Friday Hack Chat: Fire and Cars

Summer is here, and it’s time for the question on everyone’s mind: how are they going to get the fuselage of a 747 from the California desert to Burning Man? You can’t put it on a train, and it’s much wider than any truck.

This Friday, we’re not going to be answering the modern-day riddle of the Sphinx, but we are going to the talking about other art cars. For this week’s Hack Chat, we’re going to be discussing dragons made out of school buses and pyrotechnics.

Our guest for this Hack Chat will be [Kevin Bracken], best known as the founder of International Pillow Fight Day, but now he’s the project lead fo Heavy Meta, Canada’s largest art car and fire-breathing dragon sculpture/stage. Heavy Meta is a 30-foot long mutant vehicle with flame effects and a 15,000 watt sound system. It’s also the 3tress, a 2,000 square foot workshop founded with the purpose of building this gigantic art car, and it’s the Toronto Art Car Community, a group of people tasked with manufacturing gigantic lumbering behemoths.

Kevin will be discussing how the Heavy Meta crew transformed a GMC school bus into a dragon, how the team learned to build flame effects, how the pneumatics work, and what it’s like to be on tour with half a dozen Maker Faires.

During this Hack Chat, we’ll be talking about:

  • What an art car is
  • How do you make the electronics
  • What precautions do you take to keep it working on the road
  • How do you control flame effects
  • What are the legal and regulatory considerations of art cars

You are, of course, encouraged to add your own questions to the discussion. You can do that by leaving a comment on the Hack Chat Event Page and we’ll put that in the queue for the Hack Chat discussion.join-hack-chat

Our Hack Chats are live community events on the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week is just like any other, and we’ll be gathering ’round our video terminals at noon, Pacific, on Friday, July 6th.  Here’s a clock counting down the time until the Hack Chat starts.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io.

You don’t have to wait until Friday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.

3D Print A Remote Control Flame Thrower

We all have a weakness for a good flamethrower project, but sometimes they can look a little hairy, even if losing hairs to them seems to be the order of the day. [Hyper_Ion] has a ‘thrower that might satisfy the need for fire among the cautious though, because he’s created a remote control flamethrower.

Fuel for the flames is provided from a butane canister held within a 3D-printed frame, and is delivered via a piece of copper tube to a welding nozzle. A plunger beneath the can is connected to a rack-and-pinion driven by a servo, connected to a straightforward radio control receiver. The position of the can is adjusted until there is just enough gas to sustain a pilot flame at the nozzle, and a command to the servo releases a burst of gas that results in a satisfying puff of fire.

This is more of a static stage effect than the wearable flamethrowers or flamethrower guitar projects we’ve seen in the past, but it is no less a neat project. And unlike many other flamethrowers, it’s simple to build. We have to deliver the usual exhortation though: take care with your fire, we’d prefer not to be writing either obituaries of Fail Of The Week posts about smoking ruins.

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]