Arduino-Powered Rocket Test Stand

If you’re into amateur rocketry, you pretty quickly outgrow the dinky little Estes motors that they sell in the toy stores. Many hobbyists move on to building their own homebrew solid rocket motors and experimenting with propellant mixtures, but it’s difficult to know if you’re on the right track unless you have a way to quantify the thrust you’re getting. [ElementalMaker] decided he’d finally hit the point where he needed to put together a low-cost test stand for his motors, and luckily for us decided to document the process and the results.

The heart of the stand is a common load cell (the sort of thing you’d find in a digital scale) coupled with a HX711 amplifier board mounted between two plates, with a small section of vertical PVC pipe attached to the topmost plate to serve as a motor mount. This configuration is capable of measuring up to 10 kilograms with an 80Hz sample rate, which is critically important as these type of rocket motors only burn for a few seconds to begin with. The sensor produces hundreds of data points during the short duration of the burn, which is perfect for graphing the motor’s thrust curve over time.

Given such a small window in which to make measurements, [ElementalMaker] didn’t want to leave anything to chance. So rather than manually igniting the motor and triggering the data collection, the stand’s onboard Arduino does both automatically. Pressing the red button on the stand starts a countdown procedure complete with flashing LED, after which a relay is used to energize a nichrome wire “electronic match” stuck inside the motor.

In the video after the break you can see that [ElementalMaker] initially had some trouble getting the Arduino to fire off the igniter, and eventually tracked the issue down to an overabundance of current that was blowing the nichrome wire too fast. Swapping out the big lead acid battery he was originally using with a simple 9V battery solved the problem, and afterwards his first test burns on the stand were complete successes.

If model rockets are your kind of thing, we’ve got plenty of content here to keep you busy. In the past we’ve covered building your own solid rocket motors as well as the electronic igniters to fire them off, and even a wireless test stand that lets you get a bit farther from the action at T-0.

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Kinetic Sculpture Achieves Balance Through Machine Learning

We all know how important it is to achieve balance in life, or at least so the self-help industry tells us. How exactly to achieve balance is generally left as an exercise to the individual, however, with varying results. But what about our machines? Will there come a day when artificial intelligences and their robotic bodies become so stressed that they too will search for an elusive and ill-defined sense of balance?

We kid, but only a little; who knows what the future field of machine psychology will discover? Until then, this kinetic sculpture that achieves literal balance might hold lessons for human and machine alike. Dubbed In Medio Stat Virtus, or “In the middle stands virtue,” [Astrid Kraniger]’s kinetic sculpture explores how a simple system can find a stable equilibrium with machine learning. The task seems easy: keep a ball centered on a track suspended by two cables. The length of the cables is varied by stepper motors, while the position of the ball is detected by the difference in weight between the two cables using load cells scavenged from luggage scales. The motors raise and lower each side to even out the forces on each, eventually achieving balance.

The twist here is that rather than a simple PID loop or another control algorithm, [Astrid] chose to apply machine learning to the problem using the Q-Behave library. The system detects when the difference between the two weights is decreasing and “rewards” the algorithm so that it learns what is required of it. The result is a system that gently settles into equilibrium. Check out the video below; it’s strangely soothing.

We’ve seen self-balancing systems before, from ball-balancing Stewart platforms to Segway-like two-wheel balancers. One wonders if machine learning could be applied to these systems as well.

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Never Go To The Office Breakroom Again

If you’re tired of having to make small talk with random people in the office break room every time you need a cup of coffee, or simply don’t have the time to get up to pour yourself some more, it would be nice if there was a way you could have your cup filled for you, right at your desk. With this new drink dispenser, you won’t have to get up or even pour your drinks yourself!

We’ve certainly seen plenty of automatic drink makers, but those are more suited to parties and complicated drink mixing. This beverage dispenser is more for the person who knows their tastes and simply wants to save some time. It’s also much simpler, using a peristaltic pump for serving a single liquid from a large bottle into a glass, and using a load cell to know when to stop filling. The peristaltic pump is a little slow though, so it’s best to set the glass back in the dispenser and let it top you off each time.

We’re a big fan of time savers around here, especially when it comes to improving workflow. Of course, the best time saver is a clean, well-organized shop which will help you out whether you’re building a drink dispenser or anything else.

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Assess Your Output with a Cheap DIY Urine Flowmeter

Some things about the human body are trivial to measure. Height, weight, blood pressure, pulse, temperature — these are all easily quantifiable with the simplest of instruments and can provide valuable insights into our state of health. Electrical activity in the heart and the brain can be captured with more complex instruments, too, and all manner of scopes can be inserted into various orifices to obtain actionable information about what’s going on.

But what about, err, going? Urine flow can be an important leading indicator for a host of diseases and conditions, but it generally relies on subjective reports from the patient. Is there a way to objectively measure how well urine is flowing? Of course there is.

The goal for [GreenEyedExplorer]’s simple uroflowmeter is simple: provide a cheap, easy to use instrument that any patient can use to quantify the rate of urine flow while voiding. Now, we know what you’re thinking — isn’t liquid flow usually measured in a closed system with a paddlewheel or something extending into the stream? Wouldn’t such a device for urine flow either be invasive or messy, or both? Rest assured, this technique is simple and tidy. A small load cell is attached to an ESP8266 through an HX711 load cell amp. A small pan on the load cell receives urine while voiding, and the force of the urine striking the pan is assessed by the software. Reports can be printed to share with your doctor, and records are kept to see how flow changes over time.

All kidding aside, this could be an important diagnostic tool, and at 10€ to build, it empowers anyone to take charge of their health. And since [GreenEyedExplorer] is actually a urologist, we’re taking this one seriously.

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Cocktail Machine Mixes Perfect Drinks Every Time

For many of us. the holiday season is coming up and that means hosting parties and mixing drinks, which can get tiresome. [GreatScott] has come up with a solution, what he calls a crude cocktail mixing machine. But don’t be fooled — it may look crude on the surface, and vibrate a bit while working, but the mechanism is plenty sound and functional.

The machine can mix three different liquids and does so using three peristaltic pumps. In typical [GreatScott] style, while he tears apart the pumps to replace the tubes, he gives us a good glimpse of just how they work. Using a knob and LCD screen, you can enter any quantity you want for the three liquids, though you’ll have to edit the Arduino code if you want to change the liquids’ names.

Load cell
Load cell

How does the machine know when to stop pumping a certain liquid? Each pump is rated for a specific quantity per second, though he tests this for each liquid anyway and finds a slight variation which he accounts for in the code. After the machine turns a pump on, a load cell located under the glass tells it when liquid has started arriving at the glass. A simple calculation based on the pump’s quantity per second and the desired quantity tells it how long to leave the pump on for. When the times up, it stops the pump. The result is a machine that’s sure to be a centerpiece for any hacker-filled party. Check out his build and the pump in action in the video 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.

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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