Hackaday Prize 2022: Solar Powered LoRa Weather Station For The Masses

[Debasish Dutta] has designed a few weather stations in the past, and this, the fourth version of the system has had many of the feature requests from past users rolled in. The station is intended to be used with an external weather sensor unit, provided by Sparkfun. This handles wind speed and direction, as well as measuring rainfall. A custom PCB hosts an ESP32-WROOM module and an Ai-Thinker Ra-02 LoRa module for control and connectivity respectively. A PMS5003 sits on the PCB to measure those particulate densities, but most sensors are connected with simple 4-way I2C connectors. Temperature, humidity, and pressure are handled by a BME280 module, UV Index (SI1145), visible light (BH1750) even soil humidity and temperature with a cable-mounted SHT10 module.

All this is powered by a solar panel, which charges a 18650 cell, and keeps the show running during the darker hours. For debugging and deployment, a USB-C power port can also be used to provide charge. A 3D printed Stevenson screen type enclosure allows the air to circulate amongst the PCB-mounted sensor modules, without hopefully too much moisture making it in there to cause mischief.

On the data collection and visualization side, a companion LoRa receiver module is in progress, which is intended to pass along measurements to a variety of services. Think Home Assistant, ESP home, and that kind of thing. Software is still a work in progress, so maybe check back later to see how [Debasish] is getting on with that?

This kind of multi-sensor hosting project is nothing new here, here’s a 2019 Hackaday prize entry along the same lines. Of course, gathering and logging measurement data is only part of the problem, visualization of those measurements is also important. Why not use a mechanical approach, such as a diorama?

Build Yourself A Weather-Reporting Diorama

These days, if you don’t fancy watching morning TV, you can always get an update on the day’s weather from your smartphone, computer, or any one of a series of other connected devices. However, if you’re looking for a more fun way to see what’s in store, this weather diorama from [Lewis] of DIY Machines might be just what you’re looking for.

The build uses an ESP32 as the brains of the project, responsible for querying the Internet for up-to-date weather information. This info is then displayed on a 2.9″ e-ink display, showing the temperature, chance of rain, and wind speed predicted for the local area. So far, so straightforward.

However, where it gets really creative is the use of laser-cut “scene discs” with different graphics on them to represent different weather conditions. They can alternatively be 3D printed,too. These are rotated via servos controlled by the ESP32, allowing the diorama to display a representative scene informed by the current forecast. If there’s snow coming, you’ll see a snow man, but if things are looking fine, you’re more likely to see a woman strolling with a dog.

It’s a fun way to learn about what Mother Nature has in store, and would look great on any breakfast bar to boot. We’ve seen some great builds from [Lewis] before, too, like this amazing seven-segment clock shelf.

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Is Cloud Seeding Good, Bad, Or Ugly?

The Chinese Communist Party celebrated its centenary on the 1st of July, 2021. For such a celebration, clear skies and clean air would be ideal. For the capable nation-state, however, one needn’t hope against the whims of the weather. One can simply control it instead!

A recent paper released by Tsinghua University indicated that China had used cloud seeding in order to help create nicer conditions for its 100-year celebration. Weather modification techniques have been the source of some controversy, so let’s explore how they work and precisely what it was that China pulled off.

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A tiny bedside clock that's packed with features.

ESP32 Clock Takes Time To Give Weather Info, Too

It’s fall in the northern hemisphere, so [Mike Rankin]’s kids are back in school and have returned to consulting him every morning about the weather and what they should wear. Since he’s no meteorologist, [Mike] built a beautifully dim and diminutive clock that does all the work for him, plus much more. It glows a lovely dark orange that’s perfect for the nightstand and those early morning interrogations.

In default mode, this clock displays the time, CO2 level, room temperature, and humidity in that eye-friendly orange. But wave your hand in front of the time of flight sensor, and it goes external, displaying the low and high temperatures for the day, plus the weather conditions forecast. After a few seconds of that, it goes back to default mode. The ESP fetches the time from an NTP server, then gets the weather from the OpenWeather API. The indoor weather comes from a combination sensor on the board.

Diagram of the components on the circuit boardInside this tiny package is a beautifully-spun board with an ESP32 Pico D4 for a brain. In addition to the climate sensors there is a combination CO2/TVOC sensor (that’s total volatile organic compounds) to sniff out danger. There is also a pair of push buttons on the back and an ambient light sensor, but [Mike] isn’t using those just yet. Add in the Qwiic connector for future doo-dads, and you have quite the little gadget. Although the pictures make it look kind of big, you can see exactly how small it is in the demo video after the break.

[Mike] seems to like things tiny, and we admire that in a big way. Check out his positively Lilliputian ESP32 dev board.

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A tiny TV that shows weather, news, and the classic test pattern.

Tiny TV Tells The Temperature Tale

Once upon a time, we would run home from the bus stop to watch Gargoyles and Brady Bunch reruns on the family TV, a late-1970s console Magnavox number that sat on the floor and was about 50% more cabinet than CRT. The old TV, a streamlined white Zenith at least ten years older, had been relegated to the man cave in the basement. It looked so mod compared to the “new” TV, but that’s not the aesthetic my folks were after. They wanted their electronics to double as furniture.

This little TV is a happy medium between the two styles, and for us, it’s all about those feet. But instead of cartoons, it switches between showing the current weather and the top news headlines. Inside that classy oak cabinet is an LCD, an ESP32, and an SD card module. The TV uses OpenWeatherMap and pulls the corresponding weather image from the SD card based on time of day — light images for day, and dark images for night.

We love that it shows the SMPTE color bars, aka the standard American TV test pattern as it switches between weather and news. After showing the top headlines, it automatically switches back to the weather channel. Be sure to check out the short demo video after the break.

Do you like your tiny televisions in strange places? Here’s one you can use to trim your tree this year.

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An anemometer outside

DIY Anemometer For Projects Big And Small

When [Fab] needed an anemometer for his latest project, he was stymied by the limited range and relatively high prices of commercial options. Undeterred, his solution was an impressive DIY anemometer that rivals the off-the-shelf alternatives.

AnemoSens was designed from the ground up as a component for the ambitious WinDIY_2 Horizontal Axis Wind Turbine, however it’s just as suitable as part of your standard home weather station. The microcontroller unit uses RS485/Modbus connectivity, ensuring that data from the wind sensor is accessible across a variety of platforms. Serial-stream via USB and an SD cart slot are also available for recording data, the latter being particularly useful for long-term unsupervised monitoring. [Fab] also integrated an ESP32 for recording data over the air.

The MCU also features a location for the venerable BME280, which is a relatively accurate temperature, pressure and humidity sensor often deployed in DIY weather stations. This feels like a nice touch, as it means the anemometer package alone could feasibly serve as a rudimentary weather sensing station, or as a backup for more elaborate environmental monitoring.

The prototype currently uses a Hall effect sensor for measuring the wind speed, while a AS5048B magnetic rotary encoder does a decent job of measuring rotation (wind direction). Some calibration is likely necessary to improve the accuracy of this setup, but it’s a promising start.

[Fab] has already identified some shortcomings with the bearing, but has a plan for future iterations. He might want to check out this spare-parts anemometer that uses a bearing from an old hard drive.

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Using Arduinos To Drive Undocumented Displays

For those of us old enough to remember the VCR (and the difficulty of programming one), the ubiquitous vacuum fluorescent display, or VFD, is burned into our memories, mostly because of their brightness and contrast when compared to the superficially-similar LCD. These displays are incredibly common even apart from VCRs, though, and it’s easy to find them for next to no cost, but figuring out how to drive one if you just pulled it out of a 30-year-old VCR is going to take some effort. In this build, [mircemk] shows us how he drives unknown VFD displays using an Arduino in order to build his own weather forecasting station.

For this demonstration [mircemk] decided to turn a VFD into a weather forecasting station. First of all, though, he had to get the VFD up and running. For this unit, which came from a point-of-sale (POS) terminal, simply connecting power to the device turned on a demo mode for the display which let him know some information about it. From there, and with the knowledge that most POS terminals use RS232 to communicate, he was able to zero in on the Rx and Tx pins on the on-board microcontroller and interface them with an Arduino. From there it’s a short step to being able to output whatever he wanted to this display.

For this project, [mircemk] wanted the display to output information about weather, but rather than simply pull data from some weather API he is actually using a sensor suite connected to the Arduino to measure things like barometric pressure in order to make a 12-hour forecast. The design is inspired by old Zambretti weather forecasters which used analog wheels to input local weather data. It’s an interesting build not only for the VFD implementation but also for attempting to forecast the weather directly with just a tiny sensor set instead of downloading a forecast to display. To do any better with your own forecasts, you’d likely need your own weather station.

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