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Smart Outlet

So this project has been on the backlog for quite some time now and I’ve finally been able to put in some work. The first reason it’s been hard to post things is because my day job keeps me quite busy, the second reason that this project, in particular, took so long is because I’m scared of mains. However, with that being said, it’s also one of the projects I’ve been eager to start.

In an age where technology is more advanced than ever, we’re still stuck with a lot of dumb devices. My phone can take 1080p video, browse the internet, and can even be used to pay for things, yet I can’t turn on a light or the AC without having to push a physical switch. Now those may seem like silly, even solved (Philips Hue) problems however, they touch on a larger issue, which is energy. I set out to solve two problems with this project: how we interact with it, and how to leverage new infrastructure to make those interactions more efficient.

IMG_0667I started with a standard outlet. Adding relays allowed for simple on/off control of devices that have hard power switches (ones that physically stay opened or closed). Current monitoring is provided by a ACS712 series chip. A Bluetooth module was added for wireless communication, as well as an RFID reader for additional interaction.

IMG_0664Once the infrastructure is there, a whole new level of automation can be reached. Lights and coffee that turn on in the morning (set from the time on your phone’s alarm), and turn off after you’ve left (phone drops off the list of Bluetooth devices in the area). If you’re worried your pet might get too hot during the day, you could schedule your AC to turn on periodically to keep your apartment cool. By gathering data on how much power your electronics draw over time, you could schedule energy intensive tasks to take advantage of off-peak pricing, or just create a bunch of interesting graphs.

This project is definitely in its early stages and it’s something I’d really like to put more time into. You can expect more updates and an in-depth write-up in the future.

Citi Bike Key

It’s been a while since I’ve posted but with the creation of a site dedicated to larger projects this website got put on hold. With that in mind, this blog can now finally serve as, well, a blog.

If there’s one thing I really hate it’s carrying things (don’t get me started on physical keys). I already carry my cellphone and wallet wherever I go, and people tell me how cellphones nowadays can do anything… except unlock a Citi Bike. Why the company behind the bikes decided to make the docks and keys frustratingly hard to use is beyond me. So, with my hatred of keys and desire to enable my cellphone to do more things, I created this monstrosity:

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I should also mention my hatred of my cellphone case which enabled me to take more destructive measures than I normally would. While the design is far from final it gets the job done. The key itself adds four millimeters to the phone (5 1/2 for the spacer and screw), which is essentially unnoticeable unless you’re holding it in your hand. I printed out a base the approximate size of the key so that it could easily swing out and not hit the edge of the uncut rubber. I then printed out two nubs to prevent the key from swinging freely when in my pocket. Everything was then superglued down or screwed in place. For everyone who’s asked why I have painters tape under my case, you now know why (this wasn’t the first project where I attempted to add to my phone).

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Sure it doesn’t look the best, but it works. In the name of being more practical, I can sacrifice a couple millimeters of pocket space. As always, please don’t hesitate to ask any questions or tell me how much worse my phone looks.

And visit my new site, if you haven’t already.

Raspberry Pi Action Camera

It’s been a while since I’ve made a post however, that is not due to lack of projects. Almost six years after setting my eyes on the Makerbot Cupcake CNC, I finally purchased a 3D printer and have been putting it to (hopefully) good use. I felt as though I had reached a point where fabricating enclosures was the main reason my projects weren’t going forward. I’ll probably spend another post talking about the printer but I thought I would share my first project (and 4th and 5th prints).

I picked up a GoPro as a safety measure while riding my bike and wanted to get a second so I could record forwards and backwards. The GoPro was a nice start however, it wasn’t really suited for taking extended video (say on a multi-hour ride). I didn’t really like the idea of having to carry multiple batteries around with me and then having to stop to swap them out. Right around this time, a new Raspberry Pi model came out called the A+, a small, stripped-down, low-power version of the A. It looked perfect. A quick search on Google gave me a few results for people who had turned their Pis into cameras, and found a post with some great information on how to go about doing it.

Knowing the idea was plausible, the next step was to figure out how to build it. I’m in a transition period with modeling software so I opted to use some designs already on Thingiverse (just for the prototype). I printed out cases for the camera module and for the A+ and had two great platforms to work with. I then set about wiring up the necessary connections. I didn’t want to alter the Pi too much so I soldered my connections to the bottom of the headers. I also spent some time removing the headers on the bluetooth-serial module to save that extra bit of space. Two holes were then drilled in the back of the case for the start and stop buttons, completing the build. Check out the photos below:

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You can also watch this, somewhat, embarrassing video of me demonstrating the camera quality (the video is from the Pi, photo booth is so you can see the camera is shooting and the other monitor shows the video from the camera):

One thing to note is that I had to edit the camcorder script to work with the new 40 pin headers on the newer Pis. GPIO.setmode was changed to board, and the pins were updated from 23 and 24 to 33 and 35. There are a host of additional updates I’d like to make to the py script as well as to the hardware of the camera. Once I’m happy with where the project is I will do a full, detailed, writeup.

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