An Arduino Beginner: How Feasible is this Project for my Skills?

Hi Everyone.

I've been interested in Microcontrollers and Arduino in particular for a long time, but I've not come in practice with it nor with any other kind of microcontrollers before. However, during this term as an electrical engineering student, I've a complete course on PIC Microcontrollers which focuses on the architecture and development of PIC, including practical applications and design that we should have to work on considerably in lab using C and Assembly programming languages.

As I've become an electronics hobbyist since over a year starting from the moment I've joined the department of electrical engineering -I was hoping that I could have started doing hobby electronics from the time I was in the secondary school, but in my society, you can't find a source/organization/person that guides and inspires you to start doing these things, unlike other societies like in America for example. Anyway, I'm catching up very well and I've decided to self-develop myself into the famous microcontroller, Arduino.

I've ordered Sparkfun's Inventor Kit product and it's coming probably this week. My problem is that we've an Engineering Design course and my Professor wants all teams to work on projects that are limited to Solar Power and Shapes Memory Alloys. I decided that I do some search on the web to look for projects that include a microcontroller within a solar power project and I found a lot on solar tracking using Arduino. From my search, I've concluded that the project is feasible as there's a lot of documentation from different hobbyists, even some source codes are available.

We have about two and half months to complete the project after it gets an acceptance, so my question is, is it reasonable, as a total beginner in the world of Arduino, to do such a project in the time frame given with some help from more professional hobbyists/engineers who I can seek help from? I hope you give me an answer based not only on the arduino part of the project but also on the whole work needed to assemble and work out everything.

I don't want to go into the details about what I understand about the project from my research, so I'm leaving this later after I'm provided with, what I hope to be from dedicated hobbyists and engineers, mindful answers that can guide a new fellow. Illuminate me.

Thanks.

good luck
it would help if we knew your approximate location?

I don't know how this would help because I do care as much as possible for privacy, but I don't want to be harsh in this friendly forum, so I tell you that my approximate location is in the Arab world. The Gulf region in particular.

well it helps as there's no point in telling you to pop to a local store in Sydney if you're in Bangladesh!
country is all I was after, not full address

what electronic projects have you built so far?

Similar projects have been discussed on the forums before. IIRC, there was one in very recent times. The concensus seems to be that you can calculate the position of the sun fairly easily given the time (you'll likely need a RTC), especially if you have a fixed lat/long. You should be able to find code that does this piece without much effort.

The only part of the project where you'll need to do much work then, is the mechanicals and even then, generally if you're aiming a panel at a fixed latitude, you can get away with a single actuator to move the panel around to follow the sun.

If you want to do a solar tracking project, it’s not that hard. You would need 2-3 solar panels, a servo with a base and an arduino of your choice.

2 solar panels:
Take a voltage reading from both and compare them (must not exceed 5 volts). If left panel has more voltage than the right, rotate servo left. Likewise if the right panel was more than the left. What you want is to find the location or angle at which both voltages are equal.

3 panels: Very similar to the 2 panels but with more data to process. It may also be more accurate and less jittery.

@mmcp42

I see now. Well, I've not actually worked one new ideas because I'm still in the development process trying to combine official studying and exams time with what I do in private. Not much really during the past year other than working on connecting already existing designs and circuits on breadboards and trying to understand how they work based on what I've learned from university courses, labs and what I've been reading from external sources. Most of the time I was concentrating on the theory from books before I jump in into design because I wasn't seeing the point of making a design with no theory about a particular component is understood. However, I can work with transistors, diodes, voltage regulators and currently doing some op-amps, but I'm still scratching the surface.

I found a lot on solar tracking using Arduino. From my search, I've concluded that the project is feasible as there's a lot of documentation from different hobbyists, even some source codes are available.

How are you well verse on mechanical things? Building boards and controlling electrons is the easy part.
Implementing the mechanical aspect here may be the challenge. Single axis will be the easiest. But not as impressive as 2-axis follower.
It's doable in your time frame but you'd have to resort to either buying pre-made parts, or machining your own (manually, or using cnc, laser)

vasquo:

I found a lot on solar tracking using Arduino. From my search, I've concluded that the project is feasible as there's a lot of documentation from different hobbyists, even some source codes are available.

How are you well verse on mechanical things? Building boards and controlling electrons is the easy part.
Implementing the mechanical aspect here may be the challenge. Single axis will be the easiest. But not as impressive as 2-axis follower.
It's doable in your time frame but you'd have to resort to either buying pre-made parts, or machining your own (manually, or using cnc, laser)

I've team members who study mechanical engineering but I don't think that they would do any help. As for me, I'm not good with the mechanical part and it's really the thing that gets me thinking every time how it would be done. However, I can seek help from some professional designers for the mechanical part.

You said that there are pre-made parts, can you please elaborate more on that?

You said that there are pre-made parts, can you please elaborate more on that?

I’m just talking about 8020 frames, nema motor holders, rails, gears, things like that. … not an actual finished solar tracker kit. (I don’t know, google it see if somebody is already selling a kit?)

vasquo:

You said that there are pre-made parts, can you please elaborate more on that?

I'm just talking about 8020 frames, nema motor holders, rails, gears, things like that. ... not an actual finished solar tracker kit. (I don't know, google it see if somebody is already selling a kit?)

I believe that it would be unprofessional to use an already built kit because that's as same as cheating. As you said, the electronics part is easy but the mechanical one is what boggles me because I'm not handy with such things. If there are parts available for sell that would help me in making the mechanical part an easy process so that I can concentrate on doing the electronics parts, then I would like to see your recommendations. The problem is that we're limited to a time frame and we're not familiar with such multidisciplinary designs, so there's much tension and worry inside the team, but we can get over this when seeking guys like you on the internet and in real world. If this project is something I would like to do for myself in my free time, I would completely do it from scratch.

Thanks for your fast responses. I'm amazed!

This just an example, so dont do anything risky but do you have a microwave? The turn table inside, along with the rollers, would be a good design to recreate. Then you just use the panels and a servo/motor to rotate it.

I think a one axis contraption will be better for you because of your limited experience and short time frame.

Browse around McMaster-Carr for bits and pieces for your mechanical stuff. www.mcmaster.com
and also visit www.shortrunpro.com and look at their stock to see if there's anything you can use or modify a little bit for your purpose.
8020.net is also another cool place to shop (they also have an ebay shop for overruns, excess inventory, or b-stock items)
If you need custom parts (and acrylic panels will work and you don't need aluminum or steel), you can send your drawing plans to polulu.com for laser cutting on acrylic.

Thanks for the two above posters, but in the meantime excuse me, I've a quiz to study for tomorrow. I will communicate with you later as I do more research and I seek help from some professional designers in university. I will catch up with you later.

Thanks again.

I don't want to go into the details about what I understand about the project from my research, so I'm leaving this later after I'm provided with, what I hope to be from dedicated hobbyists and engineers, mindful answers that can guide a new fellow. Illuminate me.

Sure, what type of specific technical help do you expect when you are not providing any real details about your project? :roll_eyes:

zoomkat:

I don’t want to go into the details about what I understand about the project from my research, so I’m leaving this later after I’m provided with, what I hope to be from dedicated hobbyists and engineers, mindful answers that can guide a new fellow. Illuminate me.

Sure, what type of specific technical help do you expect when you are not providing any real details about your project? :roll_eyes:

Well, if you followed my post, I clearly stated that I would provide what I understand about the project from the research that I’ve been doing after I get feedback on how reasonable it’s for me to get the whole project done in the time frame available, especially since I’m new to Arduino microcontroller.

It seems that everybody agrees that yes, it’s reasonible to get the project done with some possible mechanical limitations which, for me, are acceptable. In the meanwhile, I will keep doing some more research and I will seek some hobbyists and designers around me to get their feedback and suggestions. As soon as I find myself needing feedback from mindful people on this forum, I will ask for it on this topic.

Thanks for your interest!

Hello again

The idea of the project has been set. It's desired to build a parabolic solar tracker with a trough mirror that reflects the sun light on a tube running through the vocal point of the parabola. Regardless of what's running inside the tube, or in other words, what we want to be heated, the tracking is the part that I'm tasked to do and it will be on one axis only.

I found a link that provides already built parts for the parabolic concentrator. It even shows how to assemble the whole structure. If I would use these parts and build the parabolic concentrator, what would you suggest me to do to track the sun with an Arduino microcontroller?

See the link: http://greenpowerscience.com/TROUGHKIT48X24.php

Reply #5 and 11. I laid it all out already.

I searched a little on linear actuators and stumbled upon this video:

This video, too.

Do you suggest me go with this solution or will there will be troubles? the actuator is controlled by the Arduino. I think that it has the strength to lift up the the parabolic solar concentrator on the horizontal axis. I thought about this solution because the solar concentrator is desired to be about 1m in width, so we would probably deal with a heavy object.

The concentrator design is given to another team and I'm responsible for making that concentrator tracking the sun automatically. I'm trying to search for different solutions from time to time and I wouldn't like to be left alone in darkness.

Those will require a good amount of power, so you might need to use heavy duty mosfets or even relays. Remember the arduino can only handle so much voltage in and out.