An Open Source Ebike

In the ebike world, there are two paths. The first is a homemade kit bike with motors and controllers from China. The second is a prebuilt bike from a manufacturer like Giant, with motors and controllers from China, which will be half as fast and cost three times as much. The choice is obvious, and there are other benefits to taking the first path as well, such as using this equipment which now has an open source firmware option.

The Tong Sheng TSDZ2 drive is popular in the ebike world because it’s an affordable kit motor which has a pedal-assist mode using torque sensors, resulting in a more polished experience. In contrast, other popular kit motors tend to rely on less expensive cadence sensors which are not as smooth or intuitive. This new open source firmware for the TSDZ2 further improves on the ride by improving the motor responsiveness, improving battery efficiency, and opening up the ability to use any of a number of color displays. (More information is available on a separate Wiki.)

If you have a TSDZ2-based ebike it might be time to break out the laptop and get to work installing this firmware. If you’re behind the times and still haven’t figured out that ebikes are one of the best ways to travel, here is the proof you need.

Thanks to [coaxial] for the tip! Photo via Reddit user [PippyLongSausage].

How Efficient Can An Airplane Be? The Celera 500L Sets To Find Out

One of the current hype trends is the supposedly imminent revolution in air transport. So many companies showing digital renderings and mockups to illustrate their own utopic vision for the future, reaching fevered pitch at events like CES 2020. But aviation has a long history of machinery that turned out to be impractical. Wouldn’t it be great if a company focused their resources on building real aircraft and get real data before cranking up their hype machine? The people at Otto Aviation thought so, and their Celera 500L has reportedly taken to the skies.

If you said “Otto who?” you are not alone. The company has zero PR activity to speak of. Limited internet attention started from aviation fans spotting the Celera 500L under construction at its Southern California airfield. Its unusual exterior appearance and proximity to Hollywood made some dismiss it at first as a movie prop. Anyone with a passing interest in aerospace engineering could immediately see aerodynamics was a priority in this design, its long thin unswept glider-like wings implies the goal is fuel efficiency rather than speed. This was confirmed by internet sleuths uncovering patents filed by people associated with the company.

The patents include very lofty fuel efficiency goals, and industry veterans are skeptical. Fuel is a huge factor in aircraft operating costs where small increases in efficiency translate to big dollars over a plane’s lifetime. It’s hard to believe every other plane maker would deliberately leave so much on the table. There must be far more to the 500L inside that teardrop shaped body, with innovations and potentially making some trade-offs no other company has made. We can see two of them from the outside: the 500L traded off some pilot visibility for aerodynamics, and it has very little ground clearance to absorb the impact of less-than-ideal landings.

It’s certainly possible the ideas leading to this plane will fail to pan out in reality like so many ideas before them. Aerospace engineering is a field littered with debris of concepts that looked great on paper but crashed against a hard and unforgiving reality. But at least Otto Aviation is trying something new by building real hardware to get real data, something well worth recognizing in a sea of hyped up fantasy renderings.

[Photo via SoCal Airshow Review]

Where The Work Is Really Done – Casual Profiling

Once a program has been debugged and works properly, it might be time to start optimizing it. A common way of doing this is a method called profiling – watching a program execute and counting the amount of computing time each step in the program takes. This is all well and good for most programs, but gets complicated when processes execute on more than one core. A profiler may count time spent waiting in a program for a process in another core to finish, giving meaningless results. To solve this problem, a method called casual profiling was developed.

In casual profiling, markers are placed in the code and the profiler can measure how fast the program gets to these markers. Since multiple cores are involved, and the profiler can’t speed up the rest of the program, it actually slows everything else down and measures the markers in order to simulate an increase in speed. [Daniel Morsig] took this idea and implemented it in Go, with an example used to demonstrate its effectiveness speeding up a single process by 95%, resulting in a 22% increase in the entire program. Using a regular profiler only counted a 3% increase, which was not as informative as the casual profiler’s 22% measurement.

We got this tip from [Greg Kennedy] who notes that he hasn’t seen much use of casual profiling outside of the academic world, but we agree that there is likely some usefulness to this method of keeping track of a multi-threaded program’s efficiency. If you know of any other ways of solving this problem, or have seen causal profiling in use in the wild, let us know in the comments below.

Header image: Alan Lorenzo [CC BY-SA 3.0].

Tech Imitates Life: Fireflies Make Better Light Bulbs

While we often think we are clever designers, living things often meet or beat the best human designs. It is easy to forget that nature even has living lightbulbs, among them the firefly. Researchers from Penn State decided to compare how fireflies create light and found that they deal with a problem similar to LEDs. The insight may lead to an increase in efficiency for LEDs, which is currently about 50%.

The problem is that some light generated never gets out of the LED (or the firefly’s body). Some light inevitably reflects back into the device. One known mitigation for this is creating a tiny texture pattern on the LED surface which allows more light to escape. These are typically a V-shaped structure etched into the surface. This isn’t news to the firefly, however, which has similar structures on their lanterns as do some other light-generating animals (apparently glowing cockroaches are a thing). However, the organic structures differ from LED textures in an important way.

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3D-Printed Halbach Motor Part Two: Tuning, Testing

Building your own Halbach-effect brushless DC motor is one thing. Making sure it won’t blow up in your face another matter, and watching how [Christoph Laimer] puts his motor to the test is instructive.

You’ll remember [Christoph]’s giant 3D-printed BLDC motor from a recent post where he gave the motor a quick test spin. That the motor held together under load despite not being balanced is a testament to the quality of his design and the quality of the prints. But not wishing to tempt fate, and having made a few design changes, [Christoph] wisely chose to perform a static balancing of the rotor. He also made some basic but careful measurements of the motor’s parameters, including the velocity constant (Kv) using an electric drill, voltmeter, and tachometer, and the torque using a 3D-printed lever arm and a kitchen scale. All his numbers led him to an overall efficiency of 80%, which is impressive.

[Christoph] is shipping his tested BLDC off to the folks at FliteTest, where he hopes they put it to good use. They probably will — although they might ask for three more for a helicarrier.

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New Efficiency Standards For Wall Warts In The US

The common household wall wart is now under stricter regulation from the US Government. We can all testify to the waste heat produced by many cheap wall warts. Simply pick one at random in your house, and hold it; it will almost certainly be warm. This regulation hopes to save $300 million in wasted electricity, and reap the benefits, ecologically, of burning that much less fuel.

original
The old standard.

We don’t know what this means practically for the consumer. Will your AliExpress wall warts be turned away at the shore now? Will this increase the cost of the devices? Will it make them less safe? More safe? It’s always hard to see where new regulation will go. Also, could it help us get revenge on that knock-off laptop adapter we bought that go hot it melted a section of carpet?

However, it does look like most warts will go from a mandated 50-ish percent efficiency to 85% and up. This is a pretty big change, and some hold-out manufacturers are going to have to switch gears to newer circuit designs if they want to keep up. We’re also interested to hear the thoughts of those of you outside of the US. Is the US finally catching up, or is this something new?

Two-Axis Solar Tracker

Solar panels are an amazing piece of engineering, but without exactly the right conditions they can be pretty fickle. One of the most important conditions is that the panel be pointed at the sun, and precise aiming of the panel can be done with a solar tracker. Solar trackers can improve the energy harvesting ability of a solar panel by a substantial margin, and now [Jay] has a two-axis tracker that is also portable.

The core of the project is a Raspberry Pi, chosen after [Jay] found that an Arduino didn’t have enough memory for all of the functionality that he wanted. The Pi and the motor control electronics were stuffed into a Pelican case for weatherproofing. The actual solar tracking is done entirely in software, only requiring a latitude and longitude in order to know where the sun is. This is much easier (and cheaper) than relying on GPS or an optical system for information about the location of the sun.

Be sure to check out the video below of the solar tracker in action. Even without the panel (or the sun, for that matter) the tracker is able to precisely locate the panel for maximum energy efficiency. And, if you’d like to get even MORE power from your solar panel, you should check out a maximum power point tracking system as well.

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