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Hackaday Links: September 27, 2020

Hardly a week goes by without a headline screaming about some asteroid or another making a close approach to Earth; it’s only by reading the fine print that we remember what an astronomer’s definition of “close” means. Still, 2020 being what it is, it pays to stay on top of these things, and when you do the story can get really interesting. Take asteroid 2020 SO, a tiny near-Earth asteroid that was discovered just last week. In a couple of weeks, 2020 SO will be temporarily captured into Earth orbit and come with 50,000 km near the beginning of December. That’s cool and all, but what’s really interesting about this asteroid is that it may not be a rock at all. NASA scientists have reverse-engineered the complex orbit of the object and found that it was in the vicinity of Earth in late 1966. They think it may be a Centaur booster from the Surveyor 2 moon mission, launched in September 1966 in the runup to Apollo. The object will be close enough for spectral analysis of its. surface; if it’s the booster, the titanium dioxide in the white paint should show up loud and clear.

Lasers are sort of forbidden fruit for geeks — you know you can put an eye out with them, and still, when you get your hands on even a low-power laser pointer, it’s hard to resist the urge to shine it where you shouldn’t. That includes into the night sky, which as cool as it looks could be bad news for pilots, and then for you. Luckily, friend of Hackaday Seb Lee-Delisle has figured out a way for you to blast lasers into the night sky to your heart’s content. The project is called Laser Light City and takes place in Seb’s home base of Brighton int he UK on October 1. The interactive installation will have three tall buildings with three powerful lasers mounted on each; a smartphone app will let participants control the direction, shape, and color of each beam. It sounds like a load of fun, so check it out if you’re in the area.

We got an interesting story from a JR Nelis about a quick hack he came up with to help his wife stay connected. The whole post is worth a read, but the short version of the story is that his wife has dementia and is in assisted living. Her landline phone is her social lifeline, but she can’t be trusted with it, lest she makes inappropriate calls. His solution was to modify her favorite cordless phone by modifying the keypad, turning it into a receive-only phone. It’s a sad but touching story, and it may prove useful to others with loved ones in similar situations.

We pay a lot of attention to the history of the early computer scene, but we tend to concentrate on computers that were popular in North America and the UK. But the Anglo-American computers were far from the only game in town, and there’s a new effort afoot to celebrate one of the less well-known but still important pioneer computers: the Galaksija. Aside from having a cool name, the Yugoslavian Z80 computer has a great story that will be told in documentary form, as part of the crowdsourced Galaksija project. The documentary stars our own Voja Antonic, who was key to the computer’s development. In addition to the film, the project seeks to produce a replica of the Galaksija in kit form. Check out the Crowd Supply page and see if it’s something you’re willing to back.

There’s an interesting new podcast out there: the Pick, Place, Podcast. Hosted by Chris Denney and Melissa Hough, it comes out every other week and is dedicated to the electronic assembly industry. They’ve currently got eight episodes in the can ranging from pick and place assembly to parts purchasing to solder paste printing. If you want to learn a little more about PCB assembly, this could be a real asset. Of course don’t forget to make time for our own Hackaday Podcast, where editors Mike and Elliot get together to discuss the week in hardware hacking.

Ride Bike, Charge Phone

Spring is coming to the northern hemisphere, and soon it’ll be nice enough outside to tool around town on your bicycle. But bikes don’t have power outlets, so phone charging on the go will require forethought and charged-up battery packs. It doesn’t have to be that way. You’re working to make the bike move, so why not make the bike work for you?

If you’ve ever used a motor as a generator, then you can see where this is going. That’s the underlying principle behind [Creativity Buzz]’s bike-powered phone charger. As the bike wheel turns, the rim comes in contact with a small wheel attached to the output shaft of a DC motor. Cranking the output shaft of a motor with permanent magnets inside will induce a small voltage, and here it is amplified with a DC-DC boost converter and output to a USB jack.

As long as you can find a way to secure the phone to the bike frame, or use a long cord and good cable management, you’re in business. Wheelie past the break to watch [Creativity Buzz] build it and give it a stationary test run. While you wait for bike-riding weather, you can still use this kind of charger by turning a crank.

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Hoverboard Reborn For Electric Rollerblading

Rollerblading is fun, but who needs all that pesky exercise? Wouldn’t strapping on the blades be so much more tempting if you had an electric pusher motor to propel you along your way?

We have to admit that we raised a wary eyebrow as we first watched [MakerMan]’s video below. We thought it was going to be just another hoverboard hack at first, but as we watched, there were some pretty impressive fabrication skills on display. Yes, the project does start with tearing into a defunct hoverboard for parts, primarily one wheel motor and the battery pack. But after that, [MakerMan] took off on a metalworking tear. Parts of the hoverboard chassis were attached to a frame built from solid bar stock — we’ll admit never having seen curves fabricated in quite that way before. The dead 18650 in the battery pack was identified and replaced, and a controller from an e-bike was wired up. Fitted with a thumb throttle and with a bit of padding on the crossbar, it’s almost a ride-upon but not quite. It seems to move along at quite a clip, even making allowances for the time-compression on the video.

We’ve seen lots of transportation hacks before, from collapsible longboards to steam-powered bicycles, but this one is pretty unique.

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Hand Cranked Generator Charges Supercaps, Starts Car

Pity the lowly lead-acid battery. A century of use as the go-to method for storing enough electrons to spin the starter motor of a car engine has endeared it to few.  Will newer technology supplant that heavy, toxic, and corrosive black box under your hood? If this supercapacitor boost box is any indication, then we’d say lead-acid’s days are numbered.

To be fair, we’ll bet that number is still pretty big. It takes a lot to displace a tried and true technology, especially for something as optimized as the lead-acid battery. But [lasersaber]’s build shows just how far capacitive storage has come from the days when supercaps were relegated to keeping your PC’s clock running. With six commercial 400F caps and a custom-built balance board, the bank takes a charge from a cheap 24V hand generator. The output is either to a heavy-duty lighter socket or some automotive-style lugs, and the whole thing is housed in a simple box partially constructed using energy stored in the bank. Can the supercaps start a car? Stay tuned after the break for the answer.

Although we’ve seen supercaps replace a motorcycle battery before, we’re a little disappointed that the caps used here only have a 1500-hour life – lead-acid wins that fight hands down. But this one gives us lots of ideas for future builds, and we’re heartened by the fact that the supercaps for this build ring up to less than $70.

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