Homebrew Optical Sensor Helps Your Diesel Pass the Smoke Test
Homebrew Optical Sensor Helps Your Diesel Pass the Smoke Test

We’ve all heard of the smoke test, and we know that it’s the lowest possible bar for performance of an electronic device. If it doesn’t burst into flames when power is applied, you’re good to go for more functional testing. But the smoke test means something else for cars, especially those powered by diesel fuel. And passing diesel exhaust tests can become something of a chore.

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To make passing these tests a little easier, [Janis Alnis] came up with this diesel exhaust monitor that measures the opacity of his car’s emissions. The sensor itself is quite simple, and mimics what commercial exhaust analyzers use: a LED and a photodiode at opposite ends of a tube of a specified length. Soot particles in exhaust passing through the tube will scatter light in a predictable way, and the numbers work out that a passing grade is anything greater than 53% transmission.

The sensor body is cobbled together from brass pipe fittings with glass windows epoxied into each end. Exhaust enters via a tee fitting attached to a hose and sampling tube, and exits through another tee. One window of the sensor has a cheap battery-powered flashlight as a light source, while the other end has a Texas Instruments OPT101 photodiode sensor. The sensor is connected to one of the analog inputs of an Arduino, which also runs a 128×64 pixel LCD display — inspired by this air quality meter — to show the current smokiness both graphically and as a percentage. The video below shows the sensor at work.

While there were some issues with soot buildup and water vapor condensation, using the sensor [Janis] discovered that a little bit of a warm-up drive got things hot enough to clear up his ride’s tendency to smoke a bit, allowing him to pass his inspection.

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