rope spool was attached to a small geared DC motor, mounted on a salad bowl base, and connected to an ESP8266 via a motor driver. The ‘8266 is running  NodeMCU with a web server that accepts simple motor commands through a RESTful API. This setup can’t reset the chair to it’s starting position at the end of the day, but this is a small price to pay for simplicity. The motor was a bit underpowered, but it only needed to move the chair in small distances at a time, so [Jonathan] removed the chair’s back to reduce the weight, and upped the motor voltage.

Determining when and how far to move the chair is the second part of the challenge. [Jonathan] considered a simple lookup table for the time of day, but the motor’s movement wasn’t consistent enough. The final solution was a set of three BH1750 digital ambient light sensors to give feedback. A pair of sensors on the chair determines its position relative to the sunny spot, by comparing light levels to a reference sensor mounted in the window. These light sensors are also attached to NodeMCUs, and send movement commands to the winding unit as necessary.

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See If Someone Has Been In Your Drawers With This Simple Alarm

There’s a spy movie – probably from the [James Bond] franchise – in which our hero is staying in a fancy hotel. It’s crawling with enemies, naturally, and eager to see if one has been snooping in his room while he’s out for martinis, he sticks a hair across the gap in the door. When he comes back and finds the hair missing, he knows the game is afoot.

This hotel safe intrusion detector is what [Q] might have thought up for such a job if he’d had access to PIC microcontrollers and SMD LEDs. [Andy]’s “LightSafer” is a silent alarm for hotel safes, drawers, closets, or even the refrigerator – anywhere where the transition from dark to light indicates an unwanted visit. It’s tiny – only 33 x 21 mm – and is powered by a CR2032 coin cell. A Broadcom APDS-9300 light sensor watches for openings while the PIC monitors a joystick control for the correct PIN entry. There’s no audible alarm; rather, an LED blinks to indicate an unauthorized intrusion and blinks once for every 15 minutes since the event.

LightSafer is simple but effective, with a clever UI that keeps the current draw low and the battery life long. [Andy] used a similar technique for this low-draw cat tracking collar that we featured a while back.

Arduino One Pixel Camera Sees All (Eventually)

Taking pictures in the 21st century is incredibly easy. So easy in fact that most people don’t even own a dedicated camera; from smartphones to door bells there are cameras built into nearly electronic device we own. So in this era of ubiquitous photography, you might think that a very slow and extremely low resolution camera wouldn’t be of interest. Under normal circumstances that’s probably true, but this single pixel camera built by [Tucker Shannon] is anything but normal.

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Headlight Mod For An Audi A3

If you have a car that is getting on in years, it may be missing some of the latest frills and features that the latest models sport. [Muris] has a slightly dated Audi A3 8P which did not have an AUTO setting for the headlights. In the newer models, this feature turns on the headlights when the ambient light falls below a threshold level (overcast conditions or when going through a tunnel), or when the windshield wipers are turned on. The light sensor is integrated behind the rear view mirror in a special mount, requiring an expensive windshield upgrade if he were to opt for the factory retrofit. Instead, he decided to build his own Automatic Headlights Sensor upgrade for his Audi A3.

His local regulations require the car headlights to be on all the time when the vehicle is in motion. So adding this feature may seem moot at first sight. But [Muris] programmed the headlights to be powered at 70% during daytime conditions and switch to 100% when his sensor detects low ambient light conditions. In the power save mode, all of the other non-essential lights (number plate, tail light) are also turned off to hopefully extend their life. He achieved this by using the VCDS (VAG-COM Diagnostic System) – a widely used aftermarket diagnostics tool for VW-Audi Group vehicles. His tiny circuit switches the lights between the two power settings.

His plan was to install the device without disturbing the original wiring or light switch assembly in any way. The low-powered device consists of a PIC micro-controller, an LDR (light dependent resistor) for light sensing and a low current relay which switches between the two modes. Setting the threshold at which the circuit switches the output is adjusted by a variable trimpot acting as a voltage divider with the LDR. [Muris] wired up a short custom harness which let him install this circuit between the default light switch and the car electronics. After switching on power, he has 15 seconds to enable or disable his unit by toggling the light switch five times, and that status gets stored in memory. The tiny board is assembled using SMD parts and is protected with a heatshrink sleeve. The circuit would work equally well with a lot of other cars, so If you’ve got one which could do with this feature upgrade, then [Muris] has the Eagle CAD files and code available for download on his blog.

Check out the video below where he runs a demo, describes his circuit in detail and then proceeds to assemble the PCB without using a vise or a third hand to hold the PCB. That’s a fancy watch he’s sporting at 00:50 s down the video.

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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]

 

Want Gesture-Tracking? All You Have To Do Is Lift Your Finger.

Watching Tony Stark wave his hands to manipulate projected constructs is an ever-approaching reality — at least in terms of gesture-tracking. Lift — a prototype built by a team from UC Irvine and FX Palo Alto Laboratory — is able to track up to ten fingers with 1.7 mm accuracy!

Lift’s gesture-tracking is achieved by using a DLP projector, two Arduino MKR1000s, and a light sensor for each digit. Lift’s design allows it to work on virtually any flat surface; the projected image acts as a grid and work area for the user. As their fingers move across the projected surface, the light sensors feed the information from the image to the Arduinos, which infers the location of each finger and translate it into a digital workspace. Sensors may also be mounted on other objects to add functionality.

So far, the team has used Lift as an input device for drawing, as well as using it to feign gesture controls on a standard laptop screen. The next step would be two or more projectors which would allow Lift to function fully and efficiently in three dimensions and directly interacting with projected media content. Can it also operate wirelessly? Yes. Yes, it can.

While we don’t have Tony Stark’s hologram workstation quite yet, we can still play Tetris, fly drones, and mess around with surgical robots.