Plumbing Transformed Into Analog Inputs

Alastair Aitchison is an escape room designer. As such, he creates interactive puzzles that participants can solve to progress to the next stage of their quest. The challenge is that these puzzles require robust input as they can take some abuse, and dealing with broken technology is no fun for anyone.

The typical solutions tend to be either: mild in the case of industrial inputs; or a bit garish if you opt for arcade buttons. Aitchison’s solution? Sanitary fittings of course!

Yes, plumbing (water) and electronics generally don’t mix well. However, instead of liquid, he uses these valves to regulate the passage of light through copper tubing. An LED is placed on one side of the valve, while an LDR—connected to an analog input pin via a voltage divider—points to the light source from the other side. When the valve opens, light hits the LDR and drops the resistance, creating a voltage proportional to the fixed and light-dependent resistance at the analog input.

It’s a pretty clever setup, reminiscent of an optocoupler you can buy in one very different format to isolate electrical signals. You can see more details of the setup in the video, along with a demo of how it works with an Arduino. As mentioned before, if you are using copper tubing you should make sure your wires are properly insulated so they don’t touch the conductive surface and cause a short circuit.

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