Hackaday Podcast 039: Elliot <3 Lightning Detectors, Ikea Dark Mode, The Smartest Watch, Solar Sailing The Sky, And VAWT Controversy

Hackaday Editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys recap a week full of hacks from the solar sailing RC plane that has zero power storage, to geeking out about lightning detectors and hacking Ikea LED controllers to unlock real dimming to building backyard wind turbines. We look up an IoT egg tray with appreciation not for the concept but certainly for the engineering, and scratch our heads on why one-hacker-smartwatch-to-rule-them-all seems like something that should happen but so far has only been a fleeting concept.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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The Future Of Diesel Is On Shaky Ground

Diesel is a fuel that has had a mixed history, with varying levels of take-up by consumers around the world. In the world of transport, diesel engines have offered better fuel economy and torque than comparable gasoline engines. Particularly popular in Europe, diesel established a strong consumer base in both small commuter cars as well as heavy vehicles such as trucks and buses.

Despite this, the tide is turning, and for the average motorist, diesel’s days may be numbered. Why is this the case, and what are the potential alternatives vying for diesel’s crown?

Plenty of Pros, but Plenty of Cons

Diesel remains a fuel with a varied uptake around the world. It has enjoyed great popularity in Europe in small commuter cars.

Diesel is a hydrocarbon fuel with several advantages over gasoline. Its lack of volatility makes it workable to use in a compression-ignition mode, and diesel engines can be run with lean fuel-air ratios. It also has a higher volumetric energy density than gasoline, and thanks to low volatility, diesel engines can run at significantly higher compression ratios without risking detonation. These benefits allow diesel engines to produce significantly more torque than similarly sized gasoline engines, and they can offer fuel economy gains in excess of 15%.

Unfortunately, diesel also comes with its fair share of drawbacks. Diesel engines are typically poor when it comes to power to weight ratio, as their high compression ratio and torque output demands heavier materials in their construction. The major bugbear of the diesel engine, however, is its emissions. Despite greater fuel efficiency, carbon dioxide output from a diesel engine is often far worse than that of a comparable gas motor. Additionally, their lean-burning nature leads to production of high levels of oxides of nitrogen (NOx), which have major negative environmental effects. There’s also the problem of particulate pollution, which is responsible for respiratory harm in humans. Diesel automobiles rank significantly worse than gasoline vehicles in all these areas. It’s begun to cause figurative headaches for the industry, and literal headaches for the public. Continue reading “The Future Of Diesel Is On Shaky Ground”

Fail Of The Week: Engine Flips Out

A few weeks ago an incredible video of an engine exploding started making the rounds on Facebook. This particular engine was thankfully in a dyno room, rather than sitting a couple of feet away from a driver on a track. We’ve all seen engine carnage videos before, but this one stands out. This diesel engine literally rips itself apart, with the top half of the engine flipping and landing on one side of the room while the bottom half sits still spinning on the dyno frame.

Building performance engines is part science, part engineering, and part hacking. While F1 racing teams have millions of dollars of test and measurement equipment at their disposal, smaller shops have to operate on a much lower budget. In this case, the company makes their modifications, then tests things out in the dyno room. Usually, the tests work out fine. Sometimes though, things end spectacularly, as you can see with this diesel engine.

The engine in question belongs to Firepunk diesel, a racing team. It started life as a 6.7 liter Cummins diesel: the same engine you can find in Dodge Ram pickup trucks. This little engine wasn’t content to chug around town, though. The Firepunk team builds performance engines — drag racing and tractor pulling performance in this case. Little more than the engine block itself was original on this engine. Let’s take a deeper look.

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The Most Powerful Diesel Engine

Ever. Literally.

A gearhead friend of ours sent along a link to a YouTube video (also embedded below) promising the world’s most powerful engine. Now, we’ll be the first to warn you that it’s just an advertisement, and for something that you’re probably not going to rush out and buy: the Wärtsilä 14RT marine engine.

A tiny bit of math: 96 cm cylinder diameter times 250 cm piston stroke = 1,809,557 CC. And it generates around 107,000 HP. That’s a fair bit, but it runs at a techno-music pace: 120 BPM RPM. With twelve cylinders, we’d love to hear this thing run. Two-strokes make such a wonderful racket! Wonder if they’ve tried to red-line it? It’s a good thing we don’t work at Wärtsilä.

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Simple Fuel Pressure Alarm Averts Diesel Disaster

If you could spend a couple of bucks on a simple project that might prevent a $2000 repair bill on your vehicle, you’d probably build it, right? That’s the idea behind this simple low-pressure alarm for a diesel fuel system, and it’s so simple it makes you wonder why the OEM didn’t do it.

We normally see [Bob Johnson] coming up with nifty projects (like this claw or this camera slider) that more often than not combine woodworking and electronics. But no tree carcasses were harmed in the making of this project. [Bob]’s goal is just to sound a warning and flash a light if the output of a pressure switch goes to ground. That indicates the lift pump in his Dodge Ram’s fuel tank has failed, which could lead to the sudden failure of the downstream injector pump for lack of lubrication by the fuel itself. His simple ATtiny85 circuit lives on a small perfboard in a 3D printed case and taps into a $30 fuel pressure switch. The microcontroller code enables a short delay to prevent nuisance alarms, and if the pressure drops below 5 PSI, [Bob] gets a chance to shut down the engine and disappoint his mechanic to the tune of $2000.

Maybe it’s planned obsolescence on the OEM’s part, or maybe it’s not. But kudos to [Bob] for a simple hack that averts a potentially expensive problem.

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An Open Source Two Stroke Diesel

With a welder and a bunch of scrap, you can build just about anything that moves. Want a dune buggy? That’s just some tube and a pipe bender. Need a water pump? You might need a grinder. A small tractor? Just find some big knobby tires in a junkyard. Of course, the one thing left out of all these builds is a small motor, preferably one that can run on everything from kerosene to used cooking oil. This is the problem [Shane] is tackling for his entry to the 2016 Hackaday Prize. It’s an Open Source Two-Stroke Diesel Engine that’s easy for anyone to build and has minimal moving parts.

[Shane]’s engine is based on the Junkers Jumo 205 motor, a highly successful aircraft engine first produced in the early 1930s and continued production through World War II. This is a weird engine, with two opposed pistons in one cylinder that come very close to slamming together. It’s a great design for aircraft engines due to it’s lightweight construction. And the simplicity of the system lends itself easily to wartime field maintenance.

The Jumo 205 was a monstrous 12-piston, 6-cylinder engine, but for [Shane]’s first attempt, he’s scaling the design down to a 50cc motor with the intent of scaling the design up to 125cc and 250cc. So far, [Shane] has about 30 hours of simple CAD work behind him and a ton of high-level FEA work ahead of him. Then [Shane] will actually need to build a prototype.

This is actually [Shane]’s second entry to the Hackaday Prize with this idea. Last year, he threw his hat into the ring with the same idea, but building a working diesel power plant is a lot of work. Too much for one man-year, certainly, so we can’t wait to see the progress [Shane] makes this year.

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The DMCA May Have Allowed Volkswagen To Hide ECU Software From The EPA

A lot of questions have been raised by the recent “dieselgate” scandal. Should automakers be held accountable for ethically questionable actions? Are emissions standards in the United States too restrictive? Are we ever going to stop appending “gate” onto every mildly controversial news story? But, for Hackaday readers, the biggest question is most likely “how did they get away with it?” The answer is probably because of a law a lot of hackers are already familiar with: the DMCA.

If you haven’t seen the news about Volkswagen’s emissions cheating scheme, we’ll get you caught up quickly. In the United States, EPA emissions testing is done in a very specific and predictable way. Using clever ECU software tricks, Volkswagen was able to essentially “detune” the engines of their diesel vehicles when they were being tested by the EPA. This earned them passing marks, while allowing them to provide a less-restrictive ECU profile for the normal driving that buyers would actually experience.

How could they get away with this simple trick when a brief look at the ECU software would have revealed it? Because, they were able to hide under the umbrella of the DMCA. The ECU software is, of course, not intended to be user-accessible, which means that Volkswagen is allowed to lock it down. That, in turn, means that the EPA isn’t allowed to circumvent that security without violating the DMCA and potentially breaking the law. This kept the EPA’s hands tied, and Volkswagen protected. They were only found out because independent testing (that didn’t follow EPA procedure) revealed vastly different emissions levels.

Is your blood boiling yet? Add this to the stack of reasons why the EFF is trying to end the DRM parts of the DMCA.

[via /.]