Magnetic Bearings Put The Spin On This Flywheel Battery

[Tom Stanton] is right about one thing: flywheels make excellent playthings. Whether watching a spinning top that never seems to slow down, or feeling the weird forces a gyroscope exerts, spinning things are oddly satisfying. And putting a flywheel to work as a battery makes it even cooler.

Of course, using a flywheel to store energy isn’t even close to being a new concept. But the principles [Tom] demonstrates in the video below, including the advantages of magnetically levitated bearings, are pretty cool to see all in one place. The flywheel itself is just a heavy aluminum disc on a shaft, with a pair of bearings on each side made of stacks of neodymium magnets. An additional low-friction thrust bearing at the end of the shaft keeps the systems suitably constrained, and allows the flywheel to spin for twelve minutes or more.

[Tom]’s next step was to harness some of the flywheel’s angular momentum to make electricity. He built a pair of rotors carrying more magnets, with a stator of custom-wound coils sandwiched between. A full-wave bridge rectifier and a capacitor complete the circuit and allow the flywheel to power a bunch of LEDs or even a small motor. The whole thing is nicely built and looks like a fun desk toy.

This is far from [Tom]’s first flywheel rodeo; his last foray into storing mechanical energy wasn’t terribly successful, but he has succeeded in making flywheels fly, one way or another.

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Flywheel Stores Energy To Power An Airplane – Eventually

Question: Can a flywheel store enough energy to power an airplane? Answer: Yes it can, for certain values of “flywheel” and “airplane.”

About the only person we can think of who would even attempt to build a flywheel-powered airplane is [Tom Stanton]. He’s a great one for off-the-wall ideas that often pay off, like his Coandă effect hovercraft, as well as for ideas that never got far off the ground, or suddenly met it again. For most of the video below, it seems like his flywheel-powered plane is destined to stay firmly in the last category, and indeed, the idea of a massive flywheel taking flight seems counterintuitive. But [Tom] reminds us that since the kinetic energy stored by a flywheel increases as the square of angular velocity, how fast it’s turning is more important than how massive it is. The composite carbon fiber and aluminum flywheel is geared to the propeller of a minimal airplane through 3D-printed bevel gears, and is spun up with an external BLDC motor.

Sadly, the plane never made it very far, no matter how much weight was trimmed. But [Tom] was able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat by making the propeller the flywheel – he printed a ring connecting the blades of the prop and devised a freewheel clutch to couple it to the motor. The flywheel prop stored enough energy to complete a few respectable flights, as well as suffer a few satisfyingly spectacular disintegrations.

As always, hats off to [Tom] for not being bashful about sharing his failures so we can all learn, and for the persistence to make his ideas take flight.

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Dambusting, R/C Style

Disclaimer: no dams were actually busted in the making of the video below. But that doesn’t mean that a scale-model homage to the WWII Dam Busters and their “Bouncing Bombs” isn’t worth doing, of course.

In a war filled with hacks, [Barnes Wallis]’ Bouncing Bomb concept might just be the hackiest. In the video below, [Tom Stanton] explains that [Wallis] came up with the idea of skipping a bomb across the surface of a lake to destroy enemy infrastructure after skipping marbles across the water. Using barrel-shaped bombs, he built a rig that could give them the proper amount of backspin and release them at just the right time, letting them skip across the surface of the lake while the bomber made an escape. Upon hitting the rim of the dam, the bomb would sink to explode near the base, maximizing damage.

[Tom]’s scale rig ended up being a clever design with spring-loaded arms to release a 3D-printed barrel after being spun up by a brushless motor. He teamed up with R/C builder [James Whomsley], who came up with a wonderful foam-board Lancaster bomber, just like RAF No. 617 Squadron used. With a calm day and smooth water on the lake they chose for testing, the R/C Lanc made a few test runs before releasing the first barrel bomb. The first run was a bit too steep, causing the bomb to just dive into the water without skipping. Technical problems and a crash landing foiled the second run, but the third run was perfect – the bomb skipped thrice while the plane banked gracefully away. [Tom] also tried a heavy-lift quadcopter run with the bomb rig, something [Barnes Wallis] couldn’t even have dreamed of back in the day.

Hats off to [Tom] and [James] for collaborating on this and getting the skipping to work. It reminds us a bit of the engineered approach to rock-skipping, though with less deadly intentions.

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Reaction Wheels Almost Control This Unusual Drone

When you think about all the forces that have to be balanced to keep a drone stable, it’s a wonder that the contraptions stay in the air at all. And when the only option for producing those forces is blowing around more or less air it’s natural to start looking for other, perhaps better ways to achieve flight control.

Taking a cue from the spacecraft industry, [Tom Stanton] decided to explore reaction wheels for controlling drones. The idea is simple – put a pair of relatively massive motorized wheels at right angles to each other on a drone, and use the forces they produce when they accelerate to control the drone’s pitch and roll. [Tom]’s video below gives a long and clear explanation of the physics involved before getting to the build, which results in an ungainly craft a little reminiscent of a lunar lander. The drone actually manages a few short, somewhat stable flights, but in general the reaction wheels don’t seem to be up to the task. [Tom] chalks this up to the fact that he’s using the current draw of each reaction wheel motor as a measure of its torque, which is not exactly correct for all situations. He suggests that motors with encoders might do a better job, but by the end of the video the little drone isn’t exactly in shape for continued experimentation.

Of course, dodgy reaction wheels don’t only cause problems with drones. They can also be a problem for spacecraft when the Sun gets fussy too.

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This Cube Is Made For Walkin’


Meet Cubli, a research project which aims to make a cube that can walk around without using any appendages. It’s a research project at the Institute for Dynamic Systems and control in Switzerland. Anyone else thinking about our beloved companion cube right now?

The robotic experiments are based on angular momentum. Inside of the cube there are center mounted motors which each spin a wheel. Three of these are mounted perpendicular to each other to give the cube the ability to change its position along any axis. This is best shown by the first video after the break where just a single side of the assembly is demonstrated. A square frame starts at a rest position. You see the wheel spin up and it is suddenly stopped, which causes the momentum of the wheel to pop the square frame up onto one corner. The wheel then switches into a second mode to keep it balancing there. The final mode is a controlled fall. This theoretically will let the cube move around by falling end over end. So far they’re not showing off that ability, but the second demo video does show the assembled cube balancing on one corner.

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Robot Gets Around On Lopsided Wheels

This concept robot uses angular momentum to roll around. You can see that on either end of the robot there are two discs which have been cut on one side to make them off-balance. For locomotion, two DC motors spin the outer discs which are not in contact with the floor. This spinning action exerts a force in the opposite direction on the body of the vehicle, causing it to move.

It’s not a perfect system and there is one major flaw with using this system. When the forces have equalized acceleration will stop and it will eventually come to a standstill. You can’t just stop spinning the motors because that will act as a braking mechanism. But still, it’s a concept we haven’t seen before and we love the experimentation that’s happening here. Take a look at the test footage after the break and don’t hesitate to let us know if this starts causing light bulbs to flip on above your head.

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