The Quick-Build PowerWall

Elon Musk isn’t just the greatest human being — he’s also a great inventor. He’s invented the reusable rocket, the electric car, and so much more. While those are fantastic achievements, Elon’s greatest invention is probably the PowerWall. The idea of a PowerWall is simple and has been around for years: just get a bunch of batteries and build a giant UPS for your house. Elon brought it to the forefront, though, and DIYers around the world are building their own. Thanks, Elon.

Of course, while the idea of building your own PowerWall is simple, the devil is in the details. How are you going to buy all those batteries? How are you going to connect them together? How do you connect it to your fuse box? It’s a systems integration nightmare, made even more difficult by the fact that lithium cells can catch fire if you do something wrong. [jehugarcia] is building his own PowerWall, and he might have hit upon an interesting solution. He’s built a modular system to store and charge hundreds of 18650 cells. It looks great, and this might be the answer to anyone wanting to build their own PowerWall.

Aside from acquiring hundreds of 18650 cells, the biggest problem in building a PowerWall is simply connecting all the cells together. This can be done with 3D printed battery holders, solder, and bus bars, with a few people experimenting with spot welding wires directly onto the cells. This project might be a better solution: it uses standard plastic battery holders easily acquired from your favorite Chinese retailer and a PCB to turn cells into a battery.

The design of this battery module consists of a PCB with sufficiently wide traces, an XT60 power connector, and a few headers for the balance connector of a charger. This is a seven cell setup, and in contrast to the hundreds of hours that go into making a PowerWall the old fashioned way, these modules can be assembled pretty quickly.

Testing of these modules revealed no explosions, and everything worked as intended. There was a problem, though: when drawing a high load, the terminals of these cheap battery connectors got up to 150°. That makes these modules unsuitable for high load applications like an e-bike, but it should be okay if you’re putting hundreds of these modules together to power your house. It might be a good idea to invest in some cooling, though.
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This Is The Year Of PCB Inductors

It’s a story we’ve told dozens of times already. The cost to manufacture a handful of circuit boards has fallen drastically over the last decade and a half, which has allowed some interesting experiments on what PCBs can do. We’ve seen this with artistic PCBs, we’ve seen it with enclosures built out of PCBs, and this year we’re seeing a few experiments that are putting coils and inductors on PCBs.

At the forefront of these experiments in PCB coil design is [bobricious], and already he’s made brushless and linear motors using only tiny copper traces on top of fiberglass. Now he’s experimenting with inductors. His latest entry to the Hackaday Prize is a Joule Thief, a simple circuit, but one that requires an inductor to work. If you want an example of what can be done with spirals of copper on a PCB, look no further than this project.

The idea was simply to make a Joule Thief circuit. The circuit is not complicated — you only need a transistor, resistor, and an inductor or transformer to boost the voltage from a dead battery enough to light up an LED.

The trick here is that instead of some wire wrapped around a ferrite or an off-the-shelf inductor, [bobricious] is using 29 turns of copper with six mil traces and spacing on a PCB. Any board house can do this, which means yes, you can technically reduce the BOM cost of a Joule Thief circuit at the expense of board space. This is the year of PCB inductors, what else should be be doing with creative PCB trace designs?

Friday Hack Chat: Motors Made Out Of PCBs

One of the most amazing technological advances found in this year’s Hackaday Prize is the careful application of copper traces turned into coils. We’ve seen this before for RFID tags and scanners, but we’ve never seen anything like what Carl is doing. He’s building brushless motors on PCBs.

All you need to build a brushless motor is a rotor loaded up with super powerful and very cheap magnets, and a few coils of wire. Now that PCBs are so cheap, the coils of wire are easily taken care of. A 3D printer and some eBay magnets finish off the rest. For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re talking with Carl about PCB motors.

Carl Bugeja is a 23-year old electronics engineer who is trying to design new robotics technology. His PCB Motor design won the Open Hardware Design Challenge and will be going to the Finals of the Hackaday Prize. This open-source PCB motor is a smaller, cheaper, and easier to assemble micro-brushless motor.

[Carl]’s main project, the PCB Motor is a stator that is printed on a 4-layer PCB board. The six stator poles are spiral traces wound in a star configuration. Although these coils produce less torque compared to an iron core stator, the motor is still suitable for high-speed applications. [Carl]’s been working on other PCB motor designs, like the Linear PCB motor which is a monorail on a PCB and the Flexible PCB actuator where the coils of wire are tucked inside Kapton.

During this Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing:

  • The design and construction of brushless motors
  • How to drive these motors
  • PCB applications beyond standard circuitry
  • Building accessible robotics technology

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hack Chat Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, August 10th. Need a countdown timer? You wouldn’t if we switched to universal metric time.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

VCF West: Homebrew Lisp Machines And Injection Molded PDPs

Someone walks into the Vintage Computer Festival and asks, ‘what’s new?’. It’s a hilarious joke, but there is some truth to it. At this year’s Vintage Computer Festival West, the exhibit hall wasn’t just filled to the brim with ancient computers from the Before Time. There was new hardware. There was hardware that would give your Apple IIgs even more memory. There was new hardware that perfectly emulated 40-year-old functionality. There’s always something new at the Vintage Computer Festival.

Some of the more interesting projects are just coming off the assembly line. If you want a modern-day Lisp machine, that one won’t be assembled until next week, although there was a working prototype at VCF. If you want the greatest recreation of the most beautiful hardware, VCF has your back. Check out these amazing builds below.

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Video Quick Bit: Power Harvesting Hacks

Majenta Strongheart is back again, this time taking a look at some of the coolest power harvesting projects in this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The entire idea of the Power Harvesting Challenge is to get usable power from something, be it solar energy, a rushing waterfall, or fueling steam turbines with hamsters. [Cole B] decided that instead of capturing energy from one of these power sources, he’d do it all. He created Power Generation Modules, or Lego bricks for harvesting power. There’s a hand crank module, a water turbine module, and enough modules to do something with all that captured power like a light module and a USB charger module.

But maybe you don’t want to generate power the normal way. Maybe you think spinning magnets is too mainstream, or something. If that’s the case, then [Josh] has the project for you. It’s the P Cell, a battery fueled by urine. Yes, it’s just a simple copper zinc wet cell using urea as an electrolyte, but remember: in the early 1800s, human urine was a major source of nitrates used in the manufacture of gunpowder. Why not get some electricity from something that is just sent down the tubes?

Right now we’re in the middle of the Human Computer Interface Challenge. Show us that you have what it takes to get a computer to talk to a human, get a human to talk to a computer, or even recreate one of those weird 3D CAD mice from the early 90s. We’re looking for any interesting ways to bridge that valley between people and their devices. Twenty Human Computer Interface Challenge submissions will be selected to move onto the finals and win $1000 in the process! The five top entries of the 2018 Hackaday Prize will split $100,000!

VCF West: All The Floptical Disks

Nowadays, if you want to transfer a file from one computer to another, you’d just send it over the network. In those rare occasions where that won’t work, a USB thumb drive will do. It wasn’t always this way, and it was much more confusing; back in the day when we had floppy drives. We had floptical drives. A single unlabeled 3.5″ floppy disk could be formatted as 360, 720, or 1440k IBM drive, a 400, 800, or 1440k Macintosh drive, an Apple II volume, or an Amiga, or an Acorn, or a host of other logical formats. That’s just one physical format of a floppy disk, and there are dozens more.

For this year’s VCF West, [Foone], hardware necromancer and collector of rare and esoteric removable storage formats, brought out the goods. He has what is probably the most complete collection of different floppy drive formats on the planet, and they were all out on display this weekend.

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Hackaday Links: August 5, 2018

Here’s something of historical interest. The daughter of Terry Holdt, project manager for the 6502, cleaned out a garage and found shelves full of MOS Technology binders, test results, notes, instructions for processes, letters to customers, and datasheets full of errata. Some of these documents have been posted on Twitter, and efforts are underway to collect, scan, upload, and preserve them. In the distance, a man in a fabulous suit is screaming, ‘donate them to the Internet Archive’.

This is a link to Defcad, the repository of 3D printable files for weapons. Under an agreement with the US Department of State, Defcad was set to go online on August 1st. This caused much handwringing in the tech journalist thoughtspace, with reporters calling to end the first amendment because they don’t like the second. Alyssa Milano chimed in. Defcad was ordered shut down by a federal judge in the western district of Washington before going live.

As you may well be aware, Printrbot ceased operations last month. It’s sad to see them go, but they made some acceptable machines and were really pushing the boundaries of what was possible with their infinite build volume prototype printer. But what about all those existing printrbots in the wild, you might ask. Well, good news for anyone who hasn’t changed their hotend over to an E3D yet: Ubis is going to be selling hotends. Get ’em while they’re hot (or not, I don’t know how this pun works).

File this one into the ‘awesome government auctions’ category. The city of Longmont, Colorado decommissioned their tornado sirens last year because they ‘self-activated’ and malfunctioned. These sirens were put up for auction, with a winning bid of $526. Someone bought the most annoying thing imaginable for just over five bills. The world of government auctions is amazing.