Li-Ion Tech Staring Into the Abyss with Note 7 Failure

Unless you’ve been living under a high voltage transformer, you’ve heard about the potential for Samsung’s latest phone, the Note7, to turn into a little pocket grenade without warning. With over 2.5 million devices in existence, it’s creating quite a headache for the company and its consumers.

They quickly tied the problem to faulty Li-ion batteries and started replacing them, while issuing a firmware update to stop charging at 60 percent capacity. But after 5 of the replacement phones caught fire, Samsung killed the Note7 completely. There is now a Total Recall on all Note7 phones and they are no longer for sale.  If you have one, you are to turn it off immediately. And don’t even think about strapping it into a VR headset — Oculus no longer supports it. If needed, Samsung will even send you a fireproof box and safety gloves to return it.

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Every airline has been broadcasting warnings not to power on or charge a Note 7 on a plane. Image Source: CNET

It should be noted that the problem only affects 0.01% of the phones out there, so they’re not exactly going to set the world on fire. However, it has generated yet another discussion about the safety of Li-ion battery technology.

It was just a few months ago we all heard about those hoverboards that would catch fire. Those questionably-engineered (and poorly-named) toys used Li-ion batteries as well, and they were the source of the fire problem. In the wake of this you would think all companies manufacturing products with Li-ion batteries in them would be extra careful. And Samsung is no upstart in the electronics industry — this should be a solved problem for them.

Why has this happened? What is the deal with Li-ion batteries? Join me after the break to answer these questions.

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Scratch-Built EV From Hoverboards

Electric vehicles are everywhere now. Even though battery technology hasn’t had the breakthrough that we need to get everyone out driving an electric car, the price for batteries has dropped enough that almost anything else is possible. The hoverboard was proof of this: an inexpensive electric vehicle of sorts that anyone who was anyone in 2015 had. Taking his cue from there, [Harris] used off-the-shelf parts normally used for hoverboards to build his own battery-powered trike.

The trike is homemade from the ground up, too. The H-frame was bolted together using steel and lots and lots of bolts. Propulsion comes from a set of hub motors that are integrated into the wheels like a hoverboard or electric bicycle would have. Commonly available plug-and-play lithium batteries make up the power unit and are notably small. In fact, the entire build looks like little more than a frame and a seat, thanks to the inconspicuous batteries and hub motors.

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White Oak Illuminated Bluetooth Speaker

Besides being common tools available to most hackers and makers out there, 3D printing, CNC machines, and cheap Chinese electronics have one more things in common: they were all used by [Nick] to build a bluetooth speaker system that has some interesting LED effects built into the case.

This is fresh on the heels of another hack that used similar construction methods to build a “magic” wood lamp. [Nick] takes it a step further, though. His case is precisely machined in white oak and stuffed with the latest China has to offer: a bank of lithium-ion batteries, a DC-DC converter to power the amplifier, and a Bluetooth module. After some sanding, the speakers look professional alongside the blue light features hiding behind the polycarbonate rings.

Of course you’ll want to visit the project site for all the details of how [Nick] built his speaker case. He does admit, however, that the electronics are fairly inefficient and need a little work. All in all though, it’s a very refined set of speakers that’ll look great on a bookshelf or on a beach, workshop bench, or anyplace else that you could take them.

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Battery Backup For The Raspberry Pi

You can go to any dollar store, gas station, big box store, or your favorite Internet retailer and get a USB power bank. It’s a lithium battery mashed into a plastic enclosure with a USB port, probably poorly engineered, but it does serve as a great power supply for the Raspberry Pi. For the Raspberry Pi Zero contest we’re running over on hackaday.io, [Patrick] built a lithium phosphate battery pack that’s much better engineered and has some features a simple USB power bank will never have.

Battery[Patrick]’s Raspberry Pi UPS isn’t just a battery and charge controller attached to the power rails; this board has a microcontroller that has full control over when the Pi wakes up, when the Pi goes to sleep, and can put the Pi into a clean shutdown, even in headless mode. SD cards around the world rejoiced.

The electronics for this project are just a low-power MSP430 microcontroller and a boost regulator. The battery pack/power manager attaches to the Pi through the first few GPIO pins on the Pi’s 40-pin header. That’s enough to tap into the 3.3 and 5V supplies, along with the serial console so power events can be scripted on the Pi.

So far, [Patrick] has made a few time-lapse movies with his lithium battery backup, a Pi Model A+, and a Raspberry Pi camera. He managed to take 99 pictures over the course of about 24 hours, powered only by a single lithium-ion cell. You can check that video out below.

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Graphene Batteries Appear, Results Questionable

If you listen to the zeitgeist, graphene is the next big thing. It’s the end of the oil industry, the solution to global warming, will feed and clothe millions, cure disease, is the foundation of a space elevator that will allow humanity to venture forth into the galaxy. Graphene makes you more attractive, feel younger, and allows you to win friends and influence people. Needless to say, there’s a little bit of hype surrounding graphene.

With hype comes marketing, and with marketing comes products making dubious claims. The latest of which is graphene batteries from HobbyKing. According to the literature, these lithium polymer battery packs for RC planes and quadcopters, ‘utilize carbon in the battery structure to form a single layer of graphene… The graphene particles for a highly dense compound allowing electrons to flow with less resistance compared to traditional Lipoly battery technologies” These batteries also come packaged in black shrink tubing and have a black battery connector, making them look much cooler than their non-graphene equivalent. That alone will add at least 5mph to the top speed of any RC airplane.

For the last several years, one of the most interesting potential applications for graphene is energy storage. Graphene ultracapacitors are on the horizon, promising incredible charge densities and fast recharge times. Hopefully, in a decade or two, we might see electric cars powered not by traditional lithium batteries, but graphene supercapacitors. They’ll be able to recharge in minutes and drive further, allowing the world to transition away from a fossil fuel-based economy. World peace commences about two weeks after that happens.

No one expected graphene batteries to show up now, though, and especially not from a company whose biggest market is selling parts to people who build their own quadcopters. How do these batteries hold up? According to the first independent review, it’s a good battery, but the graphene is mostly on the label.

[rampman] on the RCgroups forums did a few tests on the first production runs of the battery, and they’re actually quite good. You can pull a lot of amps out of them, they last through a lot of charging cycles, and the packaging – important for something that will be in a crash – is very good. Are these batteries actually using graphene in their chemistry? That’s the unanswered question, isn’t it?

To be fair, the graphene batteries shipped out to reviewers before HobbyKing’s official launch do perform remarkably well. In the interest of fairness, though, these are most certainly not stock ‘graphene’ battery packs. The reviewers probably aren’t shills, but these battery packs are the best HobbyKing can produce, and not necessarily representative of what we can buy.

It’s also doubtful these batteries use a significant amount of graphene in their construction. According to the available research, graphene increases the power and energy density of batteries. The new graphene batteries store about as much energy as the nano-tech batteries that have been around for years, but weigh significantly more. This might be due to the different construction of the battery pack itself, but the graphene battery should be lighter and smaller, not 20 grams heavier and 5 mm thicker.

In the RC world, HobbyKing is known as being ‘good enough’. It’s not the best stuff you can get, but it is cheap. It’s the Wal-Mart of the RC world, and Wal-Mart isn’t introducing bleeding edge technologies that will purportedly save the planet. Is there real graphene in these batteries? We await an in-depth teardown, preferably with an electron microscope, with baited breath.

Tiny PIC Clock is Not a Tiny Bomb

It’s been a few weeks since the incident where Ahmed Mohamed, a student, had one of his inventions mistaken for a bomb by his school and the police, despite the device clearly being a clock. We asked for submissions of all of your clock builds to show our support for Ahmed, and the latest one is the tiniest yet but still has all of the features of a full-sized clock (none of which is explosions).

[Markus]’s tiny clock uses a PIC24 which is a small yet powerful chip. The timekeeping is done on an RTCC peripheral, and the clock’s seven segment displays are temporarily lit when the user presses a button. Since the LEDs aren’t on all the time, and the PIC only consumes a few microamps on standby, the clock can go for years on a single charge of the small lithium-ion battery in the back. There’s also a phototransistor which dims the display in the dark, and a white LED which could be used as a small flashlight in a pinch. If these features and the build technique look familiar it’s because of [Markus’] tiny MSP430 clock which he was showing around last year.

Both of his tiny clocks are quite impressive for their size, features, and power consumption. Some of the other clocks we’ve featured recently include robot clocks, clocks for social good, and clocks that are not just clocks (but still won’t explode). We’re suckers for a good clock project here, so keep sending them in!

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ESP8266 WiFi Throwies

A few years ago, someone figured out you can take an LED, a coin cell battery, and a magnet, tape them together, and throw them on every conceivable metallic surface. This was the creation of LED throwies, and the world was much worse off for its invention.

With the ESP-8266 WiFi module, we have a tiny, tiny device with a WiFi radio, and just enough processing power to do something interesting. What does that mean? WiFi throwies.

[Andreas Reischle] stuffed an ESP-8266 WiFi module and a lithium cell inside a weatherproof controller loaded up with magnets. On its own, these wouldn’t do much, but with the right combination of software, this little magnetic box can serve as an access point, serving up small JavaScript games to anyone who connects.

The software is based on the NodeMCU firmware and features a web server and a DNS server. The utility of a web server is obvious, and the DNS server redirects all traffic to the device’s index.html file, where a menu of small JavaScript games are presented.

It’s much better than polluting the world with LEDs and lithium; this one has Hunt the Wumpus on it.

Thanks [Oliver] for the tip.

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