Dissecting the Elusive Wax Motor

We’d wager most readers aren’t intimately acquainted with wax motors. In fact, a good deal of you have probably never heard of them, let alone used one in a project. Which isn’t exactly surprising, as they’re very niche and rarely used outside of HVAC systems and some appliances. But they’re fascinating devices, and once you’ve seen how they work, you might just figure out an application for one.

[AvE] recently did a complete teardown on a typical wax motor, going as far as cutting the thing in half to show the inner workings. Now we’ve seen some readers commenting that everyone’s favorite foul-mouthed destroyer of consumer goods has lost his edge, that his newer videos are more about goofing off than anything. Well we can’t necessarily defend his signature linguistic repertoire, but we can confidently say this video does an excellent job of explaining these little-known gadgets.

The short version is that a wax motor, which is really a linear actuator, operates on the principle that wax expands when it melts. If a solid block of wax is placed in a cylinder, it can push on a piston during the phase change from solid to liquid. As the liquid wax resists compression, the wax motor has an exceptionally high output force for such a small device. The downside is, the stroke length is usually rather short: for the one [AvE] demonstrates, it’s on the order of 2 mm.

By turning heat directly into mechanical energy, wax motors are often used to open valves and vents when they’ve reached a specific temperature. The common automotive engine thermostat is a classic example of a wax motor, and they’re commonly found inside of dishwashers as a way to open the soap dispenser at the proper time during the cycle.

This actually isn’t the first time we’ve featured an in-depth look at wax motors, but [AvE] actually cutting this one in half combined with the fact that the video doesn’t look like it was filmed on a 1980’s camera makes it worth revisiting the subject. Who is going to build a wax motor power device for the Power Harvesting Challenge in the 2018 Hackaday Prize?

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Mechanisms: The Reed Switch

Just about everywhere you go, there’s a reed switch nearby that’s quietly going about its work. Reed switches are so ubiquitous that you’re probably never more than a few feet away from one at any given time, especially at home or in the car. You might have them on your doors and windows as part of a burglar alarm system. They keep your washing machine from running when the lid is open, and they put your laptop to sleep when you close the lid. They know if the car has enough brake fluid and whether or not your seat belt is fastened.

Reed switches are interesting devices with a ton of domestic and industrial applications. We call them switches, but they’re also sensors. In fact, they only do the work of a switch while they can sense a magnetic field. They are capable of switching AC or DC at low and high voltages, but they don’t need electricity to work. Since they’re sealed in glass, they are impervious to dirt, dust, corrosion, temperature swings, and explosive environments. They’re cheap, they’re durable, and in low-current applications they can last for about a billion actuations.

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We’ve Got It Down PAT: Appliance Electrical Safety Testing

Everywhere we look in our everyday lives, from our bench to our bedroom, there are the ubiquitous electrical cords of mains-powered appliances. We don’t give our electrical devices a second thought, but in addition to their primary purpose they all perform the function of keeping us safe from the dangerous mains voltages delivered from our wall sockets.

Of course, we’ve all had appliances that have become damaged. How often have you seen a plug held together with electrical tape, or a cord with some of its outer sheath missing? It’s something that we shouldn’t do, but it’s likely many readers are guiltily shuffling a particular piece of equipment out of the way at the moment.

In most countries there are electrical regulations which impose some level of electrical safety on commercial premises. Under those regulations, all appliances must be regularly tested, and any appliances that fail the tests must be either repaired or taken out of service

In the United Kingdom,where this piece is being written, the law in question is the Electricity At Work Regulations 1989, which specifies the maintenance of electrical safety and that there should be evidence of regular maintenance of electrical appliances. It doesn’t specify how this should be done, but the way this is usually achieved is by a set of electrical tests whose official name: “In-service Inspection & Testing of Electrical Equipment”, isn’t very catchy. Thus “Portable Appliance Testing”, or PAT, is how the process is usually referred to. Join me after the break for an overview of the PAT system.

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IoT-ify All Things: LG Has Gone Overboard

If you been following Hackaday lately, you’ve surely noticed an increased number of articles about IoT-ifying stuff. It’s a cool project to take something old (or new) and improve its connectivity, usually via WiFi, making it part of the Internet of Things. Several easy to use modules, in particular the ESP8266, are making a huge contribution to this trend. It’s satisfactory to see our homes with an ESP8266 in every light switch and outlet or to control our old stereo with our iPhone. It gives us a warm fuzzy feeling. And that’s completely fine for one’s personal projects.

But what happens when this becomes mainstream? When literally all our appliances are ‘connected’ in the near future? The implications might be a lot harder to predict than expected. The near future, it seems, starts now.

This year, at CES, LG Electronics (LG) has introduced Smart InstaView™, a refrigerator that’s powered by webOS smart platform and integrated with Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service.

… with webOS, consumers can also explore a host of WiFi-enabled features directly on the refrigerator, creating a streamlined and powerful food management system all housed directly on the front of the fridge door. Amazon’s Alexa Voice Service gives users access to an intelligent personal assistant that, in addition to searching recipes, can play music, place Prime-eligible orders from Amazon.com…

This is ‘just’ a fridge. There are other WiFi-enabled appliances by now, so what?  Apparently, during the LG press conference last Wednesday, the company marketing VP David VanderWaal said that from 2017 on, all of LG’s home appliances will feature “advanced Wi-Fi connectivity”.

Notice the word advanced, we wonder what that means? Will ‘advanced’ mean complicated? Mesh? Secure? Intelligent? Will our toaster finally break the Internet and ruin it for everyone by the end of the year? Will the other big players in the home appliances market jump in the WiFi wagon? We bet the answer is yes.

Here be dragons.

[via Ars Technica]

Starting to Wrap Up Maker Faire

It’s almost a week since the NYC Maker Faire, and it’s about time for us to start wrapping up all the posts we’re doing on everything we’ve seen.

DSC_0216[Chris Mitchell], hackaday favorite from Cemetech did what he always does at Maker Faire: brought some stuff he’s doing with TI graphing calculators.

The TI-84 with GPS made a showing, as did the graphing calculator IRC client. By far the coolest looking calculator was the wooden casemod. It’s a TI-82 put into a (what feels and looks like) a maple enclosure. The buttons are painted on, and despite stuffing consumer electronics into a handmade case, it’s still reasonable portable.

DSC_0201There were more Hackaday fans at the faire, but I’m not sure if anyone can beat the guys from Protopalette. Wait. One guy could. Find me in public sometime and I’ll tell you about that.

The Protopalette is a board with a bunch of lights, buttons, switches, sensors, knobs, servos, and buzzers for electronics prototyping. Think of it as a stylized version of the old ‘parts and springs and wire’ radio shack beginner electronic kits.

DSC_0160

Some of the members of the hackerspace with the craziest group narrative, LVL1 in Louisville, made it to the faire. They’re working with GE to create a ‘maker module’ for appliances. It’s called Green Bean, and GE is actually building support for this into some of their fridges, washers, stoves and dishwashers.

There are a few modules already, like a scale that will send out a message when you’re out of milk. It’s an interesting system, and there are already a lot of appliances that support the system.

Pics below.

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