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.

Building A Solar Powered Game Boy Pocket

Light has always been a key part of the classic Game Boy experience. Some of us have fond memories of riding along in the back seat of a car at night, pausing and unpausing the game as the street lights overhead briefly give enough light to see the unlit display. The availability of third party IPS displays for these classic handhelds has largely eradicated this problem today, but as you might expect, the increased power requirements of the more modern screen reduces the system’s runtime.

Installing the USB-C charge controller.

As part of their examination into energy production, the [Houston Museum of Natural Science] set out to see if they could improve things by adding a solar panel to the back of a Game Boy Pocket that had already been modified with an IPS display. The Pocket version of the Game Boy was selected as it has a nice flat back that made it easy to attach a solar panel, and in fact the panel sourced for this mod is so well dimensioned, it almost looks like the device came that way.

In the video below, you can see the modification starts by cutting away a large section of the Game Boy’s rear panel to fit the 1000 mAh LiPo battery. The solar panel is then affixed over the back with super glue. A diode is soldered onto the solar cell, and then wired into a charge controller that came with USB-C input. The placement of the charge controller ended up being trickier than expected, but with a little hot glue, it works just fine. Overall this is a simple mod but a brilliant idea.

This isn’t the first solar-powered handheld game system we’ve seen, but it’s nice to see the idea revisited and expanded on, particularly regarding ergonomics. In addition, we love the incredible detail of narration that’s given as this hack slowly takes shape. Video after the break.

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Revolving Plant Tower Is Solar-Powered

Do you live in a small or yard-less space, but want to grow things anyway? You’re not totally out of luck — you’ll just have to get creative and probably vertical with your planting scheme. And since apartments and other smallish dwellings often have a limited amount of exposure, it would really help a lot if you could somehow rotate the plants so that they receive even sunlight.

[JT_Makes_It]’s rotating strawberry tower ticks all these boxes and more. The 12 V solar cell powers a small DC motor that spins at the gentle speed of 0.6 RPM. The tube is hanging from a swiveling carabiner that acts like a clutch — if a strong wind comes along or something bumps into it, the motor will continue to spin the carabiner.

[JT_Makes_It] already had a tube with holes, though they did cut several more into it. As built, this is not exactly apartment dweller-friendly, unless you have off-site access to things like plasma cutters and welding equipment. But as they point out, you could theoretically use PVC and a hole saw and make it shorter and therefore lighter. We think this looks great, although we’re a bit concerned about the weight. Not so much on the mechanism itself; that looks strong. We’re just wondering how long that carport frame will support it. Judge the build quality for yourself from the video after the break.

Did you know that strawberries can do tricks? Fasciation makes fanned-out berries, and vivipary makes them hairy.

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Electric RC Plane Flies For Almost 11 Hours

Electric RC aircraft are not known for long flight times, with multirotors usually doing 20-45 minutes, while most fixed wings will struggle to get past two hours. [Matthew Heiskell] blew these numbers out of the water with a 10 hour 45 minute flight with an RC plane on battery power. Condensed video after the break.

Flight stats right before touchdown. Flight time in minutes on the left, and miles travelled second from the top on the right.

The secret? An efficient aircraft, a well tuned autopilot and a massive battery. [Matthew] built a custom 4S 50 Ah li-ion battery pack from LG 21700 cells, with a weight of 2.85 kg (6.3 lbs). The airframe is a Phoenix 2400 motor glider, with a 2.4 m wingspan, powered by a 600 Kv brushless motor turning a 12 x 12 propeller. The 30 A ESC’s low voltage cutoff was disabled to ensure every bit of juice from the battery was available.

To improve efficiency and eliminate the need to maintain manual control for the marathon flight, a GPS and Matek 405 Wing flight controller running ArduPilot was added. ArduPilot is far from plug and play, so [Matthew] would have had to spend a lot of timing tuning and testing parameters for maximum flight efficiency. We are really curious to see if it’s possible to push the flight time even further by improving aerodynamics around the protruding battery, adding a pitot tube sensor to hold the perfect airspeed speed on the lift-drag curve, and possibly making use of thermals with ArduPilot’s new soaring feature.

A few of you are probably thinking, “Solar panels!”, and so did Matthew. He has another set of wings covered in them that he used to do a seven-hour flight. While it should theoretically increase flight time, he found that there were a number of significant disadvantages. Besides the added weight, electrical complexity and weather dependence, the solar cells are difficult to integrate into the wings without reducing aerodynamic efficiency. Taking into account what we’ve already seen of [rcflightest]’s various experiments/struggles with solar planes, we are starting to wonder if it’s really worth the trouble. Continue reading “Electric RC Plane Flies For Almost 11 Hours”

ISS Gets Roll-Out Solar Panels In Post-Shuttle Fix

Astronauts are currently installing the first of six new solar arrays on the International Space Station (ISS), in a bid to bolster the reduced power generation capability of the original panels which have now been in space for over twenty years. But without the Space Shuttle to haul them into orbit, developing direct replacements for the Stations iconic 34 meter (112 foot) solar “wings” simply wasn’t an option. So NASA has turned to next-generation solar arrays that roll out like a tape measure and are light and compact enough for the SpaceX Dragon to carry them into orbit.

Space Shuttle Atlantis carrying part of the ISS truss.

Considering how integral the Space Shuttle was to its assembly, it’s hardly a surprise that no major modules have been added to the ISS since the fleet of winged spacecraft was retired in 2011. The few small elements that have been installed, such as the new International Docking Adapters and the Nanoracks “Bishop” airlock, have had to fit into the rear unpressurized compartment of the Dragon capsule. While a considerable limitation, NASA had planned for this eventuality, with principle construction of the ISS always intended to conclude upon the retirement of the Shuttle.

But the International Space Station was never supposed to last as long as it has, and some components are starting to show their age. The original solar panels are now more than five years beyond their fifteen year service life, and while they’re still producing sufficient power to keep the Station running in its current configuration, their operational efficiency has dropped considerably with age. So in January NASA announced an ambitious timeline for performing upgrades the space agency believes are necessary to keep up with the ever-increasing energy demands of the orbiting laboratory.

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Sand Hack Boosts Power On InSight Mars Lander

We love that part in Apollo 13 where the NASA engineers have to fit a square carbon dioxide filter in a round hole. We love basically every scene of The Martian where Mark Watney hacks together any piece of hardware he can get his hands on to survive on a hostile planet. What we love even more is watching actual NASA engineers trying out a hack and ordering the InSight lander to scoop sand on itself to increase the power from its solar panels.

InSight, which recently had its two-year mission to study the interior geology of Mars extended, has been suffering from a buildup of dust on its solar panels. This dust is only adding on to the expected power loss which occurs as the red planet approaches aphelion — the maximum distance from the Sun in its orbit. Attempts to shake the panels clear by pulsing their deployment motors were unsuccessful. Other solar-powered missions have experienced a cleaning effect from the Martian winds; however, despite seeing plenty of gusts, InSight has not seen any significant improvement.

Counterintuitively, operators instructed the lander to slowly trickle more dust and sand from its scoop close to (not on top of) one of the solar panels. As the wind blew, larger particles were carried by the breeze across the panels and bounced off the surface, carrying away some accumulated dust. While that may sound like a minuscule effect, the experiment resulted in about 30 extra watt-hours per Sol. Margins are still thin, and science instruments will still need to be disabled to conserve power. But this boost alone was enough to delay the powerdown for a few weeks.

There are so many exciting missions operating on Mars right now. Though, it’s also fun to take a look back at some of the earliest probes. And we’re always amazed at the resources NASA makes available for us to have some DIY fun.