Low-Power Wi-Fi Includes E-Paper Display

Designing devices that can operate in remote environments on battery power is often challenging, especially if the devices need to last a long time between charges or battery swaps. Thankfully there are some things available that make these tasks a little easier, such as e-ink or e-paper displays which only use power when making changes to the display. That doesn’t solve all of the challenges of low-power devices, but [Albertas] shows us a few other tricks with this development board.

The platform is designed around an e-paper display and is meant to be used in places where something like sensor data needs to not only be collected, but also displayed. It also uses the ESP32C3 microcontroller as a platform which is well-known for its low power capabilities, and additionally has an on-board temperature and humidity sensor. With Bluetooth included as well, the tiny device can connect to plenty of wireless networks while consuming a remarkably low 34 µA in standby.

With a platform like this that can use extremely low power when not taking measurements, a battery charge can last a surprisingly long time. And, since it is based on common components, adding even a slightly larger battery would not be too difficult and could greatly extend this capability as well. But, we have seen similar builds running on nothing more than a coin cell, so doing so might only be necessary in the most extreme of situations.

That Cheap USB Charger Could Be Costly

[Big Clive] picked up a keychain battery to charge his phone and found out that it was no bargain. Due to a wiring mistake, the unit was wired backward, delivering -5 V instead of 5 V. The good news is that it gave him an excuse to tear the thing open and see what was inside. You can see the video of the teardown below.

The PCB had the correct terminals marked G and 5 V, it’s just that the red wire for the USB connector was attached to G, and the black wire was connected to 5 V. Somewhat surprisingly, the overall circuit and PCB design was pretty good. It was simply a mistake in manufacturing and, of course, shows a complete lack of quality assurance testing.

The circuit was essentially right out of the data sheet, but it was faithfully reproduced. We should probably test anything like this before plugging it into a device, but we typically don’t. Does our phone protect against reverse polarity? Don’t know, and we don’t want to find out. [Clive] also noted that the battery capacity was overstated as well, but frankly, we’ve come to expect that with cheap gadgets like this.

This isn’t, of course, the first phone charger teardown we’ve seen. This probably isn’t as deadly as the USB killer, but we still wouldn’t want to risk it.

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Morse Code Clock For Training Hams

It might seem antiquated, but Morse code still has a number of advantages compared to other modes of communication, especially over radio waves. It’s low bandwidth compared to voice or even text, and can be discerned against background noise even at extremely low signal strengths. Not every regulatory agency requires amateur operators to learn Morse any more, but for those that do it can be a challenge, so [Cristiano Monteiro] built this clock to help get some practice.

The project is based around his favorite microcontroller, the PIC16F1827, and uses a DS1307 to keep track of time. A single RGB LED at the top of the project enclosure flashes the codes for hours in blue and minutes in red at the beginning of every minute, and in between flashes green for each second.

Another design goal of this build was to have it operate with as little power as possible, so with a TP4056 control board, single lithium 18650 battery, and some code optimization, [Cristiano] believes he can get around 60 days of operation between charges.

For a project to help an aspiring radio operator learn Morse, a simple build like this can go a long way. For anyone else looking to build something similar we’d note that the DS1307 has a tendency to drift fairly quickly, and something like a DS3231 or even this similar Morse code clock which uses NTP would go a long way to keeping more accurate time.

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Researchers Find “Inert” Components In Batteries Lead To Cell Self-Discharge

When it comes to portable power, lithium-ion batteries are where it’s at. Unsurprisingly, there’s a lot of work being done to better understand how to maximize battery life and usable capacity.

Red electrolytic solution, which should normally be clear.

While engaged in such work, [Dr. Michael Metzger] and his colleagues at Dalhousie University opened up a number of lithium-ion cells that had been subjected to a variety of temperatures and found something surprising: the electrolytic solution within was a bright red when it was expected to be clear.

It turns out that PET — commonly used as an inert polymer in cell assembly — releases a molecule that leads to self-discharge of the cells when it breaks down, and this molecule was responsible for the color change. The molecule is called a redox shuttle, because it travels back and forth between the cathode and the anode. This is how an electrochemical cell works, but the problem is this happens all the time, even when the battery isn’t connected to anything, causing self-discharge.

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A cartoon vehicle is connected to two wires. One is connected to an illustrated Li anode and the other to a γ-sulfur/carbon nanofiber electrode. Lithium ions and organic carbonate representations float between the two electrodes below the car. A red dotted line between the electrodes symbolizes the separator.

Lithium Sulfur Battery Cycle Life Gets A Boost

Lithium sulfur batteries are often touted as the next major chemistry for electric vehicle applications, if only their cycle life wasn’t so short. But that might be changing soon, as a group of researchers at Drexel University has developed a sulfur cathode capable of more than 4000 cycles.

Most research into the Li-S couple has used volatile ether electrolytes which severely limit the possible commercialization of the technology. The team at Drexel was able to use a carbonate electrolyte like those already well-explored for more traditional Li-ion cells by using a stabilized monoclinic γ-sulfur deposited on carbon nanofibers.

The process to create these cathodes appears less finicky than previous methods that required tight control of the porosity of the carbon host and also increases the amount of active material in the cathode by a significant margin. Analysis shows that this phase of sulfur avoids the formation of intermediate fouling polysulfides which accounts for it’s impressive cycle life. As the authors state, this is far from a commercial-ready system, but it is a major step toward the next generation of batteries.

We’ve covered the elements lithium and sulfur in depth before as well as an aluminum sulfur battery that could be big for grid storage.

Blinky Business Card Plays Snake And Connect Four

There’s no better way to introduce yourself than handing over a blinky PCB business card and challenging the recipient to a game of Connect Four. And if [Dennis Kaandorp] turns up early for a meeting, he can keep himself busy playing the ever popular game of Snake on his PCB business card.

The tabs are 19 mm long and 4 mm wide.
The tabs are 19 mm long and 4 mm wide.

Quite wisely, [Dennis] kept his design simple, and avoided the temptation of feature creep. His requirements were to create a minimalist, credit card sized design, with his contact details printed on the silk legend, and some blinky LED’s.

The tallest component on such a design is usually the battery holder, and he could not find one that was low-profile and cheap. Drawing inspiration from The Art of Blinky Business Cards, he used the 0.8 mm thin PCB itself as the battery holder by means of flexible arms.

Connect-Four is a two player game similar to tic-tac-toe, but played on a grid seven columns across and six rows high. This meant using 42 dual-colour LED’s, which would require a large number of GPIO pins on the micro-controller. Using a clever combination of matrix and charlieplexing techniques, he was able to reduce the GPIO count down to 13 pins, while still managing to keep the track layout simple.

It also took him some extra effort to locate dual colour, red / green LED’s with a sufficiently low forward voltage drop that could work off the reduced output resulting from the use of charlieplexing. At the heart of the business card is an ATtiny1616 micro-controller that offers enough GPIO pins for the LED matrix as well as the four push button switches.

His first batch of prototypes have given him a good insight on the pricing and revealed several deficiencies that he can improve upon the next time around. [Dennis] has shared KiCad schematic and PCB layout files for anyone looking to get inspired to design their own PCB business cards.

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Fool A Drone With A Fixed Battery

Lithium-ion and lithium-polymer rechargeable batteries have given us previously impossible heights of electronics power and miniaturization, but there’s a downside they have brought along with them. When a battery pack has to contain electronics for balancing cells, it’s very easy for a manufacturer to include extra functions such as locking down the battery. Repair a battery, replace cells, or use a third-party battery, and it won’t work. [Zolly] has this with a DJI Mavic Mini pack, and shares with us a method for bypassing it.

The pack talks to the multi-rotor with a serial line, and the hack involves interrupting that line at the opportune moment to stop it telling its host that things are amiss. Which is a good start — but we can’t help hacing some misgivings around the rest of the work. Disconnecting the balance line between the two cells and fooling the Battery Management System (BMS) with a resistive divider seems to us like a recipe of disaster, as does bypassing the protection MOSFETs with a piece of wire. It may work, and in theory the cells can be charged safely with an external balance charger, but we’re not sure we’d like to have a pack thus modified lying around the shop.

It does serve as a reminder that BMS boards can sometimes infuriatingly lock their owners out. We once encountered this with a second-generation iBook battery that came back to life after a BMS reset, but it’s still not something to go into unwarily. Read our guide to battery packs and BMS boards to know more.

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