Graphene Batteries Appear, Results Questionable

If you listen to the zeitgeist, graphene is the next big thing. It’s the end of the oil industry, the solution to global warming, will feed and clothe millions, cure disease, is the foundation of a space elevator that will allow humanity to venture forth into the galaxy. Graphene makes you more attractive, feel younger, and allows you to win friends and influence people. Needless to say, there’s a little bit of hype surrounding graphene.

With hype comes marketing, and with marketing comes products making dubious claims. The latest of which is graphene batteries from HobbyKing. According to the literature, these lithium polymer battery packs for RC planes and quadcopters, ‘utilize carbon in the battery structure to form a single layer of graphene… The graphene particles for a highly dense compound allowing electrons to flow with less resistance compared to traditional Lipoly battery technologies” These batteries also come packaged in black shrink tubing and have a black battery connector, making them look much cooler than their non-graphene equivalent. That alone will add at least 5mph to the top speed of any RC airplane.

For the last several years, one of the most interesting potential applications for graphene is energy storage. Graphene ultracapacitors are on the horizon, promising incredible charge densities and fast recharge times. Hopefully, in a decade or two, we might see electric cars powered not by traditional lithium batteries, but graphene supercapacitors. They’ll be able to recharge in minutes and drive further, allowing the world to transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy. World peace commences about two weeks after that happens.

No one expected graphene batteries to show up now, though, and especially not from a company whose biggest market is selling parts to people who build their own quadcopters. How do these batteries hold up? According to the first independent review, it’s a good battery, but the graphene is mostly on the label.

[rampman] on the RCgroups forums did a few tests on the first production runs of the battery, and they’re actually quite good. You can pull a lot of amps out of them, they last through a lot of charging cycles, and the packaging – important for something that will be in a crash – is very good. Are these batteries actually using graphene in their chemistry? That’s the unanswered question, isn’t it?

To be fair, the graphene batteries shipped out to reviewers before HobbyKing’s official launch do perform remarkably well. In the interest of fairness, though, these are most certainly not stock ‘graphene’ battery packs. The reviewers probably aren’t shills, but these battery packs are the best HobbyKing can produce, and not necessarily representative of what we can buy.

It’s also doubtful these batteries use a significant amount of graphene in their construction. According to the available research, graphene increases the power and energy density of batteries. The new graphene batteries store about as much energy as the nano-tech batteries that have been around for years, but weigh significantly more. This might be due to the different construction of the battery pack itself, but the graphene battery should be lighter and smaller, not 20 grams heavier and 5 mm thicker.

In the RC world, HobbyKing is known as being ‘good enough’. It’s not the best stuff you can get, but it is cheap. It’s the Wal-Mart of the RC world, and Wal-Mart isn’t introducing bleeding edge technologies that will purportedly save the planet. Is there real graphene in these batteries? We await an in-depth teardown, preferably with an electron microscope, with baited breath.

A Home CNC Built By Someone Who Knows Their Stuff

[thisoldtony] has a nice shop in need of a CNC. We’re not certain what he does exactly, but we think he might be a machinist or an engineer. Regardless, he sure does build a nice CNC. Many home-built CNCs are neat, but lacking. Even popular kits ignore fundamental machine design principles. This is alright for the kind of work they will typically be used for, but it’s nice to see one done right.

Most home-built machines are hard or impossible to square. That is, to make each axis move exactly perpendicular to the others. They also neglect to design for the loads the machine will see, or adjusting for deviation across the whole movement. There’s also bearing pre-loads, backlash, and more to worry about. [thisoldtony] has taken all these into consideration.

The series is a long one, but it is fun to watch and we picked up a few tricks along the way. The resulting CNC is very attractive, and performs well after some tuning. In the final video he builds a stunning rubber band gun for his son. You can also download a STEP file of the machine if you’d like. Videos after the break.

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Bunnie’s Guide to Shenzhen Electronics

[Bunnie Huang] is now officially the person who wrote the book on electronics manufacturing in Shenzhen, China. His Crowd Supply campaign for The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen has blown way past the initial goal. [Bunnie] is the first person who comes to mind for anyone needing help getting their electronics built in the region.

The books is meant as a travel companion. Hackaday was in China last June and toured the markets of Hua Qiang Bei. They are incredibly overwhelming, but people are very nice, willing to help, and none of them speak English. [Bunnie’s] approach is pages with squares you can point to in order to express your meaning. Standing at the capacitor stall? There’s a page for that. Gawking at a booth packed full of LEDs and need them in reels instead of tape? That’s in the book too. Even better, this isn’t a one-way thing. You should be able to understand well enough what they vendor is trying to convey as they point at the pages to answer your questions. This is certainly better than our method of trying to find pictures of addresses and Chinese characters on our phones. Everything is at the ready.

It doesn’t end there. The images of the book’s table of contents shows that you’ll get help with getting into the country, getting around once you’re there, and making the deal when you do find what you need. If you’re ever going to make the trip to Shenzhen, this is the first thing you should put in your backpack.

Since you’re already in the mood to purchase something made of paper, we think you’ll be interested you in this gorgeous Hackaday Omnibus Vol 02. It’s 128 pages of the best original content published on Hackaday over the past year, including the stunning artwork of Joe Kim.

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Cheap WiFi Outlets Reflashed; Found to Use ESP8266

There’s a bunch of simple WiFi-enabled outlets on the market today, and all of these blister-pack goodies seem to have something in common – crappy software. At least from the hacker’s point of view; there always seems to be something that you want to do that the app just doesn’t support. Stuck in this position, [scootermcgoober] did the smart thing and reflashed his cheap IoT outlets.

Although [scooter]’s video is very recent, and he says he got his plugs at Home Depot, we were unable to find them listed for sale at any store near us. Walmart lists the same device for a paltry $15, though, so the price is right for repeating his experiment. The video after the break shows his teardown, which locates all the major components, including a mystery module that was revealed to be an ESP8266 upon decapping. Pins were traced, leads were tacked to his serial-to-USB adapter, and soon new firmware was flashing. [scooter]’s new app is simple, but there’s plenty of room for improvement once you’ve got the keys. All the code is up on GitHub.

WiFi outlets like this and the WeMo have proved to be fertile ground for hacking. Of course, if you’re not into the whole blister-pack thing, you could always roll your own WiFi outlet.

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Balancing D-Pad Gets You In the Game

Inspired by TRON, [lasttraveler] decided to try his hand at building a Balance Board — basically a giant joystick pad you can stand on to control.

Constructed of solid wood, the switches are actually very simple — he’s just using tin foil to make the contacts. By opening up the sacrificial keyboard, he’s taken the up/down/left/right keys and wired the contacts directly to the four tin foil pads. A recess in the bottom of the board allows the rest of the keyboard to remain intact — in case he ever wants to take it apart again. Or add new buttons!

Wooden crossbeams in the shape of an X allow the board to balance in the middle without touching any of the contacts — but as soon as you lean the connections are made and you’re off to the races!

Now strap on a VR headset and play some TRON! Though if you want even more accurate control you might want to pick up a cheap Wii balance board instead.

[via r/DIY]

Ancient Fonts are Fontastic!

Doing some 8-bit ASCII art, but can’t remember where you left your copy of MicroKnight for the Amiga? Or maybe you just need some low-res-but-high-style bitmap fonts to go with your LED pixel array. No fear! Maze.io is cataloguing old text-mode fonts for you.

Textmode.es has a slew of new and old text art from both the Amiga and PC scenes. Rendering some of these correctly really relies on having the right font, so the parser piece reads many different art file formats and renders them with the requested fonts. There’s ASCII, sure, but also ICE Draw, PCBoard, Artworx, and many more. But piece needs the right fonts to do its work, which brings us back to Maze.io.

So whether you’re interested in new or old text-mode art, or just in need of some pixels to push around, have a look at Maze.io. And if you see any ROMs out there with interesting fonts, let them know.

Title image credit trueschool.se

Reverse Engineering a WiFi Security Camera

The Internet of Things is slowly turning into the world’s largest crappy robot, with devices seemingly designed to be insecure, all waiting to be rooted and exploited by anyone with the right know-how. The latest Internet-enabled device to fall is a Motorola Focus 73 outdoor security camera. It’s quite a good camera, save for the software. [Alex Farrant] and [Neil Biggs] found the software was exceptionally terrible and would allow anyone to take control of this camera and install new firmware.

The camera in question is the Motorola Focus 73 outdoor security camera. This camera connects to WiFi, features full pan, tilt, zoom controls, and feeds a live image and movement alerts to a server. Basically, it’s everything you need in a WiFi security camera. Setting up this camera is simple – just press the ‘pair’ button and the camera switches to host mode and sets up an open wireless network. The accompanying Hubble mobile app scans the network for the camera and prompts the user to connect to it. Once the app connects to the camera, the user is asked to select a WiFi connection to the Internet from a list. The app then sends the security key over the open network unencrypted. By this point, just about anyone can see the potential for an exploit here, and since this camera is usually installed outdoors – where anyone can reach it – evidence of idiocy abounds.

Once the camera is on the network, there are a few provisions for firmware upgrades. Usually, firmware upgrades are available by downloading from ‘private’ URLs and sent to the camera with a simple script that passes a URL directly into the shell as root. A few facepalms later, and [Alex]  and [Neil] had root access to the camera. The root password was ‘123456’.

While there’s the beginnings of a good Internet of Camera in this product, the design choices for the software are downright stupid. In any event, if you’re looking for a network camera that you own – not a company with a few servers and a custom smartphone app – this would be near the top of the list. It’s a great beginning for some open source camera firmware.

Thanks [Mathieu] for the tip.