How does it work?
Using an infrared (IR) emitter and a infrared (IR) receiver a cheap proximity sensor can be created using off-the-shelf parts connected to an Arduino. The proximity of the solder stick to the emitter/receiver pair triggers a secondary IR emitter, which is used to toggle an IR enabled power socket that is connected to the solder fume extractor.
IR proximity and/or IR control are not necessarily associated with the latest technologies, but they are definitely reliable, cheap, and feature low power consumption making this project ideal for a battery or USB power supply.
If safety, simplicity, power savings, and an automated working environment appeal to you, then the Solder-Smoke-B-Gone project is one that is easily built by beginners and the experienced alike.