Battery Of The Future, Now Buildable Yourself

In theory, batteries and capacitors are fairly simple. One stores energy chemically and the other stores energy in an electric field. In practice though, building an energy storage device that has a practical amount of energy density is delicate, complex work. But if you have access to a few chemical compounds it’s actually not too difficult to produce useful batteries and electrolytic capacitors with the use of ionic liquids.

Ionic liquids are conductive liquids with a few other important qualities. Almost all of the ones shown can be built with relatively common compounds, and most of the products have advantageous physical qualities, making them stable and relatively safe for use. With some equipment found in a chemistry lab it’s possible to produce a wide variety of these liquids without too much hassle (although one method outlined uses an inert gas chamber), and from there batteries and capacitors can be built by allowing the ionic liquids to be absorbed into the device.

The video below shows the production of several of these devices and then illustrates their effects by running a small LED light. While they’re probably not going to be used to create DIY electric cars anytime soon, the production and improvement of atypical energy storage devices will be the key to a large part of the energy needs of society now and into the future, especially aluminum batteries like these.

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A Low Cost, Dead Tree Touch Screen

Remember the “paperless office”? Neither do we, because despite the hype of end-to-end digital documents, it never really happened. The workplace is still a death-trap for trees, and with good reason: paper is cheap, literally growing on trees, and it’s the quickest and easiest medium for universal communication and collaboration. Trouble is, once you’re done scribbling your notes on a legal pad or designing the Next Big Thing on a napkin, what do you do with it?

If you’re anything like us, the answer to that question is misplacing or destroying the paper before getting a chance to procrastinate transcribing it into some useful digital form. Wouldn’t paper that automatically digitizes what you draw or write on it be so much better? That’s where this low-cost touch-sensitive paper (PDF link) is headed, and it looks like it has a lot of promise. Carnegie-Mellon researchers [Chris Harrison] and [Yang Zhang] have come up with cheap and easy methods of applying conductive elements to sheets of ordinary paper, and importantly, the methods can scale well to the paper mill to take advantage of economies of scale at the point of production. Based on silk-screened conductive paints, the digitizer uses electrical field tomography to locate touches and quantify their pressure through a connected microcontroller. The video below shows a prototype in action.

Current cost is 30 cents a sheet, and if it can be made even cheaper, the potential applications range from interactive educational worksheets to IoT newspapers. And maybe if it gets really cheap, you can make a touch-sensitive paper airplane when you’re done with it.

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The Internet Of Non-Electronic Things

The bill of materials for even the simplest IoT project is likely to include some kind of microcontroller with some kind of wireless module. But could the BOM for a useful IoT thing someday list only a single item? Quite possibly, if these electronics-less 3D-printed IoT devices are any indication.

While you may think that the silicon-free devices described in a paper (PDF link) by University of Washington students [Vikram Iyer] and [Justin Chan] stand no chance of getting online, they’ve actually built an array of useful IoT things, including an Amazon Dash-like button. The key to their system is backscatter, which modulates incident RF waves to encode data for a receiver. Some of the backscatter systems we’ve featured include a soil sensor network using commercial FM broadcasts and hybrid printable sensors using LoRa as the carrier. But both of these require at least some electronics, and consequently some kind of power. [Chan] and [Iyer] used conductive filament to print antennas that can be mechanically switched by rotating gears. Data can be encoded by the speed of the alternating reflection and absorption of the incident WiFi signals, or cams can encode data for buttons and similar widgets.

It’s a surprisingly simple system, and although the devices shown might need some mechanical tune-ups, the proof of concept has a lot of potential. Flowmeters, level sensors, alarm systems — what kind of sensors would you print? Sound off below.

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Casein, Cello, Carrotinet, And Copper Oxide, Science Grab Bag

One of our favorite turnips, oops, citizen scientists [The Thought Emporium], has released his second Grab Bag video which can also be seen after the break. [The Thought Emporium] dips into a lot of different disciplines as most of us are prone to do. Maybe one of his passions will get your creative juices flowing and inspire your next project. Or maybe it will convince some clever folks to take better notes so they can share with the rest of the world.

Have you ever read a recipe and thought, “What if I did the complete opposite?” In chemistry lab books that’s frowned upon but it worked for the Reverse Crystal Garden. Casein proteins make cheese, glue, paint, and more so [The Thought Emporium] gave us a great resource for making our own and demonstrated a flexible conductive gel made from that resource. Since high school, [The Thought Emporium] has learned considerably more about acoustics and style as evidence by his updated cello. Maybe pulling old projects out of the closet and giving them the benefit of experience could revitalize some of our forgotten endeavors.

If any of these subjects whet your whistle, consider growing gorgeous metal crystals, mixing up some conductive paint or learning the magnetic cello. Remember to keep your lab journal tidy and share on Hackday.io.

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A Flexible Sensor That Moves With You

If you have a project in mind that requires some sort of gesture input or precise movements, it might become a nettlesome problem to tackle. Fear this obstacle no longer: a team from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard have designed a novel way to make wearable sensors that can stretch and contort with the body’s natural movements.

The way they work is ingenious. Layers of silicone are sandwiched between two lengths of silver-plated conductive fabric forming — by some approximation — a capacitance sensor. While the total surface area doesn’t change when the sensor is stretched — how capacitance sensors normally work — it does bring the two layers of fabric closer together, changing the capacitance of the band in a proportional and measurable way, with the silicone pulling the sensor back into its original shape as tension relaxes. Wires can be attached to each end of the band with adhesive and a square of thermal film, making an ideal sensor to detect the subtlest of muscle movements.

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Buttons, Sliders, And Touchpads All 3D Printed With PrintPut

[Jesse Burstyn] and some colleagues at Queen’s University and Carleton University (both in Canada) are delivering a paper at the INTERACT 2015 about PrintPut, their system for printing sensors directly into 3D printed objects. Using a printer with dual extrusion and conductive ABS filament, they have successfully formed capacitive touch sensors, digital resistive sensors, and analog resistive sensors.

In practice, this means they can print buttons, sliders, and even touch pads directly into objects. They also have a design for several pressure sensors and a flex sensor. The system includes scripts for the Rhinoceros 3D CAD package. Designers can create a model in any CAD package they want (including Rhinoceros) and then use these scripts to define the interactive areas.

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This One May Come As A Shock To Some

[Chris] seems to have commandeered a decent portion of the wife’s sewing room for his electronic adventures. As it is still her claim, she made it clear that his area needed some organization and a new desk. Dissatisfied with the look and feel of the replacement IKEA desk-like substance they acquired, he took it upon himself to ratchet up both the style and value by adding a copper laminate.

His decision is not purely based in aesthetic. If you’re following along, this means that his new electronics work surface is conductive. And yeah, it’s connected to ground at the wall. Although he doesn’t care for the stank of of anti-static mats or their susceptibility to fading and cracking, he does intend to use a tiny patch of it to keep his silicon happy.

[Chris] used a 20-gauge copper sheet that he cut and scored down to fit his Swedish sandwich wood base with enough margin for overhang. After scratching up one side of the copper sheet and one of the receiving base, he squidged down some adhesive nasty enough to require the rubber glove protocol and clamped it all together for several hours. Stay put the copper did, but stay flat it did not. After hammering down the overhang, [Chris] hand-burnished the copper in small swirls with a Scotch Brite pad to visually break up the slightly wavy surface. Instructional and hilarious play-by-play after the break.

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