An Electronic Love Letter to the Wind

Home weather stations are a great way for hackers and makers to put their skills to practical use. After all, who wants to hear the current conditions for the whole city when they could setup their own station which drills that information down to their very own street? Such a setup doesn’t need to be any more complex than a temperature sensor wired up to a microcontroller, but then not all of us are quite the weather fanatic that [Richard] clearly is.

The system he’s built to monitor the wind over his home is, to put it mildly, incredible. We might not all share the obsession [Richard] apparently has with the wind, but we can certainly respect the thought and design that went into this comprehensive system. From his scratch built anemometer to the various ways he’s come up with to display the collected environmental data throughout his home, if this build doesn’t inspire you to hack together your own weather station then nothing will.

At the heart of the system is the anemometer itself, which makes use of several scavenged parts such as the bottom halves of plastic Easter eggs as wind cups. The cups spin on a short length of M5 threaded rod inside of a 635ZZ bearing, which ultimately rotates a “light chopper” placed between a red LED and a OPL550A optical sensor. In a particularly nice touch, [Richard] has even included a few power resistors arranged around the moving parts to use as a heater which keeps the device from freezing up when the temperature drops. The sensor creates eight digital pulses per revolution, and feeds data into the base station though a 30 meter (98 feet) cable.

From there, the base station uses an ESP8266 to upload wind and temperature data to ThingSpeak and Weather Underground to be viewed through their respective web interfaces and applications. The project really could have ended here and still been impressive in its own right, but the station also includes 433 MHz and NRF24L01 transmitters to send the data to the other display devices which [Richard] has designed.

The 433 MHZ display is built into the frame of a lantern, and shows the current time and temperature on an LED readout as well as historical wind and temperature graphs on a 2.2 inch ILI9341 TFT screen which [Richard] has rotated into a portrait layout. There’s a red light on top that blinks whenever a signal is received to show that the system is working, and even a touch sensor which can be used to turn off the TFT screen at a tap if you’re not interested in seeing the full charts.

The other display, which [Richard] calls the “picture frame” utilizes a dizzying array of single LEDs, a handful of digital LED readouts, and even an OLED screen for good measure. They all work together to show the current wind speed as well the averages for the past day in three hour segments. As this display features a real time display of current wind conditions and averages for as short a period of two minutes, it uses the NRF24L01 receiver to get data from the base station at a rate of 3 Hz.

In the past we’ve seen 3D printed weather stations, and of course some pretty simple affairs using little more than an ESP8266 board and some sensors. But few have ever put so much thought into how to present the collected data to the user. If you’re serious about knowing what it’s like outside the confines of your bunker, [Richard] has got some tricks to show you.

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Generating Power with Wind, Water, and Solar

It is three weeks after the apocalypse. No zombies yet. But you do need to charge your cell phone. How do you quickly make a wind turbine? If you’ve read this project, you might reach for a few empty water bottles. This educational project might not charge your phone without some extra work, but it does illustrate how to use water bottles to make a workable air scoop for turning a crank and possibly generating electricity.

That takes care of the wind and water aspects, but how did we get solar? According to the post — and we agree it is technically true — wind power is a form of solar power since the wind is driven by temperature differences created by the sun. Technically true!

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Tumbleweed Turbine Wins Dyson Foundation Award

Wind turbines are great when the wind flow is predictable. In urban environments, especially in cities with skyscrapers, wind patterns can be truly chaotic. What you need, then, is a wind turbine that works no matter which way the wind blows. And just such a turbine has won the global first prize James Dyson Award. Check out their video below the break.

The turbine design is really neat. It’s essentially a sphere with vents oriented so that it’s always going to rotate one way (say, clockwise) no matter where the wind hits it. The inventors say they were inspired by NASA’s Tumbleweed project, which started off as a brainstorming session and then went on to roll around Antarctica. We tumbled into this PDF, and this summary report, but would love more info if any of you out there know something about Tumbleweeds.

Back to the turbine, though. How efficient is it? How likely is it to scale? How will a 3D-printed version drive a junk-bin brushless motor on my balcony? The jury is still out. But if a significant portion of the wind comes from otherwise unusable directions, this thing could be a win. Who’s going to be the first to 3D print one?

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Don’t Forget Your Mints When Using This Synthesizer

While synthesizers in the music world are incredibly common, they’re not all keyboard-based instruments as you might be imagining. Especially if you’re trying to get a specific feel or sound from a synthesizer in order to mimic a real instrument, there might be a better style synth that you can use. One of these types is the breath controller, a synthesizer specifically built to mimic the sound of wind instruments using the actual breath from a physical person. Available breath controllers can be pricey, though, so [Andrey] built his own.

To build the synthesizer, [Andrey] used a melodica hose and mouthpiece connected to a pressure sensor. He then built a condenser circuit on a custom Arduino shield and plugged it all into an Arduino Mega (although he notes that this is a bit of overkill). From there, the Arduino needed to be programmed to act as a MIDI device and to interact with the pressure sensor, and he was well on his way to a wind instrument synthesizer.

The beauty of synthesizers is not just in their ability to match the look and sound of existing instruments but to do things beyond the realm of traditional instruments as well, sometimes for a greatly reduced price point.

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Looking at Wind Turbines From a Different Angle

When we think of wind turbines, the first thing that usually comes to mind is the typical Sim City-esque type – 3 blades, gigantic, and wired into the municipal power grid. In truth, the world of wind power generation is far more varied indeed – as [Vittorio]’s vertical-axis wind turbine shows us.

So what exactly is a vertical-axis wind turbine, you ask? Well, rather than the typical setup with blades rotating about a horizontal axis, as in typical utility turbines or a classic electric fan you might use to cool off on a sunny day, instead a vertical axis is used. This necessitates a very different blade design due to the orientation of the rotational axis relative to the flow, so such turbines can be quite visually striking to those unfamiliar with such designs.

[Vittorio]’s design is a great way to get to grips with the type. The blades and supports were initially created out of PVC gutter channel, though 3D printed versions have also been developed. The motion is turned into electricity by using a simple brushed DC motor as a dynamo.

While the scale is small and the output only in the tens of watts, it goes to show that there’s always more than one way to do things.  We’ve seen some vertical-axis wind projects before, too. Video after the break.

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Modernizing Puerto Rico’s Grid

After two massive hurricanes impacted Puerto Rico three months ago, the island was left with extensive damage to its electrical infrastructure. Part of the problem was that the infrastructure was woefully inadequate to withstand a hurricane impact at all. It is possible to harden buildings and infrastructure against extreme weather, and a new plan to restore Puerto Rico’s power grid will address many of these changes that, frankly, should have been made long ago.

Among the upgrades to the power distribution system are improvements to SCADA systems. SCADA allows for remote monitoring and control of substations, switchgear, and other equipment which minimizes the need for crews to investigate problems and improves reliability. SCADA can also be used for automation on a large scale, in addition to the installation of other autonomous equipment meant to isolate faults and restore power quickly. The grid will get physical upgrades as well, including equipment like poles, wire, and substations that are designed and installed to a more rigorous standard in order to make them more wind- and flood-tolerant. Additional infrastructure will be placed underground as well, and a more aggressive tree trimming program will be put in place.

The plan also calls for some 21st-century improvements as well, including the implementation of “micro grids”. These micro grids reduce the power system’s reliance on centralized power plants by placing small generation facilities (generators, rooftop solar, etc) in critical areas, like at hospitals. Micro grids can also be used in remote areas to improve reliability where it is often impractical or uneconomical to service.

While hurricanes are inevitable in certain parts of the world, the damage that they cause is often exacerbated by poor design and bad planning. Especially in the mysterious world of power generation and distribution, a robust infrastructure is extremely important for the health, safety, and well-being of the people who rely on it. Hopefully these steps will improve Puerto Rico’s situation, especially since this won’t be the last time a major storm impacts the island.