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.

Continue reading “Autonomous Transatlantic Seafaring”

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!

Continue reading “Solar Bulldozer Gets Dirty”

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:

Continue reading “Hackaday Prize Entry: WiFi ePaper”

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.

Continue reading “Robot Lives in Your Garden and Eats the Weeds”

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.

Continue reading “Solar Powered Camper is a Magic Bus Indeed”

PassivDom: Mobile Homes for Millenials

In many parts of the world, living in a trailer has gained a social stigma. We’re talking about a rectangular building placed on three wheels and towed to your preferred plot of land. It’s going to take a lot to break that social stigma, but this is a pretty sweet attempt.

PassivDom is an off-grid home. It sidesteps the electrical grid as well as water and sewer service. It’s marketed as utilizing revolutionary breakthrough in wall insulation which they claim makes it very easy to heat and cool. In addition to this self-sustaining angle, it taps into the tiny home movement with a footprint of just 36 m2 (4 m by 9 m; about 118 390 ft2 or 13′ by 30′).

For this to make sense you really need to get the “Autonomous” model, the only one that is designed for “off-grid” living and comes with solar panels and battery storage plus water storage and purification. That’ll set you back 59,900 € (about $63,461 USD) but hey, it does come with “high quality minimalistic furniture” which the best way we can think of to serve Ikea nesting instinct without saying the brand name. Yep, this ticks all the “marketing to millennials” boxes. We’re kind of surprised it’s not doing crowdfunding.

So where’s the hack? Obviously this is a hard sell at 1,664 €/m($538 $163/ft2). A project of this size and scope is well within the purview of a single, motivated hacker, and arguably a weekend project for a well-skilled team from a hackerspace. Tiny Houses started as a build-it yourself so that’s already solved. We’ve seen what it takes for hackers to add solar to their RVs, and experiments in home-built power walls. Water storage and purification is already solved and quite affordable at the home store.

Has anyone built their own off-grid tiny house? If so, let us know what went into it. If not, what are you waiting for?

Solar-Powered Prosthetic Skin

One of the biggest problems for prosthetic users is feel. If you’ve ever tried to hold a pen and write with a numb hand, you’ve realised how important feedback is to the motor control equation. Research is ongoing to find ways to provide feedback from prosthetic limbs, in even a basic format.  The human nervous system is a little more complex than just interfacing with the average serial UART. One of the requirements of many feedback systems is power, which usually would involve bulky batteries or some form of supercapacitors, but a British team has developed a way to embed solar cells in a touch-sensitive prosthetic skin.

The skin relies on everyone’s favourite material of the minute, graphene. A thin layer of graphene allows the prosthetic to feed signals back to the user of both temperature and contact pressure. The trick is that the graphene skin is incredibly transparent, reportedly allowing 98% of light on its surface to pass through. It’s then a simple matter of fitting solar panels beneath this skin, and the energy harvested can then be used to power the sensor system.

The team does admit that some power storage will later be required, as it would be difficult for any prosthetic user if their limbs lost all feedback when they walked into a dark room. The idea of one’s arm losing all feeling upon going to bed isn’t particularly appealing. Check out the paper here (paywalled). Video below the break.
We see a lot of great prosthetic projects cross our desk here at Hackaday – like this 3D printed prosthetic hand. Prosthetics definitely matter, so why not build your own and enter it in the 2017 Hackaday Prize?

Continue reading “Solar-Powered Prosthetic Skin”