[Oitzu] in Germany wrote in to let us know about a series of short but very informative blog posts in which he describes building a series of solar-powered, networked birdhouses with the purpose of spying on the life that goes on within them. He made just one at first, then expanded to a small network of them. They work wonderfully, and [Oitzu]’s documentation will be a big help to anyone looking to implement any of the same elements – which include a Raspberry Pi in one unit as a main gateway, multiple remote units in other birdhouses taking pictures and sending those to the Pi over an nRF24L01+ based radio network, and having the Pi manage uploading those images using access to the mobile network. All with solar power.
This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.
It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.
The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.
We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.
We love solar power. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it’s relatively lightweight and involves fragile high technology. Just the sort of thing that we’d want to strap onto the wings of a large model aircraft.
Solar power on a remote-controlled plane would get you unlimited cruising range. Now, a normal land-and-swap-battery process might be good enough for some people, but judging from [Prometreus]’s YouTube channel, he’s a fan of long flights over the Alps, and of pushing long-distance FPV links to the breaking point. For him and his friends, the battery power is definitely the limiting factor in how far / long he can fly.
All of the information we have is in the video, but that’s plenty. [Prometreus] didn’t bother with maximum-power-point tracking, but instead wired up his solar cells to work just about right for the voltage of his batteries and the level of sun that he’s seeing. So it won’t work nearly as well on cloudy days. (Check out this MPPT build that was submitted for the Hackaday Prize.)
He could switch the solar cells in an out remotely, and it’s pretty gratifying to see the consumed current in the battery go down below zero. In the end, he lands with a full battery. How cool is that?
A well organized approach to a project is a delight to see. [Pavel Gesyuk] takes just that approach with the experiments on his blog. Experiment 13 is a multi-part series using a Raspberry Pi as the heart of a weather station. [Pavel] is looking at wind speed and direction, and temperature measurement, plus solar power for the station. One of his videos, there are many, is after the break.
The anemometer and direction sensors are stock units wired to a Raspberry Pi A+ using an analog to digital daughter board. The data from the temperature sensor is acquired using I2C. During one part of the experiment he uses an EDIMAX WiFi adapter for collecting the data.
Python is [Pavel’s’ language of choice for development and freely shares his code for others to see. The code collects the data and displays it on a monitor connected to the Pi. The experiment also attempts to use solar power to charge batteries so the station is not dependent on mains power.
The mechanical assembly shows attention to detail commensurate with his project presentation and we respect how well organized the work is.
[INCO] gave this extremely informative talk on building a CubeSat. CubeSats are small satellites that piggyback on the launches of larger satellites, and although getting a 10 cm3 brick into orbit is cheap, making it functional takes an amazing attention to detail and redundant design.
[INCO] somehow talks through the entire hour-long presentation at a tremendous speed, all the while remaining intelligible. At the end of the talk, you’ve got a good appreciation for the myriad pitfalls that go along with designing a satellite, and a lot of this material is relevant, although often in a simpler form, for high altitude balloon experiments.
CubeSats must be powered down during launch, with no radio emissions or anything else that might interfere with the rocket that’s carrying them. The satellites are then packed into a box with a spring, and you never see or hear from them again until the hatch is opened and they’re pushed out into space.
[INCO] said that 50% of CubeSats fail on deployment, and to avoid being one of the statistics, you need to thoroughly test your deployment mechanisms. Test after shaking, being heated and cooled, subject to low battery levels, and in a vacuum. Communication with the satellite is of course crucial, and [INCO] suggests sending out a beacon shortly after launch to help you locate the satellite at all.
Because your satellite is floating out in space, even tiny little forces can throw it off course. Examples include radiation pressure from the sun, and anything magnetic in your satellite that will create a torque with respect to the Earth’s magnetic field. And of course, the deployment itself may leave your satellite tumbling slightly, so you’re going to need to control your satellite’s attitude.
Power is of course crucial, and in space that means solar cells. Managing solar cells, charging lithium batteries, and smoothing out the power cycles as the satellite enters the earth’s shadow or tumbles around out of control in space. Frequent charging and discharging of the battery is tough on it, so you’ll want to keep your charge/discharge cycles under 20% of the battery’s nominal capacity.
In outer space, your satellite will be bombarded by heavy ions that can short-circuit the transistors inside any IC. Sometimes, these transistors get stuck shorted, and the only way to fix the latch-up condition is to kill power for a little bit. For that reason, you’ll want to include latch-up detectors in the power supply to reset the satellite automatically when this happens. But this means that your code needs to expect occasional unscheduled resets, which in turn means that you need to think about how to save state and re-synchronize your timing, etc.
In short, there are a ridiculous amount of details that you have to attend to and think through before building your own CubeSat. We’ve just scratched the surface of [INCO]’s advice, but if we had to put the talk in a Tweet, we’d write “test everything, and have a plan B whenever possible”. This is, after all, rocket science.
We wrote about the Delft Aerospace Rocket Engineering (DARE) project recently: a group of students at Delft Technical University who are trying to launch a rocket to 50kM, breaking the European amateur rocketry record. Now, the group is close to their latest launch attempt, which is scheduled to take place from their launch base in Spain between the 14th and the 20th of October.
Launch preparations are underway, with the team working through a 10,000 point pre-launch checklist. Last year, their launch failed because of a leaking valve, but the amateur engineers have just successfully completed a pressure test using inert gas, so they are confident that this problem won’t happen again. They are offering a live video feed of the launch (embedded below), and will be regularly updating their twitter feed as they prepare. We wish them the best of luck.
Solar panels seem like simple devices: light in and electricity out, right? If you don’t care about efficiency, it might be that simple, but generally you do care about efficiency. If you are, say, charging a battery, you’d like to get every watt out of the panel. The problem is that the battery may not draw all the available current, basically leaving capacity on the table.
The solution is a technique called MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking). Despite sounding like a Microsoft presentation add on, MPPT uses a DC to DC converter to present a maximum load to the solar cell while providing the desired current and voltage to the load. MPPT is what [Abid Jamal] implemented to manage his solar charger.