Solar Charge Controller Improves Efficiency of Solar Panels

The simplest and easiest way to charge a battery with a solar panel is to connect the panel directly to the battery. Assuming the panel has a diode to prevent energy from flowing through it from the battery when there’s no sunlight. This is fairly common but not very efficient. [Debasish Dutta] has built a charge controller that addresses the inefficiencies of such a system though, and was able to implement maximum power point tracking using an Arduino.

Maximum power point tracking (MPPT) is a method that uses PWM and a special DC-DC converter to match the impedance of the solar panel to the battery. This means that more energy can be harvested from the panel than would otherwise be available. The circuit is placed in between the panel and the battery and regulates the output voltage of the panel so it matches the voltage on the battery more closely. [Debasish] reports that an efficiency gain of 30-40% can be made with this particular design.

This device has a few bells and whistles as well, including the ability to log data over WiFi, an LCD display to report the status of the panel, battery, and controller, and can charge USB devices. This would be a great addition to any solar installation, especially if you’ve built one into your truck.

This is [Debasish]’s second entry to The Hackaday Prize. We covered his first one a few days ago. That means only one thing: start a project and start documenting it on

Killer USB Drive is Designed to Fry Laptops

[Dark Purple] recently heard a story about how someone stole a flash drive from a passenger on the subway. The thief plugged the flash drive into his computer and discovered that instead of containing any valuable data, it completely fried his computer. The fake flash drive apparently contained circuitry designed to break whatever computer it was plugged into. Since the concept sounded pretty amazing, [Dark Purple] set out to make his own computer-frying USB drive.

While any electrical port on a computer is a great entry point for potentially hazardous signals, USB is pretty well protected. If you short power and ground together, the port simply shuts off. Pass through a few kV of static electricity and TVS diodes safely shunt the power. Feed in an RF signal and the inline filtering beads dissipate most of the energy.

To get around or break through these protections, [Dark Purple]’s design uses an inverting DC-DC converter. The converter takes power from the USB port to charge a capacitor bank up to -110VDC. After the caps are charged, the converter shuts down and a transistor shunts the capacitor voltage to the data pins of the port. Once the caps are discharged, the supply fires back up and the cycle repeats until the computer is fried (typically as long as bus voltage is present). The combination of high voltage and high current is enough to defeat the small TVS diodes on the bus lines and successfully fry some sensitive components—and often the CPU. USB is typically integrated with the CPU in most modern laptops, which makes this attack very effective.

Thanks for the tip, [Pinner].

Arduino Synth Guitar Really Rocks

[Gr4yhound] has been rocking out on his recently completed synth guitar. The guitar was built mostly from scratch using an Arduino, some harvested drum pads, and some ribbon potentiometers. The video below shows that not only does it sound good, but [Gr4yhound] obviously knows how to play it.

The physical portion of the build consists of two main components. The body of the guitar is made from a chunk of pine that was routed out by [Gr4yhound’s] own home-made CNC. Three circles were routed out to make room for the harvested Yamaha drum pads, some wiring, and a joystick shield. The other main component is the guitar neck. This was actually a Squire Affinity Strat neck with the frets removed.

For the electronics, [Gr4yhound] has released a series of schematics on Imgur. Three SoftPot membrane potentiometers were added to the neck to simulate strings. This setup allows [Gr4yhound] to adjust the finger position after the note has already been started. This results in a sliding sound that you can’t easily emulate on a keyboard. The three drum pads act as touch sensors for each of the three strings. [Gr4yhound] is able to play each string simultaneously, forming harmonies.

The joystick shield allows [Gr4yhound] to add additional effects to the overall sound. In one of his demo videos you can see him using the joystick to add an effect. An Arduino Micro acts as the primary controller and transmits the musical notes as MIDI commands. [Gr4yhound] is using a commercial MIDI to USB converter in order to play the music on a computer. The converter also allows him to power the Arduino via USB, eliminating the need for batteries.

Continue reading “Arduino Synth Guitar Really Rocks”

Semi-Auto PCB Drill Press Makes Drilling Semi-Painless

DIY PCBs are the fastest and cheapest way to iteratively prototype circuits, and there’s a lot of great tricks to get the copper layer just the way you want it. But if you’re using through-hole parts, you eventually have to suffer the tedium of drilling a potentially large number of precisely aligned holes. Until now. [Acidbourbon] has built up a very nice semi-automatic PCB drill machine.

Semi-automatic? The CNC machine (with PC-side software) parses the drill file that most PCB design software spits out, and moves an X-Y table under your drill press to just the right spots. The user manually drills the hole and hits enter, and the table scoots off to the next drilling location. All of this is tied together with a simple calibration procedure that figures out where you’ve got the board using two reference drill locations; you initially jog the platform to two reference drill holes, and you’re set.

The CNC conversion of a relatively cheap X-Y table is nicely documented, and the on-board touchscreen and USB interface seem to make driving the machine around painless. Or at least a lot less painful than aligning up and drilling all the holes the old-fashioned way. Everything is open-source, so head on over and check it out.  (And while you’re there, don’t miss [Acidbourbon]’s tips and tricks for making PCBs using the toner transfer method.)

Seeing this machine in action, we can’t wait for the fully automatic version.

Continue reading “Semi-Auto PCB Drill Press Makes Drilling Semi-Painless”

Self-Charging Jacket Eliminates Forgetfulness

Certain parts of the Northern Hemisphere are very, very cold right now. For those of us living in these colder climates, [Aaron] has a simple yet effective hack for keeping your hands warm when you go out for a walk in the brisk cold. He’s wired his jacket up for USB charging so he can make sure his hand warmers are always working.

[Aaron] bought a set of handwarmers that conveniently charge over USB, but he always forgot to actually plug them in once he got home, ensuring that they were always dead. To make his forgetfulness a non-issue, he built the USB charger for the handwarmers into his jacket, but he didn’t just run a wire out of the pocket. The USB charging circuit runs through the coat hanger, using some conductive cloth and steel thread in the inside of the jacket’s shoulders. From there, the cloth makes contact with the metal arms of the hanger and runs out of the hanger to the wall outlet.

This is a great cold-weather hack that might help any forgetful people on the north side of the planet keep warm. You could even use this method to charge batteries used in other wearable electronics. This project is a great reminder that sometimes the best hacks are the simple ones that no one’s thought of yet!

Easier UART to 1-Wire Interface

The 1-Wire protocol is usually found in temperature sensors, but you’ll also find it in chips ranging from load sensors, a battery sensor and LED driver that is oddly yet officially called a ‘gas gauge’, and iButtons. It’s a protocol that has its niche, and there are a few interesting application notes for implementing the 1-wire protocol with a UART. Application notes are best practices, but [rawe] has figured out an even easier way to do this.

The standard way of reading 1-Wire sensors with a UART is to plop a pair of transistors and resistors on the Tx and Rx lines of the UART and connect them to the… one… wire on the 1-Wire device. [rawe]’s simplification of this is to get rid of the transistors and just plop a single 1N4148 diode in there.

This would of course be useless without the software to communicate with 1-Wire devices, and [rawe] has you covered there, too. There’s a small little command line tool that will talk to the usual 1-Wire temperature sensors. Both the circuit and the tool work with the most common USB to UART adapters.

Using HID Tricks to Drop Malicious Files

[Nikhil] has been experimenting with human interface devices (HID) in relation to security. We’ve seen in the past how HID can be exploited using inexpensive equipment. [Nikhil] has built his own simple device to drop malicious files onto target computers using HID technology.

The system runs on a Teensy 3.0. The Teensy is like a very small version of Arduino that has built-in functionality for emulating human interface devices, such as keyboards. This means that you can trick a computer into believing the Teensy is a keyboard. The computer will treat it as such, and the Teensy can enter keystrokes into the computer as though it were a human typing them. You can see how this might be a security problem.

[Nikhil’s] device uses a very simple trick to install files on a target machine. It simply opens up Powershell and runs a one-liner command. Generally, this commend will create a file based on input received from a web site controlled by the attacker. The script might download a trojan virus, or it might create a shortcut on the user’s desktop which will run a malicious script. The device can also create hot keys that will run a specific script every time the user presses that key.

Protecting from this type off attack can be difficult. Your primary option would be to strictly control USB devices, but this can be difficult to manage, especially in large organizations. Web filtering would also help in this specific case, since the attack relies on downloading files from the web. Your best bet might be to train users to not plug in any old USB device they find lying around. Regardless of the methodology, it’s important to know that this stuff is out there in the wild.