The Best Environment-related Prize Projects

Last week we challenged you to post your idea on environment-related solutions for the 2015 Hackaday Prize. We’ve gone through every entry and have chosen this week’s winners. What a tough process, there are so many interesting ideas to consider that we’ve done a round-up of some that held our attention.

Bosch Haber Process
Bosch Haber Process

Energy Saving

Conservation was at the center of these projects and [Peter Walsh] is thinking large scale to improve the Bosch-Haber process. This process is used as a source of nitrogen for fertilizers and consumes 1% of all energy worldwide. Even small efficiency advances could have a huge effect.

From profound to whimsical, [TomaCzar] has an alarming solution to leaving the lights on. We enjoy his preamble about his family moving to Earth from a planet with unlimited energy (hence their habit of leaving the lights on). He plans to add an audible alarm to any light that is switched on for more than 10 minutes.

Energy Production

Those huge solar farms that use arrays of mirrors to focus the sun’s light on a central tower leverage a techique called Concentrated Solar Power. Traditionally they store heat in a pool of liquid salt for generating power around the clock. [PUNiSH3R] has a plan to build his own on a micro-scale. The Portable Micro-CHP will use similar concepts (less the molten salt) in a package small enough to be transported by a single human.

Undeveloped parts of the planet have huge problems when it comes to bootstrapping an electrical grid. [hickss] thinks blimps might be one way to alleviate the problem. The DayBreaker project will tether blimps to the ground, with a hydrogen feed supplied through electrolysis which keeps them afloat. While high in the air they can catch higher winds using a turbine and transfer the electricity back to the ground using the same tether.

Rounding out energy producing examples is the Domestic Geothermal Stirling Power Unit. We’ve seen geothermal systems that use heat exchangers to heat or cool your home. [Shrad] ponders the idea of also using the loops of circulating fluid to feed a Stirling engine that could help supply power to the home.

Way Out There Ideas

Is this parking lot a power plant waiting to happen?
Is this parking lot a power plant waiting to happen?

There were a number of interesting concepts that we think are well worth considering and debating. It’s hard to say if these are all feasible, but tossing the ideas around is just the kind of interaction that could lead to a big breakthrough. For instance, the image seen here is a freshly paved and painted asphalt parking lot. Asphalt Heat Harvesting imagines the Peltier effect being used on a large scale by embedding metal networks between layers of the pavement. A heat differential between the surface and the base layer could produce electricity.

We’re at a loss for understanding how the Open Source Modular Absorption Refrigeration Unit actually works. It seeks to supply refrigeration using a heat source instead of electricity. The diagram looks promising and we think OSMARU is a solid acronym!

Remember The Hunt for Red October? If so, you certainly remember the caterpillar drive which made the submarine virtually silent. [N-Monkeys] wants to use that and ocean water as a generator rather than a locomotive device. Check out Project InchWorm.

This Week’s Winners


First place this week goes to Improve the Bosch-Haber process and will receive the SmartMatrix 32×32 RGB LED matrix along with a Teensy 3.1 to drive it.

Second place this week goes to DayBreaker and will receive a Bus Pirate and probe cable.

Third place this week goes to Domestic Geothermal Stirling Power Unit and will receive a Hackaday Robot Head Tee.

Congratulations to all three! We think it’s important to mention we are judging the idea on its ability to solve something affecting a wide range of people, its level of innovation, and the feasibility of the concept. There is no requirement at this point to have built anything or completed the documentation. Don’t be afraid to write down your own brainstorm… it might just win you a prize!

Next Week’s Theme

We’ll announce next week’s theme a bit later today. Don’t let that stop you from entering any ideas collection of entries may have inspired.

This week’s theme is Aging in Place. Check out the announcement post for details.

Coming up with that killer concept is a matter to thinking in different ways and interacting with other Hackers, Designers, and Engineers to help make the mental leap to greatness!

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Your Marble Machine Doesn’t Need to Change the World

It’s easy to get sucked into the increasing the complexity when sometimes the craftsmanship can be what makes the project. [Alex Weber] proves the point with his minimalist marble machine. There are no death-defying twists and turns, no convoluted path forks or overly-complex lifting mechanisms. This is about a clean and simple design that looks amazing whether running or stationary.

For the uninitiated, marble machines route marbles (or quite often steel ball bearings) through a set of paths usually guided by gravity for the delight of onlookers. Traditionally, making them complicated is the point. Take this offering which highlights years worth of marble machine builds all exercising different concepts. Sometimes they occupy entire rooms. We’ve seen them make a clock tick. And who can forget marble-based flip-flops that combine to form things like binary adders?

Have we scared you off from building these yourself yet? No, that’s the entire point of this one… it can be excruciatingly simple, while elegantly crafted. Check out the video demo below to see how one oval, one battery, and one motor have no problem bringing a smile to your face.

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2015 THP Inspiration: Renewable Energy

Most of our energy comes from dead algae or dead ferns right now, and we all know that can’t continue forever. The future is by definition sustainable, and if you’re looking for a project to change the world for this year’s Hackaday Prize, you can’t do better than something to get the world off carbon-based fuels.

mhqyqz7The simplest solar builds can be as fun as a redneck hot tub – a solar thermal water heater repurposed into a heated swimming pool with the help of a pump and JB Weld. You can even build a hose-based version for $100. They can be as useful as a Maximum Power Point Tracking charger for a solar setup – a few bits of electronics that ensure you’re getting the most out of your solar cells. You can, of course, access solar power in a roundabout way with a wind generator built from a washing machine and a 555 timer.

carben-mainGetting energy from the sun is one thing, and putting it to use is another thing entirely. We spend a lot of energy on transportation, and for that there’s a solar power bike, an electric scooter, or a completely open source electric car.

Building the machines that make sustainable energy possible or even just the tools that will let us use all that energy are just a few ideas that would make great entries for The Hackaday Prize. You could go another direction and build the tools that will build and maintain these devices, like figuring out a way to keep these batteries and generators out of the landfill. Any way you look at it, anything that actually matters  would make a great entry to The Hackaday Prize.

2015 THP Inspiration: The Environment

It’s not as flashy as Tesla coils or electric vehicles going 200 mph, but the environment is more important than a bunch of cool baubles and sparks flying everywhere. When it comes to this year’s Hackaday Prize, you’re going to need a project that matters, and what’s a better way to do it than with something to help the environment?

While not traditionally a domain that rocks people’s socks, there are a lot of cool builds that can help the environment like this hyperspectral imager that’s a mashup of a spectrometer and a camera, or something that takes an image of an object, complete with the spectral data of each pixel. It’s useful for everything from farming, to forestry, to medicine.

aquaponicsPerhaps you want to get your hands messy by mucking about in the dirt. You’ll probably find something interesting to build for this year’s Hackaday Prize, like the modular farmer’s market we saw in Detroit last year. How about an urban farming and aquaponics setup? Tilapia do well in giant buckets, you know.

If robots are more your speed, then how about an RC tractor or an entire robotic farm? You could always eradicate invasive plants with a quadcopter if flying around is more suited to your expertise. There are plenty of ways to do something that matters for this year’s Hackaday prize, but we’d be lying if we had all the answers. That’s where you come in with your entry for The Hackaday Prize.

2015 THP: Judges and Sponsors

And now it’s time to recognize a big part what makes the Hackaday Prize possible: our Judges and our Sponsors. First up are the Judges. We are fortunate again this year to be joined by top experts from around the world. We are going to briefly touch on each in this post, but you really should hit the Judge’s page for bios and links on everyone.

New Judges in 2015

We have seven judges new to the panel this year:

We love seeing a project pic used as an avatar and [Akiba] of freaklabs didn’t disappoint; we covered that project in 2013. [Pete Dokter], known well for According to Pete, joins us from Sparkfun. [Lenore Edman] and [Windell Oskay] are the force behind Evil Mad Scientist Labs. [Heather Knight] of Marilyn Monrobot is finishing her PhD in Robots at Carnegie Mellon. [Ben Krasnow] should need no introduction; formerly of Valve, currently of Google[x], and always of Applied Science. [Micah Scott] is artist/engineer/hacker and her Blu-Ray drive RE work is among our most favorite of 2014 hacks.

Returning Judges

Five of our friends from the 2014 Hackaday Prize are returning this year:

We have a hard time calling the founder of Adafruit anything other than [Ladyada] but you may know her as [Limor Fried]. The hardware design site The Ganssle Group is spearheaded by [Jack Ganssle]. You know [Dave Jones] from his electronics design and reverse engineering videos on EEVblog and also from the Amp Hour podcast. [Ian Lesnet] is a Hackaday alum, creator of Dangerous Prototypes, and expert regarding manufacturing in China. And finally, [Elecia White] is an extraordinary embedded engineer, founder of Logical Elegance, and the Embedded podcast.

Welcome back, and so happy to have the new Judges this year!

2015 Hackaday Prize Sponsors


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is presented by Supplyframe (parent company of Hackaday). This year we have added five giants of the hardware world as sponsors. We don’t recall having seen so many major players come together for a single initiative. We’re excited that they share our vision of supporting design initiatives. Please thank them by following their pages: Atmel, Freescale Semiconductor, Microchip, Mouser Electronics, and Texas Instruments. Thank you sponsors!

Popular Electronics Magazine Archive Online

They began publishing Popular Electronics magazine in 1954, and it soon became one of the best-selling DIY electronics magazines. And now you can relive those bygone days of yore by browsing through this archive of PDFs of all back issues from 1954 to 1982.

Reading back through the magazine’s history gives you a good feel for the technological state of the art, at least as far as the DIYer is concerned. In the 1950s and 1960s (and onwards) radio is a big deal. By the 1970s, hi-fi equipment is hot and you get an inkling for the dawn of the digital computer age. Indeed, the archive ends in 1982 when the magazine changed its name to Computers and Electronics magazine.

It’s fun to see how much has changed, but there’s a bunch of useful material in there as well. In particular, each issue has a couple ultra-low-parts-count circuit designs that could certainly find a place in a modern project. For example, a “Touch-Controlled Solid State Switch” in July 1982 (PDF), using a hex inverter chip (CD4049) and a small handful of passive components.

But it’s the historical content that we find most interesting. For instance there is a nice article on the state of the art in computer memory (“The Electronic Mind — How it Remembers”) in August 1956 (PDF).

Have a good time digging through the archives, and if you find something you really like, let us know in the comments.

Smartphone VR Viewer Roundup


In June 2014, Google revealed a low-cost Smartphone Adapter and VR SDK at their annual software developer conference in San Francisco, California. During the event, Google handed out 6,000 cardboard kits and released a tutorial online, which prompted homemade versions to surface on the web within three hours. This then sparked an iPad case manufacturer to fashion together their own cardboard VR kit that could be bought for $25. After a week, Google gained over 50,000 downloads of their cardboard Android app.

Although the popularity of this VR viewer skyrocketed extremely fast, the idea for a cheap VR solution is nothing new. Developers have been experimenting with these types of objects for years. In fact, a group of Cupertino high school sophomores debuted a similar device called ‘Face Box’ at an entertainment and technology conference at Stanford University on June 17, more than a week before Google’s I/O presentation. A few months earlier, researchers at the Mixed Reality Research Lab (MxR) at USC launched an open source DIY VR website that showed how to create virtual reality headsets with a 3D printer. The smartphone enabled head-mounted display had schematics for both Android and iPhone. The MxR lab was where [Palmer Luckey] worked at as an engineer before founding Oculus (the company that Facebook eventually acquired for approximately $2 billion). So when [Palmer] saw that Google released their cardboard kit, he vocalized his opinion by calling it a clone of his colleagues’ research on Reddit.

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