Spin Me Right Round, Baby: Generator Building Experiments For Mere Mortals

How many of you plan to build a wind-powered generator in the next year? Okay, both of you can put your hands down. Even if you don’t want to wind your coils manually, learning about the principles in an electric generator might spark your interest. There is a lot of math to engineering a commercial model, but if we approach a simple version by looking at the components one at a time, it’s much easier to understand.

For this adventure, [K&J Magnetics] start by dissect a commercial generator. They picked a simple version that might serve a campsite well, so there is no transmission or blade angle apparatus to complicate things. It’s the parts you’d expect, a rotor and a stator, one with permanent magnets and the other with coils of wire.

The fun of this project is copying the components found in the commercial hardware and varying the windings and coil count to see how it affects performance. If you have ever wound magnet wire around a nail to make an electromagnet, you know it is tedious work so check out their 3D printed coil holder with an embedded magnet to trigger a winding count and a socket to fit on a sewing machine bobbin winder. If you are going to make a bunch of coils, this is going to save headaches and wrist tendons.

They use an iterative process to demonstrate the effect of multiple coils on a generator. The first test run uses just three coils but doesn’t generate much power at all, even when spun by an electric drill. Six windings do better, but a dozen finally does the trick, even when turning the generator by hand. We don’t know about their use of cheap silicone diodes though, that seems like unintentional hobbling, but we digress.

Making turbine blades doesn’t have to be a sore chore either, and PVC may be the ticket there, you may also consider the vertical axis wind turbine which is safer at patio level. Now, you folks building generators, remember to tip us off!

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Deducing Stepper Motor Wiring

There are a lot of fun projects you can do with stepper motors salvaged from old printers or disk drives. However, it isn’t always clear how to connect to some strange motor with no markings or schematics. [Corvetteguy50] has a video showing his trick for working out the connections easily, and you can see it below.

The basic idea is simple. Using a special jig, he connects an LED across two random pins and spins the motor. If the LED lights, you’ve found a coil. You just don’t know which coil, yet. You can also short two wires and note when you feel resistance when you spin the shaft.

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Minivac 601 Replica Gets A Custom Motorized Rotary Switch

One of the joys of electronics as a hobby is how easy it is to get parts. Literally millions of parts are available from thousands of suppliers and hundreds of distributors, and everyone competes with each other to make it as easy as possible to put together an order from a BoM. If you need it, somebody probably has it.

But what do you do when you need a part that doesn’t exist anymore, and even when it did was only produced in small numbers? Easy – you create it yourself. That’s just what [Mike Gardi] did with this unique motorized rotary switch he needed to complete his replica of a 1960s computer trainer. We covered his build of the Minivac 601, a trainer from the early computer age that let experimenters learn the ropes of basic digital logic. It used mostly relays, lamps, and switches connected by jumpers, but it had one critical component – a rotary control that was used for input and, with the help of a motor, as an output indicator.

[Mike]’s version of the switch is as faithful to the original as possible, at least in terms of looks. The parts are mostly 3D-printed, with 16 reed switches embedded in the walls and magnets placed in the rotor. The motor to operate the rotor is a simple gear motor mounted to a hinged bracket; when the rotor needs to move, a solenoid pulls the motor’s friction drive wheel up against the rotor.

The unique control slots right into the Minivac replica and really completes the look and feel. Hats off to [Mike] for a delightful replica of a lost bit of computer history and the dedication to see it through to completion.

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Turn A Ceiling Fan Into A Wind Turbine… Almost

It’s not uncommon to drive around the neighborhood on trash day and see one or two ceiling fans haphazardly strewn onto a pile of garbage bags, ready to be carted off to the town dump. It’s a shame to see something like this go to waste, and [Giesbert Nijhuis] decided he would see what he could do with one. After some painstaking work, he was able to turn a ceiling fan into a wind turbine (of sorts).

While it’s true that some generators and motors can be used interchangeably by reversing the flow of electricity (motors can be used as generators and vice-versa) this isn’t true of ceiling fans. These motors are a type called induction motors which, as a cost saving measure, have no permanent magnets and therefore can’t simply be used as a generator. If you make some modifications to them, though, like rewiring some of the windings and adding permanent magnets around them, you can get around this downside of induction motors.

[Giesbert] does note that this project isn’t a great way to build a generator. Even after making all of the changes needed to get it working, the motor just isn’t as efficient as one that was built with its own set of magnets. For all the work that went into it, it’s not that great of a time investment for a low-quality generator. However, it’s interesting to see the theory behind something like this work at all, even if the end result wasn’t a complete wind turbine. Perhaps if you have an old ceiling fan lying around, you can put it to better use.

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Trick Shot Bot Flings Balls Into Wine Glass Every Time

We’ve heard of beer pong, but we’re not sure we’ve heard of wine pong. And certainly never wine pong automated with a ping pong ball throwing robot like this one.

There’s not a huge amount of detail available in the video below, and no build log per se. But [Electron Dust] has a few shots in the video that explain what’s going on, as well as a brief description in a reddit thread about the device. The idea is to spin a ball up to a steady speed and release it the same way every time. The rig itself is made of wood and spun by plain brushed DC motors – [Electron Dust] explains that he chose them over PWM servos to simplify things and eliminate uncertainty in the release point. The ball is retained by a pair of arms, each controlled by a pair of hobby servos. An Arduino spins along with everything else and counts 50 revolutions before triggering the servos to retract and release the ball. A glass positioned at the landing spot captures the ball perfectly once everything is dialed in.

Here’s hoping that build details end up on his blog soon, as they did for this audio-feedback juggling machine. And while we certainly like this project, it might be cool if it could aim the ball into the glass. Or it could always reposition the target on the fly.

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Robotic Cheetah Teaches A Motors Class

It seems like modern roboticists have decided to have a competition to see which group can develop the most terrifying robot ever invented. As of this writing the leading candidate seems to be the robot that can fuel itself by “eating” organic matter. We can only hope that the engineers involved will decide not to flesh that one out completely. Anyway, if we can get past the horrifying and/or uncanny valley-type situations we find ourselves in when looking at these robots, it turns out they have a lot to teach us about the theories behind a lot of complicated electric motors.

This research paper (gigantic PDF warning) focuses on the construction methods behind MIT’s cheetah robot. It has twelve degrees of freedom and uses a number of exceptionally low-cost modular actuators as motors to control its four legs. Compared to other robots of this type, this helps them jump a major hurdle of cost while still retaining an impressive amount of mobility and control. They were able to integrate a brushless motor, a smart ESC system with feedback, and a planetary gearbox all into the motor itself. That alone is worth the price of admission!

The details on how they did it are well-documented in the 102-page academic document and the source code is available on GitHub if you need a motor like this for any other sort of project, but if you’re here just for the cheetah doing backflips you can also keep up with the build progress at the project’s blog page. We also featured this build earlier in its history as well.

Magnetic Bearings Might Keep This Motor Spinning For Millennia

We see our share of pitches for perpetual motion machines in the Hackaday tips line, and we generally ignore them and move along. And while this magnetic levitation motor does not break the laws of thermodynamics, it can be considered a perpetual motion machine, at least for certain values of perpetuity.

The motor that [lasersaber] presents in the video below is unconventional, to say the least. It’s not a motor that can do any useful work, spinning at a stately pace beneath its bell-jar enclosure as it does. The design is an extension of [lasersaber]’s “EZ-Spin” motor, which we’ve featured before, and has the same basic layout – a ring of coils wired in series forms the stator, while a disc bearing permanent magnets forms the rotor. The coils, scavenged from those dancing flowerpot solar ornaments, are briefly energized by the rotor passing over a reed switch, giving the rotor a little boost.

The difference here is that rather than low-friction sapphire bearings, this motor uses zero-friction magnetic levitation using pyrolyzed graphite discs. The diamagnetic material hovers above a rare-earth ring magnet, supporting a slender vertical shaft that holds the rotor and another magnetic bearing at the top. It’s fussy to adjust, but once it’s stable, the only friction in the system should be the drag caused by air in the bell jar. [lasersaber]’s current measurements of the motor running at slow speed are hard to believe – 150 nanoamps – leading to an equally jaw-dropping calculated run-time on a single AA battery of 89 millennia.

[lasersaber] is the first to admit that he’s not confident with his measurements, but it seems clear that his motor will likely outlive any chemical battery used to power it. Whatever the numbers are, we like the styling of the thing, and the magnetic bearings are cool too.

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