How Does A Sail Drone Bring Home Hurricane Footage In Record Time?

It is unlikely that as a young lad [Richard Jenkins] would had have visions of sailing into the eye of a Category-4 hurricane. Yet that’s exactly what he’s done with the Explorer 1045, an uncrewed sailing vehicle built by his company, Saildrone. If that weren’t enough, footage from the vessel enduring greater than 120 MPH (almost 200 km/h) winds and 50 foot (15 M) waves was posted online the very next day, and you can see it below the break.  We’re going to take a quick look at just two of the technologies that made this possible: Advanced sails and satellite communication. Both are visible on Explorer 1045’s sibling 1048 as seen below:

Saildrone Explorer 1048, a sibling of Explorer 1045, each one of five vessels equipped with a "hurricane wing"
Saildrone Explorer 1048, a sibling of Explorer 1045, each one of five vessels equipped with a “hurricane wing”

The most prominent feature of course is the lack of a traditional sail. You see, from 1999-2009, [Richard Jenkins] was focused on setting the land world speed record for a wind powered vehicle. He set that record at 126.1 mph by maturing existing sail wing technology. [Richard] did away with conventional rigging and added a boom with a control surface on it, much like the fuselage and empennage of a sailplane.

Instead of adjusting rigging, the control surface could be utilized to fly the wing into its optimal position while using very little energy. [Richard] has been able to apply this technology at his company, Saildrone. The 23 foot Explorer vessel and its big brothers are the result.

How is it that the world was treated to the view from inside the eye of a hurricane only a day after the video was recorded? If you look at the stern of the vessel, you can see a domed white cylinder. It is a satellite communication base station called the Thales VesseLINK. Thales is one of the partner companies that built the satellites for the Iridium NEXT fleet, which has 66 operational satellites in Low Earth Orbit. The Iridium Certus service uses its L-Band (1.6 GHz) signal to provide up to 352 kbps of upload speed and 704 kbps down. While not blazing fast, the service is available anywhere in the world and is reliable because it is not prone to rain fade and other weather based interference.

With just these two recent innovations, the Explorer 1045 was able to sail to the eye of a hurricane, record footage and gather data, and then ship it home just hours later. And we’re hardly exploring the tip of the iceberg. More than just sailboat based cameras, these scientific instruments are designed to survive some of the harshest environments on the planet for over a year at a time. They are a marvel of applied engineering, and we’re positive that there are some brilliant hacks hiding under that bright orange exterior.

If uncrewed sailing vessels float your boat, you might also enjoy this autonomous solar powered tugboat, or that time a submarine ran out of fuel and sailed home on bed sheets.

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Reverse Engineering The Weather Channel’s Magic

For American readers of a certain age, Local on the 8s likely holds a special spot in your heart. The program, once a staple of The Weather Channel, would provide viewers with a text and eventually graphical depiction of their local forecast set to some of the greatest smooth jazz ever heard outside of an elevator. In the days before smartphones, or even regular Internet access for that matter, these broadcasts were a critical part of planning your day in the 1980s through to the early 2000s.

Up until recently the technical details behind these iconic weather reports were largely unknown, but thanks to the Herculean efforts of [techknight], the fascinating engineering that went into the WeatherSTAR 4000 machines that pumped out current conditions and Shakin’ The Shack from CATV distribution centers all over the US for decades is now being documented and preserved. The process of reversing the hardware and software has actually been going on for the last couple of years, but all those juicy details are now finally going to be available on the project’s Hackaday.IO page.

It all started around Christmas of 2018, when an eBay alert [techknight] had configured for the WeatherSTAR 4000 finally fired off. His offer was accepted, and soon he had the physical manifestation of Local on the 8s in his own hands. He’d reasoned that getting the Motorola MC68010 machine working would be like poking around in a retrocomputer, but it didn’t take long for him to realize he’d gotten himself into a much larger project than he could ever have imagined.

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Desktop Weather Monitor Leaves Nothing To Chance

[Mirko Pavleski] has put together a little weather station for himself that combines Internet-sourced forecasts with physical sensor data to give him a complete view of his local conditions. There’s no shortage of weather applications for our smartphones and computers that will show us the current local conditions and the forecast for the next couple of days. It’s so easy to pull weather data from the various APIs out there that you even see the functionality “baked in” to different gadgets these days. Of course, you can dig through every weather API in the world and not find the temperature and humidity inside your office; for that, you need your own sensors.

[Mirko] took a somewhat unconventional approach by essentially building two totally separate weather devices and packing them into one enclosure, which gives the final device a rather unique look thanks to the contrasting display technologies used.

Local conditions are detected by an Arduino Nano connected to a BMP180 sensor and displayed on a Nokia 5110 LCD. The screen shows not only real-time temperature and barometric pressure, but the change in pressure over the last several hours. The three-day forecast, on the other hand, is provided by a NodeMCU ESP8266 development board connected to the increasingly ubiquitous 0.96 inch OLED.

If you’re not into the whole duality thing and would rather do it all on the same device, you might be interested in one of the ESP8266 weather monitors we’ve seen in the past.

Weather Forecasting Clock Makes An Almighty Racket

The old-fashioned alarm clock was a staple of cartoons in years past, with loud clanging bells and slap-to-shutoff functionality. Despite being an excellent dramatic device, these classic timepieces began to lose favor to the digital clock radio, and, in more recent times, the smartphone alarm. However, [LenkaDesign] has come up with this excellent build that combines the best of the old and the new.

The build starts with an old alarm clock. The clockwork internals are removed, but the bells remain, powered instead by a brushed DC motor. An Arduino Nano is the brains of the operation, interfacing with the now-ubiquitous temperature, humidity and barometric pressure sensors. Time is displayed on a Nokia 5110 LCD screen of the type popular a decade ago when options for small hobby project displays were significantly more limited then they are today.

As a nice touch, an old circuit board lends a new face to this clock, with a trio of big chunky buttons to act as controls. The LCD uses attractive icons to help convey information, making the most of the graphical capabilities available. There’s even a rudimentary weather forecasting algorithm that uses barometric pressure changes to predict the likelihood of rain.

Overall, it’s a tidy build that promises to serve as a great alarm clock, given the high volume of the original bells. Alarm clocks have always been a hacker staple, but if you’re still struggling to get out of bed this fire bell build should rattle your fillings loose on a daily basis. Video after the break.

[Thanks to Baldpower for the tip!]

Continue reading “Weather Forecasting Clock Makes An Almighty Racket”

Checking The Weather Without A Window

Making a weather display is great because it’s a simple project that shows off some skills and has an obvious daily use. So [ACROBOTIC Industries] decided to make an easy kit for the Hackaday Prize to make weather displays even more accessible.

Calling it the ESPecter, [ACROBOTIC Industries] wanted to make this a simple project for anyone, regardless of skill with a soldering iron or Arduino toolkit. So they decided to base the guts on common components that can be put together easily, specifically a Wemos Mini D1 with an OLED shield as a bright display. They also designed a cool tiltable 3D-printed enclosure for this small device so that you can orient it to your eye level.

ESPecter breadboarded prototype.

While they already have a breadboarded prototype, and a 3D printed case, some software work remains to make the project really shine. They plan to add nice features like a web interface to configure location and network information, alerts, additional locations, and historical weather data. They also want to create a weather library to display well on a low-resolution screen and add battery operation.

We look forward to seeing the final version later in the Hackaday Prize!

This isn’t the first weather project we’ve seen around here. Other variants include mirror weather displays, an ESP8266-based weather monitoring station, a very low-power weather station, and this roundup of weather displays which might give you some inspiration.

An Arduino Weather Station With An E-Ink Display

For our Northern Hemisphere readers the chill winds of winter are fast approaching, so it seems appropriate to feature a weather station project. Enjoy your summer, Southern readers!

[Fandonov] has created a weather station project with an Arduino Uno at its heart and a Waveshare e-ink display as its face to the world, and as its write-up (PDF) describes, it provides an insight into both some of the quirks of these displays, and into weather forecasting algorithms.

The hardware follows a straightforward formula, aside from Arduino and display it boasts an Adafruit sensor board and a hardware clock. Software-wise though there are some tricks to give the display a scalable font that other tinkerers might find useful, drawing characters as a matrix of filled circle primitives.

The write-up gives an introduction to forecasting based only on local readings rather than on the huge volumes of data over a wide area used by professional meteorologists. In play here is the Zambretti algorithm, which takes the readings and information about whether they are rising or falling, and returns a forecast from a look-up table.

As we’ll all be aware, even professional weather forecasting is fraught with inaccuracies, but this is nonetheless an interesting project that is very much worth a second look. Meanwhile we’ve covered huge numbers of weather stations in the past, a couple of interesting ones are this one using a classic TI99/4A home computer, and more relevant here, this one using an e-paper badge.

Thanks [Phil] for the tip!