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Raspberry Pi Lightning Detector
Table of Contents
Ever since I was a kid, I have always been fascinated by storms and especially lightning. Today, with all of my Ham Radio antennas and radios, protecting them from lighting is very important to me. Being able to detect lightning before the storms gets close to my home gives me the opportunity to switch off the antennas in time. I've already had to have my Icom PCR-1000 fixed twice due to lighting crashed and enough static to damage the front end diodes.
Today I rely on severe weather alerts to warn me of pending storms so that I can switch off the antennas. But what if I'm not home? That's why I am building the following lightning detection system so that it will automatically turn off the antennas when lightning is close to my house. If we happenv to lose power at the house, at least the relays on the antenna switch off disconnecting the antennas.
So the following page is dedicated to my building the SwitchDoc Labs lighting detector using the Raspberry Pi.
What I'm about to build is the Lighting Detector from SwitchDoc Labs using their new Thunderboard. I was impressed with this product as advertised online, so I bought one. The end product will look like this:
This is the Thunderboard which will go inside the housing at the top.
Excerpts from the SwitchDoc Labs describe the Thunderboard as follows:
The Thunder Board Grove I2C Lightning Detector for the Raspberry Pi and Arduino - is a programmable Lightning Sensor board that detects the presence and approach of potentially hazardous lightning activity in the vicinity and provides an estimation on the distance to the head of the storm. The embedded lightning algorithm checks the incoming signal pattern to reject the potential man-made disturbers and various noise sources.
How the heck do we detect lightning? You would think it would be pretty easy, but it turns out it is not. It's not just like a giant spark. Well, it is a giant spark, but there are lots of other things that make electrical noise that can be confused for lightning. Your computer (even your Raspberry PI and Arduino!), your car, the motor in your refrigerator, your cell phone, your computer monitor, your AM/FM radio and even your TV. They all make electrical noise that can be confused with Lightning.
The block diagram of the Lightning Detector is as follows. Click on image to enlarge.
According to SwitchDoc Labs, the entire hardware kit is as follows:
I contracted to my daughter to make the 3D printed parts which are shown here:
Now that I have all of the pieces / parts needed to start the project, the next phase is to initialize the Raspberry Pi 3 and install the software so I can do initial testing.
While SwitchDoc Labs in their second tutorial on this project puts all of the hardware together, I decided to install the software on the Raspberry Pi 3 first. I followed the instructions located in the Switcdoc Tutorial 2 for installing the software. I'm not going to repeat the instructions here. Follow the appropriate instructions for installing an operating system on the RPi. A decent set of instructions can be found here.
Once I had the software installed, it's important to start checking if all of the parts are recognized by the Raspberry Pi. So I pre-wired all of the boards before installing into the 3D printed box. The wiring diagram is shown below. Click on image to enlarge.
The wired up system looks as follows. Click on image to enlarge.
With everything wired up, I powered up the Raspberry Pi to start my testing. to start the testing, you need to open a terminal window. Or in my case, I am using SSH for which I use the program 'PUTTY' and connect via an IP address. In either PUTTY or a terminal window on the PI, you type:
sudo i2cdetect -y 1
The results should look like the following:
Depending on your Raspberry Pi, you may not see 0x03 or 0x70. If you don’t see 0x3e and 0x62, then your LCD is not connected correctly. Note, you will not see the ThunderBoard in this test. By the way, I had to disconnect the buzzer as it was quite annoying since it was constantly buzzing.
To test the LCD display, in either PUTTY or a terminal window, you type:
sudo python testLCD.py
You should see the display changing colors and printing text on the display: "Going to sleep in xx..." where the xx is a countdown of numbers.
Once the test is over, you will see in PUTTY or the terminal window:
To test the ThunderBoard, you type in PUTTY or a terminal window:
sudo python testThunderBoard.py
You should definitely see the first line. It should say 0x02 or 0x03 depending on the version of the Thunder Board that you have.
You may see more lines if your environment is especially electrically noisy. Hold it up against a monitor may trigger the noise system. So far, so good!
You should be able to get a noise trigger by holding it close to your phone or computer monitor, but not guarantees unfortunately. Depends on too many factors. The only way to fully test the devices is to wait for a thunderstorm or use the Thunder Board Lightning Simulator.
Interesting that after a few minutes, the software test did start to report something. My guess is that my ThunderBoard was in close contact with some noise generators around my workbench.
Looking good. At this point, I'm satisfied that things are beginning to work. Now to install the hardware into the 3D printed case.
Using the instructions from Tutorial 2 on the SwitchDoc Labs website, here is what I had to do.
That’s all for the initial assembly. Again, I will install the Grove Buzzer later and the remaining 20cm Grove Cable. At this point, I don't want the buzzer to buzz incessantly while I complete the software install. Believe me, it's irritating as I found out when I was testing the system!
If you want your IOT software to restart after boot up of your Raspberry Pi (a generally good idea), then in a terminal windows (or from PUTTY), type the following:
sudo nano /etc/rc.local
And add the following lines to the end of the file before the “exit 0” statement.
sudo python ThunderBoardIOT.py &
You can test this by rebooting the Pi. Type:
Everything worked great. I even plugged the buzzer back in and the buzzer shut off as soon as the software started. SO this project is basically done. My plans don't end here. I will be studying the python code so that I can control my antenna relays using this detector. When lighting is too close, I will have the Raspberry Pi turn off the antenna relay and protect my radios. I also plan to have the Lightning Detector serve a webpage so that you can see when lighting occurs in my area. So, Work in Progress!
I hope you enjoyed this page!