PackProbe Reports Laptop Battery Health

The 18650 cell has become a ubiquitous standard in the lithium battery world. From power drills to early Tesla vehicles, these compact cells power all manner of portable devices. A particularly common use is in laptop batteries, where they’re often built into a pack using the Smart Battery System. This creates a smart battery that can communicate and report on its own status. PackProbe is a software tool built to communicate with these batteries, and you might just find it comes in handy.

The code runs on the WiFi-enabled Arduino Yún by default, but can be easily modified to suit other Arduino platforms. Communicating over SMBus using the Arduino’s I2C hardware, it’s capable of working with the vast majority of laptop batteries out there which comply with the Smart Battery System. With that standard being minted in 1994, it’s spread far and wide these days.

It’s a great way to harvest not only the specifications and manufacturing details of your laptop battery pack, but also to check on the health of the battery. This can give a clear idea over whether the battery is still usable, as well as whether the cells are worth harvesting for those in the recycling business.

You’re not limited to just the Arduino, though. There’s a similar tool available for the ESP8266, too.

New Part Day: SMD Batteries

Here’s a tip for all you retrocomputing enthusiasts or even anyone with an old computer in the garage. Go remove the battery. Yes, that old mid-90s desktop has a battery inside for the real-time clock, and it’s a ticking time bomb. Batteries leak, and they’ll spew goo all over the circuit board, irreparably damaging your piece of electronic nostalgia. This goes for all electronics, too: that badge collection is going to be a pile of broken fiberglass in a decade. Remove your batteries now.

While lithium cells soldered to a motherboard will leak, now there might be a new technology that will allow our modern electronics to last for decades. It’s a solid state battery. The FDK Corporation is now handing out samples of a battery that looks like a large SMD cap. They come on tape and reel, and they’ll never leak.

Thanks to massive investments in battery research, batteries are getting more power-dense, and form factors are getting weird. Your AirPods need a battery somewhere, and manufacturers are figuring out the best way to put a battery into something that can be assembled by a pick and place machine. This battery is the answer to these problems, packing a 3.0 V, 140 μAh lithium cobalt pyrophosphate cell into a package that is just 4 mm by 2 mm by 2 mm. It’s a battery that looks a surface mount component, and it’s installed the same way: this is a pick-and-placeable battery.

While the capacity of this battery is tiny — a 1225 coin cell has a capacity of about 50 mAh, and this battery has a capacity of 140 μAh, three whole orders of magnitude smaller — sometimes that’s all you need. If you need a battery for a RTC, this SMD battery will work.

How Smart Is The Grid?

Marketing and advertising groups often have a tendency to capitalize on technological trends faster than engineers and users can settle into the technology itself. Perhaps it’s no surprise that it is difficult to hold back the motivation to get a product to market and profit. Right now the most glaring example is the practice of carelessly putting WiFi in appliances and toys and putting them on the Internet of Things, but there is a similar type of fiasco playing out in the electric power industry as well. Known as the “smart grid”, an effort is underway to modernize the electric power grid in much the same way that the Internet of Things seeks to modernize household appliances, but to much greater and immediate benefit.

A Cutler-Hammer industrial breaker ominously predicts the coming confusion in the smart grid arena.
Photo by Bryan Cockfield

To that end, if there’s anything in need of modernization it’s the electric grid. Often still extensively using technology that was pioneered in the 1800s like synchronous generators and transformers (not to mention metering and billing techniques that were perfected before the invention of the transistor), there is a lot of opportunity to add oversight and connectivity to almost every part of the grid from the power plant to the customer. Additionally, most modern grids are aging rapidly at the same time that we are asking them to carry more and more electricity. Modernization can also help the aging infrastructure become more efficient at delivering energy.

While the term “smart grid” is as nebulous and as ill-defined as “Internet of Things” (even the US Government’s definition is muddied and vague), the smart grid actually has a unifying purpose behind it and, so far, has been an extremely useful way to bring needed improvements to the power grid despite the lack of a cohesive definition. While there’s no single thing that suddenly transforms a grid into a smart grid, there are a lot of things going on at once that each improve the grid’s performance and status reporting ability.

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PSA: Don’t Let Kids Eat Lithium Batteries

We get a lot of press releases at Hackaday, but this one was horrific enough that we thought it was worth sharing. Apparently, some kids are accidentally eating lithium coin cell batteries. When this happens with bigger cells, usually greater than 20 millimeters (CR2032, CR2025, and CR2016) really bad things happen. Like burning esophaguses, and even death.

The National Capital Poison Center has done some research on this, and found that 14% of batteries swallowed over the past two years came from flameless candles like the ones above. We know some of our readers also deal with batteries in open trays, which are apparently pretty dangerous for children.

The National Capital Poison Center’s website has an entire page dedicated to battery safety, which is probably worth a read if you deal with batteries and small children on a regular basis. Should an incident occur, there’s even a hotline to call for assistance.

So, please, don’t swallow batteries, or let children put them in their mouths. After the break, a Canadian PSA song about not putting things in your mouth.

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Counting Laps And Testing Products With OpenCV

It’s been about a year and a half since the Batteroo, formally known as Batteriser, was announced as a crowdfunding project. The premise is a small sleeve that goes around AA and AAA batteries, boosting the voltage to extract more life out of them. [Dave Jones] at EEVblog was one of many people to question the product, which claimed to boost battery life by 800%.

Batteroo did manage to do something many crowdfunding projects can’t: deliver a product. Now that the sleeves are arriving to backers, people are starting to test them in the wild. In fact, there’s an entire thread of tests happening over on EEVblog.

One test being run is a battery powered train, running around a track until the battery dies completely. [Frank Buss] wanted to run this test, but didn’t want to manually count the laps the train made. He whipped up a script in Python and OpenCV to automate the counting.

The script measures laps by setting two zones on the track. When the train enters the first zone, the counter is armed. When it passes through the second zone, the lap is recorded. Each lap time is kept, ensuring good data for comparing the Batteroo against a normal battery.

The script gives a good example for people wanting to play with computer vision. The source is available on Github. As for the Batteroo, we’ll await further test results before passing judgement, but we’re not holding our breath. After all, the train ran half as long when using a Batteroo.

Hackathon Alert: Clean Tech At TVCoG

At Hackaday, we get notified of a lot of the cool events going on in hackerspaces all around the world. We’d like to keep you informed too, just in case there’s something going on in your neighborhood.

So we’re going to start running a weekly column on Saturdays that groups together all of the upcoming week’s exceptional events and noteworthy gatherings. If your hackerspace has something going on, tell us about your event on or around the preceding Wednesday. We’ll see your space in on Hackaday!
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Converting An Electric Scooter To Lithium Batteries And Disabling The Safeties

There’s a bunch of different electric scooters available nowadays, including those hoverboards that keep catching fire. [TK] had an older Razor E300 that uses lead acid batteries. After getting tired of the low speeds and 12 hour charge times, [TK] decided it was time to swap for lithium batteries.

The new batteries were sourced from a Ryobi drill. Each provides 18 V, giving 36 V in series. The original batteries only ran at 24 V, which caused some issues with the motor controller. It refused to start up with the higher voltage. The solution: disable the safety shutdown relay on the motor controller by bridging it with a wire.

With the voltage issue sorted out, it was time for the current limit to be modified. This motor controller uses a TI TL494 to generate the PWM waveforms that drive a MOSFET to provide variable power to the motor. Cutting the trace to the TL494’s current sense pin removed the current limit all together.

We’re not saying it’s advisable to disable all current and voltage limits on your scooter, but it seems to be working out for [TK]. The $200 scooter now does 28 km/h, up from 22 km/h and charges much faster. With gearing mods, he’s hoping to eke out some more performance.

After the break, the full conversion video.

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