66% or better

PVC Magnetometer to measure magnetic storms

In the hopes of getting a heads up on when the aurora borealis will be visible from his back yard, [Alex] built a magnetometer to measure disruptions in Earth’s magnetic field. The build is extremely simple, too. It’s amazing what you can build with a few components and a trip to the dollar store.

The design or [Alex]‘s project is called a torsion magnetometers. In this setup, two mirrors are affixed to a permanent magnet connected to a string. A laser is shone onto the mirror and is reflected back to an array of sensors. In [Alex]‘s case he used a simple laser pointer and a pair of photoresistors encased in a PVC tube.

[Alex] has been running his magnetometer in his back yard for over a month now and has the data to prove it. Luckily for [Alex], those graphs he has been generating may get a little more interesting. A coronal mass ejection is coming our way and is expected to hit today around 22:30 UTC. We’ll go outside to look for an aurora, but we’re sure [Alex] will be glued to his laptop tonight.

Check out the CGI visualization of [Alex]‘s magnetometer after the break

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DIY Fresnel reflector

Just like destroying an ant colony with a magnifying glass, there’s nothing like cooking hot dogs and roasting marshmallows with a nice parabolic reflector. Of course covering an old satellite dish with mylar or aluminum tape doesn’t take much skill, however cool it is. [Uwe] came up with a much more technical means of building a Fresnel reflector that will cook your hot dogs in seconds, but only on sunny days.

[Uwe] channeled a little bit of [Apollonius] when he realized that a flat cardboard ring with a section removed could be joined together into a conic section. The resulting section looks just like one concentric ring in a Fresnel reflector. [Uwe] wrote a small program in Visual Basic to calculate the necessary diameter and angle of his conic sections.

A bit of cardboard was cut out and pieced together with some very reflective aluminum tape. The resulting Fresnel reflector concentrates 117 times the normal solar radiation onto a small point. It’s more than enough to burn holes in construction paper, but we’ll be using a microwave for our lunch today.

DIY shade finder tool takes the tedium out of solar surveys

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[Steven Dufresne] does a lot of tinkering with solar-powered applications, a hobby which can be very time consuming if done right. One process he carries out whenever building a solar installation is creating a sun chart to determine how much (or little) sun the target area will get.

The process requires [Steven] to take elevation and Azimuth measurements of many different points, which often consumes about half an hour of his time. While taking measurements recently, he started thinking about how he could improve the process, and came up with a stellar solution that reduces the process down to a one-minute task.

In short, his shade finder tool uses a pulley, a pair of rollerblade wheels, and a pencil to accomplish a full shade survey in under a minute. The science behind the tool is best explained by [Steven], so be sure to check out his site for plenty of details and diagrams.

We have to say that we’re extremely impressed by his shade finder – hopefully his work can help others maximize the efficiency of their solar solutions.

Stick around after the jump to see a short video of the shade finder in action.

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Video series shows how to build your own solar-charged R/C lawnmower

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As winter is officially upon us, we’re pretty sure that the last thing most of you are thinking about is mowing your lawn. We would argue that it’s actually the ideal time to do so – that is, if you are interested in automating the process a bit.

[Robert Smith] has spent a lot of time thinking about his lawn, wanting a way to sit back and relax while doing his weekly trimming. He set off for the workshop to build an R/C electric lawnmower, and thoroughly documented the process in order to help you do the same.

On his web site, you will find a series of videos detailing every bit of the solar charged R/C lawnmower’s construction, taking you through the planning phases all the way to completion. [Robert] has provided just about anything you could possibly need including parts lists, schematics, code, and more.

If the short introductory video below has you interested, be sure to swing by his site for everything you need to build one of your own.

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Upgrading a solar lamp to charge an iPad

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[Phillip] and the crew at Voltaic Systems took a look at the Sunnan solar powered desk lamp from IKEA a while back, and while they thought it was pretty useful, there were definitely some things they wanted to change.

First on their list of revisions was to increase the capacity of the stock battery pack. Taking the lamp apart and unscrewing the pack’s lid revealed a set of 3 AA cells, which they swapped out for higher-capacity models with more than double the watt-hour rating.

A beefed up battery is a good start, but the lamp’s tiny solar panel has no hope of topping off the batteries outside of Death Valley. To ensure that they get a nice full charge, a small jack was wired into to the battery pack, allowing the group to connect any size external solar panel they pleased.

Finally, [Phillip] and Co. wanted the ability to charge an iPad2 from the lamp’s battery pack. They hacked in a small USB connector and a slightly modified MintyBoost board to provide a little extra juice to their tablet.

While they are still testing the modifications, they say that everything is working nicely, citing that the extra battery capacity and charging abilities are a great addition.

Solar charger for Occupy Boston

As soon as the team at Revolt Labs heard Occupy Wall Street was coming to Boston, they decided to pick up their soldering irons in support of the throngs of protestors. They came up with a Solar charging USB box to keep those cell phones and digital cameras charged.

The case came direct from an Army surplus store. Originally, the box was used by the Dutch military to test the air for poison gas and signal when it was safe to remove a gas mask – hopefully not a portent of things to come.

On top of the box is five solar panels that output two watts each. A bit of breadboard holds a 7805 voltage regulator, a few caps and a diode. This regulated output goes to a USB hub and provides power for recharging.

For a cheap and easy project for our brothers without arms, we couldn’t think of a better project for the Occupy Boston tent city. Of course heating units will be needed at the Occupy protests this winter, but at least now the protesters have the means to power their communications equipment.

 

update: Once again, this has devolved into political argument and name calling. We, as hackaday, really couldn’t care less which party you are for or what your political beliefs are. We want to talk about the project, in this case a portable solar charger. We go to other sites to argue politics. Maybe you should try here.

Sustainability Hacks: Solar panels built from old windows and factory rejects

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The crew over at The Tech Junkies recently took another look at solar power and thought that the pricing had come down enough for them to consider powering their entire shop via the sun. Cheaper or not, they still didn’t want to pay retail for solar panels, so they decided to build their own instead.

They scoured eBay for a bit and scored a nice batch of “production error” solar cells for about $0.25/watt, which is a great deal. After unpacking and sorting the cells, they began fitting them into a set of old window panels they had sitting around their shop. The cells were wired together using tabbing wire, and after a quick test to ensure everything was working correctly, the panel was permanently set using epoxy.

In its current state, they estimate that their panel can generate 35 watts of power, though they have a few design changes in mind to raise that number a bit. The total cost was roughly $375 for enough materials to build 9 panels, which is pretty reasonable.

Be sure to check out their blog for a quick overview of what it takes to build a solar panel if you’re thinking of putting together one of your own.