Gravity-Powered Solar Tracker

gravity powered solar tracker

The SunSaluter is an ultra low-cost, passive, single-axis solar panel rotator (called a tracker) designed for the developing world. Using only the power of gravity and water, the SunSaluter enables a solar panel to follow the sun throughout the day, boosting efficiency by 30% and producing four liters of clean drinking water.

It is 30 times less expensive than conventional motorized solar panel rotators (which use complex electronics), much more reliable, and consumes no electricity itself. With improved efficiency, fewer solar panels are needed, and the overall cost per watt of solar energy is reduced.

The SunSaluter features an adjustable design which allows it to integrate with any solar panel – no special tools needed. The solar panels are mounted on the rotating frame, a weight is suspended from one end, and a special waterclock is suspended from the other. As the water empties and the container gets lighter, the panel slowly rotates. The user can set the rate at which the waterclock empties, which controls the SunSaluter’s rate of rotation.

The SunSaluter also contains a water purifier so that each day it produces four liters of clean drinking water. By combining energy and water collection into one simple device, the SunSaluter improves consistent usage of the purifier, which is the Achilles heel of clean water programs. SunSaluters are available for purchase anywhere in the world as a DIY-kit, or in India as prefabricated systems.

More information: SunSaluter. Via Makeshift, who made a video about the technology.

DIY Urban Root Cellar

urban root cellar

“As we experiment with cultivating a greater agrarian connection, it’s time for us to revisit the age-old wisdom of the root cellar. Traditionally, root cellars are underground structures used to store vegetables, fruits and other foods. Because the earth’s mean temperature hovers around 60 degrees, a root cellar serves as the perfect natural refrigerator.

Although building a root cellar may not be practical for everyone—especially for those of us who live in urban areas—we can still apply some of the same concepts and techniques utilized in traditional root cellars to keep our harvest naturally fresh and lasting longer. The design of this urban root cel­lar, by Elliott Marks, was inspired by an exhibition by Jihyun Ryou, called “Save Food from the Refrigerator.”

The design incorporates key elements of a good root cellar — a variety of shelves, humidity, and air circulation — while also being small and portable. It is easily achievable by anyone and we encourage you to adopt this design or create a version that works for you. The general concept is to create a storing space specifically designed to preserve the gar­den harvest using grandparents’ know-how.”

Read more: Make your own urban root cellar, Mother Earth News.

Preserving Food by Fermentation

kimchi“Extracting nutrition via the bacteria and yeasts that live on the surfaces of food sources has traditionally enabled people all over the world to make use of seasonal abundance for leaner times. In a climate-constrained future, when the use of fossil fuels (and thus refrigeration) will need to be greatly reduced, fermentation could play a key role in preserving both our food and our cultural diversity.

Before refrigeration came into our houses and global supply chains, most of our winter stores were salted, pickled, and dried. Many of the strong compelling flavors found in European delicatessens come via fermentation: cheese, salami, gherkins, vinegar, olives. Likewise the mainstays of Oriental cuisine—soy, miso, and tempeh—and the whole of the world’s drinks cabinet, including everyday luxuries such as coffee and chocolate.

If you were wary of venturing into this unknown territory alone, you could not hope for a more enthralling guide than Sandor Ellix Katz: “My advice is to reject the cult of expertise. Do not be afraid. You can do it yourself.” There is no recorded case, he assures us, of poisoning from fermented vegetables.”

Read more: Fermenting Change. Thanks to Aaron Vansintjan. More low-tech food preservation.

Micro Break: The Fast, Efficient Holiday

micro break with john travoltaAs mini-break holidays become ever more popular, now is the perfect time to launch a new concept in today’s fast moving, time strapped world, the Micro-break. Simply sit on the chair and the carpet tips and rocks as you watch a TV animation of your flight and coach transfer, ending up on a tropical beach. At this point the TV lamp swings up, shining a heat lamp in your face. After soaking in the heat, you’re whisked home again, the whole experience lasting less than 3 minutes.

Microbreak was my first attempt at making a simulator ride and also my first attempt at 3D animation, so it was particularly exciting. It’s also my favourite because I really struggle with real holidays. Holidays are essential for people who have stressful jobs or hate their jobs. But I enjoy working and don’t find it stressful. I like travelling for work, to have a reason to go somewhere, but find holidays more stressful than work and often thoroughly depressing.

micro break detailThis simulator ride is built on the chassis of a 1985 Sega Space Harrier arcade game. This provides the wonderful tipping and rocking mechanism. The animation is filmed in a model landscape made of weathered lumps of PU foam, which originally came from a float used to lay a north sea gas pipeline.

Written by Tim Hunkin.

Micro Break is on display at Novelty Automation, a new London arcade of Tim Hunkin’s home-made machines. All machines are introduced on the website, but if you’re in London we suggest you just head over to 1a Princeton Street (a 5 minutes walk from Holborn station) and suprise yourself.

Meccano Food Mixer

Tired of replacing the food mixer every few years? Build your own & repair when needed.

meccano food mixer

Scanned from a 1970s Meccano manual. More here. Previously: How to make everything ourselves: open modular hardware.

Mechanical 3D Printer

mechanical 3D printer“3D printing allows me to create products more swiftly and more efficiently than ever. But these products don’t feel mine. They are merely a product of this new technology. I love technology but how can I reclaim ownership of my work? Perhaps by building the machine that produces the work. Perhaps by physically powering the machine, which I built, that produces the work.”

Instead of building a traditional 3D printer, Daniël de Bruin decided to harken back to a past when pantographs and mills ruled the shop floor by making a device which doesn’t require software or electricity to work its magic. His 3D printer is driven by a 7.5 pound weight. “The weight allows me to be connected with the process because there’s no external force involved like electricity; it’s still me that’s making the print,” says de Bruin. “By physically building and powering the machine, the products that come out of it are the result of all the energy that has gone into it.”

For those who complain about the speed of FDM 3D printers, de Bruin says his machine is actually faster. It all comes down to a nozzle diameter of approximately 2mm – rather than the 0.35mm – 0.4mm which is the standard for most 3D printers. While there may be a slight loss in quality with his process, he says his old-school machine can print objects using clay material, pasta, starch bio plastics, and pretty much any material that can fit through the extrusion nozzle, which doesn’t require heat.

See & read more at Daniël de Bruin and 3Dprinterworld. Seen at the Milan Furniture Fair.

The Kume Shade: DIY Insulating Curtain

kume insulating curtains

The Kume curtain is a simple and inexpensive home-made insulating curtain that can help save money, keep our homes cozier and be kinder to the environment.

The Kume is a roll-up curtain that is composed of four distinct layers.

  • A front panel which acts as the first layer and seals the perimeter of the window opening when the curtain is closed
  • A moisture barrier which prevents indoor humidity from reaching the window and condensing on the cold glass and window frame
  • Wooden battens which maintain the fabric stretched out and thereby ensure that the curtain fits tightly against both sides of the window opening (the battens also create air pockets which further reduce heat losses through the curtain)
  • A back panel which acts as the final layer of insulation and helps seal the perimeter of the window opening when the curtain is closed.

kume insulating curtain insideWhy is a Kume curtain so effective at reducing heat loss?

  • Still air is one of the best insulators found in nature, and the Kume curtain contains a lot of it. First, between the fibers of the thick polar fleece that is used to make the curtain, and second inside the thin spaces that are created between the front and back panels by the battens.
  • When closed, the Kume curtain fits tightly against the top, bottom and sides of the window opening. By doing so it traps a layer of insulating air between the glass and the curtain, and prevents the cold air that forms against the glass from seeping into the room.
  • A Kume curtain basically works just like a good down jacket on a cold winter day. The air that is trapped in the thick layer of down creates an effective insulating layer, and the tight fit of the jacket around your waist, neck and wrists keeps your body heat in, rather than letting it leak out into the cold environment.

See and read more (including construction plans) at Kume Insulating Curtains. Via BuilditSolar. Thanks to Frank Van Gieson.

Building Dry Stack Stone Walls

dry stack stone wall finished 3

You might take them for granted when you see one, but building dry stack stone walls is not for sissies: [Read more…]

The Dobsonian Telescope

the dobsonian telescope“The design of this telescope is called a Dobsonian, after its inventor John Dobson, who passed away earlier this year. Dobson’s life took an unusual trajectory. He went from being a self described “belligerent atheist” to a monk in the Vendanta society to co-founding the San Francisco Sidewalk Astronomers.  Most of his life was spent bringing the night sky to people around the world and teaching people how to make their own low-cost telescopes.

As a monk, Dobson could not afford expensive materials. He kept the design inexpensive by using a simple mount and cheap materials: wood and cardboard. My Dobsonian was made by the now defunct Coulter Optical Company out of particle board and a cardboard concrete form. Its large 13.1 inch mirror makes it perfect for looking at nebulas, galaxies and star clusters even in light polluted urban areas.”

Find out more. Illustration.

Frugal Digital: Repairing, Hacking, and Repurposing Electronics

Frugal Digital Repairing, Hacking, and Repurposing Electronics

Frugal Digital is a project that focuses on creating digital solutions in low resource settings like that of developing countries:

“Silicon technology is mostly about a culture of excess. It’s about the fastest, and the most efficient, and the most dazzling gadget you can have, while about two-thirds of the world can hardly reach the most basic of this technology to even address fundamental needs in life—including health, education, and all these kinds of very fundamental issues.”

“We work on projects to set the framework, create tools and provide inspiration for frugal innovators around the globe. Frugality is a way of thinking that optimizes given resources, up-cycles and has the spirit of improvisation. We aim to apply frugality to digital life and create solutions that are inexpensive, adaptable, use available resources and create valuable knowledge along with new solutions.”

Working with local tinkerers, Frugal Digital already made some interesting machines, mixing parts from different objects. A low-cost cell phone became the heart of a multi-media projector for education, while an alarm clock was rebuilt as an easy diagnostic tool to improve healthcare. Their community radio station introduces “air tweets”.

Via iFixit, who brings more good news for digital tinkerers: there is absolutely no shortage of disposed electronics.