[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.
We love solar power. Not only is it environmentally friendly, but it’s relatively lightweight and involves fragile high technology. Just the sort of thing that we’d want to strap onto the wings of a large model aircraft.
Solar power on a remote-controlled plane would get you unlimited cruising range. Now, a normal land-and-swap-battery process might be good enough for some people, but judging from [Prometreus]’s YouTube channel, he’s a fan of long flights over the Alps, and of pushing long-distance FPV links to the breaking point. For him and his friends, the battery power is definitely the limiting factor in how far / long he can fly.
All of the information we have is in the video, but that’s plenty. [Prometreus] didn’t bother with maximum-power-point tracking, but instead wired up his solar cells to work just about right for the voltage of his batteries and the level of sun that he’s seeing. So it won’t work nearly as well on cloudy days. (Check out this MPPT build that was submitted for the Hackaday Prize.)
He could switch the solar cells in an out remotely, and it’s pretty gratifying to see the consumed current in the battery go down below zero. In the end, he lands with a full battery. How cool is that?
The appeal of adding Nixie tube displays to a project seems to know no end. First it was Nixie clocks, now it’s Nixie power meters, with the latest addition being this Nixie-Steampunk hybrid solar power monitor.
We’re suckers for a project with a vintage look, and this one pushes all the buttons. Built on commission for a solar power company CEO’s office, [Paul Parry]’s build is based on a Depression-era Metropolitan-Vickers combined voltmeter and ammeter. The huge meters with mirrored scales and the rich wood of the case – our guess is that it’s mahogany – made a great starting point, and after some careful hole drilling, nine IN-18 Nixies were sprouting from the case. A strip of RGB LEDs below decks added the requisite backlighting of the envelopes, and a Raspberry Pi was enlisted to interpret data from the company’s solar farm and drive the tubes and the meters. The project was capped off with a new finish on the case and a couple of fancy brass plaques.
[Paul] sent us the tip for his build after seeing the last power meter we covered, and we have to say they’re both great looking and functional projects. Keep the Nixie projects coming!
Off-grid living isn’t for everyone, but it has gotten easier in recent years. Cheap solar panels and wind turbines let you generate your own power, and there are plenty of strategies to deal with fuel, water and sanitation. But the one thing many folks find hard to do without – high-speed internet access – has few options for the really remote homestead. [tlankford01] wants to fix that and is working on an open-source mesh network to provide high-speed internet access to off-grid communities.
But first he had to deal with a major problem. With high-speed access provided by a Clearwire wireless network, streaming content to his two flat-screen TVs wasn’t a problem. At least until Sprint bought Clearwire and shut down the service in early November. Another ISP covered his area, but his house lies in a depression out of line of sight of their tower. So he rigged up a bridge between the WiMAX network and his lab. The bridge sits on a hill in sight of the ISP’s tower 3.5 miles away. Solar panels, a charge controller and deep-cycle batteries power everything, and a wireless link down the hill rounds out the build.
This is obviously a temporary solution, and probably wouldn’t last long in winter weather. But it’s working for now, and more importantly it’s acting as proof of concept for a larger mesh system [tlankford01] has in mind. There are plenty of details on what that would look like on his project page (linked above), and it’s worth a look too if you’re interested in off-grid connectivity.
Solar panels are an amazing piece of engineering, but without exactly the right conditions they can be pretty fickle. One of the most important conditions is that the panel be pointed at the sun, and precise aiming of the panel can be done with a solar tracker. Solar trackers can improve the energy harvesting ability of a solar panel by a substantial margin, and now [Jay] has a two-axis tracker that is also portable.
The core of the project is a Raspberry Pi, chosen after [Jay] found that an Arduino didn’t have enough memory for all of the functionality that he wanted. The Pi and the motor control electronics were stuffed into a Pelican case for weatherproofing. The actual solar tracking is done entirely in software, only requiring a latitude and longitude in order to know where the sun is. This is much easier (and cheaper) than relying on GPS or an optical system for information about the location of the sun.
Be sure to check out the video below of the solar tracker in action. Even without the panel (or the sun, for that matter) the tracker is able to precisely locate the panel for maximum energy efficiency. And, if you’d like to get even MORE power from your solar panel, you should check out a maximum power point tracking system as well.
Look at any list of things to do to make your house less attractive to the criminal element and you’ll likely find “add motion sensing lights” among the pro tips. But what if you don’t want to light up the night? What if you want to use a motion sensor to provide a little light for navigating inside a dark garage? And what if the fixture you’ve chosen is a solar fixture that won’t quite cooperate? If you’re like [r1ckatkinson], you do a teardown and hack the fixture to do your bidding.
[r1ckatkinson]’s fixture was an inexpensive Maplin solar unit with PIR motion sensing, with the solar panel able to be mounted remotely. This was perfect for the application, since the panel could go outside to power the unit, with the lamp and PIR sensor inside. Unfortunately, the solar cell is also the photosensor that tells the unit not to turn on during the day. Armed with scratch pad and pencil, [r1ckatkinson] traced the circuit and located the offending part – a pull-down resistor. A simple resistor-ectomy later and he’s got a solar-powered light working just the way he likes it.
A simple hack, but effective. Seeing off-the-shelf gear modified is always a treat. Of course there’s something to be said for the more home-brew approach to security lighting, too.
[Marc] has an old Voigtländer Vito CLR film camera. The camera originally came with an analog light meter built-in. The meter consisted of a type of solar panel hooked up to a coil and a needle. As more light reached the solar panel, the coil became energized more and more, which moved the needle farther and farther. It was a simple way of doing things, but it has a down side. The photo panels stop working over time. That’s why [Marc] decided to build a custom light meter using newer technology.
[Marc] had to work within the confines of the tiny space inside of the camera. He chose to use a LM3914 bar display driver IC as the primary component. This chip can sense an input voltage against a reference voltage and then display the result by illuminating a single LED from a row of ten LEDs.
[Marc] used a photo cell from an old calculator to detect the ambient light. This acts as a current source, but he needed a voltage source. He designed a transimpedence amplifier into his circuit to convert the current into a voltage. The circuit is powered with two 3V coil cell batteries, regulated to 5V. The 5V acts as his reference voltage for the display driver. With that in mind, [Marc] had to amplify this signal further.
It didn’t end there, though. [Marc] discovered that when sampling natural light, the system worked as intended. When he sampled light from incandescent light bulbs, he did not get the expected output. This turned out to be caused by the fact that incandescent lights flicker at a rate of 50/60 Hz. His sensor was picking this up and the sinusoidal output was causing problems in his circuit. He remedied this by adding two filtering capacitors.
The whole circuit fits on a tiny PCB that slides right into position where the original light meter used to be. It’s impressive how perfectly it fits considering everything that is happening in this circuit.