Trying Out a Particulate Matter Sensor

The Lab is currently working on a new project that involves environment monitoring. The device will be built around a particulate matter sensor – PMS5003. It will be driven most likely by a Sparkfun SAMD21 Mini and will use Adafruit ST7735 TFT as a display. All those components have been tested today with a help from a little candle. The candle provided sample particulate matter and boy did it deliver…

Note, the acceptable amount of particulate matter in air is approximately 25 µg/m3.

IoT Tech Expo Berlin 2017

On the 1st and 2nd of June 2017 the Lab visited the IoT Tech Expo in Berlin. The event gathered a respectable amount of business representatives, researchers and hobbyists interested in various aspects of the so called “Internet of Things”. There was also a side event dedicated to the Blockchain which was interesting in its own way, but the Lab did not pay too much attention to it.

There were two free conference tracks hosted on the main Expo arena. The topics of presentations and panels ranged from case studies and product presentations to very broad, high level issues.  It seemed to me, that the dominant themes discussed during the general presentations and discussion panels were: connectivity, interoperability, power consumption and edge computing. The one topic that, to some extend, was left out was security. This is strange as during the last few months we’ve seen some of the most high profile attacks on internet infrastructure and internet users in history. There was a closed trail titled “Data & Security”, but judging from the list of topics on that trail, there was more talk about data than security.

Some of the presented trends were somewhat surprising. For example, considering the amount of hype around cloud-based solutions, one could get the impression that most IoT systems will be built around the Cloud and that there is a tendency to push as much data to the back-end as possible. It turns out that this is not exactly true and a lot of effort is put to the so called “Edge Computing”, which by the way, is now called “Fog Computing”. You know, fog being close to the ground is supposed to be in contrast to clouds being high in the sky… Anyway, the idea is to have more data processing done on the device and send only processed data through low-bandwidth solutions like Sigfox or LoRa. This is very good news for anyone interested in building smart, autonomous devices as it means that processing power on the “edge” will continue to grow. The Lab is pleased with this.

There were many companies presenting their products on the Expo. Some of them were large corporations like Rohde&Schwarz, other were tiny start-ups. There was one (and only one) representative of Poland on the Expo: BM3 from Warsaw. They presented a very interesting product called Meshenger. It’s a device and a service that allows hardware makers to incorporate into their products an ability to create ad hoc radio mesh networks. This is not completely unique as such networks have been around for quite some time, but a comprehensive approach to creating and managing them with focus on low power consumption and reliability is definitely something worth looking at.

Here are some photos from the Expo. Enjoy:

SmartBowl – The ultimate “Pet Project”

Every Maker with a cat at home will sooner or later decide to employ their “making” skills into building some gizmo that automates the process of feeding the cat. Last winter, the Lab decided to tackle this issue and came up with an idea to make a bowl that weighs the amount of food it contains and can trigger a refilling device when it detects that it is empty. It would also report food consumption to a web service via WiFi. The project was also a good opportunity to try out some unused earlier products and services like ESP8266, Amazon EC2 and D3.js charting library. The project took few weeks to complete, but eventually the contraption worked quite well. The project has been described in detail on so if you want to read more about it and watch some demo videos, click here.

Head Up Display for a Multimeter

This is definitely one of the most impressive projects on Instructables. An engineer (a real one, not a software one ;-)) named Alain Mauer has built a special device that can be attached to glasses and enables the user to see data from a multimeter directly in their line of sight. This is important because when working with high-current devices and a large multimeter it is often difficult to have the device in a convenient location and constantly turning your head around to read the displayed data can cause an accidental short when your hand slips a little and the probe touches something it should not touch.
A detailed description of the project can be found here.

Camel Brains

The Lab likes the great outdoors. However, to enjoy hiking or 100+ km bicycle rides, one needs to keep properly hydrated. Probably the easiest way to take a large amount of water on a trip is to pour it into a so called “Hydration Pack” (a.k.a. “Camelbak”). The only problem with those things is that it’s rather tricky to tell how much water remains in the bag. And this is where technology comes to the rescue! Using a water flow meter and a Bluetooth-enabled micro-controller, the Lab has built a basic water consumption device that reports the amount of water consumed and remaining to an Android application which in turn displays this information on a smartphone.
The project has been described in detail on