Multi-Channel Battery Monitor Aces First Sea Trial

A little over a a year ago, we covered an impressive battery monitor that [Timo Birnschein] was designing for his boat. With dedicated batteries for starting the engines, cranking over the generator, and providing power to lights and other amenities, the device had to keep tabs on several banks of cells to make sure no onboard systems were dipping into the danger zone. While it was still a work in progress, it seemed things were progressing along quickly.

But we know how it is. Sometimes a project unexpectedly goes from having your full attention to winning an all-expense-paid trip to the back burner. In this case, [Timo] only recently put the necessary finishing touches on his monitor and got it installed on the boat. Recent log entries on the project’s Hackaday.io page detail some of the changes made since the last time we checked in, and describe the successful first test of the system on the water.

Certainly the biggest issue that was preventing [Timo] from actually using the monitor previously was the lack of an enclosure and mounting system for it. He’s now addressed those points with his 3D printer, and in the write-up provides a few tips on shipboard ergonomics when it comes to mounting a display you’ll need to see from different angles.

The printed enclosure also allowed for the addition of some niceties like an integrated 7805 voltage regulator to provide a solid 5 V to the electronics, as well as a loud piezo beeper that will alert him to problems even when he can’t see the screen.

Under the hood he’s also made some notable software improvements. With the help of a newer and faster TFT display library, he’s created a more modern user interface complete with a color coded rolling graph to show voltages changes over time. There’s still a good chunk of screen real estate available, so he’s currently brainstorming other visualizations or functions to implement. The software isn’t using the onboard NRF24 radio yet, though with code space quickly running out on the Arduino Nano, there’s some concern about getting it implemented.

As we said the first time we covered this project, you don’t need to have a boat to learn a little something from the work [Timo] has put into his monitoring system. Whether you’re tracking battery voltages or temperatures reported by your BLE thermometers, a centralized dashboard that can collect and visualize that data is a handy thing to have.

Lathe And 3D Printer Help Repair Buried Buttons

Usually corroded buttons on a piece of electronic equipment wouldn’t be that big a deal to repair, but as [Haris Andrianakis] recently found out, things can get a little tricky when they are sealed inside a device meant to operate in a marine environment. Figuring out how to get into the case to clean the buttons up is only half the battle, when you’re done you still need to close it back well enough that the elements can’t get in.

The device in question is a tachometer intended for a Yamaha outboard motor, and the buttons are sealed between the guage’s face and the compartment in the rear that holds the electronics. Pulling the guts out of the back was no problem, but that didn’t get [Haris] any closer to the defective buttons. In light of the cylindrical design of the gauge, he decided to liberate the front panel from the rest of the unit with his lathe.

Removing the face was a delicate operation, to put it mildly. The first challenge was getting the device mounted securely in the chuck, but then the cutting had to be done very carefully so as not to damage the housing. Once he cut through the side far enough to get the face off, the actual repair of the buttons was fairly straightforward. But how to get it back together?

After a few missteps, [Haris] finally found a solution that have him the results he was looking for. He 3D printed a ring that fit the front of the gauge tightly, hot glued it into place, and used it as a mould to pour in black epoxy resin. Once the epoxy had cured, the mould was cut off and the gauge went back on the lathe so he could trim away the excess. He had to do some hand sanding and filing to smooth out the bezel, but overall the end result looks very close to factory.

We get it, there’s a lot to consider when you add a lathe to your workshop. But hacks like these are wonderful reminders of how many tricks these versatile machines are really capable of.

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An Open Source Boating Autopilot With Some Custom Tweaks

Piloting a boat is all well and good, but can get dull when you’d rather be reclining on the deck with a cold beverage in hand. For [Timo Birnschein], this simply wouldn’t do. He began to gather parts to put together an autopilot to keep his boat on the straight and narrow.

The build is based around OpenPlotter, which uses a battery of marine-ready software to handle routing charts, autopiloting, and providing a compass heading for navigation. Naturally, it all runs on a Raspberry Pi. In combination with PyPilot, it can be used to let the vessel drive itself around a series of waypoints, allowing you to soak up the atmosphere on the water without having to constantly steer the craft.

[Timo] ran into some issues, however, with the hardware side of things. Existing implementations for motor control to drive the rudder weren’t quite cutting it, so the system was reworked to run with a robust H-bridge and some fresh Arduino code. This was combined with a custom rudder sensor built with a potentiometer and some 3D printed gears. Future work aims to double up the rudder sensors for redundancy, something we should all consider at times.

Overall, the system is starting to come together, and [Timo]’s enjoying letting his boat think for itself. He notes that it’s very important to keep an eye on the boat while operating in this condition, lest it veer off course – many a boat has been lost this way. We’re always supporters of a mature attitude towards autonomous vehicle operations!

Traffic Updates On The Seven Seas: Open Source Chart Plotter Using A Raspberry Pi

As the Raspberry Pi in its various forms continues to flow into the wild by the thousands, it’s interesting to see its user base expand outside beyond the hacker communities. One group of people who’ve also started taking a liking to it is sailing enthusiasts. [James Conger] is one such sailor, and he built his own AIS enabled chart plotter for a fraction of the price of comparable commercial units.

AIS transponders in the Mediterranean. VesselFinder

Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a GPS tracking system that uses transponders to transmit a ship’s position data to other ships or receiver stations in an area. This is used for collision avoidance and by authorities (and hobbyists) to keep an eye on shipping traffic, and allow for stricken vessels to be found easily. [James]’ DIY chart plotter overlays the received AIS data over marine charts on a nice big display. A Raspberry Pi 3B+, AIS Receiver Hat, USB GPS dongle and a makes up the core of the system. The entire setup cost about $350. The Pi runs OpenCPN, an open source chart plotter and navigation software package that [John] says is rivals most commercial software. As most Pi users will know the SD card is often a weak link, so it’s probably worth having a backup SD card with all the software already installed just in case it fails during a voyage.

We’ve seen AIS receiver stations built using the RTL-SDR, as well as a number of projects around the AIS equivalent in aviation, ADS-B. Check out [John]’s video after the break. Continue reading “Traffic Updates On The Seven Seas: Open Source Chart Plotter Using A Raspberry Pi”

Five Channel Monitor Keeps Boat Batteries Shipshape

While those of us stuck sailing desks might not be able to truly appreciate the problem, [Timo Birnschein] was tired of finding that some of the batteries aboard his boat had gone flat. He wanted some way to check the voltage on all of the the batteries in the system simultaneously and display the information in a central location, and not liking anything on the commercial market he decided to build it himself.

Even for those who don’t hear the call of the sea, this is a potentially useful project. Any system that has multiple batteries could benefit from a central monitor that can show you voltages at a glance, but [Timo] is actually going one better than that. With the addition of a nRF24 module, the battery monitor will also be able to wireless transmit the status of the batteries to…something. He actually hasn’t implemented that feature yet, but some way of getting the data into the computer so it can be graphed over time seems like a natural application.

The bill of materials is pretty short on this one. Beyond the aforementioned nRF24 module, the current version of the monitor features an Arduino Nano clone, a 128×160 SPI TFT display, and a handful of passives.

Knowing that a perfboard wouldn’t last long on the high seas, [Timo] even routed his own PCB for this project. We suspect there’s some kind of watertight enclosure in this board’s future, but it looks like things are still in the early phases. It will be interesting to follow along with this one and see how it eventually gets integrated in to the boat’s electrical system.

If you’re looking for a way to keep an eye on the voltages aboard your land ship, this battery monitor disguised as an automotive relay is still the high-water mark in our book.

Gentle Electric Eel

It’s no shock that electric eels get a bad rap for being scary creatures. They are slithery fleshy water snakes who can call down lightning. Biologists and engineers at the University of California had something else in mind when they designed their electric eel. Instead of hunting fish, this one swims harmlessly alongside them.

Traditional remotely operated vehicles have relied on hard shells and spinning propellers. To marine life, this is noisy and unnatural. A silent swimmer doesn’t raise any eyebrows, not that fish have eyebrows. The most innovative feature is the artificial muscles, and although the details are scarce, they seem to use a medium on the inside to conduct a charge, and on the outside, the saltwater environment conducts an opposite charge which causes a contraction in the membrane between to the inside and outside. Some swimming action can be seen below the break, and maybe one of our astute readers can shed some light on this underwater adventurer’s bill of materials.

One of our favorite submarines is the 2017 Hackaday Prize winner, The Open Source Underwater Glider. For a more artistic twist on submersibles, the Curv II is one of the most elegant we have seen.

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Using Moiré Patterns To Guide Ships

Moiré screens for arrows
Moiré screens for arrows

[Tom Scott] ran across an interesting visual effect created with Moiré patterns and used for guiding ships but we’re sure it can be adapted for hacks somewhere. Without the aid of any motors or LED animation, the image changes as the user views it from different angles. When viewed straight on, the user sees vertical lines, but from the left they see a right-pointing arrow and from the right, they see a left-pointing arrow. It’s used with shipping to guide ships. For example, one use would be to guide them to the center point of a bridge. When the pilots see straight, vertical lines then they know where to steer the ship.

US patent 4,629,325, Leading mark indicator, explains how it works and how to make one. Two screens are separated from each other. The one in front is vertical but the one behind is split in two and angled. It’s this angle which creates the slants of the arrows when viewed from the left or right. We had to convince ourselves that we understood it correctly and a quick test with two combs showed that we did. See below for the test in action as well as for [Tom’s] video of the real-world shipping one.

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