I need someone to explain this to me.

Upgrading Cordless Drill Batteries to Lithium

cordlessLithiumUpgrade

Cordless power tool battery replacements are expensive: you can easily spend $100 for a NiCd pack. [henal] decided to skip nickle-based cells and cut out the middleman by converting his old cordless battery packs to inexpensive hobby lithium cells. These batteries appear to be Turnigy 3S 1300mAh’s from Hobbyking, which for around $10 is a great bargain. As we’ve explained before, lithium batteries offer several advantages over NiMH and NiCd cells, but such a high energy density has drawbacks that should be feared and respected, despite some dismissive commenters. Please educate yourself if you’ve never worked with lithium cells.

[henal] gutted his dead battery packs and then proceeded to prepare the lithium replacements by soldering them to the cordless pack’s power connectors. To keep charging simple, he also branched off a deans connector from power and ground. After cutting some holes in the pack for access to the balancing connector and deans connector, [helan] went the extra mile by soldering on a DIN connector to the balancing wires, which he then securely glued to the side of the case.

We’ve featured lithium power tool replacements before, and these Turnigy packs pose the same problem: they don’t appear to have any low voltage cut-off protection. Check out some of the comments for a good solution.

LiPo internal resistance measurement tool

lipo-internal-resistance-meter

This is a scratch-build meter for measuring the internal resistance of Lithium Polymer cells. [Bleuer Csaba] uses the LiPo cells for RC vehicles and thet take quite a beating from the motors  they’re supplying. This means that he only gets about 100-200 cycles out of each cell. To figure out where one is in its life cycle you can measure the internal resistance where a rising resistance indicates greater age. [Bleuer] mentions that you can buy a meter to do this for you, but what fun is that?

Since he’s rolling his own tool he defined his own parameters for the readings. After experimenting with different loads driven for different test periods he was able to extrapolate an equation that estimates the resistance measurement. As you can see in the clip after the break, this happens very fast. All he has to do is connect the cell and press one button. The measurements are made and various data points are displayed on the quartet of 7-segment displays.

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LiPo battery tester for solar vehicle battery array

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.

From the readers: low battery cutoff solutions

We got a lot of really great feedback about low battery cutoff options in the comments section of Monday’s replacement battery post. To refresh your memory, some power tool batteries were replaced by Lithium Polymer units which can be damaged if drained too low before recharging. We had thought that many Lithium cells had cutoff circuitry these days. The consensus is that these batteries didn’t because they’re for RC applications where weight is an issue. But we did get a ton of people sending in commercially available drop-in solutions, mostly from RC hobby outlets, so search around for those if you’re interested.

[Christopher] sent us a link to the cutoff circuit he built for his bike light. You can see the schematic for it above (direct link). He sourced an ATtiny45 to drive a MOSFET which disconnects the battery when it gets too low. This would be easy to adapt to other uses, but note that there’s a voltage regulator involved as well as a few other passives… not a difficult solution but also not all that simple.

This same concept can be adapted. A few commentors mentioned using a transistor (or MOSFET) with the base driven by a voltage divider including a zener diode. This way the voltage rating of the diode would effectively shut off the gate when that threshold was reached.

We also enjoyed reading about [Bill's] human-controlled cutoff circuit. It also uses a zener diode, but this time in series with a resistor and and LED patched into the trigger of the tool. The LED will shine brightly when the battery is in good shape. It will dim near the end, and fail to light when the critical limit has been reached. Just make sure you’re paying attention and you’re in good shape.

Pros and cons of replacing tool batteries with Lithium Polymer

[HammyDude] was tired of buying replacement batteries for his power tools. He had some Lithium Polymer batteries on hand and decided to take one of his dead drills and swap out the dead power pack.

The orange battery pack you see above has a deans connector on it for use with RC vehicles. By opening up the drill housing, [HammyDude] was able to add the mating deans connector. Now the replacement easily plugs into the drill, and it even fits inside the handle body.

This battery is made up of several cells, and an inexpensive charger is capable of topping off each individually for a balanced charge. In the video after the break [HammyDude] points out that the Makita charger applies voltage to all of the cells in series. It’s incapable of balance charging so when one cell dies the battery is toast. We’ve encountered this problem with Makita tools before.

One drawback to take note of in the end of the video: this replacement doesn’t have any low voltage cut-off. Running this battery pack down too low will permanently damage it. There must be a simple circuit that could be added as a safety measure. If you know of one, drop us a tip.

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Wireless mouse Li-Poly retrofit with USB charging

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It’s no secret that wireless mice can eat through batteries pretty quickly. Rather than keep a fresh supply of AAs on hand at all times, [Phil] decided he would convert his mouse to use a rechargeable lithium polymer battery instead.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a cell phone battery crammed into a mouse to increase capacity, but we think this one has been done quite nicely. [Phil] managed to fit a 2.7 – 4.2v Li-Poly battery in the mouse’s palm rest, where there was a little extra empty space. The battery can be charged from any USB port via a custom-built charging module, which he constructed using a MAX1555 charge controller. Another custom-built circuit resides in the space previously occupied by the AA batteries, which uses an MC340063 DC to DC converter to drop the battery’s voltage down to the 1.25v required by the mouse.

The only part of the build that [Phil] is not pleased with is the power switch on the bottom, but since you rarely see that, we could care less. We think it is quite well done, and with a second version already in the works, we anticipate that it will get even better.

Be sure to check out [Phil’s] video tour of the hack, which you can see below.

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Developing an animatronics platform

This Predator costume has an animatronic element in the shoulder cannon. It tracks the movement of the mask, aiming wherever the Predator gazes. [Jerome Kelty] was asked by a friend to help develop the costume and he ended up with an animatronics platform which can be adapted for many different uses.

Starting with an Arduino Pro Mini [Jerome] designed a host board which would breakout the pins of the Arduino and make it easy to connect and drive multiple servo motors. The board is powered by a 3.3v Lithium Polymer battery with charging handled by a MAX1555 that was included in the design. Check out the video after the break which shows off the Predator suit. Looks like [Jerome] got it right, and he’s also put the platform to use with an Ironman suit that has an arm-mounted missle feature.

Need some inspiration for you next costume build? Take a look at this animatronic collection to get you started.

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