Waste Not, No Lights

Alchemists tried in vain to transmute lead into gold. What if you could turn waste products into energy? That’s what [chemicum] did in a recent video–he and some friends built microbial fuel cells that convert excrement into electricity (you can see the video, below).

The video doesn’t give you all the details of the build, but it seems easy enough. You need some stainless steel mesh, some activated charcoal, some epoxy, plastic containers, and some assorted metal plates and hardware. Of course, you also need excrement and–if the video is any indication–some clothespins to clamp your nose shut as you work.

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Nanowire Batteries Never Need Replacing

In this day and age we’re consistently surrounded with portable electronic devices. In order for them to be called “portable”, they must run on batteries. Most, if not all, use rechargeable batteries. These batteries have a finite lifespan, and will eventually need to be replaced. UCI chemist [Reginald Penner] and doctoral candidate [Mya Le Thai] have been hard at work on making rechargeable batteries that last forever.

Nanowires are great candidates for rechargeable battery technology because the wires, thousands of times thinner than a human hair, are great conductors of electricity. The problem is repeated charging and discharging makes them brittle, which causes them to eventually fail. Typically, the researchers at UCI could get 5000 to 7000 cycles in before they failed. After some trial and error, they found that if they coat a gold nanowire with an acrylic-like gel, they can get up to 200,000 charge/discharge cycles through it before failure.

We’ve seen rechargeable battery hacks before, but making a battery that never needs replacing is sure to get everyone excited.

Smart AC Monitoring: Without the $500 Price Tag

[Tisham Dhar] has been interested in monitoring AC power and previously built a breakout board for the ADE7763. He wanted to find something cheaper and more modern. The ATM90E26 fit the bill. It can communicate via a UART or SPI, and has multiple metering modes. The problem? The evaluation module from Atmel costs about $500 (and for [Dhar] $800 Australian), although the part itself can be had for under a buck in bulk. (Atmel even sent him three samples for free.)

[Dhar] put the low voltage components from the reference design on a PCB and pocketed the difference in cost. So far, he’s tested the setup with a Teensy and low voltage measurements only. He plans to do a full test soon.

The test setup uses SPI mode 3 to talk to the processor. You can find the relevant code on GitHub.

We see a lot of energy monitoring projects go by. Of course, working on household wiring current can be dangerous, so be careful out there.

Star Trek Material Science is Finally Real: Transparent Wood

It’s not transparent aluminum, exactly, but it might be even better: transparent wood. Scientists at the University of Maryland have devised a way to remove all of its coloring, leaving behind an essentially clear piece of wood.

IMG_20160518_110605By boiling the block of wood in a NaOH and Na2SO chemical bath for a few hours the wood loses its lignin, which is gives wood its color. The major caveat here is that the lignin also gives wood strength; the colorless cellulose structure that remains is itself very fragile. The solution is to impregnate the transparent wood with an epoxy using about three vacuum cycles, which results in a composite that is stronger than the original wood.

There are some really interesting applications for this material. It does exhibit some haze so it is not as optimally transparent as glass but in cases where light and not vision is the goal — like architectural glass block — this is a winner. Anything traditionally build out of wood for its mechanical properties will be able to add an alpha color channel to the available options.

The next step is finding a way to scale up the process. At this point the process has only been successful on samples up to 1 centimeter thick. If you’re looking to build a starship out of this stuff in the meantime, your best bet is still transparent aluminum. We do still wonder if there’s a way to eliminate the need for epoxy, too.

Electromagnetic Field’s Badge Hanging in the Balance

Making conference badges is a tough job. Unless you’re sitting on a gold mine, you have to contact a whole bunch of sponsors for help, work the parts that you can get into a coherent design, and do it all on the quick for a large audience. The EMF team is this close to getting it done, but they need some sponsorship for the assembly. If you know anyone, help them out! If they can’t line something up in the next two weeks, they’ll have to pull the plug on the badge entirely.

Electromagnetic Field is a summer-camp hacker convention / festival that takes place in England and is now in its third iteration. As with other big cons, the badge is a good part of the fun.

The 2016 EMF badge looks to be amazing. It’s powered by an ST STM32L4 low-power micro, a color LCD screen, a TI CC3100 WiFi radio module onboard, and a ridiculous number of other features including a gyro and magnetometer, and a giant battery. It’s also a testbed for the brand-new MicroPython, which aims to bring everyone’s favorite scripting language to embedded processors. In fact, they’ve largely built the MicroPython WiFi drivers for the badge.

If they can’t get a sponsor, all is not lost because everything is open source. We’ll all reap the benefits of their hard work. But that’s not the point. The point is that hundreds of hackers will be standing around in a field outside of London without the most audacious badge that we’ve seen designed dangling from their necks.
If you know anyone who can help, get in touch?

Thanks [schneider] for the tip!

Peachy Printer Collapses, Investor Built A House Instead Of A Printer

The Peachy Printer, originally a crowdfunding campaign for a $100 stereolithography 3D printer, is now dead in the water.[Rylan Grayston], the creator of the Peachy Printer, announced that [David Boe] — investor, 50% owner of Peachy Printer, and business partner — had stolen over $300,000 in Kickstarter campaign funds. According to [Rylan], this money was used to build a house.

An example print from the Peachy Printer Kickstarter campaign
An example print from the Peachy Printer Kickstarter campaign

When the Peachy Printer was announced on Kickstarter, it was, by any measure, a game changing product. Unlike other stereolithographic printers like the Form 1 and DLP projector kit printers, the Peachy was cheap. It was also absurdly clever. Instead of using a stepper motor to raise a print out of a vat of resin, the Peachy Printer floated the resin on a vat of salt water. By slowly dripping salt water into this vat, the level of the resin rose up, allowing the galvanometers and laser diode to print the next layer of a 3D object. In our first coverage of the Peachy Printer, everyone was agog at how simple this printer was. It wasn’t a high-resolution printer, but it was a 3D resin printer that only cost $100. Even today, nearly three years after the launch of the Kickstarter campaign, there’s nothing like it on the market.

For the last two years, [Rylan] appeared to have the Peachy Printer in a pseudo-stealth mode. Whispers of the Peachy Printer circled around 3D printer forums, with very little information coming from [Rylan]. For the last year, the Peachy Printer appeared to be just another failed crowdfunded 3D printer. Either [Rylan] didn’t have the engineering chops to take a novel device to market, there were problems with suppliers, or [Rylan] just couldn’t get the product out the door.

In the update published to the Kickstarter campaign, the reason for the failure of Peachy Printer to deliver becomes apparent. The Kickstarter campaign was set up to deliver the funds received – $587,435.73 – directly into [David Boe]’s account. Thirty days after the funds were received, [David] had spent over $165,000. In just over three months, all the Kickstarter funds, save for $200,000 transferred into the Peachy Printer corporate account, were spent by [David].

With no funds to complete the development of the Peachy Printer, [Rylan] looked into alternative means of keeping the company afloat until Kickstarter rewards had shipped. Peachy Printer received two government grants totalling $90,000 and $135,000. In March of 2015, one of [Rylan]’s family members loaned $50,000 to Peachy Printer. A plan to finance the delivery of Kickstarter rewards with new sales – a plan that is usually looked down upon by Kickstarter backers – was impossible, as cost and time required of certifying the laser in the Peachy Printer would have put the company in the red.

Right now, [Rylan] and the Peachy Printer are pursuing repayment from [David Boe], on the basis that Kickstarter reward money is still tied up in the construction of a house. Once the house is complete, the bank will disburse funds from the construction mortgage, and funds can then be transferred from [David] to Peachy Printer.

In all, the Peachy Printer is a mess, and has been since the Kickstarter funds were disbursed to [David]. There is – potentially – a way out of this situation that gets Peachy Printers into the hands of all the Kickstarter backers if the mortgage construction funds come through and production resumes, but that’s a lot of ‘ifs’. Failed Kickstarter projects for 3D printers are nothing new, but [Rylan]’s experience with the Peachy Printer is by far the most well-documented failure of a crowdfunding project we’ve ever seen.

New Part Day: A BeagleBone On A Chip

The current crop of ARM single board computers have a lot in common. Everything from the Odroid to the Raspberry Pi are built around Systems on a Chip, a piece of silicon that has just about everything you need to build a bare minimum board. You won’t find many hardware hackers playing around with these chips, though. That would require putting some RAM on the board, and some other high-speed connectors. Until now, the only people building these ARM boards were Real Engineers™, with a salary commensurate of their skills.

This is now about to change. Octavo Systems has launched a new product that’s more or less a BeagleBone on a chip. If you can handle putting a PCB with a BGA package in a toaster oven, you too can build your own ARM single board computer running Linux.

Octavo’s new System in Package is the OSD335x family, featuring a Texas Instruments AM335x ARM Cortex A8 CPU, up to 1GB of DDR3, and peripherals that include 114 GPIOs, 6 UARTs, 2 SPIs, 2 I2Cs, 2x Gigabit Ethernet, and USB.

The chips used in commercially available single board computers like the Pi and BeagleBone have hundreds of passive components sprinkled around the board. This makes designing one of these single board computers challenging, to say nothing about actually assembling the thing. Octavo is baking a bunch of these resistors, capacitors, and inductors right into this chip, allowing for extremely minimal boards running Linux. [Jason Kridner] – the BeagleBone guy – is working on a PocketBone, a full-fledged Linux computer that will fit inside an Altoids tin.

Of course, with this degree of integration, a BeagleBone on a chip won’t be cheap. The first part number of this family to be released, with the AM3358 CPU and 1GB of RAM, sells for $50 in quantity one.

Still, this is something we haven’t seen before. It’s a Linux computer on a chip that anyone can use. There is an Eagle symbol for this module. This is a chip designed for hardware hackers, and we can’t wait to see what people using this chip will come up with.