We always appreciate when someone takes the time to build something and then demonstrates what different design choices impact using the real hardware. Sure, you can work out the math and do simulations, but there’s something about having real hardware that makes it tangible. [Julian Ilett] recently posted two videos that fit this description. He built a buck converter and made measurements about its efficiency using different configurations.
The test setup is simple. He monitors the drive PWM with a scope and has power meters on the input and output. That makes it easy to measure the efficiency since it is just the ratio of the power output to input. You can see the two videos, below.
We’re suckers for miniaturization projects. Stuff anything into a small enough package and you’ve probably got our attention. Make that something both tiny and useful, like this 5-volt to 3.3-volt converter in a TO-220 sized package, and that’s something to get excited about. It’s a switch mode power supply that takes the same space as a traditional linear regulator.
Granted, the heavy lifting in [Kevin Hubbard]’s diminutive buck converter is done by a PAM2305 DC-DC step-down converter chip which needs only a few supporting components. But the engineering [Kevin] put into this to squeeze everything onto a scrap of PCB 9-mm on a side is impressive. The largest passive on the board is the inductor in 0805. Everything else is in 0603, so you’ll be putting your SMD soldering skills to the test if you decide to make this. Check the video after the break for a speedrun through the hand soldering process.
The total BOM including the open-source PCB only runs a buck or two, and the end result is a supply with steady 750-mA output that can handle a 1-A surge for five seconds. We wonder if a small heatsink tab might not help that; along with some black epoxy potting, it would at least complete the TO-220 look.
Before Lunar New Year, I had ordered two 3000 F, 2.7 V supercapacitors from China for about $4 each. I don’t actually remember why, but they arrived (unexpectedly) just before the holiday.
Supercapacitors (often called ultracapacitors) fill a niche somewhere between rechargeable lithium cells and ordinary capacitors. Ordinary capacitors have a low energy density, but a high power density: they can store and release energy very quickly. Lithium cells store a lot of energy, but charge and discharge at a comparatively low rate. By weight, supercapacitors store on the order of ten times less energy than lithium cells, and can deliver something like ten times lower power than capacitors.
If you are an electronic engineer or received an education in electronics that went beyond the very basics, there is a good chance that you will be familiar with the Fairchild μA723. This chip designed by the legendary Bob Widlar and released in 1967 is a kit-of-parts for building all sorts of voltage regulators. Aside from being a very useful device, it may owe some of its long life to appearing as a teaching example in Paul Horowitz and Winfield Hill’s seminal text, The Art Of Electronics. It’s a favourite chip of mine, and I have written about it extensively both on these pages and elsewhere.
For all my experimenting with a μA723 over the decades there is one intriguing circuit on its data sheet that I have never had the opportunity to build. Figure 9 on the original Fairchild data sheet is a switching regulator, a buck converter using a pair of PNP transistors along with the diode and inductor you would expect. Its performance will almost certainly be eclipsed by a multitude of more recent dedicated converter chips, but it remains the one μA723 circuit I have never built. Clearly something must be done to rectify this situation.
Guitar pedals are a great way to experiment with the sound of your instrument. However, they require electricity, and when you’re using more than a couple, it can get messy. Some will run on batteries, while others are thirstier for more current and will only work with a plugback. There are a great many solutions out there, but most people with more than a few pedals to power will end up going to some kind of mains powered solution. [Don] is here to show us that it’s not the only way.
Mains power is great for some things, but where pedals are concerned, it’s not always perfect. There are issues with noise, both from cheap power supplies and poorly designed pedals, and it means you’re always hunting for a power socket, which is limiting for buskers.
[Don] realised that the common drill battery is a compact source of clean, DC power, and decided to use that to power his rig. By slapping together a drill battery with a pre-assembled buck converter and a 3D printed adapter, he was able to build a portable power supply for his pedals. Thanks to the fact that the vast majority of pedals use 9V DC with the same input jack design, it’s a cinch to wire up. With an appropriately sized buck converter, a drill battery could supply even a hefty pedalboard for a significant period of time.
EE and firmware developer [Enrico] had played with LEDs as a kid, burning out his fair share of them by applying too much current. With the benefit of his firmware chops, he set about creating a board that drives LEDs properly.
[Enrico]’s project centers around a Texas Instruments LM3405 buck controller. It accepts input voltage from anywhere from 3V to 20V and outputs up to 20V/15W to one or more LEDs. He built a ton of safety features into it like short-circuit and open-circuit immunity, temperature control, and auto-off switching when idle. He also created a LED board to test the maximum efficiency of the driver. It consists of four Luxeon Rebel ES diodes, one each RGB and W. The entire back of the LED board is copper, with a monster heat sink attached.
Solar cells have gotten cheaper and cheaper, and are becoming an economically viable source of renewable energy in many parts of the world. Capturing the optimal amount of energy from a solar panel is a tricky business, however. First there are a raft of physical prerequisites to operating efficiently: the panel needs to be kept clean so the sun can reach the cells, the panel needs to point at the sun, and it’s best if they’re kept from getting too hot.
Along with these physical demands, solar panels are electrically finicky as well. In particular, the amount of power they produce is strongly dependent on the electrical load that they’re presented, and this optimal load varies depending on how much illumination the panel receives. Maximum power-point trackers (MPPT) ideally keep the panel electrically in the zone even as little fluffy clouds roam the skies or the sun sinks in the west. Using MPPT can pull 20-30% more power out of a given cell, and the techniques are eminently hacker-friendly. If you’ve never played around with solar panels before, you should. Read on to see how!