Friday, June 22, 2012

How I built a Solar iPhone Charger for under $50.

How I built a Solar iPhone Charger for under $50.
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I am not responsible for any damage that you may cause to your iPhone or any device that you use with this charger. I can not stress the importance of checking your circuits with a multimeter enough, and I can assure you that I've done so at every step in this build process. Your phone is a very expensive device. Treat it like one!

Intro and Design:

Over the past month or so, I've been working on designs for a stationary solar iPhone charger. By stationary I mean a charger that will be kept in a fairly permanent place. I bring mine with me if I'm going to be camping or staying somewhere for a while, but it's really not meant to be portable.

This isn't only a solar iPhone charger. You can use it with any device that will charge via USB. I just happen to use it to charge my iPhone. Also, this design doesn't include a battery in the circuit - which means that you'll have to charge your iPhone when the sun is out and shining. I know it's a serious inconvenience, but adding a battery makes the circuit much more complex - and is a bit more costly. I'll be following up this design with an update on how to add a battery conveniently into this circuit.

The idea behind this panel is that it's simple (and cheap!). You don't have to have any prior circuit knowledge,or familiarity with electronics. I'm really just stepping out of the novice stage as far as soldering is concerned, so this is a great beginner project for just about anyone!

Step 1Tools and Materials

As I say in the title, I built this charger for just a bit less than $50. That doesn't include the cost for tools and a few of the materials that were salvaged, but if you spend enough time on eBay you should be able to build yours for the same amount, if not less.

Let's take a look at what was used to build the panel.


Soldering Iron w/ Solder and Flux
Needle Nose Pliers
Wire Cutters/Stripper
MultiMeter (IMPORTANT)
Materials and Prices:

Part/Material ------------------------------------- Source ----------------- Cost

10 Watt Solar Panel ----------------------------- eBay -------------------$41.45 w/ shipping
7805 5Volt Regulator ---------------------- RadioShack ------------- $1.59
iPhone/iPod Cable ------------------------------ eBay ------------------ $1.20
USB Extension Cable -------------------------- eBay ------------------ $3.00 w/ shipping
Red/Black small-guage wire --------------- On Hand --------------- Free
Electrical Tape --------------------------------- On Hand --------------- Free
Small Zip Tie ----------------------------------- On Hand --------------- Free

Step 2The Panel

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This Solar Panel is a 10W panel made by LaVie Solar. You can check out their website, but your cheapest bet is to use eBay. Their eBay user ID is lavie-inc. I snagged a pretty great deal at $41.45. The panel has a really sturdy build quality. It has an aluminum frame, and seems to be entirely weatherized. I wouldn't have too much of a problem leaving it in the rain. Also, All of the wiring has been done for us which saves a LOT of time. They even put a blocking diode into the connection on the back, so we don't have to worry about that in our circuit.

The panel has an output rating of 21.6 Volts (Open Circuit) and .62Amps (Short Circuit). These are optimal ratings, but when I tested my panel in direct sunlight, that's almost exactly what I got.

As far as efficiency goes, this is not the ideal panel to be using as a direct USB charger. We'll be loosing a lot of energy as heat when we regulate the 20V output down to 5V to match USB standard. However, using a larger panel means that there will be more current flowing even when there's not a lot of sun. I've even seen my iPhone charging when the solar panel is in the shade!

Step 3The Simple Circuit

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After gathering all of the materials, I sat down and got to work.

I cut 2 pieces of Black wire and 2 pieces of Red Wire. The lengths were around 5-6 inches. Then, I cut a little bit less than an inch off both ends of each wire.

With my black and red wires ready, I cut my USB extension cable in half and stripped the cut half of the female end to expose all of the individual wires. There are 4 wires in all USB cables- Green, White, Red, and Black. The Green and White wires are for data, so those are not needed. I snipped the Green and White wires, along with all of shielding and fiber - leaving only the Red and Black wires coming out about an inch and a half from the USB cable. I stripped a little bit less than an inch off the Red and Black wires on my USB extension.

Since the 5V regulator only has one Ground pin, I used the two black wires that I cut initially- to make the soldering a little bit easier. I took both of my black wires, along with the black wire coming from my USB extension, and twisted them all together carefully and securely. I put some solder on that connection to make sure that all of the wires stayed together. Then, to keep things safe, I covered the 3-way connection with electrical tape.

Once all of the wiring was prepped, it was time to put the 5V regulator into the equation. Soldering wires onto the tiny pins from the 5V regulator can be a task. I used a small Zip Tie to hold my wires to the 5V regulator to make things much easier. It really helped - I was able to do pretty clean solder jobs on each of the pins. Since neither of the red wires were connected to anything, it didn't matter which ones I soldered to which pins. Just make sure you know that if your 5V regulator is laying flat, the input pin is on the bottom, and the output pin is on the top!. I also bent the pins in opposite directions to keep everything separate.

The fantastic part about this charger is that we're already done with our circuit. Once I was done soldering to my 5V regulator, I connected the Red wire from the Output pin on the regulator - to the Red wire coming from my USB extension cable. Now, I only had 2 wire ends left. A Red wire connecting to the input pin on my 5V regulator, and a Black wire connecting to the regulator's Ground Pin and my USB extension cable.

Step 4Connect the Circuit to the Panel

Since the LaVie Solar Panel has a pretty simple connection panel, pinching the Black and Red wires to the right screws on the panel was easy!

Step 5Test the Charger!

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I used my MultiMeter to measure my Input voltage that was going into my 5.00V regulator. about 20V @ 0.50A Good!. Then, I measured the output voltage coming from my Regulator. The reading was 5.00V @ 0.50A Perfect!. Those readings meant that everything was working correctly. Watch out, that 5V regulator gets hot when electrons are flowing through it!

Fully convinced that everything was working as it should be, I covered all of my open wires with electrical tape, took a deep breath, and plugged my iPhone in.


Step 6Conclusion

In future designs, I'll definitely be adding a battery so that you can charge your devices at a more convenient time. I'd also like to make a more portable version of this charger. With all of the new solar technology, flexible panels are bound to cheapen up sometime!

USB Iphone Ipod Dynamo Charger

USB Iphone Ipod Dynamo Charger
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No outlet in sight? Do not worry pull out your very own USB Dynamo (wind up) Charger! Going Green could not have been so easy! This is a step by step guide on how to Build, Test, and Perfect your Green USB Dynamo! Please don't forget to Rate and Vote on the Pocket-size Contest.

Step 1Planning:

Looking around online there is no small Dynano USB Charger on the market. The smallest one available is made in Australia and measures 112(W) x 47(W) x 23(D)mm and can fit in a big pocket. My quest is to build a truly pocket size Low cost USB Windup Charger. Where to begin?

Step 2The Options:

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Options are good. Looking online there are many ways to build a dynamo charger. Some good and some bad. (very very bad) Here are some of the best options:

1) Dynamo charger plus an Any volt micro step up step down voltage regulator (picture below). On Ebay there are many windup chargers for prices as low as $2.50 shipped.
Advantage:Low cost and easy to buy. Micro Any volt is a great little circuit that can take 2.6-14 volts and step up/down to 2.6-14 volt output.
Disadvantage:Some are poorly made and have bad electronics.

2)Dynamo Charger plus 7805 voltage regulator.
Advantage: Cheap and easy to build.
Disadvantage: Excess electricity is made into heat and has to be dissipated with heat sink. (hot hands?) Have to build a 7805 regulating circuit. (Google 7805 voltage regulator for more information)

3)Dynamo Charger plus USB Car Charger
Advantage: Very easy to build, All parts can be bought locally. Two wire connection
Disadvantage: Cases have to be modified to accept each other

Option one is the best in my option, But due to back orders I was not able to build this model. In this instructable I will guild you to building the easiest of the options, Number 3 and hopefully post the others in a later edition.

For more information about the any volt Micro please visit:

Step 3The Right Stuff:

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The muscle:
Searching on ebay I can across a dynamo charger made for black berry cellphone. The Dynamo chargers cost 5 dollars shipping included (Ebay's seller info

The brains:
On a local trip to TJ max I ran across a Griffin USB charger and bought it for this project. This item has great body lines and is very small, that is what sold me on this item . The Griffin Charger can also take a range of power input, so cranking does not have to be at a constant rate. You can use a 7805 Voltage regulator to do the same, but why reinvent the wheel if somebody has already built it for you?

Step 4The doctor says "Open up"

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To open the USB charger, use a small Phillips head screw driver and unscrew all 4 screws. Two flat head screw drivers can the be used to carefully pop open the case. Now look closely, there are two small connection point about 1/3 down the circuit board (from the 12V plug side). Griffin Might have put these two hole on the board for another project, But in our case they work great as a connection point for the generator. Get a knife and cut right shy of this point. After cutting the board. Measure and cut the black case as well. do not screw the case back together yet.

Step 5Cutting the Dynamo Case

Now to accept the USB Car charger cut the Dynamo Charger case. Where the electronics used to fit is now going to be removed for the USB car charger. Look at the picture below for a better understanding. I used an old soldering iron to cut the case. If you do not have an old soldering iron, use a sharp knife and/or a dremel.

Step 6Soldering the Wire and Fusing the Cases

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Now with the cases cut down to shape, solder wires from the motor to the USB Car Charger and test if the unit works. Screw the Black case together. If working, Use you Soldering iron to fuse the cases together. This step is very important and will made your USB wind up charger strong and professional.

Hint: Use the extra cut plastic as binder to strengthen the bonds between the two cases.

Step 7Sanding & Painting:

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After welding the cases together, sand them down to make a seamless professional product. Cover USB plug and light. Paint the charger your favorite color. I choose a light green to give my product a more earth tone.

Step 8Size Matters:

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Here is a couple of pictures of the Dynamo Charger Compared to Orbits Gum.

Step 9The final product & future plans:

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Over all I would give this project fro a scale 1 to 5 (1 easy-5 hard) a 2. Over all this is the easiest Dynamo project that I have done. Build this project in a week end and save the world! Maybe not the world, but when you are in a pinch and need some power this product will come to your aid.

-About 2 minutes of winding increases the power level on my iphone about 1%.

-If you iphone is dead, about 5 minutes of cranking will bring it back to life

Future plans:

Building a wind-up&solar charger to put in the window at work/home to charge my iphone off the grid. How novel! Having the phone that makes you the most connected but charges with no wire attached.
Please contact me if you have any question comment or fun Ideas!

A clever way to access the USB ports on your iMac (+ video)

A clever way to access the USB ports on your iMac (+ video)
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This is an evolution on our last Instructable where we tried to solve the problem of accessing the USB ports on an iMac.

People raised some interesting points about how "ugly" the solution was and then criggie suggested using magnets and we thought, hey, that's an awesome idea, so we tested it and loved it :)

Here is a simple Instructable on how you can make this too.

This is a smart idea that is a total pleasure to use, I imagine that you can have loads of quick access ports dotted around the back of your machine now, the possibilities are endless.

1. sugru - one mini pack is enough to make 3 of these
2. Neodymium magnets (we got these ones from ebay but you could probably use slightly smaller ones)
3. USB extension cable (male to female)
4. scissors
5. tissue paper

Step 1 OPPOSITES ATTRACT - label your magnets

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I think everyone knows how magnets work, but it's pretty easy to mount these incorrectly and for this project not to work for you, so, here comes some obvious but useful tips.

With magnets, OPPOSITES ATTRACT, this is the key thing to remember so we recommend that you label your magnets.

Allow your magnets to attract, (if you are using Neodymium then be careful, they are powerful)

Label the sides, we marked ours with plus and minus signs.

Step 2 Prepare the magnets

One mini pack is enough to do about 3 sets of these or you could do this with some spare sugru form another project...

1: Break the sugru into 3 equal pieces.

2: break one of these pieces in half.

3: shape these pieces into small cones.

4: Press the pointed end onto the sides of each magnet;
One piece onto the plus side of one magnet.
The other piece onto the minus side of the second magnet.

Step 3 Apply magnet to computer

Press the pointed end of the sugru pyramid into the place where you want your cable to sit.

Press the sugru that spreads out around the magnet to help ensure a strong bond.

Step 4 Apply magnet to USB

Press the remaining magnet into the base of the USB extension lead.

Again press the sugru that spreads out in around the magnet.

Leave to cure overnight.

Step 5 Enjoy the good life

Once cured, plug in the cable and connect the two magnets.

Now you have an easy to find USB extension that is kept out the way.

Enjoy :)

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