Give Your Smart Home A Green Thumb With MQTT

We have all been stuck inside for too long, and maybe that’s why we have recently seen a number of projects attempting to help humans take better care of their housemates from Kingdom Plantae. To survive, plants need nutrients, light, and water. That last one seems tricky to get right; not too dry and not drowning them either, so [rbaron’s] green solder-masked w-parasite wireless soil monitor turns this responsibility over to your existing home automation system.

w-parasite MQTT diagram

Like this low-power soil sensor project and the custom controller for six soil sensors, [rbaron’s] w-parasite uses a “parasitic capacitive” moisture sensor to determine if it’s time to water plants. This means that unlike resistive soil moisture sensors, here the copper traces are protected from corrosion by the solder mask. For those wondering how they work, [rbaron]’s Twitter thread has a great explanation.

The “w” in the name is for WiFi as the built-in ESP-32 module then takes the moisture reading and sends an update wirelessly via MQTT. Depending on the IQ of your smart-home setup, you could log the data, route an alert to a cellphone, light up a smart-bulb, or even switch on an irrigation system.

w-parasite circuit board in a potted plant[rbaron] has shared a string of wireless hacks, controlling the A/C over Slack and a BLE Fitness Tracker that inspired more soldering than jogging. We like how streamlined this solution is, with the sensor, ESP-32 module, and battery all in a compact single board design. Are you asking yourself, “but how is a power-hungry ESP-32 going to last longer than it takes for my geraniums to dry out?” [rbaron] is using deep sleep that only consumes 15uA between very quick 500ms check-ins. The rechargeable LIR2450 Li-Ion coin cell shown here can transmit a reading every half hour for 90 days. If you need something that lasts longer than that, use [rbaron]’s handy spreadsheet to choose larger batteries that last a whole year. Though, let’s hope we don’t have to spend another whole year inside with our plant friends.

We may never know why the weeds in the cracks of city streets do better than our houseplants, but hopefully, we can keep our green roommates alive (slightly longer) with a little digital nudge.

 

ESP32 Soil Monitors Tap Into Ultra-Low Power Mode

Soil moisture sensors are cheap and easy to interface with, to the point that combining one with an Arduino and blinking an LED when your potted plant is feeling a bit parched is a common beginners project. But what about on the long term? Outside of a simple proof of concept, what would it take to actually read the data from these sensors over the course of weeks or months?

That’s precisely the question [derflob] recently had to answer. The goal was to build a device that could poll multiple soil sensors and push the data wirelessly into Home Assistant. But since it would be outside on the balcony, it needed to run exclusively on battery power. Luckily his chosen platform, the ESP32, has some phenomenal power saving features. You just need to know how to use them. Continue reading “ESP32 Soil Monitors Tap Into Ultra-Low Power Mode”

Color E-Ink Display Photo Frame Pranks [Mom]

As a general rule, it’s not nice to prank your mother. Moms have a way of exacting subtle revenge, generally in the form of guilt. That’s not to say it might not be worth the effort, especially when the prank is actually wrapped in a nice gesture, like this ever-changing e-paper family photo frame.

The idea the [CNLohr] had was made possible by a new generation of multicolor e-paper displays by Waveshare. The display [Charles] chose was a generous 5.65″ unit with a total of seven colors. A little hacking revealed an eighth color was possible, adding a little more depth to the images. The pictures need a little pre-processing first, of course — dithering to accommodate the limited palette — but look surprisingly good on the display. They have a sort of stylized look, as if they were printed on a textured paper with muted inks.

The prank idea was simple — present [Mrs. Lohr] with a cherished family photo to display, only to find out that it had changed to another photo overnight. The gaslighting attempt required a bit more hacking, including some neat tricks to keep the power consumption very low. It was also a bit of a squeeze to get it into a frame that was slim enough not to arouse suspicion. The video below details some of the challenges involved in this build.

In the end, [Mom] wasn’t tricked, but she still seemed pleased with the final product. These displays seem like they could be a lot of fun — perhaps a version of the very-slow-motion player but for color movies would be doable.

Continue reading “Color E-Ink Display Photo Frame Pranks [Mom]”

Game Boy Plays Forever

For those of us old enough to experience it first hand, the original Game Boy was pretty incredible, but did have one major downside: battery consumption. In the 90s rechargeable batteries weren’t common, which led to most of us playing our handhelds beside power outlets. Some modern takes on the classic Game Boy address these concerns with modern hardware, but this group from the Delft University of Technology and Northwestern has created a Game Boy clone that doesn’t need any batteries at all, even though it can play games indefinitely.

This build was a proof-of-concept for something called “intermittent computing” which allows a computer to remain in a state of processing limbo until it gets enough energy to perform the next computation. The Game Boy clone, fully compatible with the original Game Boy hardware, is equipped with many tiny solar panels which can harvest energy and is able to halt itself and store its state in nonvolatile memory if it detects that there isn’t enough energy available to continue. This means that Super Mario Land isn’t exactly playable, but other games that aren’t as action-packed can be enjoyed with very little impact in gameplay.

The researchers note that it’ll be a long time before their energy-aware platform becomes commonplace in devices and replaces batteries, but they do think that internet-connected devices that don’t need to be constantly running or powered up would be a good start. There are already some low-powered options available that can keep their displays active when everything else is off, so hopefully we will see even more energy-efficient options in the near future.

Thanks to [Sascho] for the tip!

Continue reading “Game Boy Plays Forever”

Hackaday Links: September 6, 2020

That was a close shave! On Tuesday, asteroid 2011 ES4 passed really close to the earth. JPL’s close approach data pegs its nominal distance from earth at about 0.00081083276352288 au! Yeah, we had to look it up too: that’s around 75,000 miles (120,000 kilometers), just ten times the diameter of the earth and only about one-third the distance from the earth the moon. It got within about 52,000 miles of the moon itself. Bookworms who made it all the way through Seveneves are surely sweating right now.

There’s a low current arms race when it comes to lighting up LEDs. The latest salvo in the field comes from [Christoph Tack] who boasts a current of 1.36 µA at 3 V for a green LED that is roughly 10x brighter than a phosphorescent watch dial. Of course, the TritiLED is the design being chased, which claims to run 17.6-20.2 years on a single CR2032 coin cell.

Proving once again that Hanna and Barbera were indeed future-tech prophets, flying cars are now a thing. Sky Drive Inc. made a four-minute test flight of a single passenger octo-rotor aircraft. Like a motorcycle of the sky (and those are a thing too) this thing is single-passenger and the cockpit is open air. The CNN article mentions that “The company hopes to make the flying car a part of normal life and not just a commodity”. Yeah, we’re sure they do, but in an age when electric cars are demonized for ranges in the low hundreds of miles, this is about as practical for widespread use as self-balancing electric unicycles.

Just when you thought the Marble Machine X project couldn’t get any bigger, we find out they have a few hundred volunteers working to update and track CAD models for all parts on the machine. Want a quick-start on project management and BOM control? These are never seen as the sexy parts of hardware efforts, but for big projects, you ignore them at your own peril.

Google and Apple built a COVID-19 contact tracing framework into their mobile platforms but stopped short of building the apps to actually do the work, anticipating that governments would want to control how the apps worked. So was the case with the European tracing app as Elliot Williams recently covered in this excellent overview. However, the United States has been slower to the game. Looks like the tech giants have become tired of waiting and have now made it possible for the framework itself to work as a contact tracing mechanism. To enable it, local governments need to upload a configuration file that sets parameters and URLs that redirect to informational pages from local health departments, and users must opt-in on their phone. All other tracing apps will continue to function, this is meant to add an option for places that have not yet adopted/developed their own app.

And finally, it’s time to take back responsibility for your poor spelling. Auto-correct has been giving us sardines instead of teaching how to fish for them ourselves. That ends now. The Autocorrect Remover is an extension for Google Docs that still tells you the word is wrong, but hides the correct spelling, gamifying it by having you guess the right spelling and rewarding you with points when you get it right.

Bike Computer Powers On Long After Your Legs Give Out

A typical bicycle computer from the store rack will show your speed, trip distance, odometer, and maybe the time. We can derive all this data from a magnet sensor and a clock, but we live in a world with all kinds of sensors at our disposal. [Matias N.] has the drive to put some of them into a tidy yet competent bike computer that has a compass, temperature, and barometric pressure.

The brains are an STM32L476 low-power controller, and there is a Sharp Memory LCD display as it is a nice compromise between fast refresh rate and low power. E-paper would be a nice choice for outdoor readability (and obviously low power as well) but nothing worse than a laggy speedometer or compass.

In a show of self-restraint, he didn’t try to replace his mobile phone, so there is no GPS, WiFi, or streaming music. Unlike his trusty phone, you measure the battery life in weeks, plural. He implemented EEPROM memory for persistent data through power cycles, and the water-resistant board includes a battery charging circuit for easy topping off between rides.

When you toss the power of a mobile phone at a bike computer, someone will unveil the Android or you can measure a different kind of power from your pedals.

Continue reading “Bike Computer Powers On Long After Your Legs Give Out”

ESP32 Trail Camera Goes The Distance On AA Batteries

There’s no shortage of things to like about the ESP8266 and ESP32, but if we had to make a list of the best features these WiFi-enabled microcontrollers have to offer, their power management capabilities would certainly be near the top. Which is how we assumed [Mark] was able to take a whopping 23,475 pictures on his ESP32 camera while powered by nothing more exotic than four AA batteries from the grocery store.

But as it turns out, the full story is quite a bit more interesting. As far as we can tell, [Mark] isn’t bothering with the ESP32’s sleep modes all. In fact, it looks like you could pull this trick off with whatever chip you wanted, which certainly makes it worth mentally filing away for the future; even if it depends on a fairly specific use case.

In the most simplistic of terms, [Mark] is cutting power to the ESP32 completely when it’s not actively taking pictures. The clever circuit he’s come up with only turns on the microcontroller when a PIR sensor detects something moving around in front of the camera. Once the chip is powered up and running code, it brings one of its GPIO pins high which in turn triggers a 4N37 optoisolator connected to the gate on the circuit’s MOSFET. As long as the pin remains high, the circuit won’t cut power to the ESP32. This gives the chip time to take the requested number of pictures and get everything in order before bringing the pin low and allowing the circuit to pull the plug.

If you’re looking to maximize runtime without wrangling any MOSFETs, we’ve seen some excellent examples of how the low power modes on the ESP8266 and ESP32 can be put to impressive use.

[Thanks to Jason for the tip.]