Heat Pump Control That Works

Heat pumps are taking the world by storm, and for good reason. Not only are they many times more efficient than electric heaters, but they can also be used to provide cooling in the summer. Efficiency aside, though, they’re not perfectly designed devices, largely with respect to their climate control abilities especially for split-unit setups. Many of them don’t have remotely located thermostats to monitor temperature in an area, and rely on crude infrared remote controls as the only user interface. Looking to make some improvements to this setup, [Danilo] built a setup more reminiscent of a central HVAC system to control his.

Based on an ESP32 from Adafruit with an integrated TFT display, the device is placed away from the heat pump to more accurately measure room temperature. A humidity sensor is also included, as well as an ambient light sensor to automatically reduce the brightness of the display at night. A large wheel makes it quick and easy to adjust the temperature settings up or down. Armed with an infrared emitter, the device is capable of sending commands to the heat pump to more accurately control the climate of the room than the built-in controls are able to do. It’s also capable of logging data and integrating with various home automation systems.

While the device is optimized for the Mitsubishi heat pumps that [Danilo] has, only a few lines of code need to be changed to get this to work with other brands. This is a welcome improvement for those frustrated with the inaccurate climate controls of their heat pumps, and since it integrates seamlessly into home automation systems could also function in tandem with other backup heat sources, used in cold climates when it’s too cold outside to efficiently run the heat pump. And, if you don’t have a heat pump yet, you can always try and build your own.

A series of tubes wound up and down as modules in a metal-framed, free-standing wall. The wall is inside a climate-controlled test chamber with a series of differently-colored tubes running behind the free-standing wall.

Cooling Off The Bus Stop

If you’ve taken the bus in the summer, you know it can get hot while you wait on your ride, even if there is a roof over the stop. Researchers at the University of Seville have devised a way to keep you cooler while you wait.

As temperatures around the world get warmer due to climate change, keeping cool in the summer is increasingly not just a matter of comfort. For the prototype in a climate-controlled chamber, 500L of water were cooled with a chiller and used as a thermal reservoir to reduce temps in the bus stop during the day. Pumps circulate the water through panels when a rider approaches the stop, cooling the space by ~8˚C (~14˚F) over a 20 minute period. Pumps for the system and lighting for the stop will be powered via solar panels and keep the system self-contained.

The amount of cooling offered by the system can be controlled by the flow rate of the water. The researchers plan to use Falling-Film radiant cooling in the outdoor version to replace the chiller to cool the water at night. They also say the system can be used for radiant heating in the winter, so it isn’t just for hot climates.

If you want to know how to survive a wet bulb event or want a better way to determine your bus route, we’ve got you covered there too.

[via Electrek]

IR Camera Is Excellent Hacking Platform

While there have been hiccups here and there, the general trend of electronics is to decrease in cost or increase in performance. This can be seen in fairly obvious ways like more powerful and affordable computers but it also often means that more powerful software can be used in other devices without needing expensive hardware to support it. [Manawyrm] and [Toble_Miner] found this was true of a particular inexpensive thermal camera that ships with Linux installed on it, and found that this platform was nearly perfect for tinkering with and adding plenty of other features to turn it into a much more capable tool.

The duo have been working on a SC240N variant of the InfiRay C200 infrared camera, which ships with a Hisilicon SoC. The display is capable of displaying 25 frames per second, making this platform an excellent candidate for modifying. A few ports were added to the device, including USB and MicroSD, and which also allows the internal serial port to be accessed easily. From there the device can be equipped with the uboot bootloader in order to run essentially anything that could be found on any other Linux machine such as supporting a webcam interface (and including a port of DOOM, of course). The duo doesn’t stop at software modifications though. They also equipped the camera with a lens, attached magnetically, which changes the camera’s focal length to give it improved imaging capabilities at closer ranges.

While the internal machinations of this device are interesting, it actually turns out to be a fairly capable infrared camera on its own as well. The hardware and software requirements for these devices certainly don’t need a full Linux environment to work, and while we have seen thermal cameras that easily fit in a pocket that are based on nothing any more powerful than an ESP32, it does tend to simplify the development process dramatically to include Linux and a little more processing power if you can.

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Tiny Microcontroller Uses Real-Time Operating System

Most of the computers we interact with on a day-to-day basis use an operating system designed for flexibility. While these are great tools for getting work done or scrolling your favorite sites, they have a weakness when it comes to interacting quickly with a real-world environment. For these kinds of low-latency, high-reliability systems you may want to turn to something like freeRTOS which is optimized for this kind of application and which [Parikshit Pagare] has used to build his home automation system.

This build is based around an ESP32 for which freeRTOS, designed specifically for embedded systems, is uniquely suited. There are several channels built in capable of monitoring temperature, functioning as a smoke alarm, and sensing whether someone is at the front door. All of these are reported to a small OLED screen but are also updated on an Android app as well, which happens nearly instantaneously thanks to the real-time operating system. There are a number of user-controllable switches as well that are capable of turning lights or fans on and off.

For a home automation system, it’s one of the most low-cost and fully-featured we’ve seen and if you’re still having trouble coming across a Raspberry Pi as they sort out supply issues, something like this might make an excellent substitute at a fraction of the price. If you’re looking to expand even beyond this build, one of the gold standards for ESP32-based automation design is this build from [Marcus] which not only demonstrates how to build a system like this but goes into great detail on the ESPHome environment.

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Warmer Ice Cream?

What if you could tweak the recipe on ice cream to keep it frozen at higher temperatures? The idea comes from massive conglomerate Unilever. Among other things, the brand owns a wide variety of ice cream brands, from Ben & Jerry’s to the Magnum and Cornetto lines. Instead of running freezers at the industry standard of -18 °C (0°F), the company is experimenting with upping the temperature to -12 °C (10 °F) instead.

First off, you’d save a lot of electricity. Thanks to the way the industry works, the company actually owns the vast majority of the three million or so display freezers that are used to sell its stock to customers. Running at a higher temperature could slash the freezer’s energy use by 20% to 30%, according to the company’s calculations. The company also estimates that the energy used by these freezers makes up around 10% of its total greenhouse gas footprint, so it’s better for the environment too.

Of course, there’s savvy commercial reasons behind the idea. Unilever had noticed its ice cream sales dropping in 2022. The company believes this was in part due to retailers unplugging their freezers earlier than usual as winter approached, due to high energy bills. If the company’s freezers aren’t humming, they’re doing less business. If shaving down the freezer’s energy use helps retailers keep them plugged in and the lights on, that’s a net bonus to the company’s bottom line. It could also make their freezers unhospitable places for rival products, giving them an edge in the marketplace.

But this is all business intrigue. Let’s instead take a deeper look at ice cream.

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Remote Water Quality Monitoring

While it can be straightforward to distill water to high purity, this is rarely the best method for producing water for useful purposes. Even drinking water typically needs certain minerals in it, plants may need a certain pH, and wastewater systems have a whole host of other qualities that need to be measured. Measuring water quality is a surprisingly complex endeavor as a result and often involves a wide array of sensors, much like this water quality meter from [RowlesGroupResearch].

The water quality meters that they are putting to use are typically set up in remote locations, without power, and are targeting natural bodies of water and also wastewater treatment plants. Temperature and pH are simple enough to measure and grasp, but this device also includes sensors for total dissolved solids (TDS) and turbidity which are both methods for measuring various amounts and types of particles suspended in the water. The build is based around an Arduino so that it is easy for others to replicate, and is housed in a waterproof box with a large battery, and includes data logging to an SD card in order to make it easy to deploy in remote, outdoor settings and to gather the data at a later time.

The build log for this device also goes into detail about all of the steps needed to set this up from scratch, as well as a comprehensive bill of materials. This could be useful in plenty of professional settings such as community wastewater treatment facilities but also in situations where it’s believed that industrial activity may be impacting a natural body of water. For a water quality meter more focused on drinking water, though, we’d recommend this build that is trained on its own neural network.

Automating The Most Analog Of HVAC Equipment

Burning wood, while not a perfect heating solution, has a number of advantages over more modern heating appliances. It’s a renewable resource, doesn’t add carbon to the atmosphere over geologic time scales like fossil fuels do, can be harvested locally using simple tools, and it doesn’t require any modern infrastructure to support it. That being said, wood stoves aren’t something that are very high-tech and don’t lend themselves particularly well to automation as a result, at least with the exception of this wood stove from [jotulf45v2].

While this doesn’t automate the loading or direct control of a modern pellet stove, it does help [jotulf45v2] know when the best times are for loading more wood into the stove and helps keep the stove in the right temperature range to avoid the dangerous formation of creosote on the inside of his chimney caused by low temperature burns. Two temperature sensors, one on the stovetop and the other on the stove pipe, monitor the stove exhaust temperature. They feed data to a Node-RED system running on a Raspberry Pi which automatically notifies the user by text message when certain stove temperatures are reached.

For anyone heating with wood, tools like this are indispensable to help avoid spending an otherwise unnecessary amount of time getting a fire up to temperature quickly without over-firing the stove. Modern pellet stoves have some more modern conveniences like this built in, but many of the perks of using cord wood are lost with these devices. There are plenty of other ways to heat with wood too; take a look at this custom wood boiler which serves as a hot water heater.