Solar Controller Reverse Engineered In Both Directions

[Jared Sanson] has a solar power setup on his beach house, consisting of 6 panels and a 24V battery bank, supplied by Outback Inc. Their chargers and inverters pair over a seemingly proprietary connection with a controller known as the MATE. The MATE has a standard serial output which gives some details about the operation, but [Jared] wasn’t getting the detailed information they could get from the controller’s screen. This meant it was time to reverse engineer the proprietary connection instead, which [Jared] calls MateNET.

The controller interfaces with the chargers over a Cat5 cable. [Jared] initially suspected RS-485, but it turned out to be regular serial at 0-24V logic levels, at 9600 baud, 9n1. To figure out the pinout, [Jared] went through the MATE circuitry with a fine-toothed comb, discovering an ATMEGA32. Since both the MATE’s user output & its connection to the other equipment are both serial, a logic mux is used to split the ATMEGA32’s single UART between the two serial connections. With the physical layer sorted, it was time to figure out how the protocol worked.

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Perovskite Solar: Coming Soon?

Making solar cells out of silicon is difficult. There’s plenty of manufacturing steps, many of them at very high temperatures, and you need a high vacuum and a clean room. However, perovskite solar cells–cells made with hybrid organic-inorganic materials in a perovskite crystal structure–are relatively easy to make using wet chemistry involving solvents or vapor deposition.

In theory, silicon solar cells could be 30% efficient, but in reality, 25% seems to be a practical limit with commercial cells typically topping out at 20%. Perovskite cells are nearly that high now, and could be higher by stacking thin layers, each sensitive to different wavelengths of light.

A recent development at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory may lead to even more efficient perovskite cells. Researchers found that certain crystal structures had a much higher efficiency than other structures. The problem now is figuring out how to produce the crystals to increase the prevalence of that structure.

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Open Source Solar

What’s the size of a standard euro-palette, goes together in 15 minutes, and can charge 120 mobile phones at one time? At least one correct answer is Sunzilla, the open source solar power generator. The device does use some proprietary components, but the entire design is open source. It contains solar panels, of course, as well as storage capacity and an inverter.

You can see a video about the project below. The design is modular so you can pick and choose what you want. It also is portable, stackable, and easy to transport. The team claims they generate 900W of solar power and can store 4 kWh. Because of the storage device, the peak power out is 1600W and the output is 230V 50Hz AC.

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Networked Solar Birdhouses Deep in the Woods

[Oitzu] in Germany wrote in to let us know about a series of short but very informative blog posts in which he describes building a series of solar-powered, networked birdhouses with the purpose of spying on the life that goes on within them. He made just one at first, then expanded to a small network of them. They work wonderfully, and [Oitzu]’s documentation will be a big help to anyone looking to implement any of the same elements – which include a Raspberry Pi in one unit as a main gateway, multiple remote units in other birdhouses taking pictures and sending those to the Pi over an nRF24L01+ based radio network, and having the Pi manage uploading those images using access to the mobile network. All with solar power.

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Building a Sturdy Remote Control Mailbox

This DIY mailbox pretty much has it all. Not only is it waterproof and secure, it’s beautifully built and unlikely to arouse the suspicion of or induce fear in the mailman.

It’s made of 2mm thick sheet metal and features accents made of merri, a rather nice blood wood native to Western Australia. [George] of Make It Extreme built this mailbox primarily for remote control access, the idea being that each of his family members would have a key fob remote to open it. There’s an input panel under the lid in case someone loses or forgets their remote.

The setup is simple. That 12V solar panel under the address number is connected to a solar charge controller and charges a small battery. Pushing the A button on the key fob remote triggers the latch to slide over, unlocking the door. A push of the B button turns on an interior light for late-night mail collecting. The tube on the side is for leaflets and other postal miscellany. Now, the coolest feature: when mail passes through the slot, it lets [George] know by calling his cell phone. Check out the build/demo video after the break.

We’ve featured all kinds of mailboxen over the years. This wifi-enabled ‘box uses an Amazon Dash button and a Pi to play the AOL notification on the owner’s phone. The flag on this adorable mini mailbox goes up when there’s mail in the real one outside.

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After the Prize: What’s Next for the Light Electric Utility Vehicle

Winner of the third place in last year’s Hackaday Prize was [Chris Low]’s Light Electric Utility Vehicle. In case you think that once a Hackaday Prize is in the bag then that’s it and the project creator packs up and goes home, [Chris] dispels that idea, he’s invested his winnings straight back into his project and posted his latest progress on an improved Mk3 model.

Light Electric Utility Vehicle, 2015-style
Light Electric Utility Vehicle, 2015-style

We first covered the Light Electric Utility Vehicle back in June 2015 when it was first entered for the 2015 Hackaday Prize. The aim was to produce a rugged and simple small electric vehicle that could be powered by solar energy and that was suitable for the conditions found in South Sudan, where [Chris] works. The vehicle as we saw it then was an articulated design, with chain drive to bicycle-style wheels. The Mk3 version by comparison has lost the articulation in favour of rack-and-pinion steering, has in-hub motors instead of chain drive, and now features coil-spring suspension. You might comment that it has lost some of its original simplicity and become something more like a conventional electric UTV, but along the way it has also become more of a practical proposition as an everyday vehicle.

You can follow the entire build log on the Light Electric Utility Vehicle’s project page on, and below the break have a look at [Chris]’s video showing it in action. Continue reading “After the Prize: What’s Next for the Light Electric Utility Vehicle”

London Tries Smart Cities

What’s a smart city? According to Wikipedia, a smart city uses ICT (information and communication technologies) to enhance quality, performance, and interactivity of urban services while reducing costs and resource consumption. Hackers have been using technology to enhance all sorts of things for years.

London is joining forces with cities across Europe to demonstrate smart city technology, mostly in the Royal Borough of Greenwich. The project is in conjunction with the EU Horizon 2020 project, which is still soliciting proposals for funding. It seems like some Hackaday readers–especially in the EU–ought to have some ideas worth funding.

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