Final Project Documentation – The Solar Snake Charmer

Project Idea:

  • My Final Project was based on the idea of the Snake Charming. I came up with that idea through research, as I wanted to create an interactive installation, in which humans can directly affect the output of the installation. The idea of snake charming went along that perfectly, as in real-life, a human snake charmer trained the snake for the show where he/ she directs snake how to move. This, in reality, resembles the master-slave relationship.
  • As this is a solar-panel based class, another relation that I drew with my idea and usage of solar-panels was directly recreating dependent relationship between the snake and the sun in nature. Through my research, I found out that snakes particularly like to tan in the sun, and when the sun is gone, they hide and patiently wait another day.
  • Thus, in my project, solar panels will pay the role of doing exactly that – control the “overall” life of the snake. In the same time, human (snake charmer) is able to control whether there will be solar panel “light” or not, and thus, able to control the direct movement of the snake, as the snake charmer in the real life is able to do.

Project Development:

  • I started by simply sketching what the solar snake should look like – it would be created using several linearly aligned paper cups in a row, followed by several motors out of which each one would be attached to each individual paper cup. This is how the sketch looked like (below):

Here is the further description of the sketch above in more detail:

  • There would be the total of five paper cups, connected with the fishing wire. Fishing wire in each cup, specifically located around the bottom of the next cup within the current cup, would be mounted using thick cardboard mounts, in order to restrict the movement of the cup it was mounted to. I designed this in a way so no cup would ever fall out from another cup.
  • Each servo motor was also connected with the cup using fishing wire. Servo motors would be placed within the laser-cut box, in order to be hidden from anyone who was interacting with the snake. The reason for that was to make it look less messy.

Ideation Process:

  • I started by asking the professor to help me find the mount (picture below) on which I could put the DC motors into, so the motors could be stable at all times. Professor also helped me in teaching me how to 3D print the mount, from the work on Tinkercad to Cura, which was a great learning experience, since it has been over a year and a half since I last 3D printed something.

  • I printed together six pieces of the DC motor mount, which took me about 5 days in total (considering the fact that many other students were using 3D printers and that 3D printers kept breaking down).
  • During that time, I started working on testing different types of cups (glossy walls paper cups, non-glossy walls paper cups, plastic cups, etc), and I decided to go with the glossy walls paper cups, as those have proven to be the most durable during different types of movement. The tests that I performed on cups was shaking them, throwing them and trying to crack them. These are the type of paper cups I decided to work with:

  • After the type of cups has been determined, I connect them by using the fishing wire and create the mounts within each cup. I encountered a bit of a problem when creating the cardboard mounts, as they were supposed to be glued on top of the fishing wire using a hot glue gun, which kept melting the fishing wire. However, by turning the hot glue gun on and off I was able to keep it at a temperature which was appropriate for gluing and not melting it.
  • Afterward, the motor mounts were printed, I placed the DC motors into them. This required a little bit of filing inside of the mounts, as at first they were too tight for the motor to stability be inserted.
  • Since I have decided to directly connect the solar panels with the DC motors, at first, that was a bit of a challenge, as in class, we always used a breadboard, capacitor, resistor, etc, in the process of doing so. However, after detailed research about it online, I managed to do so.
  • I created a spring using a straight metal wire in order to connect the mount with DC motor to the “cup” of the snake. After I did that for the each DC motor and the cup, I realized that by the movement that DC motor was creating, the spring would fall out, so I had to use the hot glue to both secure its position on the paper cup, as well as on with DC motor mount. This also greatly helped with the consistency of the cup movement.
  • One major problem that I encountered was that the 5V solar panel capacity was unable to support a single DC motor. What I mean by that is once the solar panel responsible for that specific motor would the covered, and then uncovered again, the motor itself had to be stimulated to move again. However, when I have put two 5V solar panels to a single motor, this would not be the case, but rather, when both solar panels were uncovered, the motor would start again by itself.

Future Improvements:

  • Plan early with things that are popular. Start using 3D printed much more ahead of time for finals, in order to avoid the hurry from other students who are also trying to use the printer as well. Also, this is a good idea, because when many students use 3D printers in a row, 3D printers tend to break down, which slows down everyone’s process, in order to get 3D printers fixed.
  • Sometimes, there are minor issues with the 3D print of the design which was initially put to be printed, so it is also important to print early, in order to have enough time to print several more prints in case if any of the prints are flawed (bad plastic, wholes in prints, etc).
  • Using the right materials. Use cotton string instead of the fishing wire, which tended to melt when I applied hot glue gun to it, in order to create the mount present within each cup. Going into the project, I haven’t given this too much thought, however, if I was to do it again, I would experiment and try different types of wires (fishing, cotton, flexible metal, etc) in order to find which one would be the most durable, flexible and convenient to work with later on in the process.
  • Scale your project right. Try out the solar panels prior to your determining how many paper cups, DC motors, etc, will be used in the project since solar panels themselves are the main source of energy charging the DC motors. Since these exact 5 Volts solar panels were used in class during one of our in-class labs, I remembered some of them not working correctly, however, I did not do a basic test before starting, which could have saved me a lot of time later on and would significantly improve my projects’ scalability calculations to start with.
  • Start small, then grow. I started determined to use all five paper cups, but I only ended up using three, because of solar panels out of which two were required to charge each DC motors, which summed down to only using three DC motors, and thus three paper cups.

Here is the link to my Final Presentation presented in class. The presentation contains specifically a more detailed description of materials that I have started with, switched during the process, and eventually ended up using in my final design.

Class 9 – Making the Magnet Pendulum

Assignment: Making the Magnet Pendulum

I found this lab one of the most entertaining ones that we did in class so far. This was because we used the pendulum as a part of our design. I also found it a bit easier to assemble the circuit, because it was fairly similar to the circuit we did in one of the previous projects, particularly “Building a Symmet on Breadboard” and “Making Miller Solar Engine”.

I started by placing the capacitors, resistors, LED and the remaining components on the breadboard. After that, I applied jumper wires. What I struggled the most was inserting the pendulum into the breadboard, as the wires from both of ends of pendulum were very tiny.

After that, I added the solar panel to the board itself.

At first, I had a bit trouble making the pendulum move correctly, however, I realized that my solar panel was not wired correctly to the breadboard, so I went and re-connected it. After, it worked well. Here is the link to it all.

Class 8 – Making Miller Solar Engine

Assignment: Make a Miller Solar Engine. This is a good documentation of BEAM circuits. http://solarbotics.net/library/circuits/default.htm.

For this assignment, I started by examining the circuit below from our Textbook.

The most complex part of the circuit was connecting the appropriate elements (diode, two 2N objects, and the motor) in the correct order. In this project, the most challenging part was when the circuit was not working for a reason that I was unable to understand. After talking to a professor about all the possible reasons why it wasn’t working, which included changing the capacitor, solar panel, and the motor, we were still unable to make it work as desired. This is how the circuit produced in class looked like. And here is the video of it working.

A day after, I tried re-assembling the circuit in order to try to understand why it doesn’t work. However, even after taking everything apart and putting it back together, I couldn’t understand what was wrong with it. I hope that in the future, I am able to overcome this type of unexplainable problems and I practice making more circuits.

Class 8 – Making a Pummer

Assignment: Make a Pummer

For this class, our goal was to create a circuit which was used a pummer and would go off as the solar-powered was stored in one of the two batteries. I started by examining the circuit, which initially personally seemed a bit challenging, so, later on, I asked for the professor’s help. The primary reason for this is because as a part of the circuit that we were assembling, there was a long chip with more then 5 legs on each side, so it was a bit difficult for me to position it on the breadboard and use its correct legs to connect the right parts to its specific legs.

After assembling the circuit and putting all of its pieces in what I thought was the correct position from the diagram, I had to go back and “debug” my circuit design. This was specifically related to making sure that all of the jumper wires were actually stuck in their appropriate holes on the breadboard as well that all the wires were correctly connected like the circuit instructed for them to be.

Another important thing for this circuit that I learned when I was building it was that there were two ways of connecting the buzzer to the circuit – in serial and in parallel. Each of those two ways created a different noise. When I re-connected the buzzer in parallel, the noise emitted was very abrupt and loud, while, when the buzzer was re-connected in serial, the noise was much softer and not as loud. This is how it looked in the end.

Class 7 – Potential Resources Used in Final Project

Assignment:  Visit these websites and make a post to our blog about how you might use one of the mechanisms in a solar-powered object.

  • https://www.youtube.com/user/thang010146/videos
  • https://www.robives.com/essentialmech/
  • http://www.mechanical-toys.com/mechanisums.htm

After carefully reviewing these resources, I have decided to potentially use gears in my design – the gears would potentially be attached to the bottom of the each of 5 pieces of the snake to assist with the contraction movement created by the servo motors. However, I will not promise to use this, as, during the trial and error testing phase of my project, I might potentially find a more suitable mechanism to use.

Class 7 – Dissecting solar toys and Building the Symet on a bread board

Lab 2 Assignment: Document dissecting solar toys and Building the Symet on a breadboard.

I started this assignment by examining the schematic (below).

The circuit consisted of the solar cell, three power storage capacitors, motor, resistor, two 2N-particles, and a flashing LED. On the first sight, the circuit did not seem very complex, however, later on, I had a bit trouble making it work.

The power storage capacitors did not have to be of equal sizes, in order for a circuit to work. However, I only found that out later in the process of assembling the circuit, so initially, I placed three equally-sized capacitors. After the professor’s explanation, I found it more suitable to place biggest, middle-sized, and small capacitor on the breadboard, because, in this way, it saved the area for other components.

The complexity of assembling the circuit correctly increased around the area where LED, transistor, and 2N-components share the area on the breadboard. This was primarily because I struggled where I need to put the two 2N-components, as I had a hard time reading the numbers which differentiated the two on the component itself. Thus, I initially ended up positioning them wrong, so I had to switch them up.

This is how the final circuit looked like this:

Class 5 – Initial Draft of the Final Project Idea

Assignment: Prepare to present initial draft final project ideas.

For an Initial Idea of the Final Presentation, I primarily thought of doing a Snake Charming Project, which has been done before, however, I decided to modify the idea a bit. This project would belong to the category of an interactive installation and would signify how the snake is dependent on the source of life – the sun. Similarly, how it is in nature, the snake cannot live without sun, in my project, if any of the individual solar panels will be covered, the part of the snake controlled by that solar panel will stop working, signifying that same relationship present in nature.

Project Components & Description:

  • I would initially start by assembling the snake. For this, I have thought of several materials, some of which were light plastic, paper, and fabric, however, I decided to go with glossy, polished paper, which is durable, does not break easily and can withstand weight being attached to it, without losing shape. I would cut parts of the cup of different sizes in the diameter, and I would start by having 5 such parts in total.
  • One of the main reasons why I also choose to work with glossy, polished paper was so it could have small plastic servo motors attached to it with a longer see-through wire. Each motor will do a front-back contraction, which will eventually result in movement of the snake. However, ordering motors is a bit tricky because I have to pay attention to motor-to-solar pannel compatibility.
  • Next, I would need small solar-powered panels to be directly attached to each motor. I made the decision to do that so that each servo motor could be controlled with its own solar panel in terms of how it will move – when the solar panel is covered by someone’s hand, that part of the snake will not move, while others will, and vice versa. In this way, the user will get a feeling as they are a charming part of the snake not to move on their command.

Here is the draft that I made for the project.

The picture shows that the servo motors will be placed in a laser-cut box, and the solar panels will be outside of the box, looking like a form of a button, which is not to be pressed but to be covered in order to make the responsible motor move, or better to say, stop moving.

Following Steps in the Project:

  • Talk to a professor and ask for help in determining the compatibility of motors with the solar panels, while keeping in mind that motors need to be small and plastic so it could be easily attached to the paper cup.
  • Considering whether I want to involve Arduino board or not into the project.

Class 11 – Long-term Assignment Presentation

Assignment Prompt: Read one of the following texts which are available online. Some longer texts you can pick a single chapter to read. Compose a thorough post summarizing the reading and be prepared to give a short presentation on the reading.

Thorough Post Response: For my presentation, I decided to choose the more broad topic of Solar Powered Satellites, within which I decided to focus more on the Economic Basis for Investment in Solar Powered Satellites. I based my presentation primarily from the Flournoy, Don M. book Solar Powered Satellites, chapter What Is the Economic Basis for Solar Power Satellites?  I choose this topic because we didn’t have a chance to talk about the economic benefits of Solar Powered Satellites, and I wanted to explore that topic more in-depth. Here is the link to my presentation.

Overall, during my research, I found out about the history behind of an idea about placing Solar Powered Satellites in Space produced by the USA, as well as Solar Powered Satellites in Space becoming a hot topic in the recent days, fostered among greater economic powers such as Japan, China, France, Canada, along with the USA. I briefly research about the production, construction, and maintenance of such satellites in space which had an economic spin, which naturally continued onto the overall economic potential of such satellites. This brought me to research more about the pro’s and con’s of Solar Powered Satellites in space, as well as their comparison with the competition on earth – Solar Powered Satellites on Earth.

Personal Opinion & Conclusion on the Topic:

I strongly believe that there is an undeniable economic basis for investment in Solar Powered Satellites, however, my opinion is also that such investment will result in return accumulated over a longer period of time, rather than instantaneous return on investment. As that was being said, I believe that since the big economic powers of the world, such as Japan, China, France, Canada, and the USA, are putting a great amount of intellectual and financial effort into developing innovation related to the topic, human usage of Solar Powered Satellites from the Space should increase significantly in the following years. Since there are more benefits of using Solar Powered Satellites from Space than the ones on the Earth, the Solar Powered Satellites on Earth could become rare.

Feedback Received After the Presentation:

  • One of the feedback from the professor was to use darker colors as my presentation template, such as black, gray or brown, as the colors I chose (green, white) are not pleasant for the eyes.
  • One question asked after the presentation was to better explain how are the Microwave power transmission VS. Laser power beaming different from each other, and when is each one used.
  • Another piece of feedback, as we all agreed, was to integrate personal reflective opinion at the end of the presentation, to not only show what we learned through our research but to also show our own intellectual input in term of opinion towards the topic.

I am very grateful for the feedback and will apply the appropriate parts feedback on my final presentation in May.

Class 4 – About Band Gap and Finding Solar Irradiance

Assignment Tasks: 

  1. Explain what a band gap is and how the chemical composition of a solar panel makes it possible.
  2. Find the solar irradiance in Shanghai for a panel facing directly south at a 59-degree angle vs the same 59-degrees north.

Assignment Answers:

  1. Not all the photons can create an electron-hole pair. Only the photons that have enough energy to knock an electron out of its place can do that. Photons carry a tiny amount of energy (in electronvolts/ eV). The amount of energy that is required the knock an electron off a Silicon atom is 1.1eV. This is called the bang-gap. Every type of solar cell has its own bandgap. Only photons with an energy higher than the band-gap energy, can knock off electrons and generate electricity. However, if a photon has 1.7 eV and falls onto a 1.1 eV cell, the excess energy (0.6 eV) will be lost in the form of heat. So there’s a trade-off there: if you set the band-gap too high, you don’t generate a lot of electrons (current) because few photons have so much energy. However, a band-gap too low will generate a lot of electrons, but most of the energy is lost in the form of heat.
  2. The Solar Irradiance in Shanghai for a panel facing
    – Directly South at 59-Degree Angle is:


– Directly North at 59-Degree Angle is not an available option on the website provided. However, assuming that North does not receive as much sunlight, the year-round figures for the summer would be slightly less for the solar irradiance.

Week 2 – Lab 1: First Solar Array

Assignment:  Finish and document your process of measuring the solar power of a cell and building a 2-volt solar array on the class blog.

 

  • Soldering Solettes

As I initially missed the class where the solettes were being soldered, the professor helped me in making the process quicker. I am generally very scared of soldering, so this was a bit challenging for me, as I previously got burned using a soldering iron. I started by aligning 4 similarly shaped solettes on the plastic background. I used the copper tape to connect two at a time in parallel solettes together. This was a tricky process not only because I had to handle them with a lot of care as solettes were extremely fragile, but also because of the way I had to tape them so the copper tape would not transfer from one solette to another. If the copper tape was to touch from one solette to another, the circuit would not work. In the end, I had to put the top plastic part on the plastic background on which the solettes were on, and solder jumper wire to the end parts of copper wire which was connected to the solettes.

 

  • Assembling the Circuit

After soldering solettes, I started by examining the circuit provided by the professor. Since the circuit was fairly simple, I started by connecting the battery in the battery holder, to the breadboard. After this, I inserted the LED, the capacitor, and a resistor to the breadboard and connected it properly. The end step was to connect the plastic platform onto which solettes were placed with the breadboard properly. This is how it looked like (below).

Finally, when the small copper board similar in the size of the plastic platform was placed on top of the plastic platform which contained the solar solettes inside, the LED on the breadboard would light up. Immediately after the copper board was removed the LED would stay on for about 1-1.5 seconds, after which it would turn off. Below is how the LED looked like about 0.5 seconds after the copper board was placed on top of it.