2-Axis Solar Tracker Always Gets a Tan

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Let’s face it — solar panels still aren’t that efficient. So why not pump as much juice out of them as possible? Building a 2-axis solar tracking unit can increase daily power output by around 30%!

[Jay Doscher] had his power go out back in 2011, and even though it was only for 12 hours, they realized how ill-prepared they were to deal with a power outage. Food was spoiled, flashlights were dead, candles were sparse… they needed to be prepared better for the next time this happened. This spawned one of [Jay’s] longest running projects on his blog Polyideas.

His goal was to build a fully automated solar tracking unit that could be setup anywhere, and automatically track the sun to ensure optimum ray catching. It makes use of a 12V gear reduced motor to provide panning, and a linear actuator with positional tracking to control the tilt. To track the sun he’s got a digital compass and an Adafruit Ultimate GPS breakout board. To control it all he’s using is an Arduino UNO, but he has been through multiple iterations including his first with a BeagleBone. It’s a very slick and well engineered system and [Jay’s] hoping to spread it around the world — the entire thing is open source. What a guy!

It’s not quite complete yet, but he’s got an amazing build log and a GitHub repository  filled with info — plus the following video showing it off in its current state!

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Cute Tilt Beam Flashlight Adds Some Fun Interaction to Your Patio Table

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Here’s a cute little LED hack for your next soiree, it’s a solar charged piece of wood… with a motion controlled light in it!

[Zach DeBord] decided to try building his own version of this after seeing a commercial offering. He took a piece of oak and sliced off the top edge, and then laser cut the exact profile of the solar panel out of that slice. This allowed him to drill a nice big sloppy hole in the middle of it to fit the circuitry.

He’s using a nice big 8mm LED with a small 0.09V-5V DC boost circuit, a mercury tilt switch, a 4.5V solar cell, and a 2.7V 10MF super capacitor — plus a diode and 100ohm resistor. He’s glued the top slice of wood back in place, and sealed the entire thing with resin — you can hardly see the cut mark!

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Hack a Solar Garden Light Into a Flashlight

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While browsing through his local dollar store, [Taylor] came across a suspicious looking rock that, upon closer inspection, turned out to be a solar garden light. He scooped it up, took it home and cracked it open, modding it to function as a handheld solar flashlight.

Inside was a pathetically small 40mAh rechargeable battery, which he upgraded to a more standard rechargeable AA. The garden rock came pre-built with its own boost converter to kick up the voltage for the LED, but it was fairly dim. We’re guessing [Taylor] didn’t bother reverse engineering the converter and instead simply did some trial and error, but he managed to increase the LED’s brightness by slapping on a different value inductor.

As fun as it may be to have a rock for a flashlight, [Taylor] decided to cobble together a custom case out of a spare USB charger, making a battery holder and adding a pushbutton. The result is a handy solar flashlight that takes around five hours to charge. Check out some other custom lights: a lithium-powered PVC flashlight or one with a snazzier aluminum body and interchangeable heads.

DIY Electricity and Internet for Burning Man

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Despite this being [Kenneth Finnegan’s] first Burning Man, the guy came prepared and stayed connected by setting up a beefy electricity supply and a faint yet functional internet connection. If you saw [Kenneth’s] Burning Man slideshow, you know that the desert is but a mild deterrent against power, water, and even temporary runways.

He borrowed a 20V 100W solar panel from Cal Poly and picked up a bargain-price TSMT-20A solar charge controller off eBay. The controller babysits the batteries by preventing both overcharging and over-discharging. The batteries—two Trojan-105 220Ah 6V behemoths—came limping out of a scissor lift on their last legs of life: a high internal resistance ruled out large current draws. Fortunately, the power demands were low, as the majority of devices were 12VDC or USB. [Kenneth] also had conveniently built this USB power strip earlier in the year, which he brought along to step down to 5VDC for USB charging.

Internet in the desert, however, was less reliable. A small team provides a microwave link from civilization every summer, which is shared via open access points in 3 different camps. [Kenneth] pointed his Ubiquiti NanoStation at the nearest one, which provided a host of inconvenient quirks and top speeds of 2-20kBps: enough, at least, to check emails.

Solar power for your bike

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After the headlight on his bike died, [Patrick] decided this was the best time to hack the remains and solve a few problems: namely a constantly drained battery from accidentally forgetting to turn the light off. He opted for a solar solution, as he already had both an Adafruit solar lithium charger and a Seeed Li-po Rider. [Patrick] picks the Adafruit board for its extra safety features like temperature sensing to prevent the cell from overheating.

The build uses 9 eBay-sourced 2V mini solar panels attached neatly on the bike’s mudflaps. Three groups of 3 panels in series provide the needed 6V into the Adafruit lithium board which safely charges a spare 900mAh Nokia phone battery from the junk drawer. [Patrick] admits this solar setup may be overkill. He decided to include a USB jack to keep his phone charged for some Google maps navigation. The Adafruit board does not step up to 5V, however, so [Patrick] tacks on a Mintyboost kit to kick the Lipo’s output up high enough to charge the phone.

Solar’s not the only alternative way to power your bike’s lights. Check out the RattleGen from earlier this year if you missed it.

Windmill made from washing machine, 555 chip

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Green hacks implement one of two philosophies. The first is über-technical, with very expensive, high-quality components. The other side of this coin creates green power out of junk. [Timot] obviously took the latter choice, building a windmill out of an old washing machine motor and a few bits of PVC.

The generator for the windmill is based on a Fisher and Paykel direct drive usually found in clothes washing machines, rewired to provide 12 Volts at low RPM. At high speeds, the generator can produce 80 Volts, so a charge controller – even one based on a 555 chip – was an excellent addition.

For the other miscellaneous mechanical parts of the build, [Timot] cut the blades of the windmill out of 200 mm PVC pipe and sanded them down a bit for a better aerodynamic profile. With a custom fiberglass spinner, [Timot] whipped up a very attractive power station that is able to provide about 20 watts in normal conditions and 600 watts when it’s very windy. Not enough to power a house by any means, but more than enough to charge a cellphone or run a laptop for a few hours out in the back country.

Tymkrs’ Deconstruction for the zombie apocalypse

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We’ve seen a few of the projects from The Deconstruction, a 48-hour build-a-thon for hackerspaces and other groups around the globe. Of course Tymkrs, a pair of geeky vloggers famous for their building prowess, were part of The Deconstruction, and in the process they came up with a few really cool builds at their hackerspace, The Rabbit Hole, in Rochester, MN.

Their theme for The Deconstruction was “a zombie apocalypse”. Instead of homemade crossbows and electric fences, Tymkrs and the rest of The Rabbit Hole put a ‘rebuilding society’ spin on the whole zombie apocalypse and ended up building things that would be useful after Z-day.

First up is a PVC bike trailer designed to easily attach to the back of a bicycle. The frame is made out of a few pieces of 2″ PVC pipe with some nylon rope knotted together for a nice webbed platform. a 5/8″ steel rod was turned down to accept two 20″ bike wheels. A useful build, even if it’s not the zombie apocalypse.

The second build is a solar japanese lantern, combining [Addie]’s love of solar lanterns and japanese-style lanterns into one great project. The materials for this build came from a broken solar-powered lantern with completely revamped electronics. There’s a Joule thief to keep the LED lit, and a few solar panels to charge up the batteries during the day. Of course the build wasn’t complete without a little decoration, so [Addie] drew four panels of rabbits for The Rabbit Hole team.

By far the most dangerous build undertaken by The Rabbit Hole is their can crusher. It’s a pair of snowblower tires powered by a disused garage door opener. The theory of operations is that a can will drop in between the rotating wheels, crushing the can, and sending it to a waste basket below the device. In practice, the device didn’t really live up to expectations, but it’s loud and dangerous, so we’ll give it a pass.