[Ken Shirriff]’s analysis of a fascinating high-tech paperweight created by GE at the height of the space race is as informative as it is fun to look at. This device was created to show off GE’s thin-film electronics technology, and while it’s attractive enough on its own, there’s an added feature: as soon as the paperweight is picked up, it begins emitting a satellite-like rhythmic beep. It is very well-made, and was doubtlessly an impressive novelty for its time. As usual, [Ken] dives into what exactly makes it tick, and shares important history along the way.
In the clear area of the paperweight is a thin-film circuit, accompanied by a model of an early satellite. The module implements a flip-flop, and the flat conductors connect it to some additional components inside the compartment on the left, which contains a power supply and the necessary parts to create the beeps when it is picked up.
Thin-film electronics reduced the need for individual components by depositing material onto a substrate to form things like resistors and capacitors. The resulting weight and space savings could be considerable, and close-ups of the thin film module sure look like a precursor to integrated circuits. The inside of the left compartment contains a tilt switch, a battery, a vintage earphone acting as a small speaker, and a small block of components connected to the thin-film module. This block contains two oscillators made with unijunction transistors (UJTs); one to create the beep, and one to control each beep’s duration. The construction and overall design of the device is easily recognizable, although some of the parts are now obsolete.
If you’d like a bit more detail on exactly how this device worked, including circuit diagrams and historical context, be sure to click that first link, and pay attention to the notes and references at the end. One other thing that’s clear is that functional electronics embedded in clear plastic shapes simply never go out of style.
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.
This one is both wild enough to be confused as a conspiracy theory and common sense enough to be the big solution staring us in the face which nobody realized. Until now. Oak Ridge National Laboratory and General Electric (GE), working on a grant from the US Department of Energy (DOE), have been playing around with new clothes dryer technology since 2014 and have come with something new and exciting. Clothes dryers that use ultrasonic traducers to remove moisture from garments instead of using heat.
If you’ve ever seen a cool mist humidifier you’ll know how this works. A piezo element generates ultrasonic waves that atomize water and humidify the air. This is exactly the same except the water is stored in clothing, rather than a reservoir. Once it’s atomized it can be removed with traditional air movement.
This is a totally obvious application of the simple and inexpensive technology — when the garment is laying flat on a bed of transducers. This can be implemented in a press drying system where a garment is laid flat on a bed or transducers and another bed hinges down from above. Poof, your shirt is dry in a few seconds.
But individual households don’t have these kinds of dryers. They have what are called drum dryers that spin the clothes. Reading closely, this piece of the puzzle is still to come:
They play [sic] to scale-up the technoloogy to press drying and eventually a clothes dryer drum in the next five months.
We look at this as having a similar technological hurdle as wireless electricity. There must be an inverse-square law on the effect of the ultrasonic waves to atomize water as the water moves further away from the transducers. It that’s the case, tranducers on the circumference of a drum would be inefficient at drying the clothing toward the center. This slide deck hints that that problem is being addressed. It talks about only running the transducers when the fabric is physically coupled with the elements. It’s an interesting application and we hope that it could work in conjunction with traditional drying methods to boost energy savings, even if this doesn’t pan out as a total replacement.
With a vast population, cost adds up fast. There are roughly 125 M households in the United States and the overwhelming majority of them use clothes dryers (while many other parts of the world have a higher percentage who hang-dry their clothing). The DOE estimates $9 billion a year is spent on drying clothes in the US. Reducing that number by even 1/10th of 1% will pay off more than tenfold the $880,000 research budget that went into this. Of course, you have to outfit those households with new equipment which will take at least 8-12 years through natural attrition, even if ultrasonics hit the market as soon as possible.
Refits of retro TVs and radios with the latest smart guts are a dime a dozen around Hackaday. And while a lot of these projects show a great deal of skill and respect for the original device, there’s something slightly sacrilegious about gutting an appliance that someone shelled out a huge portion of their paycheck to buy in the middle of the last century. That’s why this all-new retro-style case for a smart TV makes us smile.
Another reason to smile is the attention to detail paid by [ThrowingChicken]. His inspiration came from a GE 806 TV from the 1940s, and while his build isn’t an exact replica, we think he captured the spirit of the original perfectly. From the curved top to the deep rectangular bezel, the details really make this a special build. One may quibble about not using brass for the grille like the original and going with oak rather than mahogany. In the end though, you need to work with the materials and tooling you have. Besides, we think the laser cut birch ply grille is pretty snazzy. Don’t forget the pressure-formed acrylic dome over the screen – here’s hoping that our recent piece on pressure-forming helped inspire that nice little touch.
This project was clearly a labor of love – witness the bloodshed after a tangle with a tablesaw while building the matching remote – and brought some life to an otherwise soulless chunk of mass-produced electronics.
[Harcoreta] has created a 3D printed model of the GE GEnx-1B Turbofan. This is the engine that powers Boeing’s 787 dreamliner. What sets this model apart is that it has a complete working reverse thrust system. A real jet engine would be asking a bit much of 3D printed ABS plastic. This model is more of an Electric Ducted Fan (EDF). An NTM 1400kv 35mm brushless motor hides in the core, cooled by a small impeller.
What sets this apart from other jet models is the working reverse thrust system. [Harcoreta] painstakingly modeled the cascade reverse thrust setup on the 787/GEnx-1B combo. He then engineered a way to make it actually work using radio controlled plane components. Two servos drive threaded rods. The rods move the rear engine cowling, exposing the reverse thrust ducts. The servos also drive a complex series of linkages. These linkages actuate cascade vanes which close off the fan exhaust. The air driven by the fan has nowhere to go but out the reverse thrust ducts. [Harcoreta’s] videos do a much better job of explaining how all the parts work together.
The model was printed on an Reprap Prusa I3 at 0.1mm layer height. [Harcoreta] smoothed his prints using acrylic thinner, similar to the acetone vapor method. Unfortunately, [Harcoreta] has only released a few of the design files on rcgroups, but we’re hoping he will drop the whole model. We can’t wait to see a model dreamliner landing just like the big boys!
Live in Kentucky? Want to invent the next big thing for the kitchen, like the automated ice maker? Well, you’re in luck. GE is hosting a massive hackathon at their microfactory called FirstBuild which is located in Louisville, Kentucky. Unfortunately it looks like pre-registration is already closed.
The concept of FirstBuild is pretty cool. GE has created what they like to call a microfactory for innovating new products in small production runs to flush out good ideas. We’d call it more of a corporate hackerspace with some serious funding. Regardless of their motives, it’s still a cool concept. And they have some awesome toys, er, tools.
The event is being sponsored by lots of big names like Intel, Atmel, TI, Freescale, MakerBot and even Autodesk — and the prizes aren’t too shabby either! Though for the really big prizes you’ll need to stick with us.
We have to wonder — what happens when GE sees an idea they like? Hopefully it results in a sweet job.
A plane from Britain is met in the US by armed security. The cargo? An experimental engine created by Air Commodore [Frank Whittle], RAF engineer air officer. This engine will be further developed by General Electric under contract to the US government. This is not a Hollywood thriller; it is the story of the jet engine.
The idea of jet power started to get off the ground at the turn of the century. Cornell scholar [Sanford Moss]’ gas turbine thesis led him to work for GE and ultimately for the Army. Soon, aircraft were capable of dropping 2,000 lb. bombs from 15,000 feet to cries of ‘you sank my battleship!’, thus passing [Billy Mitchell]’s famous test.
The World War II-era US Air Force was extremely interested in turbo engines. Beginning in 1941, about 1,000 men were working on a project that only 1/10 were wise to. During this time, American contributions tweaked [Whittle]’s design, improving among other things the impellers and rotor balancing. This was the dawn of radical change in air power.
Six months after the crate arrived and the contracts were signed, GE let ‘er rip in the secret testing chamber. Elsewhere at the Bell Aircraft Corporation, top men had been working concurrently on the Airacomet, which was the first American jet-powered plane ever to take to the skies.
In the name of national defense, GE gave their plans to other manufacturers like Allison to encourage widespread growth. Lockheed’s F-80 Shooting Star, the first operational jet fighter, flew in June 1944 under the power of an Allison J-33 with a remarkable 4,000 pounds of thrust.
GE started a school for future jet engineers and technicians with the primary lesson being the principles of propulsion. The jet engine developed rapidly from this point on.