Multi-Channel Battery Monitor Aces First Sea Trial

A little over a a year ago, we covered an impressive battery monitor that [Timo Birnschein] was designing for his boat. With dedicated batteries for starting the engines, cranking over the generator, and providing power to lights and other amenities, the device had to keep tabs on several banks of cells to make sure no onboard systems were dipping into the danger zone. While it was still a work in progress, it seemed things were progressing along quickly.

But we know how it is. Sometimes a project unexpectedly goes from having your full attention to winning an all-expense-paid trip to the back burner. In this case, [Timo] only recently put the necessary finishing touches on his monitor and got it installed on the boat. Recent log entries on the project’s Hackaday.io page detail some of the changes made since the last time we checked in, and describe the successful first test of the system on the water.

Certainly the biggest issue that was preventing [Timo] from actually using the monitor previously was the lack of an enclosure and mounting system for it. He’s now addressed those points with his 3D printer, and in the write-up provides a few tips on shipboard ergonomics when it comes to mounting a display you’ll need to see from different angles.

The printed enclosure also allowed for the addition of some niceties like an integrated 7805 voltage regulator to provide a solid 5 V to the electronics, as well as a loud piezo beeper that will alert him to problems even when he can’t see the screen.

Under the hood he’s also made some notable software improvements. With the help of a newer and faster TFT display library, he’s created a more modern user interface complete with a color coded rolling graph to show voltages changes over time. There’s still a good chunk of screen real estate available, so he’s currently brainstorming other visualizations or functions to implement. The software isn’t using the onboard NRF24 radio yet, though with code space quickly running out on the Arduino Nano, there’s some concern about getting it implemented.

As we said the first time we covered this project, you don’t need to have a boat to learn a little something from the work [Timo] has put into his monitoring system. Whether you’re tracking battery voltages or temperatures reported by your BLE thermometers, a centralized dashboard that can collect and visualize that data is a handy thing to have.

A Modular System For Building Heavy Duty 18650 Battery Packs

With 18650 cells as cheap and plentiful as they are, you’d think building your own custom battery packs would be simple. Unfortunately, soldering the cells is tricky, and not everyone is willing to invest in a spot welding setup just to put the tabs on them. Of course that’s only half the battle, you’ll still want some battery protection and management onboard to protect the cells.

The lack of a good open source system for pulling all this together is why [Timothy Economu] created DKblock. Developed over the last three years, his open source system allows users to assemble large 18650 battery packs for electric vehicles or home energy storage, complete with integrated intelligent management and protection systems. Perhaps best of all there’s no welding required, the packs simply get bolted together.

Each block of batteries is assembled using screws and standoffs in conjunction with ABS plastic cell holders. A PCB is placed on each side of the stack, and with tabs not unlike what you’d see in a traditional battery compartment, all the cells get connected without having to solder or weld anything to them. This allows for the rapid assembly of battery packs from 7.2 VDC all the way up to 150 VDC , and means individual cells can easily be checked and replaced in the future should the need arise.

For monitoring the cells, a “Block Manager” board is installed on each block, which communicates wirelessly to a “Pack Supervisor” board that monitors the overall health of the system. Obviously, such a robust system is probably a bit overkill if you’re just looking to build a pack for your quadcopter, but if you’re looking to build a DIY Powerwall or juice up a custom electric vehicle, this could be the battery management system you’ve been looking for.