Solar System Wars: Walmart Versus Tesla

It seems like hardly a day goes by that doesn’t see some news story splashed across our feeds that has something to do with Elon Musk and one or another of his myriad companies. The news is often spectacular and the coverage deservedly laudatory, as when Space X nails another double landing of its boosters after a successful trip to space. But all too often, it’s Elon’s baby Tesla that makes headlines, and usually of the kind that gives media relations people ulcers.

The PR team on the automotive side of Tesla can take a bit of a breather now, though. This time it’s Elon’s solar power venture, Tesla Energy Operations, that’s taking the heat. Literally — they’ve been sued by Walmart for rooftop solar installations that have burst into flames atop several of the retail giant’s stores. While thankfully no lives have been lost and no major injuries were reported, Walmart is understandably miffed at the turn of events, leading to the litigation.

Walmart isn’t alone in their exposure to potential Tesla solar problems, so it’s worth a look to see what exactly happened with these installations, why they failed, and what we as hackers can learn from the situation. As we’ll see, it all boils down to taking electrical work very seriously and adhering to standards designed to keep everyone safe, even when they just seem like a nuisance.

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Fail Of The Week: Toilets And High Voltage Do Not Mix

Imagine if you will that you are enthroned upon the porcelain, minding your own business while doing your business. You’re catching up on Hackaday on your phone – c’mon, admit it – when a whir and a buzz comes from behind you. You sit up in alarm, whereupon your lower back suddenly feels as if someone is scrubbing it with a steel wool pad. Then the real pain sets in as super-hot plasma lances into your skin, the smell of burning flesh fills the bathroom, and you crack your head on the towel bar trying to escape this torture chamber in a panic.

Sound good? Then [Vije Miller]’s plasma-powered toilet air freshener is a must-build for you. We’re not entirely sure where this was going, but the name of the project seems to indicate a desire to, ahem, clear the air near your derrière with the power of ions. While that might work – we’ve recently seen an electrostatic precipitator for 3D-printer fumes – the implementation here is a bit sketchy. The ball of steel wool? It was possibly intended as a way to disperse the ions, but it served as nothing more than fuel when touched by the plasma. The Contact-esque gimballed rings? Not a clue what they’re for, but they look cool. And hats off to [Vije] for the intricate 3D-printed parts, the geartrain and linkages, and the DIY slip rings.

It may be a head-scratcher of a build, but the video below is entertaining. Check out some of [Vije]’s other projects of dubious value, like his licorice launcher or the smartphone back scratcher.

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Put A Smoke Detector To Some Use

While we’re certainly not denying that smoke detectors are useful, there’s a certain kind of tragedy to the fact that most of them will never realize their true purpose of detecting smoke, and alerting us to a dangerous fire. On the other hand, [Ben] really unlocks the potential hidden deep in every smoke detector with his latest project which uses the smoke-detecting parts of a smoke detector to turn on the exhaust fan over his stove.

The project didn’t start with the noble aim of realizing the hidden and underutilized quiescent nature of a smoke alarm, though. He wanted his range exhaust fan to turn on automatically when it was needed during his (and his family’s) cooking activities. The particular range has four speeds so he wired up four relays to each of the switches in the range and programmed a Particle Photon to turn them on based on readings from an MQ-2 gas-detecting sensor.

The sensor didn’t work as well as he had hoped. It was overly sensitive to some gasses like LPG which would turn the range on full blast any time he used his cooking spray. Meanwhile, it would drift and not work properly during normal cooking. He tried disabling it and using only a temperature sensor, which didn’t work well either. Finally, he got the idea to tear apart a smoke detector and use its sensor’s analog output to inform the microcontroller of the current need for an exhaust fan. Now that that’s done, [Ben] might want to add some additional safety features to his stovetop too.

Blacksmithing For The Uninitiated: Curves And Rings

You know the funny looking side of the anvil? That’s where the best curves come from. It’s called the anvil horn and is the blacksmith’s friend when bending steel and shaping it into curves.

The principle of bending a piece of steel stock is very easy to understand. Heat it up to temperature, and hammer it over a curved profile to the intended shape. A gentler touch is required than when you are shaping metal. That’s because the intent is to bend the metal rather than deform. Let’s take a look!

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Blacksmithing For The Uninitiated: Your First Time At The Anvil

For the past few months we’ve been running this series of Blacksmithing For The Uninitiated posts, exploring the art of forge work for a novice. It’s based upon my experience growing up around a working blacksmith’s business and becoming an enthusiastic if somewhat inexpert smith, and so far we’ve spent our time looking at the equipment you might expect to need were you embarking on your own blacksmith work. Having assembled by now a basic forge of our own it’s now time to fire it up and take to the anvil for our first bit of smithing.

Lighting a forge is easy enough. Some people do it with a gas torch, but I break a piece of firewood into sticks using a hammer with the fuller set in the hardy hole on the anvil as an impromptu splitter. Making a small fire by lighting some paper under my pile of sticks placed on the hearth next to the tuyere I start the blower and then pile coke on top of the resulting conflagration. After about ten minutes I will have a satisfying roar and a heap of glowing coals, and as they burn there will be some slag collecting in the bottom of the fire that I will eventually need to rake out. Continue reading “Blacksmithing For The Uninitiated: Your First Time At The Anvil”

It’s Never Too Early To Prepare For Halloween: With Flamethrowers

Using a legitimate flamethrower is on the bucket list for a lot of us. Even Elon Musk got into the action with his Not-A-Flamethrower flamethrower. For the rest of us non-billionaires though, we have to come up with clever reasons to build our own like “Halloween is only six months away”. [HandsomeRyan] took this approach six months ago to great effect, and recently released the files on Thingiverse for us all to enjoy.

The cover for building this project was making a Jack-o-Lantern shoot flames out of its face on-demand. The build is based around a car door locking solenoid, which has plenty of kick for applications like this. [HandsomeRyan] upgraded his old wood design with fancy 3D-printed parts which, with the help of the solenoid, deliver a blast of flammable material across a candle inside the Jack-o-Lantern via an aerosol can hidden in the pumpkin.

Part of the elegance of this project is that a car door locking solenoid is typically controlled by remote, meaning that if you want this to be remote-controlled the work has already been done for you. If you need a more timely excuse for building one of these, the Fourth of July is a little bit closer, which should work in a pinch as an excuse to build something crazy even if you’re not American.

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The Drones And Robots That Helped Save Notre Dame

In the era of social media, events such as the fire at Notre Dame cathedral are experienced by a global audience in real-time. From New York to Tokyo, millions of people were glued to their smartphones and computers, waiting for the latest update from media outlets and even individuals who were on the ground documenting the fearsome blaze. For twelve grueling hours, the fate of the 850 year old Parisian icon hung in the balance, and for a time it looked like the worst was inevitable.

The fires have been fully extinguished, the smoke has cleared, and in the light of day we now know that the heroic acts of the emergency response teams managed to avert complete disaster. While the damage to the cathedral is severe, the structure itself and much of the priceless art inside still remain. It’s far too early to know for sure how much the cleanup and repair of the cathedral will cost, but even the most optimistic of estimates are already in the hundreds of millions of dollars. With a structure this old, it’s likely that reconstruction will be slowed by the fact that construction techniques which have become antiquated in the intervening centuries will need to be revisited by conservators. But the people of France will not be deterred, and President Emmanuel Macron has already vowed his country will rebuild the cathedral within five years.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the men and women who risked their lives to save one of France’s most beloved monuments. They deserve all the praise from a grateful nation, and indeed, world. But fighting side by side with them were cutting-edge pieces of technology, some of which were pushed into service at a moments notice. These machines helped guide the firefighters in their battle with the inferno, and stood in when the risk to human life was too great. At the end of the day, it was man and not machine that triumphed over nature’s fury; but without the help of modern technology the toll could have been far higher.

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