Two-Axis Solar Tracker

Solar panels are an amazing piece of engineering, but without exactly the right conditions they can be pretty fickle. One of the most important conditions is that the panel be pointed at the sun, and precise aiming of the panel can be done with a solar tracker. Solar trackers can improve the energy harvesting ability of a solar panel by a substantial margin, and now [Jay] has a two-axis tracker that is also portable.

The core of the project is a Raspberry Pi, chosen after [Jay] found that an Arduino didn’t have enough memory for all of the functionality that he wanted. The Pi and the motor control electronics were stuffed into a Pelican case for weatherproofing. The actual solar tracking is done entirely in software, only requiring a latitude and longitude in order to know where the sun is. This is much easier (and cheaper) than relying on GPS or an optical system for information about the location of the sun.

Be sure to check out the video below of the solar tracker in action. Even without the panel (or the sun, for that matter) the tracker is able to precisely locate the panel for maximum energy efficiency. And, if you’d like to get even MORE power from your solar panel, you should check out a maximum power point tracking system as well.

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Solar Panel System Monitoring Device Using Arduino

[Carl] recently upgraded his home with a solar panel system. This system compliments the electricity he gets from the grid by filling up a battery bank using free (as in beer) energy from the sun. The system came with a basic meter which really only shows the total amount of electricity the panels produce. [Carl] wanted to get more data out of his system. He managed to build his own monitor using an Arduino.

The trick of this build has to do with how the system works. The panel includes an LED light that blinks 1000 times for each kWh of electricity. [Carl] realized that if he could monitor the rate at which the LED is flashing, he could determine approximately how much energy is being generated at any given moment. We’ve seen similar projects in the past.

Like most people new to a technology, [Carl] built his project up by cobbling together other examples he found online. He started off by using a sketch that was originally designed to calculate the speed of a vehicle by measuring the time it took for the vehicle to pass between two points. [Carl] took this code and modified it to use a single photo resistor to detect the LED. He also built a sort of VU meter using several LEDs. The meter would increase and decrease proportionally to the reading on the electrical meter.

[Carl] continued improving on his system over time. He added an LCD panel so he could not only see the exact current measurement, but also the top measurement from the day. He put all of the electronics in a plastic tub and used a ribbon cable to move the LCD panel to a more convenient location. He also had his friend [Andy] clean up the Arduino code to make it easier for others to use as desired.

Next Week in NYC: How the Age of Machine Consciousness is Transforming Our Lives

I’ve developed or have been involved with a number of imaging technologies, everything from DIY synthetic aperture radar, the MIT thru-wall radar, to the next generation of ultrasound imaging devices. Imagery is cool, but what the end-user often wants is some way by which to get an answer as opposed to viewing a reconstruction. So let’s figure that out.

We’re kicking-off a discussion on how to apply deep learning to more than just beating Jeopardy champions at their own game. We’d like to apply deep learning to hard data, to imagery. Is it possible to get the computer to accurately provide the diagnosis?

I helped to organize a seminar series/discussion panel in New York City on November 13th (you know, for those readers who are closer to New York than to Munich). This discussion panel includes David Ferrucci (the guy who lead the IBM Watson program), MIT Astrophysicist Max Tagmark, and the person who created genetic sequencing on a chip: Jonathan Rothberg.  As the vanguard of creativity and enthusiasm in everything technical we’d like the Hackaday community to join the conversation.

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Custom Electronics and LED Panels Brighten Up a Nightclub


When [Robert] is presented with a challenge, he doesn’t back down. His friend dreamed of reusing some old LED panels by mounting them to the ceiling of the friend’s night club. Each panel consists of a grid of five by five red, green, and blue LEDs for a total of 75 LEDs per panel. It sounded like a relatively simple task but there were a few caveats. First, the controller box that came with the panels could only handle 16 panels and the friend wanted to control 24 of them. Second, the only input device for the controller was an infrared remote. The friend wanted an easy way for DJ’s to control the color of the panels and the infrared remote was not going to cut it. Oh yea, he also gave [Robert] just three weeks to make this happen.

[Robert] started out by building a circuit that could be duplicated to control each panel. The brain of this circuit is an ATtiny2313. For communication between panels, [Robert] chose to go with the DMX protocol. This was a good choice considering DMX is commonly used to control stage lighting effects. The SN75176 IC was chosen to handle this communication. In his haste to get this PCB manufactured [Robert] failed to realize that the LED panels were designed common cathode, as opposed to his 25 shiny new PCB’s which were designed to work with a common anode design. To remedy this, he switched out all of the n-channel MOSFET with p-channel MOSFET. He also spent a couple of hours manually cutting through traces and rewiring the board. After all of this, he discovered yet another problem. The LED’s were being powered from the same 5V source as the microcontroller. This lead to power supply issues resulting in the ATtiny constantly resetting. The solution was to add some capacitors.

Click past the break for more on [Robert’s] LED panels.

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PixelBrite is an LED wall/coffee table done right


The scope of this project is almost as jaw-dropping as the cost of the parts. [LeoneLabs] calls the project PixelBrite. It’s a highly-polished modular RGB LED panel system, and he’s not keeping it a secret. We think it’s reasonable to call the build documentation mammoth. If you’re a fan of fast-motion assembly videos he’s got you covered there as well.

It’s interesting to compare this build to some of the Daft Punk tables from years back. It shows how economies of scale in the hobby electronics industry have helped new and affordable products to emerge. For instance, this offering is a 10×10 grid which is outside of the normal 8 pixel wide orientation dictated by 8-bit microcontrollers. The reason for the change is that this doesn’t use a matrix built with point-to-point soldering. It uses a string of RGB pixels (WS2801).

The enclosure is also a thing of beauty. The dividers that make up each cell are laser cut foam board. This makes the joints very tight to prevent light from leaking into the next cell. The housing is acrylic held in place by an aluminum rail system. Need more than one panel? No problem, a single connector chains one panel to the next. But we did mentioned the cost of materials. Unassembled you can expect to drop over five hundred bones for the pleasure of seeing this thing blink.

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Great junk-yard find leads to a reclaimed control panel project

Having the “can you believe somebody threw this away?” mentality has gotten us into some trouble through the years, but look what [Joshua] found at the scrap yard! It’s a door from a power conversion station and it contains fourteen indicator lights and a lot of other doodads. But since this is just the door, he needed a way to monitor the controls and drive the indicators. At the heart of the hack he used to get this up and running is a PIC 18F2550. It has no trouble driving the indicators thanks to a pair of ULN2803 darlington arrays which switch the higher 24 volt levels.

His writeup doesn’t mention the method used, but the panel also has a couple of meters at the top. In the video after the break you can clearly see that he’s got them both working. We’d bet there’s a plan for each of the buttons as well, since this will be prominently featured in their alien-invasion themed Halloween display this year.

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Etching panel faces on the cheap

[James] came up with a way to make small numbers of high-contrast instrument panels cheaply, and without too much labor. We’ll make with the bad news right away; you’re going to need a laser cutter to use this method. Traditionally, panels that look like the one above are etched onto special composite that has one color at the surface and a contrasting color beneath. [James] started with plain old acrylic, etched his labels, then filled the voids with black wax crayon. Just scribble all over the etched face to rub wax into the grooves, go through a couple of cleaning steps using white spirit, then bake the panel to even out and harden the wax layer. He’s got several examples of his work, including medallions that are used to label LED indicators.