See If Today’s Air Quality Will Conch You Out

Air quality is one of those problems that is rather invisible and hard to grasp until it gets bad enough to be undeniable. By then, it may be too late to do much about it. But if more people were interested in the problem enough to monitor the air around them, there would be more innovators bringing more ideas to the table. And more attention to a problem usually means more accountability and eventual action.

This solar-powered particulate analyzer made by [rabbitcreek] is a friendly way to take the problem out of the stratosphere of ‘someday’ and bring it down to the average person’s backyard. Its modular nature makes it fairly simple to build, and the conch shell enclosure gives it a natural look. That shell also cleverly hides the electronics, while at the same time allowing air and particulates to reach the sensor. If you don’t like the shell enclosure, we think the right type of bird feeder could protect the electronics while allowing airflow.

[rabbitcreek] attached a sizeable solar panel to the shell on a GoPro mount so it can be adjusted to face the sun. The panel charges a Li-Po battery that gets boosted to 5V. Every two hours, a low-power breakout circuit wakes up the Feather ESP32 and takes a reading from the particulate sensor. [rabbitcreek] can easily see the data on his phone thanks to the Blynk app he created.

Why limit this to your yard? Bare ESP32s are cheap enough that it’s feasible to build a whole network of air quality sensors.

Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors

Bringing a product to market is not easy, if it were everyone would be doing it, and succeeding. The team at Pycno is in the process of launching their second product, a modular solar powered IoT unit called Pulse. It’s always interesting to get an inside look when a company is so open during the development process, and see how they deal with challenges.

Pycno’s first product was a solar powered sensor suite for crops. This time round they are keeping the solar part, but creating a modular system that can accept wired or wireless connections (2G/3G/4G, WiFi, LoRa, GPS and Bluetooth 5) or modules that slide into the bottom of the unit. They plan to open source the module design to allow other to design custom modules, which is a smart move since interoperability can be a big driving factor behind adoption. The ease of plugging in sensors is a very handy feature, since most non-Hackaday users would probably prefer to not open up expensive units to swap out sensors. The custom solar panel itself is pretty interesting, since it features an integrated OLED display. It consists of a PCB with the cutout for the display, with solar cells soldered on before the whole is laminated to protect the cells.

Making a product so completely modular also has some pitfalls, since it can be really tricky to market something able to do anything for anybody. However, we wish them the best of luck with their Kickstarter (video after the break) and look forward to seeing how the ecosystem develops.

When a large community develops around a modular ecosystem, it can truly grow beyond the originator’s wildest dreams. Just look at Arduino and Raspberry Pi. We’re also currently running a contest involving boards for the Feather form factor if you want to get in on the act. Continue reading “Modular Solar-Powered IoT Sensors”

BEAM Dragonfly Causes A Flap

Normal people throw away stuff when it breaks. But not people like us. Or, apparently, [NanoRobotGeek]. A cheap robotic dragonfly died, and he cannibalized it for robot parts. But he kept the gearbox hoping to build a new dragonfly and, using some brass rod, he did just that.

The dragonfly’s circuitry uses a solar panel for power and a couple of flashing LEDs. This is a BEAM robot, so not a microcontroller in sight. You can see a brief video of how the dragonfly moves.

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Reflecting On Margaret Hamilton: 50 Years After Apollo 11

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, Google created a 1.4-square-mile portrait of NASA software developer Margaret Hamilton using more than 107,000 mirrors from the Ivanpah Solar Facility in the Mojave Desert, a solar thermal power plant with a gross capacity of 392 megawatts.

The fields of heliostat mirrors (173,500 in total) ordinarily focus sunlight on receivers located on the solar power towers, which subsequently generate steam to drive steam turbines. The facility was first connected to the electrical grid in September 2013 before formally opening in February 2014, during which it was the world’s largest solar thermal power station. Ivanpah was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel, with Google contributing $168 million towards its $2.2 billion in costs. Google no longer invests in the facility, however, due to the decline of the price of photovoltaic systems.

The facility has historically taken steps to avoid disrupting the natural wildlife, which includes desert tortoises. The effect of mirror glare on airplane pilots, water concerns, and collisions with birds has also been addressed by the operators of the installation.

According to Google, the image was larger than Central Park and could be seen a mile above sea level. The mirrors are all attached to a rotating mount that maneuvers the mirrors in order to create lighter and darker shades to make up the image.

The Apollo 11 mission, manned by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins, was the first to bring humans to the moon in 1969. Hamilton‘s role in the team included programming the in-flight software for all of NASA’s Apollo missions. She had also worked on satellite tracking software for the Air Force through Lincoln Lab (started by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and later joined the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. It was, however, her work on creating computer systems to predict and track weather systems for use in anti-aircraft air defenses that made her a candidate for a lead developer role at NASA.

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Keeping Birds At Bay With An Automated Spinning Owl

There’s nothing wrong with building something just to build it, but there’s something especially satisfying about being able to solve a real-world problem with a piece of gear you’ve designed and fabricated. When all the traditional methods to keep birds from roosting on his mother’s property failed, [MNMakerMan] decided to come up with a more persuasive option: a solar powered spinning owl complete with expandable batons.

We imagine the owl isn’t strictly necessary when you’re whacking the birds with a metal bar to begin with, but it does add a nice touch. Perhaps it will even serve to deter some of the less adventurous birds before they get within clobbering distance, which is probably in their best interest. [MNMakerMan] says the rotation speed of the bars seems low enough that he doesn’t think it will do the birds any physical harm, but it’s still got to be fairly unpleasant.

At first glance you might think that this contraption simply spins when the small 10 watt photovoltaic panel next to it catches the sun, but there’s actually a bit more to it than that. Sure he probably could just have it spin constantly whenever the sun is up, but instead [MNMakerMan] is using a ATtiny85 to control the 11 RPM geared DC motor with a IRF540 MOSFET. By adding a DS3231 RTC module into the mix, he’s able to not only accurately control when the spinner begins and ends its bird-busting shift, but implement timed patterns rather than running it the whole time. All of which can of course be fine-tuned by adjusting a couple variables and reflashing the chip.

We’ve seen plenty of automated systems for keeping cats away, and of course squirrels are a common target for such builds as well, but devices to deter birds are considerably less common among these pages. So it would seem that, at least for now, [MNMakerMan] has the market cornered on solar bird smashing gadgets. We’re sure Mom’s very proud.

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Dark Absorbing Diodes Are No DAD Joke

We will confess that the authors of the Applied Physics Letters article “Experimental Demonstration of Energy Harvesting from the Sky using the Negative Illumination Effect of a Semiconductor Photodiode” never used the acronym DAD or the phrase “dark absorbing diode.” But we thought it was too good to pass up. The research work uses a type of diode to generate small amounts of power from darkness. Admittedly, the amount of power is small, but it is still an important result and could result in — another coined phrase — negative solar cells providing energy by taking advantage of the temperature differential between the cell and the night sky.

In theory — and with no atmosphere — the technique could only result in about 4 watts per square meter. Not only is this low compared to a solar panel’s 100 to 200 watts per square meter, but it is also far from the prototype’s 64 nanowatts per square meter. Clearly, this technology has a ways to go to become practical.

Continue reading “Dark Absorbing Diodes Are No DAD Joke”

Dollar Store Garden Lights As ATtiny Power Supplies

Solar garden lights are just another part of the great trash pile of our age, electronics so cheap as to be disposable. Most of you probably have a set lurking somewhere at home, their batteries maybe exhausted. Internally though they are surprisingly interesting devices. A solar cell, a little boost converter chip, and a little NiCd battery alongside the LED. These are components with potential, as [Randy Elwin] noted with a mind to his ATtiny85 projects.

The YX805A chip he references in his write-up is one of several similar chips that function in effect as joule thieves, extending the available charge in the battery to keep the LED active as long as possible when their solar panel is generating nothing, and turning it off in daylight when the panel can charge. Their problem is that they are designed as joule thieves rather than regulators, so using them as a microcontroller PSU without modification can result in overvoltage.

His solution is to use the device’s solar panel input as a feedback pin from his ATtiny, allowing the microcontroller to keep an eye on its supply voltage and enable or disable the converter as necessary while it keeps running from the reservoir capacitor. Meanwhile the solar panel now charges the NiCd cell through a single diode. It’s not perfect and maybe needs a clamp or something, he notes that there is a condition in which the supply can peak at 8 volts, a level which would kill an ATtiny. But still, we like simple hacks on dollar store parts, so it’s definitely worth further investigation.

This isn’t the first garden light hack we’ve shown you, there was this flashlight, and some LED hacks.

Solar light picture: Leon Brooks [Public domain].