Making keys after the apocalypse

keys

Making keys is an amazing art with a lot of skill and technique involved. For those of you living in a post-apocalyptic world, [Dan] has a much simpler solution to the problems of having one too few keys for your locks and deadbolts – just cast them out of scrap with the power of the sun.

To make the mold of the key, [Dan] is using a two-piece plaster of paris mold. First, a thick layer of plaster is laid down in a small container and the key floated on the surface. After drying, sprues are put in with clay and the key embedded in a curing plaster block. After a few hours, a proper mold is created ready to receive molten metal.

The casting material is zinc – not as hard as the original steel key, but more than strong enough to turn a lock. This zinc is melted in a steel and plaster crucible with a gigantic fresnel lens.

As for the utility of this method of copying keys after the apocalypse, we’ll have to wonder how practical this method is. A giant fresnel lens isn’t just something you randomly find unless you’re going house to house looking for projection TVs, and finding a can of mold release after the end of the world is beyond credulity. That said, it’s a cool demonstration of metal casting that can be easily accomplished at home or at any hackerspace.

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Hardware store goods and an mbed combine help solar panels track the sun

sun-tracking-solar-panels

If you have the space, and can build a tracking rig cheaply you’ll be able to get a lot more out of your solar panels. That’s because they work best when the sun’s rays are hitting them perpendicular to the surface and not at an angle. [Michael Davis] hit both of those stipulations with this mbed powered solar tracker.

At a garage sale he picked up an antenna motor for just $15. The thing was very old, but still wrapped in the original plastic. It’s beefy enough to move his panels, but he first needed a way to mount everything. After checking his angles he built a base out of wood and used galvanized water pipe as an axle. Cable clamps mate his aluminum angle bracket frame to the pipe. This frame holds the panels securely.

To track the sun he used two smaller cells which aren’t easy to pick out in this image. They are monitored by the mbed microcontroller which measures their output in order to point the assembly in the direction which has the most intense light. A couple of limit switches are included to stop the assembly when it reaches either side.

This technique of using small solar cells as the tracking sensors seems to work well. Here’s another project that took that approach.

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Solar powered hovercraft

SONY DSC

It looks a little bit like an octocopter, but this solar-powered hovercraft is distinctly different from its free-flying brethren. It depends mostly on ground effect for operation and to get it just a bit into the air you need a pretty large reflective rig nearby.

The vehicle needs to be even lighter than traditional quadcopters in order to function. It doesn’t carry any battery at all which presents a problem when trying to program the microcontroller board. For this it is connected to an external battery, which is removed before flight so that the control can be powered from the solar array.

What’s not shown in the image above is a mirror array used to focus more intense sunlight on the panels to bump up the available electricity. Not much is said about this, but there is one image on the project page which shows the creator standing in front of the set of four mirrors (perhaps sheets of mylar?) strung up between a couple of trees.

Alas, we couldn’t find a video of the aircraft in action. With such a delicate balsa wood frame we’re sure this thing is affected by every air current that passes its way.

[Thanks Laimonas]

Super-cap powered blinky jewelry charged by the sun or USB

blinky-jewelry-solar-supercap

We don’t see ourselves wearing these pendants around, but we still enjoyed taking a look at the design. These are just two from a wide range of offerings meant to be worn around and recharged by the sun. But a cloudy day won’t ruing the fun; they can be topped off via USB as well. Parts lists and schematics are included in the assembly Instructables for both the Owl and the Heart.

[Marty] and [Robin], a brother and sister developement/design team, were showing them off at the Sector67 hackerspace in Madison, WI. The single integrated circuit used in both is an OpAmp responsible for managing the blinking. The heart board has a calculator-style solar cell which charges that 0.5F supercap. The Owl has just a 0.022F coin-type capacitor and features a different style of solar harvester. The six components around the cap are each individual solar cells. [Marty] told us that they pump out a ton of juice in direct sunlight, outperforming the calculator-style cell. The opposite is true indoors. But as we’ve seen before, indoor solar harvesting is a tough game.

Need even more bling around your neck? Check out these LED matrix pendants.

Solar powered robot mows your lawn while you chill indoors

solar-powered-lawn-mowing-robot

We’ve heard quite a number of radio ads lately trying to sell an automatic lawn mowing robot (like a Roomba for your grass). But wouldn’t it be a lot more fun to hack your own from an existing lawnmower? That’s what [Daniel Epperson] did. In fact, the project has been ongoing for years. But he wrote in to share the latest development which adds solar charging capabilities to the robot mower.

First off let’s discuss the fact that this is not an electric lawnmower. This is the Prius of lawnmowers, bringing together hybrid technology to cut the grass with the gasoline powered motor, and to propel the rig with electricity. [Danny's] worked hard to shoe-horn just about every feature imaginable (other than autonomy) into the thing, and that’s why the batteries can be charged from mains, an alternator powered by the gas motor, and now from the PV panel mounted on top of it. Get the entire project overview in his roundup post.

This a wireless video feed and the mower is driven by remote-controlled. So you can give your yard a trim without getting sweaty. After the jump we’ve embedded a clip of an earlier revision demonstrating that remote control. If you’re not interest in having all the features you could simply build an analog version.

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Deploying an open source pollution monitoring network

pollution-monitoring-network

[Kasey] and [Guyzmo] have been working for the past couple of years on a side project that lets them monitor pollution using a network of sensors. They’ve just decided to make the project open source, both hardware and software. The details of the system are available at their GitHub repository.

There are two main components to the system. On the right is a base station which collects the data from the array of sensor, one of which is shown on the left. Each sensor runs off of a battery, but features a PV solar panel which keeps the power source topped off. It uses an Arduino to drive the system, and an XBee radio for communications. Some info about the sensors can be found on this summary page. There’s a PM10 particle pollution sensor, temperature, sound, nitrogen, and oxygen sensors. We also wonder if any data can be gleaned from how much electricity the solar panel is able to harvest?

The base station also uses an XBee radio to poll the network, but it’s not driven by an Arduino. They’ve gone with the ARM-based BeagleBone to manage the data.

A solar powered cattle crossing gate

solar-powered-cattle-crossing-gate

Anyone who’s traveled the grounds of a cattle ranch will tell you there’s a lot of stopping to open and close gates. But this project is aimed at letting you operate the gate from the comfort of your vehicle. It uses a spool of wire as the gate, lowering it for vehicle access with the use of a remote control.

The base station uses a solar panel to keep the battery topped off. But if you’re not frequently using the system it shouldn’t take much electricity at all. An Arduino board listens for the signal from the remote control. It then unspools the wire until it lays flat across the ground and can be driven over. Once the car has passed another click of the remote raises the gate back into position. There’s even a version that uses two gates which make up a cattle corridor.

We were thinking that it would be easy enough for the cows to push right through this. But after seeing the clip after the break it’s obvious they like to follow the rules.

[Read more...]

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