Hackaday Links: November 3, 2019

Depending on how you look at it, the Internet turned 50 years old last week. On October 29, 1969, the first message was transmitted between two of the four nodes that made up ARPANET, the Internet’s predecessor network. ARPANET was created after a million dollars earmarked for ballistic missile defense was diverted from the Advanced Research Projects Agency budget to research packet-switched networks. It’s said that ARPANET was designed to survive a nuclear war; there’s plenty of debate about whether that was a specific design goal, but if it was, it certainly didn’t look promising out of the gate, since the system crashed after only two characters of the first message were sent. So happy birthday, Internet, and congratulations: you’re now old enough to start getting junk mail from the AARP.

Good news for space nerds: NASA has persuaded Boeing to livestream an upcoming Starliner test. This won’t be a launch per se, but a test of the pad abort system intended to get astronauts out of harm’s way in the event of a launch emergency. The whole test will only last about 90 seconds and never reach more than 1.5 kilometers above the White Sands Missile Range test site, but it’s probably a wise move for Boeing to be as transparent as possible at this point in their history. The test is scheduled for 9:00 AM Eastern time — don’t forget Daylight Savings Time ends this weekend in most of the US — and will air on NASA Television.

Speaking of space, here’s yet another crowd-sourced effort you might want to consider getting in on if you’re of an astronomical bent. The Habitable Exoplanet Hunting Project is looking for a new home for humanity, and they need more eyes on the skies to do it. An introductory video explains all about it; we have to admit being surprised to learn that the sensitive measurements needed to see exoplanets transiting their stars are possible for amateur astronomers, but it seems doable with relatively modest equipment. Such are the advances in optics, CCD cameras, and image processing software, it seems. The project is looking for exoplanets within 100 light-years of Earth, perhaps on the hope that a generation ship will have somewhere to go to someday.

Space may be hard, but it’s nothing compared to running a hackerspace right here on Earth. Or at least it seems that way at times, especially when those times include your building collapsing, a police raid, and being forced to operate out of a van for months while searching for a new home, all tragedies that have befallen the Cairo Hackerspace over the last few years. They’re finally back on their feet, though, to the point where they’re ready to host Egypt’s first robotics meetup this month. If you’re in the area, stop by and perhaps consider showing off a build or even giving a talk. This group knows a thing or two about persistence, and they’ve undoubtedly got the coolest hackerspace logo in the world.

And finally, no matter how bad your job may be, it’s probably not as bad as restoring truck batteries by hand. Alert reader [rasz_pl] tipped us off to this video, which shows an open-air shop in Pakistan doing the dirty but profitable work of gutting batteries and refurbishing them. The entire process is an environmental and safety nightmare, with used electrolyte tossed into the gutter, molten lead being slung around by the bucketful, and not a pair of safety glasses or steel-toed shoes (or any-toed, for that matter) to be seen. But the hacks are pretty cool, like pouring new lead tabs onto the plates, or using a bank of batteries to heat an electrode for welding the plates together. We’ve talked about the recyclability of lead-acid batteries before and how automated plants can achieve nearly 100% reuse; there’s nothing automated here, though, and the process is so labor-intensive that only three batteries can be refurbished a day. It’s still fascinating to watch.

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Getting The Lead Out Of Lithium Battery Recycling

When that fateful morning comes that your car no longer roars to life with a quick twist of the key, but rather groans its displeasure at the sad state of your ride’s electrical system, your course is clear: you need a new battery. Whether you do it yourself or – perish the thought – farm out the job to someone else, the end result is the same. You get a spanking new lead-acid battery, and the old one is whisked away to be ground up and turned into a new battery in a nearly perfect closed loop system.

Contrast this to what happens to the battery in your laptop when it finally gives up the ghost. Some of us will pop the pack open, find the likely one bad cell, and either fix the pack or repurpose the good cells. But most dead lithium-based battery packs are dropped in the regular trash, or placed in blue recycling bins with the best of intentions but generally end up in the landfill anyway.

Why the difference between lead and lithium batteries? What about these two seemingly similar technologies dictates why one battery can have 98% of its material recycled, while the other is cheaper to just toss? And what are the implications down the road, when battery packs from electric vehicles start to enter the waste stream in bulk?

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PipeCam: Shallow-Water Exploration With Raspberry Pi

In what began as a personal challenge he issued to himself, [Fred] is in the process of building an underwater camera that’s capable of long-term photography in shallow waters. He’d like it to last about five hours on a charge while taking a photo every five minutes. Ideally, it will be as cheap as possible and constructed from readily available parts. Solving the cheap/available equation would theoretically make the camera easily to replicate, which is the third major requirement.

[Fred] has recently made great strides, both in the circuitry and the capsule design. The latest version uses a Raspberry Pi 3 with a V2 camera module and runs on a 12 V, 2.4 Ah rechargeable lead-acid battery. Everything is mounted on a piece of hardboard that slides into a 110mm piece of PVC. At one end, the camera looks out through a 10mm  acrylic lens fixed into a heavy-duty PVC fitting, and a DS1307 RTC provides a handy clock for shooting time lapses. With a friend’s help, he pressure-tested the housing and found that it can withstand 4 bar without leaking. He is still doing dry tests and trying hard to resist the urge to throw it in the water.

PipeCam is a work in progress, and [Fred] has many ideas for improvements. He’d like to add an Arduino to govern the battery use and provide its vital signs back to the Pi, and add an LDR to decide whether there’s enough light to warrant turning the Pi on to take pictures.

PVC is great for custom capsule building. But if you want to get started with underwater photography a little faster and want to build something instead of just buying a GoPro, try sealing your camera in something that’s already watertight.

Blast Your Battery’s Sulphates, Is It Worth It?

When a friend finds her caravan’s deep-cycle battery manager has expired over the summer, and her holiday home on wheels is without its lighting and water pump, what can you do? Faced with a dead battery with a low terminal voltage in your workshop, check its electrolyte level, hook it up to a constant current supply set at a few hundred mA, and leave it for a few days to slowly bring it up before giving it a proper charge. It probably won’t help her much beyond the outing immediately in hand, but it’s better than nothing.

A lot of us will own a lead-acid battery in our cars without ever giving it much thought. The alternator keeps it topped up, and every few years it needs replacing. Just another consumable, like tyres or brake pads. But there’s a bit more to these cells than that, and a bit of care and reading around the subject can both extend their lives in use and help bring back some of them after they have to all intents and purposes expired.

One problem in particular is sulphation of the lead plates, the build-up of insoluble lead sulphate on them which increases the internal resistance and efficiency of the cell to the point at which it becomes unusable. The sulphate can be removed with a high voltage, but at the expense of a dangerous time with a boiling battery spewing sulphuric acid and lead salts. The solution therefore proposed is to pulse it with higher voltage spikes over and above charging at its healthy voltage, thus providing the extra kick required to shift the sulphation build up without boiling the electrolyte.

If you read around the web, there are numerous miracle cures for lead-acid batteries to be found. Some suggest adding epsom salts, others alum, and there are even people who talk about reversing the charge polarity for a while (but not in a Star Trek sense, sadly). You can even buy commercial products, little tablets that you drop in the top of each cell. The problem is, they all have the air of those YouTube videos promising miracle free energy from magnets about them, long on promise and short on credible demonstrations. Our skeptic radar pings when people bring resonances into discussions like these.

So so these pulse desulphators work? Have you built one, and did it bring back your battery from the dead? Or are they snake oil? We’ve featured one before here, but sadly the web link it points to is now only available via the Wayback Machine.

Cheap Electric Car Drives Again With Charger Repair

If someone sent you an advert for an electric car with a price too low to pass up, what would you do? [Leadacid44] was in that lucky situation, and since it was crazy cheap, bought the car.

Of course, there’s always a problem of some kind with any cheap car, and this one was no exception. In this case, making it ‘go’ for any reasonable distance was the problem. Eventually a faulty battery charging system was diagnosed and fixed, but not before chasing down a few other possibilities. While the eventual solution was a relatively simple one the write-up of the car and the process of finding it makes for an interesting read.

The car in question is a ZENN, a Canadian-made and electric-powered licensed version of the French Microcar MC2 low-speed city car with a 72 volt lead-acid battery pack that gives a range of about 40 miles and a limited top speed of 25 miles per hour. Not a vehicle that is an uncommon sight in European cities, but very rare indeed in North America. Through the write-up we are introduced to this unusual vehicle, the choice of battery packs, and to the charger that turned out to be defective. We’re then shown the common fault with these units, a familiar dry joint issue from poor quality lead-free solder, and taken through the repair.

We are so used to lithium-ion batteries in electric cars that it’s easy to forget there is still a small niche for lead-acid in transportation. Short-range vehicles like this one or many of the current crop of electric UTVs can do without the capacity and weight savings, and reap the benefit of the older technology being significantly cheaper. It would however be fascinating to see what the ZENN could achieve with a lithium-ion pack and the removal of that speed limiter.

If your curiosity is whetted by European electric microcars, take a look at our previous feature n the futuristic Hotzenblitz, from Germany.

Save A Couple Thousand Dollars With A DIY Remote Lighting System

When you don’t need the durability of a professional system, this DIY remote lighting system will do.

Pelican makes a great remote lighting system. Unfortunately, it’s the kind of great that comes with a “Request Quote” button instead of “Add to Cart”. It’s designed to be thrown in the back of a tank and guaranteed to work at the end of the day. [mep1811]’s system is not that system. It’s the store-in-a-Rubbermaid-tote and throw in the back of the family Honda kind of great, but it’s made from stuff you can buy anywhere.

The build is contained by a water resistant plastic box. Two sealed lead acids and a battery charger sit inside. The system is hooked together with simple car outlets — also known as the worst accidental electrical connector standard of all time. For the lights, [mep1811] simply made mounts for chinese LED spots and bought some inexpensive camera tripods. With a full charge, he says it runs for forty hours.

In the end it’s not a complicated hack, but its simplicity adds a certain amount of ruggedness, and it will definitely do the trick in a power outage.

Hacklet 39: Battery Power

3296371398740598106[robin] has a Red Camera (lucky!), an absurdly expensive digital video camera. As you would expect the batteries are also absurdly expensive. What’s the solution? Battery packs from cordless drills.

Cordless drills are interesting pieces of tech that can be easily repurposed; there are huge battery packs in them, big, beefy motors, and enough hardware to build an Automatic Cat Feeder or a motorized bicycle.

What if those old Makita batteries don’t charge? That usually means only one or two cells are dead, not the whole pack. Free LiIon cells, but you need to charge them. Here’s a single cell charger/boost converter that will do the trick.

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A problem faced by amateur radio operators around the world is the lack of commercial power. Plugging a portable shack into a wall will work, but for uninterrupted power car batteries are everywhere. How do you combine wall power and car batteries for the best of both worlds? With an In-line battery backup module.

9k=All of the projects above rely on charging a battery through wall power, and sometimes even that is impossible. Solar is where we’re headed, with solar LiPo chargers, and solar LiFe chargers. That’s more than enough to keep a smartphone charged, but if you want to go completely off the grid, you’re going to need something bigger.

[Michel] has been off the power grid 80% of the time since he installed his home PV system a few years ago. How’s he doing it? A literal ton of batteries, huge chargers, and a 5kW inverter.