Category Archives: energy

Vagina Hacking by Scanlime, Open Hardware (Emphasis on Hard)

Beth over at scanlime is no stranger to building electronics. But this time she wanted to, well…in her own words, “create something new and exciting that I can immediately use in my everyday life. It also happens to be a sex toy.” Specifically, one of those little remote-controlled vibrating egg things.

She ended up producing a hack that is remarkably polished. She even designed and 3D printed a custom enclosure for the whole thing. If she had used neon pink plastic it would have been hard to tell that it wasn’t part of the original product.

She’s got an incredibly detailed description of the project on her blog. Personally, I think the most interesting part of the hack was her solution to the power problem.

This was getting complicated fast. Lithium polymer battery, a boost converter to raise the voltage to 5V for the sonar module, charging circuit, “fuel gauge” indicator. All of this work goes into every commercial product that runs on batteries, and we often take it for granted. As far as I’m aware, though, there isn’t a great equivalent for quick DIY prototyping. The Arduino Fio board is close to what I want: an Arduino with a built-in LiPo battery charger. But it doesn’t have the 5V boost converter or any way of monitoring the battery’s charge. Without designing my own PCB, I’d need several separate components: batteryfuel gaugecharge/boost. All total, over $45 and a lot more bulk and complexity than I wanted. I was really hoping there was a better option.

It so happens that this sort of amalgamation of parts is already pretty commonplace in the form of portable cell-phone chargers. These devices are very little more than a boost converter, charger, lithium battery, and a very basic fuel gauge. Best of all, thanks to economy of scale, they’re really inexpensive. The 3200 mAH battery I used in this project was only $22, and it’s something I can reuse for multiple projects… or even to charge my phone.

This is an elegant solution that can apply to an array of different projects. Once something becomes commoditized it can drop below the price point at which it makes sense to reproduce the functionality yourself. All wireless projects need power, and with cell phone chargers becoming cheap and easy to find it makes sense to just plug one into the project’s USB slot and call it a day. Not only is it cheaper and easier, but it’s modular because you can still use it for its original purpose.

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The 3D Printable Heliostat and Interview With Creator

A little while ago Openalia posted about Google’s open source heliostat array code.

Well, now you can build your own DIY solar thermal farm. Adam (aplavins) has designed a 3D printable 2-axis sun tracking device.

Interview after the jump.

Continue reading

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Open Source USB-Based Power Supply

Normally power supplies are AC-powered, and big, so they aren’t portable. They also tend to have more power and/or features than you need for most tasks. Is that fact ruining your life? Open source hardware to the rescue!

You can find this little marvel, and fund it, at Kickstarter.

Related Links

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Open-EVSE, an OSH Charging System for Electric Vehicles

Everyone should start keeping track of what Google is doing (if they weren’t already).

Just a few days ago Openalia posted about Google’s open source simulation software for planning heliostat arrays. Today it’s about the hardware and software for an Arduino shield that charges any electric vehicle (EV) off of household current.

The Open-EVSE (electric vehicle supply equipment) is for charging J1772 compliant EVs. SAE J1772 is a specific type of connector.

So, basically, EVs get parked in the garage and plugged into a special computer to recharge their batteries. It’s important that the wall power be carefully metered out to maximize the life of the expensive battery pack. This thing does that, but it costs way less than its commercial equivalents and it’s open source.

Today we will be interviewing Chris Howell, the driving force behind OpenEVSE.

Okay, Chris, what is your background?

  • I am a Network Engineer and have way too many hobbies… Pilot, Electronics, Ham Radio, RC planes/UAVs…

Did you have any engineering experience before you started?

  • I build networks for a living. I did not have any experience in building complex electronic circuits or programing before I started.

When did you start and when did you decide to go open source?

What made you decide to open source the project?

  • The decision to Open Source “OpenEVSE” was made because the Electric Vehicle industry desperately needed an inexpensive Charging station/ Electric Vehicle Supply Equipment (EVSE). The existing hardware is far to expensive ($750+) and the manufactures are taking advantage of consumers with outrageous labor costs to install the charging station.
  • My quote to install the charging station form Nissan’s partner AV was over $1200. I already had a breaker in the panel and the charging station was to be located 18 inches away.

Did you choose one particular license over others? Why?

  • Not really… The licences are pretty confusing, we just picked a common license.

Were there any tools/resources that were vital to your success?

  • The Arduino paved the way for OpenEVSE. I bought an Arduino and out of frustration with my ridiculously high Charging Station quote I decided to see if I could use it to generate a J1772 pilot signal. J1772 is the standard in use by the EV industry. It is a 1khz square wave generated by the Charging Station. The voltage drop determined the EV state and duty cycle tells the EV how much current it can draw.
  • After a couple hours with the Arduino I was able to implement the pilot.
  • Other resources that were very helpful were the tutorials from Adafruit and Sparkfun. I had to learn a lot about SMD stenciling, microprocessors and opamps.
  • DorkBotPDX is great for the many prototype boards and OHARARP for the SMD stencils.

Any tools that were just really cool that everyone should know about?

  • I really like the DSO Quad scope. It has been really useful for this project.
  • The electric skillet for solder reflow is awesome.

Could you suggest one really important skill people should learn first?

  • Learn how to program an Arduino.
  • Once you know what a microprocessor can do lots of ideas start flowing.

Were there any significant changes between revisions or forks?

  • No significant changes just a slow progression of improvements and added features.

How much of the project was individual effort and how much was social?

  • The hardware was mostly individual with a few suggestions from really smart people. I brought the project to the stage that I was able to successfully charge my Nissan LEAF. Shortly after I recieved an email from “lincomatic” another LEAF owner who offered to make improvements to the software.
  • Now I still do most of the hardware, but both lincomatic and I add to the software. OpenEVSE is starting to see some small contributions from the community. Hopefully more people will contribute to the project over time.

Are you anywhere close to feeling “done” with the project?

  • The project is not done but it is mature. Open EVSE fully supports J1772 and all the same safety features as the “big boys”… GFCI, ground monitoring, stuck relay detection.
  • There are a lot that can still be added touch screen LCD, Internet connectivity, energy metering, etc.

Do you plan on selling anything when you’re finished?

Has it been successfully used in a real job? By anyone else?

  • Yes, OpenEVSE is in use by owners of the Nissan LEAF, Chevy VOLT, Toyoda PiP and Mitsubishi i-MiEV. Tesla and BMW Active-E owners are currently building Charging Stations. To date over 50 OpenEVSE boards have shipped.

Where do you want to take the project from here?

  • I would like to interface OpenEVSE with a Raspberry Pi to provide a rich web interface and also a graphical interface.

What do you think about open source as a philosophy? As a strategy?

  • Open Source is a great way to get people interested in a project and to spark innovation.

Do you follow any other open source projects?

  • Arduino and Raspberry pi.

In your wildest dreams, what would be open sourced next?

  • Everything…
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Interview With Joe Justice of Wikispeed

Simone Cicero has posted an extensive interview with the team lead of Wikispeed.

Joe Justice of Team Wikispeed

Joe Justice started Team Wikispeed and got 10th place in one of the divisions of the Automotive X-prize. He is continuing to lead his international team of volunteers towards the 100mpg future.

Here are some highlights from Simone’s interview:

Continue reading

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Help Wikispeed Raise Funds for the 100 mpg C3

Wikispeed is doing awesome.

The thing about open source hardware, like the Wikispeed car, is that it costs a lot more than software. For example, crash testing a prototype car costs $10,000! That means Wikispeed needs money and volunteers to join the existing international, 150 member team. With more resources, Wikispeed can produce the next generation. The Comfy, Commuter Car (C3) will be a direct replacement for your existing car.

However, it will be able to get 100 miles per gallon and you will be able to upgrade the car’s modular components so that it can grow with your needs or new technology.

Campaign Page on Indigogo

They just started their Indigogo campaign. They have 65 days to raise the $52,500 they need to get the first practical 100mpg car on the road. Major auto manufacturers can’t even mass produce a 50mpg car for $50k.

Reward Tiers:

  • $25 – your name on the car that will be displayed at the Future of Flight Innovation Center at Boeing’s Paine Field.
  • $100 – Above + thanked in a personalized video posted on Wikispeed’s website.
  • $500 – Above + get to vote on the styling of the C3 interior and exterior.
  • $5,000 – Above + training as a Certified Agile Project Manager for you and nine others, customized to your goals. This is the same Extreme Manufacturing (XM) process Wikispeed uses.
  • $10,000 – Above + vote with the Wikispeed Board of Advisors and have your name on the next 100 cars Wikispeed produces.

Related Links:

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Facebook and the Open Compute Project

Well, Facebook can’t be entirely evil…right?

Their Open Compute Project, started in April 2011 and still going strong with the release of Open Rack, is pursuing maximum efficiency. They have chosen to open source the entire design so that the industry can start to benefit from working together to solve the most fundamental challenges inherent in data centers. Basically, this boils down to turning electricity into cyber services with the least possible energy and hardware. Check out their specs here.

“Sharing software has existed for many, many years, but it hasn’t taken foothold in the hardware space or in the data center world…yet.” – Jonathan Heiliger, Facebook VP Technical Operations

“On the other side of the equation, we’ve started to see a convergence of voices among the consumers of this technology around where we think the industry would benefit from standardization and where we think the opportunities for innovation are.” – Frank Frankovsky, Facebook Open Compute Project President.

Here are some industry responses, collected by DatacenterDynamics:

“I think, overall, I like the idea of sharing their design data. I think there’s some good learnings there…but I think who can use it varies.” – John Kuzman, Intel Senior Data Center Architect

“Having a bigger set of eyes looking at their designs is only going to make the project better.” – Ian McClarty, Phoenix NAP President

“I’d like to congratulate Facebook for being open about their compute platform…They’re helping the industry.” – Al Edwards, Nokia, Americas Data Center Manager

“There are two things: cyber-things and physical-things…The management schemes were not released and it would be nice to know something about how their data center is managed.”  – Sandeep Gupta, Arizona State University, Professor of Computer Science and Engineering

“If they open sourced that to the rest of the world, I think that would be a great benefit.” – Guy Tal, Limelight Networks, Director of Strategic Relations

The real core of open source hardware is, as Facebook puts it, hardware API‘s. The universal principle of an API is that it ensures compatibility across multiple vendors and a long periods of time. Interchangeable fasteners are a hardware API. The USB plug is a hardware API. Automobile wheel lugs are a hardware API. Since hardware is more expensive than software, it takes longer and costs more to establish standards, but those standards also produce more benefits when they are finally adopted.

Since Facebook’s Open Compute Project is redesigning all the hardware API’s in the data center from scratch, they can optimize the system of systems, ensuring on over-optimized sub-system doesn’t interfere with the overall performance of the data center. How much of their work gets adopted by the industry remains to be seen.

Additional Resources

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HOpS: the Heliostat Optical Simulation Tool from Google

Google does some off-the-wall stuff, amiright?

One of the many weird-but-useful-in-a-really-specific-way things Google has done is develop software to simulate heliostat arrays around CSP’s…oh it’s also open source.

“The solar power tower is an exciting technology that works by using a field of mirrors, called heliostats, to concentrate the sun’s rays onto a solar receiver on top of a tower. This generates electricity from the sun’s concentrated heat. It’s been successfully demonstrated in the US and abroad at a small scale.” This project is part of Google’s Renewable Energy Cheaper than Coal (RE<C) initiative.

The project overview is here. It looks like these were the people involved in it: Tim Allen, Alec Brooks, Jean-Luc Brouillet, Kevin Chen, Max Davis, Mikhail Dikovsky, John Fitch, David Fork, Zvi Gershony, Dan Larner, Ross Koningstein, Ken Krieger, Ken Leung, Alec Proudfoot, Jon Switkes, Jim Schmalzried, Tamsyn Waterhouse, Bill Weihl, Will Whitted, and Pete Young.

The open source code is here.

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