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Old 17-12-2017, 08:37   #1
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Lightbulb Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

It is great to see folks thinking about what capabilities are missing in current mass market external regulators Next Gen Alternator Regulator; And it is rewarding to see interest in the features already designed in and available today. As I consider the future direction of my open source Alternator Regulator one post in particular caught my eye: Next Gen Alternator Regulator -- which prompts this thread.

What would folks want to see in today's ‘Next Generation Alternator Regulator’ to make it a "'consumer friendly' product"?

A case is perhaps an obvious choice. What else, what would folks want to see to bring this effort out of the ‘project’ level?



A better name then "Alternator Regulator"?


Less options?


Better documentation?


????


The Alternator Regulator has benefited over the years by input from folks and I welcome to continue that trend.


Thank you in advance,

-al-
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Old 17-12-2017, 08:44   #2
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

First off thanks Thomas for your very generous contributions to the community.

Yes, an attractive turnkey package and catchy, legally enforceable and Google-friendly name will help "productize" the project for less geeky-tech DIYer prospects.

But the real key for market acceptance will be proven reliability at sea, witnessed and attested to by trusted forum members, especially professional installers like CMS / Maine Sail.

Customization options for turnkey custom installs, great documentation, maybe private labeling, anything to let the reseller channel feel comfortable and make margins will help drive acceptance.
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Old 17-12-2017, 09:23   #3
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

I realize a bit off the wall maybe OT, but I see an opportunity for "bundling" a great OTS high-output alternator suitable for being serviced in third-world conditions.

See this thread's "DC genset" posts for ideas and market needs 12vdc generators - any good ones out there?

Maybe even a "full package" option with a suitably sized small engine, take all the belt-type and pulley-ratio DIY voodoo out of the equation. Offer a self-contained quiet unit optimized for fast bank charging at low rpm like Eco-Tech but off the shelf truck alts, maybe reco like you see on eBay for peanuts.

PTO available for watermaker, compressors?
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Old 17-12-2017, 09:26   #4
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

Can your VR work with the

C.E Niehoff & Co "CEN" gennies designed for Humvee, other military engines?

400A at 24V also
50A more at 12V

Not as well optimized for low rpm, need to get up to 1500rpm to produce 50% rated current

But can go for under $500 NOS

Video https://youtu.be/lzIf6ifjwN8
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Old 17-12-2017, 10:13   #5
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

Quote:
Originally Posted by thomasow View Post
What would folks want to see in today's ‘Next Generation Alternator Regulator’ to make it a "'consumer friendly' product"?

A case is perhaps an obvious choice. What else, what would folks want to see to bring this effort out of the ‘project’ level?

A better name then "Alternator Regulator"?

Less options?

Better documentation?

????

-al-
Al, to be a consumer product (IMHO), it needs to be installable by the majority of consumers. No technical knowledge beyond the absolute basics should be required. It should be a product that does not require hooking up a computer, compiling anything etc etc.
I would expect a case, different documentation (not 'better' as what is available is awesome but again it's on a geek level) and above all a user interface.
When I say 'user interface', I am envisioning a remote panel of some kind where the user can scroll through settings and can change settings. I imagine something with different levels of sophistication so that the average user can set a handful of basic parameters and be up and running (might even be just battery type in the simplest level). Additional levels of user knowledge would gain access to different parameters. I envision 4 or 5 levels of sophistication.
Basically, if I know that I want an external regulator then I can be expected to have a small level of technical understanding. I should get a product that I can install with a few wires and be up and running. When my sophistication increases as I learn, I should be able to add temperature probes and voltage sense lines and so on. As my understanding grows even further, I should be able to set things like charging voltage etc etc.
Think of the remote panel as having a 4 line 40 character LCD display, some buttons to scroll and change things and a few status LED's.
I can install the actual regulator near the engine and the interface at my nav station with all the other electronic gear.
You have what I think is the perfect regulator so don't mess with that other than to offer a box for it .... just add the remote user interface and some user friendly documentation (on a usb stick? so I don't have to search the internet for it).

Yes, a better name such as SR-2017 (for Super Regulator 2017) - cheesy but better than 'alternator regulator'

Those are my 'off the cuff' thoughts - hope it helps
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Old 17-12-2017, 10:37   #6
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

Yes user-friendly UI module is a great idea, def should not require a PC for anything in normal commissioning and operations.

Name ideas, external voltage regulator

company: Viking (something)

initial release model: FOSS-VR1.1

So can build on google's current indexing of

Viking FOSS voltage regulator

But not so generic as to render trademark unenforceable.

Firmware versions of course tracked separately from hardware iterations.

User easily updating firmware, ideally from a USB drive, no computer required at the boat/vehicle location.
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Old 17-12-2017, 10:52   #7
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

I'd like to add that the user interface should be an optional product in addition to the bare regulator (in case that was not clear) . Same with the box for the bare regulator.
I would advise against getting into the alternator field - lots of sources for those unless you have something unusual. Also capital intensive and you are adding a whole new domain of headaches.
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Old 17-12-2017, 10:55   #8
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

GREAT regulator, Al! Thanks for all your hard work here.

I'd think potting it would be easier than a case. It would certainly be easier for the user, and it would let them see the LED codes. All my previous "smart" regulators were just potted, usually in a heat-sink. Maybe just pot the component side, so it could be screwed to a wall without needing standoffs. Maybe spray some sort of sealant on the connection side, if it can be done without compromising the connectors.

I've proposed the name Very Smart Regulator. Ok, VSR can also mean Voltage Sensitive Relay, but only a small handful of geeks would know that, and it's hard to find a TLA that isn't already used for something else. After all, there are only 17,576 of them...

I think another issue is getting the word out. I'd love to see more people interested. Yes, most folks don't know the issues, so we have to educate them. Still, cruisers are usually happy to learn. How can we do that? I'm not a marketeer...
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Old 17-12-2017, 11:02   #9
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

Market it as LFP ready, fully programmable for any battery type.

The finished look for the "consumer version" must not say "homemade science project", ideally slick and modern out of the box.
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Old 17-12-2017, 11:57   #10
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

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Originally Posted by john61ct View Post
The finished look for the "consumer version" must not say " science project", ideally slick and modern out of the box.
I would like to point out that the current product is as 'professional' as it gets - a high quality pcb, remarkably tiny and it runs absolutely cool without a heatsink being required (I was amazed how cool this thing runs)!
I know you said 'consumer version' but I just want to make it clear that there is nothing that says 'home made' or 'science project' in the current product.
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Old 17-12-2017, 12:07   #11
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

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I would like to point out that the current product is as 'professional' as it gets - a high quality pcb, remarkably tiny and it runs absolutely cool without a heatsink being required (I was amazed how cool this thing runs)!
I know you said 'consumer version' but I just want to make it clear that there is nothing that says 'home made' or 'science project' in the current product.
For the consumers I'm referring to, I mean a smooth sealed box like an Apple product, no chips wires or circuit board visible.

Maybe not realistic and of course just IMO for marketing purposes.

I don't mind a rough look myself, functionality like an IPXX splashproof rating would be more important personally
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Old 17-12-2017, 12:56   #12
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

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Originally Posted by john61ct View Post
For the consumers I'm referring to, I mean a smooth sealed box like an Apple product, no chips wires or circuit board visible.

Maybe not realistic and of course just IMO for marketing purposes.

I don't mind a rough look myself, functionality like an IPXX splashproof rating would be more important personally
I just wanted to make sure that nobody thought the existing product is anything other than professional!
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Old 18-12-2017, 09:40   #13
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

I'd like to see for the interface a Bluetooth chip on the board and an iPhone/Android app for programming all functions (high resolution, plenty of room, graphical and free). I HATE the Balmar readout using the magnetic screwdriver while the engine hatch is open, the motor roaring and the belts are spinning right beside you as you lean into the engine compartment to figure out the cryptic messages.
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Old 18-12-2017, 10:37   #14
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

Having read up on your regulator I find myself asking "Would this fit my alternator? What are the requirements?".
I do not see anything about this in the documentation, but maybe I missed that.
A section describing how to connect it to common alternator types would probably also be useful.

Re HW improvements, as other mentioned some kind of display would be nice. Maybe offer the option of connecting a I2C OLED?
https://www.ebay.com/itm/322901645418

Cheers,

Otto
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Old 18-12-2017, 15:01   #15
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Re: Next steps for the Alternator Regulator effort

I agree with the previous comments. As a result of the other, Balmar-related thread I took a look at the link to your device. The features and the construction quality are first-rate. The name is just too generic - The Alternator Regulator is not different enough to the alternator regulator (generically); a new name is desperately needed that will uniquely identify this product. The documentation assumes far too much specific knowledge to be able to understand, even by EE's. While it is somewhat helpful to understand the design philosophy, it is more important to provide simple installation instructions with wiring diagrams, both for installing and for visualizing the installation before committing to this approach. The alternator connections are the easy part; how does this fit into the boat's existing engine and instrument systems? And how on earth does it get programmed? Being CANBUS compatible doesn't answer those questions. Specifically, my new V-P's engine bus doesn't seem to help because I have no programmable display and input device, and might well break the warranty. The N2K bus is possible, but again how does the data get displayed and the configuration programmed? A program that can be loaded onto an RPi, perhaps as part of OpenPlotter, or on a laptop computer, perhaps as part of OpenSkipper but also a PC (better to be cross-platform) could provide that functionality. An Android and iOS program could be used for setting up and occasional checking performance, but better to have access to something that is always on to monitor performance. I realize that you are heading in this direction with the Signal-K display (but most cruisers wouldn't have a clue what that is about). It would really help to identify the various interface solutions, complete with wiring diagrams and a comparison of advantages.

On the hardware side, I am still trying to digest all of the capability. But one question that jumps out is why use ethernet connectors for a CANBUS? At least for marine applications, N2K CANBUS should have DeviceNet connectors (proprietary SimNet and SeaTalk connectors notwithstanding), or perhaps screw terminal strips. It is unclear to me at first pass what other interfaces are available on the current model (v3) that could be practically used to configure and monitor. An (optional?) Bluetooth connection for smartphones would at least allow a quick set-up. CANBUS is a great solution in the long term, but requires more work and assumes a programmable device and display (most N2K systems use MFDs, not PCs). Most N2K interfaces for PCs use a USB connector - perhaps a USB header would be useful and eliminate the need for N2K-USB conversion (or even an N2K bus at all). However you decide to go, each approach should be specified with all that is required for each one, end-to-end, to help us understand the options. For instance, the regulator to N2K pigtail, N2K bus, N2K-USB or N2K-RPi hat adapter, PC or RPi, OS support, and the applications required would be one example. One of the options should be very simple to get going, like a BT to Android phone app, and not require more hardware or expertise.

I am very interested in your project. I will be needing a smart regulator for the new engine, which comes with an N-type 115A Mitsubishi alternator. The US-made regulators seem to only support P-type alternators, which seems to me pretty short-sighted. So please keep up the good work.

Greg
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