Electric Snowblower Does The Job With 240 Volts

In parts of the world where it snows a lot and there are requirements for homeowners to keep sidewalks clear, a personal snowblower is it seems an essential piece of equipment. They have traditionally used internal combustion engines, but electric models are also available.

[Joel Clemens] is not impressed by the commercial electric blowers available to him as an American, because their 120 V mains supply just can’t deliver the power to make an effective two-stage design. So he’s built his own using a formerly gasoline-powered blower from a garage sale, and a 240 V industrial motor.

The blower is an impressive piece of equipment even if his running it close to its own cord does look rather hazardous. But the video is also of interest for its examination of the state of access to 240 V outlets for Americans. [Joel] has one for his electric vehicles, and has made a splitter box to give him the required American-style 240 V industrial connector. He makes the point that this is becoming more common as the take-up of electric vehicles gathers pace.

Continue reading “Electric Snowblower Does The Job With 240 Volts”

Smaller and Smarter: The Electron Rocket Takes Flight

On January 21st, 2018 at 1:43 GMT, Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket lifted off from New Zealand’s Mahia Peninsula. Roughly eight minutes later ground control received confirmation that the vehicle entered into a good orbit, followed shortly by the successful deployment of the payload. On only their second attempt, Rocket Lab had become the latest private company to put a payload into orbit. An impressive accomplishment, but even more so when you realize that the Electron is like no other rocket that’s ever flown before.

Not that you could tell from the outside. If anything, the external appearance of the Electron might be called boring. Perhaps even derivative, if you’re feeling less generous. It has the same fin-less blunted cylinder shape of most modern rockets, a wholly sensible (if visually unexciting) design. The vehicle’s nine first stage engines would have been noteworthy 15 years ago, but today only serve to draw comparisons with SpaceX’s wildly successful Falcon 9.

But while the Electron’s outward appearance is about as unassuming as they come, under that jet-black outer skin is some of the most revolutionary rocket technology seen since the V-2 first proved practical liquid fueled rockets were possible. As impressive as its been watching SpaceX teach a rocket to fly backwards and land on its tail, their core technology is still largely the same as what took humanity to the Moon in the 1960’s.

Vehicles that fundimentally change the established rules of spaceflight are, as you might expect, fairly rare. They often have a tendency to go up in a ball of flames; figuratively if not always literally. Now that the Electron has reached space and delivered its first payload, there’s no longer a question if the technology is viable or not. But whether anyone but Rocket Lab will embrace all the changes introduced with Electron may end up getting decided by the free market.

Continue reading “Smaller and Smarter: The Electron Rocket Takes Flight”

They’re Putting Soy In Your Wires, Man

I’ve got a friend who tells me at every opportunity that soy is the downfall of humanity. Whatever ails us as a society, it’s the soy beans that did it. They increase violent tendencies, they make us fat and lazy, they run farmers out of business, and so on. He laments at how hard it is to find food that doesn’t include soy in some capacity, and for a while was resigned to eating nothing but chicken hot dogs and bags of frozen peas; anything else had unacceptable levels of the “Devil’s Bean”. Overall he’s a really great guy, kind of person who could fix anything with a roll of duct tape and a trip to the scrap pile, but you might think twice if he invites you over for dinner.

A column of soy soldiers stand at the ready.

So when he recently told me about all the trouble people are having with soy-based electrical wiring, I thought it was just the latest conspiracy theory to join his usual stories. I told him it didn’t make any sense, there’s no way somebody managed to develop a reliable soy-derived conductor. “No, no,” he says, “not the conductor. They are making the insulation out of soy, and animals are chewing through it.”

Now that’s a bit different. I was already well aware of the growing popularity of bioplastics: the PLA used in desktop 3D printers is one such example, generally derived from corn. It certainly wasn’t unreasonable to think somebody had tried to make “green” electrical wiring by using a bioplastic insulation. While I wasn’t about to sit down to a hot bag of peas for dinner, I had to admit that maybe in this case his claims deserved a look.

Continue reading “They’re Putting Soy In Your Wires, Man”

3D Printed Airplane Engine Runs on Air

One of the most important considerations when flying remote-controlled airplanes is weight. Especially if the airplane has a motor, this has a huge potential impact on weight. For this reason, [gzumwalt] embarked on his own self-imposed challenge to build an engine with the smallest weight and the lowest parts count possible, and came away with a 25-gram, 8-part engine.

The engine is based around a single piston and runs on compressed air. The reduced parts count is a result of using the propeller axle as a key component in the engine itself. There are flat surfaces on the engine end of the axle which allow it to act as a valve and control its own timing. [gzumwalt] notes that this particular engine was more of a thought experiment and might not actually produce enough thrust to run an airplane, but that it certainly will spark up some conversations among RC enthusiasts.

The build is also one of the first designs in what [gzumwalt] hopes will be a series of ever-improving engine designs. Perhaps he should join forces with this other air-powered design that we’ve just recently featured. Who else is working on air-powered planes? Who knew that this was a thing?

Continue reading “3D Printed Airplane Engine Runs on Air”

Small Jet Engine Model From Students Who Think Big

We love to highlight great engineering student projects at Hackaday. We also love environment-sensing microcontrollers, 3D printing, and jet engines. The X-Plorer 1 by JetX Engineering checks all the boxes.

This engineering student exercise took its members through the development process of a jet engine. Starting from a set of requirements to meet, they designed their engine and analyzed it in software before embarking on physical model assembly. An engine monitoring system was developed in parallel and integrated into the model. These embedded sensors gave performance feedback, and armed with data the team iterated though ideas to improve their design. It’s a shame the X-Plorer 1 model had to stop short of actual combustion. The realities of 3D printed plastic meant airflow for the model came from external compressed air and not from burning fuel.

Also worth noting are the people behind this project. JetX Engineering describe themselves as an University of Glasgow student club for jet engine enthusiasts, but they act less like a casual gathering of friends and more like an aerospace engineering firm. The ability of this group to organize and execute on this project, including finding sponsors to fund it, are skills difficult to teach in a classroom and even more difficult to test with an exam.

After X-Plorer 1, the group has launched two new project teams X-Plorer 2 and Kronos. They are also working to expand to other universities with the ambition of launching competitions between student teams. That would be exciting and we wish them success.

Continue reading “Small Jet Engine Model From Students Who Think Big”

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].