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.

Wireless Mouse Power-Up: Logitech MX Master Gets USB-C And Big Battery

When the internal rechargeable battery in his wireless mouse died, [cmot17] decided it was the perfect excuse for making a couple of modifications. The Logitech MX Master isn’t exactly a budget mouse to begin with, but that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. With the addition of a larger battery and USB-C charging port, a very nice mouse just got even better.

As it turns out, there’s plenty of empty space inside the Logitech MX Master, which made it easy to add a larger battery. The original 500 mAh pack was replaced with a new 950 mAh one, which is often sold under the model number 603443. Realistically, if you wanted to go even bigger it looks like any three wire 3.7 V Li-Po pack would probably work in this application, but nearly doubling the capacity is already a pretty serious bump.

Adding the USB-C connector ended up being quite a bit trickier. [cmot17] ordered a breakout board from Adafruit that was just a little too large to fit inside the mouse. In the end, not only did some of the case need to get cut away internally, but the breakout PCB itself got a considerable trimming. Once it was shoehorned in there, a healthy dose of hot glue was used to make sure nothing shifts around.

Since [cmot17] didn’t change the mouse’s original electronics, the newly upgraded Logitech MX Master won’t actually benefit from the faster charging offered by USB-C. If anything, it’s actually going to charge slower thanks to the beefier battery. But considering how infrequently it will need to be charged with the upgraded capacity (Logitech advertised 40 days with the original 500 mAh battery), we don’t think it will be a problem.

Over the years, we’ve seen plenty of stuff crammed into the lowly mouse. Everything from a full computer, to malicious firmware code has been grafted onto that most ubiquitous of computer peripherals. So in the grand scheme of things, this is perhaps one of the most practical mouse modifications to ever grace these pages.

Custom Electric Motorcycle Packs 6 KW

If you only need to travel at around 25 mph around town or to get a short distance to work, an electric bicycle might just be the best thing you can ride. It’s cheap, quick, and fun, and sometimes a great way to get some exercise too. If you want to dial up the amount of excitement, though, you’re going to want something with a little more power and speed. Something like an old dirt bike converted to a 6 kW electric motorcycle.

This is the latest build from [Boom Electric Cycles] and uses the frame from an early-90s Suzuki dirt bike as the foundation. From there it’s all new, though, as the engine was removed and replaced with 3 kW hub motors in each of the wheels. A 72-volt custom battery with 240 18650 cells pushed the amps through the motors, making this bike able to keep up anywhere except the fastest highways (if it’s street legal at all…).

Having about eight times more power than is found in a typical electric bicycle is sure to be a blast, but this build isn’t quite finished yet. Some of the trim panels need to be finished and the suspension needs to be adjusted, but it looks like it’ll be out and about any day now. Until then you’ll have to be satisfied with other projects that managed to cram in 3 kW per wheel.

Portable Pi Power Pack Makes For Petite Projects

Since the Pi Zero was released, there have been many attempts to add a power bank. Cell phone batteries are about the same size as a Pi Zero, after all, and adding a USB charging port and soldering a few wires to a Pi is easy. The PiSugar is perhaps the cutest battery pack we’ve seen for the Pi Zero, and it comes in a variety of Hats compatible with the Pi, capable of becoming a small display, a keyboard, or any other thing where a small, portable Linux machine is useful.

The core of this build is a small circuit board the size of a Pi Zero. Attached to this board is a 900mAh battery, and the entire assembly is attached to the Pi Zero with a set of two spring clips that match up with with a pair of pads on the back of the Pi. Screw both of these boards together, and you have a perfect, cableless solution to adding power to a Pi Zero.

But the PiSugar doesn’t stop there. There are also cases, for a 1.3 inch LCD top, a 2.13 inch ePaper display, an OLED display, a camera, a 4G module, and something that just presents the pins from the Pi GPIO header. This is an entire platform, and if you print these parts in white plastic, they look like tiny little sugar cubes filled to the brim with electronics and Linux goodness.

Yes, you’ve seen 3D printed Pi cases before, but nothing in the way of an entire platform that gives you a Pi Zero in an extensible platform that can fit in your pocket and looks like sweet, sweet cubes of sucrose.

Lithium Jump Starter Disassembly Is Revealing

High-capacity lithium batteries tend to make everything in life better. No longer must you interact with your fellow human beings if your car battery goes flat in the carpark. You can jump the car yourself, with a compact device that fits in your glovebox. [Big Clive] decided to pull one apart and peek inside, and it’s quite the illuminating experience.

The first thing to note is there is almost no protection at all for the lithium battery inside. The output leads connect the lithium pack inside directly to the car battery, save for some diodes in series to prevent the car’s alternator backcharging the pack. [Clive] demonstrates this by short circuiting the pack, using a copper pipe as a test load to measure the current output. The pack briefly delivers 500 amps before the battery gives up the ghost, with one of the cells swelling up and releasing the magic smoke.

The teardown then continues, with [Clive] gingerly peeling back the layers of insulation around the cells, getting right down to the conductive plates inside. It’s a tough watch, but thankfully nothing explodes and [Clive]’s person remains intact. If you’ve never seen inside a lithium cell before, this is a real treat. The opened pack is even connected to a multimeter and squeezed to show the effect of the physical structure on output.

It would be interesting to compare various brands of jump starter; we imagine some have more protection than others. Regardless, be aware that many on the market won’t save you from yourself. Be careful out there, and consider jumping your car with an even more dangerous method instead (but don’t). Video after the break.

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A Lemon Battery Via 3D Printing

There are a whole bunch of high school science experiments out there that are useful for teaching students the basics of biology, physics, and chemistry. One of the classics is the lemon battery. [iqless] decided to have a play with the idea, and whipped up a little something for his students.

The basic lemon battery is remarkably simple. Lemon juice provides the electrolyte, while copper and and zinc act as electrodes. This battery won’t have a hope of charging your Tesla, but you might get enough juice to light an LED or small bulb (pun intended).

[iqless] considered jamming electrodes directly into lemons to be rather unsophisticated. Instead, an electrolyte tray was 3D printed. The tray can be filled with lemon juice (either hand-squeezed or straight from a bottle) and the tray has fixtures to hold copper pennies and zinc-plated machine screws to act as the electrodes. The tray allows several cells to be constructed and connected in series or parallel, giving yet further teaching opportunities.

It’s a fun twist on a classroom staple, and we think there are great possibilities here for further experimentation with alternative electrolytes and electrode materials. We’d also love to see a grown-up version with a large cascade of cells in series for lemon-based high voltage experiments, but that might be too much to ask. There’s great scope for using modern maker techniques in classroom science – we’ve discussed variations on the egg drop before. Video after the break.

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Shred The Gnar Without Paddling For Waves

[Ben Gravy] isn’t your average pro surfer. For one thing, he lives in New Jersey instead of someplace like Hawaii or Australia, and for another he became famous not for riding the largest waves but rather for riding the weirdest ones. He’s a novelty wave hunter, but some days even the obscure surf spots aren’t breaking. For that, he decided to build a surfboard that doesn’t need waves. (Video, embedded below the break.)

The surfboard that [Ben] used for this project isn’t typical either. It’s made out of foam without any fiberglass, which makes the board less expensive than a traditional surfboard. The propulsion was handled by an electric trolling motor and was hooked up to a deep cycle battery mounted in the center of the board in a waterproof box. The first prototype ended up sinking though, as most surfboards can’t support the weight of a single person on their own without waves even without all the equipment that he bolted to it.

After some reworking, [Ben] was able to realize his dream of riding a surfboard without any waves. It’s not fast, but the amount of excitement that he had proves that it works and could fool most of us. This hack has everything, too: a first prototype that didn’t work exactly right and was fixed with duct tape, electricity used in a semi-dangerous way, and solving a problem we didn’t know we had. We hope he builds a second, faster one as well.

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