Welcome to the Internet of Hamsters

It was only a matter of time. Everything else is getting its data logged and reported to the Internet for detailed analysis, so why should our rodents be any different? The cover story is that [Nicole Horward] hooked her pet hamster Harold up to the web because she wanted to see if he was getting as much exercise as he should. The real reason is, of course, that Harold wanted to show off to his “friends” on Hamsterbook.

The hardware side of this hack is very simple, a magnetic door sensor (like the kind used in alarm systems) is used to detect each time the wheel makes a complete rotation. The sensor is hooked up to the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi, where it’s read by a Python script. A small LCD screen was added to give some visual feedback on Harold’s daily activity, and the whole thing was boxed up in a laser cut enclosure.

That gave [Nicole] a cute little display next to Harold’s cage, but it didn’t do much for analyzing his activity. For that, a script is used to upload the data every minute to a ThingSpeak channel via MQTT. This automatically generates attractive graphs from the raw data, making it much easier to visualize what’s happening over the long term.

Now might be a good time to brush up on your MQTT knowledge, so that your pet could be the next to join the IoT revolution.

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Review: IoT Data Logging Services with MQTT

For the last few months, I had been using Sparkfun’s Phant server as a data logger for a small science project. Unfortunately, they’ve had some serious technical issues and have discontinued the service. Phant was good while it lasted: it was easy to use, free, and allowed me to download the data in a CSV format. It shared data with analog.io, which at the time was a good solution for data visualization.

While I could continue using Phant since it is an open-source project and Sparkfun kindly releases the source code for the server on Github, I thought it might be better to do some research, see what’s out there. I decided to write a minimal implementation for each platform as an interesting way to get a feel for each. To that end, I connected a DHT11 temperature/humidity sensor to a NodeMCU board to act as a simple data source.

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Your Internet of Things Speaks Volumes About You

If only Marv and Harry were burglars today; they might have found it much easier to case houses and — perhaps — would know which houses were occupied by technically inclined kids by capitalizing on the potential  vulnerability that [Luc Volders] has noticed on ThingSpeak.

As an IoT service, ThingSpeak takes data from an ESP-8266, graphs it, and publicly displays the data. Some of you may already see where this is going. While [Volders] was using the service for testing, he realized anyone could check the temperature of his man-cave — thereby inferring when the house was vacant since the location data also happened to be public. A little sleuthing uncovered several other channels with temperature data or otherwise tied to a location that those with nefarious intent could abuse.

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Squirrel Café To Predict The Weather From Customer Data

Physicist and squirrel gastronomer [Carsten Dannat] is trying to correlate two critical social economical factors: how many summer days do we have left, and when will we run out of nuts. His research project, the Squirrel Café, invites squirrels to grab some free nuts and collects interesting bits of customer data in return.

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The Internet of Soldering Irons

The Internet of Things needs — well — things. Do you really need your paper shredder hooked up to the Internet? Maybe. But [Vegard Paulsen] put something on the network that every hacker can relate to: his soldering iron.

In typical hacker fashion, fixing a broken digital display on the soldering station turned into a development project that allows [Vegard] to monitor the temperature of his soldering iron on his phone. He found a handy source of power on the station’s PC board and connected a NodeMCU WiFi device (that uses the ubiquitous ESP8266 and an onboard Lua interpreter).

internet-of-soldering-irons-meterThe data pushes out to the Thingspeak server which handles pushing data out to the bigger network, and data representation (like the cool Google gauge in the picture). The best part: [Vegard] gets a phone notification when he accidentally leaves his soldering iron on. How perfect is that?

One unique challenge he faced was soldering the power wires to the soldering station. This could be a problem because the iron tip is grounded so making the joint while the iron was energized would probably blow a fuse (or worse). Luckily, [Vegard] thought ahead and devised a plan that apparently worked.

We’ve seen other examples of how easy NodeMCU and Thingspeak work to put the mundane on the Internet. It seems particularly appropriate to hack a soldering iron, though.

Wirelessly Weighing Plants with the ESP8266

There’s a good number of hacks, and commercial products, for telling you when a plant needs watering. Most of them use an ADC to measure the resistance in the soil. As the soil’s moisture content drops, the resistance increases. High impedance, dead plant.

[Dani]’s Thirsdee takes a different approach to plant health monitoring. Instead of measuring resistance, it simply weighs the plant. As the soil dries up, it gets lighter. By measuring the change in weight, the amount of water in the pot can be estimated.

Thirsdee uses a load cell to measure the weight. It’s read using an HX711 ADC, which is controlled by a NodeMCU. This development board is based on the ESP8266 chip. Since Thirsdee has WiFi, it can push notifications to your phone and log data on ThingSpeak. If you’re looking at the plant, an OLED shows you the current status of the plant. For us viewing from home, we can see a graph of [Dani]’s plant drying out in real time.

[Dani] provides us with a list of suppliers for the parts, and all the source code on Github.

Controlling Central Heating Via Wi-Fi

If you’ve ever lived in a building with manually controlled central heating, you’ll probably understand [Martin]’s motivation for this hack. These heating systems often have old fashioned valves to control the radiator. No Nest support, no thermostat, just a knob you turn.

To solve this problem, [Martin] built a Wi-Fi enabled thermostat. This impressive build brings together a custom PCB based on the ESP8266 Wi-Fi microcontroller and a mobile-friendly web UI based on the Open Thermostat Scheduler. The project’s web server is fully self-contained on the ESP8266.

To replace that manual value, [Martin] used a thermoelectric actuator from a Swiss company called HERZ. This is driven by a relay, which is controlled by the ESP8266 microcontroller. Based on the schedule and the measured temperature, the actuator lets fluid flow through the radiator and heat the room.

As a bonus, the device supports NTP for getting the time, MQTT for publishing real-time data, and ThingSpeak for logging and graphing historic data. The source code and design files are available under a Creative Commons license.