Category Archives: Arduino

Posts related to my Arduino projects.

C3 :: From Prototype to Production

No I haven’t hit any sort of production or even commercial level polish. But the title sure had some nice alliteration huh? 😉

As the title hints at though, the past month has been a great example of the vast gap between a prototype (as seen in my last YouTube video) and a production ready product.

At first I thought doing all of the alarm clock stuff (with Google Calendar integration) would be easier because I was now doing it on Android, with Java and all of Androids high level features. Boy was I wrong.

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C3: From the ashes!

I had an unexpected break through on my C3 project! A couple nights ago, I had some spare time, and had been thinking about the pressure sensor for a long time. The problem with it is, there is a circle with a radius of just 4mm, and in order to get good readings, the force must be applied to the center, not the edges. This gives me only about 2mm’s in radius to apply force in. Since this will be under my mattress where things can be jostled or move around, that’s a pretty narrow margin of error.

With this in mind, I came up with an idea for a “puck” and threw it together in Google SketchUp:

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MQ3 :: Testing Practices and Breathalyzers

Testing the accuracy of my device has been quite an interesting ride, and it has lead me to one conclusion: Breathalyzers are far from an ideal way of testing Blood Alcohol Content (BAC).

This must be why in real serious cases, Police Departments use blood or urine tests as they are directly measuring the concentration of alcohol in your blood.

Breathalyzers however, are a one-off test. Quite simply, they are measuring the amount of alcohol gas in your mouth. Thats an important distinction. There is the obvious factor that could throw off the test, that you could have liquid alcohol in your mouth. Some of this will be in gas form, and thus what you will be measuring is the concentration of that liquid. Which has absolutely ZERO to do with your BAC.

It’s obvious, but let me really drive this point home: you can take a mouth full of Vodka, spit it out, even rinse your mouth, and still blow a deadly level on a Breathalyzer, mean while your BAC is still zero.

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MQ3 :: Greater Resolution

Still waiting on Arduino to release their WiFi shield… So the drinking continues! Er… I mean the MQ3 project continues!

So I’ve put some time into looking for parts and methods for more making this handheld. Ordered some bits, and I’ll update more on that once those parts come in. But the more immediate and all important challenge, is continuing to iterate on the over all implementation of the circuits and software that turn this into a Breathalyzer.

Accuracy is important if this project is going to be successful. There are limitations to the MQ3 sensor, but I want to get the most out of it. So after increasing the accuracy 4.5x last week, we tested again. (All these tests occur when my friends come over to watch The Walking Dead on Friday’s). The first test we saw values ranging between 0 to 6. (Remember these values are just voltage readings from an Analog to Digital [A2D] converter provided on the Arduino). Now that wasn’t good, over 10 beers, the values only increased 6 points. That’s not nearly enough resolution in the signal to be useful. My second attempt after the 4.5x bump in resolution, produced values between 11 and 23. (Note the oddity there of nothing below 11. In my next post I’ll go into my testing procedures, and why there are oddities in these readings, as well as almost certainly in commercial breathalyzers used by authorities.) Continue reading

MQ3 :: A quick project

Still waiting on Arduino to release their official WiFi shield for my C3 project. So my mind began to wounder. And I started an Android app to help post articles to But got stalled due to waiting on 3rd party API support. So my mind began to wounder.

About two weeks ago I was browsing checking out some of their Sensors and day dreaming about fun things to do with them, and came across this, the $4 MQ-3 Alcohol Gas Sensor. I immediately straightened up in my seat and all my synapses that had been on vacation began firing again.

You see, all my hardware projects so far get to a point of some sort of moderate success, and then get promptly torn down to produce another project. Mainly because their components are expensive and I don’t want to re-buy them all. But also because those projects weren’t something I could easily show someone. With the project now swirling around in my head, it was something I could put together, and keep together. And it would have obviously and meaningful applications to anyone I showed it to.

The project of course, is a Breathalyzer.

And after two nights of putzing around with it, I got it hooked up to a simple circuit, along with a 10 segment LED bar, and have it working.

This past weekend I put it to the test but came up short. Even after 3 beers it was still not able to detect anything. By the end of the night after 10 beers, the highest reading I got was 5 (out of 1023). The effective range of the device it turns out, is MUCH smaller than the absolute range I was reading it in. So the next day I adjusted the AREF (Analog Reference) value to greatly shrink the range I was reading. This boosted the sensitivity 4.5x. It can now readily detect just a single beer on your breath.

In addition to this I added in continuous sampling of the base line readings, and factor them out in order to get more constant and reliable values. My ultimate goal here is to make this as accurate as is possible with the MQ-3 sensor (there are certainly some very real limitations to this sensor), and to make it hand held. With a side goal of making it awesome 😉

This week I ordered a 16×2 character LCD display to display the calculated BAC, and more 10 segment LED bars to increase the resolution of the bar graph. Once that is all tested and working, I want to package this up in an enclosure and make it handheld.

C3: The bad news and the good news

So it’s been a bit since my last update, and that’s because things have stalled.

The bad news is I’ve hit a bit of a wall in terms of long term stability with my existing WiFi module. I’ve addressed issue after issue gradually improving stability of the WiFi stack and my own code. But in the end I just can’t get it to stay alive long enough. Even a few days of stability isn’t good enough for an Alarm Clock that I’d be relying on to get me to work on time. I could pursue the issues further into the WiFi stack, but it would take a fairly big time investment. Since the stack and hardware are no longer supported I’d be investing all of this time into what is essentially dead hardware. If I ever wanted to upgrade or make another one of these clocks, all of this time would be wasted since I couldn’t buy another one of these WiFi modules.

The good news however is there is a ray of hope! Truly excellent news out of Maker fair: Arduino (the company) announced several new Arduino’s (the micro-controller) which is great and all, but most excellently, they announced an official Arduino WiFi shield! The library and hardware will be officially supported going forward! They are due to release some time in October, so my project is stalled until I can get my hands on one of these, but this is truly great news for all of my projects which usually have wireless connectivity at their heart 🙂

C3: Connection Durability Win

I’ve been super busy lately so I haven’t had a whole lot of time for this project, but I did manage to get some work done last nite and merge in a patch I found floating around the internet.

It was supposed to make my WiFi chip reconnect to the AP more reliably, and so far it appears to be working! My original soak tests lost connection to the AP after about an hour and failed to ever reconnect. Last night after merging and testing this new patch, I set up another soak test which has been going 10 hours strong so far!

I set up some port forwarding, so you can check out the test page running on the Arduino right now (this link won’t be live for very long): (Note: Some people report this link as not working, but it’s still working for me… go figure.)

Also note that it is currently NOT resynchronizing with NTP servers, so you will notice a widening divergence between the time reported and actual time (EDT).

Next up, (hopefully this weekend) I need to get it resyncing with NTP servers every 12 hours. And start pulling data from my Google Calendar. So hopefully by the end of the weekend this network connected clock will become a network connected alarm clock 😉