hey chicken! coop automation project

coop hey chicken 800px
I’m tired of trudging through the snow in my pjs during cold, dark mornings to let the chickens out at sunrise. I’m also tired of rushing home in the evenings to shut their pop hole and worrying about the wild temperature swings we have here in the Front Range. So, I’m finally doing what I’ve been threatening to do for some time now: automate the chicken coop!! What will that look like?

design drawing 600x800

Our design uses an Arduino Uno + Wifi Shield + various sensors to detect the state of the coop like temperature, light, and whether the chickens are roosting to ultimately determine what the door and heater should be doing at that moment. The Arduino controls the motor that opens and closes the pop hole door and switches the heater on and off. A server application running on an iMac controls the Arduino wirelessly over the local network. The server functions as the “brains” of the operation and runs the automation based on the coop conditions the Arduino is reporting. I also plan on creating an iOS app to remotely monitor and control the coop via the server.

Luckily, I have a great group of folks who are working with me on this project – Jason in Oakland and my husband Nathan. We are collaborating and sharing our work on github.

Hardware list (so far):

Here are the pin assignments, although these may change. Yikes! Running out of I/O…
heyChicken PinoutDevelopment will proceed in 5 phases:

  1. Enable sensors (in progress): We’ve got a breadboard prototyping shield and have the temperature sensors working. Wifi is also up and running. The enclosure consists of some cruddy tupperware:


  2. Data gathering: Write a server daemon to request sensor data from the coop and store it in a SQL database. Generate plots for analysis. I’m interested in the light measurements vs. time all the birds have settled on the roost vs. what time the internet says the sun sets/rises vs. the weather conditions (i.e. sun/clouds/rain/snow) vs. the inside/outside temperatures.
  3. Construct the door assembly: Build pop hole door which will slide or rotate (vertical operation will require some additional mechanism to hold it in the open position). Connect motor, motor controller, and bumper sensors to operate the door. No locking mechanism is required since this door is inside of the closed run.
  4. Automation: Derive robust algorithms for opening and closing the door and operating the heater (thermostat). Implement on the server side. Detect and log error conditions. Send SMS messages on errors.
  5. iOS control app: Write an iOS application that serves as a control panel for the door/heat and associated automation, as well as displays current webcam images (cams already installed).
    heyChicken iOS sketch

That’s it! Now back to work…


coders and crafters april meetup

Coders and Crafters meetup

Last weekend, I had a blast hanging out with a bunch of folks looking to combine their love for crafting and sewing with technology. In the photo, a member gives an interesting talk on Arduino basics. He holds the guts of his animatronic cat tail as an example project. Other members were working on a stuffed animal that giggles when you shake it but screams when dropped on the floor, crazy animated cat toys, blinky costumes, controller gloves made from conductive fabric, you name it. And the backgrounds represented there were equally diverse: sewing, programming, and electronics obviously, but also communications, acupuncture, education, music, architecture…love it! This is how tech should be.

I met some incredibly creative men and women throughout the afternoon. The conversation flowed seamlessly between topics ranging from what is missing in bicycle clothing for women to the best embedded platforms for garment based projects, to new approaches in science education that would attract more women and underrepresented groups to the discipline. So inspiring!

To top off a perfect day, towards the end of the event I met Ayori, one of the creators of Oakland’s recent Startup Weekend covered on KQED’s Newsroom, which is how I heard about it. She is an amazing, gifted technical woman who takes action in our community to include underrepresented groups in technology entrepreneurship. She totally gets it. She shares the belief that we need to provide students with context to truly engage with math and science. To that end, she is using music as a way to educate young people about math at an event she designed for Oakland’s Drop Beats Music Crawl. She spotted my MaKey MaKey Banana Piano activity when I was sharing it at the meetup and got really excited about including it in her Drop Beats program. So, we are working together on adding it! It is going to be perfect. Can’t wait to see what she comes up with!

Readers: do you have any ideas of how to increase diversity in tech? What’s missing in math and science education?

sharing a love for science

Student made Makey Makey hand drawn game controller
Over the weekend, Nathan, my friend Timnit and I were lucky enough to host a hands-on learning activity at this year’s Sciimpact Conference on the UC Berkeley campus. The day long event brings together about 140 students from underserved bay area high schools to participate in a variety of science based breakout experiments, everything from making ice cream with liquid nitrogen to touching a human brain! All of the project based activities are designed by real life engineers and researchers to be interactive and fun with the goal of building student confidence and interest.

Nathan and I with participants at Sciimpact

This was our second year running our MaKey MaKey based activity where we introduce circuit basics through creative human computer interface design. The MaKey MaKey board makes it possible to turn many mildly conductive everyday objects into touch interfaces. Those inputs are converted into keyboard presses, empowering users to invent unique controls for a wide range of computer applications like games and musical instruments.

Everyone loves the “Banana Piano” and who can stop smiling when playing a marshmallow drum kit? Or play-doh controlled Pac Man for that matter? It is really great to see the kids drop their guard and any reservations they had about electronics. We might have to bring some external speakers next time to hear over all of the laughing!

team effort at Sciimpact

Some things stuck with us upon reflection. We watched hesitant students benefit from subtle encouragement provided by their attentive teachers. We witnessed young women coming out of their shells when in all female groups, as opposed to mixed gender groups. We observed more overall student excitement and energy this year when the program consisted of almost all hands-on projects as compared to last year’s 50/50 split between presentations and hands-on. Sciimpact offers a lot of insight for educators about how to truly engage students in science and ultimately attract a bigger and more diverse group of students to STEM careers. Education policy makers need to take notice. This would be a good place to start.

The day was a blast and we had a hard time coming down from all the excitement. By bedtime, I crashed hard, exhausted. As my head hit the pillow, I felt great appreciation for the tremendous effort teachers deliver every day.