Supercon 2022: Irak Mayer Builds Self-Sustainable Outdoor IoT Devices

[Irak Mayer] has been exploring IoT applications for use with remote monitoring of irrigation control systems. As you would expect, the biggest challenges for moving data from the middle of a field to the home or office are with connectivity and power. Obviously, the further away from urbanization you get, the sparser both these aspects become, and the greater the challenge.

[Irak] solves his connectivity problem by assuming there is some WiFi network within range, building a system around the Blues Wireless WiFi note card. Substituting their cellular card would be an option for applications out of WiFi range, but presumably without changing too much on the system and software side of things. Leveraging the Adafruit FeatherWing INA219, which is a bidirectional current sensor with an I2C interface, for both the power generation and system consumption measurements. For control, [Irak] is using an Adafruit ESP32 board, but says little more about the hardware. On the software side, [Irak] is using the Blues Wireless NoteHub for the initial connection, which then routes the collected data onto the Adafruit IoT platform for collation purposes. The final part of the hardware is a LiPo battery which is on standby to soak up any excess power available from the energy harvesting. This is monitored by an LC709203f battery fuel gauge.

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the water gravity air powered engine running

Gravity-Water-Air Powered Engine

Air engines are a common occurrence here on Hackaday. They’re relatively novel and reasonably easy to 3D print without requiring any fluids or supporting machinery. For example, [Tom Stanton] took a previous air engine design, did away with the air compressor, and instead used gravity and water to create just a few PSI to run the engine.

The basic setup is to have a large jug of water up somewhere high. Flexible tubing runs down to [Tom’s] custom acrylic pressure chamber. A little CNC-ing and some epoxy made a solid chamber, and we’re happy to report that [Tom] did some initial simulation before construction to make sure he wasn’t accidentally building a bomb. Some back of the napkin math showed that he could expect around 0.6 bar (around eight psi) with his setup. His first test showed almost precisely that. Unfortunately, [Tom] ran into some issues despite the early success. His engine would stop as it drew air and the pressure dropped, and the replenishing rate of the pressure was limited by the relatively small inlet hole he had drilled.

To fix this, he printed a larger diaphragm for the engine, so the lower air pressure had more to push against. This allowed the engine to run for a good while before the tank filled up. Additionally, he smoothed and polished everything, so it was as low friction as possible. We know we often state it here, but it is incredible what can be achieved with 3D printed parts these days.

We love seeing the iteration evident in this video. The various engine versions splayed across the table offer a powerful story about [Tom’s] persistence. Powering an engine is a small step to powering your whole home.

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Power Generation Modules Mix And Match Wind, Water, And Hand Cranks

What’s great about the Power Generation Modules¬†project headed by [Cole B] is the focus on usability and modularity. The project is a system for powering and charging small devices using any number and combination of generator modules: wind turbine, hand-crank, and water turbine so far. Power management and storage is handled by a separate unit that acts as a battery bank to store the output from up to six generators at once. There’s also a separate LED lamp module, designed to be capable of being powered directly from any of the generator modules if needed.

Testing the water turbine module

The hand crank is straightforward in concept, but key to usability was selecting a DC gearmotor with a gear ratio that made cranking by hand both comfortable and sustainable; too weak of a crank and it’s awkward, too hard and it’s tiring. The wind turbine has three compact vanes that turn a central shaft, but testing showed the brushless motor it uses as a generator isn’t a good match for the design; the wind turbine won’t turn well in regular wind conditions. The water turbine prototype showed great success; it consists of an epoxy-glazed, 5 inch diameter 3D printed propeller housed in a section of PVC pipe. The propeller drives a brushless motor which [Cole B] says easily outputs between eight to ten volts when testing in a small stream.

The team has plans for other generators such as solar, but this is a great start to an array of modules that can be used to power and charge small devices while off the grid. We’re happy to see them as a finalist for The Hackaday Prize; they were selected as one of the twenty projects¬†to receive $1000 cash each in the Power Harvesting Challenge. The Human-Computer Interface Challenge is currently underway which seeks innovative ideas about how humans and computers can interface with one another, and twenty of those finalists will also receive $1000 each and be in the running for the Grand Prize of $50,000.