Change The Jingle In Your Makita Charger Because You Can

Lots of things beep these days. Washing machines, microwaves, fridge — even drill battery chargers. If you’re on Team Makita, it turns out you can actually change the melody of your charger’s beep, thanks to a project from [Real-Time-Kodi].

The hack is for the Makita DR18RC charger, and the implementation of the hack is kind of amusing. [Real-Time-Kodi] starts by cutting the trace to the buzzer inside the charger. Then, an Arduino is installed inside the charger, hooked up to the buzzer itself and the original line that was controlling it. When it detects the charger trying to activate the buzzer, it uses this as a trigger to play its own melody on the charger instead. The Arduino also monitors the LEDs on the charger in order to determine the current charge state, and play the appropriate jingle for the situation.

It’s an amusing hack, and one that could certainly confuse the heck out of anyone expecting the regular tones out of their Makita charger. It also shows that the simple ways work, too — there was no need to dump any firmware or decompile any code.

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Just How Dodgy Are Cheap USB Chargers Anyway?

Aside from apparently having both the ability to reproduce on their own and simultaneously never being around when you need one, USB chargers seem innocuous enough. The specs are simple: convert mains voltage to 5 volts, and don’t kill anyone while doing it. Both specs are typically met by most designs, but judging by [DiodeGoneWild]’s latest USB charger teardown, the latter only just barely, and with a whole lot of luck.

The sad state of plug-in USB power supplies is one of [DiodeGoneWild]’s pet gripes, and deservedly so. Most USB chargers cram a lot of electronics into a mighty small volume, and are built to a price point, meaning that something has to give in the design. In the case of the two units he tears apart in the video below, it’s pretty clear where the compromises are. Neither unit met the specs on the label in terms of current supplied and voltage regulation, even the apparently more capable quick charger, which is the first to go under the knife. The PCB within holds some alarming surprises, like the minimal physical isolation between the mains part of the circuit and the low-voltage section, but the real treat is the Schottky diode that gets up to 170°C under full load. Safety tip: when you smell plastic burning, throw the thing out.

The second charger didn’t fare any better; although it didn’t overheat, that’s mainly because it shut itself off before it could deliver a fraction of its rated 1 amp output. The PCB construction was shoddy in the extreme, with a squiggly trace standing in for a proper fuse and a fraction of a millimeter separation between primary and secondary traces. The flyback transformer was a treat, too; who doesn’t want to rely on a whisper-thin layer of cheap lacquer to keep mains voltage out of your phone?

All in all, these designs are horrible, and we have to thank [DiodeGoneWild] for the nightmares we’ll have whenever we plug into one of these things from now on. On the other hand, this was a great introduction to switch-mode power supply designs, and what not to do with our own builds. Continue reading “Just How Dodgy Are Cheap USB Chargers Anyway?”

Off-Grid EV Charging

There are plenty of reasons to install solar panels on one’s home. Reducing electric bills, reducing carbon footprint, or simply being in a location without electric service are all fairly common. While some of those might be true for [Dominic], he had another motivating factor. He wanted to install a charger for his electric vehicles but upgrading the electric service at his house would have been prohibitively expensive. So rather than dig up a bunch of his neighbors’ gardens to run a new service wire in he built this off-grid setup instead.

Hooking up solar panels to a battery and charge controller is usually not too hard, but getting enough energy to charge an EV out of a system all at once is more challenging. The system is based on several 550W solar modules which all charge a lithium iron phosphate battery. The battery can output 100 A DC at 48 V which gives more than enough power to charge an EV. However there were some problems getting this much power through an inverter. His first choice let out the magic smoke when it was connected, and it wasn’t until he settled on a Growatt inverter capable of outputting 3.5 kW that the system really started to take shape.

All of this is fairly straightforward, but there’s an extra touch here that makes this project noteworthy. [Dominic] wanted to balance incoming power from the photovoltaic system to the current demands from the EVs to put less strain on the battery. An ESP32 was programmed to only send as much power to the EVs as the solar system is producing at any given time, and also includes some extra logic to make sure the battery doesn’t drain itself from the idle power requirements of the inverter. Right now the system works well but the true test will be when it goes through its first winter. Even though solar panels are more efficient at colder temperatures, if the amount of sunlight or the angle of the panels aren’t ideal there is generally much less production.

Battery Bot Makes Sure Cordless Tool Packs Are Always Topped Up

There was a time not that long ago when every tool was cordless. But now, cordless power tools have proliferated to the point where the mere thought of using a plain old wrist-twisting screwdriver is enough to trigger a bout of sympathetic repetitive injury. And the only thing worse than that is to discover that the batteries for your tools are all dead.

As [Lance] from the “Sparks and Code” channel freely admits, the fact that his impressive collection of batteries is always dead is entirely his fault, and that’s what inspired his automatic battery charging robot. The design is pretty clever; depleted batteries go into a hopper, under which is a 3D-printed sled. Batteries drop down into the sled, which runs the battery out from under the hopper to the charging station, which is just the guts of an old manual charger attached to a lead screw to adjust the height of the charging terminals for different size batteries. When the battery is charged, the sled pushes it a little further into an outfeed hopper before going back to get another battery from the infeed side.

Of course, that all vastly understates the amount of work [Lance] had to put into this. He suffered through a lot of “integration hell” problems, like getting the charger properly connected to the Arduino running the automation. But with a lot of tweaking, he can now just dump in a bunch of depleted packs and let the battery bot handle everything. The video after the break shows all the gory details.

Of course, there’s another completely different and much simpler solution to the dead battery problem.

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GaN Charger Teardown Reveals Value Of This New Technology

Every so often, a new technology comes along that offers a broad range of benefits over what we already have. Just as lithium-ion batteries have made nickel-cadmium cells boring and old hat, gallium nitride semiconductors are making silicon parts look unimpressive by comparison. [Brian Dipert] looked at what this means in a practical sense by tearing down a GaN phone charger.

The charger in question is a 30 watt USB-C charger produced by Voltme. It cost [Brian] just $10, as prices of GaN hardware have come down significantly as economies of scale have kicked in. The charger measures just 1.2×1.3×1.2 inches, and weighs only 1.5 ounces. That compact size is thanks to GaN semiconductors, which are able to run cooler at higher power levels than their silicon forebearers.

Cracking into the charger required levering open the case. The back panel came off with some work, revealing the mains terminals, which deliver AC power to the PCB inside via the case holding them in contact. Interestingly, the entire circuit inside is filled with an adhesive thermal goop, which helps pass heat from the hottest components to the charger’s case. [Brian] is able to guide us through the circuit, and he identified many of the major components. However, some of the markings on chips were beyond his research skills, and he asks any knowing readers to contribute their own information.

It’s interesting to see just what makes the high-powered compact chargers of today tick. Plus, it’s a hallmark of progress that what was once considered a wonder material can now be had in a $10 commodity phone charger from Amazon. How times change!

Copy And Paste Lithium Battery Protection

Lithium batteries have, nearly single-handedly, ushered in the era of the electric car, as well as battery energy storage of grid power and plenty of other technological advances not possible with older battery chemistries. There’s just one major downside: these lithium cells can be extremely finicky. If you’re adding one to your own project you’ll have to be extremely careful to treat them exactly how they are designed to be treated using something like this boilerplate battery protection circuit created by [DIY GUY Chris].

The circuit is based around the TP4056 integrated circuit, which handles the charging of a single lithium cell — in this design using supplied power from a USB port. The circuit is able to charge a cell based on the cell’s current charge state, temperature, and a model of the cell. It’s also paired with a DW01A chip which protects the cell from various undesirable conditions such as over-current, overcharge, and over-voltage.

The best thing about this design isn’t the design itself, but that [DIY GUY Chris] built the circuit schematic specifically to be easily copied into PCB designs for other projects, which means that lithium batteries can more easily be integrated directly into his other builds. Be sure to check out our primer on how to deal with lithium batteries before trying one of your own designs, though.

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Reverse Engineering Reveals EV Charger Has A Sense Of Security

As more and more electric vehicles penetrate the market, there’s going to have to be a proportional rise in the number of charging stations that are built into parking garages, apartment complexes, and even private homes. And the more that happens, the more chargers we’re going to start seeing where security is at best an afterthought in their design.

But as this EV charger teardown and reverse engineering shows, it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way. The charger is a Zaptec Pro station that can do up to 22 kW, and the analysis was done by [Harrison Sand] and [Andreas Claesson]. These are just the kinds of chargers that will likely be widely installed over the next decade, and there’s surprisingly little to them. [Harrison] and [Andreas] found a pair of PCBs, one for the power electronics and one for the control circuits. The latter supports a number of connectivity options, like 4G, WiFi, and Bluetooth, plus some RFID and powerline communications. There are two microcontrollers, a PIC and an ARM Cortex-A7.

Despite the ARM chip, the board seemed to lack an obvious JTAG port, and while some unpopulated pads did end up having a UART line, there was no shell access possible. An on-board micro SD card slot seemed an obvious target for attack, and some of the Linux images they tried yielded at least a partial boot-up, but without knowing the specific hardware configuration on the board, that’s just shooting in the dark. That’s when the NAND flash chip was popped off the board to dump the firmware, which allowed them to extract the devicetree and build a custom bootloader to finally own root.

The article has a lot of fascinating details on the exploit and what they discovered after getting in, like the fact that even if you had the factory-set Bluetooth PIN, you wouldn’t be able to get free charging. So overall, a pretty good security setup, even if they were able to get in by dumping the firmware. This all reminds us a little of the smart meter reverse engineering our friend [Hash] has been doing, in terms of both methodology and results.

Thanks to [Thinkerer] for the tip.