Liquid Cooling Keeps This Electronic Load’s MOSFETs From Burning

Problem: your electronic load works fine, except for the occasional MOSFET bursting into flames. Solution: do what [tbladykas] did, and build a water-cooled electronic load.

One can quibble that perhaps there are other ways to go about preventing your MOSFETs from burning, including changes to the electrical design. But he decided to take a page from [Kerry Wong]’s design book and go big. [Kerry]’s electronic load was air-cooled and capable of sinking 100 amps; [tbladykas] only needed 60 or 70 amps or so. Since he had an all-in-one liquid CPU cooler on hand, it was only natural to use that for cooling.

The IXYS linear MOSFET dangles off the end of the controller PCB, where the TO-247 device is soldered directly to the copper cold plate of the AiO cooler. This might seem sketchy as the solder could melt if things got out of hand, but then again drilling and tapping the cold plate could lead to leakage of the thermal coupling fluid. It hasn’t had any rigorous testing yet – his guesstimate is 300 Watts dissipation at this point – but as his primary endpoint was to stop the MOSFET fires, the exact details aren’t that important.

We’ve seen a fair number of liquid-cooled Raspberry Pis and Arduinos before, but we can’t find an example of a liquid-cooled electronic load. Perhaps [tbladykas] is onto something with this design.

New Silicon Carbide Semiconductors Bring EV Efficiency Gains

After spending much of the 20th century languishing in development hell, electric cars have finally hit the roads in a big way. Automakers are working feverishly to improve range and recharge times to make vehicles more palatable to consumers.

With a strong base of sales and increased uncertainty about the future of fossil fuels, improvements are happening at a rapid pace. Oftentimes, change is gradual, but every so often, a brand new technology promises to bring a step change in performance. Silicon carbide (SiC) semiconductors are just such a technology, and have already begun to revolutionise the industry.

Mind The Bandgap

A graph showing the relationship between band gap and temperature for various phases of Silicon Carbide.

Traditionally, electric vehicles have relied on silicon power transistors in their construction. Having long been the most popular semiconductor material, new technological advances have opened it up to competition. Different semiconductor materials have varying properties that make them better suited for various applications, with silicon carbide being particularly attractive for high-power applications. It all comes down to the bandgap.

Electrons in a semiconductor can sit in one of two energy bands – the valence band, or the conducting band. To jump from the valence band to the conducting band, the electron needs to reach the energy level of the conducting band, jumping the band gap where no electrons can exist. In silicon, the bandgap is around 1-1.5 electron volts (eV), while in silicon carbide, the band gap of the material is on the order of 2.3-3.3 eV. This higher band gap makes the breakdown voltage of silicon carbide parts far higher, as a far stronger electric field is required to overcome the gap. Many contemporary electric cars operate with 400 V batteries, with Porsche equipping their Taycan with an 800 V system. The naturally high breakdown voltage of silicon carbide makes it highly suited to work in these applications.

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Router Rebooter Without The Effort

It’s one of the rituals of our age, rebooting the family router when the bandwidth falters. Flip the power, and after half a minute or so your YouTube video starts up again. Consumer-grade router hardware is not the most reliable computing equipment you will own, as [Nick Sayer] found out when the router at his vacation home wasn’t reliable enough to support his remote monitoring equipment. His solution is an auto-reboot device, that power-cycles the offending device on command.

An obvious method might be to switch the mains supply, but instead he’s taken the simpler option of switching the DC from the router’s wall wart power supply with a cunning arrangement of three MOSFETs to keep the router defaulting to on under all conditions except when it is commanded to power down by the ATtiny microcontroller overseeing it. This chip provides extra fail-safe and debouncing functions to ensure no accidental rebooting.

Driving the circuit is a Raspberry Pi that handles the house monitoring, on which a Python script checks for Internet access and asks for a reboot if there is none. For extra safety it requires access to be down for a sustained period before doing so in case of a router firmware upgrade.

This isn’t the first router rebooter, for a mains-switching ESP8266 take a look at this one.

Router picture: Asim18 [CC BY-SA 3.0]

A Lot Of Volts For Not A Lot

There was a time when high voltage in electronic devices was commonplace, and projects driving some form of vacuum or ionisation tube simply had to make use of a mains transformer from a handy tube radio or similar. In 2019 we don’t often have the need for more than a few volts, so when a Geiger–Müller tube needs a bit of juice, we’re stumped. [David Christensen] approached this problem by creating his own inverter, which can produce up to 1 kV from a 12 V supply.

Instead of opting for a flyback supply he’s taken a traditional step-up approach, winding his own transformer on a ferrite core. It has a centre-tapped primary which he drives in push-pull with a couple of MOSFETS, and on its secondary is a voltage multiplier chain. The MOSFETs take their drive at between 25 kHz and 50 kHz from a 555 timer circuit, and there is no feedback circuit.

It’s fair to say that this is a somewhat hair-raising circuit, particularly as he claims that it is capable of delivering that 1 kV at 20 W. It’s usual for high-voltage supplies driving very high impedance loads to incorporate a set of high-value resistors on their outputs to increase their internal impedance such that their danger is reduced. We’d thus exercise extreme care around this device, though we can see a lot of value in his description of the transformer winding.

We can’t criticise this circuit too much though, because some of us have been known to produce far hackier high voltage PSUs.

ESP8266 Upgrade Gives IKEA LEDs UDP Superpowers

It can be difficult to resist the impulse buy. You see something interesting, the price is right, and even though you know you should do your research first, you end up putting it in your cart anyway. That’s how [Tobias Girstmair] ended up being the not-so proud owner of a LEDBERG RGB LED strip from IKEA, and what eventually pushed him to replace wimpy original controller with an ESP8266.

So what was the problem with the original controller? If you can believe it, it was incapable of producing white light. When IKEA says an LED is multi-color, they apparently mean it’s only multi-color. A quick check of the reviews online seem to indicate that the white version is sold as a different SKU that apparently looks the same externally and has confused more than a few purchasers.

Rather than having to pick one or the other, [Tobias] decided he would replace the original controller with an ESP-03, hoping that would give him granular enough control over the LEDs to coax a suitably white light out of them. He didn’t want to completely start from scratch, so one of the first decisions he made was to reuse the existing PCB and MOSFETs. Some handy test points on the PCB allowed him to hook the digital pins of the ESP right to the red, blue, and green LED channels.

Then it was just a matter of coming up with the software. To keep things simple, [Tobias] decided to create a “dumb” controller that simply sets the LED color and intensity according to commands it receives over a simplified UDP protocol. Anything beyond that, such as randomized colors or special effects, is done with scripts that run on his computer and fire off the appropriate UDP commands. This also means he can manually control his newly upgraded LEDBERG strips from basically anything that can generate UDP packets, such as an application on his Android phone.

It might not be the most robust implementation we’ve ever seen, but all things considered, it looks as though this modification could be a pretty good way to get some cheap network controlled RGB lighting in your life.

An Impeccably Designed High-Speed LED Flash

If you want to take a picture of something fast, and we mean really fast, you need to have a suitably rapid flash to illuminate it. A standard camera flash might be good enough to help capture kids running around the back yard at night, but it’s not going to do you much good if you’re trying to get a picture of a bullet shattering a piece of glass. For that you’ll need something that can produce microsecond flashes, allowing you to essentially “freeze” motion.

You can buy a flash that fast, but they aren’t common, and they certainly aren’t cheap. [td0g] thought he could improve on the situation by developing his own microsecond flash, and he was kind enough to not only share it with the world, but create a fantastically detailed write-up that takes us through the entire design and construction process. Even if you aren’t in the market for a hyper-fast flash for your camera, this is a fascinating look at how you can build an extremely specialized piece of gear out of relatively common hardware components.

So what goes into a fast LED flash? Rather unsurprisingly, the build starts with high-quality LEDs. After some research, [td0g] went with an even dozen CREE CXA2530 arrays at just shy of $7 USD each. Not exactly cheap, but luckily the rest of the hardware is pretty garden variety stuff, including a ATMega328P microcontroller, some MOSFETs, and a TC4452 driver. He did pack in some monstrous 400 V 10μf capacitors, but has since realized they were considerably overkill and says he would swap them out if doing it all over again.

To make development easier (and less costly, should anything go wrong), [td0g] designed the flash so that the LEDs are arranged in banks of three which can be easily removed or swapped in the 3D printed case. Each trio of LEDs is in a removable “sled” that also holds the corresponding capacitor and MOSFET. Then it was just a matter of getting the capacitors charged up and safely dumping their energy into the banks of LEDs without frying anything. Simple.

At this point, the astute reader is probably thinking that a high speed flash is worthless without an equally fast way of triggering it. You’d be right, but [td0g] already figured that part. A couple years back we covered his incredible ballistic chronometer which is being used as a sensor to fire off his new flash.

Driving A 16×2 LCD With Voltage Modulation

The basic 16×2 LCD is an extremely popular component that we’ve seen used in more projects than we could possibly count. Part of that is because modern microcontrollers make it so easy to work with; if you’ve got an I2C variant of the display, it only takes four wires to drive it. That puts printing a line of text on one of these LCDs a step or two above blinking an LED on a digital pin on the hierarchy of beginner’s electronics projects.

What’s that? Even four wires is too many? In that case, you might be interested in this hack from [Vinod] which shows how you can drive the classic 16×2 with data and power on the same pair of wires. You’ll still need a microcontroller “backpack” for the LCD to interpret the modulated voltage, but if you’ve got an application for a simple remote display, this is definitely worth checking out.

The basic idea is to “blink” the 5 V line so quick that a capacitor on the LCD side can float the electronics over the dips in voltage. As long as one of the pins of the microcontroller is connected to the 5 V line before the capacitor, it will be able to pick up when the line goes low. With a high enough data rate and a large enough capacitor as a buffer, you’re well on the way to encoding your data to be displayed.

For the transmitting side, [Vinod] is using a Python script on his computer that’s sending out the text for the LCD over a standard USB to UART converter. That’s fed into a small circuit put together on a scrap of perfboard that triggers a MOSFET off of the UART TX line.

We actually covered the theory behind this technique years ago, but it’s always interesting to see somebody put together a real-world example. There might not be too many practical uses for this trick in the era of dirt-cheap microcontrollers bristling with I/O, but it might make a fun gag at your hackerspace.

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