Hackaday Podcast 062: Tripping Batteries, Ventilator Design, Stinky Prints, And Simon Says Servos

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys check out the week’s awesome hacks. From the mundane of RC controlled TP to a comprehensive look into JTAG for Hackers, there’s something for everyone. We discuss a great guide on the smelly business of resin printing, and look at the misuse of lithium battery protection circuits. There’s a trainable servo, star-tracking space probes, and a deep dive into why bootstrapped ventilator designs are hard.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Turn Off Those Batteries With Their Protection Chip

It should be a feature of every device powered by a lithium-ion battery, that it has a protection chip on board that automatically disconnects it should it go out of its safe voltage range. A chip most often used for this purpose in single-cell applications is the Fortune Semiconductor DW01, and [Oliver] shares a tip for using this chip to power down the battery. The DW01 has a CS, or current sense pin, which if taken high momentarily will put the chip into an off state until the battery is disconnected.

Looking at the DW01 datasheet we can see that this would work, but we can’t help having a few questions. The CS pin is a safety sensor pin, providing over current, short circuit, and reverse polarity detection. It’s the kind of pin one might mess with only when one is absolutely certain it’s not likely to trigger a dangerous fault condition, so a bit of care should be required. However, we can see that leaving its resistor in place and supplying it a momentary logic level through another resistor should work. We’d be interested in the views of any readers with more experience in the world of lithium battery protection on this hack.

Meanwhile, a good read for any reader should be our look last year at lithium-ion safety.

Hackaday Podcast 056: Cat Of 9 Heads, Robot Squats, PhD In ESP32, And Did You Hear About Sonos?

Hackaday editors Elliot Williams and Mike Szczys gab on great hacks of the past week. Did you hear that there’s a new rev of the Pi 4 out there? We just heard… but apparently it’s release into the wild was months ago. Fans of the ESP8266 are going to love this tool that flashes and configures the board, especially for Sonoff devices. Bitluni’s Supercon talk was published this week and it’s a great roadmap of all the things you should try to do with an ESP32. Plus we take on the Sonos IoT speaker debacle and the wacky suspension system James Bruton’s been building into his humanoid robot.

Take a look at the links below if you want to follow along, and as always tell us what you think about this episode in the comments!

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Lessons In Li-Ion Safety

If you came here from an internet search because your battery just blew up and you don’t know how to put out the fire, then use a regular fire extinguisher if it’s plugged in to an outlet, or a fire extinguisher or water if it is not plugged in. Get out if there is a lot of smoke. For everyone else, keep reading.

I recently developed a product that used three 18650 cells. This battery pack had its own overvoltage, undervoltage, and overcurrent protection circuitry. On top of that my design incorporated a PTC fuse, and on top of that I had a current sensing circuit monitored by the microcontroller that controlled the board. When it comes to Li-Ion batteries, you don’t want to mess around. They pack a lot of energy, and if something goes wrong, they can experience thermal runaway, which is another word for blowing up and spreading fire and toxic gasses all over. So how do you take care of them, and what do you do when things go poorly?

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Better Battery Management Through Chemistry

The lead-acid rechargeable battery is a not-quite-modern marvel. Super reliable and easy to use, charging it is just a matter of applying a fixed voltage to it and waiting a while; eventually the battery is charged and stays topped off, and that’s it. Their ease is countered by their size, weight, energy density, and toxic materials.

The lithium battery is the new hotness, but their high energy density means a pretty small package that can get very angry and dangerous when mishandled. Academics have been searching for safer batteries, better charge management systems, and longer lasting battery formulations that can be recharged thousands of times, and a recent publication is generating a lot of excitement about it.

Consider the requirements for a battery cell in an electric car:

  • High energy density (Lots of power stored in a small size)
  • Quick charge ability
  • High discharge ability
  • MANY recharge cycles
  • Low self-discharge
  • Safe

Lithium ion batteries are the best option we have right now, but there are a variety of Li-ion chemistries, and depending on the expected use and balancing and charging, different chemistries can be optimized for different performance characteristics. There’s no perfect battery yet, and conflicting requirements mean that the battery market will likely always have some options.

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Lithium Jump Starter Disassembly Is Revealing

High-capacity lithium batteries tend to make everything in life better. No longer must you interact with your fellow human beings if your car battery goes flat in the carpark. You can jump the car yourself, with a compact device that fits in your glovebox. [Big Clive] decided to pull one apart and peek inside, and it’s quite the illuminating experience.

The first thing to note is there is almost no protection at all for the lithium battery inside. The output leads connect the lithium pack inside directly to the car battery, save for some diodes in series to prevent the car’s alternator backcharging the pack. [Clive] demonstrates this by short circuiting the pack, using a copper pipe as a test load to measure the current output. The pack briefly delivers 500 amps before the battery gives up the ghost, with one of the cells swelling up and releasing the magic smoke.

The teardown then continues, with [Clive] gingerly peeling back the layers of insulation around the cells, getting right down to the conductive plates inside. It’s a tough watch, but thankfully nothing explodes and [Clive]’s person remains intact. If you’ve never seen inside a lithium cell before, this is a real treat. The opened pack is even connected to a multimeter and squeezed to show the effect of the physical structure on output.

It would be interesting to compare various brands of jump starter; we imagine some have more protection than others. Regardless, be aware that many on the market won’t save you from yourself. Be careful out there, and consider jumping your car with an even more dangerous method instead (but don’t). Video after the break.

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Fail Of The Week: How Not To Electric Vehicle

If you ever doubt the potential for catastrophe that mucking about with electric vehicles can present, check out the video below. It shows what can happen to a couple of Tesla battery modules when due regard to safety precautions isn’t paid.

The video comes to us by way of [Rich], a gearhead with a thing for Teslas. He clearly knows his way around the EV world, having rebuilt a flood-soaked Tesla, and aspires to open an EV repair shop. The disaster stems from a novelty vehicle he and friend [Lee] bought as a side project. The car was apparently once a Disney prop car, used in parades with the “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” theme. It was powered by six 6-volt golf cart batteries, which let it maintain a stately, safe pace on a crowded parade route. [Rich] et al would have none of that, and decided to plop a pair of 444-cell Tesla modules into it. The reduced weight and increased voltage made it a real neck-snapper, but the team unwisely left any semblance of battery management out of the build.

You can guess what happened next, or spin up to the 3:00 mark in the video to watch the security camera mayhem. It’s not clear what started the fire, but the modules started cooking off batteries like roman candles. Quick action got it pushed outside to await the fire department, but the car was a total loss long before they showed up. Luckily no other cars in the garage were damaged, nor were there any injuries – not that the car didn’t try to take someone out, including putting a flaming round into [Lee]’s chest and one into the firetruck’s windshield.

[Rich] clearly knew he was literally playing with fire, and paid the price. The lesson here is to respect the power of these beefy batteries, even when you’re just fooling around.

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