Mechanisms: The Reed Switch

Just about everywhere you go, there’s a reed switch nearby that’s quietly going about its work. Reed switches are so ubiquitous that you’re probably never more than a few feet away from one at any given time, especially at home or in the car. You might have them on your doors and windows as part of a burglar alarm system. They keep your washing machine from running when the lid is open, and they put your laptop to sleep when you close the lid. They know if the car has enough brake fluid and whether or not your seat belt is fastened.

Reed switches are interesting devices with a ton of domestic and industrial applications. We call them switches, but they’re also sensors. In fact, they only do the work of a switch while they can sense a magnetic field. They are capable of switching AC or DC at low and high voltages, but they don’t need electricity to work. Since they’re sealed in glass, they are impervious to dirt, dust, corrosion, temperature swings, and explosive environments. They’re cheap, they’re durable, and in low-current applications they can last for about a billion actuations.

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Definitive Dog Feeding with Arduino

Some dogs have no sense of self-preservation. Given the opportunity, they will eat until they’re sick. It’s up to us humans to both feed them and remember doing it so they aren’t accidentally overfed. In a busy household with young children, the tricky part is the remembering.

[Bryan]’s family feeds their dog Chloe once a day, in the mornings. She was a rescue who spent a few years scrounging for meals on the street, so some part of her is always interested in finding food, even if she just ate. Each morning, the flurry of activity throughout the house is compounded by Chloe’s repeated requests for food, so [Bryan] got his kids involved and built a simple circuit that lets everyone know—at a glance—whether Chloe was fed.

Chloe’s kibble is kept in a touch-top wastebasket that flips open at the press of a button. [Bryan]’s dog-fed detector uses a reed switch and an Arduino clone to detect when the lid is opened. When the reed switch goes, low, the Arduino lights up an LED. The light stays on for two hours and then shuts off automatically to get ready for the next day. You don’t have to beg for a demo video, because it’s waiting for you after the break.

Since Chloe devours a bowl of food in about two minutes flat, maybe the next project for [Bryan]’s family could teach her to slow down a bit.

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Always Misplacing Your Keys? You Can Fix That With Some Logic Chips

Every time he came home, it was the same thing. As soon as he crossed the threshold, his keys just disappeared. There was no other logical explanation for it. And whenever it was time to leave again, he had to turn the house upside down to find them.

One day, [out-of-the-box] decided he’d had enough and built a door-activated alarm system out of stuff he had on hand—a decade counter, a cheapo reed switch-based door alarm, and some transistors. When the door is closed, the decade counter’s output is set to light up a green LED. When he comes home and opens the door, the reed switch closes, triggering the decade counter to shift its output to the next pin. The red LED comes on, and NPN transistor grounds the piezo, sounding the alarm. The only way to stop it is by inserting a shorted 1/4″ phone plug conveniently attached to his key ring into a jack on the circuit board until he hears that satisfying click of safe key-ping.

For those times when immediately plugging the keys into the wall isn’t feasible, or if his keys should disappear before he has the chance, there’s a momentary on the board that will stop the symphony of robotic cicadas blasting out from the piezo. It’s also good for family members who don’t want to play along or haven’t yet earned their 1/4″ plug.

Be sure to check out the build video after the break, which is just through that door there. And keep an eye on your keys, eh? Hackaday is not responsible for lost or stolen personal articles. Should you lose them, we can only suggest making a new car key from the spare and printing replacements for any standard keys.

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Opto-Isolating Automatic Cat Feeder Problems

When you buy an off-the-shelf automatic cat feeder, you might well expect it to do the one thing it’s supposed to do. Feed the cat. Well, at least as long as you do your part by keeping it filled with food nuggets. [Stephen] had the sneaking suspicion that his feeder was slacking occasionally, and set out to prove this theory.

He had a few ideas for approaching the investigation. One was to set up a web cam, but that proved unreliable. Another idea was to log the weight changes of the food bowl. This seemed like a possibility because the reading would change dramatically whenever it was filled. The method he settled on is a good one, too — monitor the motor’s activity and look for holes. After all, the motor only runs when it’s feeding time.

The design is based around a smart door/window alarm, which is little more than a reed switch with networking capabilities. [Stephen] wired up an opto-isolator so that when the motor runs, the reed switch is triggered but not fried, and the event gets logged in Google Sheets. Any missed meals are weeded out with a script that alerts [Stephen] via email and text that his poor kitty is hungry.

If [Stephen] ever wants to build his own cat feeder, we have plenty of designs for inspiration.

Have Alexa Open Your Garage Door

[yoyotechKnows] built an Alexa-controlled garage door opener after his Liftmaster stopped working. Now all he has to do is holler at his mobile phone and he can raise and lower his garage doors at will.

His project is based around a Photon WiFi kit, with a pair of LCC 120 digital relays triggering the two doors, reed switches, and a serial-equipped LCD to display door status, with Alexa, IFTTT, and OpenHab to process the commands. You can find his code in the project writeup.

Currently he has a LCD display informing him of the status of each door, hot glued a reed switch to keep track of whether each one is closed. This might seem a little bit extraneous since he can also just look at the doors from within the garage. However, he’s thinking about putting the display inside his house. But couldn’t he just ask Alexa?

We love us our home automation here at Hackaday, with everything from swimming pools to chicken coops rigged for app control and datalogging.

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Make Your Own Reed Switches

[Lucid Science] shows us how to make some simple reed switches. Reed switches are simple components that detect a magnetic field and can close or open a circuit once detected. While not really a thing of beauty, these DIY reed switches should help you out if you just can’t wait to order some or you fancied trying your hands at making some components from scratch.

Reed switches normally come in very small form factors so if you need something small then this may not be for you however the video does show you on a macro scale the fundamental workings of a reed switch. To make your own reed switch you need only a few parts: some copper, enamelled wire and magnets. They really are simple devices however sometimes it’s easy to overlook how simple some things are when they are so small that you can’t really see how they work.

Making your own components from scratch is probably the best way to understand the inner workings of said component. In the past we have seen some pretty awesome self built components from these beautiful DIY Nixie tubes to even making your own LEDs

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Sensing a Magnet with Local Sourcing

I had a small project going on–never mind exactly what–and I needed to detect a magnet. Normally, that wouldn’t be a big problem. I have a huge hoard of components and gear to the point that it is a running joke among my friends that we can be talking about building something and I will have all the parts we need. However, lately a lot of my stuff is in… let’s say storage (again, never mind exactly why) and I didn’t have anything handy that would do the job.

Options

If I had time, there are plenty of options for detecting a magnet. Even if you ignore exotic things like SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) there’s plenty of ways to detect a magnet. One of the oldest and the simplest is to use a reed switch. This is just a switch made with a thin piece of ferrous material. When a magnet is nearby, the thin piece of metal moves and makes or breaks the contact.

These used to be common in alarm systems to detect an open or closed door. However, a trip to Radio Shack revealed that they no longer carry things like that as–apparently–it cuts into floorspace for the cell phones.

I started to think about robbing a sensor from an old computer fan or some other consumer item with a magnetic sensor onboard. I also thought about making some graphene and rolling my own Hall effect sensor, but decided that was too much work.

Browsing

I was about to give up on Radio Shack, but decided to skim through the two cabinets of parts they still carry just to get an idea of what I could and could not expect to find in the future. Then something caught my eye. They still carry a wide selection of relays. (Well, perhaps wide is too kind of a word, but they had a fair number.) It hit me that a relay is a magnetic device, it just generates its own electromagnetic field to open and close the contacts.

I picked up a small 5 V reed relay. They don’t show it online, but they do have several similar ones, so you can probably pick up something comparable at your local location. I didn’t want to get a very large relay because I figured it would take more external magnetic field to operate the contacts. You have to wonder why they have so many relays, unless they just bought a lot and are still selling out of some warehouse. Not that relays don’t have their use, but there’s plenty of better alternatives for almost any application you can think of.

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