Worn Train Rails Get Judged by Laser

[Calango] is a railway technician, and for a school final project created the Rail Wear Surveillance Trolley (RWST) which is a delightfully designed device made mainly from PVC conduit with one job: travel down a segment of train track while shining a green laser onto the rail, and capture camera images. The trolley holds both the laser and the camera at just the right angles for the camera to capture a profile of the rail’s curved surface. The images are sent via Bluetooth to a smartphone for later analysis. Rail wear can be judged by checking how well the profile of the rail conforms to the ideal profile of an unworn segment. The trolley is manually pushed by an operator, but [Calango] says that ideally, it would be self-propelled and able to inspect a length of the track then return on its own.

The project was made on a tight budget, which led to some clever solutions like using a rotary encoder attached to a wheel as a makeshift distance sensor. If things get desperate enough, it’s even possible to roll your own rotary encoder with a 3D printer and two microswitches.

The Electric Vehicles Of EMF Camp: A Sinclair C5, (Almost) As It Should Have Been

Most Hackaday readers will have heard of [Clive Sinclair], the British inventor and serial entrepreneur whose name appeared on some of the most fondly-recalled 8-bit home computers. If you aren’t either a Sinclair enthusiast or a Brit of a Certain Age though, you may not also be aware that he dabbled for a while in the world of electric vehicles. In early 1985 he launched the C5, a sleek three-wheeler designed to take advantage of new laws governing electrically assisted bicycles.

The C5 was a commercial failure because it placed the rider in a vulnerable position almost at road level, but in the decades since its launch it has become something of a cult item. [Rob] fell for the C5 when he had a ride in one belonging to a friend, and decided he had to have one of his own. The story of his upgrading it and the mishaps that befell it along the way are the subject of his most recent blog post, and it’s not a tale that’s over by any means.

The C5 was flawed not only in its riding position, the trademark Sinclair economy in manufacture manifested itself in a minimalist motor drive to one rear wheel only, and a front wheel braking system that saw bicycle calipers unleashed on a plastic wheel rim. The latter was sorted with an upgrade to a disc brake, but the former required a bit more work. A first-generation motor and gearbox had an unusual plywood housing, and the C5 even made it peripherally into our review of EMF Camp 2016, but it didn’t quite have the power to start the machine without pedaling. Something with more grunt was called for, and it came in the form of a better gearbox which once fitted allowed the machine to power its way to the Tindie Cambridge meetup back in April. Your scribe had a ride, but all was not well. After a hard manual pedal back across Cambridge to the Makespace it was revealed that the much-vaunted Lotus chassis had lived up to the Sinclair reputation for under-engineering, and bent. Repairs are under way for the upcoming EMF Camp 2018, where we hope we’ll even see it entering the Hacky Racers competition.

An E-Bike Battery Pack Without Spot Welding

In somewhat of a departure from their normal fare of heavy metal mods, [Make It Extreme] is working on a battery pack for an e-bike that has some interesting design features.

The guts of the pack are pretty much what you’d expect – recovered 18650 lithium-ion cells. They don’t go into details, but we assume the 52 cells were tested and any duds rejected. The arrangement is 13S4P, and the cells are held in place with laser-cut acrylic frames. Rather than spot weld the terminals, [Make It Extreme] used a series of strategically positioned slots to make contacts from folded bits of nickel strip. Solid contact is maintained by cap screws passing between the upper and lower contact frames. A forest of wires connects each cell to one of four BMS boards, and the whole thing is wrapped in a snappy acrylic frame. The build and a simple test are in the video below.

While we like the simplicity of a weld-less design, we wonder how the pack will stand up to vibration with just friction holding the cells in contact. Given their previous electric transportation builds, like this off-road hoverbike, we expect the pack will be put to the test soon, and in extreme fashion.

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Charging An Electric Supercar With Lemons, Kids, And The Sun

First things first: the tease on this video, that an electric supercar can be charged from a massive lemon battery array, is exactly that – a tease. Despite that, it makes for an interesting story and a great attempt to get kids exposed to science and engineering.

The story goes that [Mark] was approached by Volkswagen to help charge the batteries on their entry for the upcoming Pikes Peak International Hill Climb, the annual “Race to the Clouds” in Colorado. Racers are tortured by a 4,700′ (1,440 m) vertical climb over a 12.42 mile (20 km) course that features 156 switchback turns. Volkswagen’s entry is an electric supercar, and they sent [Mark] a portable battery cart to charge up the best way he saw fit.

Teaming up with [William Osman], the first attempt was a massive array of lemon cells, made with waterjet-cut strips of zinc and copper held in a plywood frame. Studded with 1,232 lemons, the battery performed just about as well as you’d expect it would. Plan B was cute, and another of [Mark]’s attempts to pad his “Funnest Uncle Ever” score a bit. He devised a zip line with regenerative braking to charge a cordless drill battery, and then indirectly harvested the energy in the battery by turning it into lemonade for a bunch of kids. The sugared-up kids rode the zip line till the battery was charged.

That was still a drop in the bucket, though, so Plan C saw [Mark] install a large solar array on his roof; the tie-in here was that the lemon-powered kids got to design a cleaning system for the solar array. A weak link, to be sure, but the kids had fun, and we can’t deny that the car will at least be partially lemon-powered when it heads up the hill.

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When The Going Gets Tough, These Wheels Transform To Tracks

When we want to build something to go where wheels could not, the typical solution is to use tracks. But the greater mobility comes with trade-offs: one example being tracked vehicles can’t go as fast as a wheeled counterpart. Information released by DARPA’s ground experimental vehicle technology (GXV-T) program showed what might come out of asking “why can’t we switch to tracks just when we need them?”

This ambitious goal to literally reinvent the wheel was tackled by Carnegie Mellon’s National Robotics Engineering Center. They delivered the “Reconfigurable Wheel-Track” (RWT) that can either roll like a wheel or travel on its tracks. A HMMWV serves as an appropriate demonstration chassis, where two or all four of its wheels were replaced by RWTs. In the video (embedded below) it is seen quickly transforming from one mode to another while moving. An obviously desirable feature that looks challenging to implement. This might not be as dramatic of a transformation as a walking robot that can roll up into a wheel but it has the advantage of being more immediately feasible for human-scale vehicles.

The RWT is not the only terrain mobility project in this DARPA announcement but this specific idea is one we would love to see scaled downed to become a 3D-printable robot module. And though our Hackaday Prize Robotics Module Challenge has already concluded, there are more challenges still to come. The other umbrella of GXV-T is “crew augmentation” giving operators better idea of what’s going around them. The projects there might inspire something you can submit to our upcoming Human-Computer Interface Challenge, check them out!

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Building A Mini Electric Bike In Between Projects

What do you do when you suddenly find you have some free time because you’re waiting on parts or have run up against other delays for your current project? If you’re [James Bruton], you design and build a mini electric bike.

Being a prolific builder, [James] already had the parts he needed. Some of them were left over from previous projects: a small motor, a 24 volt LiPo battery, an SK8 electronic speed controller, and a twist grip for the handlebars. He cut a wooden frame using his CNC machine and 3D printed various other components. Normally he uses ABS for motor mounts but this time he went with PLA and sure enough, the motor heated up and the mounting screws got hot enough to melt the plastic. But other than that, the bike worked great and looks like a polished, manufactured product. How many of us can say the same for our own unplanned projects using only parts from around the workshop? Check out his build and watch him whizzing around on it in the video below.

As for the former projects from which he had leftover parts, he says that some came from skateboard projects such as his pimped out electric LEGO longboard.

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The Electric Vehicles Of EMF Camp

There is joy in the hearts of British and European hardware and software hackers and makers, for this is an EMF Camp year. Every couple of years, our community comes together for three summer days in a field somewhere, and thanks to a huge amount of work from its organizers and a ton of volunteers, enjoys an entertaining, stimulating, and engrossing hacker camp.

One of the features of a really good hacker camp are the electric vehicles. Not full-on electric cars, but personal camp transport. Because only the technically inept walk, right? From Hitchin’s Big Hak to TOG’s duck, with an assortment of motorized armchairs and beer crates thrown in, these allow the full creativity of the hardware community free rein through the medium of overdriven motors and cheap Chinese motor controllers.

This year at EMF Camp there will be an added dimension that should bring out a new wave of vehicles, there will be a Hacky Racers event. Novelty electric vehicles will compete for on-track glory, will parade around the camp, and will no doubt also sometimes release magic smoke. There is still plenty of time to enter, so if you’re going to EMF, get building!

We have an interest in these little electric vehicles, not least because there may well be a Hackaday-branded machine on the tarmac. We’d like to feature some of them over the weeks running up to the event, so if you are building one and have a write-up handy, please tell us about it in the comments. Charge your batteries, and we’ll see you there!

Header image: [Mark Mellors], with permission.