Archive for March, 2012

Info display for home

05/03/2012 12 comments

After completing the home electricity meter hack I looked for options to have small display hanging on the wall, which would show useful information. I had previously bought Samsung SPF-87H photo frame which can be used as an external monitor. The frame connects to computer with usb and the picture is updated by simply sending it in jpeg format. Few caveats are that display needs to be first initialized to “mini monitor”-mode and the picture size must match exactly to the display resolution (800×480 in case of SPF-87H). I chose Beagleboard as the embedded computer to keep the power usage low. BB has one usb and one usb-otg port. I’m planning to change the Beagleboard to Raspberry Pi, when they became available since this doesn’t use all the resources provided by the Beagleboard.

Even that the Beagleboard has only one true usb-port, I did not need to add the usb-hub to setup, since the usb-otg port can also be used as host. The display connects to otg-port, since it has it’s own power supply (otg-port can’t supply power) and the regular usb port is used for wlan adapter.



Testing the setup

The photo frame has desk stand but no hole to hang it on the wall. This was fixed by using hot glue to attach a piece of wire to the backside to act as hanger. I learned later that I should have made a loop to the both ends of the wire to increase gluing surface. The frame dropped to floor after couple of days, resulting small crack to bezel and a dent to floor. Fortunately the display continued working.

The finished display looks quite nice. The Beagleboard and the power supply are hidden on top of cupboard and the display cables are hidden inside cable duct.

Finished display







The software “WallDisplay” running on the Beagleboard is written in C++ and uses Qt. The software simply reads Sqlite database, which contains a list of urls and time, how long the url is displayed on the screen. The web pages are loaded to QWebPage and its contents are exported as jpeg file, which in turn is pushed to the display. Qt’s webkit implementation has too many ties to the user interface for it to be used as command line QtCore-application. Since the program does not have to actually show anything on a real monitor nor accept user input, I’m using xvfb to simulate X-server. In future I’m planning to add web interface to make it easier to manage the displayed pages.

Currently the display is rotating following pages:

  • Electricity usage
  • Weather forecast
  • Calendar, exported from iCal
  • Irc log from the channel we used with my friends
  • Last picture from the security camera

The sources are available at:

You also need to install software for controlling the display from here:

See rc.local file for an example how to run the application. Path to database and path to frame-ctrl program must be given as arguments. The database creation command is in the readme.txt file.



Monitoring electricity usage at home

05/03/2012 19 comments

I wanted to gather statistic about the electricity usage at my new house, mainly to see how much using the fireplace lowers the bill. The meter installed by the utility company has a led that blinks at the speed that is relative to the usage. Text on the meter says that 480 blinks equals 1 kWh used. I thought that building a device that keeps count of these blinks should be easy enough to make. I used photoresistor attached on top of the led with blu-tack. This way the measuring circuit is isolated from the mains and the setup doesn’t require tampering with the meter. The led on the meter is not very bright, so the circuit is quite sensitive to ambient light, but works reliably when the cabinet enclosing the meter is kept closed.


The schematic for the device is quite simple:

Currently I’m using XBee to communicate with the server which gathers the measurements. The meter itself is at the utility room, which is too far to run cables to. I’ve already bought XBee pinout compatible wlan transmitter to get rid of the XBee eventually.

In the circuit, analog part on the left turns value of photoresistor (R3) to digital signal read by ATtiny2313. Sensitivity of the photoresistor is changed with the variable resistor R5. The avr responds to two commands (in current code “LUKU” and “VALI” translation would be “COUNT” and “INTERVAL”). Count simply returns number of blinks since the last count command. When read periodically, electricity usage can be calculated from the number of blinks and the time used to count them. Second command returns the time between two last blinks, so current consumption can be calculated from that.

I’d like to show the picture of the setup, but currently I’m using circuit boards from the past projects, one has the avr and the other contains the XBee, so the setup is quite messy. I’ll create custom PCB as soon as I get the wlan transmitter working. The attached AVR code is also quite messy and currently compiles to ATmega8. It could be easily ported to ex. Arduino if needed.


The server part consists of two scripts. runs constantly and queries the device every 5 minutes and records the consumption to sqlite database together with temperature, which is parsed from the web page provided by local university. It also provides unix socket for the second script to query current consumption and temperature.

The second script, is meant to be run by web server. It returns graph about the usage and the temperature as png picture. Cgi parameters (to, from, interval) can be used to get graph about specific time period. Interval is used to set time in minutes for how long period of measurements are averaged. I’ve found it useful in winter time to average measurements for at least an hour, because on shorter periods consumption varies greatly based on how many heaters are running at the time. The variance makes it hard to understand what is going on and to compare the usage.

Example output with 2h average


All project files are available at Github:

Related post

Wall display for showing the graph:

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