Electric vehicles are fertile ground for innovation because the availability of suitable motors, controllers, and power sources makes experimentation accessible even to hobbyists. Even so, [John Dingley] has been working on such vehicles since about 2009, and his latest self-balancing electric unicycle really raises the bar by multiple notches. It sports a monstrous 3000 Watt brushless hub motor intended for an electric motorcycle, and [John] was able to add numerous touches such as voice feedback and 1950’s styling using surplus aircraft and motorcycle parts. To steer, the frame changes shape slightly with help of the handlebars to allow the driver’s center of gravity to shift towards one or the other outer rims of the wheel. In a test drive at a deserted beach, [John] tells us that the bike never went above 20% power; the device’s limitations are entirely by personal courage. Watch the video of the test, embedded below.
Let’s face it, everybody wants to build a Stirling engine. They’re refined, and generally awesome. They’re also a rather involved fabrication project which is why you don’t see a lot of them around.
This doesn’t remove all of the complexity, but by following this example 3D printing a Sterling engine is just about half possible. This one uses 3D printing for the frame, mounting brackets, and flywheel. That wheel gets most of its mass from a set of metal nuts placed around the wheel. This simple proof-of-concept using a candle is shown off in the video after the break, where it also gets an upgrade to an integrated butane flame.
Stirling engines operate on heat, making printed plastic parts a no-go for some aspects of the build. But the non-printed parts in this design are some of the simplest we’ve seen, comprising a glass syringe, a glass cylinder, and silicone tubing to connect them both. The push-pull of the cylinder and syringe are alternating movements caused by heat of air from a candle flame, and natural cooling of the air as it moves away via the tubing.
We’d say this one falls just above mid-way on the excellence scale of these engines (and that’s great considering how approachable it is). On the elite side of things, here’s a 16-cylinder work of art. The other end of the scale may not look as beautiful, but there’s nothing that puts a bigger smile on our faces than clever builds using nothing but junk.
[InterlinkKnight]’s jet engine model is a delight to behold and to puzzle out. Many of us have been there before. We know how to build something, we know it’s not the most up-to-date approach, but we just can’t help ourselves and so we go for it anyway. The result is often a fun and ingenious mix of the mechanical and the electrical. His electric jet engine model is just that.
Being a model, this one isn’t required to produce any useful thrust. But he’s made plenty of effort to make it behave as it should, right down to adding a piece of plastic to rub against a flywheel gear in order to produce the perfect high-pitched sound, not to forget the inclusion of the flywheel itself to make the turbine blades gradually slow down once the motor’s been turned off. For the N1 gauge (fan speed gauge) he built up his own generator around the motor shaft, sending the output through rectifying diodes to a voltmeter.
But the most delightful of all has to be the mechanical linkages for the controls. The controls consist of an Engine Start switch, Fuel Control switch and a throttle lever and are all built around a rheostat which controls the motor speed. The linkages are not pretty, but you have to admire his cleverness and just-go-for-it attitude. He must have done a lot of head scratching while getting it to all work together. We especially like how flipping the Fuel Control switch from cutoff to run levers the rheostat with respect to its dial just a little, to give a bit of extra power to the engine. See if you can puzzle it out in his Part 3 video below where he removes the cover and walks through it all.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?