For those who haven’t read [Ayn Rand’s] philosophical tome Atlas Shrugged, there’s a pretty cool piece of engineering stuffed in between the 100-page-long monologues. Although fictional, a character manages to harness atmospheric static electricity and convert it into kinetic energy and (spoilers!) revolutionize the world. Harnessing atmospheric static electricity isn’t just something for fanciful works of fiction, though. It’s a real-world phenomenon and it’s actually possible to build this motor.
As [Richard Feynman] showed, there is an exploitable electrical potential gradient in the atmosphere. By suspending a tall wire in the air, it is possible to obtain voltages in the tens of thousands of volts. In this particular demonstration, a hexacopter is used to suspend a wire with a set of needles on the end. The needles help facilitate the flow of electrons into the atmosphere, driving a current that spins the corona motor at the bottom of the wire.
There’s not much torque or power generated, but the proof of concept is very interesting to see. Of course, the higher you can go the more voltage is available to you, so maybe future devices such as this could exploit atmospheric electricity to go beyond a demonstration and do useful work. We’ve actually featured the motor that was used in this demonstration before, though, so if you’re curious as to how a corona motor works you should head over there.
Continue reading ““Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered”
Once again, [Afroman] is here for you, this time breaking down electrolyte and the terminology behind batteries.
Volts and Amps are easy mode, but what about Amp hours? They’re not coulombs per second hours, because that wouldn’t make any sense. An Amp hour is a completely different
unit podcast, where a 1Ah battery can supply one amp for one hour, or two amps for 30 minutes, or 500 mA for two hours.
Okay, what if you take two batteries and put them in series? That would double the voltage, but have the same Ah rating as a single cell. Does this mean there is the same amount of energy in two batteries as what is found in a single cell? No, so we need a new unit: the Watt hour. That’s Volts times Amp hours, or more incorrectly, one joule per second hour.
Now it’s a question of the number of cells in a battery. What’s the terminology for the number of cells? S. If there are three cells in a battery, that battery has a 3S rating. You would think that C would be the best letter of the alphabet to use for this metric, but C is entirely different. Nothing here makes any sense at all.
What is C? That’s related to the number of amps a battery can discharge safely. If a 20C battery can discharge 2200mAh, it can deliver a maximum current of 44 A, with 20C times 2.2Ah being 44A.
So there you go. A complete description of something you can’t use logic and inference to reason through. Video below.
Continue reading “A Description of Maddening Battery Terminology”
Here’s a project that we sadly let slip through the cracks a couple of years ago. Luckily [Brian] dusted it off and added an Easter Egg to the firmware in order to include it in the Fubarino Contest. The device is a rechargeable battery capacity tester. It discharges NiMH or NiCad batteries through a load resistor at about 1 Watt. [Brian] includes a discussion in his write-up about the hardware’s inability to work with 14500 Li-Ion cells. He includes enough info for you to figure out how to make changes to the circuit if you want to enable this option.
There is a MOSFET for switching each of the three battery positions. The ATmega168 takes readings from the cells once per second. It displays status information on a Nokia 5510 cellphone screen. This is where he chose to inject the Hackaday URL. When a cell’s discharge is complete, the image above scrolls onto the screen and remains there for a short time. See for yourself after the break.
Continue reading “Fubarino Contest: Battery Capacity Tester”
If you’re building solar vehicles at a competitive level you’ve got to know exactly how the storage batteries will perform. To that end [Matthew] built a Lithium Polymer battery tester for use by the McMaster University Solar Car Project. It worked well, but could only test one battery at a time. He just finished up a second version, which can test battery specifications on up to eight units at once. It saves a lot of time, but still takes fifteen hours to test just one set of the units used by the vehicle.
The most important aspect being measured is the discharge curve. Sure, there’s a datasheet that includes this information, but how can be sure that what you received will perform at spec? Each of the eight channels can be disconnected from the system using a relay. This is just one of the safety features which watch for things like over-voltage and over-current conditions. Remember, Lithium batteries can heat up fast if there’s a problem. Data is sampled on a 12-bit ADC and can be pushed to a computer via USB for graphing.
[Nick] was tasked with building a battery capacity tester by one of his teachers in order to test some aftermarket batteries that were purchased for their Vex robotics lab. The batteries were cheaper than the official version, but boasted more than twice the capacity. Fairly skeptical of the rating, he got to work designing his circuit.
He originally planned on discharging the battery through a resistor and measuring the voltage with a PIC microcontroller. After prototyping the circuit, he found that the PIC did not have enough storage space for the data he was collecting, and that there were issues with fluctuating current as the voltage decreased.
Undeterred, he built a new tester using a Teensy microcontroller and a different discharging circuit using a LM317T. This second version not only included an LCD screen to track the discharging process in real-time, but it also dumps all of the data and calculations to a spreadsheet on the computer connected to the Teensy.
The capacity tester works pretty well, according to [Nick]. He says that most batteries overestimate their capacity, and that his meter is getting readings within an acceptable variance when testing known good batteries. What about those knock-off batteries from China? He discovered that they can hold about half the charge that they claim – it’s a good thing he decided to test them out!
While he provides the software he used for the tester, there are no schematics to be found. Check out some of the other battery capacity testers we have featured in the past for tips on building one yourself.
[rocketman221] wrote up one of the simplest ways to build a high voltage power supply. This one in particular was used on his coilgun. Instead of building a custom circuit, he’s using flash charging boards from disposable cameras. Six 450V 470uF caps are wired in parallel to make up the bank. Two of the charger boards are wired to one switch to initiate the charging process. Four additional boards are wired two a second switch for the second charging stage. The part cost on this is incredibly cheap and it only requires a 3.3V input to reach 450V. The writeup has plenty of warnings about the dangers of high voltage; you need to clean off all flux residue to prevent arcing across the circuit boards. Embedded below is a video of the bank being discharged through several objects. Continue reading “Easy high voltage power supply”