A small gauge showing power generated by a house's solar panels.

Cute Solar Power Gauge Brightens The Day

What’s the first thing you want after installing solar? All the sunshine you can get, of course. Especially if you did it in the wintertime. And what would be more fun than monitoring your power generation, especially leading up to the equinox, or start of spring? Probably not much, especially if you built a cute solar power gauge like [Ben] did to keep him from obsessively checking his phone.

At the heart of this build is the affordable Seeed Xiao ESP32C3, which controls an equally cost-effective automotive stepper via an L293D H-bridge driver. Then it was just a matter of hooking it into Home Assistant. As power is generated by the solar system, the cute little sun on the gauge rises and shows the kilowattage gained.

Unfortunately there’s no real data sheet for the stepper, so [Ben] opted to use the 5 V from the USB that’s powering the ESP32. However, it seems like this might not be enough power because the gauge appears to drift a bit. To fix this, [Ben] runs the stepper_init script twice a day, which cranks the dials all the way forward then all the way backward before settling on the last known value.

Are you interested in solar? Here’s how you can build a small power system.

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.

Continue reading “Fail Of The Week: The Little Remote-Controlled Snowblower That Couldn’t”

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.

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

Driving A Motor With An Audio Amp Chip

[InazumaDenki] wanted to answer the question: can you drive a motor with an audio amplifier chip? The answer, of course, is yes. The TDA7052 has a single input, and a bridge output meant to drive a speaker differentially. It should work if the motor doesn’t present more of a load than a speaker.

The plan was to use a resistive divider to provide several discrete voltages to the input. At precisely the half-way mark, there should be no voltage across the load. Altering the input to go higher than halfway should make the motor turn one way, and making it go lower should turn the motor the other way. As you can see in the video below, it does work, although it may not be ideal for this application.

Continue reading “Driving A Motor With An Audio Amp Chip”

An Interesting Circular Stewart Platform

Stewart platforms are pretty neat, and not seen in the wild all that often, perhaps because there aren’t a vast number of hacker-friendly applications that need quite this many degrees of freedom within such a restricted movement range. Anyway, here’s an interesting implementation from the the curiously named [Circular-Base-Stewart-Platform] YouTube channel (no, we can’t find the designer’s actual name) with a series of videos from a few years ago, showing the construction and operation of such a beast. This is a very neat mechanism comprised of six geared motors on the end of arms, engaging with a large internal gear. The common end of each arm rides on the central shaft, each with its own bearing. With the addition of the usual six linkages, twelve ball joints, and a few brackets, a complete platform is realised.

This circular arrangement is so simple that we can’t believe we haven’t come across it before. One interesting deviation from the usual Stewart platform arrangement is the use of a central slip-ring connector to provide power, allowing the whole assembly to rotate continuously, in addition to the usual six degrees of freedom the mechanism allows. Control is courtesy of an Arduino Pro Mini, which drives the motors using a handful of Pololu TB6612 (PDF) dual H-bridge driver modules. Obviously, the sketch running on the Arduino will give the thing a fixed motion, but add in an additional data link over that central slip-ring setup (or maybe a wireless link), and it will be much more useful.

We recently saw another 6-DOF actuator design, using flexures, yet another ball-balancing hack, but if you want an actually useful Stewart platform application, checkout this pool-playing robot!

Continue reading “An Interesting Circular Stewart Platform”

A man welds on a chassis

Electric Wheelchair Dump Truck Hack Really Hauls

Have you ever looked at a derelict electric wheelchair and thought “I bet I could make something great with that!” Of course you have- this is Hackaday, after all! And so did [Made in Poland], who managed to get a hold of a broken down electric wheelchair and put the full utility of his well equipped metalworking shop to work. The results? Lets just say it hauls.

What we really enjoyed about the build was that there wasn’t much that couldn’t be done by an average garage hacker with a drill press, angle grinder, and a stick welder. While it’s definitely nicer to have a lathe and a high quality welding table, plasma cutter, and everything in between, nothing that [Made in Poland] did in the video is such high precision that it would require those extensive tools. There may be some parts that would be a lot more difficult, or lower precision, but still functional.

Another aspect of the build is of course the control circuitry and user interface. Keeping the skid steer and castor approach meant that each motor would need to be controllable independently. To achieve this, [Made in Poland] put together a purely electromechanical drive controlled with momentary rocker switches and automotive relays to form a simple H-Bridge for each motor.

Of course you just have to watch until the end, because it really proves that a man will do anything to get out of hauling wood around! Old electric wheelchairs can also make a great base for big robots, as it turns out.

Continue reading “Electric Wheelchair Dump Truck Hack Really Hauls”

Custom Christmas Light Controller Blocks Blinks

Finding that his recently purchased LED Christmas lights defaulted to an annoying blinking pattern that took a ridiculous seven button presses to disable each time they were powered up, [Matthew Millman] decided to build a new power supply that keeps things nice and simple. In his words, the goal was to enable “all lights on, no blinking or patterns of any sort”.

Connecting the existing power supply to his oscilloscope, [Matthew] found the stock “steady on” setting was a 72 VAC peak-to-peak square wave at about 500 Hz. To recreate this, he essentially needed to find a 36 VDC power supply and swap the polarity back and forth at the same frequency. In the end the closest thing he could find in the parts bin was a HP printer power supply that put out 30 volts, so the lights aren’t quite as bright as they were before, but at least they aren’t blinking.

To turn that into a pair of AC square waves, the power supply is connected to a common L298 H-Bridge module. You might expect a microcontroller to show up at this point, but [Matthew] went old school, and created his two alternating 500 Hz square waves with a 555 timer and a 74HC74D dual flip-flop.

Unfortunately, he didn’t have the time to get a custom PCB made before Santa’s big night. Though as he points out, since legitimate L298s are backordered well into next year anyway, having the board in hand wouldn’t have helped much. The end result is that the circuit has to live on a breadboard for the current holiday season, but hopefully around this time next year we’ll get a chance to see the final product.