Using diodes and transistors as solar cells

When you get down to it, solar cells aren’t much different from the diodes and transistors in your parts drawers or inside your beloved electronics. They’re both made of silicon or some other semiconductor, and surprisingly can produce electricity in the presence of light. Here’s two semiconductors-as-solar panel projects that rolled into the tip line over the past few days.

[Steven Dufresne] cut open a 2N3055 power transistor to expose the semiconductor material to light. In full sunlight, he was able to produce 500 millivolts and 5.5 milliamps. In other words, he’d need around 5000 of these transistors wired up to turn on a compact fluorescent light bulb. A small calculator has a much lower power requirement, so after opening up five transistors he was able to make a solar-powered calculator with a handful of transistors.

[Sarang] was studying solar cells and realized a standard silicon diode is very similar; both are p-n junctions and the only real difference is the surface area. He connected a 1N4148 to a multimeter and to his surprise it worked. [Sarang] is able to get about 150 millivolts out of his diode with the help of a magnifying glass. While he doubts his diode is more efficient than a normal solar cell, he thinks it could be useful in low-cost, low power applications. We’re thinking this might be useful as a high-intensity light detector for a solar cooker or similar.

After the break, you can check out the videos [Steven] and [Sarang] put up demonstrating their solar cells.

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Reading diodes to create a thermal imaging system

[Udo Klein] was working with some 1N4148 transistors and was interested in the specs relating to their performance at different temperatures. The forward voltage actually changes quite a bit depending on temperature and wondered if this could be reliably measured. He hacked his own LED shield for the Arduino to use as a 1×20 thermal imaging system.

The screenshot above is mapping the voltage measurements from a row of diodes (see the video after the break to get the full picture). He’s holding an ice pack over the row of diodes and observing the change. The on-screen display is facilitated by a Python script which is pulling data from the Arduino. Since there aren’t enough analog inputs to read all twenty diodes separately they have been multiplexed. Four I/O pins each enable five of the diodes, readings are taken with five analog inputs before moving on to the next set.

What can this be used for? That is precisely the wrong question… sometimes you’ve just got to go where your curiosity takes you. Continue reading “Reading diodes to create a thermal imaging system”

Fixing the control scheme for an aftermarket headlight assembly

The headlight enclosures on [Bill Porter's] 2004 Passat had yellowed with age and were not outputting the kind of light they should. He decided to replace them with some aftermarket modules that also incorporated LED strips. When they arrived he was surprised at how easy there were to drop into place. But when testing he was certainly not satisfied with how they worked. The day-driving mode used the HID bulbs at full power, where the factory assembly had dimmed them during the day. He set out to alter the electronics to work as he prefers.

Always the mad scientist, [Bill] started off by making a truth table showing how the lights reacted to the various states of the ignition and headlight switches. What he came up with is an AND gate built from a relay and diode. It allows him to have the LEDs on as the running lights (without the HIDs on at all), and leaves the rest of the functionality unaffected.

Experimenting with bridge rectifers for AC to DC power conversion

The folks over at Toymaker Television have put together another episode. This time they’re looking at bridge rectifiers and how they’re used in AC to DC converters.

This is a simple concept which is worth taking the time to study for those unfamiliar with it. Since Alternating Current is made up of cycles of positive and negative signals it must be converted before use in Direct Current circuits; a process called rectification. This is done using a series of 1-way gates (diodes) in a layout called a bridge rectifier. That’s the diamond shape seen in the diagram above.

This episode, which is embedded after the break, takes a good long look at the concept. One of the things we like best about the presentation is that the hosts of the show talk about actual electron flow. This is always a quagmire with those new to electronics, as schematics portray flow from positive to negative, but electron theory suggests that actual electron flow is the exact opposite. Continue reading “Experimenting with bridge rectifers for AC to DC power conversion”

RGB laser projector is a jaw-dropping build

We can think of no better way to describe this laser projector project than Epic. [C4r0] is a student at Gdansk University of Technology and he’s been working on this projector for at least a couple of years. It uses several different laser diodes pulled out of DVD burners, Blu-Ray drives, and entertainment equipment (the green diode is from a disco laser).

In order to direct the beams he built a series of brackets that hold dichroic filters which reflect some wavelengths of light while allowing others to pass straight through. Each diode also needs a driver, most of which he built from scratch. And once the hardware has been designed and tested, what does one do with it? If you’re [C4r0] you build it into a money case with professional-looking results.

Don’t miss the video demo after the break. And make sure you have a rag ready to wipe up the drool before you look at his forum post linked above.

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Laser light show comes to life from the junk bin

In a project that only spanned about three weeks [Lars] built this laser light show projector using parts scavenged from his junk bin. We’ve seen the concept many times before, all you need is a laser source and two mirrors mounted on a spinning bases. The laser diode for this project was pulled from a recordable DVD player. That beam passes through the optics from a laser printer to give it the focus necessary to get a good projected image.

[Lars] played around with the mirror angles until he achieved just the right look. The first mirror is mounted about 4 degrees from being flat with its motorized base; the second is off by about 6 degrees. This introduces slight oscillation in the beam direction when the motors are spinning. By adjusting the speed of each motor you get different patterns. Adjustments are happening completely at random thanks to the BasicStamp2 microcontroller which hadn’t been used in years. Fifteen lines of code were all it took.

Want a laser that’s not controlled at random? Check out this addressable galvanometer-based show.

Temperature sensing mug means never burning your mouth again

temp_sensing_mug

Some people tend to get awfully attached to their favorite mug. Like an old friend, the mug holds a special place in their hearts, and there’s a weird sadness when it finally gives up the ghost. Through the winter months [Ben’s] girlfriend is never without hers, and when it broke, he decided to give her a new one with some added functionality.

He built her a temperature sensing mug that uses a rather novel way of determining how hot or cold the contents are. Instead of using a thermistor to determine the drink’s temperature, he opted to use a simple diode since it is well known that a diode’s forward voltage varies with temperature. After determining the diode’s voltage range using hot and cold beverages, he hooked it up to the ADC of a PIC12F615 micro controller. The temperature is displayed via 10 LEDs, which are driven through a pair of 8-bit shift registers and buffers since his PIC did not have enough pins to control them on its own.

He had some PCBs made, and after a handful of setbacks got everything put together. He says the mug works pretty well, though the display changes a bit more slowly than he would like. He also mentions that if he builds a second version, he will be sure to select a different PIC that has enough I/O pins to do the job, as well as use a thermistor instead of a simple diode for sensing the temperature.

Continue reading to see a brief demo video [Ben] put together.

Continue reading “Temperature sensing mug means never burning your mouth again”