Curbside Mower Gets Electric Transplant

There’s few things more exciting to a hacker or maker than seeing a piece of hardware on the curb. An old computer, an appliance, maybe if you’re really lucky some power tools. So we can only imagine the rush that known lawn equipment aficionado [AmpEater] had when he saw a seemingly intact push mower in the trash. The pull start was broken on the gas engine, but where this mower was going, it wouldn’t need a gas engine.

When he got the mower back to his garage, he started on the process of converting it over to electric. Of course this means basically everything but the wheels, handle, and deck would get tossed. But starting with a trashed gas mower still sounds a lot easier compared to trying to figure out how to make or source a wheeled mower deck.

Step one in this conversion was stripping all the paint off the deck and welding a plate over where the original gas engine was. [AmpEater] then 3D printed some mounts to hold the DeWalt tool batteries he would be using as a power source, taking the extra time to align everything so it would have the look of an old flathead gasoline engine. A tongue-in-cheek reference to the mower’s old gasoline gulping days, and an awesome little detail that gives the final product a great look.

The controller is a commercial model intended for electric bikes, and the heart of this new mower is a brushless direct-drive motor capable of 3,000 RPM at 40 A. [AmpEater] reports a respectable one hour run time with the six DeWalt batteries, and more power than his store-bought Ryobi electric mower.

If the name [AmpEater] looks familiar, it’s because this isn’t the first time he’s graced us with a mower conversion: back in 2013 he impressed us with his solar-electric Cub Cadet zero-turn. This build isn’t quite as slick as the Cub Cadet, but the much lower cost and difficulty level means that you may be able to follow in his footsteps even if you don’t have his Zeus-level mastery of the electric motor.

As electric mowers have gotten more popular, we’ve seen an increasing flow of hacks and mods for them. Everything from replacing the batteries to turning them into something else completely.

The Last Interesting Rover Had A Gas Turbine Engine

If you have a car parked outside as you are reading this, the overwhelming probability is that it has a reciprocating piston engine powered by either petrol(gasoline), or diesel fuel. A few of the more forward-looking among you may own a hybrid or even an electric car, and fewer still may have a piston engine car powered by LPG or methane, but that is likely to be the sum of the Hackaday reader motoring experience.

We have become used to understanding that perhaps the era of the petroleum-fueled piston engine will draw to a close and that in future decades we’ll be driving electric, or maybe hydrogen. But visions of the future do not always materialize as we expect them. For proof of that, we only need to cast our minds back to the 1950s. Motorists in the decade following the Second World War would have confidently predicted a future of driving cars powered by jet engines. For a while, as manufacturers produced a series of prototypes, it looked like a safe bet.

The Chrysler gas turbine car from [Brian]'s article. CZmarlin [Public domain].
The Chrysler gas turbine car from [Bryan]’s article. CZmarlin [Public domain].
Back in August, my colleague [Bryan] wrote a feature: “The Last Interesting Chrysler Had A Gas Turbine Engine“, in which he detailed the story of one of the more famous gas turbine cars. But the beautifully styled Chrysler was not the only gas turbine car making waves at the time, because meanwhile on the other side of the Atlantic a series of prototypes were taking the gas turbine in a slightly different direction.

Rover was a British carmaker that was known for making sensible and respectable saloon cars. They passed through a series of incarnations into the nationalized British Leyland empire, eventually passing into the hands of British Aerospace, then BMW, and finally a consortium of businessmen under whose ownership they met an ignominious end. If you have ever wondered why the BMW 1-series has such ungainly styling cues, you are looking at the vestiges of a Rover that never made it to the forecourt. The very successful Land Rover marque was originally a Rover product, but beyond that sector, they are not remembered as particularly exciting or technically advanced.

The Rover Jet1 prototype. Allen Watkin [CC BY-SA 2.0].
The Rover JET1 prototype. Allen Watkin [CC BY-SA 2.0].
At the close of the Second World War though, Rover found themselves in an interesting position. One of their contributions to war production had been the gas turbine engines found in the first generation of British jet aircraft, and as part of their transition to peacetime production they began to investigate civilian applications for the technology. Thus the first ever gas turbine car was a Rover, the 1950 JET1. Bearing the staid and respectable styling of a 1950s bank manager’s transport rather than the space-age look you might expect of the first ever gas turbine car, it nonetheless became the first holder of the world speed record for a gas turbine powered car when in 1952 it achieved a speed of 152.691 MPH.

The JET1 was soon followed by a series of further jet-powered prototypes culminating in 1956’s T3 and 1961’s T4. Both of these were practical everyday cars, the T3, a sports coupé, and the T4, an executive saloon car whose styling would appear in the 1963 petrol-engined P6 model. There was also an experimental BMC truck fitted with the engine. The P6 executive car was produced until 1977, and all models were designed to have space for a future gas turbine option by having a very unusual front suspension layout with a pivot allowing the spring and damper to be placed longitudinally in the front wing.

The Rover-BRM racing car at Gaydon. David Merrett [CC BY 2.0].
The Rover-BRM racing car at Gaydon. David Merrett [CC BY 2.0].
It was not only prototypes for production cars with gas turbines that came from Rover in the 1960s though, for in 1963 they put their gas turbine into a BRM racing chassis and entered it into the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race. It returned in the 1964 season fitted with a novel rotating ceramic honeycomb heat exchanger to improve its efficiency, racing for a final season in 1965.

The fate of the gas-turbine Rovers would follow that of their equivalent cars from other manufacturers including the Chrysler covered by [Bryan]. Technical difficulties were never fully overcome, the increasing cost of fuel  made gas turbine cars uneconomic to run, and meanwhile by the 1960s the piston engine had improved immeasurably over what had been available when the JET1 had been produced. The Rover P6 never received its gas turbine, and the entire programme was abandoned. Today all the surviving cars are in museums, the JET1 prototype in the Science Museum in London, and the T3, T4, and Rover-BRM racing car at the Heritage Motor Centre at Gaydon. The truck survives in private hands, having been restored, and is a regular sight at summer time shows.

As a footnote to the Rover story, in response to the development of JET1 at the start of the 1950s, their rival and later British Leyland stablemate Austin developed their own gas turbine car. If international readers find Jet1’s styling a bit quaint compared to the American jet cars, it is positively space-age when compared to the stately home styling of the Sheerline limousine to which Austin fitted their gas turbine.

Rover T4 gas turbine header image: Matthias v.d. Elbe [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Remote Controlled Jeep Destroyed For Your Amusement

Something you learn when you spend a good portion of your day trolling the Internet for creative and unique projects is that “Why?” is one question you should always be careful about asking. Just try to accept that, for this particular person, at this particular time, the project they poured heart and soul into just made sense. Trust us, it’s a lot easier that way.

This mantra is perhaps best exemplified (at least for today), by the incredible amount of work [Stephen Robinson] did to convert a real Jeep Cherokee into a remote control toy. But the crazy part it isn’t so much that he managed to convert a real Jeep to RC, it’s that the first thing he did with it was take it into a field and destroy it.

The stunt is part of a series of videos [Stephen] has on his YouTube channel called “How to learn anything”. His goal in this series is to learn two different skills from industry professionals and combine them in interesting and unconventional ways. The production quality on these videos is really top-notch, and definitely blew us away considering how few subscribers he currently has. If we had to guess, we’d say [Stephen] is about to get real big, real fast.

As it turns out, the process for turning a full size vehicle into a remote-controlled one isn’t actually that complex, relatively speaking. [Stephen] starts by removing the seat and replacing it with a metal frame that holds a motor salvaged from an electric wheelchair to turn the wheel, and a linear actuator to push the brake pedal. He lucked out a bit with the throttle, as this particular Jeep was old enough that there was still an easily accessible throttle cable they could yank with a standard hobby servo; rather than some electronic system they would have had to reverse engineer.

The rest of the hardware is pretty much your standard RC hobby gear, including a Spektrum DX6 transmitter and FPV equipment. Though due to continual problems with his FPV setup, [Stephen] eventually had to drive the Jeep up the ramp by line of sight, which took a few tries.

While this is still probably safer than riding around in a life-size quadcopter, we can’t say it’s the most sophisticated way a hacker has taken over a Jeep remotely.

Continue reading “Remote Controlled Jeep Destroyed For Your Amusement”

Everything Worth Knowing about Lockwire

We were tipped off to an older video by [AgentJayZ] which demonstrates the proper use of lockwire also known as ‘safety wire.’ In high vibration operations like jet engines, street racers, machine guns, and that rickety old wheelchair you want to turn into a drift trike, a loose bolt can spell disaster. Nylon fails under heat and mechanical lock washers rely on friction which has its limits. Safety wire holds up under heat and resists loosening as long as the wire is intact.

Many of our readers will already be familiar with lockwire since it is hardly a cutting-edge technology — unless you are talking about the cut ends of lockwire which [AgentJayZ] warns will slice up your fingers if you aren’t mindful. Some of us Jacks-or-Jills-of-all-trades, with knowledge an inch deep and a mile wide, may not realize all there is to lockwire. In the first eight minutes, we’ll bet that you’ve gotten at least two inches deep into this subject.

[Editor’s Note: an inch is exactly 25.4 mm, if the previous metaphors get lost in translation. A mile is something like 2,933.333 Assyrian cubits. Way bigger than an inch, anyway.]

Now, those pesky loose bolts which cost us time and sighs have a clear solution. For the old-hands, you can brush up on lockwire by watching the rest of video after the break.

Thank you [Keith Olson] for the tip, and we’ll be keeping an eye on [AgentJayZ] who, to date, has published over 450 videos about jet engines.

If safety isn’t your highest priority, consider this jet engine on a bicycle or marvel at the intricacies of a printable jet engine.

Continue reading “Everything Worth Knowing about Lockwire”

If You’re Going To Make A Model Engine, You Might As Well Make It A Merlin

It has been remarked before in more than one Hackaday post, that here are many communities like our own that exist in isolation and contain within them an astonishing level of hardware and engineering ability. We simply don’t see all the work done by the more engineering-driven and less accessory-driven end of the car modification scene, for example, because by and large we do not move in the same circles as them.

One such community in which projects displaying incredible levels of skill are the norm is the model making world. We may all have glued together a plastic kit of a Spitfire or a Mustang in our youth, but at the opposite end of the dial when it comes to models you will find craftsmanship that goes well beyond that you’d find in many high-end machine shops.

A project that demonstrates this in spades is [mayhugh1]’s quarter-scale model of a vintage Rolls-Royce Merlin V12 piston aero engine. This was the power plant that you would have found in many iconic Allied aircraft of the WW2 era, including the real-life Spitfires and all but the earliest of those Mustangs. And what makes the quarter-scale Merlin just that little bit more special, is that it runs. Just add fuel.

The build took place over a few years and many pages of a forum thread, and includes multiple blow-by-blow accounts, photos, and videos. It started with a set of commercial castings for the engine block, but their finishing and the manufacture of all other engine parts is done in the shop. In the final page or so we see the video we’ve placed below the break, of the finished engine in a test frame being run up on the bench, with a somewhat frightening unguarded airscrew attached to its front and waiting to decapitate an unwary cameraman. Sit down with a cup of your favourite beverage, and read the build from start to finish. We don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

Continue reading “If You’re Going To Make A Model Engine, You Might As Well Make It A Merlin”

The Last Interesting Chrysler Had a Gas Turbine Engine

The piston engine has been the king of the transportation industry for well over a century now. It has been manufactured so much that it has become a sort of general-purpose machine that can be used to do quite a bit more than merely move people and cargo from one point to another. Running generators, hydraulic systems, pumps, and heavy machinery are but a few examples of that.

Scale production of this technology also had the effect of driving prices for these engines down, and now virtually everyone in the developed world has cheap and easy access to them. In the transportation world, at least, it looks like its reign might finally be coming to a slow, drawn-out conclusion as electric cars capture more and more market share.

Electric motors aren’t the first technology to try to topple the piston engine from its apex position on top of our modern transportation industry, though. In the 1960s another technology, the gas turbine engine, tried to replace it — and failed.

Continue reading “The Last Interesting Chrysler Had a Gas Turbine Engine”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Engine Control Units and Arduinos

The modern internal combustion engine is an engineering marvel. We’re light-years ahead of simple big blocks and carburetors, and now there are very fast, very capable computers sensing adjusting the spark timing, monitoring the throttle position, and providing a specific amount of power to the wheels at any one time. For the last few years [Josh] has been building a fully-featured engine management system, and now he’s entered it in the Hackaday Prize.

The Speeduino project is, as the name would suggest, built around the Arduino platform. In this case, an Arduino Mega. The number of pins and PWMs is important — the Speeduino is capable of running the fuel and ignition for eight cylinder engines.

The Speeduino is designed to do everything an engine control unit can do, including rev limiting (although if you’re building your own ECU, why?), and reading ethanol sensors. Right now [Josh] is working on a beta run of the Speeduino designed for the 1.6L Miata. That’s an excellent platform for firmware performance tuning, and there’s still a lot of work to be done on the firmware side of things before everything’s all set to go. Still, this is a great project and sure to impress the bros at track day, bro.