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Hardware Hacking Open Source Power

ESR's Newest Project: An Open Hardware/Open Source UPS (ibiblio.org) 232

An anonymous reader writes: Last month Eric S. Raymond complained about his choices for a UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply), adding that "This whole category begs to be disrupted by an open-hardware [and open-source] design that could be assembled cheaply in a makerspace from off-the-shelf components, an Arduino-class microcontroller, and a PROM...because it's possible, and otherwise the incentives on the vendors won't change." It could be designed to work with longer-lasting and more environmentally friendly batteries, using "EV-style intelligent battery-current sensors to enable accurate projection of battery performance" (along with a text-based alert system and a USB monitoring port).

Calling the response "astonishing," Raymond noted the emergence within a week of "the outlines of a coherent design," and in an update on GitLab reported that "The response on my blog and G+ was intense, almost overwhelming. It seems many UPS users are unhappy with what the vendors are pushing" -- and thus, the UPSide project was launched. "We welcome contributors: people with interest in UPSes who have expertise in battery technology, power-switching electronics, writing device-control firmware, relevant standards such as USB and the DMTF battery-management profile. We also welcome participation from established UPS and electronics vendors. We know that consumer electronics is a cutthroat low-margin business in which it's tough to support a real R&D team or make possibly-risky product bets. Help us, and then let us help you!"

There's already a Wiki with design documents -- plus a process document -- and Raymond says the project now even has a hardware lead with 30 years experience as a power and signals engineer, plus "a really sharp dev group. Half a dozen experts have shown up to help spec this thing, critique the design docs, and explain EE things to ignorant me." And he's already touting "industry participation! We have a friendly observer who's the lead software architect for one of the major UPS vendors." Earlier Raymond identified his role as "basically, product manager -- keeper of the requirements list and recruiter of talent" -- though he admits on his blog that he's already used a "cute hack" to create a state/action diagram for the system, "by writing a DSL to generate code in another DSL and provably correct equivalent C application logic."

He adds to readers of the blog that if that seems weird to you, "you must be new here."

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ESR's Newest Project: An Open Hardware/Open Source UPS

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday March 11, 2018 @12:50AM (#56241409)

    If a UPS is going to burn down my house, I want it to be a UL listed device. The insurance company is not going to give a shit if I was super careful in putting it together. They're kinda pissy about homebuilt electrical stuff that burns down your house.

    • by XaXXon ( 202882 )

      You'll be able to buy quality off the shelf equipment from normal manufacturers.

    • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @06:14AM (#56241939)

      The insurance company is not going to give a shit if I was super careful in putting it together.

      Oh wow, American insurance companies only cover you if you use normal off the shelf gear in ways specified by the manufacturer? Do you not have accidents in America or something? Why do you even bother having insurance if it only covers the situations where you're least likely to need it?

      • I believe the parent's fear to be misplaced; it'd be different if you burned down your house operating a wood stove that was expressly prohibited in your policy or something like that...
    • If a UPS is going to burn down my house, I want it to be a UL listed device. The insurance company is not going to give a shit if I was super careful in putting it together. They're kinda pissy about homebuilt electrical stuff that burns down your house.

      Does your insurance policy require that electronics carry a UL certification?

    • ...a UPS is going to burn down my house

      That's a valid concern; it's also a dead giveaway that this project isn't for you. As your concern is no doubt well placed, I highly recommend sticking to electrical items that come pre-built and leave that hobby to those adept enough to assemble custom systems that are far less likely [than cheap Chinese shit] to go up in flames.

      There's always a risk somewhere; the trick is seeing things in perspective.

    • " They're kinda pissy about homebuilt electrical stuff that burns down your house."

      If you'd never do anything wrong, your house won't ever burn down and you'd need no insurance.
      Insurance is specifically for when you fuck up.

    • by Jerry ( 6400 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @07:53PM (#56244607)

      Nonsense.
      I've built just about everything HeathKit offered, including their color TV, before they went out of business. There was/is NO clause in our home insurance policy that excludes electronic devices built by home owners. It does require that electrical repairs & additions, and plumbing work be done by licensed and bonded journeymen, which only makes sense. Our outlets have safety fuses which blow instantly in case you drop your electric shaver, hair dryer or hair curler in the sink full of water, preventing both fire and harm.

      House circuits have 15 & 20 amp fuses which protect house circuits from over heating and fire in case a radio, TV, drill, saw, vacuum cleaner, etc., shorts out.

      But, to your credit, if it means anything, you appear to be the first post.

  • Good on you, ESR! (Score:4, Insightful)

    by GerryGilmore ( 663905 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:01AM (#56241443)
    This is one of a plethora of currently closed-source products that could stand some competition! Ignore the nay-sayers, of which there plenty, and continue to push the boundaries. We need guys like you, whether we know it or not...
    • Raritan's licensing model and lack off VERY simple updates to let older models use this-century TLS encryption annoys me. I wish their was an open, or even half-open, IP KVM. There uses to be one.

      I recently learned that one of the top makers of RC plane, car, and quadcopter controllers is open source, with a vibrant community, both in transmitters and flight controllers. That was good news. I can hack the heck out of my RC plane and quadcopter ("drone") now.

    • . We need guys like you, whether we know it or not...

      Yeah, no shit; I was expecting a slew of petulant, ignorant shits to ask "Who the fuck is ESR??" In addition to his other accomplishments, I seem to recall him being written in to a Neal Stephenson novel; if that isnt geek-cred, there is none. ;)

  • Instruments (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Tailhook ( 98486 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:15AM (#56241479)

    There is probably a lot of potential for open electronics instruments as well. Multimeters, oscilloscopes, low end audio and RF spectrum analyzers and such. Dave Jones has had a very well received (AU$ 644,674) Kickstarter project with the 121GW multimeter. It's not entirely open (the firmware is proprietary,) but the hardware is open (schematics, components details, etc.,) the MCU is an easy to deal with STM32 and the programming headers are deliberately easy to get at, so ultimately open source firmware will emerge.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      There is probably a lot of potential for open electronics instruments as well. Multimeters, oscilloscopes, low end audio and RF spectrum analyzers and such. Dave Jones has had a very well received (AU$ 644,674) Kickstarter project with the 121GW multimeter. It's not entirely open (the firmware is proprietary,) but the hardware is open (schematics, components details, etc.,) the MCU is an easy to deal with STM32 and the programming headers are deliberately easy to get at, so ultimately open source firmware w

    • Yeah, but look at what the 121GW ended up costing when it was released, unless you insist on getting a Fluke you can get something similarly featured for a third the cost, even less if you don't mind a no-name model. Or the Novena. And that's the thing with ekr's UPS, if, and that's a big if, it ever gets produced, it'll be $1K or more for a $150 UPS.
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Jones' meter isn't really open, as the core part that does all the measuring is the proprietary HY3131 chip. It's the same one used in a lot of other low cost, mid range meters. The only bit you can program is the micro that handles the user interface.

      What we need are truly open designs that are modular and give the community high quality measuring systems. Anyone can throw one of those HY3131 chips into a project, there is nothing interesting or valuable about that.

  • by DontBeAMoran ( 4843879 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:21AM (#56241491)

    Shouldn't we be working on an open hardware/open source FedEx instead?!

  • by msauve ( 701917 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @01:31AM (#56241503)
    It's all about the batteries. You can get a <$100 UPS which will last 2-3 years and keep a PC going until you can do a graceful shutdown, assuming you're in front of it. Then spend $40 for a new battery or buy a new one to get a few more years.

    Or, you can get a full-blown generator or solar system which will keep the whole house up for possibly days.

    The cost and unreliability of UPSs are the batteries. He suggests "deep-cycle marine gel batteries that will last next to forever," which is naive. Marine use is very different than UPS use - cycle life vs. chronological lifetime. No battery lasts forever, and those who want long-term backup for occasional outages (see: voice PBX systems) use flooded lead acid batteries..And that's just for hours - there's a generator involved longer term. Gel cells are better suited for lower current draws over a longer time, and are significantly more expensive than wet cels, per capacity.

    What he seems concerned about is getting some warning about impending battery failure. You can fix that by doing regular deep cycle tests, but that shortens battery lifetime and makes for periods where the batteries are drained and you're taking a risk should the power actually fail.

    Myself, I have a years-old enterprise class UPS from eBay, assumed the cost of getting new batteries, and will again in a few years.
    • ...It's all about the batteries....

      Yes and no. It is about the batteries (hardware), but it is also about how to communicate with the hardware those batteries service. The UPS is a complex beast. There is a lot of knowledge already accumulated (see the NUT UPS project), but there is also mondo amounts of standardization that needs to be done in things such as APIs to talk with the UPSes.

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Quality UPS units use the USB UPS spec. It's actually part of HID for some reason but whatever, it's an open standard.

        On Windows such devices just work, plug in and the driver is automatically loaded. I don't know about Linux, but it should be possible to support easily enough.

    • by Cyberax ( 705495 )
      I live in a townhouse near Seattle. I don't have a space for a generator and solar panels are useless here. Power outages happen periodically here in winter (usual scenario - a tree branch falls on wires).

      So I want to keep my automation systems running throughout the outage: Internet (fiber with 4G backup), phones (VoIP), fire alarms, security cameras, emergency lights, fireplace. The power draw is about 100W on average, so I need something like 2kWh for my systems to survive through an outage. A traditio
      • by Rei ( 128717 )

        Seattle's sun exposure is about average for Europe; about half of Europe is sunnier and about half is dimmer. That's not stopped Europe from going big on solar.

        If you're talking several kWh, you're definitely getting into home backup system ranges, such as a Tesla Powerwall ("a production-quality UPS with li-ion cells" - you can see the results of fire testing on their industrial scale version here [electrek.co]). And then you'd already have an inverter if you ever did decide to go solar.

        Even if you decide that the pay

        • by Cyberax ( 705495 )
          I have a small solar panel that I bought at Fry's for an experiment. I've been trying to use it to run a webcam from my roof patio. It failed miserably. This winter there were something like a week maybe of sunshine in total.

          https://www.researchgate.net/f... [researchgate.net] - you can see that on average Seattle is reasonable, but it totally fails during winter. And winter is the time of outages when the backup power is important.
          • by Rei ( 128717 )

            FYI, a "normal" solar install (without a battery backup) doesn't protect you from outages at all, even in the summer. The grid-tied inverter disconnects from the grid; it can only match to an existing waveform, not build one from scratch.

            It's the battery backup and the hardware that manages - if you have one - it that lets you keep the lights on when the power goes out; a second inverter, running on the batteries creates a driving signal to mimic the grid after the disconnect, which the primary inverter th

          • "Small solar panels" appear to be generally total crap, especially price/power-wise. Just buy a standardized 250-350W large panel and you'll be able to get at least a few watts out of it at any time except night. They cost like $200 (US) these days.
      • As the other poster says, solar panels are not completely useless in Seattle (which is about as well-lit as South Germany, apparently), and if you get, say, three of them (~ 1kW of peak output), you might be able to get ~100 W from them even on cloudier days or in winter.
    • by Malc ( 1751 )

      Possibly naive question: canâ(TM)t the cells be arranged in such a way that you deep cycle test on half the battery at a time, so youâ(TM)re running at reduced rather than zero capacity?

      • Battery resistance can easily be trended for each cell or jar, and you have good indication of a pending failure.

        The real problem with UPSs is the series(-parallel) combination of lead acid cells leads to the aging of the string being partially dictated by the worst cell. With per-cell battery management system like you need with Li-ion you could dramatically improve battery life.

        • by dgatwood ( 11270 )
          Since space and weight are usually lesser concerns than life expectancy in a home UPS, wouldn’t it make more sense to use a bank of supercapacitors and leave the short-lived chemical batteries in the past where they belong?
    • Re:Meh. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by swb ( 14022 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @08:36AM (#56242195)

      For most a lot of recreational marine use, the usual battery choice seems to be AGM batteries and these usually drive a mix of direct DC loads and an AC inverter.

      There are some people that use flooded lead acid batteries, but these tend to be maintenance heavy and that can be a problem when batteries aren't always easily accessible.

      I don't think the marine use is any less demanding than a UPS when you consider that driving an inverter is basically UPS use. Much of the time the batteries are under charging current in marine, either from propulsion alternators or due to generator running.

      The newer larger vessels seem oriented towards running as much as possible off the inverter. I've seen some larger setups include DC inverter air conditioning due to its low start current requirements, allowing for (limited) air conditioning off the inverter. I think mostly this is for pilot house use when the vessel is under way and is getting power off the alternator.

      Solar adoption on power vessels is less than you might expect, but I see setups close to 1500 kw on some new models. But they're still highly generator bound if you want stuff like large air conditioning, water makers, or large appliances like stoves or washer/dryers.

      • by msauve ( 701917 )
        " don't think the marine use is any less demanding than a UPS when you consider that driving an inverter is basically UPS use."

        Point is that the demands are different. Here, I consider "marine" to be a broad term which covers applications where the batteries are used on a regular basis (e.g. RV, off-grid solar, etc.). A UPS gets used infrequently, a power outage isn't even a monthly event for most. Batteries which last a long time on float are called for so the UPS is ready to go when an exceptional event
  • I've been a user for the NUT UPS project [networkupstools.org] for many years and I can attest to the fact that this whole area needs some major love. The NUT UPS folk have been fighting the good battle, trying to get some manner of a stable API into the UPS hardware world.

    .
    Let's do this!

  • Very cool, but I have to admit that I'm 100% on laptop nowadays. I either work at the client site, or in my own office, and decided that I'd rather maintain one laptop instead of two desktops. With USB-C, you basically turn monitors into docks. It's just one or two cables and you go. No UPS necessary with a laptop.

  • by ZombieEngineer ( 738752 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @02:39AM (#56241609)

    Bulk of the consumer grade UPS are based off sealed lead acid - fairly idiot proof but only moderate charge capacity, limited peak draw capacity and limited life (normally the battery capacity has seriously degraded after two years of continuous service).

    Making the battery user replaceable would be a big step in the right direction.

    Shifting to Lithium Ion cells (preferably the iron phosphate variant) and applying a little de-rating will significantly improve the situation (requires a charge management circuit but these can be easily be sourced). The manufacturers' data sheets state to charge lithium ion cells to 4.2 volts per cell, keep the charge limited to 4.1 or even 4.0 volts per cell will dramatically increase the life of the cells (leave this as an exercise for the reader to research).

    If you want to make the equipment "industrial rated" then component ratings need to be reviewed. Capacitors are available in various voltage ratings however if you want the equipment to last 10 years in +100F/+40C conditions then the voltage rating needs to be nearly double the normal operating voltage (there is a study done/sponsored by one of the US military branches on longevity and component ratings).

    There is some fairly heavy engineering required on the power side of stuff and I don't believe ESR has yet to wrap his head around all the issues. Perhaps that is why he has put the call out for assistance.

    • normally the battery capacity has seriously degraded after two years of continuous service

      As someone whose job it is to monitor industrial UPSes at a major hazard facility, let me say: WTF ARE YOU DOING! You should be easily able to get a UPS to run for 5 years unless you're horribly abusing it environmentally or electrically.

      Unless you're defining "seriously degraded" as below 90% or something silly like that. Or listening to the vendor's sales guy, that's another expensive mistake.

    • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

      Bulk of the consumer grade UPS are based off sealed lead acid - fairly idiot proof but only moderate charge capacity, limited peak draw capacity and limited life (normally the battery capacity has seriously degraded after two years of continuous service).

      Making the battery user replaceable would be a big step in the right direction.

      Shifting to Lithium Ion cells (preferably the iron phosphate variant) and applying a little de-rating will significantly improve the situation (requires a charge management circu

      • by chihowa ( 366380 )

        Unfortunately, a UPS demands both high peak currents and deep discharges, so either kind of battery is poorly suited.

        If you overspec your battery, you can have low (relative to spec) peak current and deep discharges. The trade-off is a gigantic and heavy battery, which you can tolerate in certain situations.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The reason they use SLA batteries instead of lithium is safety. The equivalent size lithium battery needs careful balancing, charging and venting capability in case of a fault.

      It's by no means impossible to do, just much harder than with SLA that will take all kinds of abuse.

      There are already lots of open "power wall" systems that provide home energy storage. Most are open (not enclosed) to avoid venting issues, and use off the shelf BMS and inverters. They would be a good place to start though.

    • by jab ( 9153 )

      Use power tool batteries. The bigger ones have plenty of energy (18V 5Ah). For many people it's perfectly fine to share a battery between the UPS and an infrequently used drill, which amortizes costs. Ideally one of the tool companies would even pick up manufacturing. There are some multi-battery tools already if you want to really have fun.

      https://www.ryobitools.com/pow... [ryobitools.com]
      https://www.ryobitools.com/out... [ryobitools.com]

  • If he want to optimize for durability and longevity he should use nickel-iron [wikipedia.org] batteries.

    It is often used in backup situations where it can be continuously charged and can last for more than 20 years.

  • by petes_PoV ( 912422 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @05:32AM (#56241869)
    Given the alternatives and various goals (not to mention semi-religious beliefs) that are already appearing here, it doesn't sound like it will be long before this open hw/sw project forks into a multitude of other projects. Ones that advocate different battery technologies, different charging regimes, different ... well, you name it!

    And as such, instead of a single commercial pressure on the existing UPS makers to up their game, we will end up with a "background noise" of ever-changing, starting-then-fading, projects that become increasingly incompatible. And therefore instead of a united front that competes with the UPS makers, there will be loads of minor players that the big guys can safely ignore.

    A better way to approach this would have been to introduce a mature product, build a user base and offer off-the-shelf solutions. Much like with RPi or Arduino (though admittedly, both of those suffer from fork-ism). Rather than to hail the coming of vapourware and getting bogged down in design arguments.

    • I'll start by pointing out some issues in ESR's current plan.

      He is aiming to supply 230W for 15 minutes, which he says will power a "typical desktop system with 4k monitor." It won't, for that you need at least 500W and unless you want to play a careful balancing game more like 1000W. Sure, you system might average 230W, but peak load...

      He also wants to use Upverter for electronics CAD. Upverter is a proprietary, web based (!) schematic capture and PCB layout system. It makes no sense at all considering that Kicad is both Free and better in pretty much every way. Kicad and git are a proven solution.

      The other issue is lithium batteries. There is a reason SLAs are used, and it isn't just greed. They are cheap, easy to use and robust. You don't really get issues like one bad cell making your whole pack die, or needing to balance them and manage charging carefully. He complains that vehicle batteries last much longer, but they have complex battery management systems that are not at all trivial to design. Cheap lithium batteries like you find in toys and phones only last a couple of years, worse than SLAs.

      • He is aiming to supply 230W for 15 minutes, which he says will power a "typical desktop system with 4k monitor." It won't, for that you need at least 500W and unless you want to play a careful balancing game more like 1000W. Sure, you system might average 230W, but peak load...

        It might, depending on how much extra hardware you're running beyond a single SSD and whether the system is idle or not.

        Peak load is a separate thing, but you don't need to be able to supply 1000 W for 15 minutes to be able to cover 1000 W peaks.

      • Upverter sucks, but Kicad is downright user-hostile (which is, unfortunately, quite common for open source software). I'd suggest using Diptrace for schematics and then do most of the the routing in Topor lite.

        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          I've done multiple projects in Kicad, hobby and commercial. It's easy to use, better than Orcas, CadStar and Eagle.

          • Well, being better than Eagle is not exactly aiming high, you know. Both are very clunky and counterintuitive in their own way. I wouldn't want to use either ever again. But I guess you would also rather use vi than a modern IDE. There are people like that.

            There is one really good thing about Upverter, though - the full integration between the schematics editor and the PCB editor. If you make changes to the schematics, these changes are reflected on the PCB right away, which makes what-ifs easier (reassigni

  • Whilst I don't want to appear negative and I wish this project well, I can't help observing that whilst the maker and free software world is full of very talented people when it comes to writing delightful user interfaces and making LEDs blink on and off, the heart of a UPS is some serious power electronics.

    As someone who did a fair amount of power electronics many years ago at University I can see that designing and constructing an efficient inverter for a UPS is a none-trivial task. Further, if the in
    • by lordlod ( 458156 )

      As someone who did a fair amount of power electronics many years ago at University I can see that designing and constructing an efficient inverter for a UPS is a none-trivial task.

      The difference between university electronics and real world electronics is vast. At university you are trying to learn fundamentals so you design things like inverters using basic components. In industry you want it to work and be cheap, so you buy an existing chip which does what you need and plonk down the circuit in their application note.

      There are lots of inverter chips out there for the solar panel industry, the inverter shouldn't be a difficult part of the design.

  • by WindBourne ( 631190 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @06:10AM (#56241931) Journal
    1) skip the fucking usb. Go with network. Or at least allow a usb/network adapter. 2) it is long past to have a direct dc line from battery to going past computer power supply. Converting from DC to AC and back is so inefficient. Instead have 48V connector and let power supply take it down. 3) ideally, rack mountable.
    • by lordlod ( 458156 )

      What you are asking for is essentially the open compute design.
      http://perspectives.mvdirona.com/2011/05/open-compute-ups-power-supply/ [mvdirona.com]
      http://www.opencompute.org/wiki/Open_Rack/SpecsAndDesigns [opencompute.org]

      The standard setup is three power supplies in each rack (they are shifting to two with v2) supplying DC power to each server. With one UPS rack supplying DC power to six server racks. No inverter in sight.

      Also, Google used to run 12V batteries in every server but more recent designs haven't been publicly release

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      The main issue with DC power is that vital peripherals like monitors are usually AC only. ESR wants this thing to be used with workstations.

      • It does not have to be all DC. You can still have AC, but smaller inverter. Just as most ups have powered protected plugs, AND unpowered protected , simply add 1-2 48V DC plugs. Of course then u would need special power supplies, but they would come.
        • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

          That's not a bad idea. Given that it would be stepped from the battery voltage anyway, making the output voltage programmable wouldn't be hard. There are already 12v and 19v PSUs out there.

    • by Trogre ( 513942 )

      skip the fucking usb. Go with network.

      That's a terrible idea, and along the same mentality that led to the disaster of IoT. Do you really want to have to apply security vigilance to your frikkin UPS instead of just plugging the damn thing into one of your always-on machines and letting everything else query that?

      Or at least allow a usb/network adapter.

      Now that I could get behind.

      it is long past to have a direct dc line from battery to going past computer power supply. Converting from DC to AC and back is

  • by SIGBUS ( 8236 ) on Sunday March 11, 2018 @09:51AM (#56242375) Homepage

    I have an old APC Smart-UPS 1500 (the black version that Dell sold, bought at a blowout price from TigerDirect back in the day), and one thing I found was that the default hair-trigger response was murder on my batteries, due to a daily power grid switching transient that would unnecessarily trigger the unit for a few seconds. Setting the sensitivity to low made a huge difference in battery life, and another thing that helped was to switch to monthly self-tests instead of weekly. I do a manual battery calibration once a year.

    The 1500 is a bit overkill-ish for my setup, but it has served me well.

  • So is the circuit design

    The hard part is the fabrication

    Making a device like this that will actually stand up to years of use requires custom PCBs and a rugged case, with sufficient cooling to prevent overheating

    Most software hackers can easily handle the programming. Most people with a good grasp of circuit design can design the electronics

    Actually making one that safely functions for years is a lot harder

    And yes, I make prototype stuff like thus, but I have a home machine shop

  • If you just want 30 seconds to shut down a PC, you are better served with a basic, certified UPS. Newegg has several under $75, and a 255 watt one that starts at $39.95.

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