ESP8266 And Sensors Make For A Brainy NERF Ball

For his final project in UCLA’s Physics 4AL program, [Timothy Kanarsky] used a NodeMCU to smarten up a carefully dissected NERF football. With the addition to dual MPU6050 digital accelerometers and some math, the ball can calculate things like the distance traveled and angular velocity. With a 9 V alkaline battery and a voltage regulator board along for the ride it seems like a lot of weight to toss around; but of course nobody on the Hackaday payroll has thrown a ball in quite some time, so we’re probably not the best judge of such things.

Even if you’re not particularly interested in refining your throw, there’s a lot of fascinating science going on in this project; complete with fancy-looking equations to make you remember just how poorly you did back in math class.

As [Timothy] explains in the write-up, the math used to find velocity and distance traveled with just two accelerometers is not unlike the sort of dead-reckoning used in intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Since we’ve already seen model rockets with their own silos, seems all the pieces are falling into place.

The NodeMCU polls the accelerometers every 5 milliseconds, and displays the data on web page complete with scrolling graphs of acceleration and angular velocity. When the button on the rear of the ball is pressed, the data is instead saved to basic Comma Separated Values (CSV) file that’s served up to clients with a minimal FTP server. We might not know much about sportsball, but we definitely like the idea of a file server we can throw at people.

Interestingly, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen an instrumented football. Back in 2011 it took some pretty elaborate hardware to pull this sort of thing off, and it’s fascinating to see how far the state-of-the-art has progressed.

Home Safety Monitoring With IoT

Home automation is a popular project to undertake but its complexity can quickly become daunting, especially if you go further than controlling a few lights (or if you’re a renter). To test the waters you may want to start with something like this home safety monitor, which is an IoT device based on an Arduino. It allows remote monitoring of a home for things such as temperature, toxic gasses, light, and other variables, which is valuable even if you don’t need or want to control anything.

The device is built around an Arduino Nano 33 IOT which has WiFi and Bluetooth capabilities as well as some integrated security features. This build features a number of sensors including pressure/humidity, a gas/smoke detector, and a light sensor. To report all of the information it gathers around the home, an interface with Ubidots is configured to allow easy (and secure) access to the data gathered by the device.

The PCB and code for the project are all provided on the project page, and there are a number of other options available if Ubidots isn’t your preferred method of interfacing with the Internet of Things. You might even give Mozilla’s WebThings a shot if you’re so inclined.

A Slightly Bent ESP8266 Sensor Platform

The ability to get professionally manufactured PCBs, at least small ones, for dirt cheap has had a huge impact on the sort of projects we see around these parts. It’s getting to the point where experimenting with PCB enclosures is not only a way to make your next project stand out, but an economical choice.

Which is how this ESP8266 sensor gadget from [Josef Adamčík] got its unique “folded over” look. The top panel is where the microcontroller and headers for various sensors live, the bottom panel is home to the TP4056 USB charging module, and the center panel provides mechanical support as well as holds the single 18650 cell. Rather than close the whole thing up with a fourth panel, he decided to leave it open so the battery can easily be removed. Plus, of course, it looks cooler this way.

Could [Josef] have fit all his electronics on a single 100 x 100 PCB and then put the whole thing into a 3D printed enclosure? Well, sure. But that’s been done to death at this point, and besides, he was looking for an excuse to get more comfortable doing PCB design. We think it also makes for a considerably more visual appealing final product than simply taking the “normal” way out.

Currently [Josef] has an SHT21 humidity/temperature sensor and a BH1750 light sensor slotted into the headers on the top side of the device, but they could just as easily be swapped out with something else if you wanted to do something a bit more exciting. We notice that homebrew air quality monitors are becoming increasingly popular.

Building bespoke enclosures from PCBs is a fantastic trick that frankly we’d love to see more of. It’s somewhat of an artform in itself, but if you’re willing to put the effort in to do it right the results can be truly phenomenal.

Listen To Your Feet, They Have A Lot To Tell You

[Umar Qattan] is in tune with his sole and is trying hard to listen to what it has to say.

At a low level, [Umar] is building an insole with an array of force sensors in it. These sensors are affixed to a flexible PCB which is placed in a user’s shoe. A circuit containing a ESP32, IMU, and haptic feedback unit measure the sensors and send data back to a phone or a laptop.

What’s most interesting are the possibilities opened by the data he hopes to collect. The first application he proposes is AR/VR input. The feedback from the user’s feet plus the haptics could provide all sorts of interesting interaction. Another application is dynamically measuring a user’s gait throughout the day and exercise. People could save themselves a lot of knee pain with something like this.

[Umar] also proposes that an insert like this could record a user’s weight throughout the day. Using the data on the weight fluctuation, it should be possible to calculate someone’s metabolism and hydration from this data.

Interview: FieldKit Team The Morning After Winning The 2019 Hackaday Prize

We caught up with Shah Selbe and Jacob Lewallen the morning after their project, FieldKit, won the Hackaday Prize. FieldKit is an open-source field-based research data collection platform. Which is basically a lot of fancy words for saying it’s a system for collecting sensor data in the field without being snagged by the myriad of problems associated with putting electronics in remote locations. It’s a core project of Conservify, a non-profit organization that seeks to empower conservation research.

As grand prize winner the FieldKit project was awarded a $125,000 cash prize, which Shah and Jacob say is transformative for a non-profit pursuing technology research and development. It seems the grant process has not evolved to embrace developing electronics, while opportunities for research projects have begun to involve recording large data sets in order to test a hypothesis. This is where FieldKit truly shines. Their vision is to provide a low-cost and extensible system that other researchers can use to collect data while making their own grant dollar go much further.

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Adding Sensors To Improve Your Curling Game? Turns Out It’s Really Hard

Sometimes, a project turns out to be harder than expected at every turn and the plug gets pulled. That was the case with [Chris Fenton]’s efforts to gain insight into his curling game by adding sensors to monitor the movement of curling stones as well as the broom action. Luckily, [Chris] documented his efforts and provided us all with an opportunity to learn. After all, failure is (or should be) an excellent source of learning.

The first piece of hardware was intended to log curling stone motion and use it as a way to measure the performance of the sweepers. [Chris] wanted to stick a simple sensor brick made from a Teensy 3.0 and IMU to a stone and log all the motion-related data. The concept is straightforward, but in practice it wasn’t nearly as simple. The gyro, which measures angular velocity, did a good job of keeping track of the stone’s spin but the accelerometer was a different story. An accelerometer measures how much something is speeding up or slowing down, but it simply wasn’t able to properly sense the gentle and gradual changes in speed that the stone underwent as the ice ahead of it was swept or not swept. In theory a good idea, but in practice it ended up being the wrong tool for the job.

The other approach [Chris] attempted was to make a curling broom with a handle that lit up differently based on how hard one was sweeping. It wasn’t hard to put an LED strip on a broom and light it up based on a load sensor reading, but what ended up sinking this project was the need to do it in a way that didn’t interfere with the broom’s primary function and purpose. Even a mediocre curler applies extremely high forces to a broom when sweeping in a curling game, so not only do the electronics need to be extremely rugged, but the broom’s shaft needs to be able to withstand considerable force. The ideal shaft would be a clear and hollow plastic holding an LED strip with an attachment for the load sensor, but no plastic was up to the task. [Chris] made an aluminum-reinforced shaft, but even that only barely worked.

We’re glad [Chris] shared his findings, and he said the project deserves a more detailed report. We’re looking forward to that, because failure is a great teacher, and we’ve celebrated its learning potential time and again.

Weather Station Gets Much-Needed Upgrades

Weather stations are a popular project, partly because it’s helpful (and interesting) to know about the weather at your exact location rather than a forecast that might be vaguely in your zip code. They’re also popular because they’re a good way to get experience with microcontrollers, sensors, I/O, and communications protocols. Your own build may also be easily upgradeable as the years go by, and [Tysonpower] shows us some of the upgrades he’s made to the popular Sparkfun weather station from a few years ago.

The Sparkfun station is a good basis for a build though, it just needs some updates. The first was that the sensor package isn’t readily available though, but some hunting on Aliexpress netted a similar set of sensors from China. A Wemos D1 Mini was used as a replacement controller, and with it all buttoned up and programmed it turns out to be slightly cheaper (and more up-to-date) than the original Sparkfun station.

All of the parts and code for this new station are available on [Tysonpower]’s Github page, and if you want to take a look at a similar station that we’ve featured here before, there’s one from three years ago that’s also solar-powered.

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