DIY Dual Axis Bicycle Solar Tracker

Bicycle frame robot perspective - "It's alive!"

As soon as I became interested in solar trackers, I quickly realized that what was needed was a cheap practical mount. The Wright brothers and many others have been inspired by bicycle mechanisms. One day I happened to glance at a bunch of old bikes, and I suddenly saw a vision of the bike upside down with a moving panel on the front forks. The bicycle frame becomes what an astronomer would call an Alt-Az mount because it rotates about the horizontal axis (altitude) and the vertical axis (azimuth).

Bicycle Tracker - Part 3

In the first two parts of this series, I covered the actuator geometry and altitude and azimuth actuator mounts. This article will look at the frame for supporting the solar panels, and also discuss the welding process.

Linear Actuator Calculator

Well I finally got around to creating an Excel spreadsheet for calculating linear actuator mounting position based on the desired degree of rotation, effective actuator travel, and the minimum arm length. It is posted as a downloadable attachment for the 18" actuator product. One of these days I'll try to code it up with some Javascript so it can be a web based form.

Bicycle Tracker - Part 2

In part one of this series on how to build a dual-axis bicycle frame tracker, I covered the geometry for how the linear actuator will be positioned to get the maximum leverage and positional resolution. Now in part two, I am going to go over the pieces for the altitude actuator support bracket, as well as the azimuth mount. In the next step, we'll go over the top panel frame, and then get ready for welding.

Getting it done

A couple weeks ago I talked to the owner of a local sheet metal business about making some special heat fins for my compound parabolic receiver. He hasn't returned my messages this week, so last night I got inspired and decided to to and make them myself. The nice thing is that it worked, and now that project takes a big leap forward. The compound parabolic trough I built has a 6" focal plane which will have two 3/4" copper pipes spaced an inch and a half apart running it's length.

Bicycle Tracker - Part 1

A few years ago I came up with the idea to make a tracker from a bike frame. Turn it upside down, and use the handle bar to rotate the azimuth axis, extend the front forks and build a support for the altitude control, and then add a frame for the array pivoting where the front wheel used to go. Its cheap, and relatively easy, and easily holds a couple average solar panels. This is the first in a series of articles in which I will attempt to walk you the reader through the design and construction stages.

HB4 Motor Drivers are here!

The new motor driver pcbs arrived today. After several versions, this is the perfect driver for standard satellite dish style linear actuators. Next to the control logic connections is a connection for the reed switch. A mini terminal block next to the motor output terminal provides pass through connection for the reed signal from the actuator. What this means is that you can do something like run some Cat-5 wire from the linear actuator to the HB4, then run a separate Cat-5 wire to the SolarMega1B using an RJ45 connector.

TinyTracker Enclosure

We offer the TinyTracker as a bare board, which means you need some way of enclosing it to protect it from the weather when it is installed. Here's a quick rundown on my experiments building an enclosure. Although the TinyTracker is unique, it is not the only small LED based solar controller, and others have struggled with the question of how best to approach the issue of an enclosure. The consensus that I detected from others is that a clear jar works best, so I decided to try that first.

New products and moving targets

So much has been going on it's been hard to take time out to keep up the blog. The new TinyTracker prototype showed up last week and worked perfectly the first time I tested it. Got to love it when that happens. It looks like I may have the enclosure issue resolved as well. I'm really excited because this should provide a totally affordable tracking solution for simple applications that don't need the advanced capabilities of the SolarMega1.

January Report 2012

The official launch date for the site is now March 1'st, just four weeks away! The new SolarMega boards are in, and the membrane keypad overlays are ready too. Version 2 of the motor driver will accomodate heat sinks and even fits in a 1/2" conduit body! The best news of all is that I've been able to hook up with a great supplier for linear actuators! HomeCSP will be able to offer you the best deals on linear actuators in the USA, along with the only out of the box smart controller solution, and we've even got prime focus parabolic dishes.

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