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 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.

Lessons In Li-Ion Safety

If you came here from an internet search because your battery just blew up and you don’t know how to put out the fire, then use a regular fire extinguisher if it’s plugged in to an outlet, or a fire extinguisher or water if it is not plugged in. Get out if there is a lot of smoke. For everyone else, keep reading.

I recently developed a product that used three 18650 cells. This battery pack had its own overvoltage, undervoltage, and overcurrent protection circuitry. On top of that my design incorporated a PTC fuse, and on top of that I had a current sensing circuit monitored by the microcontroller that controlled the board. When it comes to Li-Ion batteries, you don’t want to mess around. They pack a lot of energy, and if something goes wrong, they can experience thermal runaway, which is another word for blowing up and spreading fire and toxic gasses all over. So how do you take care of them, and what do you do when things go poorly?

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Five Channel Monitor Keeps Boat Batteries Shipshape

While those of us stuck sailing desks might not be able to truly appreciate the problem, [Timo Birnschein] was tired of finding that some of the batteries aboard his boat had gone flat. He wanted some way to check the voltage on all of the the batteries in the system simultaneously and display the information in a central location, and not liking anything on the commercial market he decided to build it himself.

Even for those who don’t hear the call of the sea, this is a potentially useful project. Any system that has multiple batteries could benefit from a central monitor that can show you voltages at a glance, but [Timo] is actually going one better than that. With the addition of a nRF24 module, the battery monitor will also be able to wireless transmit the status of the batteries to…something. He actually hasn’t implemented that feature yet, but some way of getting the data into the computer so it can be graphed over time seems like a natural application.

The bill of materials is pretty short on this one. Beyond the aforementioned nRF24 module, the current version of the monitor features an Arduino Nano clone, a 128×160 SPI TFT display, and a handful of passives.

Knowing that a perfboard wouldn’t last long on the high seas, [Timo] even routed his own PCB for this project. We suspect there’s some kind of watertight enclosure in this board’s future, but it looks like things are still in the early phases. It will be interesting to follow along with this one and see how it eventually gets integrated in to the boat’s electrical system.

If you’re looking for a way to keep an eye on the voltages aboard your land ship, this battery monitor disguised as an automotive relay is still the high-water mark in our book.

ESP8266 Keeps An Eye On Your Batteries

There are many more things to know about a battery than its voltage and current output at any given moment, and most of them can’t be measured with a standard multimeter unless you also stand there for a long time with an Excel spreadsheet. The most useful information is battery capacity, which can tell you how much time is left until the battery is fully charged or fully discharged. [TJ] set out to create a battery data harvester, and used the ubiquitous ESP8266 to make a fully-featured battery monitor.

Measuring battery capacity is pretty straightforward but it does take time. A battery is first benchmarked to find its ideal capacity, and then future voltage and current readings can be taken and compared to the benchmark test to determine the present capacity of the battery. The ESP8266 is a relatively good choice for this kind of work. Its WiFi connection allows it to report its information to a server which will store the data and make it available for the user to see.

The first page of this project details building the actual module, and the second page outlines how to get that module to communicate with the server. Once you’ve built all of this, you can use it to monitor your whole-house UPS backup system or the battery in your solar-powered truck. There is quite a bit of information available on the project site for recreating the build yourself, and there’s also a video below which shows its operation.

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