Hazardous Dollhouse Teaches Fire Safety

Fire safety is drilled into us from a young age. And for good reason, too, because fire hazards are everywhere in the average home. Even a small fire can turn devastatingly dangerous in a matter of minutes. But how do you get kids to really pay attention to scary (and often boring) adult concepts? You can teach a kid to stop, drop, and roll until you’re blue in the face and still might not drive home the importance of fire prevention. Subjects like this call for child-sized visual aids that ignite imaginations.

That’s exactly what firefighters in Poznań, Poland did in collaboration with mlabs, a local software company. They built a mobile, interactive fire safety education tool that simulates common household fire hazards in great detail (translated). This is easily the most tricked-out dollhouse we’ve ever seen. The many different hazard scenarios are controlled via touchscreen using a custom-built application. At the tap of a button, the house becomes a total death trap. The lamp-lit hazards glow realistically and with varied intensity, and there is actual smoke coming out of them that triggers smoke detectors. Cameras embedded throughout the house provide a first-person view of the terror on a nearby monitor.

Almost no room is safe for the figurine family that lives inside this intricately detailed 1:12 scale dwelling. Dad’s in the kitchen standing idly by while food scorches on the stove. Grandma’s sitting on her bed upstairs, her forgotten cigarette burning a hole in the duvet. Daughter is overloading the electrical outlets in her bedroom with all her gizmos. Smoldering coals have spilled out from the toppled stove in the utility room.

This isn’t the first smart dollhouse we’ve seen, but it’s probably the most intriguing. The fire safety dollhouse was on display this week at POL-EKO-SYSTEM, an annual environmental fair in Poznań. Nowhere near Poland? Check out the video after the break.

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A Magic Light Bulb For All Your Bright Ideas

[Uri Shaked]’s lamentation over the breaking of his smart bulb was brief as it was inspiring — now he had a perfectly valid excuse to hack it into a magic light bulb.

The first step was disassembling the bulb and converting it to run on a tiny, 130mAh battery. Inside the bulb’s base, the power supply board, Bluetooth and radio circuits, as well as the LED board didn’t leave much room, but he was able to fit in 3.3V and 12V step-up voltage regulators for the LiPo battery.

[Shaked]’s self-imposed bonus round was to also wedge a charging circuit — which he co-opted from a previous project — into the bulb instead of disassembling it every time it needed more juice. Re-soldering the parts together: easy.  Fitting everything inside a minuscule puzzle-box: hard. Kapton tape proved eminently helpful in preventing shorts in the confined space.

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Google Home Meets ESP8266

[Luc Volders] is building his own smart house with the help of Google Home and an ESP-8266. Inspired by the house computers from the TV show, Eureka [Luc] created an IoT ecosystem using a mix of off the shelf devices and open source software.

There are about a thousand ways to create a DIY smart home these days. All of them involve setting up a command receiver (like Amazon’s Echo or Google Home), some sort of cloud connection, and an end device controller. This can get complex for the beginner. [Luc’s] article is great because he walks is through each step tutorial style. He even keeps things simple by programming the ESP8266 using BASIC with ESP-BASIC.

[Luc] uses If This Then That (IFTT) as his cloud service. IFTT is the glue between Google’s cloud service and the ESP8266 connected to his home WiFi network. Speaking of which, [Luc] shows how to set up port forwarding on the router so all accesses to port 8085 go to the ESP8266. Not exactly strong security – but it’s better than opening the entire home network.

You don’t need a real Google home device for this hack. You can build your own with a Raspberry Pi. Once that is set up you can do everything from turning on lights to watering your lawn.

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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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Honey, When Did We Get an Indoor Pool?

Is it too much to ask for a home to have a little ‘smart’ built-in? If you’ve ever woken up (or come home) to your dwelling being flooded, you’ll know how terrible it feels, how long it can take to recover from, and how stressful it can be. Yeah, it’s happened to us before, so we really feel for [David Schneider]. He woke up one Sunday morning to a whole lot of water in his house. The inlet valve for his washing machine somehow got stuck in the open position after putting a load of laundry in the previous night.

[David] took progressively complex measures to prevent a broken water feed flood from happening in the future. First, he lined the entire floor of his laundry closet with a steel tray. OK, that’s a good start but won’t prevent another disaster unless it is caught very quickly. How about a simple audible water alarm? That’s good and all if you’re home, but what if you’re not?

Next, he installed a valve with a mechanical timer on the water line for the washing machine which closes automatically after 2 hours of being opened. Much better, but what about all the other thirsty appliances around the house? After searching online a little, he found plenty of whole house systems that would work for him, but there were 2 problems with these. First, most were network-based and he didn’t want to IoT-ify his house’s water system. Second, they were overpriced.

Of course the solution was to put together his own system! First, he purchased a few mostly inexpensive things — a wireless alarm, some water sensors, and a motorized ball valve. Then he collected the last few things he needed from what he had on hand around the house, and got to work connecting the 4 LEDs on the alarm to 4 analog input pins on his Arduino. Next, he added a relay between the Arduino and the motorized ball valve.

If a sensor detects water, it tells the alarm about it (wirelessly), which triggers the Arduino to energize a relay that is connected to the motorized ball valve, causing it to shut off the main water line for the entire house. Disaster averted! Sure, it’s a fairly simple hack, but it works, meets his requirements, and now he sleeps better at night knowing he won’t wake up (or come home) to an indoor swimming pool.

It’s surprising that we haven’t seen more hacks like this given it’s such a common problem. The closest thing we can remember is an overflow sensor for an aquarium. If homes came standard with a water main shutoff system, it would remove a stressful event from our lives and maybe even lower our insurance premium.

Meter All The Phases: Three Phase Energy Meter With OpenWrt

Keeping track your overall electricity usage is a good thing, and it’s even better if you know where all the kilowatt-hours are going. [Anurag Chugh’s] house has the three phases coming from the electrical distribution box tidily organized: One for the lighting and fans, one for household appliances, and one for the hot water supply. To monitor and analyze the electrical fingerprint of his house, [Anurag] installed a 3 phase energy meter and hooked it up to the internet.

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Meet Blue Jay, The Flying Drone Pet Butler

20 students of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) in the Netherlands share one vision of the future: the fully domesticated drone pet – a flying friend that helps you whenever you need it and in general, is very, very cute. Their drone “Blue Jay” is packed with sensors, has a strong claw for grabbing and carrying cargo, navigates autonomously indoors, and interacts with humans at eye level.

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