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TECH

Tech is awesome. The best projects are an amalgam of mechanics, electronics, and coding, with a finishing touch of aesthetics. Otherwise knowns as
MECHATRONICS


Scroll through a few of my favorite engineering and technology related projects

Near Space UAS Glider to 60k Feet

    While my first near-space adventure was completely successful and educational, I noticed it was fairly routine when compared against projects of similar caliber. Me and a friend began exploring how we could take this technology to the next level and were inspired by a YouTube video of a remote control glider attached to a weather balloon with a disconnect mechanism. The mission goal was to attach the glider to a balloon and when it reached maximum radio range, it would jettison the balloon and be remotely piloted back to the launch site through a live video stream.

    The flight shown in the video was not entirely successful, so we ventured to build off their work and design our own high altitude UAS. We equipped it with long range live video and pilot control radios, an autopilot system, GPS transceiver, and Arduino based altitude and temperature recorder. 

    In our flight, we reached a maximum altitude of 60k feet at a range of 21 miles from the launch site where we jettisoned the balloon and flew the glider under manual and autopilot control. Since we were at maximum range with a strong headwind, the reception wasn’t ideal so I flew manually only for a minute then switched over to autopilot where it flew itself almost completely back to the original launch site. It landed about 3 miles away where it was recovered using the onboard GPS transceiver.

Click to download complete article on the build and equipment used

Launch Video and Commentary

IoT Smart Hydrometer

    Brewing is just drinkable science. No matter if it’s coffee, or something a bit stronger, it all boils down to controlling temperatures, and chemical reactions. When brewing a drink of the stiffer variety, the two most important metrics regarding the reaction are temperature and specific gravity. At the beginning of fermentation, the liquid is dense with sugars from grains or juices. When the yeast is added, they begin to the consume sugar, converting it to CO2 and C2H5OH. This reduces the overall specific gravity which is typically measured using a fragile, glass hydrometer.

  There are other Smart Hydrometers on the market, most notably the Tilt Hydrometer which does work but user features are limited and requires a second device to receive measurements and upload to a network. After using the Tilt for a few brew sessions, I determined the main features I’d prefer in a hydrometer and set to design my own. This hydrometer uses a custom designed PCB and capacitance to digital converter chip to measure the flotation height of the hydrometer for calculating specific gravity. This design also includes on-board microSD memory for backup datalogging, battery monitoring, charging circuit, and ESP8266 SoC that connects directly to an online database for viewing data. If WiFi signal is lost, data is stored on the microSD and if power is low, a warning LED flashes and a notification is sent to the online database warning the user. 

Restoring non-running vintage motorcycle to a roaring Cafe Racer 


  A while back I really felt like my engine knowledge was lacking in a way that’s not acceptable for a self-respecting mechanical engineer. I understood them in the academic sense but had never got my hands up in one, so I figured the best remedy was to dive in head-first and get cheap Craigslist motorcycle. After shopping around for a while, I found a beautiful, clean-title, 1982 Suzuki GS450 with only 9k miles. It was in great mechanical condition and would turn over but not run. It would partially start for a couple seconds but if throttled at all, it would immediately die. Also the sparkplugs were jet-black indicating a rich air/fuel mixture. At only $400 it was an acceptable risk for a beginner mechanic to learn the nitty-gritty workings, even if I couldn’t get it running. This bike was also a perfect candidate for conversion to a retro style Café Racer/Scrambler so as long as I had everything disassembled, might as well give it a cool new look.

  To begin the troubleshooting, I started with the core three conditions tneeded for an engine to run; spark, air/fuel mixture, and compression. I knew there was a strong spark so first checked the air/fuel mixture, starting with the carburetor. I carefully tore that bad boy apart for cleaning and inspecting jets/gaskets and float height. While I was in the area, I also checked the petcock for proper operation and all hoses/rubber for vacuumed leaks. Everything seems to be in order so I moved on to checking compression.

  In hind-sight I should have started by checking compression but I didn’t have the gauge to do so; live and learn. After purchasing the correct tool, I found each cylinder was only firing on about 90-100psi. For this engine it needs 130-170psi to run so this was most likely the culprit. There are two main reasons for low compression; incorrect valve timing/seating or leaking piston rings. To check which was the problem, a couple tablespoons of motor oil were poured down the sparkplug hole and allowed to sit for a few minutes, creating a temporary seal for the piston rings. The compression was then checked again, and it shot up to 150psi in both cylinders, indicating the piston ring seal was compromised.

  To fix the compression issue I performed a partial top-end rebuild. New OEM rings were installed, the cylinders were re-honed, all new gaskets, and all critical bolts were replaced. Also, as long as the engine was dismantled, it and the frame were sanded and painted to remove rust/oxidation. At this point I also made a few modifications to the frame, relocated the electrics to a custom fiber-glass enclosure, and modified the exhaust to give it the café-racer look. After everything was re-assembled, the engine fired up with a vengeance! The compression in both cylinders held steady at 150psi and I now had full throttle control.


  I am still in the process of finishing all the upgrades to the bike, but the main task of learning, diagnosing and fixing the engine is now complete. Now I get to focus on all the cool astatic parts to make it a true custom café racer.


First Successful Engine Test!

Near Space Photography at 90k Feet

    This was the first large scale project I organized  back in 2013. At the time, near space balloon endeavors were just becoming more accessible with the advent of cheaper high-resolution action cameras and user-friendly radio technology.

    The mission goal was to attach a box containing electronics, GPS, Arduino datalogger, and parachute to a sounding balloon. As the balloon rises, the atmosphere’s density decreases, causing the balloon to expand and eventually rupture. The cameras recorded the breathtaking view and an onboard GPS reported coordinates to a satellite network to aid in recovery.

Arduino Controlled Electric Longboard

This project was just for fun, pure and simple. Before I transferred to Saint Martin’s University, I was concerned about the long walk between the parking lot and classes, so I used it as an excuse to design and build an electric longboard. This was back in Summer 2015 before I had any CAD or machining experience, but the end product was functional and would make Marty McFly proud!

At the heart of the board was an Arduino Nano microcontroller and powered by a six cell, 22.2V LiPo battery running a 240Kv brushless motor. To control the board, I used a Bluetooth Wii remote interfaced to the Arduino which provided continuous, and incremental speed control, forward/reverse, braking, and cruise control. I also included a battery voltage sensor to make sure I didn’t run out of juice while cruising and a skill level selector to reduce top speed for inexperience riders. 

To save money, I made the deck from old hardwood flooring and purchased used trucks. The most difficult component to manufacture was the motor mount which was machined from scrap aluminum. Fortunately, an old friend and professor was willing to lend a hand and taught me the basics of milling. 

 

Submersible ROV

    As the engineering club grew at Centralia College, we had the resources to take on larger endeavors. The science department approached us and asked if we could build a submersible ROV to study the bottom of lakes and take samples for geological and biological study. The project was split into teams and I headed up the controls, communication, and software cohort. Working with the other teams, we were able to design and build a functioning prototype but I graduated before the project was completely finished.