THP Semifinalist: Autonomous Recharging For Multirotors

quadEven with visions of quadcopters buzzing around metropolitan areas delivering everything from pizzas to toilet paper fresh in the minds of tech blogospherites, There’s been a comparatively small amount of research into how to support squadrons of quadcopters and other unmanned aerial vehicles. The most likely cause of this is the FAA’s reactionary position towards UAVs. Good thing [Giovanni] is performing all his research for autonomous recharging and docking for multirotors in Australia, then.

The biggest obstacle of autonomous charging of a quadcopter is landing a quad exactly where the charging station is; run of the mill GPS units only have a resolution of about half a meter, and using a GPS solution would require putting GPS on the charging station as well. The solution comes from powerful ARM single board computers – in this case, an Odroid u3 – along with a USB webcam, OpenCV and a Pixhawk autopilot.

Right now [Giovanni] is still working out the kinks on his software system, but he has all the parts and the right tools to get this project up in the air, down, and back up again.


SpaceWrencherThe project featured in this post is a semifinalist in The Hackaday Prize.

A Head Unit Docking Station

dock

[Ivan] had a simple idea: being able to control his Android device from the small keypad on his car’s steering column. This would allow him to cycle through apps, navigation, and audio tracks while never taking his hands off the wheel. Feature creep then set in and [Ivan] asked himself how he could charge his phone through the same interface. What he ended up with is a head unit that’s also a dock.

While [Ivan]‘s steering wheel doesn’t have the nice integrated remote control buttons found in newer cars, he does have a Blaupunkt remote, a small, clip-on controller that has a an IR transmitter on it. The IR receiver was connected to a PIC microcontroller, sending commands to the phone for up, down, left, right, menu, and home. Audio output from the phone is handled by a small USB sound card connected to a USB hub, sending the audio signals directly into the head unit’s amplifier.

Having the phone charge while it’s still in USB host mode is the crucial part of this build; not being able to charge on a long car ride would quickly drain the battery and make a car dock kind of pointless. To accomplish this, [Ivan] simulated a Galaxy S4 dock with a few resistors in the USB port, allowing the phone to control the USB sound card, listen to the emulated keyboard and mouse, and charge at the same time.

It’s not a pretty build, but it is extraordinarily useful. In the videos you can see that [Ivan] pretty much pulled this build together from stuff he had sitting around – a great reuse of junk, and a great addition to his car at the same time.

[Read more...]

USB-ify your Old Cell Phone Chargers

phoneChargerUSBd

If you’re like us, you probably have a box (or more) of wall warts lurking in a closet or on a shelf somewhere. Depending on how long you’ve been collecting cell phones, that box is likely overflowing with 5V chargers: all with different connectors. Bring them back to life by doing what [Martin Melchior] did: chop off the ends and solder on a bunch of USB jacks.

You’ll want to use chargers rated for at least 500mA (if not 1A) for this project, or you may be wasting your time considering how much current devices pull these days. Get your polarity right, solder on a USB jack, and you’re finished. Sure, it’s a no-brainer kind of project, but it can clean out some of your closet and give you a charging station for every room of your home and the office. [Martin] glued the USB jack directly onto the adapters, so there are no tangled cords to worry about. iPhone users will need to do the usual kungfu if you want your Apple device to charge.

Hacking a Mac Magsafe Jack into a PC Ultrabook

zenbookAir

Something’s fishy about the above-pictured ultrabook: it’s an Asus Zenbook that [WarriorRocker] hacked to use a MagSafe power connector typically found on Macbooks. Most of us probably consider it standard procedure to poke around inside our desktop’s tower, but it takes some guts to radically alter such a shiny new ultrabook. It seems, however, that the Zenbook’s tiny power plug causes serious frustrations, and [WarriorRocker] was tired of dealing with them.

Using information he found from an article we featured earlier this summer on a MagSafe teardown, [WarriorRocker] hit up the parts drawer for some connectors and got to work. He had to modify the MagSafe’s housing to fit his Zenbook while still holding on to the magnets, but he managed to avoid modifying the ultrabook’s case—the connector is approximately the same size as a USB port. Deciding he could live with just one USB connection, [WarriorRocker] took to the board with a pair of side cutters and neatly carved out space for the MagSafe next to the audio jack. He then soldered it in place and ran wires from the VCC and Ground pins along a the channel where the WiFi antenna is routed, connecting them to the original power jack’s input pins.

[WarriorRocker] regrets that he fell short of his original goal of getting the MagSafe’s protocol working: he instead had to hack on his own adapter. We’re still rather impressed with how well his hack turned out, and it did manage to solve the charging problems. Hit us up in the comments if you can provide some insight into the MagSafe’s otherwise obscure innerworkings.

FT230X Brings USB Charging Detection to the Serial IC Game

FT230XS-breadboard

Here’s a new chip from FTDI which brings a nice little feature to the USB-to-serial converter family: charging detection. That means that it is capable of detecting when a battery charger is connected. What does that actually mean? The top of the datasheet gives you the short version, but let’s look at the investigation [Baoshi] undertook to test the full extent of this particular feature. We agree with him that the listed capability leaves those in the know with a lot of questions:

USB Battery Charger Detection. Allows for USB peripheral devices to detect the presence of a higher power source to enable improved charging.

Obviously the chip will be able to tell when a charger is connected, alerting the device when it’s time to start lapping up the extra milliamps. But what type of chargers will actually trigger the detection circuit? After rigging up the test circuit shown above he ran through several scenarios: connected directly to the PC USB port, via externally powered and non-powered USB hubs, and with multiple wall wart chargers. Full results of the tests are included in the post linked above.

[via Dangerous Prototypes]

Salvaging Lithium cells and circuits

salvaging-lithium-cells-and-circuits

Lithium cells outperform Nickel Cadmium and Nickel Metal Hydride in almost every way. But they also need a little bit more babysitting to get the most out of them. That comes in the form of control circuitry that charges them correctly and won’t let them get below a certain voltage threshold during discharge. We enjoyed reading about [Carlos'] Lithium cell salvage efforts as it discusses these concerns.

He wanted to salvage a Lithium power source for his projects. He had the three cell pack from a dead Macbook Pro seen in the upper left, as well as the single blown cell from a digital picture frame shown on the right. The three-pack didn’t monitor each cell individually, so the death of one borked the entire battery. He desoldered them and probed their voltage level to find one that was still usable. To prevent his project from draining the source below the 2.7V mark he scavenged that circuit board from the digital picture frame. A bit of testing and the system is up and running in a different piece of hardware.

Don’t be afraid of this stuff. If you learn the basics it’ll be easy to use these powerful batteries in your projects. For more background check out this charging tutorial.

Adding charging back to old apple accessories

From time-to-time we’ve been frustrated by the lack of backwards compatibility for Apple accessories. We have a great Monster FM transmitter that used the screen of the original iPod to select a channel. That was a feature we just loved which it never worked with any future hardware. We may not be able to get that back, but perhaps this hack can help us implement the ability to charge newer Apple devices using older accessories.

Seen above is the mounting dock from the iPod Hi-Fi speakers released back in 2006. Apparently the sound out of this set of speakers is just great, but you won’t be able to charge your modern device while it’s playing music. That is unless you’re not afraid to solder on a few simple components and roll in a switching regulator which can source at least one Amp of current. As we’ve seen in the past, Apple uses a couple of voltage dividers to identify modern chargers. These are installed on the D+ and D- lines of the USB connector and are pretty easy to recreate if you know the voltage levels the device is looking for. In this case a 39K, two 51k, and one 75k surface mount resistors are free-formed right next to the connector on the Hi-Fi’s dock PCB. The regulator on the right supplies the juice for charging. It’ll charge modern devices now, and even work with the iPhone five if you use a simple dock connector adapter.

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