Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: A Low Cost, DIY Fuel Cell

Electronic cars and planes are the wave of the future, or so we’re told, but if you do the math on power densities, the future looks bleak. Outside of nuclear power, you can’t beat the power density of liquid hydrocarbons, and batteries are terrible stores of energy. How then do we tap the potential of high density fuels while still being environmentally friendly? With [Lloyd]’s project for The Hackaday Prize, a low cost hydrogen fuel cell.

Traditionally, fuel cells have required expensive platinum electrodes to turn hydrogen and oxygen into steam and electricity. Recent advances in nanotechnology mean these electrodes may be able to be produced at a very low cost.

For his experiments, [Lloyd] is using sulfonated para-aramids – Kevlar cloth, really – for the proton carrier of the fuel cell. The active layer is made from asphaltenes, a waste product from tar sand extraction. Unlike platinum, the materials that go into this fuel cell are relatively inexpensive.

[Lloyd]’s fuel cell can fit in the palm of his hand, and is predicted to output 20A at 18V. That’s doesn’t include the tanks for supplying hydrogen or any of the other system ephemera, but it is an incredible amount of energy in a small package.

You can check out [Lloyd]’s video for the Hackaday Prize below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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RaspiDrums Uses Expensive Sensors

Piezoelectric sensors are great for monitoring mechanical impacts with a microcontroller. Whether you’re monitoring knocks on a door or watching a heartbeat, they are a cheap way to get the job done. They do have their downsides, though, so when [Jeremy] wanted to build an electronic drum set, he decided to use more expensive accelerometers to measure the percussive impacts instead.

Even though piezo sensors are cheap, they require a lot of work to get them working properly. The ADXL377 3-axis accelerometer that [Jeremy] found requires much less work, plus provides more reliable data due to a 1kHz low-pass filter at the output. In his setup, a Raspberry Pi handles all of the heavy lifting. An ADC on each drum sends data about each impact of the drum, and the Raspberry Pi outputs sound via the native Alsa driver and a USB sound card.

This project goes a long way to show how much simpler a project like this is once you find the right hardware for the job. [Jeremy]’s new electronic drums are very well documented as well if you are curious about using accelerometers on your newest project rather than piezo sensors. And, if you’re into drums be sure to see how you can have drums anywhere, or how you can build your own logic drums.

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Better TV Via Hacking

Smart TVs are just dumb TVs with a computer and a network connection, right? In a variation of rule 34, if it has a computer in it, someone will hack it. When [smarttvhacker] bought a Sony 48 inch smart TV, he noticed all the software licenses listed in the manual and realized that was a big leg up into hacking the TV.

We don’t have a comparable Sony model, but [smarttvhacker’s] post is a veritable travel log of his journey from TV viewer to TV ruler. By analyzing everything from network port scans to a dump of a firmware upgrade, he wound up being able to install a telnet server.

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Demonstrating Science at Harvard University

What if there was a job where you built, serviced, and prepared science demonstrations? This means showing off everything from principles of physics, to electronic theory, to chemistry and biology. Would you grab onto that job with both hands and never let go? That was my reaction when I met [Dan Rosenberg] who is a Science Lecture Demonstrator at Harvard University. He gave me a tour of the Science Center, as well as a behind the scenes look at some of the apparatus he works with and has built.

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Hacklet 73 – Parallax Propeller Projects

In 2006, Parallax, Inc wasn’t new to the electronics business. They’d been around since 1987. Still, for a relatively small company, jumping into custom chips is a big leap. Parallax didn’t just jump into some cookie cutter ASIC, they made their own parallel multi-core microcontroller. Designed by [Chip Gracey], the Parallax Propeller has 8 cores, called cogs. Cogs are connected to I/O pins and other resources by a hub. The Propeller saw commercial success, and continues to have a loyal following. This week’s Hacklet is about some of the best Propeller projects on Hackaday.io!

wozWe start with retrocomputing prop star [Jac Goudsmit] and L-Star: Minimal Propeller/6502 Computer. [Jac] loves the classic 6502 processor. Inspired by [Ben Heckendorn’s] recent Apple I build, [Jac] wanted to see if he could replicate an Apple I with minimal parts. He built upon the success of his Software-Defined 6502 Computer project and created L-Star. The whole thing fits on a Propeller proto board with room to spare. The project uses a 6502, with a Propeller handling just about everything else. The system takes input from a PS-2 keyboard, and outputs via composite video, just like the original Apple I. As you can see from the photo, it’s quite capable of displaying Woz in ASCII. [Jac] has expanded the L-Star to support the Ohio Scientific C1P and CompuKit UK101, both early 6502 based computers.

 

bbotNext up is [Mike H] with B-BOT. B-BOT is a balancing robot. [Mike] used B-BOT to learn about designing with the Propeller and programming in SPIN, the Prop’s built-in interpreted language. While slower than assembler, SPIN was plenty fast enough to solve the classic inverted pendulum problem. B-BOT’s primary sensor is a Pololu AltIMU-10. This module contains a gyro, accelerometer, compass, and altimeter all on one tiny board. Locomotion comes in the form of two stepper motors. Command and control is via X-Bee radio modules. All the parts live on a custom PCB [Mike] milled using his CNC router.

 

xynq[Antti.lukats] created Soft Propeller, his entry in the 2015 Hackaday Prize. Soft Propeller doesn’t use a hardware Propeller at all. The core of the system is a Xilinx Zynq-7 chip, which contains an FPGA and a Dual Core ARM A9+ processor. Back in 2014, Parallax released the Verilog HDL code for the Propeller core. [Antti] has taken this code and ported it over the Zynq-7. With 256Kb of RAM, 16 MB of Flash and an LED, the entire system fits in a DIP package smaller than a stick of gum.

 

pipmanFinally, we have [Christian] with Pipman GPS Watch. There’s just something about the Pip-boy from the Fallout video game series. This Personal Information Processor (PIP) has spawned hundreds of projects from cosplayers and electronics hobbyists alike. [Christian’s] version uses a 4D systems TFT LCD to display those awesome graphics. Input comes through a 5 way navigation switch. A GPS and compass module provide all the navigation data Pipman needs. At the center of it all is a Parallax Propeller programmed in SPIN. [Christian] has a working prototype on his bench. He’s now working on modeling a 3D printed case with Blender.

There are a ton of Propeller projects on Hackaday.io. If you want to see more, check out our Propeller Project list! Did I miss your project? Don’t be shy, just drop me a message on Hackaday.io. That’s it for this week’s Hacklet, As always, see you next week. Same hack time, same hack channel, bringing you the best of Hackaday.io!

Sphero Wasn’t Actually Behind the BB-8

Despite quite a few articles stating Sphero was behind the technology that made the real movie BB-8 droid, like this Tech Crunch article:

Sphero, makers of the eponymous spherical robots that you control with your smartphone — as well as the new BB-8 droid in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

and this excerpt from Fortune Magazine:

The same underlying technology (made by Sphero), which was licensed to create the version of BB-8 that graced the stage at the Star Wars Celebration…

Heck, even we drank the jungle juice with our original coverage! But now it seems the truth is finally coming out. As it turns out, it was actually built in Pinewood by the Creature Animatronics (CFX) team which includes [Matt Denton] — He’s the guy who built the Mantis Robot. A hacker / engineer — not a big toy company.

Two articles released this week on StarWars.com and EmpireOnline.com name various people from the CFX team at Pinewood as having built the movie puppets and the real BB-8. No mention of Sphero at all of course. They also state that they had to come up with the technology from scratch and that nothing like it already existed.

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Embed with Elliot: Practical State Machines

Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens. They’re ok, but state machines are absolutely on our short list of favorite things.

There are probably as many ways to implement a state machine as there are programmers. These range from the terribly complex, one-size-fits-all frameworks down to simply writing a single switch...case block. The frameworks end up being a little bit of a black box, especially if you’re just starting out, while the switch...case versions are very easy to grok, but they don’t really help you write clear, structured code.

In this extra-long edition of Embed with Elliot, we’ll try to bridge the middle ground, demonstrating a couple of state machines with an emphasis on practical coding. We’ll work through a couple of examples of the different ways that they can be implemented in code. Along the way, we’ll Goldilocks solution for a particular application I had, controlling a popcorn popper that had been hacked into a coffee roaster. Hope you enjoy.

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