Solar Plant Box


For this project, we figured we'd simply use the sun to further help an organism that already uses it - a plant. We used the sunlight to store enough energy to rotate a base, as well as measure the water level in the soil, as shown by a servo motor.

We did begin with a "simple" BEAM circuit... which we couldn't quite get working. This is mostly because we also had to power up the computational aspect of the project - the Arduino Micro. And we needed a specific voltage level. Nonetheless, through this process we did find the minimum voltage and amperage needed to power the motor - this was 3.5V 200mA.

We also had a little trouble with the design, but after we messed around with it a little, we were able to come up with a suitable concept that would house our materials, as well as provide stability to the plant. Future designs would have more solar panels, less wiring, more easier battery application and removal. Indicators of battery health. Or even no battery at all. I would like to figure out the BEAM circuit, but that will have to wait. Nonetheless, we ended with a nice final product!


Our earlier circuits (left) were also quite complicated, while by featuring a battery storage solution, we could afford a much simpler system (above). The pink wire here symbolizes the battery input. Notice the Arduino is now connected, along with the sensor, motor, and servo.

Once we determined the basic necessities of the circuit, we tested it rotating. Eventually we determined to invert the piece, and put the motor with the rotor facing down, so that we had no need for a slip ring in the final design.


I then had to make an enclosure for the piece, I chose to use a hexagonal design of CNC cut stacked ply, the design and process of which can be found here.  This worked well since my Subtraction midterm was a CNC project.

circuit works.gif

Arnav was kind enough to help me with a solar panel. In order to replace the charge controller, and connect the battery we had on hand to the solar panel, I had to solder and connect some stuff, but once I did, I tested it, and it seemed to work. Then I connected it all to the board, and lo and behold, it worked! 


The whole piece getting ready to fit together, a little varnish and it looks so nice. So glad the piece fit together so perfectly.

In future iterations I would prepare the sides more, perhaps build and prepare a pot just for this purpose, so the whole thing was more fluid. But still, for now, it works!

Now that's what success looks like.

Now that's what success looks like.

Solar Power Project & The History of Fossil Fuels

To begin, I am very excited for this solar assignment. Now, after understanding more of what it takes to generate electricity efficiently, and seeing how miraculous photovoltaics are in that they can generate electricity directly without the need for thermodynamics or kinetics, it opens us a world of concept creation. 

For this project, Dominick and I are envisioning and automatic plant manager. This plant manager will rotate your plant and provide water feedback while in the sun, and for a little while after (if we figure out that we have plenty of extra charge left over and can do something with it). We have motors and capacitors on hand that could work - I think - and plants that could use the help! We also need to buy the hydro-feedback device, which it looks like we can buy for $10 from Tinkershere, and likely a bit more for better quality elsewhere.

As for the reading from Smil, chapter 4, Energy in the modern world: fossil-fueled civilization, it was both humbling and horrifying to read. The conditions that were worked in deep underground to mine coal sound just terrible (are worked in? desire to be worked in??). However, the inventions were brilliant. All of a sudden, these machines produced measures of energy, rather confoundingly large relative to those number produced prior. Not only were these machines produced all of sudden very quickly, but their efficiencies were high, and the number of tonnes of whatever necessary was produced by raw number more and even held more energy as well! 

So it's rather hard to comprehend the amount of energy needed by the globe, once again. The number 1 to 100 is a good concept. Just imagine what you do 100 more times. Very Kantian. But it seems a must - as the global energy usage amount is astounding, if it is the case that we need so many trillion gallons of oil to cover our vast need. And then there are the unavoidable fossil fuels that heat it all up. 

But it leaves me hopeful. For it seems like this book is a few years, just before the incredible growth of solar. And many of these inventions were created before we considered how waste might be affecting us, or not affecting us.  It's a tough challenge, though, but a good one, to figure out how to deliver energy needs efficiently to billions of people, as "clean" as nature began the process. This is so hard that even hydroelectric dams can have devastating effects. But if we can figure out better designed solutions to capture and contain and sequester the carbon we emit, we can possibly stay this cycle of heating.

Hammock Generator!

We built a mechanism to translate the movement swinging a hammock into rotational force that we can then use to induce an electric current! It's a little rough around the edges, but we built it for free using junk parts and other stuff we had on hand. 

While numbers generated weren't terribly large - 9V / 150mA - using a heavier weight, pulled higher, with a longer area to swing, would generate much more energy. 

Close up of the acrylic motor head mount 

Close up of the acrylic motor head mount 

Initial design that was abandonded

Initial design that was abandonded

One thing

we found was that the swinging can be a little smoother for a better experience, this would be more of a mechanical problem. But also I found that because your swinging is resisted a little, so no matter what swinging would stop sooner than if you weren't attached to a generator. 

Either way, we see now how much works it takes to turn on simply one little LED, how much work must it then take to build, light, and maintain heat in a 40-story skyscraper?? Current answer: a lot. That's why I'm here though! To learn stuff like this, so that I bring creative solutions later.


Kinetic Energy # 2 - plans and development

We developed our concept further this week. Creating plans and building a frame for our wheel. 

Plans, our final concept was in the upper right corner

Daniel reviewing the final specs on the "wheel horse"

Daniel reviewing the final specs on the "wheel horse"

Gluing up the block that will hold the rod upon which the large wheel will spin

Gluing up the block that will hold the rod upon which the large wheel will spin

Kinetic Energy #1 - research


In all the briefs I've read pertaining to human powered devices, this PDF by Starner & Paradiso is certainly is the most thorough. I don't know what stands out to me most, how many different types of power generating methods are discussed (15+), how many references are listed (195), or how many as-yet unseen inventions are out there. 

The rotary systems and inertial microsystems seem to be the options most suited for implementation at a large scale. Piezoelectric materials are likely to break, and are very inefficient/weak. Only a handful of watts were generated from the near billion people walking in Tokyo's busiest subway terminal. Such a small amount of energy siphoned off this system is clearly the wrong choice. 

Heat also seems to be the wrong choice, again - at least directly obtaining it from the individual. We keep ourselves warm via complex chemical pathways of gas transfer at the skin surface, as well as internal warming and cooling mechanisms. To persistently remove energy from this system would cause us to persistently work and never reach homeostatis - unless it is minimally impactful and therefore minimally generative of energy. 

However, en masse we do emit heat, noise, and gas and other forms of energy. There have to be ways to capture these byproducts of our energy expenditure. 

Other than exercise machines connected to generative tools, in my opinion byproducts are where we need to be looking for long term solutions, not at the latent energy within the body. 

So, to the end of giving folks a fun activity to do that activates their entire weight, our group has conceived of one dual swing device that converts linear motion to rotational motion. Two partners would act as each others counterweights and move up and down, spinning a rotor that spins a gear that spins a magnet that induces a current in a wire.