A Clock From An Electricity Meter

Electric utilities across the world have been transitioning their meters from the induction analog style with a distinctive spinning disc to digital “smart” meters which aren’t as aesthetically pleasing but do have a lot of benefits for utilities and customers alike. For one, meter readers don’t need to visit each meter every month because they are all networked together and can download usage data remotely. For another, it means a lot of analog meters are now available for projects such as this clock from [Monta].

The analog meters worked by passing any electricity used through a small induction motor which spun at a rate proportional to the amount of energy passing through it. This small motor spun a set of dials via gearing in order to keep track of the energy usage in the home or business. To run the clock, [Monta] connected a stepper motor with a custom transmission to those dials for the clock face because it wasn’t possible to spin the induction motor fast enough to drive the dials. An Arduino controls that stepper motor, but can’t simply drive the system in a linear fashion because it needs to skip a large portion of the “minutes” dials every hour. A similar problem arises for the “hours” dials, but a little bit of extra code solves this problem as well.

Once the actual clock is finished, [Monta] put some finishing touches on it such as backlighting in the glass cover and a second motor to spin the induction motor wheel to make the meter look like it’s running. It’s a well-polished build that makes excellent use of some antique hardware, much like one of his other builds we’ve seen which draws its power from a Stirling engine.

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Graphene Generates A Little Power

We never know exactly what to make of university press releases, as we see plenty of them with breathless claims of new batteries or supermaterials, but then we don’t see much else. Sometimes, the claims in the press release don’t hold up in the paper, while other times the claims seem to be impractical for use in real life. We aren’t quite sure what to make of a press release from the University of Arkansas claiming they can draw current from a sheet of freestanding graphene purely from its temperature fluctuations.

The press release seems to claim that this is a breakthrough leading to “clean, limitless power.” But if you look at the actual paper, normal room temperature is causing tiny displacements in the graphene sheet as in Brownian motion. A scanning tunneling microscope with two diodes can detect current flowing even once the system reaches thermal equilibrium. Keep in mind, though, that this in the presence of a bias voltage and we are talking about nanometer-scale displacements and 20 pA of current. You can see a simple video from the university showing a block diagram of the setup.

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Adding Luxury Charging Features To An Entry-Level EV

The Nissan Leaf is the best-selling electric car of all time so far, thanks largely to it being one of the first mass produced all-electric EVs. While getting into the market early was great for Nissan, they haven’t made a lot of upgrades that other EV manufacturers have made and are starting to lose customers as a result. One of those upgrades is charge limiting, which allows different charging rates to be set from within the car. With some CAN bus tinkering, though, this feature can be added to the Leaf.

Limiting the charging rate is useful when charging at unfamiliar or old power outlets which might not handle the default charge rate. In Europe, which has a 240V electrical distribution system, Leafs will draw around 3 kW from a wall outlet which is quite a bit of power. If the outlet looks like it won’t support that much power flow, it’s handy (and more safe) to be able to reduce that charge rate even if it might take longer to fully charge the vehicle. [Daniel Öster]’s modification requires the user to set the charge rate by manipulating the climate control, since the Leaf doesn’t have a comprehensive user interface.

The core of this project is performed over the CAN bus, which is a common communications scheme that is often used in vehicles and is well-documented and easy to take advantage of. Luckily, [Daniel] has made the code available on his GitHub page, so if you’re thinking about trading in a Leaf for something else because of its lack of features it may be time to reconsider.

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Open Hardware Laptop Built On Power PC ISA

Since Apple switched to Intel chips in the mid-00s, the PowerPC chips from Motorola and the PowerPC Instruction Set Architecture (ISA) that they had been using largely fell by the wayside. While true that niche applications like supercomputing still use the Power ISA on other non-Apple hardware, the days of personal computing with PowerPC are largely gone unless you’re still desperately trying to keep your Power Mac G5 out of the landfill or replaying Twilight Princess. Luckily for enthusiasts, though, the Power ISA is now open source and this group has been working on an open-source laptop based on this architecture.

While development is ongoing and there are no end-user products available yet, the progress that this group has made shows promise. They have completed their PCB designs and schematics and have a working bill of materials, including a chassis from Slimbook. There are also prototypes with a T2080RDB development kit and a NXP T2080 processor, although they aren’t running on their intended hardware yet. While still in the infancy, there are promising videos (linked below) which show the prototypes operating smoothly under the auspices of the Debian distribution that is tailored specifically for the Power ISA.

We are excited to see work continue on this project, as the Power ISA has a number of advantages over x86 in performance, ARM when considering that it’s non-proprietary, and even RISC-V since it is older and better understood. If you want a deeper comparison between all of these ISAs, our own [Maya Posch] covered that topic in detail as well as covered the original move that IBM made to open-source the Power ISA.

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IBM Reveals POWER10 CPU Based On The OpenPOWER ISA 3.1 Specification

This week, IBM revealed their POWER10 CPU, which may not seem too exciting since it’s primarily aimed at big iron like mainframes and servers. The real news for most is that it is the first processor to be released that is based on the open Power ISA specification v3.1. This new version of the Power ISA adds a number of new instructions as well as the notion of optionality. It updates the v3.0 specification that was released in 2015, right after the founding of the OpenPOWER Foundation.

Currently, a number of open source designs for the Power ISA exists, including MicroWatt (Power v3.0, VHDL) and the similar ChiselWatt (written in Scala-based Chisel).  In June of this year, IBM also released the VHDL code for the IBM A2 processor on Github. This is a multi-core capable, 4-way multithreaded 64-bit design, with silicon-implementations running at up to 2.3 GHz and using the Power ISA v2.06 specification.

The ISA specifications and other relevant technical documentation can be obtained from the OpenPOWER website, such as for example the Power ISA v3.0B specification from 2017. The website also lists the current cores and communities around the Power ISA.

(Main image: POWER10 CPU, credit IBM)

This DIY Dynamometer Shows Just What A Motor Can Do

Back in high school, all the serious gearheads used to brag about two things: their drag strip tickets, and their dynamometer reports. The former showed how fast their muscle car could cover a quarter-mile, while the latter was documentation on how much power their carefully crafted machine could deliver. What can I say; gas was cheap and we didn’t have the Internet to distract us.

Bragging rights are not exactly what [Jeremy Fielding] has in mind for his DIY dynamometer, nor is getting the particulars on a big Detroit V8 engine. Rather, he wants to characterize small- to medium-sized electric motors, with an eye toward repurposing them for different projects. To do this, he built a simple jig to measure the two parameters needed to calculate the power output of a motor: speed and torque. A magnetic tachometer does the job of measuring the motor’s speed, but torque proved a bit more challenging. The motor under test is coupled to a separate electric braking motor, which spins free when it’s not powered. A lever arm of known length connects to the braking motor on one end while bearing on a digital scale on the other. With the motor under test spun up, the braking motor is gradually powered, which rotates its housing and produces a force on the scale through the lever arm. A little math is all it takes for the mystery motor to reveal its secrets.

[Jeremy]’s videos are always instructional, and the joy he obviously feels at discovery is infectious, so we’re surprised to see that we haven’t featured any of his stuff before. We’ve seen our share of dynos before, though, from the tiny to the computerized to the kind that sometimes blows up.

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A Division In Voltage Standards

During my recent trip to Europe, I found out that converters were not as commonly sold as adapters, and for a good reason. The majority of the world receives 220-240 V single phase voltage at 50-60 Hz with the surprisingly small number of exceptions being Canada, Colombia, Japan, Taiwan, the United States, Venezuela, and several other nations in the Caribbean and Central America.

While the majority of countries have one defined plug type, several countries in Latin America, Africa, and Asia use a collection of incompatible plugs for different wall outlets, which requires a number of adapters depending on the region traveled.

Although there is a fair degree of standardization among most countries with regards to the voltage used for domestic appliances, what has caused the rift between the 220-240 V standard and the 100-127 V standards used in the remaining nations?

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