Computer Vision Extracts Lightning From Footage

Lightning is one of the more mysterious and fascinating phenomenon on the planet. Extremely powerful, but each strike on average only has enough energy to power an incandescent bulb for an hour. The exact mechanism that starts a lightning strike is still not well understood. Yet it happens 45 times per second somewhere on the planet. While we may not gain a deeper scientific appreciation of lightning anytime soon, but we can capture it in various photography thanks to this project which leverages computer vision machine learning to pull out the best frames of lightning.

The project’s creator, [Liam], built this as a tool for stormchasers and photographers so that they can film large amounts of time and not have to go back through their footage manually to pull out the frames with lightning strikes. The project borrows from a similar project, but this one adds Python 3 capabilities and runs on a tiny netbook for more easy field deployment. It uses OpenCV for object recognition, using video files as the source data, and features different modes to recognize different types of lightning.

The software is free and open source, and releases are supported for both Windows and Linux. So far, [Liam] has been able to capture all kinds of electrical atmospheric phenomenon with it including lightning, red sprites, and elves. We don’t see too many projects involving lightning around here, partly because humans can only generate a fraction of the voltage potential needed for the average lightning strike.

The Electrifying Debate Around Where Lightning Comes From

Along with many other natural phenomena, lightning is probably familiar to most. Between its intense noise and visuals, there is also very little disagreement that getting hit by a lightning strike is a bad thing, regardless of whether you’re a fleshy human, moisture-filled plant, or conductive machine. So it’s more than a little bit strange that the underlying cause of lightning, and what makes certain clouds produce these intense voltages along ionized air molecules, is still an open scientific question.

Many of us have probably learned at some point the most popular theory about how lightning forms, namely that lightning is caused by ice particles in clouds. These ice particles interact to build up a charge, much like in a capacitor. The only issue with this theory is that this process alone will not build up a potential large enough to ionize the air between said clouds and the ground and cause the lightning strike, leaving this theory in tatters.

A recent study, using data from Earth-based radio telescopes, may now have provided fascinating details on lightning formation, and how the charge may build up sufficiently to make us Earth-based critters scurry away to safety when dark clouds draw near.

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A kinetic art installation with many metal parts

Kinetic Art Installation Brings All The World’s Lightning To One Place

Lightning is a force to be reckoned with: ever since ancient times, humans have been in awe of the lethal power of lightning strikes and the deafening roar of thunder. Quite reasonably, they ascribed these events to acts of angry gods; today, modern science provides a more down-to-earth explanation of the physics involved, and a world-wide network of sensors generates a real-time record of lightning strikes around the globe.

[Dmitry Morozov]’s latest kinetic art installation called Adad is driven by this stream of data. Named after a Mesopotamian god of thunder, it consists of a set of arms that suddenly jerk upwards when a lightning strike is detected anywhere in the world. When an arm falls down again, it strikes a piezo crystal, which generates an electric charge that triggers a bright flash of light as well as a sound effect. Those crystals are pieces of potassium sodium tartrate (also known as Rochelle salt) and were grown specifically for this project. They are housed in plexiglass holders which also provide electrical connections.

Adad‘s spider-like design, its eerie sounds as well as the sudden pops and flashes make this a rather unsettling yet beautiful display of Nature’s violence. And it’s a piece of beauty from an engineering point of view as well: sleek aluminium tubes, servo-driven motion and those transparent crystal holders, all controlled by an Arduino that receives live lightning data through an internet connection.

We’ve seen several types of lightning detectors, usually based on a standard radio receiver or a specialized chip. If you’re interested in growing your own piezo crystals, we’ve covered that too. Continue reading “Kinetic Art Installation Brings All The World’s Lightning To One Place”

Why Wait For Apple? Upgrade Your IPhone With USB-C Today!

Apple iPhones ship with the company’s Lightning cable, a capable and robust connector, but one that’s not cheap and is only useful for the company’s products. When the competition had only micro-USB it might have made sense, but now that basically all new non-fruity phones ship with USB-C, that’s probably the right way to go.

[Ken Pilonell] has addressed this by modifying his iPhone to sport a USB connector. The blog post and the first video below the break show us the proof of concept, but an update in the works and a teaser video show that he made it.

We’re a bit hazy on the individual iPhone model involves, but the essence of the work involves taking the internals of a Lightning-to-USB-C cable and hooking it up to the phone’s internal Lightning port. The proof-of-concept does it by putting the Apple flexible PCB outside the phone and plugging the cable part in directly, but it seems his final work involves a custom flexible board on which the reverse-engineered USB-C converter parts are mounted along with the USB-C socket itself. We see a glimpse of machining the slot in the phone’s case to USB-C dimensions, and we can’t wait for the full second installment.

It’s purely coincidental, but this comes against a backdrop of the European Union preparing to mandate USB-C on all applicable devices.

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Detect Lightning Strikes With An Arduino

Lightning is a powerful and seemingly mysterious force of nature, capable of releasing huge amounts of energy over relatively short times and striking almost at random. Lightning obeys the laws of physics just like anything else, though, and with a little bit of technology some of its mysteries can be unraveled. For one, it only takes a small radio receiver to detect lightning strikes, and [mircemk] shows us exactly how to do that.

When lightning flashes, it also lights up an incredibly wide spectrum of radio spectrum as well. This build uses an AM radio built into a small integrated circuit to detect some of those radio waves. An Arduino Nano receives the signal from the TA7642 IC and lights up a series of LEDs as it detects strikes in closer and closer proximity to the detector. A white LED flashes when a strike is detected, and some analog circuitry supports an analog galvanometer which moves during lightning strikes as well.

While this project isn’t the first lightning detector we’ve ever seen, it does have significantly more sensitivity than most other homemade offerings. Something like this would be a helpful tool to have for lifeguards at a pool or for a work crew that is often outside, but we also think it’s pretty cool just to have around for its own sake, and three of them networked together would make triangulation of strikes possible too.

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Thor does battle with a man shooting lasers from his hands

Of Lasers And Lightning: Thwarting Thor With Technology

Most of us don’t spend that much time thinking about lightning. Every now and then we hear some miraculous news story about the man who just survived his fourth lightning strike, but aside from that lightning probably doesn’t play that large a role in your day-to-day life. Unless, that is, you work in aerospace, radio, or a surprisingly long list of other industries that have to deal with its devastating effects.

Humans have been trying to protect things from lightning since the mid-1700s, when Ben Franklin conducted his fabled kite experiment. He created the first lightning rod, an iron pole with a brass tip. He had speculated that the conductor would draw the charge out of thunderclouds, and he was correct. Since then, there haven’t exactly been leaps and bounds in the field of lightning rod design. They are still, essentially, a metal rods that attract lightning strikes and shunt the energy safely into the earth. Just as Ben Franklin first did in the 1700s, they are still installed on buildings today to protect from lightning and do a fine job of it. While this works great for most structures, like your house for example, there are certain situations where a tall metal pole just won’t cut it.

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Physics Of Lightning Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, March 31 at noon Pacific for the Physics of Lightning Hack Chat with Greg Leyh!

Of all the things that were around to terrify our ancestors, lightning must have been right up there on the list. Sure, the savannahs were teeming with things that wanted to make lunch out of you, but to see a streak of searing blue-white light emerge from a cloud to smite a tree out of existence must have been a source of dread to everyone. Even now, knowing much more about how lightning happens and how to protect ourselves from it, it’s still pretty scary stuff to be around.

But for as much as we know about lightning, there are plenty of unanswered questions about its nature. To get to the bottom of this, Greg Leyh wants to build a lightning machine of gargantuan proportions: a pair of 120 foot (36 m) tall Tesla towers. Each 10-story tower will generate 8.8 million volts and recreate the conditions inside storm clouds. It’s an ambitious goal, but Greg and his team at Lightning on Demand have already built and demonstrated a 1/3-scale prototype Tesla tower, which is impressively powerful in its own right.

As you can imagine, there are a ton of engineering details that have to be addressed to make a Tesla tower work, not to mention the fascinating physics going on inside a machine like this. Greg will stop by the Hack Chat to answer our questions about the physics of lightning, as well as the engineering needed to harness these forces and call the lightning down from the sky.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hackaday.io Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, March 31 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones have you tied up, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on Hackaday.io. You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.
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