Spherical Robot Rolls then Walks into Action

Droideka [Source: Wookieepedia]
If ever any sci-fi robot form-factor made more sense than the Droideka of the Star Wars franchise, we’re not sure what it could be. Able to transform from a spheroid that rolls quickly onto the battlefield into a blaster-bristling tripodal walker, the Hollywood battle droid showed a lot of imagination and resulted in a remarkably feasible design. And now that basic design is demonstrated in a spherical quadrupedal robot that can transform from rolling to walking.

Intended as a proof of concept of a hybrid rolling-walking locomotion system, the QRoSS robot from Japan’s Chiba Institute of Technology is capable of some pretty amazing things already. Surrounded by a wire roll cage that’s independent of the robot’s legs, QRoSS is able to roll into position, unfurl its legs, and walk where it needs to go. Four independent legs make it sure-footed over rough terrain, with obvious applications in such fields as urban search and rescue; a hardened version could be tossed into a collapsed building or other dangerous environment and walk around to provide intelligence or render aid. The robot’s self-righting feature would be especially handy for that use case, and as you can see in the video below, it has a powered rolling mode that’s six times faster than its walking speed.

For a similar spherical transforming robot, be sure to check out the MorpHex robot with its hexapod design.

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Self Built Power Meter Uses Dual Sense Transformers

[Renaud] built a AC power meter from scratch. While commercial power meters like the Kill A Watt are available [Renaud’s] build gives an interesting insight into the methods used.

currentAt the heart of [Renaud’s] design lie two sense transformers. The first is a typical voltage stepdown transformer. This brings the AC line voltage down to +/- 10V, which is more amenable to digital sampling. The second is a current sense transformer. In current transformers the primary is typically a single wire (the AC line in this case) passing through the middle of a ring (see the picture to the right from wikipedia). The secondary is wrapped round the ring. When the secondary coil is shorted a current in the primary wire/coil induces a current in the secondary coil.

In practice, the voltage drop across a low value resistor is used to detect the current in the secondary. Clamp meters use this principle to make non-contact current measurements. Other power meters often use hall effect sensors for current measurements. It will be interesting to see how these methods compare when [Renaud] benchmarks this build.

[Renaud] takes the voltage and current readings from these transformers and samples them with a PIC in order to calculate power. As the AC voltage is periodic [Renaud] uses a method similar to Equivalent Time Sampling (ETS) to combine waveforms from multiple cycles and increase the effective sample rate.

Great stuff [Renaud]!

Solar-Cell Laser Communication System

Forget the soup cans connected by a piece of string. There’s now a way to communicate wirelessly that doesn’t rely on a physical connection… or radio. It’s a communications platform that uses lasers to send data, and it’s done in a way that virtually anyone could build.

This method for sending information isn’t exactly new, but this project is one of the best we’ve seen that makes it doable for the average tinkerer. A standard microphone and audio amplifier are used to send the signals to the transmitter, which is just a typical garden-variety laser that anyone could find for a few dollars. A few LEDs prevent the laser from receiving too much power, and a solar cell at the receiving end decodes the message and outputs it through another amplifier and a speaker.

Of course you will need line-of-sight to get this communications system up and running, but as long as you have that taken care of the sky’s the limit. You can find incredibly powerful lasers lying around if you want to try to increase the communication distance, and there are surprisingly few restrictions on purchasing others that are 1W or higher. You could easily increase the range, but be careful not to set your receiving station (or any animals, plants, buildings, etc) on fire!

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11,000 Volt Jacob’s Ladder Sounds Like a Lightsaber

In the high-voltage world, a Jacob’s ladder is truly a sight to behold. They are often associated with mad scientist labs, due to both the awesome visual display and the sound that they make. A Jacob’s ladder is typically very simple. You need a high voltage electricity source and two bare wires. The wires are placed next to each other, almost in parallel. They form a slight “V” shape and are placed vertically. The system acts essentially as a short-circuit. The voltage is high enough to break through the air at the point where the wires are nearest to each other. The air rises as it heats up, moving the current path along with it. The result is the arc slowly raising upwards, extending in length. The sound also lowers in frequency as the arc gets longer, and once [Gristc] tuned his system just right the sound reminds us of the Holy Trilogy.

We’ve seen these made in the past with other types of transformers that typically put out around 15,000 Volts at 30mA. In this case, [Gristc] supersized the design using a much beefier transformer that puts out 11,000 Volts at 300mA. He runs the output from the transformer through eight microwave oven capacitors as a ballast. He says that without this, the system will immediately trip the circuit breakers in his house.

In the demo video below, you can see just how large the arc is. It appears to get about 10 inches long before breaking with a sound different from any Jacob’s ladders we’ve seen in the past as well. Continue reading “11,000 Volt Jacob’s Ladder Sounds Like a Lightsaber”

Retrotechtacular: Step Up and Get Your Transformer Training

Whether you’re just getting into electronics or could use a refresher on some component or phenomenon, it’s hard to beat the training films made by the U.S. military. This 1965 overview of transformers and their operations is another great example of clear and concise instruction, this time by the Air Force.

It opens to a sweeping orchestral piece reminiscent of the I Love Lucy theme. A lone instructor introduces the idea of transformers, their principles, and their applications in what seems to be a single take. We learn that transformers can increase or reduce voltage, stepping it up or down through electromagnetic induction. He moves on to describe transformer action, whereby voltages are increased or decreased depending on the ratio of turns in the primary winding to that of the secondary winding.

He explains that transformer action does not change the energy involved. Whether the turns ratio is 1:2 or 1:10, power remains the same from the primary to the secondary winding. After touching briefly on the coefficient of coupling, he discusses four types of transformers: power, audio, RF, and autotransformers.

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Transformer Inductive Coupling Simulation is SFW

[James] has a friend who teaches at the local community college. When this friend asked him to build a transformer coupling simulation, he was more than happy to oblige. Fortunately for us, he also made a video that explains what is happening while  showing the output on a ‘scope.

For the simulation, [James] built primary and secondary coils using PVC pipe. The primary coil consists of 11 turns of 14AWG stranded wire with 4V running through it applied. The first secondary he demonstrates is similarly built, but has 13 turns. As you’ll see, the first coil induces ~1.5V in the second coil. [James] first couples it with the two windings going the same way, which results in the two 2Mhz waveforms being in phase with each other. When he inserts the secondary the other way, its waveform is out of phase with the primary’s.

His second secondary has the same diameter PVC core, but was wound with ~60 turns of much thinner wire—28AWG bell wire to be exact. This match-up induces 10V on the secondary coil from the 4V he put on the primary. [James]’ demonstration includes a brief Lissajous pattern near the end. If you don’t know enough about those, here’s a good demonstration of the basics coupled with an explanation of the mechanics behind them.

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Jacob’s Ladder Using a 10kV Oil Transformer

Jacob's ladder using an Oil Furnace Transformer

Jacob’s Ladders are a staple experiment in any self-respecting mad scientist’s lair — err, a hacker’s workshop. And why not? High voltage, arcing electricity, likely more than enough to kill you even — brilliant! But in all their awesomeness, Jacob’s ladders really aren’t that complex.

In [Kevin Darrah’s] latest tutorial he shows us how to make one out of a transformer taken from an oil furnace. Why exactly does an oil furnace even have a high voltage transformer in the first place? They’re actually used as the ignition source, like a pilot light!

The one [Kevin] has is a 110VAC to 10,000VAC transformer, which puts out about 20mA (probably enough to kill you). And to turn it into a Jacob’s Ladder, you’ll just need a two long stiff wires (copper is a good candidate). The wires are closest at the bottom where the transformer can easily arc — this arc then ionizes and heats the air causing it to rise, carrying the arc with it. As the arc continues up the ladder it gets longer and longer as the wires become farther apart, becoming more and more unstable until it breaks. When this happens the arc forms again at the lowest point of resistance — the bottom.

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