Solar Safety Bag Lights Up The Night, Charges Your Phone

Spend enough time riding a bike, and chances are good that you’ll start carrying a few tools with you. Even if you don’t, you’re probably going to use a bag to carry something along, so why not make that bag do triple duty? This convertible backpack/tote bag can charge your phone and provide safety lighting for nighttime rides. The design lends itself nicely to turn signals, too.

This bag was designed to show off the capabilities of Loomia, a line of prototyping parts made with e-textiles and other flexible applications in mind. It can be sewn, fused, or adhered to various substrates including fabric and wood. [AmpedAtelier] is using a Beetle microcontroller to control RGB LED strips using an illuminated Loomia soft switch on the strap. The switch is wired to the microcontroller through Loomia busses running through the strap.

Although Loomia’s site has a deep dive into the capabilities of their technology, it isn’t exactly open source. If that’s what you’re after, take a look at PolySense, which uses piezoresistive dye to create textile sensors.

World Solar Challenge: How Far In A Solar Car?

Solar power is a great source of renewable energy, but has always had its limitations. At best, there’s only 1,000 Watts/m2 available at the Earth’s surface on a sunny day, and the limited efficiency of solar panels cuts this down further. It’s such a low amount that solar panels on passenger cars have been limited to menial tasks such as battery tending and running low-power ventilation fans.

However, where some might see an impossibility, others see opportunity. The World Solar Challenge is a competition that has aimed to show the true potential of solar powered transport. Now 30 years since its inception, what used to be impossible is in fact achieved by multiple teams in under one tenth of the original time. To keep competitors on their toes, the rules have been evolving over time, always pushing the boundaries of what’s possible simply with sunlight. This isn’t mainstream transportation; this is an engineering challenge. How far can you go in a solar car?

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Hackaday Links: December 13, 2020

Our Sun is getting a bit frisky these days, and has rewarded us with perhaps the best screensaver image ever taken. The incredibly detailed photo of a sunspot was actually taken back in January by the Daniel K. Inouye Solar Telescope, a 4-meter instrument with adaptive optics that can image the sun from the near-infrared to visible wavelengths and resolve surface details down to 20 km. The photo, with a distinct “Eye of Sauron” look, shows the massive convection cells surrounding the dark sunspot; an accompanying animation shows the movement of plasmas along the tortured lines of magnetic flux that cause the sunspot to form. It’s fascinating to watch, and even more interesting to mull over the technology that went into capturing it.

With the dustup surrounding the youtube-dl DCMA takedown by GitHub fresh on the open-source community’s minds, GitHub Universe 2020 had an interesting discussion about maintaining open-source software projects that’s worth watching. They focused on the challenges that youtube-dl maintainers face in keeping the tool working, and the impact their effort has on the people and groups that rely on them. To underscore that point, they featured a researcher with Human Rights Watch who depends on youtube-dl in her work, and made it quite clear that keeping up with all the API changes that constantly break open source tools like youtube-dl make the role of the maintainers that much more critical.

Speaking of GitHub, here’s a frightening and fascinating new tool: Depix, the password de-pixelizer. Developer Sipke Mellema noticed that his company often used pixelization to obscure passwords in documentation, and wondered if he could undo the process. He wrote up an article describing the pixelization process using a linear box filter and his method for attacking it, which involves generating a De Bruijn sequence in the same font, text size, and colors as the original document and feeding a screenshot of that and the pixellated password into the tool. We suspect it’ll only work for a subset of obfuscated passwords, but it’s still pretty clever.

‘Tis the season for Advent calendars, and the folks at QEMU have posted theirs. Open each of 24 doors on the calendar and you’re rewarded with a downloadable QEMU disk image that implements something fun. Minesweeper, a ray tracer that fits into a boot loader, and of course Conway’s Game of Life. The GW-BASIC image on Day 3 caught our eye — brings back some memories.

For anyone who has ever watched a Pixar film and wondered how all that animation actually works, here’s a great lesson in making art with math. The video is by Inigo Quilez and goes through the basics of rendering images using raymarching SDFs, or signed distance functions. In the beginning, it seemed like it was going to be a little bit like drawing an owl, but his descriptions of the math involved and how each element of the animation is just another formula is fascinating. What’s more, there’s a real-time rendering tool where you can inspect the code and edit it. Alas, my changes only made things worse, but it was still fun and instructive to play with. Check out the video after the break!

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Hacker’s Discovery Changes Understanding Of The Antikythera Mechanism

With all the trained academics who have pored over the Antikythera mechanism in the 120 years since it was pulled from the Mediterranean Sea, you’d think all of the features of the ancient analog computer would have been discovered by now. But the mechanism still holds secrets, some of which can only be appreciated by someone in tune with the original maker of the device. At least that what appears to have happened with the recent discovery of a hitherto unknown lunar calendar in the Antikythera mechanism. (Video, embedded below.)

The Antikythera mechanism is fascinating in its own right, but the real treat here is that this discovery comes from one of our own community — [Chris] at Clickspring, maker of amazing clocks and other mechanical works of art. When he undertook a reproduction of the Antikythera mechanism using nothing but period-correct materials and tools four years ago, he had no idea that the effort would take the direction it has. The video below — also on Vimeo — sums up the serendipitous discovery, which is based on the unusual number of divisions etched into one of the rings of the mechanisms. Scholars had dismissed this as a mistake, but having walked a mile in the shoes of the mechanism’s creator, [Chris] knew better.

The craftsmanship and ingenuity evidenced in the original led [Chris] and his collaborators to the conclusion that the calendar ring is actually a 354-day calendar that reflects a lunar cycle rather than a solar cycle. The findings are summarized in a scholarly paper in the Horological Journal. Getting a paper accepted in a peer-reviewed journal is no mean feat, so hats off to the authors for not only finding this long-lost feature of the Antikythera mechanism and figuring out its significance, but also for persisting through the writing and publication process while putting other projects on hold. Clickspring fans have extra reason to rejoice, too — more videos are now on the way!

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Gathering Eclipse Data Via Ham Radio

A solar eclipse is coming up in just a few weeks, and although with its path of totality near the southern tip of South America means that not many people will be able to see it first-hand, there is an opportunity to get involved with it even at an extreme distance. PhD candidate [Kristina] and the organization HamSCI are trying to learn a little bit more about the effects of an eclipse on radio communications, and all that is required to help is a receiver capable of listening in the 10 MHz range during the time of the eclipse.

It’s well-known that certain radio waves can propagate further depending on the time of day due to changes in many factors such as the state of the ionosphere and the amount of solar activity. What is not known is specifically how the paths can vary over the course of the day. During the eclipse the sun’s interference is minimized, and its impact can be more directly measured in a more controlled experiment. By tuning into particular time stations and recording data during the eclipse, it’s possible to see how exactly the eclipse impacts propagation of these signals. [Kristina] hopes to take all of the data gathered during the event to observe the doppler effect that is expected to occur.

The project requires a large amount of volunteers to listen in to the time stations during the eclipse (even if it is not visible to them) and there are only a few more days before this eclipse happens. If you have the required hardware, which is essentially just a receiver capable of receiving upper-sideband signals in 10 MHz range, it may be worthwhile to give this a shot. If not, there may be some time to cobble together an SDR that can listen in (even an RTL-SDR set up for 10 MHz will work) provided you can use it to record the required samples. It’s definitely a time that ham radio could embrace the hacker community.

Let The Solar Free

Anyone tackling solar power for the first time will quickly find there’s a truly dizzying amount of information to understand and digest. You might think you just need to buy some solar panels, wire them together, and just sort of plug them in. But there are a hundred and one different questions about how they’ll be connected, the voltage of the panels, and the hardware for driving a load. [Michel], [case06], and [Martin Jäger] have set out to create a simpler and easier to understand charge controller named LibreSolar.

a diagram showing how the libre solar is wired up

A charge controller is fundamentally a simple idea. The goal is to charge a battery with solar panels, which means it’s essentially just a heavy-duty DC/DC buck converter. What makes this project different is that it is an open platform built for extensibility.

There are UEXT connectors included for adding extra peripherals, and with some tweaks to the STM32 firmware, it would be easy to handle small wind turbines (with some rectification to convert to DC, of course). LibreSolar seems to be designed with an eye towards creating a nano-scale localized networked grid. For example, they’ve developed a Raspberry Pi Zero module that uses WiFi to create a CAN bus allowing the boxes to communicate their maximum voltage to each other. This makes the system as plug-and-play as possible, as the bus doesn’t require a master controller to communicate.

With features such as MPPT (Maximum Power Point Tracking), 20 amp peak charging, a USB interface for updating, and several built-in protection mechanisms, it’s clearly a well thought through project. We look forward to seeing it deployed in the real world!

CNC On The Desktop Hack Chat

Join us on Wednesday, August 26 at noon Pacific for the CNC on the Desktop Hack Chat with Matt Hertel and John Allwine!

Once limited to multi-million dollar machines on the floors of cavernous factories, CNC technology has moved so far downscale in terms of machine size that it’s often easy to lose track of where it pops up. Everything from 3D-printers to laser engravers use computer numeric control to move a tool to some point in three-dimensional space, and do it with unmatched precision and reproducibility.

CNC has gotten so pervasive that chances are pretty good that there’s a CNC machine of some sort pretty close to everyone reading this, with many of those machines being homebrew designs. That’s the backstory of Pocket NC, a company that was literally started in a one-bedroom apartment in 2011 by Matt and Michelle Hertel. After a successful Kickstarter that delivered 100 of their flagship five-axis desktop CNC mills to backers, they geared up for production and now turn out affordable machine tools for the masses. We’ve even seen some very complex parts made on these mills show up in projects we’ve featured.

For this Hack Chat, we’ll be joined by Pocket NC CTO and co-founder Matt Hertel and John Allwine, who recently joined the company as Principal Software Engineer. We’ll discuss not only Pocket NC’s success and future plans, but the desktop CNC landscape in general. Drop by with your questions regarding both the hardware and the software side of CNC, about turning an idea into a business, and where the CNC world and next-generation manufacturing will be heading in the future.

join-hack-chatOur Hack Chats are live community events in the Hack Chat group messaging. This week we’ll be sitting down on Wednesday, August 26 at 12:00 PM Pacific time. If time zones baffle you as much as us, we have a handy time zone converter.

Click that speech bubble to the right, and you’ll be taken directly to the Hack Chat group on You don’t have to wait until Wednesday; join whenever you want and you can see what the community is talking about.