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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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: A Smart Battery Analyzer

[K.C. Lee]’s entry for the Hackaday Prize won’t cure cancer, wipe a disease from the planet, stop an alien invasion, or save the world. His battery charger and analyzer is, however, a useful little device for determining the charge and discharge characteristics of batteries, and can also be used as dual channel electronic load, current source, or power supply.

Inside [K.C.]’s device are all the tools required for charging and discharging lithium-ion, lead acid, and NiMH batteries. He’s doing this with a few slightly unusual circuits, including a SEPIC DC to DC converter, and an ‘analog’ PWM controller. these two techniques together mean [K.C.] can get away with smaller caps and inductors in his design, which also means less ripple on the output. As far as battery chargers and dischargers go, this one is very well designed.

Control of battery discharging and charging happens through a SILabs 8051-based microcontroller with USB. The UI is a simple Nokia LCD and an app running in Windows. If you want to save the world, this isn’t the project for you. If you need to test a few rechargeable batteries, this is a great device to have on the workbench.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

An Obsessively Thorough Battery (and more) Showdown

There are a number of resources scattered across the Internet that provide detailed breakdowns of common products, such as batteries, but we haven’t seen anything quite as impressive as this site. It’s an overwhelming presentation of data that addresses batteries of all types, including 18650’s (and others close in size)26650’s, and more chargers than you can shake a LiPo at. It’s an amazing site with pictures of the product both assembled and disassembled, graphs for charge and discharge rates, comparisons for different chemistries, and even some thermal images to illustrate how the chargers deal with heat dissipation.

Check out the review for the SysMax Intellicharger i4 to see a typical example. If you make it to the bottom of that novel-length repository of information, you’ll see that each entry includes a link to the methodology used for testing these chargers.

But wait, there’s more! You can also find equally thorough reviews of flashlights, USB chargers, LED drivers, and a few miscellaneous overviews of the equipment used for these tests.

[Thanks TM]

Hack a Mag-Lite to be Rechargeable


Most tools sport rechargeable batteries these days, but there’s no need to toss that old flashlight: just replace the cells with rechargable ones!

[monjnoux] had a 3-cell D-sized MagLite lying around—though you could reproduce this hack with a 2 to 5 cell model—which he emptied of its regular batteries and replaced with some 11000mAh NiMHs from eBay. The original bulb was also tossed in favor of a 140-lumens LED.

After disassembling the flashlight, [monjnoux] set about installing the new parts. He replaced the original bulb with the LED, soldering it into place and securing it with hot glue. He then drilled a hole in the body of the flashlight for a DC socket. The charger he purchased is adaptive, detecting the number of cells and adjusting its voltage accordingly. It had the wrong connector, though, so [monjnoux] simply chopped off the end and soldered on a new one. For a hack that comes in at 40€, it’s definitely a cheaper alternative to the official rechargeable model: which costs 80€. And with a duration of 7 hours (though it’s unclear whether this number reflects continuous use), it likely outlasts the official model, as well.

Goal Zero Bolt hack lets your flashlight use non-proprietary batteries


[Harrson] was really excited to get a deal on this Goal Zero Bolt flashlight. It’s and LED flashlight that uses Lithium batteries that are recharged via USB. That’s really handy. But when he cracked it open, like any good hacker does with new toys, he found that it won’t charge standard 18650 Lithium cells. That’s the form factor it’s using, but the proprietary cell that comes with it has both conductors at the top.

So where did [Harrson] start with the project? He called the company to ask about the setup. They were able to confirm that the proprietary cells just have a conductor which brings the bottom contact of the cell up to the top. We’d bet this is to make the flashlight itself easier to manufacture.

He got to work by scavenging a flat Kapton covered conductor from an old laptop battery. This thin strip is manufactured for connecting the cells of a battery, and it’s quite flat so it will be able to bypass the 18650 cell housing inside of the battery compartment. He made a solder connection for the strip inside the recharging compartment, leaving a tail which makes contact with the base of a standard cell.

If you’ve ever cracked open a dead laptop battery you probably found round Lithium cells. These are most commonly the 18650 variant we’ve been talking about. The battery dies when just one cell goes bad, so [Harrson] has a supplies of the good cells which he’ll be able to substitute into his flashlight as needed.

Salvaging Lithium cells and circuits


Lithium cells outperform Nickel Cadmium and Nickel Metal Hydride in almost every way. But they also need a little bit more babysitting to get the most out of them. That comes in the form of control circuitry that charges them correctly and won’t let them get below a certain voltage threshold during discharge. We enjoyed reading about [Carlos’] Lithium cell salvage efforts as it discusses these concerns.

He wanted to salvage a Lithium power source for his projects. He had the three cell pack from a dead Macbook Pro seen in the upper left, as well as the single blown cell from a digital picture frame shown on the right. The three-pack didn’t monitor each cell individually, so the death of one borked the entire battery. He desoldered them and probed their voltage level to find one that was still usable. To prevent his project from draining the source below the 2.7V mark he scavenged that circuit board from the digital picture frame. A bit of testing and the system is up and running in a different piece of hardware.

Don’t be afraid of this stuff. If you learn the basics it’ll be easy to use these powerful batteries in your projects. For more background check out this charging tutorial.

Recycle lithium cells by building custom flashlights

This isn’t a brightest flashlight in the world type of hack (but it does manage to push about 1000 lumens). [Stephen Webb] is finding a use for leftover parts by building his own simple LED flashlights. As you can see, he uses PVC parts available at any hardware or home store. These are a good choice; they’re cheap, light weight, resilient, designed to be water tight, they easily thread together and have connectors that reduce the diameter of the fittings.

The electronics use standard size cylindrical Lithium cells. These are found in many types of Laptop and Power Tool batteries. Often when one of those battery packs bites the dust it’s an issue of one or more bad cells. [Stephen] desolders the cells, and reuses the good ones in this project.

We didn’t see any mention of a recharging technique. Does anyone have any advice on how to top these cells off if they’re not in their original power pack form?