upcycleITlogo.pngWe invited engineers, DIY hobbyists, and tinkerers to upcycle an obsolete item, computer, piece of electronic equipment, or appliance and make a cool new electronics project built around the Intel® Edison Kit for Arduino. Some of the participants in Upcycle It were joining their first element14 Design Challenge, so we thought we'd reach out to them and see how they felt about participating. Among them were Fernando Hila and Brent Papesh, who took a front-load washing machine and used it as the main assembly of a rotary hydroponic system, Sergey Vlasov, who added IoT functions to an old smoke detector, Jason Wier, who brought a circa 1999 power distribution unit (PDU) and gave it new life, and Konstantinos Konstas, who created a hybrid analog radio.

 

Q: What inspired you to enter the Upcycle It Design Challenge?

Fernando: I am an electrical engineer, but I am also passionate about working with glass, so I have a hobby - now becoming a business - where I upcycle glass bottles into glassware and home décor products. Since I've started these projects, the upcycle concept has stuck with me, so I started to apply it beyond the bottles. I made some of the machinery I use to make the glass products using scrapped parts, for example; now every mechanism I find laying around inspires me to transform it in something useful. When I saw the Upcycle It challenge, the word itself called my attention, so I decided to find out more about it.

Jason: 1) The challenge and competition, 2) Love the idea of upcycling, 3) Cool prizes!

Konstantinos: I was frustrated by the lack of an analog receiver to monitor shortwave broadcasts during my trip to Holland last December. Because of that, I had to use a WEB SDR (Software Defined Radio) client on my mobile phone. I then thought that I could add such a feature to any existing analog radio receiver. My previous experience with Frequency Synthesis using Arduino for the last 4 years provided me with adequate experience for such a task.

 

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Q: Did the Design Challenge meet your initial expectations? Or, did those expectations change over the course of the challenge?

Sergey: The blogging and collaboration with element14 community were something new for me, and it was a lot of fun to collaborate. The community is very knowledgeable, responsive, and helpful. It was very different from my past experiences, and I never expected to get so much help from the community.

 

Q: Was the Design Challenge more or less work than you expected? What part of your project did you find most difficult to complete, and did you solve any notable technical problems along the way?

Jason: I think it was more work than expected, but I liked that. It made me strive to be better. The part I found most difficult was the restriction on hardware; I would have loved to change hardware to better fit into my project. I would have changed to a Raspberry Pi, instead of trying to get the smaller Edison board to work and having to deal with its 1.8V GPIO. But I was challenged to make it work. Not only did it work, but I think it was better than the way I would have done it with a Raspberry Pi.

Sergey: Yes, it took a bit more time than I expected as at one point I’ve realized that my original plan should be changed. The direct electronic connection to smoke detector is not a very good idea, as it brings a lot of constraints and unexpected, complexity. So I switched to detecting alarm sound, which brought a different technical dimension to the challenge, specifically how to deal with false positives, and how to reduce their occurrence.

Konstantinos: I wanted to use a specific LCD display that I had on hand (Nokia 5110/3110) that was not included in Edison libraries, and was not successfully implemented by any other user for Edison. It was not easy to find the necessary information to implement what I wanted. Eventually, as I did not get any guidance from Intel, I managed to work my LCD only with the Edison Arduino board under Cpp, but not with the Edison breadboard and JavaScript Node within my challenge time limitation. I ultimately ordered a Sparkfun OLED display that had the necessary libraries.

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Q: How did you come to compete in the Upcycle It Design Challenge?

Sergey: During the recent winter holidays, I discovered that an oven in my basement was on all night, as somebody forgot to switch it off. I started thinking about what could be done to prevent such situations. One of the ideas I had was to automatically switch off the oven when smoke or unusually high temperatures were detected. The key component to implement this idea was to build a Wi-Fi connected Smoke Detector.

 

Q: Was the kit provided to you appropriate for your design?

Fernando: Yes, definitely. The Edison with the Arduino expansion board and the groove kit made it easier to deploy the project, as it saved time with the connections and interface of sensors. Of course I had to source some other sensors and components, but those were very particular to my project. All the core components were there.

 

Q: How do you feel about your finished design? And would you apply for a Design Challenge again?

Fernando: I was very happy when I got the growing machine going, especially when I had the MQTT set, so I could change settings and actuate the functions using my mobile phone. I am very excited to participate in another challenge, so I am putting some ideas together to apply for the next one.

Sergey: I think the final design still requires some improvements, but in general I like what I was able to achieve with the help of the community. It was a great experience and I definitely would like to participate in future challenges.

Konstantinos: I'm very pleased with my design, one hundred percent. I now have a hybrid analog plus WEB SDR receiver at the flip of a switch. The one and only of its kind! As Intel decided to drop Edison, I am now building a second version module, with exactly the same functionality, using a Raspberry Pi.

 

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Q: Did the Design Challenge meet your initial expectations? Or, did those expectations change over the course of the challenge?

Jason: Not just meet, but exceeded. Like I said before, the community was great and very helpful. Pushing me and helping me to do better.

Fernando: Actually, it was better than I expected. I wasn’t expecting as much interaction with other members, so that was a plus. It was very nice seeing all the participants' projects and ideas.

 

Q: How did the e14 Community aid you in your challenge submission?

Konstantinos: The project motivator and some element14 members really helped with encouragement, as well as some interesting ideas that they proposed for the LCD and the use of a headless WEB browsing function.