Fail Of The Week: The Little Remote-Controlled Snowblower That Couldn’t

[Punxatawny Phil]’s prognostications aside, winter isn’t over up here in the Northern Hemisphere, and the snow keeps falling. If you’re sick of shoveling the driveway and the walk and you don’t have a kid handy to rope into the job, relax —  this rapidly assembled junkyard RC snowblower will do just as crappy a job while you stay nice and warm inside.

This build seemed to have a lot of potential at the start, based as it was on a second-hand track-drive snowblower, something that was presumably purpose-built for the job at hand. [Lucas] quickly got to work on it; he left the original gasoline engine to power the auger but took most of the transmission off so that each track could be driven separately with a wheelchair motor.  That seemed like a solid idea as far as steering goes, but the fact that he chose to drive the 24 volt motors with a single 12 volt deep-cycle battery worked against him out in the snow.

With a battery upgrade for better traction, the snowblower actually got around in the snow pretty well. [Lucas] also added some nice features, like a linear actuator to remotely engage the auger — a nice safety touch when kids and pets are around — and a motor to control the direction of the chute. Even these improvements weren’t enough, though; it worked insofar as it moved snow from where it was to where it wasn’t, but didn’t really move it very far. To the casual observer, it seems like there’s just not enough weight to the machine, allowing it to ride up over the snow rather than scraping the driveway clean. Check out the video below and see what you think.

Now, we’re not picking on [Lucas] here. Far from it — we enjoyed this build as much as some of his other stuff, like his scratch-built CO2 laser tube and his potty-mouthed approach to Kaizen tool organization. We still think this one has a lot of potential, and we’re glad he vowed to continue working on it for next winter.

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Fail Of The Week: This Flash Drive Will NOT Self-Destruct In Five Seconds

How hard can it be to kill a flash drive? Judging by the look of defeat on [Walker]’s face in the video below, pretty darn hard.

To bring you up to speed, and to give the “Mission: Impossible” reference in the title some context, it might be a good idea to look over our earlier coverage of [Walker]’s Ovrdrive project. It started way back in 2022 with the idea that some people might benefit from a flash drive that could rapidly and covertly render the data stored on it, err, “forensically unavailable.” This would require more than just erasing the data, of course, so [Walker] began looking at ways to physically kill a memory chip. First up was a voltage doubler to apply voltage much greater than the absolute maximum rating of 4.6 V for any pin on the chip. That corrupted some files on the flash chip, enough of a win to proceed to a prototype that actually succeeded in releasing the Magic Smoke.

But sadly, that puff of smoke ended up being a fluke. [Walker] couldn’t repeat the result, at least not with the reliability required by people for whom data privacy is literally a life-or-death matter. To increase the odds of a kill, he came up with an H-bridge circuit to reverse the polarity of the memory chip’s supply. Surely that would kill the chip, and from the thermal camera images, it sure looked promising. But apparently, even 167°C isn’t enough to forensically disable the chip, which kind of makes sense from the point of view of reflow survivability.

What’s next for [Walker]? He says he’s going to team up his overvoltage and reverse-polarity methods for one last shot, but after that, he’s about out of reasonable options. Sure, a thermite charge or a vial of superacid would do the trick, but neither is terribly covert. If you’re going to go that way, you might as well just buy a standard flash drive and throw it in the microwave or a blender. And we need to remember that this may be something the drive’s owner needs to do with jack-booted thugs kicking in the door, or possibly at gunpoint. It wouldn’t do to be too conspicuous under such circumstances. That’s why we like the “rapid power cycling” method of triggering the drive’s self-destruct sequence; it could easily be disguised as shaking hands in a stressful situation.

Who knew that memory chips were this robust? Kudos to [Walker] for getting the project as far as he did, and we’re still rooting for him to make it work somehow.

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Fail Of The Week: Car Starter Motors Aren’t The Best Fit For EBikes

A lot of what real engineering is all about is designing to the limits of your materials, with a healthy margin for error. On the other hand, seat-of-the-pants engineering often takes the opposite tack — working with the materials you have and finding their limits after the fact. While the former is more rigorous and better suited to anything where life and limb are on the line, there’s something to be said for the flexibility that informal engineering offers.

[Austin Blake]’s latest eBike is a case study in informal engineering. [Austin] started out wondering if a starter motor from a car engine would make a decent electric bike motor. Our first instinct before watching the video below was to answer that question with a resounding “No!” Yes, starter motors seem like a natural for the job, delivering high torque in a compact package. But starting a car engine is the very definition of a low-duty-cycle application, since it should only take a second or two of cranking to get an engine started. Pressing a motor designed for such a task into continuous duty seems like, well, a non-starter.

And to be fair, [Austin] fully acknowledges this from the start. He even retrofits the motor, wisely replacing the shaft bushings with proper bearings in an attempt to get a better duty cycle. And it works, at least for a while — with the motor, a homebrew battery, and an ESC mounted to a bike frame, the bike was actually pretty peppy. But bearings aren’t the only thing limiting a starter motor to intermittent duty operation. The short drive really heated up the motor, and even with a few ventilation holes knocked in the motor housing, it eventually released the Magic Smoke. The video has all the gory details.

As always, we like to stress that “Fail of the Week” is not necessarily a badge of shame. We appreciate it whenever someone shows us the way not to go, as [Austin] did here. And let’s keep in mind that he’s had success with this approach before, albeit with a much, much bigger starter motor.

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World's longest hacksaw

Fail Of The Week: A Bigger Hacksaw Isn’t A Better Hacksaw

If we’re being honest, the main reason to buy a power tool is to avoid the pain of using one’s muscles. Oh sure, we dress it up with claims that a power tool will make us more productive, or give better results, but more often than not it’s the memory of how your forearm feels after a day of twisting a screwdriver that makes you buy a cordless driver.

It appears that [Artisan Makes] has a high tolerance for pain, seeing how the main prep tool in his metal shop is a plain old hacksaw. So in an effort to speed up his stock prep, he turned not to a bandsaw or cutoff saw, but instead built the world’s silliest hacksaw. It’s the metalworking equivalent of the two-man bucksaws that lumberjacks used to fell trees before chainsaws came along, and at a meter and half in length, it’s about the size of one too. Modifying the frame of his trusty hacksaw was easy — he just popped the end pieces off and attached them to an extra-long piece of tube stock. Finding a 1.5-meter hacksaw blade was the main challenge; not exactly a big-box store item, that. So a section of metal-cutting bandsaw blade was modified to fit the frame, and it was off to the races.

Or not. The video below tells the tale of woe, which starts with the fact that [Artisan]’s shop is too small for the hilariously long hacksaw. Solving the fixturing problems didn’t soo much to help, though — there was no way to tension the blade enough to get it to stop wobbling during cutting. It was also clear that the huge saw wasn’t able to apply enough downforce on the stock to get good cuts. Maybe with a second set of hands, though…

There are plenty of ways to improve hacksawing in the shop, and while this isn’t one of them, we sure appreciate the chuckle we got out of it. And you really should check out [Artisan Makes]’ channel — his more serious stuff is really good.

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Fail Of The Week: This SD Card Won’t Slot

If you’ve got a few self-designed PCBs under your belt, you probably know the pain of missing some little detail and having to break out the bodge wires to fix it. So we feel for [Arsenio Dev], who placed an SD card slot next to an SoC, only to find that it was the wrong way round. Rather than tossing it in the bin, he decided to employ a particularly crafty set of bodge wires that curve over the board and connect to an SD card adapter on the other side.

Our attention was taken by the board itself, he’s posted little information about it and taken pains to conceal one of the pieces of text on it. Since it has an Octavo Systems BeagleBone-on-chip, a slot for a cellular modem, and a connector marked “CONNECT AERONET HERE” which we are guessing refers to the Aeronet sun photometry network, we’re guessing it might be a controller for remotely-sited nodes for that system. Either way it’s enough to have us intrigued, and we wish him every success with the next spin.

Meanwhile, this certainly isn’t the first PCB CAD fail we’ve brought you.

Fail Of The Week: How Not To Watercool A PC

To those who choose to overclock their PCs, it’s often a “no expense spared” deal. Fancy heat sinks, complicated liquid cooling setups, and cool clear cases to show off all the expensive guts are all part of the charm. But not everyone’s pockets are deep enough for off-the-shelf parts, so experimentation with cheaper, alternatives, like using an automotive fuel pump to move the cooling liquid, seems like a good idea. In practice — not so much.

The first thing we thought of when we saw the title of [BoltzBrain]’s video was a long-ago warning from a mechanic to never run out of gas in a fuel-injected car. It turns out that the gasoline acts as a coolant and lubricant for the electric pump, and running the tank dry with the power still applied to the pump quickly burns it out. So while [BoltzBrain] expected to see corrosion on the brushes from his use of water as a working fluid, we expected to see seized bearings as the root cause failure. Looks like we were wrong: at about the 6:30 mark, you can see clear signs of corrosion on the copper wires connecting to the brushes. It almost looks like the Dremel tool cut the wire, but that green copper oxide is the giveaway. We suspect the bearings aren’t in great shape, either, but that’s probably secondary to the wires corroding.

Whatever the root cause, it’s an interesting tour inside a common part, and the level of engineering needed to build a brushed motor that runs bathed in a highly flammable fluid is pretty impressive. We liked the axial arrangement of the brushes and commutator especially. We wonder if fuel pumps could still serve as a PC cooler — perhaps changing to a dielectric fluid would do the trick.

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Fail Of The Week: Bright Idea For LED Signs Goes Bad

Typically when we select a project for “Fail to the Week” honors, it’s because something went wrong with the technology of the project. But the tech of [Leo Fernekes]’ innovative LED sign system was never the problem; it was the realities of scaling up to production as well as the broken patent process that put a nail in this promising project’s coffin, which [Leo] sums up succinctly as “The Inventor’s Paradox” in the video below.

The idea [Leo] had a few years back was pretty smart. He noticed that there was no middle ground between cheap, pre-made LED signs and expensive programmable signboards, so he sought to fill the gap. The result was an ingenious “LED pin”, a tiny module with an RGB LED and a microcontroller along with a small number of support components. The big idea is that each pin would store its own part of a display-wide animation in flash memory. Each pin has two terminals that connect to metal cladding on either side of the board they attach to. These two conductors supply not only power but synchronization for all the pins with a low-frequency square wave. [Leo]’s method for programming the animations — using a light sensor on each pin to receive signals from a video projector — is perhaps even more ingenious than the pins themselves.

[Leo]’s idea seemed destined for greatness, but alas, the cruel realities of scaling up struck hard. Each prototype pin had a low part count, but to be manufactured economically, the entire BOM would have to be reduced to almost nothing. That means an ASIC, but the time and expense involved in tooling up for that were too much to bear. [Leo] has nothing good to say about the patent game, either, which his business partners in this venture insisted on playing. There’s plenty of detail in the video, but he sums it up with a pithy proclamation: “Patents suck.”

Watching this video, it’s hard not to feel sorry for [Leo] for all the time he spent getting the tech right only to have no feasible way to get a return on that investment. It’s a sobering tale for those of us who fancy ourselves to be inventors, and a cautionary tale about the perils of participating in a patent system that clearly operates for the benefit of the corporations rather than the solo inventor. It’s not impossible to win at this game, as our own [Bob Baddeley] shows us, but it is easy to fail.

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