Generating Power with Wind, Water, and Solar

It is three weeks after the apocalypse. No zombies yet. But you do need to charge your cell phone. How do you quickly make a wind turbine? If you’ve read this project, you might reach for a few empty water bottles. This educational project might not charge your phone without some extra work, but it does illustrate how to use water bottles to make a workable air scoop for turning a crank and possibly generating electricity.

That takes care of the wind and water aspects, but how did we get solar? According to the post — and we agree it is technically true — wind power is a form of solar power since the wind is driven by temperature differences created by the sun. Technically true!

Short of an apocalypse, this probably isn’t a very practical project, but we liked it as a possible school project. Most of it can use scrap materials. The only things you might have to buy is a motor, some bearings, and some cheap nuts and bolts. You might even have all of it, depending on how much junk you hoard.

If you do use this as a student project, it is worth pointing out the duality throughout. The post talks about how a fan and a turbine are the same devices. It also uses a motor as a generator. In each case, you might design something for better performance when used one way or another, but a surprising number of transducers can operate in both directions. For example, speakers make poor but useable microphones. LEDs can sense light, as long as light can get to the die.

Now if you want to go all out, fire up your 3D printer. There are several possible designs.

Posted in how-to, solar hacks, turbine, water bottle, wind, wind power, Wind turbine | Leave a comment

FPGA used VHDL for Fractals

Over on GitHub, [ttsiodras] wanted to learn VHDL. So he started with an algorithm to do Mandelbrot sets and moved it to an FPGA. Because of the speed, he was able to accomplish real-time zooming. You can see a video of the results, below.

The FPGA board is a ZestSC1 that has a relatively old Xilinx Spartan 3 chip onboard. Still, it is plenty powerful enough for a task like this.

The project doesn’t directly drive a display. It does the math, stores the results in the board’s onboard RAM and then sends a frame to the PC using the ZestSC1’s USB port. Currently, the code isn’t pipelined and a future task is to add pipelining so that it computes a new pixel on each clock cycle, after some latency, of course.

The repo contains the VHDL code and some C++ code that interfaces with the board and displays the results. If you have that particular board, it would be a good basis for a different project.

Our FPGA boot camps use Verilog, but they are still a good place to start if you want to learn FPGAs. The concepts still apply and the recently added module on state machines will give you a good head start no matter what language you use. If you crave more VHDL math, there’s always CORDIC.

Posted in fpga, fractal, mandelbrot, vhdl, xilinx, zestsc1 | Leave a comment

Easily Deboss Notebooks with a 3D Printed Stamp

While it’s arguably a bit closer to the “Arts & Crafts” region of the making spectrum upon which we don’t usually tread on account our l33t sense of superiority, we’ve got to admit that the quick and easy notebook customization demonstrated by [Sean Hodgins] is very compelling. We don’t put ink to dead trees with nearly the frequency we used to, but when we do it might as well be Hemingway-style with a little black Hackaday emblazoned notebook.

As demonstrated in the video after the break, the process starts by designing the stamp in your CAD package of choice. For optimal results [Sean] suggests fairly large capital letters, but with practice you should be able to get into some more creative fonts. Potentially you could even use the logo of your favorite hacking blog, but who are we to dictate what you do?

Whatever you chose, it needs to be mirrored and placed on a relatively thick backing. He recommends a 2 mm thick “plate” with the letters raised on top. You’ll want to print it at a high infill percentage, but even still it shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes or so to run off. Remember there tends to be diminishing returns on infill past 50%, so taking it all the way to 100% is not going to do much but expend more time and plastic.

Once printed, [Sean] hot glues the stamp to a block of wood since putting pressure on the printed piece directly would likely crack it. Then it’s just a matter of getting your notebook, printed stamp, and blocks of wood lined up in to a suitably beefy bench vise. Getting everything aligned is one of those things that easier said than done, so expect to mess up the first couple until you get the hang of it.

When the alignment looks good, crank it down and let it sit for a few minutes. If you’re embossing the design into actual leather, wetting it a bit before putting the pressure on should help. The final effect is understated but undeniably very slick; and with the Holidays rapidly approaching this might be an excellent way to knock out some legitimately thoughtful gifts.

Ultimately the idea here is something of a lightweight version of the 3D printed press break dies used to bend aluminum or the punch and die set used for steel plates. At this point it seems there’s enough evidence to say that 3D printed objects are certainly strong enough (in compression, at least) to put some legitimate work in.

Posted in 3d Printer hacks, art, die, emboss, leather, notebook, stamp | Leave a comment

Furby Plus Borges Equals Borgy

What do you get if you cross a Furby with a master of 20th Century literature? The Borgy. Argentinian hacker [Roni Bandini] found an old Furby and decided to hack it by altering its personality. His inspiration was the Argentinian writer Jorge Louis Borges, one of the pioneers of surrealist writing. The idea is that, at random times during the day, the Borgy will share a bit of wisdom from Borges to inspire and enlighten.

[Roni] hacked the Furby to replace the speaker with a more powerful one, and built a base to hold the larger speaker and a switch which can activate Borgy. He also used an Arduino Nano and a Sparkfun MP3 player shield loaded with the samples of Borges.

When the Furby speaks, it shares some wisdom from Borges. It’s a simple, but a surprisingly effective hack that could be very useful for someone seeking inspiration.  Or, as Borges himself once said: “Don’t talk unless you can improve the silence.”

We’ve seen lots of Furby hacks, including the Furby organ and the Furlexa, which combines Amazon’s Alexa voice control with a Furby. If this inspires you to hack your favorite writer into a Furby, we’ve featured a guide to hacking Furby here.

Posted in Borges, furby, Magical Reality, news | Leave a comment

An over-engineered LED Sign Board

Never underestimate the ability of makers in over thinking and over-engineering the simplest of problems and demonstrating human ingenuity. The RGB LED sign made by [Hans and team] over at the [Hackheim hackerspace] in Trondheim is a testament to this fact.

As you would expect, the WS2812 RGB LEDs illuminate the sign. In this particular construction, an individual strip is responsible for each character. Powered by an ESP32 running FreeRTOS, the sign communicates using MQTT and each letter gets a copy of the 6 x 20 framebuffer which represents the color pattern that is expected to be displayed. A task on the ESP32 calculates the color value to be displayed by each LED.

The real question is, how to calibrate the distributed strings of LEDs such that LEDs on adjacent letters of the sign display an extrapolated value? The answer is to use OpenCV to create a map of the LEDs from their two-dimensional layout to a lookup table. The Python script sends a command to illuminate a single LED and the captured image with OpenCV records the position of the signal. This is repeated for all LEDs to generate a map that is used in the ESP32 firmware. How cool is that?

And if you are wondering about the code, it is up on [Github], and we would love to see someone take this up a level. The calibration code, as well as the Remote Client and ESP32 codes, are all there for your hacking pleasure.

Its been a while since we have seen OpenCV in action like with the Motion Tracking Turret and Face Recognition. The possibilities seem endless.

Posted in ESP32, led hacks, opencv, Raspberry Pi, ws2812b | Leave a comment

Negative Voltage Pushes AVR to New Heights

If we say that a hacker is somebody who looks at a “solved” problem and can still come up with multiple alternative solutions, then [Charles Ouweland] absolutely meets the grade. Not that we needed more evidence of his hacker cred given what we’ve seen from him before, but he recently wrote in to tell us about an interesting bit of problem solving which we think is a perfect example of the principle. He wanted to drive a salvaged seven segment LED display with an AVR microcontroller, but there was only one problem: the display needs 15V but the AVR is only capable of 5V. So what to do?

As it turns out, the first step to solving the problem was verifying there was actually a problem to begin with. [Charles] did some experimentation and found that the display didn’t actually need 15V to operate, and in fact would light up well enough at just 6.5V. This lowered the bar quite a bit, but it was still too high to power directly from the chip.

There were a few common ways to solve this problem, which no doubt the Hackaday reader is well aware of. But [Charles] wanted to take the path less traveled. More specifically, the path with the least amount of additional components he had to put on his PCB. He set out to find the absolute easiest way to make his 5V AVR light up a 6.5V LED, and ended up coming with a very clever solution that some may not even know is possible.

He reasoned that if he connected the source pins of two BS170 MOSFETs to a voltage of -1.5V, even when the AVR pin was 0V, they would be still be receiving 1.5V. This virtual “step ladder” meant that once the AVR’s pin goes high (5V), the relative voltage would actually be 6.5V and enough to drive his LEDs. Of course the only problem with that is that you need to have a source for -1.5V.

Getting a negative voltage would normally require adding more components to the design (which he set out to avoid in the first place), but then he came up with another clever idea. To pull the trick off, he actually feeds the AVR 6.5V, but raises the ground voltage by 1.5V with the addition of two 1N4007 diodes. This way the AVR gets a voltage within its capabilities and still can provide a relative 6.5V to the LEDs.

One might say [Charles] took the Kobayashi Maru approach, and simply redefined the rules of the game. But such is the power of the confounding negative voltage.

Posted in AVR, diode, Ground, led hacks, MCU, Microcontrollers, MOSFETS, negative rail, relative | Leave a comment

NTP Morse Code Clock Powered by ESP8266

We’ve featured a great many unique clocks here on Hackaday, which have utilized nearly every imaginable way of conveying the current time. But of all these marvelous timepieces, the Morse code clock has the distinct honor of simultaneously being the easiest to construct and (arguably) the most difficult to read. As such, it’s little surprise we don’t see them very often. Which makes this latest entry into the field all the more interesting.

[WhisleyTangoHotel] has taken the basic concept of the Morse clock, which at its most simplistic could be done with a microcontroller and single LED, and expanded it into a (relatively) practical device. With both audio and visual signaling, and support for pulling the time from NTP, this is easily the most polished Morse code clock we’ve ever seen. Using it still requires you to have a decent grasp on Samuel Morse’s now nearly 200 year old encoding scheme of course, but on the bright side, this clock is sure to help keep your CW skills sharp.

For those following along at home, [WhisleyTangoHotel] provides a hand-drawn diagram to show how everything connects together in his Morse timepiece, but there’s nothing on the hardware side that’s likely to surprise the Hackaday reader. A single momentary push button represents the device’s sole user input, with the output being handled by a LED “tower” and speaker on their own respective pins on the microcontroller. Here a Adafruit Feather HUZZAH is used, but any ESP8266 would work in its place.

Of course, the advantage of using an ESP8266 board over your garden variety MCU is the Wi-Fi connectivity. This allows the clock to connect to an NTP server and get the current time before relaying it to the user. Some might think this overkill, but it’s really a critical feature; the lack of a proper RTC on the ESP means the clock would drift badly if not regularly synchronized. Assuming you’ve got a reliable Internet connection, this saves you the added cost and complexity of adding an external RTC.

[WhisleyTangoHotel] wraps up his blog post by providing his ESP8266 Arduino source code, which offers an interesting example in working not only with NTP and time zones on the ESP, but how to handle parsing strings and representing their principle characters in Morse code.

Interestingly enough, in the past we’ve seen a single LED clock that didn’t use Morse code to blink out the time, which might be a viable option as an alternate firmware for this device if you’re not in the Samuel Morse fan club.

Posted in classic hacks, clock, clock hacks, ESP8266, led, Microcontrollers, morse code, ntp | Leave a comment

VexRISC-V Exposed

If you want to use FPGAs, you’ll almost always use an HDL like Verilog or VHDL. These are layers of abstraction just like using, say, a C compiler is to machine language or assembly code. There are other challenges to the throne such as SpinalHDL which have small but enthusiastic followings. [Tom] has a post about how the VexRISC-V CPU leverages SpinalHDL to make an extremely flexible system that is as efficient as plain Verilog. He says the example really shows off why you should be using SpinaHDL.

Like a conventional programming language, it is easy to find niche languages that will attract a little attention and either take off (say, C++, Java, or Rust) or just sort of fade away. The problem is you can’t ever tell which ones are going to become major and which are just flashes in the pan. Is SpinalHDL the next big thing? We don’t know.

[Tom] is pretty qualified to write this, too. He had a RISC-V design, MR1, and in comparisons, the SpinalHDL implementation was better. He wanted to know why. The post is a result of his exploration.

SpinalHDL uses Scala — an object-oriented programming language and is really a set of libraries that generates HDL. That means you wind up with Verilog or VHDL that you handle with your normal tools or you can even mix it in with conventional modules. The language proponents claim that using it generates efficient HDL that won’t cause your design to be slower or larger.

Is it worth switching? We don’t know. Is it worth a look? Probably. We actually looked at VexRISC-V recently, but not in this much detail. If you don’t like Scala, but like the approach, MyHDL is sort of like SpinalHDL but based on Python.

Posted in fpga, RISC-V, spinalhdl, verilog, vexrisc-v, vhdl | Leave a comment

Wearable Speeder Bikes Are Ready For A Night Out

While Hackaday is about as far from a fashion blog as you can possibly get, we have to admit we’re absolutely loving the [bithead942] Winter 2018 Collection. His wife and daughter recently got to model his latest must have design: wearable Star Wars speeder bikes; and judging by the video after the break they were certainly some of the best dressed at the Thanksgiving parade.

[bithead942] started the build by taking careful measurements of a vintage speeder bike model kit his wife had, which allowed to accurately recreate the iconic look of the vehicles as they were seen in Return of the Jedi . But to do them justice, the final “bikes” would need to be around three meters (ten feet) long, which immediately posed a problem. What kind of material could support itself over that length while still being light enough to wear for extended periods of time?

The answer came, as it often does, from the local hardware store. He found that a combination of Schedule 80 and 40 PVC pipe was a perfect material: strong enough to support the desired dimensions without bending, light enough that the final bike wouldn’t be uncomfortable to wear, easy to bend with heat, and perhaps best of all, cheap and readily available. The PVC frame was then covered with chicken wire and thin flexible foam to give it a filled out look without weighing them down.

Even though he had a strict weight limit on the build, [bithead942] couldn’t help but add in some electronics to complete the effect. The LED festooned control panel allows the ladies to trigger different sound effects from the movie stored on a Adafruit Mini FX Sound Board, which is connected to a 20W Class D amplifier and a pair of 400 watt car stereo speakers. He says the resulting playback was loud enough to hear outside during the parade, and only added a few pounds to the overall build.

These may be the bikes you’re looking for, but they’re definitely not the first we’ve featured on Hackakday. Meanwhile you’d be wise not to underestimate the lowly PVC pipe when designing your next project. From a hacked together drill press for your Dremel to a planetarium for you and your closest dozen or so friends, there’s little you can’t build with this plentiful material.

Posted in chicken wire, cosplay, PVC, speeder bike, star wars, wearable hacks | Leave a comment

Artistic Images Made With Water Lens

It’s said that beauty and art can be found anywhere, as long as you look for it. The latest art project from [dmitry] both looks in unassuming places for that beauty, and projects what it sees for everyone to view. Like most of his projects, it’s able to produce its artwork in a very unconventional way. This particular project uses water as a lens, and by heating and cooling the water it produces a changing image.

The art installation uses a Peltier cooler to periodically freeze the water that’s being used as a lens. When light is projected through the frozen water onto a screen, the heat from the light melts the water and changes the projected image. The machine uses an Arduino and a Raspberry Pi in order to control the Peliter cooler and move the lens on top of the cooler to be frozen. Once frozen, it’s moved again into the path of the light in order to show an image through the lens.

[dmitry] intended the project to be a take on the cyclical nature of a substance from one state to another, and this is a very creative and interesting way of going about it. Of course, [dmitry]’s work always exhibits the same high build quality and interesting perspective, like his recent project which created music from the core samples of the deepest hole ever drilled.

Posted in arduino, art, cooler, ice, lens, peltier, projection, Raspberry Pi, water | Leave a comment