Powering A Backyard Railway With Compressed Air

When you’ve gone to the trouble of building your own backyard railway, chances are pretty good that at some point, you’re going to want to add a locomotive of some sort. After all, nobody wants to be stuck using muscle power to move carts around. But what exactly are you going to power your locomotive with? And will it be up to the tasks you envision it handling?

Answering such questions calls for rigorous calculations using established engineering principles — or, if you’re [Tim] from the Way Out West channel on YouTube, just throwing a pneumatic engine on wheels and seeing what happens. The railway that [Tim] built is for his farm in County Cork, where he plans to use it to haul wood that he’ll make charcoal from. We’ve seen a little about his rails and rolling stock before, which has been a low-budget and delightfully homebrewed undertaking. So too with his pneumatic engine, seen in the video below, which uses cam-operated valves to control a pair of repurposed hydraulic cylinders to turn a big flywheel.

Using scuba tanks, [Tim] was able to power the engine for a full fourteen minutes — very encouraging. But would the engine have the oomph needed for real farm work? To answer that, [Tim] plunked the engine on a spare bogie, connected the engine shaft to one of the axles with a length of rope, and let it go. Even with no optimization and zero mechanical advantage, the engine was easily able to move a heavy load of sleepers. The makeshift pneumatic railway even managed to carry its first passenger, [Tim]’s very trusting wife [Sandra].

There’s clearly more work to do here, and many problems to overcome. But we really appreciate the “just try it” approach [Tim] employed here, and with a lot of what he does.

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Automate The Freight: Autonomous Buses To Start Operation In UK

The UK will get its first full-size autonomous bus service this summer, if final road testing that begins in the next two weeks goes according to plan.

Known as Project CAVForth for the UK government’s Center for Connected and Autonomous Vehicles (CCAV) and the Forth bridge, over which the buses will travel, it is said to be the most complex test of autonomous on-road mass transit yet undertaken in Europe. The full-size single-deck motorcoaches, five in total, will ply a 22-km (14-mile) route into Edinburgh from Fife, crossing the famous Firth of Forth on the Forth Road suspension bridge. The buses will carry about 36 passengers each and run at SAE Level 4 autonomy, meaning that a safety driver is optional under good driving conditions. Continue reading “Automate The Freight: Autonomous Buses To Start Operation In UK”

bolt with maze threads

Maze Bolt Toy By Lost PLA Casting

Maze bolts, a bolt which has a maze along its shaft traversed by a pin on its nut, are great fun. Here’s a really beautiful metal version by [Robinson Foundry], made by a process more makers should know about – lost PLA casting.

His basic method is to 3D print in PLA, and then use more or less the same process as lost wax casting.

He 3D printed the part, along with the sprues and risers that go along with casting, in PLA, then dipped the parts in slurry ten (10) times.  He heated in a kiln to 500°F (260°C), the PLA melted and ran out or burned away. With the PLA gone, after repairing a few cracks, he raised the temperature to 1500°F (815°C) and vitrified the slurry into a ceramic. He now had molds.

The nut is bronze. The bolt is aluminum.  He poured the metal with the molds hot, held in heated sand, so the metal can flow into all the small details. The rest of the project is just cleanup, but we learned that you can vary the finish produced by glass bead blasting just by varying the air pressure.

A great demo of a useful technique and a fun toy at the end.

We covered a great technique for doing lost PLA casting using a microwave.

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Toast Keyboard Raises A Glass To Short Index Fingers

Custom keyboards? They’re totally great. And we can keep telling you this, but you really won’t feel it until you try a few and find one or two that are right for you. If you’re already on board, we wonder: is there any limit to what custom keyboards can provide in terms of a good, comfortable time for your fingers, wrists, arms, shoulders, and neck? We think not, and as time goes on, there is more and more evidence to support this.

Take [vpzed]’s Toast keyboard for example. The beauty of customization is that as with any other human input problem, you’ll discover many more people who share your misery once you present a solution. In this case, it is the portion of the population whose index fingers are shorter than their ring fingers (which is evidently men in general). This is known as the 2D:4D ratio and is decided during gestation. At first, the phenomenon was thought to be due to high testosterone exposure in the womb, but subsequent studies have debunked this belief.

Toast aims to sate the need for a keyboard layout that accounts for a significantly shorter 2D than 4D by way of aggressively staggering the index finger’s key positions and staggering the columns overall. As you might imagine, there are no inner keys for length-challenged index fingers to grasp at — that would just be cruel. But there is another pinky column on each hand, which bring the key total to 34. We like the square boards, and frankly wish they were bread-shaped.

Not enough keys for you? Take a look at this many-keyed monoblock split with a numpad in the middle.

via KBD

A vape pen, broken into parts, all laid out on a cutting mat

2022 Hackaday Prize: Disposable Vape Pens Turned Project Parts

Disposable vape pens, a sub-genre of electronic cigarettes, have been a fad for a few years now – they’re small self-contained devices with a rechargeable battery and some vape liquid inside. As the battery discharges and the liquid runs out, the entire vape pen is typically thrown out. [Dimitar] wants to change that, however, and teaches us how to reuse as much of the vape pen as possible – as yet another underappreciated source for parts we can use in our projects.

In an extensive intro worklog, he breaks down and documents a vape pen’s inner workings, coupled with a video we’ve placed below the break showing ways to disassemble them. In these, he shows how we can reuse the casing and the plastic parts, should any of us be interested in a project that happens to fit the e-cig form factor. Attention is paid to the sensor that triggers the evaporation – it may look like a microphone, but is actually a purpose-built pressure-sensor with a high-side switch! He tears into one of these in a separate video, showing how to reuse it as a capacitive touch controller. He also aiming to assemble a small database of related resources on GitHub, currently, hosting the files for the protection circuit he developed as part of his recommendations for safely reusing vape pen Li-ion batteries.

[Dimitar]’s journey is ongoing, and we can’t wait to see some fun uses for these components that he will certainly stumble upon on his way! For instance, here’s a hacker using an e-cig battery to power a pair of RGB LED-adorned sunglasses, replacing the AAAA battery they originally came with. We’ve seen hackers make guides on reusing each and every part of microwave ovens, printers and laptops, and we ourselves have talked about reusing ATX power supplies and computer mice.

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A Minimal Motoring Manifesto

A couple of years ago, Hackaday published an article, “Electric Vehicles Continue the Same Wasteful Mistakes That Limit Longevity“, in which we took a look at the way the car industry, instead of taking the move to electric traction as an opportunity to simplify their products, was instead making their electric offerings far more complex. It touched a nerve and received a very large comment volume, such that now it is our 19th most commented story of all time.

It’s something brought back to the fore by seeing a The Drive piece bemoaning the evolution of the automobile as a software receptacle governed by end-user licenses rather than a machine under the control of its owner. In turn that’s posed the question: Just what do you really need for a car, and what is superfluous? Time to provide an answer to that question, so here it is: a minimal motoring manifesto. Continue reading “A Minimal Motoring Manifesto”

2022 Hackaday Prize Enters Second Round: Reuse, Recycle, Revamp

Ding! That’s the bell for the second challenge round of the 2022 Hackaday Prize. If your project reuses or recycles what would otherwise be waste materials, or helps you to do the same for further projects, we want to see it.

Hackers are often frugal folk — we’ll recycle parts for projects because it’s easier on the pocketbook when prototyping. But in these strangest of times, when we’ve seen $1 microcontrollers in such shortage that they fetch $57 apiece (if you can get the parts at all), making use of what you’ve got on hand can be an outright necessity. If this is going to become the new normal, it’s going to make sense that we automate it. There’s gold, literally and metaphorically, in busted PCBs. How are you going to get the most value out of our broken electronic waste in our post-apocalyptic near future? Have you built an unpick-and-unplace machine? We’d like to see it.

But electronic parts are a small fraction of your recyclable materials, and plastics might play a larger role. If you’re a 3D printerer, you’ve doubtless thought about recycling plastic bottles into filament. Or maybe you’d like to take some of the existing plastics that are thrust upon you by this modern world and give them a second life? This factory churning out paving stones by remelting plastic with sand is doing it on an industrial scale, but could this be useful for the home gamer? Precious Plastic has a number of inspirational ideas. Or maybe you just need an HDPE hammer?

Have you built a fancy can crusher, or a plastics sorter, or a recycling robot? Head on over to Hackaday.io, write it up, and enter it into the Prize!

Basically any project that helps you recycle or reuse the material around you is fair game here. (But note that if you’ve got epic repair hacks, you’ll want to enter them in the upcoming Round Three: Hack it Back.) This round runs until June 12th and there are ten $500 awards up for grabs, so get hacking!