Innovating A Backyard Solar Battery System

Ever on the lookout for creative applications for tech, [Andres Leon] built a solar powered battery system to keep his Christmas lights shining. It worked, but — pushing for innovation — it is now capable of so much more.

The shorthand of this system is two, 100 amp-hour, deep-cycle AGM batteries charged by four, 100 W solar panels mounted on an adjustable angle wood frame. Once back at the drawing board, however, [Leon] wanted to be able track real-time statistics of power collected, stored and discharged, and the ability to control it remotely. So, he introduced a Raspberry Pi running Raspbian Jessie Lite that publishes all the collected data to Home Assistant to be accessed and enable control of the system from the convenience of his smartphone. A pair of Arduino Deuemilanoves reporting to the Pi control a solid state relay powering a 12 V, 800 W DC-to-AC inverter and monitor a linear current sensor — although the latter still needs some tinkering. A in-depth video tour of the system follows after the break!

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A Poor-Man’s Laser CNC Engraver

What do you get when you mix the disappointment that sometimes accompanies cheap Chinese electronics with the childhood fascination of torturing insects with a magnifying glass on a sunny day? You get a solar-powered CNC etcher, that’s what.

We all remember the days of focussing the sun on a hapless insect, or perhaps less sadistically on a green plastic army man or just a hunk of dry wood. The wonder that accompanied that intense white spot instantly charring the wood and releasing wisps of smoke stayed with you forever, as seemingly did the green spots in your vision. [drum303] remembered those days and used them to assuage his buyer’s remorse when the laser module on his brand new CNC engraver crapped out after the first 10 minutes. A cheap magnifying glass mounted to the laser holder and a sunny day, and he don’t need no stinkin’ lasers! The speed needs to be set to a super slow — 100mm per minute — and there’s the problem of tracking the sun, but the results are far finer than any of our childhood solar-artistic attempts ever were.

Do we have the makings of a possible performance art piece here? A large outdoor gantry with a big Fresnel lens that could etch a design onto a large piece of plywood would be a pretty boss beachside attraction. Of course, you’d need a simple solar tracker to keep things in focus.

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Autonomous Transatlantic Seafaring

[Andy Osusky]’s project submission for the Hackaday Prize is to build an autonomous sailboat to cross the Atlantic Ocean. [Andy]’s boat will conform to the Microtransat Challenge – a transatlantic race for autonomous boats. In order to stick to the rules of the challenge, [Andy]’s boat can only have a maximum length of 2.5 meters, and it has to hit the target point across the ocean within 25 kilometers.

The main framework of the boat is built from aluminum on top of a surfboard, with a heavy keel to keep it balanced. Because of the lightweight construction, the boat can’t sink and the heavy keel will return it upright if it flips over. The sail is made from ripstop nylon reinforced by nylon webbing and thick carbon fiber tubes, in order to resist the high ocean winds.

The electronics are separated into three parts. A securely sealed Pelican case contains the LiFePo4 batteries, the solar charge controller, and the Arduino-based navigation controller. The communications hardware is kept in polycarbonate cases for better reception. One case contains an Iridium satellite tracker, compass, and GPS, the other contains two Globalstar trackers. The Iridium module allows the boat to transmit data via the Iridium Short Burst Data service. This way, data such as GPS position, wind speed, and compass direction can be transmitted.

[Andy]’s boat was launched in September from Newfoundland headed towards Ireland. However, things quickly seemed to go awry. Storms and crashes caused errors and the solar chargers seemed not to be charging the batteries. The test ended up lasting about 24 days, during which the boat went almost 1000km.

[Andy] is redesigning the boat, changing to a rigid sail and enclosing the hardware inside the boat. In the meantime, the project is open source, so the hardware is described and software is available on GitHub. Be sure to check out the OpenTransat website, where you can see the data from the first sailing. Also, check out this article on autonomous kayaks, and this one about a swarm of autonomous boats.

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Solar Bulldozer Gets Dirty

As the threat of climate change looms, more and more industries are starting to electrify rather than using traditional fuel sources like gasoline and diesel. It almost all cases, the efficiency gains turn out to be environmentally and economically beneficial. Obviously we have seen more electric cars on the roads, but this trend extends far beyond automobiles to things like lawn equipment, bicycles, boats, and even airplanes. The latest in this trend of electrified machines comes to us from YouTube user [J Mantzel] who has built his own solar-powered bulldozer.

The fact that this bulldozer is completely solar-powered is only the tip of the iceberg, however. The even more impressive part is that this bulldozer was built completely from scratch. The solar panel on the roof charges a set of batteries that drive the motors, and even though the bulldozer is slow it’s incredibly strong for its small size. It’s also possible for it to operate on solar alone if it’s sunny enough, which almost eliminates the need for the batteries entirely. It’s also built out of stainless steel and aluminum, which makes it mostly rust-proof.

This is an impressive build that goes along well with [J Mantzel]’s other projects, most of which center around an off-grid lifestyle. If that’s up your alley, there is a lot of inspiration to be had from his various projects. Be sure to check out the video of his bulldozer below as well. You don’t have to build an off-grid bulldozer to get started in the world of living off-the-grid, though, and it’s easy to start small with just one solar panel and a truck.

Thanks to [Darko] for the tip!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: WiFi ePaper

[Frank Buss] designed an electronic version of a sticky note: a WiFi enabled, solar-powered ePaper, with magnets embedded in the casing. It’s based on the new ESP32, and the idea is that you can update it via your smart-phone or over the internet via a cloud app to show any message you want. Being an ePaper display, the power consumption is greatly reduced, at least if you are cautious using the ESP32.

The final version plans to poll a server once per hour to get a new image to display. Depending on the final size and battery constraints, our guess is that it could probably poll often. Of course, that depends on the available charging light, which is usually reduced when you are inside the house. The project also has 3 buttons to provide user input, which can be customized for a wide array of actions, as [Frank Buss] notes:

For example install it on the fridge of your grandma, who might not be very proficient in using modern internet connected devices. Then you can send her birthday wishes, or remind her of schedules. And the buttons could be used as a feedback channel, like confirming a date. Or when installed at a public place, it can act as a bulletin board. Or it can be used for a modern form of internet connected graffiti or other art projects. The possibilities are infinite.

This project immediately reminds us of the recent SHA2017 badge we covered some days ago, with a bigger display and solar panel or the e-ink wifi display project from last year.

The latest version is being tested with a black/white/red ePaper display, as we can see in the video:

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Robot Lives in Your Garden and Eats the Weeds

You can’t deny the appeal of gardening. Whether it’s a productive patch of vegetables or a flower bed to delight the senses, the effort put into gardening is amply rewarded. Nobody seems to like the weeding, though — well, almost nobody; I find it quite relaxing. But if you’re not willing to get down and dirty with the weeds, you might consider deploying a weed-eating garden robot to do the job for you.

Dubbed the Tertill, and still very much a prototype, the garden robot is the brainchild of some former iRobot employees. That’s a pretty solid pedigree, and you can see the Roomba-esque navigation scheme in action — when it bumps into something it turns away, eventually covering the whole garden. Weed discrimination is dead simple: short plants bad, tall plants good. Seedlings are protected by a collar until they’re big enough not to get zapped by the solar-powered robot’s line trimmer.

It’s a pretty good idea, but the devil will be in the details. Will it be able to tend the understory of gardens where weeds tend to gather as the plants get taller? Can it handle steep-sided raised beds or deeply mulched gardens? Perhaps there are lessons to be learned from this Australian weed-bot.

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Solar Powered Camper is a Magic Bus Indeed

There’s no doubt that Volkswagen’s offerings in the 1960s and early 1970s were the hippie cars of choice, with the most desirable models being from the Type 2 line, better known as the Microbus. And what could be even hippier than
converting a 1973 VW Microbus into a solar-electric camper?

For [Brett Belan] and his wife [Kira], their electric vehicle is about quality time with the family. And they’ll have plenty of time, given that it doesn’t exactly ooze performance like a Tesla. Then again, a Tesla would have a hard time toting the enormous 1.2 kW PV panel on its roof like this camper can, and would look even sillier with the panel jacked up to maximize its solar aspect. [Brett] uses the space created by the angled array to create extra sleeping space like the Westfalia, a pop-top VW camper. The PV array charges a bank of twelve lead-acid golf cart batteries which power an AC motor through a 500-amp controller. Interior amenities include a kitchenette, dining table, and seating that cost as much as the van before conversion. There’s no word on interior heat, but honestly, that never was VW’s strong suit — we speak from bitter, frostbitten experience here.

As for being practical transportation, that just depends on your definition of practical. Everything about this build says “labor of love,” and it’s hard to fault that. It’s also hard to fault [Brett]’s choice of platform; after all, vintage VWs are the most hackable of cars.

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