Bees in TVs

Bees are a crucial part of the ecosystem – without bees to act as pollinators, many plant species wouldn’t be able to reproduce at all! It’s unfortunate then that bees are struggling to survive in many parts of the world. However, [Louise Cosgrove] is doing her part – building homes for bees in old television sets.

The project started when Louise’s son-in-law left 100 (!) analog TVs at her home, having already recycled the picture tubes. That sounds kind of impolite to us, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they had some sort of agreement. [Louise] realised the empty television cases had plenty of ventilation and would make ideal homes for bees. By filling the empty boxes with natural materials like wood, bamboo and bark, it creates nesting places that the bees can use to lay their eggs.

We’ve seen bees on Hackaday beefore (tee-hee) – like this beehive wired for remote monitoring.

[Thanks to Stuart Longland for the tip!]

Micro Wind Turbine For Hikers

[Nils Ferber] is a product designer from Germany. His portfolio includes everything from kitchen appliances to backpacks. One project, though, has generated a bit of attention. It’s a micro wind turbine aimed at long distance hikers.

Even on the trail, electronics have become a necessity. From GPS units to satellite phones, to ebook readers. Carrying extra batteries means more pack weight, so many hikers utilize solar panels. The problem is that when the sun is up, hikers are on the move – not very conducive to deploying a solar array. The Wind, however, blows all through the night.

[Nils] used carbon fiber tube, ripstop nylon, and techniques more often found in kite building to create his device. The turbine starts as a small cylindrical pack. Deploying it takes only a few minutes of opening panels and rigging guy wires. Once deployed, the turbine is ready to go.

While this is just a prototype, [Nils] claims it generates 5 Watts at a wind speed of 18 km/h, which can be used to charge internal batteries, or sent directly to any USB device. That seems a bit low for such a stiff wind, but again, this is just a prototype. Could you do better? Tell us in the comments! If you’re looking for a DIY wind generator on a slightly larger scale, you could just build one from bike parts.

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Modern Wooden Houses With No Glue Or Nails

Depending where you are in the world, the techniques used to build houses can sometimes seem to be stuck in another century. Bricks and mortar, for instance, we build with them because we are used to them and have a large workforce of people trained to work with them and not much else. But in the 21st century with more advanced building technologies sitting relatively unused and looming housing crises at every turn, does it make sense to still build houses the slow and expensive way our great-grandparents did? Probably not.

Wooden houses are a promising solution to some of the problems outlined in the previous paragraph, and indeed in large parts of the world wood is the housing material of choice. It’s eco-friendly, not too expensive, and can be applied easily to multiple different types of structure. If you think of a wooden house, does the image of a log cabin come to mind, or perhaps a weatherboard house? Both construction methods that would be familiar again to your great-grandparents, so perhaps you might not call it an advanced building technology.

It’s interesting then to see an innovation from France, a system of interlocking wood sections that can be built into walls that look very similar to brick (Here’s the French language original). These are short sections of board cleverly designed with dovetailing to engage with vertical sections that interlock between different courses and leave a gap between wooden inner and outer faces of the wall that can be filled with insulation material. The effect is to create a wooden building system that can produce a vast range of structures that can be assembled in a very short time indeed. This isn’t prefabricated housing, but it delivers the speed you’d expect from it.

They have a video shoving construction of a typical house in rather idyllic French countryside, which we’ve put below the break. It has French language annotations, however for non Français speakers the context is pretty obvious.

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Are You Down With MPPT? (Yeah, You Know Me.)

Solar cells have gotten cheaper and cheaper, and are becoming an economically viable source of renewable energy in many parts of the world. Capturing the optimal amount of energy from a solar panel is a tricky business, however. First there are a raft of physical prerequisites to operating efficiently: the panel needs to be kept clean so the sun can reach the cells, the panel needs to point at the sun, and it’s best if they’re kept from getting too hot.

Along with these physical demands, solar panels are electrically finicky as well. In particular, the amount of power they produce is strongly dependent on the electrical load that they’re presented, and this optimal load varies depending on how much illumination the panel receives. Maximum power-point trackers (MPPT) ideally keep the panel electrically in the zone even as little fluffy clouds roam the skies or the sun sinks in the west. Using MPPT can pull 20-30% more power out of a given cell, and the techniques are eminently hacker-friendly. If you’ve never played around with solar panels before, you should. Read on to see how!

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Mycelia + Sawdust = House?

Take a guess. What is the featured picture for this article? If you’re channeling your inner Google image recognition, you might say: “Best guess for this image: rock.” But, like Google, you’d be wrong. Instead, what you see are bricks made out of fungi obtained from tissues of mycelia.

By taking fungi obtained from tissues of mycelia and storing them in a jar filled with a growth medium (usually sawdust), MycoWorks is creating all sorts of materials with exciting properties. In just three to seven days, the fungi and sawdust mixture expands and forms into clumps of material, which are then used to create products like handbags, purses, bricks, you name it. According to co-founder Phil Ross, “production of this material is similar to making ravioli from scratch, and the final product is more resilient than concrete.”

The resulting materials are buoyant, self-extinguishing and stress dissipating. Moreover, the bricks are alive up until they are put in a kiln. This means bricks that are placed next to each other will grow together, effectively enabling a structure to be made out of just brick, no mortar. And, while they’re not 3D printed, houses made in this fashion have great potential. If these cool new materials have got you excited, and you want to get cozy with the fungus among us, why not go all out with an automated mushroom cultivator?

Video after the break.

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A Bold Experiment In A Decentralised Low Voltage Local DC Power Grid

January, for many of us in the Northern Hemisphere, can be a depressing month. It’s cold or wet depending where you live, the days are still a bit short, and the summer still seems an awfully long way away. You console yourself by booking a ticket to a hacker camp, but the seven months or so you’ll have to wait seems interminable.

If you want an interesting project to look forward to, take a look at [Benadski]’s idea for a decentralised low voltage local DC power grid for the upcoming SHA 2017 hacker camp in the Netherlands. The idea is to create a network that is both safe and open for hacking, allowing those with an interest in personal power generation to both have an available low-voltage power source and share their surplus power with other attendees.

The voltage is quoted as being 42V DC +/- 15%, which keeps it safely under the 50V limit set by the European Low Voltage Directive. Individuals can request a single 4A connection to the system, and villages can have a pair of 16A connections, which should supply enough for most needs. Users will need to provide their own inverters to connect their 5V or 12V appliances, fortunately a market served by numerous modules from your favourite Far Eastern sales portal.

This project will never be the solution to all power distribution needs, but to be fair that is probably not the intention. It does however provide a platform for experimentation, collaboration, and data gathering for those interested in the field, and since it is intended to make an appearance at future hacker camps there should be the opportunity for all that built up expertise to make it better over time.

We’ve touched on this subject before here at Hackaday, with our look at the availability of standard low voltage DC domestic connectors.

Wind turbine image: Glogger (CC BY-SA 3.0) via Wikimedia Commons.

The Internet Of Dirt, A Texting Plant

We will all at some point have forgotten to water a plant. If we’re lucky then the limp vegetation we return to will magically revive when we rush to water it, if not then we have the shame of an empty plant pot to remind us of our folly.

No matter, you might be thinking, we can bring technology to bear on the problem, and automate it with a microcontroller! [Bonnie] has done just that, with a capacitive soil sensor feeding an ESP8266-based Adafruit Feather HUZZAH, which in turn logs soil humidity data with the Adafruit IO online service. An IFTTT applet monitors the data, and triggers a notification when moisture falls to the point at which watering is required.

The Instructables write-up gives a comprehensive step-by-step guide to the whole process, including the code, so it’s a project that almost anyone could try as well as a basic introduction to using an online service with a piece of hardware. We can’t help asking, though, whether it might have been better to have had the system do the watering rather than merely administer a prod to its fleshy horticulturist creator. Perhaps that’s left to anyone else building one to add as an enhancement.

Quite a few plant watering automation projects have found their way onto these pages over the years, from this one using car parts to a system with an impressively simple valve made by compressing a flexible pipe. The ultimate watering device though has to be this fully autonomous greenhouse robot.