Earth Day: Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are the wave of the future, whether it’s from sucking too much oil out of the ground, or because of improved battery technology. Most internal combustion engines are unsustainable, and if you’re thinking about the environment – or working on an entry for The Hackaday Prize – an electric vehicle is the way to go.
Here are a few electric vehicle projects that are competing in The Hackaday Prize that show off the possibilities for the electric vehicles of the future.

An Electric Ninja

Motorcycles are extremely efficient already, but if you want a torquey ride with a lot of acceleration, electric is the way to go. [ErikL] is hard at work transforming a 2005 Ninja 250R into an electric vehicle, both to get away from gas-sipping engines and as a really, really cool ride. Interestingly, the battery technology in this bike isn’t that advanced – it’s a lead acid battery, basically, that reduces the complexity of the build.

And They Have Molds To Make Another

Motorcycles aren’t for everybody, but neither are normal, everyday, electronic conversion cars. [MW Motors] is building a car from scratch. The body, the chassis, and the power train are all hand built.

The amazing part of this build is how they created the body. It’s a fiberglass mold that was pulled off of a model carved out of a huge block of foam. There’s a lot of composite work in here, and a lot of work had to happen before digging into the foam; you actually need to choose your accessories, lights, and other bits and bobs before designing the body panels.

While the suspension and a lot of the mechanical parts were taken from a Mazda Miata, the power and drive system are completely custom. Most of the chassis is filled with LiFeMnPO4 batteries, powering four hub motors in each wheel. It’s going to be an amazing car.

Custom, 3D Printed Electric Motors

If you’re designing an electric car, the biggest decision you’re going to make is what motor you’re going to use. This is a simple process: open up a few catalogs and see what manufacturers are offering. There’s another option: building your own motor. [Solenoid] is working on a piece of software that will calculate the specifications of a motor given specific dimensions. It will also generate files for a 3D printed motor given the desired specs. Yes, you’ll still need to wind a few miles of copper onto these parts, but it’s the beginning of completely custom electronic motors.

[Mike] Shows Us How to Use an Armature Growler

[Mike] has put up a great video  on his [SmallEngineMechanic] YouTube Channel about a tool we don’t see very often these days. He’s using an armature growler (YouTube link) to test the armature from a generator. Armature growlers (or just growlers for short) were commonplace years ago. Back when cars had generators, just about every auto mechanic had one on hand. They perform three simple tests: Check armature windings for shorts to other windings, for open windings, and for shorts to the armature body. [Mike’s] particular growler came to him as a basket case. The wiring was shot, it was rusty, and generally needed quite a bit of TLC. He restored it to like new condition, and uses it to help with his antique engine and genset addiction hobby.

Growlers essentially are a transformer primary with a V-shaped frame. The primary coil is connected to A/C mains. The armature to be tested sits in the “V” and through the magic of induction, some of the windings become the secondary coils (more on this later). This means some pretty high voltage will be exposed on commutator of the armature under test, so care should be taken when using one!

Testing for shorts to the ground or the core of the armature is a simple continuity test. Instead of a piezo beep though, a short will trigger the growler to turn on, which means the armature will jump a bit and everything will emit a loud A/C hum. It certainly makes testing more interesting!

Checking for open windings is a matter of energizing the growler’s coil, then probing pairs of contacts on the commutator.  Voltage induced in the windings is displayed on the growler’s meter. Open windings will show 0 volts. Not all the armature’s windings will be in the field of the growler at once – so fully testing the armature will mean rotating it several times, as [Mike] shows in his video.

The final test is for shorted coils. This is where things get pretty darn cool. The growler is switched on and a thin piece of ferrous metal – usually an old hacksaw blade, is run along the core of the armature. If a short exists, the hacksaw blade will vibrate against the core of the armature above the shorted windings. We’re not 100% clear on how the coupling between the growler’s primary and two windings causes the blade to vibrate, so feel free to chime in over in the comments to explain things.

Most commercial shops don’t troubleshoot armatures anymore, they just slap new parts in until everything works again. As such the growler isn’t as popular as it once was. Still, if you work with DC motors or generators, it’s a great tool to have around, and it’s operation is a pretty darn cool hack in itself.

Click past the break for [Mike’s] video!

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Quadcopters Go Inverted by Reversing Their Motors

Inverted Quadcopter? That generally means a crash is soon to follow. Not so for a new crop of quadcopter fliers. These new quadcopters are capable of sustained inverted flight. We’ve seen inverted quadcopters before here on hackaday. However, previous inverted quadcopters always used collective pitch to control the thrust produced by the blades. Collective pitch on a quadcopter is much simpler than it is on the main rotor of a traditional helicopter. R/C and full-scale helicopters mix collective and cyclic pitch to articulate the main rotor blades. A quadcopter only needs the collective portion, which is similar to a traditional helicopters tail rotor mechanism, or a variable pitch prop on an airplane.

These new quadcopters are using a much simpler method of flying inverted: Spin the motors backwards. Quadcopters control their flight by quickly varying the speed of rotation of each motor. Why not completely reverse the motor then? Today’s brushless outrunner motors have more than enough power to quickly reverse direction. The problem becomes one of propellers. Standard propellers are designed to create thrust in one direction only. Every quadcopter uses two clockwise rotation and two counterclockwise rotation propellers. Propellers will generate reverse thrust if they are spun backwards, however they will not be as efficient as they would when spinning the direction they were designed for. The quad fliers have found a partial solution to this problem: Remove the curve from the blade. R/C propeller blades are sold by diameter and blade pitch. The pitch is a measure of the angle of attack of the blades. R/C blades also have an airfoil style curve molded into them. Removing this curve (but not changing the pitch) has helped the problem.

This final problem is control systems. Since quadcopters already are relying on computer control for basic flight, it’s simply a matter of loading custom firmware onto your flight board to support motor rotation reversal. Speed controls also have to be capable of reverse rotation, which means new firmware as well. We’re curious to see how the quadcopter community settles on the control systems for inverted flight. The R/C helicopter community went through several iterations of control systems over the years. At one point they were using “Invert switches” which reversed controls as well as handled the collective pitch changes. As time went on, these switches fell out of favor and are now known as “Crash switches” due to the result of accidentally hitting one while flying, or before engine start.

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