Digital Data from a Cheap Power Meter

Power meters like the Kill-A-Watt are great for keeping track of energy usage, and are also very hackable. The Kill-a-Watt in particular puts out analog signals proportional to current and voltage, which makes it easy to interface with a microcontroller.

Although reading analog voltages is easy enough, [Kalle] found a cheap Chinese power meter that is even more hackable. These inexpensive power meters cost about the same as a first-generation Kill-a-Watt, but they directly stream out digital data. The power meter [Kalle] hacked has a non-US plug, but the meter is available from the usual suppliers (eBay, Aliexpress, etc) with a 3-prong US plug and 120v rating.

After breaking out a logic analyzer, [Kalle] discovered that the meter constantly streams voltage, current, and power data from the measurement board to the display board on a SPI-like bus. The ribbon cable inside the meter even has the clock and data bus lines clearly labelled. [Kalle] went on to reverse-engineer the protocol and write an Arduino sketch that parses the stream, making it even easier to integrate this meter into your next power monitoring project.

Hackaday Video: Safe Area Operation for Components (and Helicopters)

We’re back and this time talking about Safe Operating Area also called Safe Area Operation (SAO) which is short for the combination of things that can conspire to ruin your design. We also talk about helicopters.

Why take all of this time to discuss SAO you might ask, and what is that business about helicopters? Depending on the design there may be quite a bit of tedious math involved and sometimes there is just no avoiding it. Alternatively if you can get a feel for when math is and is not critical (based on design choices), it should be easier to get your next project up and running while still obeying the rules of the road.

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Auto off for any circuit

autooff

Properly configured, your computer will go into sleep mode when left unattended for a long enough time. So will your cell phone, and just about every other piece of sufficiently complex electronics. Much simpler circuits, though, are left at the mercy of a SPST switch; if you forget to turn a flashlight off, it will be dead next time you need to use it. Wanting an auto-off circuit simple electronics, [Kyle] threw together this auto shutoff circuit.

The basic idea behind the cirucuit is to use a microcontroller as a timer controlling two transistors. When [Kyle]’s circuit is power cycled, the timer inside an AVR starts, making a pin high, and when the timer is up, making the pin low again. This pin feeds into a PNP transistor which is in turn connected to a NPN transistor, creating a very tiny auto off circuit for anything with an SPST switch.

[Kyle] says there are a few improvements to be made – using MOSFETS to handle higher currents and possibly using a smaller microntroller like an ATtiny 4/5/9/10 to shrink the circuit’s volume. It’s a great idea, bringing the idea of a flashlight with auto shutoff into reality.

Test your project’s mettle with a protected dummy load

For a power hungry project the supply is sometimes a pretty big unknown. Whether stapling together a few different power supplies to meet a current requirement, or designing a system from the ground up: a big power supply can be quite a dangerous thing. It helps to have some kind of a dummy load to really shake down the electronics and get an idea of how hot things get or test stability before trusting the supply to run your stuff. [Paulo Oliveira] has constructed just such a thing, a slick looking adjustable constant current load.

Following the popular LM324 circuit from [David Jones] at EEVblog [Paulo] decided to make use of the two spare op-amps to provide both a thermal overload and a cooling fan circuit. We have seen other tweaks to [David]’s circuit in the past but through some resistors and MOSFETs [Paulo] can now load up to 7A (limited by resistor wattage). We would have used a really crazy server vacuum fan to make it genuinely frightening to push heavier loads. Thanks [Paulo]!

Automatic speaker control via TV

[Jon] wanted his speakers to come on and off along with his TV. The speaker heats up if left on so he didn’t want to do that. But killing the power also resets the volume level (this is an old set of PC speakers and the remote is wired, not IR) so using one of those switched power strips was out as well. He thought a bit about trying to use the power LED on the TV to build his own circuit when it dawned on him. It’s possible to monitor the USB port on the TV and use it to switch on the speakers.

The circuit above uses a couple of opto-isolators to protect both the television and the speakers. The 5V line from the USB port on the back of the TV is monitored by an XNOR gate (which helps to filter out some of the toggling at power-on). When that gate latches it activates a 555 timer which in turn fires up the speakers. Presumable this happens when power is cut as well, but we’ll let you work through the circuit logic yourself.

Constant current dummy load

Inspired by a design he saw on the EEVblog, [George Graves] put together this constant current dummy load.  You might need on of these if you’re testing power supplies or batteries. They pull a constant current regardless of the voltage of the supply. [George’s] version extends the range of the original a little bit by running the op-amp at 8 volts. He says that everything runs fine at 1 amp. He tried 2 amps but things got hot pretty quickly. What we really like though, is he took fantastic pictures. Sometimes even simple things can catch our attention with the right pictures!

Build an induction heater and become a metalsmith

If you’ve ever wanted to forge, cast, or smelt metal, this project is right up your alley. It’s a 30 kVA induction heater built by [bwang] over on Instructables. It gets hot enough to melt and forge steel, iron, and aluminum.

An induction heater operates by surrounding the object to be heated with a coil carrying high frequency AC current. Basically, the entire setup acts like a huge transformer with a shorted secondary. To get these currents into a workpiece, [bwang] used a TL494 PWM controller as an oscillator. The output of the TL494 is filtered and amplified a few times to generate a huge amount of AC current.

Larger versions of [bwang]’s induction heater are found in foundries and forges all across the land; even though this small version sucks down 50 A out of a dryer or stove outlet, induction heating is very efficient. We’re actually wondering why we don’t see many home blacksmiths using induction heating, so we’ll leave that for our readers to discuss in the comments.

[sessions] reminded us of this induction heater from a few years ago. A little smaller, but still usable.