Remoticon 2021 // Jay Bowles Dips Into The Plasmaverse

Every hacker out there is familiar with the zaps and sizzles of the Tesla coil, or the crash and thunder of lighting strikes on our hallowed Earth. These phenomena all involve the physics of plasma, a subject near and dear to Jay Bowles’s heart. Thus, he graced Remoticon 2021 with a enlightening talk taking us on a Dip Into the Plasmaverse.

Jay’s passion for the topic is obvious, having fallen in love with high voltage physics as a teenager. He appreciated how tangible the science was, whether it’s the glow of neon lighting or the heating magic of the common microwave. His talk covers the experiments and science that he’s studied over the past 17 years and in the course of running his Plasma Channel YouTube channel. Continue reading “Remoticon 2021 // Jay Bowles Dips Into The Plasmaverse”

Experiments With A Nernst Lamp

Every biography of Edison talks about how the secret to the incandescent lamp was to remove the air from the bulb. That’s true when you use conventional filaments, but a man named Nernst found that using a filament that was already oxidized would allow you to create a lamp that would operate fine in the normal atmosphere. [Jaynes Network] takes a look at these oddities which date back to the 1800s in a recent video that you can see below.

The lamps use a ceramic filament, but the downside is that the filament needs to be hot to allow the lamp to work. The experiment takes a zirconium oxide rod and attempts to light it up. The heat source is a propane torch.

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Emulating A Power Grid

The electric power grid, as it exists today, was designed about a century ago to accommodate large, dispersed power plants owned and controlled by the utilities themselves. At the time this seemed like a great idea, but as technology and society have progressed the power grid remains stubbornly rooted in this past. Efforts to modify it to accommodate solar and wind farms, electric cars, and other modern technology need to take great effort to work with the ancient grid setup, often requiring intricate modeling like this visual power grid emulator.

The model is known as LEGOS, the Lite Emulator of Grid Operations, and comes from researchers at RWTH Aachen University. Its goal is to simulate a modern power grid with various generation sources and loads such as homes, offices, or hospitals. It uses a DC circuit to simulate power flow, which is visualized with LEDs. The entire model is modular, so components can be added or subtracted easily to quickly show how the power flow changes as a result of modifications to the grid. There is also a robust automation layer to the entire project, allowing real-time data acquisition of the model to be gathered and analyzed using an open source cloud service called FIWARE.

In order to modernize the grid, simulations like these are needed to make sure there are no knock-on effects of adding or changing such a complex system in ways it was never intended to be changed. Researchers in Europe like the ones developing LEGOS are ahead of the curve, as smart grid technology continues to filter in to all areas of the modern electrical infrastructure. It could also find uses for modeling power grids in areas where changes to the grid can happen rapidly as a result of natural disasters.

Ask Hackaday: How Do You Prepare?

Last month, large parts of the southern United States experienced their coldest temperatures since the 1899 Blizzard. Some of us set new all-time lows, and I was right in the middle of the middle of it here in Southwestern Oklahoma. Since many houses in Texas and Oklahoma are heated with electricity, the power grids struggled to keep up with the demand. Cities in Oklahoma experienced some short-term rolling blackouts and large patches of the Texas grid were without power for several days. No juice, no heat.

In places where the power was out for an extended period of time, the water supply was potentially contaminated, and a boil order was in effect. Of course, this only works when the gas and power are on. In some places, the store shelves were empty, a result of panic buying combined with perishables spoiling without the power to keep them cold. For some, food and drinkable water was temporarily hard to come by.

There have been other problems, too. Houses in the south aren’t built for the extreme cold, and many have experienced frozen pipes, temporarily shutting off their water supply. In some cases, those frozen pipes break open, flooding the house once the water starts flowing again. For instance, here’s an eye-witness account of the carnage from The 8-bit Guy, who lives at ground zero in the DFW area.
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Machining Without Machines

It’s a luxury to be able to access a modern machine shop, complete with its array of lathes, mills, and presses. These tools are expensive though, and take up a lot of space, so if you want to be able to machine hard or thick metals without an incredible amount of overhead you’ll need a different solution. Luckily you can bypass the machines in some situations and use electricity to do the machining directly.

This project makes use of a process known as electrochemical machining and works on the principle that electricity passed through an electrolyte solution will erode the metal that it comes in contact with. With a well-designed setup, this can be used to precisely machine metal in various ways. For [bob]’s use this was pretty straightforward, since he needed to enlarge an existing hole in a piece of plate steel, so he forced electrolyte through this hole while applying around half an amp of current in order to make this precise “cut” in the metal, avoiding the use of an expensive drill press.

There are some downsides to the use of this process as [bob] notes in his build, namely that any piece of the working material that comes in contact with the electrolyte will be eroded to some extent. This can be mitigated with good design but can easily become impractical. It’s still a good way to avoid the expense of some expensive machining equipment, though, and similar processes can be used for other types of machine work as well.

A Clock From An Electricity Meter

Electric utilities across the world have been transitioning their meters from the induction analog style with a distinctive spinning disc to digital “smart” meters which aren’t as aesthetically pleasing but do have a lot of benefits for utilities and customers alike. For one, meter readers don’t need to visit each meter every month because they are all networked together and can download usage data remotely. For another, it means a lot of analog meters are now available for projects such as this clock from [Monta].

The analog meters worked by passing any electricity used through a small induction motor which spun at a rate proportional to the amount of energy passing through it. This small motor spun a set of dials via gearing in order to keep track of the energy usage in the home or business. To run the clock, [Monta] connected a stepper motor with a custom transmission to those dials for the clock face because it wasn’t possible to spin the induction motor fast enough to drive the dials. An Arduino controls that stepper motor, but can’t simply drive the system in a linear fashion because it needs to skip a large portion of the “minutes” dials every hour. A similar problem arises for the “hours” dials, but a little bit of extra code solves this problem as well.

Once the actual clock is finished, [Monta] put some finishing touches on it such as backlighting in the glass cover and a second motor to spin the induction motor wheel to make the meter look like it’s running. It’s a well-polished build that makes excellent use of some antique hardware, much like one of his other builds we’ve seen which draws its power from a Stirling engine.

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Adding Luxury Charging Features To An Entry-Level EV

The Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric car of all time so far, thanks largely to it being one of the first mass produced all-electric EVs. While getting into the market early was great for Nissan, they haven’t made a lot of upgrades that other EV manufacturers have made and are starting to lose customers as a result. One of those upgrades is charge limiting, which allows different charging rates to be set from within the car. With some CAN bus tinkering, though, this feature can be added to the Leaf.

Limiting the charging rate is useful when charging at unfamiliar or old power outlets which might not handle the default charge rate. In Europe, which has a 240V electrical distribution system, Leafs will draw around 3 kW from a wall outlet which is quite a bit of power. If the outlet looks like it won’t support that much power flow, it’s handy (and more safe) to be able to reduce that charge rate even if it might take longer to fully charge the vehicle. [Daniel Ă–ster]’s modification requires the user to set the charge rate by manipulating the climate control, since the Leaf doesn’t have a comprehensive user interface.

The core of this project is performed over the CAN bus, which is a common communications scheme that is often used in vehicles and is well-documented and easy to take advantage of. Luckily, [Daniel] has made the code available on his GitHub page, so if you’re thinking about trading in a Leaf for something else because of its lack of features it may be time to reconsider.

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