Does This Lead Make My Car Look Fat?

When looking at the performance of a vehicle, weight is one of the most important factors in the equation. Heavier vehicles take more energy to accelerate and are harder to stop. They’re also more difficult to control through the corners. Overall, anything that makes a vehicle heavier typically comes with a load of drawbacks to both performance and efficiency. You want your racecar as light as possible.

However, now and then, automakers have found reason to intentionally add large weights to vehicles. We’ll look at a couple of key examples, and discuss why this strange design decision can sometimes be just what the engineers ordered.

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IBM Cheese Cutter Restoration

For a while now, Mac Pro towers have had the nickname “cheese grater” because of their superficial resemblance to this kitchen appliance. Apple has only been a company since the 70s, though, and is much newer than one of its historic rivals, IBM. In fact, IBM is old enough to have made actual cheese-related computers as far back as the 1910s, and [Hand Tool Rescue] recently obtained one of these antique machines for a complete restoration.

The tool arrived to the restoration workshop in a state so poor that it was difficult to tell what many of the parts on the machine did except for the large cleaver at the top. The build starts with a teardown to its individual parts, cleaning and restoring them to their original luster, machining new ones where needed, and then putting it all back together. The real mystery of this build was what the levers on the underside of the machine were supposed to do, but after the refurbishment it was discovered that these are the way that portions the cheese wheel would be accurately sized and priced before a cut was made.

By placing a section of a wheel of cheese on the machine and inputting its original weight with one of the levers, the second lever is adjusted to the weight of cheese that the customer requested, which rotates the wheel of cheese to the correct position before a cut is made. To us who are spoiled with a world full of electronic devices, a mechanical computer like this seems almost magical, especially with how accurate it is, but if your business in the 1910s involved cheese, this would have been quite normal. In fact, it would be 50 more years before IBM created the machines that they’re more commonly known for.

Thanks to [Jasper Jans] for the tip!

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Occam’s Razor: Gardening Edition

While the impulse to solving problems in complex systems is often to grab a microcontroller and some sensors to automate the problem away, interfacing with the real world is often a lot more difficult than it appears. Measuring soil moisture, for example, seems like it would be an easy way of ensuring plants get the proper amount of water, but soil is a challenging environment for electronics and this solution often causes more problems than it solves. [Kevin] noticed this problem with soil moisture sensors and set about solving this problem with a much simpler, though indirect, method of monitoring his plants electronically.

Rather than relying on soil conductivity for testing soil moisture levels, he has developed an alternate method of determining if the plants need to be watered simply by continuously weighing them. The hypothesis that he had was that a plant that needs water will weigh less as the available water respirates out of the plant or evaporates from the soil. This means that using a reliable sensor like a load cell to measure weight rather than an unreliable one like a soil moisture sensor will result in more reliable data he can use to automate his plants’ watering.

[Kevin]’s build is based around an ESP32 and a commercially-available load cell which are all built into the base of the plant’s pot. The design hides all of the electronics in a pleasant enclosure and is able to communicate relevant info wirelessly as well. The real story here, however, isn’t a novel use of an ESP32 chip, but rather out-of-the-box problem solving by using an atypical sensor to solve this problem. That’s not to say that you can’t ever use other sensors to directly monitor your garden and automate its health, though.

Current Sensor Makes Intriguing Use Of Concrete

Getting a product to market isn’t all about making sure that the product does what it’s supposed to. Granted, most of us will spend most of our time focusing on the functionality of our projects and less on the form, fit, or finish of the final product, especially for one-off builds that won’t get replicated. For those builds that do eventually leave the prototyping phase, though, a lot more effort goes into the final design and “feel” of the product than we might otherwise think. For example, this current sensor improves its feel by making use of cast concrete in its case.

The current sensor in this build is not too much out of the ordinary. [kevarek] built the sensor around the MCA1101-50-3 chip and added some extra features to improve its electrostatic discharge resistance and also to improve its electromagnetic compatibility over and above the recommended datasheet specifications. The custom case is where this one small detail popped out at us that we haven’t really seen much of before, though. [kevarek] mixed up a small batch of concrete to pour into the case simply because it feels better to have a weightier final product.

While he doesn’t mention building this current sensor to sell to a wider audience, this is exactly something that a final marketable product might have within itself to improve the way the device feels. Heavier things are associated, perhaps subconsciously, with higher quality, and since PCBs and plastic casings don’t weigh much on their own many manufacturers will add dummy weights to improve the relationship between weight and quality. Even though this modification is entirely separate from the function of the product, it’s not uncommon for small changes in design to have a measurable impact on performance, even when the original product remains unmodified.

Thanks to [Saabman] for the tip!

Cheap Lab Balance Needs Upgrades, Gets Gutted Instead

What is this world coming to when you spend seven bucks on a digital scale and you have to completely rebuild it to get the functionality you need? Is nothing sacred anymore?

Such were the straits [Jana Marie] found herself in with his AliExpress special, a portable digital scale that certainly looks like it’s capable of its basic task. Sadly, though, [Jana] was looking for a few more digits of resolution and a lot more in the way of hackability. And so literally almost every original component was ripped out of the scale, replaced by a custom PCB carrying an STM32 microcontroller and OLED display. The PCB has a complicated shape that allows the original lid to attach to it, as well as the stainless steel pan and load cell. [Jana] developed new firmware that fixes some annoying traits, for example powering down after 30 seconds, and adds new functionality, such as piece-counting by weight. The video below shows some of the new features in action.

Alas, [Jana] reports that even the original load cell must go, as it lacks the accuracy her application requires. So she’ll essentially end up building the scale from scratch, which we respect, of course. At this rate, she might even try to build her own load cell from SMD resistors too.

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Let Your Pi Make A Pie Chart For Your Pie

March 14th is “Pi Day”, for reasons which should be obvious to our more mathematically inclined readers. As you are not reading this post on March 14th, that must mean we’re either fashionably late to Pi Day 2019, or exceptionally early for Pi Day 2020. But in either event, we’ve got a hack for you that celebrates the day using two things we have it on good authority most hackers overindulge in: food and needless complexity.

This project comes from [Mike MacHenry], and it’s just as straightforward as it looks. Put simply, he’s using a load cell connected to the Raspberry Pi to weigh an actual pie and monitor its change over time. As the pie is consumed by hungry hackers, a pie graph (what else?) is rendered on the attached screen to show you how much of the dessert is left.

One might say that this project takes a three dimensional pie and converts it to a two dimensional facsimile, but perhaps that’s over-analyzing it. In reality, it was a fun little hack [Mike] put together just because he thought it would be fun. Which is certainly enough of a motive for us. More practically though, if you’re looking for a good example for how to get a load cell talking to your non-edible Raspberry Pi, you could do worse than checking this out.

We’ve also got to give [Mike] extra credit for including the recipe and procedure for actually baking the apple pie used in the project. While we’re not 100% sure the MIT license [Mike] used is actually valid for foodstuffs, but believe it or not this isn’t the first time we’ve seen Git used in the production of baked goods.

Dumb Box? Make It Really Smart!

[Stephen Harrison]’s Really Smart Box is a great concept, it’s simultaneously a simple idea while at the same time being super clever. The Really Smart Box isn’t really a box; it’s a drop-in platform that can be made any size, intended to turn any dumb storage box into one that helps manage and track levels and usage of any sort of stock or consumable.

It does this by measuring the weight of the stuff piled on top of it, while also monitoring temperature and humidity. The platform communicates this information wirelessly to a back end, allowing decisions to be made about stock levels, usage, and monitoring of storage conditions. It’s clearly best applied to consumables or other stock that comes and goes. The Really Smart Box platform is battery-powered, but spends most of its time asleep to maximize battery life. The prototype uses the SigFox IoT framework for the wireless data, which we have seen before in a wireless swimming pool monitor.

This is still just a prototype and there are bugs to iron out, but it works and [Stephen] intends to set-and-forget the prototype into the Cambridge Makespace with the task of storing and monitoring 3D printer filament. A brief demo video is embedded below.

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