Hackaday Links: December 22, 2019

It’s hard to believe it, but the Raspberry Pi has been on the market for only seven years now. The single-board computer has become so entrenched in the hobby electronics scene that it’s hard to imagine life without it, or what we did before it came along. And with the recent announcement that the 30 millionth Raspberry Pi was recently manufactured, now we have some clarity on the scale of its success. Just roll that number around in your head for a bit – that’s one Pi for every nine or so people in the USA. Some of the other facts and figures in the linked article boggle the mind too, like Eben Upton figured they’d only ever sell about 10,000 units, or that the factory in Wales where most Pis are made can assemble 15,000 units a day.

Speaking of manufacturing, have you ever considered what goes into getting a small-scale manufactured product ready for shipping? The good folks over at Gigatron know all about the joys of kitting, and have put together an interesting un-unboxing video for their flagship TTL-only retro computer. It’s a nice riff on the unboxing videos that are somehow popular on YouTube these days, and shows just how much effort they put into getting a Gigatron out the door. All told, it takes about an hour to ship each unit, and the care put into the process is evident. We especially like the part where all the chips are placed into antistatic foam in the same orientation they’ll be on the completed board. Nice touch.

Last time we checked in on the Lulzbot saga, the open source 3D printer manufacturer had been saved from complete liquidation by a company named FAME 3D. Now we’re getting the first solid details about where things go from here. Not only will thirteen of the remaining Lulzbot employees be staying on, but FAME 3D plans to hire 50 new employees to get operations back up as quickly as possible. The catch? The “F” in FAME 3D stands for Fargo, North Dakota, where Fargo Additive Manufacturing Equipment 3D is based. So Lulzbot will be moving north from Loveland, Colorado in the coming months.

For the last few years, adventure travelers making the pilgrimage to Shenzhen to scour the electronics markets have stuffed a copy of Andrew “Bunnie” Huang’s The Essential Guide to Electronics in Shenzhen into their soon-to-be-overflowing backpacks. The book is a goldmine of insider information, stuffed with maps and translation tables critical for navigating a different culture with no local language skills. Bunnie’s book has only been available in dead-tree format and now that all but the last few copies have been sold, he decided to make a web version available for free. We’d have to think a tablet or phone would be a bit harder to use in the heat of negotiation than the nice spiral-bound design of the print copy, but the fact that the insider information will now be widely available probably makes this a net positive.

And finally, if you’ve ever nearly been run over by an EV or hybrid silently backing out of a parking space, you’ll no doubt appreciate attempts to legislate some sort of audible presence to these vehicles. But what exactly should an electric vehicle be made to sound like? Volkswagen has begun to address that question, and while you can certainly read through the fluff in their press release, all you really need to do is listen to the sample. We’ve got to say that they pretty much nailed what a car of the future should sound like. Although they might have missed a real opportunity here.

Hybrid Drones Could Have Massively Extended Flight Times

Multirotor drones truly took off with the availability of lithium polymer batteries, brushless motors, and cheap IMUs. Their performance continues to improve, but their flight time remains relatively short due to the limits of battery technology. [Nicolai Valenti] aims to solve the problem by developing a hybrid generator for drones.

The basic concept consists of a small gasoline engine, connected to a brushless motor employed as a generator. The electricity generated is used to run the main flight motors of the multirotor drone. The high energy density of gasoline helps to offset the added weight of the generator set, and [Nicolai] is aiming to reach a goal of two hours of flight time.

There are many engineering problems to overcome. Engine starting, vibration and rectification are all significant challenges, but [Nicolai] is tackling them and has already commenced flight testing. Experiments are ongoing with 500 W, 1,000 W, and 2,000 W designs, and work is ongoing to optimise the engine and electronics package.

It’s a project that holds the potential to massively expand the range of operation for medium to large multirotors, and should unlock certain capabilities that have thus far been limited by short battery runtimes. Gasoline powered drones aren’t a new idea, but we’ve seen precious little in the hybrid space. We look forward to seeiing how this technology develops. Video after the break.

Continue reading “Hybrid Drones Could Have Massively Extended Flight Times”

Juicing Up The Chevy Volt With Raspberry Pi

While Chevrolet’s innovative electric hybrid might officially be headed to that great big junkyard in the sky, the Volt will still live on in the hearts and minds of hackers who’d rather compare amp hour than horsepower. For a relatively low cost, a used Volt offers the automotive hacker a fascinating platform for upgrades and experimentation. One such Volt owner is [Katie Stafford], who’s recently made some considerable headway on hacking her hybrid ride.

In an ongoing series on her blog, [Katie] is documenting her efforts to add new features and functions to her Volt. While she loves the car itself, her main complaint (though this is certainly not limited to the Volt) was the lack of tactile controls. Too many functions had to be done through the touch screen for her tastes, and she yearned for the days when you could actually turn a knob to control the air conditioning. So her first goal was to outfit her thoroughly modern car with a decidedly old school user interface.

Like most new cars, whether they run on lithium or liquefied dinosaurs, the Volt makes extensive use of CAN bus to do…well, pretty much everything. Back in the day it only took a pair of wire cutters and a handful of butt splice connectors to jack into a car’s accessory systems, but today it’s done in software by sniffing the CAN system and injecting your own data. Depending on whether you’re a grease or a code monkey, this is either a nightmare or a dream come true.

Luckily [Katie] is more of the latter, so with the help of her Macchina M2, she was able to watch the data on the CAN bus as she fiddled with the car’s environmental controls. Once she knew what data needed to be on the line to do things like turn on the fan or set the desired cabin temperature, she just needed a way to trigger it on her terms. To that end, she wired a couple of buttons and a rotary encoder to the GPIO pins of a Raspberry Pi, and wrote some code that associates the physical controls with their digital counterparts.

That’s all well and good when you need to mess around with the AC, but what’s the Pi supposed to do the rest of the time? [Katie] decided a small HDMI display mounted to the dash would be a perfect way for the Raspberry Pi to do double duty as information system showing everything from battery charge to coolant temperature. It also offers up a rudimentary menu system for vehicle modifications, and includes functions which she wanted quick access to but didn’t think were necessarily worth their own physical button.

In the video after the break, [Katie] walks the viewer through these modifications, as well as some of the other neat new features of her battery powered bow tie. What she’s already managed to accomplish without having to do much more than plug some electronics into the OBD-II port is very impressive, and we can’t wait to see where it goes from here.

Today there are simply too many good electric cars for hybrids like the Chevy Volt and its swankier cousin the Cadillac ELR to remain competitive. But thanks to hackers like [Katie], we’re confident this isn’t the last we’ve seen of this important milestone in automotive history.

Continue reading “Juicing Up The Chevy Volt With Raspberry Pi”

Goodbye Chevy Volt, The Perfect Car For A Future That Never Was

A month ago General Motors announced plans to wind down production of several under-performers. At the forefront of news coverage on this are the consequences facing factories making those cars, and the people who work there. The human factor associated with the closing of these plants is real. But there is also another milestone marked by the cancellation of the Volt. Here at Hackaday, we choose to memorialize the soon-to-be-departed Chevrolet Volt. An obituary buried in corporate euphemisms is a whimper of an end for what was once their technological flagship car of the future.

Continue reading “Goodbye Chevy Volt, The Perfect Car For A Future That Never Was”

Charge Your EV The Portable Way

[Andrew Rossignol] has a slightly unusual plug-in hybrid vehicle, a Cadillac ELR, and his latest project for the car sees him building a battery-powered portable mains charging pack for it in an attempt to increase its range. If this seems to be a rather cumbersome exercise, his write-up details the work he put in trying to hook up directly to the car’s internal battery, and how a 4 kW mains inverter and an off-the-shelf mains charging station were the most practical alternative.

His first impulse was to hook a second supply to the car’s high voltage bus from a supplementary battery pack and inverter, but in this aim he was thwarted by a protection diode and his not wanting to modify the car to bypass it. So the unlikely solution was to take his battery pack from a second-hand Toyota Prius upgrade kit and build it into a frame along with the inverter and charger. The result is something akin to a portable generator without the small gasoline engine, and while it is hardly the most efficient way to transfer energy from a wall socket into a car it does offer the ELR a significant range upgrade.

The cost involved has probably kept away many readers who would like to hack their hybrid cars, so we’ve seen surprisingly few. This home made Geo Metro supplements its forklift motor with a small gasoline generator. Meanwhile [Andrew] is no stranger to these pages, among the several times his work has appeared here are his rundown on OBD sniffing the ELR, and from a while back, displaying graphics on an oscilloscope including a Wrencher.

This Cup Holder Crystal Ball Tells Your MPG Future

Hybrid vehicles, which combine an eco-friendly electric motor with a gasoline engine for extended range, are becoming more and more common. They’re a transitional technology that delivers most of the advantages of pure electric vehicles, but without the “scary” elements of electric vehicle ownership which are still foreign to consumers such as installing a charger in their home. But one element which hybrids are still lacking is a good method for informing the driver whether they’re running on petroleum or lithium; a way to check at a glance how “green” their driving really is.

[Ben Kolin] and his daughter [Alyssa] have come up with a clever hack that allows retrofitting existing hybrid vehicles with an extremely easy to understand indicator of real-time vehicle efficiency. No confusing graphics or arcade-style bleeps and bloops, just a color-changing orb which lives in the cup holder. An evolved version which takes the form of a smaller “dome light” that sits on the top of the dashboard could be a compelling aftermarket accessory for the hybrid market.

The device, which they are calling the ecOrb, relies on an interesting quirk of hybrid vehicles. The OBD II interface, which is used for diagnostics on modern vehicles, apparently only shows the RPM for the gasoline engine in a hybrid. So if the car is in motion but the OBD port is reporting 0 RPM, the vehicle must be running under electric power.

With a Bluetooth OBD adapter plugged into the car, all [Ben] and [Alyssa] needed was an Arduino Nano clone with a HC-05 module to read the current propulsion mode in real-time. With some fairly simple conditional logic they’re able to control the color of an RGB LED based on what the vehicle is doing: green for driving on electric power, purple for gas power, and red for when the gas engine is at idle (the worst case scenario for a hybrid).

Check out our previous coverage of OBD hacking on the Cadillac ELR hybrid if you’re looking to learn more about what’s possible with this rapidly developing class of vehicle

Continue reading “This Cup Holder Crystal Ball Tells Your MPG Future”

Hybrid Lab Power Supply From Broken Audio Amp

The lab power supply is an essential part of any respectable electronics workbench. However, the cost of buying a unit that has all the features required can be eye-wateringly high for such a seemingly simple device. [The Post Apocalyptic Inventor] has showed us how to build a quality bench power supply from the guts of an old audio amplifier.

We’ve covered our fair share of DIY power supplies here at Hackaday, and despite this one being a year old, it goes the extra mile for a number of reasons. Firstly, many of the expensive and key components are salvaged from a faulty audio amp: the transformer, large heatsink and chassis, as well as miscellaneous capacitors, pots, power resistors and relays. Secondly, this power supply is a hybrid. As well as two outputs from off-the-shelf buck and boost converters, there is also a linear supply. The efficiency of the switching supplies is great for general purpose work, but having a low-ripple linear output on tap for testing RF and audio projects is really handy.

The addition of the linear regulator is covered in a second video, and it’s impressively technically comprehensive. [TPAI] does a great job of explaining the function of all the parts which comprise his linear supply, and builds it up manually from discrete components. To monitor the voltage and current on the front panel, two vintage dial voltmeters are used, after one is converted to an ammeter. It’s these small auxiliary hacks which make this project stand out – another example is the rewiring of the transformer secondary and bridge rectifier to obtain a 38V rail rated for twice the original current.

The Chinese DC-DC switching converters at the heart of this build are pretty popular these days, in fact we’re even seeing open source firmware being developed for them. If you want to find out more about how they operate on a basic level, here’s how a buck converter works, and also the science behind boost converters.

Continue reading “Hybrid Lab Power Supply From Broken Audio Amp”