A Flame Diode Pilot Light Sensor For A Burning Man Installation

A naked flame is a complex soup of ionised gases, that possesses an unexpected property. As you might expect with that much ionisation there is some level of electrical conductivity, but the unusual property comes in that a flame can be made to conduct in only one direction. In other words, it can become a diode of sorts, in a manner reminiscent of a vacuum tube diode.

[Paul Stoffregen] has made use of this phenomenon in a flame detector that he’s built to be installed on a Burning Man flame-based art installation. It forms part of a response to a problem with traditional pilot lights: when the wind blows a pilot light out, a cloud of unignited gas can accumulate. The sensor allows the pilot light to be automatically re-ignited if the flame is no longer present.

The circuit is a surprisingly simple one, with a PNP transistor being turned on by the flame diode being placed in its base circuit. This allows the intensity of the flame to be measured as well as whether or not it is present, and all at the expense of a microscopic current consumption. A capacitor is charged by the transistor, and the charge time is measured by a Teensy that uses it to estimate flame intensity and trigger the pilot light if necessary. Interestingly it comes from a patent that expired in 2013, it’s always worth including that particular line of research in your investigations.

All the construction details are in the page linked above, and you can see the system under test in the video below the break.

Continue reading “A Flame Diode Pilot Light Sensor For A Burning Man Installation”

Be the Firebender You Want to See in the World

Always wanted to be a citizen of Fire Nation? Here’s one way to ace the citizenship exam: punch-activated flaming kung fu gauntlets of doom.

As with all the many, many, many flamethrower projects we’ve featured before, we’ve got to say this is just as bad an idea as they are and that you should not build any of them. That said, [Sufficiently Advanced]’s wrist-mounted, dual-wielding flamethrowers are pretty cool. Fueled by butane and containing enough of the right parts for even a minimally talented prosecutor to make federal bomb-making charges stick, the gauntlets each have an Arduino and accelerometer to analyze your punches. Wimpy punch, no flame — only awesome kung fu moves are rewarded with a puff of butane ignited by an arc lighter. The video below shows a few close calls that should scare off the hairy-knuckled among us; adding a simple metal heat shield might help mitigate potential singeing.

Firebending gloves not enough to satisfy your inner pyromaniac? We understand completely.

Continue reading “Be the Firebender You Want to See in the World”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Watching Out for Forest Fires

Hackaday Prize entrant [Danie Copnradie] lives in South Africa where wildfires are a major problem. Every year, humans and animals are killed, crops are destroyed, and property is lost. The FireBreakNet project aims to deploy wireless environmental sensors that alert farmers, park rangers, and emergency personnel when fires break out.

According to [Danie], firefighting services are underfunded in South Africa, with farmers and their employees having to do a lot of the work involved in firefighting with their own equipment. Having access to a network of early warning sensors would allow for faster response times, saving money and lives.

The goals of the project include a low price, easy deployment, low power consumption, physical ruggedness, and scalability. Currently, [Danie] is testing Adafruit Feather as well as Texas Instruments LaunchPad for the brains of each node, taking readings from CO2 and temperature sensors, optical air quality sensors as well as optical flame sensors.

Flame Triodes Don’t Need Any Vacuum

There is a rich history surrounding the improvisation of electronic components. From cats-whisker foxhole radio detectors using razor blades through radio amateurs trying antique quartz lenses as crystal resonators and 1950s experimenters making their own point-contact transistors, whenever desirable components have been unavailable the ingenuity of hackers and makers has always sought to provide.

In an age when any component you might wish for is only a web browser and a courier package away, you might think there would be no need for such experiments. But it is in our curious nature to push the boundaries of what can be made without a factory at our disposal, so there are still plenty of ingenious home-made components under construction.

One such experiment came our way recently. It’s a few years old, but it’s a good one. [Nyle Steiner, K7NS] made a working triode without any form of vacuum, instead its medium is a flame. He’s demonstrated it as a rectifier, amplifier, and oscillator, and while it might not be the best triode ever it’s certainly one of the simplest.

In a traditional vacuum triode the current flows as electrons released from a hot cathode and are able to cross the space because there are no gas molecules for them to collide with. The flame triode has an abundance of gas, but the gasses within it and its immediate surroundings are also strongly ionized, and thus electrically conductive. Flame ionization detectors have exploited this phenomenon in scientific instruments for a very long time.

A roaring flame might not be the most practical thing to keep in your electronic equipment, but [Nyle]’s experiment is nonetheless an impressive one. He’s posted a video showing it in action, which you can see below the break.

Continue reading “Flame Triodes Don’t Need Any Vacuum”

Reverse Engineering A Real Candle

[cpldcpu] just can’t leave the mysteries of candles alone. We’ve covered his explorations of candle flicker LEDs before, but this time he’s set his sensors on the real thing. [cpldcpu] hooked a photodiode to his oscilloscope, pointed it at a candle flame, and recorded the result.

The first interesting observation was the candle slowly changed brightness, whether it was interacted with or not. Next he measured the effect when the flame was disturbed by small gusts of air. This produced a bright flicker with an oscillation at 5Hz before returning to steady state, which as [stygiansonic] mentioned in a the Hacker News comment, is a known phenomenon used in flame detectors. Neat! There’s even an equation:

Under normal gravity conditions, the flames have a well defined oscillation frequency which is inversely proportional to the square root of the burner diameter, D, and to a good approximation can be written as f » 1.5/D½, with D given in meters.

[cpldcpu] then compiled his measurements into a series of graphs and ultimately an animated gif comparing the candle steady state, a real candle’s flicker, and the flicker he recorded from a candle flickr LED. It’s surprising how different the fake is from the real thing. You can look at his measurements and code at his github.

[via Hacker News]

Hackaday Links: Sunday, July 28th, 2013


[Chris Gammell] tipped us off that he’s building an online training program for learning electronics. The ten session course will cost money to take but you can get the goods for free if you’re one of the beta testers. We love to listen to The Amp Hour podcast which is just one of [Chris’] many endeavors.

Did you buy a Chromecast this week? We did, but we don’t have it in hand yet (ordered through Amazon). You can still get a look inside from the iFixit teardown.

Practice your Processing skills by using it to code a game of Pong.

A bit of lighter fluid and a hacked insert will get you a flaming wallet. We guess this is a different type of an anti-pickpocket device. [Thanks Stephen]

[Brain] used a $1.50 magnifying lens to help his Raspberry Pi camera module read QR codes better.

We really like [Aaron Christophel’s] LED matrix clock (translated). He started from a marquee that must be at least a decade old. He stripped it down and figured out how to drive it using a Sanguino as a controller.

Generating electricity from alcohol


Here’s a thermoelectric generator which [x2Jiggy] built. The concept uses heat from a flame, biased against cooler temperatures produced by that huge heat sink making up the top portion of the build to produce electricity via the Peltier effect.

The build is passively cooled, using a sync assembly that takes advantage of heat pipes to help increase the heat dissipation. A nearly flat heat sink makes up the mounting surface for the hot side, which faces down toward a flame driving the generator. [x2Jiggy] started the project by using a can, wick, and olive oil as the heat source. He managed to get about 2V out of the system with this method. What you see here is the second version. It swaps out the olive oil lamp for an alcohol stove. The cans with holes punched in them act as a wind screen while also providing a stable base. This rendition produces about 3V, but it doesn’t sound like there are any precise measurements of what it can do under load.