Trailblazing Artisans of Road Building

A lot of us take roads for granted, at least until they are icy or torn up by construction. The concept of creating fixed paths seems to be in our firmware. Finding the shortest distance to food or water and marking a trail to it from home base has always been its own reward.

Roads have come a long way from the simple paths beaten by man and beast. But the basic configuration of paved roads hasn’t changed all that much since the Roman empire. Whatever they’re made of, they need to be able to drain water and support heavy loads.

New issues arose as modes of transportation shifted in favor of the automobile. Road surfaces needed to provide friction against tires. But how did we get from the stone-paved roads of Rome to the asphalt and concrete roads of today?

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Making a Mobility Scooter Drastically More Mobile

Do you have a spare mobility scooter sitting unused in your garage? Or, maybe you’ve got a grandmother who has been complaining about how long it takes her to get to bingo on Tuesdays? Has your local supermarket hired you to improve grocery shopping efficiency between 10am and 2pm? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, then the guys over at Photon Induction have an “overclocked” mobility scooter build which should provide you with both inspiration and laughs.

They’ve taken the kind of inexpensive mobility scooter that can be found on Craigslist for a couple hundred dollars, and increased the battery output voltage to simultaneously improve performance and reduce safety. Their particular scooter normally runs on 24V, and all they had to do to drastically increase the driving speed was move that up to 60V (72V ended up burning up the motors).

Other than increasing the battery output voltage, only a couple of other small hacks were necessary to finish the build. Normally, the scooter uses a clutch to provide a gentle start. However, the clutch wasn’t up to the task of handling 60V, so the ignition switch was modified to fully engage the clutch before power is applied. The horn button was then used as the accelerator, which simply engages a solenoid with massive contacts that can handle 60V. The result is a scooter that is bound to terrify your grandmother, but which will get her to bingo in record time.

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Retrotechtacular: Fantastic Backyard Inventions of Yore

News corporation [British Pathé] created many newsreels and documentaries throughout their 60-year history. Recently, the company released scores of films from their archives and put them on the internet. Here is a delightful collection of short films they created that highlight strange and wonderful inventions in various fields, including transportation and communication.

One of the standout inventions is the Dynasphere, a mono-wheeled vehicle that probably deserves its own week in the Retrotechtacular spotlight. There are a couple of pedal-powered planes that may have inspired the Gossamer Condor, and a hover scooter that resembles an air hockey striker and doubles as a leaf blower. In another film, a man drives a Vespa to the banks of the Thames and parks it. He pulls a fin down from each side of the scooter, turning it into a seafaring craft. When he snaps his fingers, a cute girl appears from somewhere just outside the frame. She climbs on the back, and they take off across the water.

The average running time of these films is about two minutes. Some of them are much shorter, prompting many questions. Fortunately, most of the video descriptions have links with more information about these marvelous inventions. Almost all of the inventors in these films show a complete disregard for safety, but nearly everyone involved seems to be having the time of their lives.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Light Electric Utility Vehicle

[Chris] lives in South Sudan, where there are a lot of poor areas with terrible infrastructure. One of the bigger challenges for this area is getting people and materials over roads that are either bad or don’t exist. Normal vehicles aren’t built for the task, and a Hilux or Land Cruiser is much to expensive. For his Hackaday Prize entry, [Chris] is building a rugged low-cost utility vehicle platform for the developing world.

This battery-powered, four-wheel cart is made out of what [Chris] could find. The frame is made out of 50x50mm angle iron that’s welded together, with the body panels fabricated out of 1200x2400x1.2mm sheet that’s sourced locally. While [Chris] would like better wheels, the cheap Chinese motorcycle wheels are everywhere and cheap – $65, which includes the bearings, breaks, and sprockets. It even has higher ground clearance than the Land Cruiser.

[Chris] already has a prototype of his project built and it’s rolling around. You can check out a video of that below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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A Pedal Powered Cinema

When the apocalypse hits and your power goes out, how are you going to keep yourself entertained? If you are lucky enough to be friends with [stopsendingmejunk], you can just hop on his pedal powered cinema and watch whatever movies you have stored on digital media.

This unit is built around an ordinary bicycle. A friction drive is used to generate the electricity via pedal power. In order to accomplish this, a custom steel stand was fabricated together in order to lift the rear wheel off the ground. A 24V 200W motor is used as the generator. [stopsendingmejunk] manufactured a custom spindle for the motor shaft. The spindle is made from a skateboard wheel. The motor is mounted in such a way that it can be lowered to rub the skateboard wheel against the bicycle wheel. This way when the rear bicycle wheel spins, it also rotates the motor. The motor can be lifted out of the way when cruising around if desired.

The power generated from the motor first runs through a regulator. This takes the variable voltage from the generator and smooths it out to a nice even power signal. This regulated power then charges two Goal Zero Sherpa 100 lithium batteries. The batteries allow for a buffer to allow the movie to continue playing while changing riders. The batteries then power the Optomo 750 projector as well as a set of speakers.

We Have a Problem: Mass Versus Local Production

Hackaday, we have a problem. We’re trying to engineer a brighter future; a task that calls for a huge mental leap. This week, instead of discussing a concrete problem, let’s gather around the digital campfire to gnaw on a thought exercise. In thinking abstractly I hope we’ll trigger a slew of ideas you can use as your entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize in which you can win a Trip to Space or hundreds of other prizes.

Shipping Mass Produced vs. Producing Locally

This morning I was reading an interesting story about an email server that couldn’t deliver message to any ISP physically located more than 500 miles away. In that case it turns out that the limiting factor was misconfiguration and the speed of light. But it got me thinking about things we transport in bulk versus things being transported individually. I often think about the transport of finished goods and compare where we are now to the fabrication visions [Neal Stephenson] talked about in his novel The Diamond Age. In that picture of the future, it is common building blocks of matter that are delivered to every home and business and not finished goods. Interesting.

What kind of resources are consumed in local production versus centralized mass production? Is there merit in using technology to change the way we’ve always done some things? Certainly there will not be one answer for everything so let’s talk about a few examples that might be done differently.

Scenario #1: You send a greeting card with your hand-written message to your mother for her Birthday.

handwritten-message-cardThe way things work right now, you go to the store and pick out a card. You write a personal message inside, lick, stamp, and send it through the mail. The thing is, this card is probably already in a store down the street from your mother. What if you could digitize your handwritten message and have it printed on the card and delivered from a local repository? Take it a step further, assuming that these cards are bulk-printed in one central location and distributed widely, does it save any resources to decentralize the production of the cards and make production local so that the finished goods are not being transported more than 500 miles? And for those skeptics saying that you can’t add a check or cash to the card when done this way… yes you can!

Scenario #2: The meal is finished and just as you close the door to the dishwasher you hear a horrible crack as the plastic latch that holds the door closed breaks.

Recycled household appliancesStandard practice is that the part be ordered from a parts supplier (either by you or by a serviceman). These suppliers keep a stock of common parts which are well documented in a huge library of service manuals for the myriad of home appliances out there. But when you get right down to it, it’s just a little plastic bauble. Let’s assume all of these are made in a single factory in huge production runs that supply both the manufacturer and the legacy parts houses. What if instead of this you could have these parts 3D printed by a business within 500 miles of where they are needed. There are industrial-grade 3D printing techniques that produce parts strong enough to act as a replacement. Where do you come down on resource saving between the two methods?

Scenario #∞: It’s your turn to come up with an example.

We want to hear your ideas on local production versus centralized mass production. Don’t be afraid to share half-baked ideas. The entire point of We Have a Problem is to spark civil debate on issue which could lead to world-changing solutions. Help us start the idea mill and jump on to see where it takes us. Don’t forget to carry the inspiration you find into your entry for the Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Retrotechtacular: The Diesel Story

The diesel engine was, like many things, born of necessity. The main engine types of the day—hot bulb oil, steam, coal gas, and gasoline—were not so thermally efficient or ideal for doing heavy-duty work like driving large-scale electrical generators.  But how did the diesel engine come about? Settle in and watch the 1952 documentary “The Diesel Story“, produced by Shell Oil.

The diesel engine is founded on the principle of internal combustion. Throughout the Industrial Age, technology was developing at breakneck pace. While steam power was a great boon to many burgeoning industries, engineers wanted to get away from using boilers. The atmospheric gas engine fit the bill, but it simply wasn’t powerful enough to replace the steam engine.

hot bulb oil engineBy 1877, [Nikolaus Otto] had completed work on his coal gas engine built on four-stroke theory. This was the first really useful internal combustion engine and the precursor of modern four-stroke engines. It was eventually adapted for transportation with gasoline fuel. In 1890, the hot bulb oil engine was developed under the name Hornsby-Akroyd and primarily used in stationary power plants. Their flywheels had to be started manually, but once the engine was going, the bulb that drove combustion required no further heating.

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