Putting Some Smarts Into An Electric Car Charger

Many electric cars feature a timer capability that allows the owner to set which hours they want the vehicle to start pulling a charge. This lets the thrifty EV owner take advantage of the fact that the cost of electricity generally goes down late at night when the demand is lower. The Renault Zoe that [Ryan Walmsley] owns has this feature, but not only does it cost him extra to have it enabled, it’s kind of a hassle to use. So being an enterprising hacker, he decided to implement his own timer in the charger itself.

Now controlling high voltages with a lowly microcontroller might sound dangerous, but it’s actually not nearly as tricky as you might think. The charger and the vehicle actually communicate with low-voltage signals to determine things like the charge rate, so it turns out you don’t need to cut into the AC side of things at all. You just need to intercept the control signals between the two devices and modify them accordingly.

Or do you? As [Ryan] eventually realized, he didn’t need to bother learning how the control signals actually worked since he wasn’t trying to do anything tricky like set the charge rate. He just wanted to be able to stop and start the charging according to what time it was. So all he had to do was put the control signal from his car through a relay controlled by a Particle Photon, allowing him to selectively block communication.

The charger also had an optional key lock, which essentially turns the controller off when the contacts are shorted. [Ryan] put a relay on that as well so he could be absolutely sure the charger cuts the juice at the appropriate time. Then it was just a matter of getting the schedule configured with IFTTT. He mentions the system could even be tweaked to automatically control the charger based on the instantaneous cost of electricity provided by the utility company, rather than assuming overnight is always the most economical.

We’ve seen a fair amount of electric car hacking, but with only a few exceptions, the projects always steer clear of modifying the actual chargers themselves. In general hackers feel a lot safer playing around in the world of DC, but as [Ryan] has shown, safely hacking your EV charger is possible if you do your homework.

Home Brewing Rig Gets A Particle Upgrade

Home brewing is a pastime that can be as much an art or a science as you make it, depending on your predilections. [Brandon Satrom] is one who leans very much towards the science side. There’s plenty that can be done to monitor and control a brew, and [Brandon] is one of many who have built custom hardware to help get the best possible results. Now, that hardware was due for an upgrade.

[Brandon]’s original BrewBuddy system relied on the Particle Photon, a useful platform that was nonetheless getting on in years. With the launch of the new Particle Argon, [Brandon] set his sights on new features that were possible with the added horsepower available. Graphics were added to the LCD screen, and a piezo sensor to detect the start of the fermentation process. This is in addition to the original temperature monitoring and plotting features of the first build.

The upgrade from one microcontroller platform to another can be fraught with headaches, but in this case, only minor changes were needed. 3 lines of code were changed to account for different pin assignments, and the rest fell neatly into place. It’s a testament to the compatibility of the Particle platforms that this upgrade was so easy.

We’ve talked about the 3rd generation Particle boards before, and we expect to see them turning up in many more builds to come. Video after the break.

[Thanks to dcschelt for the tip!]

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State Machine Controls Garage Door Over The Internet

Home automation has been a hot-button topic time and again since the dawn of the personal computer age. These days, thanks to modern communications technology, it’s possible to do some pretty cool stuff. [Brad Harbert] decided to automate his garage door, controlling it over the Internet.

The build relies on a Particle Photon to do the heavy lifting of connecting the door to the Internet. Particle offer a cloud service that makes setting up such a project easy for the first timer, and [Brad] was able to get things working quickly. A relay is used to activate the garage door remote button, as it was desired to leave the main control board of the garage door opener untouched. Reed switches are used to sense the position of the door, and [Brad] coded a state machine to ensure the door’s current state is always known.

It’s a simple project, but [Brad]’s use of state machine techniques and position sensing mean it’s less likely he’ll get home to find his garage open and his possessions missing. If you’re new to programming simple physical devices, you could take a page out of his logbook. Of course we’ve seen similar builds before, like this one from parts from the scrapbin.

Alexa And Particle Modernize Coffee Machine By One Iota

When [Steve Parker]’s girlfriend got a tea kettle that takes voice commands, he suddenly saw his fancy bean-to-cup coffee machine as a technological dinosaur. It may make good coffee, but getting the DeLonghi going is inconvenient, because it runs a self-cleaning cycle each time it’s turned on or off.

Thus began [Steve]’s adventure in trying to turn the thing on with Alexa via Particle Photon. Because of the way the machine is designed, simply adding a relay wouldn’t do—the machine would just turn off and back on, only to start the self-clean again. Once inside, he found it’s controlled by a PIC18LF2520. Further research indicated that it is powered by an off-line switcher that combines a power MOSFET with a power supply controller. [Steve] figured out that the buttons are read via square wave and interpreted by a multiplexer.

The project went into the weeds a bit when [Steve] tried to read the signals with a knock-off Saleae. As soon as he plugged it in, the control board fried because the DeLonghi evidently has no reference to Earth ground. While waiting for a replacement board to arrive, he tried replacing the mux and shift register chips, which actually fixed the board. Then it was more or less a matter of using the DeLonghi’s status LEDs to determine the machine’s state, and then to interface with the Photon and Alexa. Cycle past the break for a ristretto-sized demonstration.

[Steve] didn’t do all this to actually make coffee, just turn the machine on with a voice command. The Photon is totally capable of making coffee, though, as we saw with this closed-loop espresso machine.

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Will Hack For Espresso

[Avidan Ross] has an unyielding passion for coffee. Brewing a proper espresso is more than measuring fluid ounces, and to that end, his office’s current espresso machine was not making the cut. What’s a maker to do but enlist his skills to brew some high-tech coffee.

For a proper espresso, the mass of the grounds and the brewed output need to be precisely measured. So, the office La Marzocco GS3 has been transformed into a closed-loop espresso machine with a Particle Photon and an Acaia Lunar waterproof scale at its heart.

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Use The Force To Turn On This Lamp

Holocrons are holographic data storage devices used in the Star Wars universe by both Jedi and Sith as teaching devices or for storing valuable information. After the fall of the Jedi, they became rare and closely guarded artifacts. [DaveClarke] built one to light the room.

[DaveClarke] built the lamp around a Particle Photon – a STM32 ARM-M0 based microcontroller with a Cypress wifi chip. All [Dave] needed for the workings were an IR proximity sensor, a servo and a bunch of super-bright white LEDs. When the sensor detects something, it starts up the system. The servo rotates a gear which raises the lamp and fades in the LEDs. The next time the sensor detects something, the servo lowers the lamp and the lights begin to fade out. And since the Photon is connected to the cloud, the system can be accessed with a web interface as well.

Okay, so it’s just an IR sensor detecting reflected infrared light and not the Force that’s used to turn it on, but it’s still pretty cool. There are plenty of pictures and videos at [DaveClarke]’s site, along with a schematic, 3D printer designs, and the source code. The whole thing was designed using Autodesk Fusion 360 and 3D printed in about 30 hours and press-fits together. A very simple yet clever design. There have been some other great lamps on the site, like this blossoming flower lamp or this laser cut lamp with which also has a unique switch.

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Sense All The Things With A Synthetic Sensor

What will it take to make your house smarter than you? Judging from the price of smart appliances we see in the home centers these days, it’ll take buckets of cash. But what if you could make your home smarter — or at least more observant — with a few cheap, general purpose “supersensors” that watch your every move?

Sounds creepy, right? That’s what [Gierad Laput] and his team at the Carnegie Mellon Human-Computer Interaction Institute thought when they designed their broadband “synthetic sensor,” and it’s why they purposely omitted a camera from their design. But just about every other sensor under the sun is on the tiny board: an IR array, visible light sensors, a magnetometer, temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors, a microphone, PIR, and even an EMI detector. Of course there’s also a WiFi module, but it appears that it’s only for connectivity and not used for sensing, although it clearly could be. All the raw data is synthesized into a total picture of the goings on in within the platform’s range using a combination of machine learning and user training.

The video after the break shows the sensor detecting typical household events from a central location. It’s a powerful idea and we look forward to seeing how it moves from prototype to product. And if the astute reader recognizes [Gierad]’s name, it might be from his past appearance on these pages for 3D-printed hair.

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