Solar Power Goes Back To 1910 Tech

If you want to read about a low-tech approach to solar cells invented — and forgotten — 40 years before Bell Labs announced the first practical silicon solar cell, we can’t promise the website, Low Tech Magazine, will be available. Apparently the webserver it is on is solar-powered, and a disclaimer mentions that it sometimes goes offline.

The article by [Kris De Decker] tells of George Cove and includes a picture from 1910 of the inventor standing next to what looks suspiciously like a solar panel (the picture above is from a 1909 issue of Technical World Magazine). His first demonstration of the technology was in 1905 and there is a picture of another device from 1909 that produced 45 watts of power using 1.5 square meters with a conversion efficiency of 2.75%. That same year, a new prototype had 4.5 square meters and used its 240-watt output to charge 5 lead-acid batteries. The efficiency was about 5%.

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Green Roofs Could Help Improve Solar Panel Efficiency

There’s been a movement in architecture over the past couple of decades to help tie together large urban developments with plant life and greenery. We’ve seen a few buildings, and hundreds more renders, of tall skyscrapers and large buildings covered in vegetation.

The aesthetic is often a beautiful one, but the idea is done as much for its tangible benefits as for the sheer visual glory. Naturally, there’s the obvious boost from plants converting carbon dioxide into delicious, life-giving oxygen. However, greenery on the roofs of buildings could also help improve the output of solar installations, according to a recent study from Sydney, Australia.

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Solar Display Case Is A Portable Triple Monitor Setup

They say once you start using twin monitors on the desktop, you’ll never want to go back. It’s even worse when you upgrade to three or more. However, it can be difficult to take such a set up on the road. Desiring better productivity on the go is what spurred [Brian Whitsett] to develop the Solar Display Case to solve this problem.

The Solar Display Case aims to pack three 17″ full-size monitors into a portable waterproof case. Brian has already built a prototype, which puts the monitors on folding arms so that they can be quickly stowed or deployed when needed.

The build also relies on solar power to charge batteries, in order to make the solution as portable as any laptop or other hardware you may be using with it. It’s no good having three mains-powered monitors sitting in the field with no AC power, after all. [Brian] aims to use a flexible solar panel to make the most of the surface area of the deployed assembly, for maximum power generation.

It’s a great project, and one we’d love to see fleshed out to the fullest. Imagining a briefcase that folds out into a triple-monitor workstation is exciting, and it looks like [Brian] is well on the way to making it a reality.

A Simple Sun Tracker With Very Few Parts

There are a huge number of ways to track the sun if you have some reason to do so. You can use time-based algorithms, or feed in coordinates from the Internet, or you could do it with minimal parts and no electronic processing at all. The latter is how this project from [3D Printer Academy] works. 

One key thing about this project is that you shouldn’t be fooled by the solar panels. They’re not here to generate power for external use. Instead, they’re wired up in opposing polarities to a DC gear motor. The motor turns the panel assembly. As one panel is hit by the sun, it turns the assembly to bring the other panel into the sun as well simply by applying a DC voltage to the motor. The other panel is wired up the opposite way, so if it is in the sun, it brings the other panel into alignment as well.

This serves as a very simple planar solar tracker. If you want to track the sun with minimal parts, this is a very easy way to do it. You’ll just need to put whatever you want to actually aim at the sun on top of the assembly. if that happens to be a larger solar panel, it may be cumbersome and another more complex design may be more suitable.

It’s an ingenious and easy way of tracking the sun, even if it’s not immediately apparent how the device would be useful in its current form. If you’ve got an idea how you would use such a mechanism, let us know in the comments.

We’ve seen other solar tracker projects before, too. Video after the break.

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BEAM-Powered, Ball-Flinging Beam Has Us Beaming

We have a soft spot for BEAM projects, because we love to see the Sun do fun things when aided by large capacitors. [NanoRobotGeek]’s marble machine is an extraordinary example — once sufficiently charged, the two 4700 μF capacitors dump power into a home-brew solenoid, which catapults the ball bearing into action toward the precipice of two tracks.

[NanoRobotGeek] started with the freely-available Suneater solar circuit. It’s a staple of BEAM robotics, slightly modified to fit the needs of this particular project. First up was verifying that the lever (or beam, if you will) principle would work at all, and [NanoRobotGeek] just built it up from there in admirable detail. The fact that it alternates between the swirly track and the zigzag track is entrancing.

There are several disciplines at play here, and we think it’s beautifully made all around, especially since this was [NanoRobotGeek]’s first foray into track bending. We love the way it flings the ball so crisply, and the track-changing lever is pretty darn satisfying, too. You can check it out in action in the video after the break.

Although this was [NanoRobotGeek]’s maiden marble track, it’s not their first circuit sculpture — check out this flapping, BEAM-powered dragonfly.

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Game Boy Plays Forever

For those of us old enough to experience it first hand, the original Game Boy was pretty incredible, but did have one major downside: battery consumption. In the 90s rechargeable batteries weren’t common, which led to most of us playing our handhelds beside power outlets. Some modern takes on the classic Game Boy address these concerns with modern hardware, but this group from the Delft University of Technology and Northwestern has created a Game Boy clone that doesn’t need any batteries at all, even though it can play games indefinitely.

This build was a proof-of-concept for something called “intermittent computing” which allows a computer to remain in a state of processing limbo until it gets enough energy to perform the next computation. The Game Boy clone, fully compatible with the original Game Boy hardware, is equipped with many tiny solar panels which can harvest energy and is able to halt itself and store its state in nonvolatile memory if it detects that there isn’t enough energy available to continue. This means that Super Mario Land isn’t exactly playable, but other games that aren’t as action-packed can be enjoyed with very little impact in gameplay.

The researchers note that it’ll be a long time before their energy-aware platform becomes commonplace in devices and replaces batteries, but they do think that internet-connected devices that don’t need to be constantly running or powered up would be a good start. There are already some low-powered options available that can keep their displays active when everything else is off, so hopefully we will see even more energy-efficient options in the near future.

Thanks to [Sascho] for the tip!

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Flicker Detector Lets You Hear What You Can’t See

Have you ever looked at modern LED lighting and noticed, perhaps on the very edge of your perception, that they seemed to be flickering? Well, that’s because they probably are. As are the LEDs in your computer monitor, or your phone’s screen. Pulse width modulation (PWM) is used extensively with LEDs to provide brightness control, and if it’s not done well, it can lead to headaches and eyestrain.

Looking to quantify just how much flashing light we’re being exposed to, [Faransky] has created a simple little gadget that essentially converts flashing light into an audio tone the human ear can pick up. Those LEDs might be blinking on and off fast enough to fool our eyes, but your ears can hear frequencies much higher than those used in common PWM solutions. In the video after the break, you can see what various LED light sources sound like when using the device.

The electronics here are exceptionally simple. Just connect a small solar panel to an audio amplifier, in this case the PAM8403, and listen to the output. To make it a bit more convenient to use, there’s an internal battery, charger circuit and USB-C port; but you could just as easily run the thing off of a 9 V alkaline if you wanted to build one from what’s already in the parts bin.

Who knows? If you carry this thing around long enough, you might even hear the far less common binary code modulation in action (but probably not).

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