Heliowatcher positions solar panels for highest efficiency

[Jason Wright] and [Jeremy Blum] are showing off the project they developed for their Designing with Microcontrollers course at Cornell University. They call it the Heliowatcher, and if you know your Greek mythology we’d be you figured out this watches the movement of the sun and adjust a solar panel to follow it.

Their design is simple and effective. The base is mounted like a Lazy Susan, able to pivot on the horizontal plane. The bottom edge of the solar panel is mounted with two door hinges, with a motorized screw jack used to raise and lower it. The system uses a GPS to provide geographical position, day, and time feedback. This is used in conjunction with an array of four LEDs to determine the best position of the panel. Those LEDs are acting as light sensors; when the top and the bottom detect similar levels, the panel is at its most efficient orientation. The left and right LED sensors work the same way.

Now if we can just work out a self-cleaning system to keep the panels free of the dirty film that builds up over time we’d be set!

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Solar charging a Buddha Machine

While having ambient music playing in the background can lead to a more relaxed state of mind, we can’t imagine the annoyance of having to replace the batteries constantly. Thankfully, [Phil] added solar charging to his Buddha Machine so he won’t have to worry about batteries anymore.

If you’re not familiar, the Buddha Machine is a small plastic box that loops nine tracks of ambient music inspired the Buddhist temples of south-east Asia. There’s not much to these little boxes; they’re just a plastic box with a speaker, on/off knob and an EEPROM loaded up with samples of music.

A year or so ago, the people behind the Buddha Machine posted a prototype of a solar-powered meditative noise box that was unfortunately never made. Thankfully, [Phil Stearns] stepped in posted a guide on how to convert a AA-powered Buddha Machine to solar power.

The modification is incredibly simple: after replacing the disposable AA batteries with NiMH rechargeable, two wires are swapped connecting the battery compartment with the main PCB and the box is sealed up again. Now, whenever one of [Phil]’s solar panels is connected to the power jack the batteries begin charging. [Phil] says he can get two days worth of runtime with a full 8-hour charge, so he shouldn’t need any batteries for his Buddha Machine anytime soon.

Sustainability Hacks: Solar battery/smartphone charger

[Michael] took a battery charger meant to be connected to mains power and converted it to work with a solar panel. This was a traditional 4 cell charger which charges the batteries in pairs. He kept that functionality, but added USB charging with a special over-current feature. That’s because his Android phone has a fast and slow USB charging mode. The slow mode makes sure that it draws 500 mA or less to stay within USB specifications. But the fast mode draws more current when the phone detects that the USB connection is attached to a wall charger. [Michael] added a switch that patches a pull-up resistor to the data line, signaling to the phone that it’s okay to switch to fast charging mode.

As for the power supply itself, you can see that [Michael] snapped off the part of the circuit board that housed the original regulator. He’s added his own 5V switching regulator which offers a wide input voltage range. This is connected to two banana plug sockets which can be connected to the solar panel.

Obama-1 Desk Spy Satellite Aims for High Approval Ratings

This miniature “spy satellite” may not gain the ire of the Chinese People’s Army, but it will certainly look rad on your desk.  Besides looking cool, this “satellite” is able to transmit video up to 300 feet away and has sun tracking solar panels for battery recharging. Additionally, it has a LED “thruster” and speakers.

One cool thing about this build is that the body was made out of a lamp from Goodwill. Recycled/thrift store enclosures always make a good addition to your project as they won’t break the bank. Additionally, they may yield some other bonus parts when taken apart. In this case, the lamp fit into the project scope perfectly, but anyone trying to duplicate it might not be so lucky.

Creative use of other household materials rounds out this build, with solar panels taken off home garden lights, and part of a nose hair trimmer used as the “thruster” body. This well-build project is a great example of how to convert household items into something totally different and unique.

Solar powered cellphone a true hack

The polished quality of this hack isn’t quite there, but we love the ingenuity and exploration exhibited. [Paulie1982] shows us how to make an old cellphone work with the rays of the sun.

You can see above that he’s added photovoltaic solar cells to the back case of what looks like an old smart phone. He grabbed the cells from two inexpensive solar landscaping lights and inserted them by cutting holes in the case and using black silicone sealant to glue them in place. Each can pump out about 3V and together they get above the 5V threshold that he needs to do some charging. See the build process in the video after the break.

From what we’ve seen there’s zero consideration of current in this hack and that’s what makes us skeptical. Still, we love the idea of trickle charging and we’d love to see some speculation in the comments about how to improve upon this. Surely the additional hardware necessary for proper regulation, etc. could be fit in a custom case cover like the one used for this inductive charger hack.

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Solar panel charger analysis with Ladyada

[Phillip Torrone], one of the original crew of HackaDay, now working with [LadyAda] tipped us off to this video of her explaining the device they built for configuring the charging circuits to be used with their solar panels. Unlike most of their tutorials, this one is not intended to be a final product sold on their store. Rather, this is a project that helps them deliver the best quality they can.

The unit itself is built around an Arduino and can log the statistics to an SD card, show battery voltage, panel voltage, and current from panel to charger. You can see in the video above how she uses this to refine her design in real time for optimal results.

25C3: Solar-powering your gear

solar

The 25th Chaos Communication Congress is underway in Berlin. One of the first talks we dropped in on was [script]’s Solar-powering your Geek Gear. While there are quite a few portable solar products on the market, we haven’t seen much in the way of real world experience until now.

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