Untethered: Fishing Without Lines

There’s a laundry list of ways that humans are polluting the earth, and even though it might not look like it from the surface, the oceans seem to bear the brunt of our waste. Some research suggests that plastic doesn’t fully degrade as it ages, but instead breaks down into smaller and smaller bits that will be somewhere the in environment for such a long time it could be characterized in layman’s terms as forever.

Not only does waste of all kinds make its way to the oceans by rivers or simply by outright dumping, but commercial fishing gear is estimated to comprise around 10% of the waste in the great blue seas, and one of the four nonprofits help guide this year’s Hackaday Prize is looking to eliminate some of that waste and ensure it doesn’t cause other problems for marine life. This was the challenge for the Conservation X Labs dream team, three people who were each awarded a $6,000 micro-grant to work full time for two months on the problem.

It isn’t about simply collecting waste in the ocean, but rather about limiting the time that potentially harmful but necessary fishing equipment is in the water in the first place. For this two-month challenge, this team focused on long lines used by professional fishing operations to attach buoys to gear like lobster pots or crab traps. These ropes are a danger to large ocean animals such as whales when they get tangled in them and, if the lines detach from the traps, the traps themselves continue to trap and kill marine life for as long as they are lost underwater. This “ghost gear” is harmful in many different ways, and reducing its time in the water or “soak time” was the goal for the project.

Let’s take a closer look at their work after the break, and we can also see the video report they filed as the project wrapped up.

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Road Pollution Doesn’t Just Come From Exhaust

Alumni from Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College London and the Royal College of Art want to raise awareness of a road pollution source we rarely consider: tire wear. If you think about it, it is obvious. Our tires wear out, and that has to go somewhere, but what surprises us is how fast it happens. Single-use plastic is the most significant source of oceanic pollution, but tire microplastics are next on the naughty list. The team calls themselves The Tyre Collective, and they’re working on a device to collect tire particles at the source.

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UnifiedWater Finds Potable Water And Stops Polluters

Millions of people all over the world don’t have access to clean drinking water, and it’s largely because of pollution by corporations and individuals. Solving this problem requires an affordable, scalable way to quickly judge water quality, package the data, and present it to an authority that can crack down on the polluters before the evidence dissipates. Ideally, the solution would be open source and easy to replicate. The more citizen scientists, the better.

[Andrei Florian]’s UnifiedWater flows directly from this line of thinking. Dip this small handheld device below the surface, and it quickly takes a bunch of water quality and atmospheric readings, averages them, and sends the data to a web dashboard using an Arduino MKR GSM.

UnifiedWater judges quality by testing the pH and the turbidity of the water, which gauges the amount of impurities. Commercial turbidity sensors work by measuring the amount of light scattered by the solids present in a liquid, so [Andrei] made a DIY version with an LED pointed at a photocell. UnifiedWater also reads the air temperature and humidity, and reports its location along with a timestamp.

This device can run in one of two modes, depending on the application. The enterprise mode is designed for a fleet of devices placed strategically about a body of water. In this mode, the devices sample continuously, taking readings every 15 minutes, and can send notifications that trigger on predefined thresholds. There’s also a one-and-done individual mode for hikers and campers who need to find potable water. Once UnifiedWater takes the readings, the NeoPixel ring provides instant color-coded judgment. Check out the demo after the break.

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Hackaday Links: May 17, 2020

Consider it the “Scarlet Letter” of our time. An MIT lab is developing a face mask that lights up to alert others when the wearer has COVID-19. The detection technology is based on sensors that were developed for the Ebola virus scare and uses fluorescently tagged DNA fragments freeze-dried onto absorbent strips built into the mask. The chemistry is activated by the moisture in the sputum expelled when the wearer coughs or sneezes while wearing the mask; any SARS-CoV-2 virus particles in the sputum bind to the strips, when then light up under UV. The list of problems a scheme like this entails is long and varied, not least of which is what would possess someone to willingly don one of these things. Still, it’s an interesting technology.

Speaking of intrusive expansions of the surveillance state, Singapore is apparently now using a Boston Dynamics Spot robot to enforce social-distancing rules in its public parks and gardens. The familiar four-legged, bright yellow dog-bot is carrying cameras that are relaying images of park attendees to some sort of image analysis program and are totally not capturing facial or personal data, pinky swear. If people are found to be violating the two-meter rule, Spot will bark out a prerecorded reminder to spread out a bit. How the system differentiates between people who live together who are out getting some fresh air and strangers who should be staying apart, and whether the operators of this have ever seen how this story turns out are open questions.

Those who lived through 9/11 in the United States no doubt remember the deafening silence that descended over the country for three days while every plane in the civil aviation fleet was grounded. One had no idea how much planes contributed to the noise floor of life until they were silenced. So too with the lockdown implemented worldwide to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, except with the sometimes dramatic reduction in pollution levels. We’ve all seen pictures where people suddenly realize that Los Angeles isn’t necessarily covered by an orange cloud of smog, and that certain mountain ranges are actually visible if you care to look. But getting some hard data is always useful, and these charts show just how much the pollution situation improved in a number of countries throughout the world after their respective lockdowns. For some cities, the official lockdown was a clear demarcation between the old pollution regime and the new, but for some, there was an obvious period before the lockdown was announced where people were obviously curtailing their activity. It’s always interesting pore over data like this and speculated what it all means.

While the in-person aspects of almost every conference under the sun have been canceled, many of them have switched to a virtual meeting that can at least partially make up for the full experience. And coming up next weekend is Virtually Maker Faire, in the slot where Bay Area Maker Faire would normally be offered. The call for makers ends today, so get your proposals in and sign up to attend.

And finally, there aren’t too many times in life you’ll get a chance to get to visualize a number so large that an Evil Empire was named for it. The googol, or 10100, was a term coined by the nine-year-old nephew of mathematician Edward Kasner when he asked the child for a good name for a really big number. To put the immensity of that number into perspective, The Brick Experiment Channel on YouTube put together an improbably long gear train using Lego pieces we’ve never seen before with a reduction ratio of 10103.4:1. The gear train has a ton of different power transmission elements in it, from plain spur gears to worm drives and even planetary gears. We found the 2608.5:1 harmonic gear particularly fascinating. There’s enough going on to keep even a serious gearhead entertained, but perhaps not for the 5.2×1091 years it’ll take to revolve the final gear once. Something, something, heat-death of the universe. [Ed note: prior art, which we were oddly enough thinking of fondly just a few days ago. Synchronicity!]

Measuring Particulate Pollution With The ESP32

Air pollution isn’t just about the unsightly haze in major cities. It can also pose a major health risk, particularly to those with vulnerable respiratory systems. A major part of hazardous pollution is particulate matter, tiny solid particles suspended in the air. Particulate pollution levels are of great interest to health authorities worldwide, and [niriho] decided to build a monitoring rig of their own.

Particulate matter is measured by an SDS011 particulate matter sensor. This device contains a laser, and detects light scattered by airborne particles in order to determine the level of particulate pollution in PM2.5 and PM10 ranges. The build makes use of an ESP32 as the brains of the operation, chosen for its onboard networking hardware. This makes remotely monitoring the system easy. Data is then uploaded to a Cacti instance, which handles logging and graphing of the data.

For those concerned about air quality, or those who are distrustful of official government numbers, this build is a great way to get a clear read on pollution in the local area. You might even consider becoming a part of a wider monitoring network!

Monitor The Pollution On Your Commute

Commuting through the urban sprawl of a 21st century city brings exposure to significant quantities of pollution. For a Medway Makers member that meant the Isle of Dogs, London, and a drive through the Blackwall Tunnel under the Thames. When you can taste the pollution in the air it’s evident that this isn’t the best environment to be in, but just how bad is it? Time to put together an environmental monitoring and recording rig.

Into the build went an ESP32 module, an SPS30 particulate sensor, an MH-Z19 CO₂ sensor, an HTU21D temperature and humidity sensor, and a uBlox NEO 6M GPS module. The eventual plan is to add an SD card for data logging, but in the absence of that it connects to a Raspberry Pi running Grafana over InfluxDB for data analysis. The result provides a surprising insight into the environmental quality of not just a commute but of indoor life. We’re sorry to say that they don’t seem to have posted any of the code involved onto the Medway Makers writeup, though we hope that’s an oversight they’ll rectify by the time this has gone live.

This isn’t the first environmental monitor to grace these pages, indeed we’ve had quite a few as Hackaday Prize entries.

The Electric Imp Sniffs Out California Wildfires

The wildfires in California are now officially the largest the state has ever seen. Over 50,000 people have been displaced from their homes, hundreds are missing, and the cost in property damage will surely be measured in the billions of dollars when all is said and done. With a disaster of this scale just the immediate effects are difficult to conceptualize, to say nothing of the collateral damage.

While not suggesting their situation is comparable to those who’ve lost their homes or families, Electric Imp CEO [Hugo Fiennes] has recently made a post on their blog calling attention to the air quality issues they’re seeing at their offices in Los Altos. To quantify the problem so that employees with respiratory issues would know the conditions before they came into work, they quickly hacked together a method for displaying particulate counts in their Slack server.

The key to the system is one of the laser particle sensors that we’re starting to see more of thanks to a fairly recent price drop on the technology. A small fan pulls air to be tested into the device, where a very sensitive optical sensor detects the light reflected by particles as they pass through the laser beam. The device reports not only how many particles are passing through it, but how large they are. The version of the sensor [Hugo] links to in his blog post includes an adapter board to make it easier to connect to your favorite microcontroller, but we’ve previously seen DIY builds which accomplish the same goal.

[Hugo] then goes on to provide firmware for the Electric Imp board that reads the current particulate counts from the sensor and creates a simple web page that can be viewed from anywhere in the world to see real-time conditions at the office. From there, this data can be plugged into a Slack webhook which will provide an instantaneous air quality reading anytime a user types “air” into the channel.

We’ve covered a number of air quality sensors over the years, and it doesn’t look like they’re going to become any less prevalent as time goes on. If anything, we’re seeing a trend towards networks of distributed pollution sensors so that citizens can collect their own data on their air they’re breathing.

[Thanks to DillonMCU for the tip.]