Adding 3D Printer Power and Light Control to OctoPrint

OctoPrint is a great way to monitor your printer, especially with the addition of a webcam. Using a tablet or mobile phone, you can keep an eye on what the printer is doing from anywhere in the house (or world, if you take the proper precautions), saving you from having to sit with the printer as if it’s an infant. But simply watching your printer do its thing is only a small slice of the functionality offered by OctoPrint’s vast plugin community.

As [Jeremy S Cook] demonstrates, it’s fairly easy to add power control for the printer and auxiliary lighting to your OctoPrint setup. Being able to flick the lights on over the print bed is obviously a big help when monitoring it via webcam, and the ability to turn the printer off can provide some peace of mind after the print has completed. If you’re particularly brave it also means you could power on the printer and start a print completely remotely, but good luck if that first layer doesn’t go down perfectly.

In terms of hardware, you only need some 3.3V relays for the Raspberry Pi running OctoPrint to trigger, and an enclosure to put the wiring in. [Jeremy] uses only one relay in this setup to power the printer and lights at once, but with some adjustment to the software, you could get independent control if that’s something you’re after.

On the software side [Jeremy] is using an OctoPrint plugin called “PSU Control”, which is actually intended for controlling an ATX PSU from the Pi’s GPIO pins, but the principle is close enough to throw a relay. Other plugins exist which allow for controlling a wider away of devices and GPIO pins if you want to make a fully remote controlled enclosure. Plus you can always whip up your own OctoPrint plugin if you don’t find anything that quite meets your switching needs.

[Jeremy] previously documented his unique mount to keep his Raspberry Pi and camera pointed at his printer, which is naturally important if you want to create some cool videos with Octolapse.

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Electromagnetic Field: TIM, A Relay Computer

We are probably all familiar with computing history to the extent that we know the earliest computers were surprisingly simple devices. While early electronic machines such as Colossus or ENIAC were hugely complex racks of tubes, once expressed as a schematic or as a network of logic gates they would be relatively straightforward for today’s electronic engineer to understand their operation. Those who have made an in-depth study of computing history may have heard of the work of Konrad Zuse in the mid-20th century, his relay-based machines predate their fully electronic cousins by several years.

A relay-based computer can be simple enough to be built by a home constructor, and at the recent Electromagnetic |Field hacker camp [Rory Mangles] outlined his TIM relay computer built while he was at school. It’s an engaging story starting from first principles and describing a series of TIM devices from a simple binary adder to the final fully Turing-complete computer. He describes the design process for his ALU, eventually going with a 1-bit serial design to economise on relays.

The machine has a Harvard architecture, with the program pathway consisting of a paper tape from which the code is run directly. The instruction set is called BLT, which of course means Basic Language of Tim, and there is a T++ assembly language. Loops and if statements are handled in a nod to the classical Turing machine by looping the paper tape. The original TIM is a few years old, but he reveals that he’s recently brought it out of storage and added a parallel port. Thus the finale of the talk is a demonstration, printing a “Hello World”.

We’ve placed the full video below the break, meanwhile we were lucky enough that [Rory] brought TIM along to the EMF Hackaday Readers village for our bring-a-hack, so the header image is from when we had a chance to examine it. If you’re curious to know more, he has a web site with some more TIM details.

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Voltage Monitor Relay is More than Meets the Eye

Automotive components that have a hidden secondary function are usually limited to cartoons and Michael Bay movies, but this project that [Jesus Echavarria] created for a client is a perhaps as close as we’re likely to get in the near future. The final product certainly looks like a standard automotive relay, but a peek inside the 3D printed case reveals a surprisingly complex little device. It’s still technically a relay, but it uses a PIC microcontroller to decide when it should activate.

[Jesus] was given the task of creating a device that would fit into the relay box of a vehicle, and serve as a battery monitor to fire off at different voltage set points. The client also wanted the ability to configure such things as how long the device would wait before enabling and disabling the alarms once the voltage threshold has been passed. After showing the client an oversize prototype using a PIC16F88 and switching regulator, he got the OK to move on to a smaller and more cost-effective version.

The final hardware makes use of a 78M05 500 mA linear regulator, a PIC16F1824 microcontroller, and a pair of AQY211EH solid state relays. The standard five pin layout used for automotive relays allows the monitor to get power from the vehicle’s battery while providing two output channels that can be switched on and off from the microcontroller. [Jesus] says an agreement with the client prevents him from sharing some elements of the project (like the firmware source code), but he gives enough information that it shouldn’t be too hard to spin up your own version.

With the addition of something like an ESP8266, this could be an easy way to retrofit an older vehicle with “smart” features. As an example, it could potentially allow for controlling the car’s headlights and horn over Wi-Fi. Or you could hack together a theft deterrent system that refuses to power on the starter or fuel pump unless your smartphone enables the relay first.

Mario Candy Machine Gamifies Halloween

Picture it: Halloween, 2018. You want to go to a party or take the kids out trick-or-treating, but remember what happened last year when you weren’t there to answer the door? A pack of wild children blew their allowances on 48 rolls of the cheapest toilet paper ever printed, and it took you four full hours to get all the sodden, dew-laden wads out of your rose bushes.

Halloween is a time to fear things like hobgoblins and the possibility of The Purge becoming a thing, not sugar-fueled children who are upset that you left out a bowl of Sixlets, wax lips, and alt-flavored Tootsie Rolls. So how do you take back the night? Do what [Randall Hendrix] did: build a Super Mario-themed candy-dispensing machine.

No customer, not one tiny [Thanos] or [Tony Stark] will be able to resist the giant, blinking, green start button. Pushing it cues the music and the spinning drum, which tumbles the candy around like a clothes dryer. Gravity and chance will drop one or three pieces onto a conveyor belt that runs under Mario’s feet, but it’s up to you to press the jump button at the right time.  Otherwise, he knocks your prize back into the barrel.

There’s no micro here, just woodworking, relays, motors, a sound FX board, and the amp from an old pair of PC speakers. Mario’s candy-securing jump was originally pneumatic, but now it’s powered by a 240:1 gear motor that lifts him up with a cam. Grab a fun size Snickers and slap that break button to see this marvelous machine in action.

Concerned that they’ll play until the candy is gone? Add a sinister element like the Candy-or-Death machine we saw a few years ago.

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Old Time Traffic Signal Revived with a Raspberry Pi Controller

Anyone with even a passing familiarity with the classic animated shorts of the 1940s will recognize the traffic signal in the image above. Yes, such things actually existed in the real world, not just in the Looney world of [Bugs Bunny] et al. As sturdy as such devices were, they don’t last forever, though, which is why a restoration of this classic Acme traffic signal was necessary for a California museum. Yes, that Acme.

When you see a traffic signal from the early days of the automotive age like this one, it becomes quickly apparent how good the modern equivalent has become. Back in the day, with a mix of lights distributed all over the body of the signal, arms that extend out, and bells that ring when the state changes, it’s easy to see how things could get out of hand at an intersection. That complexity made the restoration project by [am1034481] and colleagues at the Southern California Traffic Museum all the more difficult. Each signal has three lights, a motor for the flag, and an annunciator bell, each requiring a relay. What’s more, the motor needs to run in both directions, so a reversing relay is needed, and the arm has a mechanism to keep it in position when motor power is removed, which needs yet another relay. With two signals, everything was doubled, so the new controller used a 16-channel relay board and a Raspberry Pi to run through various demos. To keep induced currents from wreaking havoc, zero-crossing solid state relays were used on the big AC motors and coils in the signal. It looks like a lot of work, but the end results are worth it.

Looking for more information on traffic signal controls? We talked about that a while back.

Smart Power Strip Revived with Raspberry Pi

We’re all for buying broken stuff from eBay to save yourself a few bucks: buy it cheap, fix it, and reap the rewards of being a step ahead of the average consumer. Searching through the “For parts or not working” categories is nearly the official pastime here at the Hackaday Bunker. But buying an eBay find only to have it give up the ghost in a couple weeks? That hurts.

That’s precisely what happened to [idaresiwins] when he bought this beefy looking “Web Power Switch” on the Electronic Bay. After two weeks, the controller board blew and his “smart” power strip became very stupid indeed. But with the addition of a Raspberry Pi, he’s got it back up and running. Not only that, but given the extra horsepower this device now contains, it now doubles as a basic server for the home lab.

This conversion was helped by the fact that the original controller was on a separate board from the relays, and connected with a small ribbon cable. All [idaresiwins] had to do was figure out which wire in the cable went to each of the eight relays, and fire them off with the Pi’s GPIO pins. In an interesting detail, he opened up one of the ends of the ribbon cable and used it as a punch down block of sorts to easily hook the wires up to the Pi’s pins. We might suggest some hot glue to keep everything from moving around, but otherwise it’s a neat tip.

[idaresiwins] found some information online about making a web-based GPIO interface, which he adapted to control the outlets on the power strip. He then wrapped the Pi up in plastic to keep it from shorting out, and tucked it inside the case. Note that he was able to pull 5 VDC from the relay board and run it to the Pi over the ribbon cable, so he didn’t need to bother with hacking a USB adapter in there.

Controlling AC devices over the Interwebs is an extremely popular project, and we’ve even seen a DIY device that looks quite similar to this product. Most of them are now using the ESP8266, but with the Pi onboard this hack is more like a super-sized version of the PowerPwn.

Card Reader Lockout Keeps Unauthorized Tool Users at Bay

It’s a problem common to every hackerspace, university machine shop, or even the home shops of parents with serious control issues: how do you make sure that only trained personnel are running the machines? There are all kinds of ways to tackle the problem, but why not throw a little tech at it with something like this magnetic card-reader machine lockout?

[OnyxEpoch] does not reveal which of the above categories he falls into, if any, but we’ll go out on a limb and guess that it’s a hackerspace because it would work really well in such an environment. Built into a sturdy steel enclosure, the guts are pretty simple — an Arduino Uno with shields for USB, an SD card, and a data logger, along with an LCD display and various buttons and switches. The heart of the thing is a USB magnetic card reader, mounted to the front of the enclosure.

To unlock the machine, a user swipes his or her card, and if an administrator has previously added them to the list, a relay powers the tool up. There’s a key switch for local override, of course, and an administrative mode for programming at the point of use. Tool use is logged by date, time, and user, which should make it easy to identify mess-makers and other scofflaws.

We find it impressively complete, but imagine having a session timeout in the middle of a machine operation would be annoying at the least, and potentially dangerous at worst. Maybe the solution is a very visible alert as the timeout approaches — a cherry top would do the trick!

There’s more reading if you’re one seeking good ideas for hackerspace. We’ve covered the basics of hackerspace safety before, as well as insurance for hackerspaces.

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