Very, Very Low Power Consumption

We’re pretty far away from a world full of wall-warts at this point, and the default power supply for your consumer electronics is either a microUSB cable or lithium batteries. USB ports are ubiquitous enough, and lithium cells hold enough power that these devices can work for a very long time.

USB devices are common, and batteries are good enough for most devices, not all of them. There is still a niche where& extremely long battery lifetimes are needed and tapping into mains power is impractical. Think smoke detectors and security systems here. How do power supplies work for these devices? In one of the most recent TI application notes, TI showed off their extremely low power microcontrollers with a motion detector that runs for ten years with a standard coin cell battery. This is one of those small engineering marvels that comes by every few years, astonishing us for a few minutes, and then becomes par for the course a few years down the road.

The first thing anyone should think about when designing a battery-powered device that lasts for years is battery self-discharge. You’re not going to run a battery-powered device for ten years with a AA cell; the shelf life for an Energizer AA cell is just 10 years. Add in a few nanoAmps of drain, and you’ll be lucky to make it to 2020. The difference here is a CR2032 lithium-ion coin cell. Look at the datasheet for one of these cells, and they can easily sit on a shelf for 10 years, with 90% of the rated capacity remaining.

With the correct battery in the device, you’ll need a microcontroller that runs at a sufficiently low power for it to be useful in the mid-2020s. The product for this is the CC1310, a very, very low power ARM Cortex-M3 and sub 1GHz transmitter in one package.

Once that’s settled, it’s simply a matter of putting a sensor on the board – in this case a PIR sensor – and a few analog bits triggering an interrupt occasionally. Have the microcontroller in sleep mode most of the time, and that’s how you get a low-power device with a battery that will last a decade.

Bubble Free Resin Casting With A Modified Paint Tank

[thelostspore] was experimenting with resin casting, and discovered that he needed a pressure casting chamber in order to get clear casts. There are commercial solutions for sale, and they are really nice. However, many hackers are on a budget, and if you’re only casting every now and then you don’t need such a fancy set-up.

Re-purposing equipment like this is pretty common in the replica prop making community. Professional painters use a pressurized pot filled with paint to deliver to their spray guns. These pots can take 60-80 PSI and are built to live on a job site. By re-arranging some of the parts you can easily get a chamber that can hold 60 PSI for enough hours to successfully cast a part. Many import stores sell a cheap version, usually a bit smaller and with a sub-par gasket for around 80 US Dollars. [thelostspore] purchased one of these, removed the feed tube from lid and plugged the outlet. He then attached a quick release fitting to the inlet of the regulator.

Alternative pressure casting set-up.
Alternative pressure casting set-up.

We used this guide to build our own pressure casting set-up. Rather than plug up the outlet on ours, we put a ball valve with a muffler in its place to quickly and safely vent the chamber when the casting has set. We recommend putting a female quick connect coupling or another ball valve in combination with the male fitting (if your hose end is female). It is not super dangerous to do it the way the guide recommends, but this is safer, and you can disconnect the compressor from the tank without losing pressure.

All that was left was to test it. He poured an identical mold and it came out clear!

“You Sank my Dysprosium!”: Periodic Table Battleship

Kids these days, they have it so easy. Back in the old days, we learned our elements the hard way, by listening to “The Elements” by Tom Lehrer over and over until the vinyl wore out on the LP. Now, thanks to [Karyn], kids can learn the elements by playing “Battleship” – no tongue-twisting lyrics required.

For anyone familiar with the classic “Battleship” game, you’ll wonder why no one thought of this before. [Karyn]’s version of the game is decidedly low-tech, but gets the job done. She printed out four copies of the periodic table, added letters to label the rows, and laminated them. A pair of tables goes into a manila file folder, the tops get clipped together, and dry-erase markers are used to mark out blocks of two to five elements to represent the ships of the Elemental Navy on the lower table. Guesses at the location of the enemy ships can be made by row and series labels for the elementally challenged, or better yet by element name. Hits and misses are marked with Xs and Os on the upper table, and play proceeds until that carrier hiding in the Actinide Archipelago is finally destroyed.

This is pure genius in its simplicity and practicality, but of course there’s room for improvement. The action-packed video after the break reveals some structural problems with the file folders, so that’s an obvious version 2.0 upgrade. And you can easily see how this could be used for other tabular material – Multiplication Table Battleship? Sounds good to us. And if your nippers catch the chemistry bug from this, be sure to take a deeper dive into the structure of the periodic table with them.

Now, if you’ll excuse me: “There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium, and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium….”

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Fire Breathing Animatronic Waterfowl, Just Because

Unless you’re a collector or a hunter, waterfowl decoys are pretty boring. Radio controlled decoys that can putt around are kind of cool. But a radio controlled animatronic fire-breathing decoy? That’s the very opposite of boring.

This is another one of those projects from the “Why the Hell Not?” files, and [David Windestål] is pretty clear that there’s no practical purpose for a flame-throwing, floating fowl. This doesn’t stop him from including 100-plus pictures as well as the video below in his detailed build log, and there are actually some tips to be had here. The remains of an RC racing boat that can hit 30 km/h are used for the floating gear; sadly the decoy superstructure reduces the speed by a factor of 10, so if you’re hoping for a high-performance decoy you’ll be disappointed. The rotating head and evil glowing LED eyes make up for that, though, as does the articulated beak. But the butane flame thrower, with laser-cut acrylic frame and servo flow control, really adds to the menace of the Duck from Hell. Or goose. Whatever.

As with most projects of this type, this is clearly a “do not try this at home” build, but it looks like a bunch of fun. For more ill-advised fun check out this mini RC flame thrower or the Doof warrior ukulele.

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How a Hacker Jump Starts a Car

Here’s the Scenario: you need to get somewhere in a hurry. The problem is that your car has a dead battery and won’t turn over. The Obvious solution would be to call a friend for a jump. But is the friendless hacker out of luck in such a situation? Not if you can whip up a quick parts bin jump starter.

Clearly, [Kedar Nimbalkar]’s solution would be practical only under somewhat bizarre circumstances, so we’ll concentrate on what we can learn from it. A spare PC power supply provides the electrons – [Kedar]’s 250W supply pushes 15A at 12 volts, which is a pretty respectable amount of current. The voltage is a little anemic, though, so he pops it up to 14.2 volts with a 150W boost converter cooled with a PC fan. A dual panel meter reads out the voltage and current, but a VOM could substitute in a pinch. About the only thing you might not have on hand is a pair of  honking 10A diodes to keep current from creeping back into the boost converter. [Kedar] claims he got enough of a charge back in the battery in five minutes to start his car.

As jump-starting goes, this hack is a bit of a stretch. It’s not the first time we’ve seen a MacGyver’d jump starter, though, and you never know when the principles and hardware behind these hacks will come in handy.

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Super Slick, Super Portable Styrofoam Slicer

[The King of Random] always seems to have something fun going on in his shop, and his builds tend to be impressively complete. No exception to that rule is his recent hot-wire foam cutter that looks like a ton of fun both to build and to use.

Starting with a simple PVC tubing frame to form the bow of the cutter, the rig ends up looking a little like a scroll saw when [Random] is done with it. A generous work surface sits atop a wood frame, which houses the electrics. A light dimmer and step-down transformer control the cutting wire’s temperature, and the bow even pivots to allow the wire to make miter cuts. A nice final touch is that the frame holding the bow detaches from and store inside the base, making the whole thing portable. It even runs off solar or batteries if you need to work off-grid, which might be handy for quick repairs on the R/C flight line.

Speaking of R/C, check out these hot-wire cut foam airplane wings. And the completeness of this build gets us thinking about the potential for CNC foam cutters.

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Homemade Bulletproof Glass, Built and Tested

Hackers tend to stash away lots of stuff that seems useless, right up until it saves the day. This includes not just junk in our parts bin but brains full of tips and tricks for the shop. With that in mind, you might want to file away a few of the tips in [AvE]’s video of how he made bulletproof glass for a rainy day.

By his own admission, [AvE]’s video is a little disjointed, and the topic of the bulletproof glass is only covered at the beginning and again briefly at the end. Most of the video concerns the machining of a stout stand for the glass for testing on the range. There’s plenty to learn from the machining, though, and [AvE] is always good for a laugh, so the video is worth a watch. The bulletproof glass itself is part of a long-term project that [AvE] is releasing first to his Patreon patrons – a ridiculously over-built flashlight dubbed “The Midnight Sun”. His first two tries at laminating the Lexan discs were less that optimal, as both brands of cyanoacrylate glue clouded the polycarbonate. Stay tuned to the end of the video for the secret of welding Lexan together into an optically clear sandwich.

As for testing under fire, [AvE] sent the rig off to buddy [TAOFLEDERMAUS] for the hot lead treatment. The video after the break shows that the glass is indeed bulletproof, as long as the bullet in question is a .22LR. Not so much for the 9mm, though – that was a clear punch-through. Still, pretty impressive performance for homebrew.

If you want something that can stop an arrow, there’s a lot of materials science to be learned from the ancient Greeks.

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