Dear Diary,

I enjoy the feel of the sun on my face and love to see blue sky after a long winter, but sometimes that all gets overshadowed by frustration about how little my community and I take advantage of the abundant, free power pouring down on us.  Actually, pretty much my longest-running, most nagging, nearly most exciting dream has been to concentrate solar energy to do amazing, awesome things.  I recently had my 5th anniversary, my daughter and son turned 4 and 2, and I turned 30 years old.  I can’t help but reconsider what’s important to me and what I have done and plan to do with my life.  I embrace the life God has called me to, including the passions I have for so long dismissed as selfish ambition and indulgence.  I commit to buckle down and really do something rather than only dream.

I bought myself an Arduino UNO electronics prototyping board to facilitate the process of developing science/tech ideas into some real stuff.  I don’t want to get stuck on Arduino, but if you don’t know already, the Arduino is incredibly awesome – so much so that when I consider its outrageous opensourcedness and what the Arduino enables us to do it triggers a near-cataclysmic avalanche of happy/creative/hopeful neuron blasts in my brain that effectively white out my consciousness for significant periods of time.  I’m sure it’s not healthy for me to linger in that exploded-mind state for two long, so let’s get down to the first efforts toward doing something.

Below is a list of things I’ve collected recently to experiment with basic suntracking circuits and maybe doing some experiments.  Most of the stuff is commonly referred to on hobby robotics and DIY solar websites (primarily this BEAM website).  At first I hoped to save a bunch of money by buying the most basic components and assembling all my circuits from scratch.  Then I realized that my patience and spare time don’t allow me to work that hard.  Anyway, here’s what I’ve got:

  • Arduino UNO SMD
  • a breadboard
  • lots of NPN/PNP transistors (2N3904 / 2N3906)
  • CMOS 1381J Voltage Detectors
  • SN754410NE quadruple half H-bridges
  • Some 74HCT240, 74ACT240, 74ACT245
  • a bunch of resistors, capacitors, potentiometers, LEDs, etc.
  • lots of different kinds of rechargeable batteries
  • some supercapacitors and various regular capacitors
  • a 3W (24V/0.1A) solar panel
  • some little 3V solar panels
  • cadmium sulfide photocells
  • lots of DC motors from TINY to big honkin’ scooter-types
  • lots of junk electronics I can strip for parts

I struggled for a couple hours last night just trying to get my Arduino to tell the H-bridge to drive some motors.  At first I didn’t think it worked at all.  Then I realized there was a high-pitched squeal surging on and off at the frequency I told the Arduino to change the motor direction.  When I looked more closely at the motor, I noticed it was moving very slightly.  The voltage across the motor was as I had expected (around 12 V), but it drew a current of only about 45 mA.  That’s similar to what you might get from the output of an Arduino directly!  What the heck is going on?  I couldn’t figure it out.

Here’s a series of smaller goals I hope to attain along the way to the larger goal of tracking the sun in order to concentrate tons of light into a tiny spot:

  1. Learn how to protect the circuit components from crazy inductive load (motor)
  2. Get H-bridge to work w/ Arduino
  3. Set up phototropic suspended bicore (BEAM robot concept) to see what it does (test output)
  4. Try to run a motor using the H-bridge w/ bicore output – might need amplification (transistor)
  5. Try to run two motors on the one H-bridge chip, signals from pair of suspended bicores (2 on one chip?)
  6. Solder it together!
  7. Build a thing that can rotate toward the sun under the direction of the motors.

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