“Who is John Galt?” Finally Answered

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.

who-is-john-galt-thumbAs [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.

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Open Source ESC Developed for Longboard Commute

For electric and remote control vehicles – from quadcopters to electric longboards – the brains of the outfit is the Electronic Speed Controller (ESC). The ESC is just a device that drives a brushless motor in response to a servo signal, but in that simplicity is a lot of technology. For the last few months, [Ben] has been working on a completely open source ESC, and now he’s riding around on an electric longboard that’s powered by drivers created with his own hands.

esc-for-longboardThe ESC [Ben] made is built around the STM32F4, a powerful ARM microcontroller that’s able to do a lot of computation in a small package. The firmware is based on ChibiOS, and there’s a USB port for connection to a sensible desktop-bound UI for adjusting parameters.

While most hobby ESCs are essentially black boxes shipped from China, there is a significant number of high performance RC pilots that modify the firmware on these devices. While these new firmwares do increase the performance and response of off-the-shelf ESCs, building a new ESC from scratch opens up a lot of doors. [Ben]’s ESC can be controlled through I2C, a UART, or even a CAN bus, greatly opening up the potential for interesting electronic flying machines. Even for ground-based vehicles, this ESC supports regenerative braking, sensor-driven operation, and on-board odometry.

While this isn’t an ESC for tiny racing quadcopters (it’s complete overkill for that task) this is a very nice ESC for bigger ground-based electric vehicles and larger aerial camera platforms. It’s something that could even be used to drive a small CNC mill, and certainly one of the most interesting pieces of open source hardware we’ve seen in a long time.

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CD Execution Chamber Sends old Discs off with a Bang

Welded steel safety cage? Check! Polycarbonate blast shield? Check! Vacuum cleaner motor wired to an inviting red button? Double check! Stack of CDs to dispose of as destructively as possible? [Firas Sirriyeh] has got you covered with his CD Terminator 1.0.

While [Firas’s] build log is a little short on descriptive text, there’s really no need for it. His pictures tell the tale. The combination media shredder and interactive performance art piece is a stoutly constructed affair, which you’d want anything capable of flinging razor-sharp plastic and Mylar shrapnel to be. [Firas] has displayed his CD execution chamber at the Jerusalem Mini Maker Fair 2015 (in Hebrew; English link) and the Musara Mix Festival where the must-see video after the break was shot (mildly NSFW language). Some CDs give up the ghost very quickly, but one held out for a remarkable long time before finally exploding; you can see it flexing and warping in a way that almost appears to be slow-motion.

For those who’d rather not fuss with all that bothersome safety, there’s always this automatic CD launcher to play with.

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Fully-Automatic CD Launcher Looks Dangerously Fun

When [JZSlenker] was challenged to find a creative way to destroy a bunch of compact discs that were burned incorrectly, he did not disappoint. He came up with a rather simple but fun contraption that launches the CD’s at high speeds and with a fast rate of fire. He doesn’t share many details about how this machine was built, but the 18 second video makes it pretty obvious how it works.

The CD gun is built mainly from a piece of plywood. This provides a flat base with which to mount the other components. A stack of compact discs is held in place by what appears to be a metal cage that was welded together. An inexpensive angle grinder is used as the propulsion mechanism. The grinding wheel is mounted just in front of the stack of CD’s in a vertical orientation. The wheel must be placed just high enough above the plywood base for a CD to fit in between the wheel and the base. This design is remarkably similar to the Sticker Gun which our own [Brian Benchoff] is building.

Some type of linear actuator is used as the firing mechanism. The actuator is hooked up to a thin piece of metal, cut into an L shape. It almost looks like a reaper tool. When a button is pressed, the actuator fires instantly. This pushes the metal hammer into the CD on the bottom of the stack. The CD is pressed forward into the grinder wheel which then shoots the CD into the air. Based on the below video, it looks like [JZSlenker] is able to fire at a rate of about three CD’s per second with this rig.

This has got to be a super-villain weapon for an upcoming movie, right? Maybe AOL-man?

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On Your Phone While Driving an Electric Skateboard

Skateboards are fun, but you have to do all that pesky kicking in order to get anywhere. That’s why [Nick] decided to build his own electric skateboard. Not only is the skateboard powered with an electric motor, but the whole thing can be controlled from a smart phone.

[Nick] started out with a long board deck that he had made years ago. After cleaning it up and re-finishing it, the board was ready for some wheels. [Nick] used a kit he found online that came with the trucks, wheels, and a belt. The trucks have a motor mount welded in place already. [Nick] used a Turnigy SK3 192KV electric motor to drive the wheels. He also used a Turnigy electronic speed controller to make sure he could vary the speed of the board while riding.

Next [Nick] needed some interface between a smart phone and the motor controller. He chose to use an Arduino Nano hooked up to a Bluetooth module. The Nano was able to directly drive the motor controller, and the Bluetooth module made it easy to sync up to a mobile phone. The Android app was written using MIT’s App Inventor software. It allows for basic control over the motor speed so you can cruise in style. Check out the video below for a slide show and some demonstration clips.

It’s a popular project, and eerily similar to the one we saw a couple months back.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: 3D Printed Parametric Motrs

If you’re building something that moves, chances are you’ll be using an electric motor. There are tens of thousands of different motors out there, each with their own properties, speeds, torque, and sizes. How do you pick the right motor? Most of the time it’s a highly educated guess, but [Solenoid] has a better idea: just 3D print a motor designed by a calculator that will give you the properties you need

This entry for The Hackaday Prize is just a web-based calculator for motor designs that takes torque, speed, size, or form factor as an input and spits out a complete motor design. Sure, you’ll need to wind coils on a 3D printed frame, but this calculator removes the need to calculate inductance, coil capacitance, and all the other bits needed to construct an efficient motor.

While actual products made in the millions will still be using off the shelf motors, this project is perfect for one-offs. If you want to motorize a telescope mount, this project will design a motor given the power and resolution per steps required. If you want to build a wind turbine, this calculator will put blades right on the outrunner of a brushless motor. It’s a great project, and something we can’t wait to see the results of.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

A Pedal Powered Cinema

When the apocalypse hits and your power goes out, how are you going to keep yourself entertained? If you are lucky enough to be friends with [stopsendingmejunk], you can just hop on his pedal powered cinema and watch whatever movies you have stored on digital media.

This unit is built around an ordinary bicycle. A friction drive is used to generate the electricity via pedal power. In order to accomplish this, a custom steel stand was fabricated together in order to lift the rear wheel off the ground. A 24V 200W motor is used as the generator. [stopsendingmejunk] manufactured a custom spindle for the motor shaft. The spindle is made from a skateboard wheel. The motor is mounted in such a way that it can be lowered to rub the skateboard wheel against the bicycle wheel. This way when the rear bicycle wheel spins, it also rotates the motor. The motor can be lifted out of the way when cruising around if desired.

The power generated from the motor first runs through a regulator. This takes the variable voltage from the generator and smooths it out to a nice even power signal. This regulated power then charges two Goal Zero Sherpa 100 lithium batteries. The batteries allow for a buffer to allow the movie to continue playing while changing riders. The batteries then power the Optomo 750 projector as well as a set of speakers.