3D Printed Wimshurst Machine

Steampunk extraordinaire [Jake von Slatt] has released his latest creation. This time he’s built a Wimshurst machine from mostly 3D printed parts. The Wimshurst machine is an electrostatic generator and was originally invented in the late 1800’s by James Wimshurst. It uses two counter-rotating disks to generate an electrostatic charge which is then stored in two Leyden jars. These jars are also connected to a spark gap. When the voltage raises high enough, the jars can discharge all at once by flashing a spark across the gap.

[Jake’s] machine has a sort of Gothic theme to it. He designed the parts using Autodesk’s 123D Design. They were initially printed in PLA. Skate bearings were used in the center of the disks to ensure a smooth rotation. The axle was made from the fiberglass shaft of a driveway reflector. The vertical supports were attached the base with machine screws.

The Leyden jars were made from sections of clear plastic tube. The caps for the jars were 3D printed and are designed to accept a short length of threaded 1/8″ pipe. Copper wire was used for the interior contacts and are held in place with electrical tape. The metal sectors on each disk were made from pieces of cut aluminum tape.

You may be wondering how this machine works if it’s almost entirely made out of plastic. [Jake] actually painted most of the parts with a carbon paint. This makes them electrically conductive and he can then use the parts to complete electrical circuits. Unfortunately he found this to be rather ineffective. The machine does work, but it only produces sparks up to 1/2″ in length. For comparison, his other machine is capable of 6″ sparks using similar sized Leyden jars.

[Jake] actually tried rebuilding this project using ABS, thinking that the PLA may have been collecting moisture from his breath, but the result is still only 1/2″ sparks. He suspects that the bumpy surface of the plastic parts may be causing the charge to slowly leak away, preventing a nice build up. He’s released all of his designs on Thingiverse in case any other hackers want to give it a whirl.

Electricity Usage Monitor is Linked to Google Spreadsheets

If you want to make your home more energy-efficient, chances are you will need a way to monitor your electricity usage over time. There are off-the-shelf solutions for this of course, but hackers like us tend to do things our own way. Take [Karl] for example. He recently built himself a solution with only a few smart components. We’ve seen similar projects in the past, but none quite like this.

[Karl’s] home has a power meter that blinks an LED to indicate the current amount of used electricity in Watt-hours. He knew all he needed was a way to electronically detect the blinking LED and he’d be able to accurately track his usage without modifying the meter.

The primary components used in this project were a CC3200 development kit and a photoresistor module. The dev kit contained a WiFi module built-in, which allows the system to upload data to Google spreadsheets as well as sync the built-in clock with an accurate time source. The photoresistor module is used to actually detect the blinking LED on the power meter. Everything else is done easily with code on the dev kit.

Driving your home appliances with hybrid power

This system of hybridizing your home’s electric appliances is an interesting take on solar energy. It focuses on seamlessly switching appliances from the grid to stored solar energy as frequently as possible. There’s a promo video after the break that explains the setup, but here’s the gist of it.

Follow along on the pictograph above. We start on the left with solar panel. This feeds to a charger that tops off a 12V battery. When that battery is full, the charger feeds to the inverter which converts the 12V DC to 110V AC power. This is fed to a pass-through which is in between the appliance (in this a case a lamp) and the wall outlet. The pass-through will switch between mains power coming from the outlet, and the 110 coming from the inverter. The homeowner won’t know, or care, which power source is being used. But sunny months should result in lower energy bills. The real question is how long it takes to cover the cost of the system in saved electricity.

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Monitoring home electricity usage via a tidy wall display


[Janne Mäntyharju] wanted to get an idea as to how much electricity he consumed in his new home, mainly to see if using his fireplace for additional heat had any effect on his bill. Luckily his power meter was mounted in the utility room of his house, making it easy to keep tabs on his usage.

His meter features a small LED that blinks a fixed number of times per consumed Kilowatt hour, so he mounted a photoresistor and ATtiny2313 above it to detect the light pulses. [Janne’s] server polls the microcontroller every 5 minutes over an XBee connection, recording the power usage in an SQL database for further analysis. From this database, he generates graphs showing both the temperature in his home as well as the average electricity usage for the specified time period.

[Janne] also wanted to make the data easily accessible, so he constructed a wall-mounted display using a Beagleboard and digital picture frame. The display not only shows his electricity usage, but it toggles between the weather, calendar events, IRC logs, and pictures from his security camera.

We’ve certainly seen this sort of electric meter monitoring before, but it serves as a quick reminder that given the right tools, watching your power usage (among other things) can be as easy as taking a quick glance over at the wall.

PossessedHand controls hand with electrical stimuli

[Emi Tamaki], [Miyaki Takashi] and [Jun Rekimoto] at the University of Tokyo came up with a device called the PossessedHand that electrically stimulates muscles to train someone to play a the koto, a Japanese stringed instrument.

The PossessedHand ‘triggers’ individual fingers with precisely placed electrodes. Sixteen joints in the hand can be controlled independently by placing one electrode on the muscle that controls the joint and a ground electrode on the tendon of that muscle. Users of the PossessedHand reported no pain from the device when 30 Volts were sent though the electrodes.

The paper (PDF warning) goes into detail about the reactions of the users of the PossessedHand. While a few subjects thought the PossessedHand was scary, many enjoyed it – one subject even thought it was possible to fly a helicopter without training. While this isn’t downloading a rotary wing licence into your brain like The Matrix, the PossessedHand did prove to be a useful tool for learning the fingering for the koto. You can see a video of the PossessedHand in action in the New Scientist story.

[via New Scientist]

Electronics lessons for beginners


Hackaday reader [grenadier] wrote in to share a series of tutorials he is working on, where he discusses the basics of electricity and electronics. The first lesson titled, What is Electricity?” has been wrapped up, and is available for free on his site.

For any of our regular readers, the lesson will seem pretty basic (and likely full of things to nitpick). However, we imagine his lessons would be quite helpful to anyone looking to expand their electronics know-how.

Now don’t get us wrong, we love the series of electronics tutorials that Jeri has been periodically releasing, but we think there’s plenty of room on the Internet for other willing teachers as well. If his first lesson is any indicator, his tutorials will be easy to understand, sprinkled with a little bit of humor, and chock full of fun videos that demonstrate the subject at hand.

Take a quick look his way if you get a chance – you or someone you know might find his tutorials and reference guides insightful.

[Image courtesy of Electronicsandyou]

Million volt guitar rocks the house…for science!


[Bill Porter] and his friend [Dan Flisek] work together to put on a science-related educational stage show called “Science Brothers”, in which the pair try to convince school children that their field of expertise is the cooler science. While the two are competitive on stage, the main goal of the program is to get kids interested in science, no matter what the specialty.

The pair currently finance the project out of pocket, so they are always looking for ways to make things interesting while also keeping costs in check. With that in mind [Bill] came up with an awesome way to show off the Tesla coil he built a while back. His most recent educational creation is a little something he calls “Tesla Hero”.

Since he already had a solid state Tesla coil hanging around, he dug up a PS2 Guitar Hero controller and got busy getting the two acquainted. The guitar connects to the coil via a fiber optic isolator board, playing one of five notes as he strums along. A series of Arduino-driven LED strips adorn the guitar, flashing various colors while he plays, as you can see in the video below.

It’s quite a cool project, and we’re sure that his audience will be impressed!

Stick around to see a video of  Tesla Hero in action, and if you’re interested in learning more about the Science Brothers, be sure to check them out here.

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