Assemble Your Own Modular Li-Ion Batteries

Low-voltage DC power electronics are an exciting field right now. Easy access to 18650 battery cells and an abundance of used Li-Ion cells from laptops, phones, etc. has opened the door for hackers building their own battery packs from these cheap cells. A big issue has been the actual construction of a pack that can handle your individual power needs. If you’re just assembling a pack to drive a small LED, you can probably get by with spring contacts. When you need to power an e-bike or other high power application, you need a different solution. A spot welder that costs $1000 is probably the best tool, but out of most hackers’ budget. A better solution is needed.

Vruzend v2 Battery Caps.

Enter [Micah Toll] and his Vruzend battery connectors, whose Kickstarter campaign has exceded its goal several times over. These connectors snap onto the ends of standard 18650 cells, and slot together to form a custom-sized battery pack. Threaded rods extend from each plastic cap to enable connection to a bus bar with just a single nut. The way that you connect each 18650 cell determines the battery pack’s voltage and current capability. There are a couple of versions of the connector available through the campaign, and the latest version 2.0 should allow some tremendously powerful battery pack designs. The key upgrade is that it now features corrosion-resistant, high-power nickel-plated copper busbars allowing current up to 20A continuous. A side benefit of these caps instead of welded tabs is that you can easily swap out battery cells if one fails or degrades over time. Continue reading “Assemble Your Own Modular Li-Ion Batteries”

Fail Of The Week: An Electric Bicycle, Powered By AA Batteries

Very slowly, some very cool parts are coming out on the market that will make for some awesome builds. Supercapacitors are becoming a thing, and every year, the price of these high power supercaps go a little lower, and the capacity gets a little higher. It’s really only a matter of time before someone hacks some supercaps into an application that’s never been seen before. The Navy is doing it with railguns, and [David] is building an electric bike, powered by AA batteries. While [David]’s bike technically works with the most liberal interpretation of ‘technically’, it’s the journey that counts here.

This project began as an investigation into using supercapacitors in an electric bicycle. Supercaps have an energy density very much above regular capacitors, but far behind lithium cells. Like lithium cells, they need a charge balancer, but if you manage to get everything right you can trickle charge them while still being able to dump all that power in seconds. It’s the perfect application for a rail gun, or for slightly more pedestrian applications, an electric bike with a hill assist button. The idea for this build would be to charge supercaps from a bank of regular ‘ol batteries, and zoom up a hill with about fifteen seconds of assistance.

The design of the pulsed power DC supply is fairly straightforward, with a mouthful of batteries feeding the supercap array through boost regulators, and finally going out to the motor through another set of regulators. Unfortunately, this project never quite worked out. Everything worked; it’s just this isn’t the application for the current generation of supercapacitors. There’s not enough energy density in [David]’s 100F supercaps, and the charging speed from a bunch of AA batteries is slow. For fifteen minutes of charging, [David] gets about fifteen seconds of boost on his bike. That’s great if you only ever have one hill to climb, but really useless in the real world.

That doesn’t mean this project was a complete failure. [David] now has a handy, extremely resilient array of supercaps that will charge off of anything and provide a steady 24V for a surprising amount of time. Right now, he’s using this scrapped project as a backup power supply for his 3D printer. That 100 Watt heated bed slurps down the electrons, but with this repurposed supercap bank, it can survive a 20 second power outage.

It’s a great project, and even if the technology behind supercaps isn’t quite ready to be used as a boost button on an electric bike, it’s still a great example of DIY ingenuity. You can check out [David]’s demo of the supercap bank in action below.

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Recharging Drones On The Go With A Supercharger

If Techcrunch is to be believed, our skies will soon be filled with delivery robots, ferrying tacos and Chinese food and Amazon purchases from neighborhood-area dispatch stations to your front door. All of this is predicated on the ability of quadcopters to rapidly recharge their batteries, or at the very least swap out batteries automatically.

For their Hackaday Prize entry, [frasanz], [ferminduaso], and [david canas] are building the infrastructure that will make delivery drones possible. It’s a drone supercharger, or a robot that grabs a drone, swaps out the battery, and sends it off to deliver whatever is in its cargo compartment.

This build is a droneport of sorts, designed to have a drone land on it, have a few stepper motors and movable arms spring into action, and replace the battery with a quick-change mechanism. This can be significantly more difficult than it sounds — you need to grab the drone and replace the battery, something that’s easy for human eyes and hands, but much harder for a few sensors and aluminum extrusion.

To change batteries, the team is just letting the drone land somewhere on a platform that’s a few feet square. Arms then move it, pushing the drone to the center, and a second arm then moves in to swap the battery. The team is using an interesting locking cam solution to clamp the battery to the drone. It’s much easier for a machine to connect than the standard XT-60 connector found on race quads.

Is this the project the world needs? Quite possibly so. Drones are going to be awesome once battery life improves. Until then, we’ll have to live with limited flight times and drone superchargers.

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Giving A 6th Generation iPod A New Lease On Life

It can be disheartening when a favoured device begins to break-down. Afflicted by an all-but-dead battery and a fritzing-out hard drive, Redditor [cswimc] sensed the imminent doom creeping up on their 6th generation iPod, and responded by reviving and upgrading the decrepit device instead!

It’s no easy task to crack open one of these things, so they found themselves taking their time and carefully wedging the pry tool between the front and back covers, working their way around the exterior. Once separated, gingerly disconnecting the few ribbon cables allowed the iPod to be opened fully. From there, they turned to  swapping out the original hard drive for an iFlash dual SD card board — one of the cards turned out to be a dud, but 128GB is still a step up from 80GB — and a new 3000mAh battery. Combined with replacing the power-hungry HDD, the battery life has been overwhelmingly increased over the original’s 650mAh capacity!

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Great Emergency Lights from Not-So-Great UPS

We know your shame. Like you, we wanted to save some scratch and bought the bottom-of-the-range UPS, only to discover that it is no use to man or beast as it lacks the power to perform any reasonable task. It’s now sitting in a corner, to gather dust as its batteries deteriorate.

Not so fast with the UPS abandonment! [rue_mohr] came up with a modification for a small APC UPS that turned it into something a little more useful. Removing the mains inverter from the picture with a few displaced wires and PCB mod, the UPS is now a 12V battery with a mains charger and power outage detection built-in. In this state it’s the perfect power pack for some 12V LED strips used for emergency lighting. There is a handy 3D print that fits the rear socket cut-outs on the US version of the device and provides apertures  for a pair of DC power jacks.

This is a relatively simple hack, but we like it for taking the focus away from the obvious part of the UPS, its mains inverter, and turning to the batteries as the main event. It’s a relatively tiny device, but in the past we’ve featured a UPS at the other end of the scale being used for power back-up to a whole house. Meanwhile we’d like to take a leaf from the [BOFH]’s book, and recommend that the most important piece of infrastructure requiring a UPS is the sysadmin’s coffee machine.

Solar Power In A Can!

When spending time camping, people often bring lanterns, flashlights, and the like — you might even bring along a solar charger. Instructables user [bennelson] is combining all your electrical powered needs by cramming solar power into a can.

Already designed to resist the elements, [bennelson] is using a 50cal. ammo can for a portable enclosure. Inside, he’s siliconed a 15AH, 12V lead-acid battery in the centre to maintain balance and to leave room for the wiring and storage. One cardboard mockup later, he laser-cut the top panel from 1/8″ plywood and secured a 20A solar charge controller, a four-in-one socket panel, and two banana plugs on its top face.

[bennelson] is using 12 AWG wire to match the 20A rating of the solar charge controller — including a fuse for safety — and lever lock-nut connectors to resolve some wiring complications. Industrial velcro keeps the top panel in place and easily removed should the need arise. When he’s out camping, he uses an 18V, 1A solar panel to charge, but can still use a DC power adapter to charge from the grid. Check out the full build video after the break!

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Monitor Power Consumption of Low-Power Devices

Perhaps the most important consideration to make when designing a battery-operated device of any kind is the power consumption. Keeping it running for longer between battery changes is often a key design point. To that end, if you need to know how small programming changes will impact the power consumption of your device then [Daniel] has a great tool that you might find helpful: an ESP8266-based live power meter.

The power meter itself is battery-powered via a 600 mAh battery and monitors an e-paper module, which also displays information about power consumption. It runs using a NodeMCU and measures voltage and current across a 100-ohm resistor to calculate the power use, although the resolution does start to get noisy when the device is in standby/sleep mode. One presumes this could be solved by changing the value of the resistor in order to get more accurate measurements at the expense of losing accuracy during moments of high power consumption.

While this power monitor was built specifically to monitor power consumption on this particular e-paper display project, it should be easily portable into other battery-based systems that need fine tuning in order to maximize battery life. As a bonus, the display is already included in the project. There are ways of getting even more information about your battery usage, although if power consumption is important than you may want to stick with a more straightforward tool like this one.