A Primer on Buck (and Boost) Converters

We all know that the reason the electrical system uses alternating current is because it’s easy to step the voltage up and down using a transformer, a feature which just isn’t possible with a DC system… or is it? Perhaps you’ve heard of mysterious DC-DC transformers before but never really wanted to look at the wizardry that makes them possible. Now, SparkFun Director of Engineering [Pete Dokter] has a tutorial which explains how these mysterious devices work.

Known as buck converters if they step the input voltage down and boost converters if they step the voltage up, [Pete] explains how these circuits exploit the properties of an inductor to resist changes in current flow. He goes into exquisite detail to explain how components like transistors or MOSFETs are used to switch the current flow to the inductor very rapidly, and just exactly what happens to the magnetic field which makes these devices possible.

The video gives a good amount of background knowledge if you’ve always wanted to understand these devices a little bit better. There are also a few projects floating around that exploit these devices, such as one that uses an AVR microcontroller to perform the switching for a small circuit, or another that uses the interesting properties of these circuits to follow the I-V curve of a solar panel to help charge a bank of batteries. The possibilities are endless!

Continue reading “A Primer on Buck (and Boost) Converters”

Automatic Plant Care Minus the Microcontroller

Plants are a nice addition to most any habitat. Many of them bear flowers or attractive foliage, some of them help filter the air, and others, like aloe vera, have medicinal properties. While some plants require very little care, they all need a little moisture at some point. Overall, plant care is a bit fiddly: water them too much and you run the risk of root rot; water too little and risk death by dehydration. Hackaday alum [Kevin Darrah] would prefer not to gamble with either condition, and so in the course of a weekend’s time, he constructed a solar-powered automatic plant watering system from components he had on hand.

While he likely had a microcontroller or two lying around, he didn’t use one. His is a system of MOSFETs that trigger a motorized pump from one of those automatic bug spray bottles to draw from a reservoir and water the plant. The solar panel charges a bank of 6800µF capacitors that [Kevin] took out of an old receiver. When the desired charge is reached, the small soil sensor module is powered, assessing the moisture level. If the level is below the threshold determined by a trimmer pot, the power from the capacitor bank is dumped to the water pump and his plant gets a drink.

[Kevin]’s design deals nicely with the possible pitfalls of solar power. He’s included a 0.1µF cap to ensure latching through the system, and added a bleed resistor so that the pump is never powered unnecessarily. After running it for a couple of days, he’s already seeing moisture regulation in the soil. His complete demonstration and theory of operation is after the break. If you’re into solar power but aren’t quite ready to ditch the µC, check out this Arduino-controlled solution for thirsty tomatoes or this PIC-powered plant pacifier.

Continue reading “Automatic Plant Care Minus the Microcontroller”

Handheld Linux Terminal Gets an A+

Are you all thumbs when it comes to Linux? If you follow [Chris]’s guide to building a handheld Linux terminal, that particular condition could work to your advantage. His pocket-sized machine is perfect for practicing command line-fu and honing your scripting skills on the go.

[Chris]’s creation is built around a Raspberry Pi A+ that he stripped to its essentials by removing the GPIO pins, HDMI and USB ports, the audio port, and the camera and display ports. It’s housed in a pair of plastic 2.5″ hard drive enclosures connected with a piano hinge, making it about the size of a Nintendo DS. The display is an Adafruit PiTFT touch screen and in order to save space, he soldered it directly to the Pi.

The 2.4GHz wireless thumb keyboard has all the special characters necessary for Linuxing, but the four USB ports from a dismantled hub provide flexibility. If [Chris] were to make another one, he might use this slightly larger screen from Tindie and add some charging ports to the case.

[Thanks for the tip, ar0cketman]

Etching Steel With a DC Wall Wart

[Dan Comeau] is a modern-day Renaissance DIY Jedi — or so he says… He loves re-purposing things and hacking in general. But one of his favorite pastimes is producing custom hand-made knives. He etches his logo on each, using a professional etching machine, but when a fan asked how to do it themselves, he came up with this simple and easy way to etch metal at home with a few things you probably already have!

It’s actually incredibly simple. Just by cracking open a DC power supply (a wall wart will do just fine), you can easily make your own etching/marking device with a few modifications. Ideally you want something in the range of 5-12VDC at 1A or more.  Continue reading “Etching Steel With a DC Wall Wart”

This One May Come as a Shock to Some

[Chris] seems to have commandeered a decent portion of the wife’s sewing room for his electronic adventures. As it is still her claim, she made it clear that his area needed some organization and a new desk. Dissatisfied with the look and feel of the replacement IKEA desk-like substance they acquired, he took it upon himself to ratchet up both the style and value by adding a copper laminate.

His decision is not purely based in aesthetic. If you’re following along, this means that his new electronics work surface is conductive. And yeah, it’s connected to ground at the wall. Although he doesn’t care for the stank of of anti-static mats or their susceptibility to fading and cracking, he does intend to use a tiny patch of it to keep his silicon happy.

[Chris] used a 20-gauge copper sheet that he cut and scored down to fit his Swedish sandwich wood base with enough margin for overhang. After scratching up one side of the copper sheet and one of the receiving base, he squidged down some adhesive nasty enough to require the rubber glove protocol and clamped it all together for several hours. Stay put the copper did, but stay flat it did not. After hammering down the overhang, [Chris] hand-burnished the copper in small swirls with a Scotch Brite pad to visually break up the slightly wavy surface. Instructional and hilarious play-by-play after the break.

Continue reading “This One May Come as a Shock to Some”

Micro Tesla Coil makes a Perfect Stocking Stuffer

Tesla coils are always a hit around here at the office. Giant ones that play music with modern-day chain mail wearing DJ’s, ones thrown together in garages by self-proclaimed mad scientists… But have you ever seen one that can fit in the palm of your hand?

[Ludic Science] just released this tutorial video on how to make it. It’s a miniature diagram of slayer circuitsolid state Tesla coil that’s based on the ever popular Slayer Exciter circuit that was first developed by [GBluer]. The beauty is it’s a very simple circuit to build. It consists of one power transistor, a few diodes, some resistors, and the coil. That’s it!

He even repurposes the magnet wire from a small relay, it’s literally a project you can build from scrap parts around the shop. Awesome.

Continue reading “Micro Tesla Coil makes a Perfect Stocking Stuffer”

Battery Basics – Choosing a Battery for Your Project

If choosing a rechargeable battery for your project intimidates you, [Afroman] has prepared a primer video that should put you at ease. In this tutorial for battery basics he not only walks you through a choice of 5 rechargeable chemistries and their respective tradeoffs, but gives a procedure that will allow you to navigate through the specs of real-world batteries for sale – something that can be the most intimidating part of the process.

You cannot learn everything about batteries in 9 minutes, but watching this should get you from zero to the important 80% of the way there. Even if your project does not give you the specs you need to begin buying, [Afroman] tells you what to measure and how to shop for it. In particular, the information he gives is framed in the context you care about, hopefully ensuring you are not waylaid by all the details that were safe to ignore. If this is not enough, [Afroman]’s prequel video on battery terminology has more detail.

Much like your high school English teacher told you, you need to know the rules before you can choose to break them. Many of battery absolute Dos or Don’ts are written for the manufacturer, who provides for the consumer, not the hacker. Hackaday has published hundreds of battery articles over the years; search our archives when you are ready for more.

Continue reading “Battery Basics – Choosing a Battery for Your Project”