November 22, 2017 AUTHOR: Donald Bell CATEGORIES: News Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Project Power [Maker Update #61]

This week on Maker Update, solar-power plant monitors, Dale and Naomi make up, a macro for your GoPro, and Make’s desktop fabrication guide. The Cool Tool this week is the DLI IoT Relay.

Show Notes

Advanced Project

Photo and project by Becky Stern.

Solar Soil Moisture Meter With ESP8266 by bekathwia


Dale and Naomi Make Up

More Projects

Photo and project by Jonathan Odom.

DIY Action Cam Macro Lens by JON-A-TRON

Cool Tools Minute

DLI IoT Relay

Photo by Donald Bell.


Make: Desktop Fabrication Guide is out

Photo by Tom Nardi.

Visual 3D Print Finishing Guide by Tom Nardi

How to Use Pepakura for Armor Making by Wayne’s Workshop

Photo by Adafruit.

USB-A Male Plug to 5-pin Terminal Block

Look for Black Friday sales from Pololu and Adafruit

Maker Faires

Make Faire Galicia Spain
Lviv Mini Maker Faire Ukraine
Pleasant Prairie Mini Maker Faire USA
Kuala Lumpur Mini Maker Faire Malaysia

Get Maker Update weekly emails (w/bonus links!)



This week on Maker Update, solar-powered plant monitors, Dale and Naomi make up, a macro for your GoPro, an all-in-one relay powerstrip, and Make’s desktop fabrication guide.

It’s Wednesday, I’m Donald Bell, and welcome to another Maker Update. I hope everyone’s doing well. Thanks for joining me here again. I have some cool things to show, so let’s get started with the project of the week.

Becky Stern is back with one more solar project, and it’s the one that I’ve really been waiting for. Superficially it’s a solar powered soil moisture meter that uses a sensor connected to an ESP8266 type board. The board logs the moisture every few minutes and uploads the data over Wi-Fi to the free Adafruit I/O service, which can then trigger an email or a tweet or some other feedback.

And while that’s a perfectly awesome project in its own right, what Becky’s really made here is a blueprint for any kind of solar powered IoT project. The board, the solar charger, the waterproof enclosure, the Lithium Ion battery, and logging the data online — the same recipe can be applied for monitoring noise pollution, air quality, temperature, or any number of things.

As always, Becky’s writeup is thorough and clear and fun to read. There are tons of photos and a great video. The same is true for her whole online solar class, which is free and I recommend signing up for.

It’s time for some news. This week Maker Media CEO Dale Dougherty published an apology to Chinese Maker Naomi Wu and the Make community for his remarks a few weeks back suggesting that Naomi was not who she claimed to be. I’m sure many of you have been following the drama.

Well, hopefully this is the end of it. Naomi has acknowledged the apology and considers the issue resolved. We’ll see Naomi featured in the next issue of Make: magazine, and an upcoming Maker Faire here in the U.S., and hopefully we’ll see a more actively inclusive Make magazine and Maker Faire going forward.

One more project to share with you. There’s a great guide from Jon-A-Tron on designing and 3D printing your own Macro lens mount for an action camera like a GoPro or something similar.

These cameras are typically designed to take in the widest view possible, so focusing them in on something closeup can be a challenge.

Jon specifically designed this so that he could get better close-up timelapse videos of his 3D printer. He shows you how to modify the design to fit your camera and the lens type, where to order a cheap set of lenses, and includes the Fusion 360 file for printing everything out.

It’s a great intro to Fusion 360, it’s a small piece to print, so the stress of trial and error is minimal, and the end result gives your camera a new feature — so it’s a nice payoff.

It’s time for another Cool Tools review. This is the DLI IoT Relay. I got it for around $30 on Amazon. I’m going to show you why it’s awesome and if you want one for yourself, using the link in the description helps support my videos and the Cool Tools blog.

The 3-5 volts that comes out of an Arduino or Raspberry Pi can be useful for lighting up an LED, or spinning a toy motor, but on its own you can’t control an appliance, right? You can’t just plug your toaster into an Arduino. And that’s a limitation that loses some people.

The DIY solution is to wire together a relay switch that uses a low voltage trigger to switch mains electrical voltage on and off. But with this comes some real risk of fire and electric shock. Splicing 110v AC wires scares me, and it should scare you too.

This relay power strip from DLI is a great alternative to electrocution. You have two outlets that are normally off, but get switched on when triggered, and one outlet that’s normally on but switches off when triggered.

On the side here you have a removable screw terminal block that takes your low voltage trigger from an Arduino or Raspberry Pi — anything from 3-5 volts. One connects to ground and the other to an I/O pin.

Finally, the best part is that there’s an outlet here that’s always on that you can use to power your board. So yet get power for your board and your project all in one package.

When working with mains voltage relays becomes this safe and easy you really have freedom to play. I made a little project that uses an Ultrasonic sensor and an Arduino to send out 5v to the relay when my hand gets close. And now I can literally control any appliance with a wave of my hand — a light, a turntable, a fan.

It’s great for interactive props, or holiday lights, data logging projects, IoT projects, gardening systems — you name it.

I learned about this through Adafruit. They sell this same one, and they’re pretty picky about what they carry. By all means pick it up from them, but if you pick it up using the Amazon link below, it helps support my videos. And remember, you can see thousands or reader recommended tools like this at

I have some more tips to share with you. First up, just a note that the latest issue of Make magazine is out and it’s their special Desktop Fabrication guide that’s full of reviews for the latest 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC routers, and vinyl cutters. It’s my favorite issue all year.

On a related note, Tom Nardi has a great post on Hackaday that spells out the information and techniques that can help you dial in the finish of a 3D print. Printing, sanding, coating, filler, primer, painting — it’s all there.

On the Wayne’s Workshop channel there’s a great guide on the basics of using Pepakura software for designing, cutting and building foam cosplay armor.

I noticed a new product pop up on Adafruit. It’s a USB to 5-pin terminal block adapter. It’s just $3. The moment I saw it I thought it looked like a great way to grab voltage from USB and wire it right to a project board.

Speaking of Adafruit, just a friendly reminder that retailers like Adafruit, Sparkfun, Pololu and others are having Black Friday sales this Friday. I’ve included links to a few of them in the show notes.

Maker Faires! Just a handful of faires this weekend including Galicia Spain, Lviv Ukraine, Pleasant Prairie Wisconsin, and Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. If one’s near you, go check it out.

And that’s it for this week’s show. Be sure to subscribe, leave a thumbs up, leave a comment, get yourself a relay module, and get on the email list to have these links delivered automatically every Wednesday. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week.

Submit a comment

Sign the Mailing List

A once-weekly email for each Maker Update episode, including bonus links for stuff that didn't make it into the show.
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!