Geek Projects Special: Smart home

I Built... a fusion reactor

Dr Jonathan Howard / jonathanhoward.org

The ultimate smarthome project? An unlimited supply of free, clean energy. Which might sound like sky-pie, unless you’re Dr Jonathan Howard, who built a fusion reactor in his London flat.

“I was enchanted by the plasma,” says Howard, who began making designs after seeing an amateur reactor on YouTube. “Live plasma has the most beautiful, mysterious light.

“My reactor is based on a 1964 design; I added a microwave ion gun, and some features to improve the vacuum. Basically it’s a steel chamber, and in the centre there’s a small cage with a very high voltage running through it. You inject deuterium gas, and the electric field pulls the ions towards the cage, where they strike each other at enormous speed and fuse.

So you need a vacuum chamber, and the vacuum has to be almost as strong as the vacuum of outer space. To make that you need a turbomolecular pump –I bought a small one on eBay for about £40. Then you make a power supply that can deliver 40,000 volts, and for that you need large capacitors and very powerful diodes. I got those by buying some ex-military equipment and stripping it down. Then you need deuterium gas.

My neighbours didn’t know I had a reactor in the second bedroom, but a fusion reactor is so much safer than the fission reactors in things like nuclear submarines. It can’t go critical, it can’t explode, it doesn’t produce radioactive waste. I think we’ll see large power stations that are fusion-based in the next 50 years, with smaller units used for things like hospitals and villages.

The thing is, though, we don’t know what’s going on inside the plasma field at an atomic level. And because we can only make macro observations, it’s only really possible to proceed by trial and error, and there’s a large community of amateur fusioneers doing just that. If you go to fusor.net you’ll find people who can point you in the right direction.”

Project #3 (medium): Multiroom audio

DIY multiroom audioIf you’re tempted by the multiroom setups but don’t fancy buying new speakers (or you’d rather not spend RM200 on getting the same song playing in two rooms), there is another way: D-Link’s Music Everywhere is a plug that connects any speaker with a 3.5mm socket to AirPlay or DLNA. It even extends your Wi-Fi network.

The iTunes way:Connect each of your devices – your lounge hi-fi, your kitchen radio and your bathroom gramophone, say – to a Music Everywhere. When playing from iTunes, click the AirPlay button and you can play the same song to both speakers. Use Apple’s free Remote app to control the volume on each speaker as you waltz from room to room.

The XBMC way:Again, connect your speakers to a Music Everywhere, but this time use XBMC for Mac/Windows/Linux as your media player and control your tunes using the Official XBMC Remote app (RMfree / iOS, Android). For more geek points, store all your music on a hard drive that’s controlled by a Raspberry Pi running XBMC, and enjoy some classy, clutter-free music.

READ MORE: Musaic's multiroom audio controls your smart home, too

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