Young Inventor Builds Motor Without Rare Earths

[Robert Sansone] is a 17-year-old from Florida and, like most of us, he likes to tinker. He’s apparently got the time for it because he’s completed at least 60 projects ranging from animatronic hands to a high-speed go-kart. However, his interest in electric vehicles coupled with his understanding of the issues around them led him to investigate synchronous reluctance motors — motors that don’t depend on expensive rare earth magnets. His experiments have led to a novel form of motor that has greater torque than existing designs.

Rare earths are powerful but expensive, costing much more than common metals like copper or steel. Traditionally, synchronous reluctance motors use steel rotors and air gaps and exploit the difference in reluctance — a term for magnetic resistance– to generate rotation. [Robert’s] idea was to replace the air gap with a different material to increase the ratio of reluctance between the rotor and the gap. Reconfiguring the motor to a more traditional configuration shows startling results: the new design generated almost 40% more torque and did so more efficiently, as well.

His work has earned him first prize, and $75,000, in this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. It took 15 tries to get the motor to its current state, something made easier with 3D printing. There are plans for a 16th version that [Robert] hopes will perform even better. We can’t wait to see what he’ll do next.

Electric vehicles have made people look into many motor design topologies. The reluctance motor has been around for a long time, but controlling them has become significantly easier. That’s true of many kinds of motors.

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Atmospheric High-Voltage Motor Makes Useful Power

While it almost seems like an insane fever dream from an otherwise brilliant inventor, Nikola Tesla’s plan to harvest energy straight out of the atmosphere and essentially give it away is more reality than fiction. It’s usually prohibitively difficult get that energy out of the atmosphere for several obvious reasons, although it is still possible to do as [lasersaber] shows with his most recent atmospheric motor.

To help solve some of the logistical problems of harvesting electricity from the atmosphere, [lasersaber] is using a Van de Graaff generator as a stand-in for the high voltage gradient that can be found when suspending a long wire in the air. He has been experimenting with high-voltage motors like this for a while now and has refined his designs for corona discharge motors like these to be big enough and have enough torque to drive a drill bit. The motors have a conductive rotor with a series of discharge tubes on the stator, and exposing a metal point on the wiring (where the atmospheric wire would attach) to a sufficiently high voltage will cause rotation. In this case, it’s around 30,000 volts but with an extremely low current.

There are a number of videos documenting his latest build, including this follow-up video where he drills an arbitrarily large number of holes in various materials to demonstrate its effectiveness. Even though he is using a Van de Graaff generator in these builds, he does also show them working with a wire suspended by a drone as well for proof-of-concept. He’s also become somewhat of an expert on high-efficiency and low-power motors and has a number of other interesting builds based on these concepts.

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Gym Equipment Converted To Generator

Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but the most likely eventual conclusion of changing it from one form or another will be relatively useless heat. For those that workout with certain gym equipment, the change from chemical energy to heat is direct and completely wasted for anything other than keeping in shape. [Oliver] wanted to add a step in the middle to recover some of this energy, though, and built some gym equipment with a built-in generator.

Right now he has started with the obvious exercise bike stand, which lends itself to being converted to a generator quite easily. It already had a fairly rudimentary motor-like apparatus in it in order to provide mechanical resistance, so at first glance it seems like simply adding some wires in the right spots would net some energy output. This didn’t turn out to be quite so easy, but after a couple of attempts [Oliver] was able to get a trickle of energy out to charge a phone, and with some more in-depth tinkering on the motor he finally was able to get a more usable amount of energy to even charge a laptop.

He estimates around 30 watts of power can be produced with this setup, which is not bad for a motor that was never designed for anything other than mechanical resistance. We look forward to seeing some other equipment converted to produce energy too, like a rowing machine or treadmill. Or, maybe take a different route and tie the exercise equipment into the Internet connection instead.

How Far Can You Push A £500 Small Electric Car; Four Years Of The Hacky Racer

Four years ago when the idea of a pandemic was something which only worried a few epidemiologists, a group of British hardware hackers and robotic combat enthusiasts came up with an idea. They would take inspiration from the American Power Racing Series to create their own small electric racing formula. Hacky Racers became a rougher version of its transatlantic cousin racing on mixed surfaces rather than tarmac, and as an inaugural meeting that first group of racers convened on a cider farm in Somerset to give it a try. Last weekend they were back at the same farm after four years of Hacky Racer development with racing having been interrupted by the pandemic, and Hackaday came along once more to see how the cars had evolved. Continue reading “How Far Can You Push A £500 Small Electric Car; Four Years Of The Hacky Racer”

Balancing A Motor With An Oscilloscope

With all things in life, one must seek to achieve balance. That may sound a little like New Age woo-woo, but if you think it’s not literally true, just try tolerating a washing machine with a single comforter on spin cycle, or driving a few miles on unbalanced tires.

Anything that rotates can quickly spin itself into shrapnel if it’s not properly balanced, and the DIY power tools in [Matthias Wandel]’s shop are no exception. Recent upgrades to his jointer have left the tool a bit noisy, so he’s exploring machine vibrations with this simple but clever setup. Using nothing but a cheap loudspeaker and an oscilloscope, [Matthias] was able to characterize vibrations in a small squirrel-cage blower — he wisely chose to start small to validate his method before diving into the potentially dangerous jointer. There was quite a lot to be learned from the complex waveforms coming back from the transducer, analysis of which was greatly helped by the scope’s spectrum analyzer function. The video below shows the process of probing various parts of the blower, differentiating spectral peaks due to electrical noise rather than vibration, and actually using the setup to dynamically balance the fan.

We’d rate this as yet another handy shop tip from [Matthias], and we’ll be looking out for the analysis of his jointer. Want to do the same but you don’t have an oscilloscope? No problem — an earbud and Audacity might be all you need.

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Hoverbike Turns Hoverboard Into Ebike

Hoverboards were a popular trend with the youths and in-crowd a few years ago, and now that the fad has largely died out there are plenty of them sitting unused in closets and basements around the world. That only means opportunities to put the parts from these unique transportation devices into other builds. A more practical method of transportation is a bicycle, and this build scavenges most of the parts from a hoverboard to turn a regular bicycle into a zippy ebike.

This bike build starts with a mountain bike frame and the parts from the hoverboard are added to it piece by piece. The two motors are mounted to the frame and drive the front chain ring of the bike, allowing it to still take advantage of the bike’s geared drivetrain. Battery packs from two hoverboards were combined into a single battery which give the bike a modest 6-10 km of range depending on use. But the real gem of this build is taking the gyroscopic controller board from the hoverboards and converting it, with the help of an Arduino Due, to an ebike controller.

Eventually a battery pack will be added to give the bike a more comfortable range, but for now we appreciate the ingenuity that it took to adapt the controller from the hoverboard into an ebike controller complete with throttle and pedal assist. For other household objects turned into ebikes, be sure to check out one of our favorites based on a washing machine motor: the Spin Cycle.

Bike On Over To The Campground

Like many of us, [Paul] enjoys occasionally hitching up his tow-behind camper and heading out to the wilderness to get away from it all at his favorite campsite. Unlike the vast majority of those who share his passion for the outdoors, though, [Paul] is hitching his camper up to a bicycle. Both the camper and the bike are custom built from the ground up, and this video shows us a little more details on [Paul]’s preferred mode of transportation.

While he is known for building custom vehicles of one sort or another, this latest one is a more traditional bicycle frame that he has modified only slightly to fit a recumbent-style seat and a small gas-powered motor. Even though the motor is decades old, it started right up and gives the power needed to pull the custom camper. [Paul] builds one-person campers like this out of corrugated plastic for durability and light weight, and this one is specifically designed for his size and sleeping style. It includes everything needed for a night under the stars, too, including a stove, storage compartments, and a few windows.

With the bike and camper combined weighing in at just over 200 pounds, the motor can be used as a pedal-assist device thanks to the clever engineering behind a front-wheel-drive pedal system on this bike. With all of that custom fabrication, [Paul] is free to head out to the wilderness without all the encumbrances (and high price) of traditional motor vehicle-based camping. For those curious about some of [Paul]’s other vehicle creations, take a look at this tiny speedboat for one.

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