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Solder Paste Dispenser has No 3D Printed Parts!

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 23:31

If you’ve never used a solder paste dispenser, you’re missing out. Think about always using a crappy soldering iron, and then for the first time using a high-end one. Suddenly you’re actually not bad at soldering things! It’s kind of like that.

Most solder paste dispensers make use of compressed air, which requires an extra setup to use that you might not have. The goal of this project was to make a solder paste dispenser that doesn’t use compressed air, and doesn’t have any 3D printed parts (in case you don’t have a 3D printer) — and it looks like the inventor, [MikeM], succeeded!

It’s a pretty simple device, built on a PCB. You can select the steps taken, and control the output using a little joystick. A home-made linear actuator (threaded rod and nut) allow you to dispense any syringe-based solder paste, glue, or epoxy with great accuracy.

Here are some photos to give you a better idea of how the PCB works with the syringe. You can check out [MikeM’s] blog for more photos.

And of course, a quick demonstration:

It’s very similar to this other design we shared a few years back. Wonder which one works better?


Filed under: tool hacks

High Energy Gardening Means Nuking Plants

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 22:01

We live in a world transformed by our ability to manipulate the nucleus of atoms. Nuclear power plants provide abundant energy without polluting the air, yet on the other hand thousands of nuclear warheads sit in multiple countries ready to annihilate everything, even if it’s not on purpose. There are an uncountable number of other ways that humanity’s dive into nuclear chemistry has impacted the lives of people across the world, from medical imaging equipment to smoke detectors and even, surprisingly, to some of the food that we eat.

After World War 2, there was a push to find peaceful uses for atomic energy. After all, dropping two nuclear weapons on a civilian population isn’t great PR and there’s still a debate on whether or not their use was justified. Either way, however, the search was on to find other uses for atomic energy besides bombs. While most scientists turned their attention to creating a viable nuclear power station (the first of which would only come online in 1954, almost ten years after the end of World War 2), a few scientists turned their attention to something much less obvious: plants.

Seeds advertised as “Atomic Energized” [Source]Normally the way that evolution works is that, by random chance alone, a gene changes in a way that helps that species survive and procreate. Genes are modified all the time, whether by errors copying genes or from external causes, and most of the mutations are harmless or can be repaired by the organism. Even then, unless the mutation occurs in the reproductive cells, the change won’t be passed on to offspring. So, evolution occurs extremely slowly on the very rare chance that a mutation occurs in a reproductive cell that is passed on to offspring, and that gene is beneficial to the organism in a way that allows it to be passed on further.

The “external cause” is the interesting part here. Usually, the external cause is ionizing radiation (although there are other methods outside the scope of this article) and unless it kills the cells there is a small, small chance it may introduce a useful mutation. The Atomic Garden enthusiasts, such as C.J. Speas and Muriel Howorth, realized that atomic energy could be used to speed along the “useful mutation” process, and set about irradiating as many plants as they could get their hands on in order to cause as many mutations as possible. Presumably, many plants were harmed in this process.

The idea that Speas and Howorth (the founder of the Atomic Gardening Society) had was that irradiated plants might change the world by producing plants that were more resistant to disease, produced more consumable food, or grew faster. This latter trait was demonstrated in England by Howorth. After throwing a party in praise of these new cultivars, she encouraged her guests to eat some of the peanuts that were produced in an atomic garden. Her guests were impressed, but didn’t eat them all. Howorth decided to plant the remaining peanuts to see how they would grow, and found that they grew like “magic beanstalks“. Journalists came from all around England and praised her peanut plants as “the most sensational plants in Britain.”

It’s interesting to note the excitement of the time for this novel use of radiation. Contrast this with today, where most of the press concerns themselves with reporting on nuclear disasters, nuclear protestors, and general armageddon caused by nuclear energy. Indeed, without the work of Speas and Howorth and the enthusiasm for nuclear energy that they and many of the time had, it’s likely that radiation gardening would have been a forgotten science experiment of the 1950s.

In what is likely the only surviving radiation garden remaining today, but is similar to what was done in the 50s, a radiation source (in this case, cobalt-60) is placed in the center of a circular field. Various plants are placed around the pole at varying distances in an attempt to introduce useful genetic variations. Once one is found, that plant is bred back with a non-irradiated plant to cultivate the desired trait in future generations of plants. This breeding process ensures that we’re not eating irradiated grapefruit, for example, and also ensures that we can continue to produce the gene in a controlled manner instead of hoping to get a delicious piece of fruit every time we set a plant down beside a block of radioactive cobalt.

There are many thousands of breeds of plants in existence today because of radiation gardening. They may have been gifted with the ability to withstand pests such as fungus or insects, or they may have produced a more desirable fruit or a higher yield. There may even be plants alive today with mutations caused by radiation that we don’t know about, thanks to some members of the Atomic Gardening Society simply selling irradiated seeds to the general public in the late 50s.

Now, of course, scientists have the ability to splice specific genes directly into an organism which is a much more controlled and reliable way of introducing new traits to an organism. Not only that, but it allows for a greater range of possibilities like adding DNA from bacteria into a plant to increase it’s resistance to pests. Radiation gardening has fallen out of favor for other methods such as the use of a gene gun, which allows scientists to literally shoot genetic information from one source into the cells of another organism. This is a much cheaper way as well, as it doesn’t require an entire field (and a presumably expensive radiation source), and it can be done on any organism instead of only on plants. They can also be used in other ways, such as delivering DNA vaccines and helping to research neurodegenerative disorders.

For the technology available in the 50s, however, radiation gardening was the best way to go about introducing new traits into crops. Even though by today’s standards we’d consider it more of a “spray and pray” method of introducing beneficial mutations to a crop, it was enthusiastically received at the time and delivered results, many of which we still eat today. Indeed, without the efforts of the scientists who hacked a biological system with an energy source, we would likely have a larger problem feeding the rapidly increasing population than we do today.


Filed under: Featured, green hacks

Super Detailed 3d Scans With Photogrammetry

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 19:01

Photogrammetry is a real word, and [shapespeare] built himself a nice setup to take high-res 3d scans using it. A good set of images for photogrammetry are: in sharp focus, well lit, precisely indexed, and have a uniform background. The background was handled by a 3d printed stand and some copier paper. To get even lighting he used four adjustable LED lamps from Ikea.

In order to precisely index the object, he built an indexing set-up with an Arduino and a stepper motor (housed in the, self proclaimed, most elegant of 3d printed enclosures). The Arduino rotates the platform a measured increment, and then using [Sebastian Setz]’s very neat IR camera control library, snaps a photo. This process repeats until multiple photos of the object have been taken.

Once the photos have been taken, they need to be run through a photogrammetry processor. [shapespeare] uses Agisoft Photoscan, but says Autodesk Memento and 123d Catch do pretty well too. After all this work it appears that [shapespeare] used his new powers to 3d print a giant decking screw. Cool.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, digital cameras hacks

Russian Rocket Tech Comes In From the Cold

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 16:01

Decades after the end of the space race, an American rocket took off from Cape Canaveral. This was a routine launch to send a communications satellite into orbit, but the situation was an historic first. The rocket in question was driven by a powerful Russian engine unlike any ever built in the States. Although this particular engine was new, the design dated back to the space age.

By the early 1960s, the Russians were leaps and bounds ahead of the United States in terms of space exploration. They had already launched Sputnik and sent Yuri Gagarin to orbit the Earth. All in all, the Russians seemed poised to send a man to the moon. Russian technology had the Americans worried enough to spy on them with satellites, and the images that came back revealed something spectacular. Out in the Kazakh desert, the Russians were building an enormous causeway and two launch pads. As it turns out, the US had every reason to be worried.

The closed-cycle rocket engine design. Image via Wikipedia

The Russian space program was largely controlled by one man, Sergey Pavlovich Korolyov. It was his design workflow that made the Russians so successful. Instead of spending thousands of hours at the drawing board, they would simply build rockets, fly them, and improve them based on the result. Once President Kennedy announced the Americans’ intent to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, the race was on. Korolyov was well aware of the awesome amount of rocket power required to send a man to the moon. Because of this, he sought a new manufacturer for rocket engines, and he found one in Nikolai Kuznetsov.

In a Saturn V rocket engine, liquid oxygen and kerosene fuel are pumped separately into the engine at high pressure. They first travel through a pre-burner, which dumps exhaust into the air. Korolyov and Kuznetsov designed a closed-cycle engine that would recycle the pre-burner exhaust back into the system instead of wasting it. For the first N-1 launch, the rocket was powered by 30 of these closed-cycle engines, each running at about 1/6 of the thrust of a Saturn V engine. Whether you’re shaking or nodding your head at how awesomely dangerous this design is, you’re right. An issue with any one engine is likely to cause an explosive chain reaction in the other engines.

An NK-33, renamed the Aerojet AJ26. Image via Wikipedia Change of the Guard

Korolyov died in 1966, and rocket engineer Vasily Mishin took over the program. The first N-1 rocket was assembled beginning in early 1967 and stood 35 stories tall. Tensions were high in February 1969 as the Russians geared up for the first unmanned launch. The N-1 took off from the launch pad and things were looking good. About a minute into the flight, some metallic debris got into one of the engines and the rocket exploded.

Over the next few months, the team made improvements and scheduled another launch for early July 1969, just a few weeks before the Apollo 11 mission. The N-1 took off and promptly crashed down on the launchpad with incredible force. Although the success of Apollo 11 effectively ended the space race, Mishin and Kuznetsov persevered. Improvements were made on the NK-33 including the addition of filters to keep debris out of the engines. Test launches continued until the Kremlin canceled the program and ordered the destruction of all N-1 rockets in an effort to keep a lid on the technology. Some of the parts were used to build pigpens.

A Forest of Engines

After the end of the Cold War, American engineers started hearing about secret rocket technology developed in the 1960s by the Russians. Engineers from Aerojet and Lockheed were eventually invited to check it out. Kusnetsov took them far out into the desert to a large warehouse where more than 60 of the closed-cycle engines had been sitting secretly in storage.

Aerojet wanted to prove the power and capabilities of the engines and they were allowed to take one back to Sacramento for testing in October 1995. It did everything they said it would do and hit all the advertised benchmarks. Shortly thereafter, work began on a new engine, the RD-180. It would be twice as big as the NK-33, with five times the thrust of a jumbo jet.

The RD-180 was not a slam dunk design, however. Because of the closed-cycle design, the engine created very high combustion that was hot enough to melt the engine metal. A new, high-temperature stainless steel was created by the RD-180’s designer, NPO Energomash, and the RD-180 successfully launched an Atlas III rocket in May of 2000.

Thanks for the tip, [M]!

Retrotechtacular is a column featuring hacks, technology, and kitsch from ages of yore. Help keep it fresh by sending in your ideas for future installments.


Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Retrotechtacular

Power from Paper

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 13:00

Comedian Steven Wright used to say (in his monotone way):

“We lived in a house that ran on static electricity. If we wanted to cook something, we had to take a sweater off real quick. If we wanted to run a blender, we had to rub balloons on our head.”

Turns out, all you need to generate a little electricity is some paper, Teflon tape and a pencil. A team from EPFL, working with researchers at the University of Tokyo, presented just such a device at a MEMS conference. (And check out their video, below the break.)

You probably won’t get enough juice from their device to run your blender, but it does have applications in generating power for efficient wearable devices. What Steven Wright was doing uses the triboelectric effect — a fancy name for rubbing two insulators together to electrically charge them. In the EPFL device, the paper and the Teflon are insulators. The pencil graphite acts as a conductor to carry the charge away. The interesting part is this: by using sandpaper imprinting, the researchers produced a rough surface on both the tape and paper, increasing the charge-producing area. Empirically, the output went up over six-fold. A capacitor steadies the electrical current since the device outputs in bursts when the paper and tape come into contact.

Pushing the paper and Teflon sandwich as seldom as 1.5 times a second produced enough power to drive tiny sensors. The device is about three inches by one inch and can generate up to three volts. You can learn more in the video below where you’ll see the device operating a small LCD, and there is enough detail that you should be able to duplicate the device.


Filed under: green hacks, wearable hacks

A Vase of Ice and Fire

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 10:00

When we first saw [Ginko Balboa]’s vase of ice and fire, we weren’t that impressed. Until we realized that the whole vase was a glass, copper, and solder circuit with LEDs sandwiched in between. The tutorial starts with [Ginko]’s technique for etching a custom board for the base circuit. It gets interesting with the construction of the LED circuit.

First a glass bottle was scored in a pattern and shattered, leaving a jigsaw puzzle. Two differently colored LED light strips were desoldered. Then, from the bottom up, the glass was taped around with an adhesive backed copper tape, and soldered together. Every now and then an LED was soldered between the carefully separated areas of the circuit. Some LEDs were soldered in one way, and some the other. This way the vase could be rotated on its base to select a different color. Once the outside of the vase with the LED circuit inside it was finished, another cut bottle was put in the center and soldered in a final position, making the assembly waterproof.

The final product is really interesting, and we’re scratching our head to figure out if there’s anything else this technique of circuit building could be used for. Ideas?


Filed under: led hacks

Joysix, Six Degree of Freedom Mouse Made From Retractable Key Rings

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 07:00

[Nicolas Berger] submits his six degree of freedom mouse project. He hopes to do things like control a robot arm or fly an alien mothership.

We thought the construction was really neat; suspending a wooden ball in the middle of three retractable key rings. By moving the ball around you can control the motion of a cube displayed on the computer. We first thought this was done by encoders or potentiometers measuring the amount of string coming out of the key fobs. However, what’s actually happening is a little bit cleverer.

[Nicolas] has joined each string with its own 2 axis joystick from Adafruit. He had some issues with these at first because the potentiometers in the joysticks weren’t linear, but he replaced them with a different module and got the expected output. He takes the angle values from each string, and a Python program numerically translates the output from the mouse into something the computer likes. The code is available on his GitHub. A video of the completed mouse is after the break.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks, peripherals hacks

Fully Printed CNC On an IKEA Table

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 04:00

It seems that many 3D printer owners just aren’t getting the same buzz they used to off their 3D printers, and are taking steps to procure heavier machines. And making them in their home laboratories with, you guessed it, their 3D printers.

Following the pattern, [Michael Reitter], designed a 3D printable CNC around a IKEA MALM table. In order to span the length of the table for his X axis, he came up with a very cool looking truss assembly. The linear rails rest on top of the truss, and a carriage with the Z axis rides on the assembly. The truss has enough space in the center of it to neatly house some of the wiring. The Y-xis mounts on the side of the table.

Overall the mechanical design looks pretty solid for what it is, with all the rails taking their moments in the right orientation. We also like the work-piece hold downs that slide along the edge of the table. It even has a vacuum attachment that comes in right at the milling bit.

We’re not certain how much plastic this build takes, but it looks to be a lot. Monetarily, it will probably weigh in at a bit more than some other options. As many in the 3D printing world are discovering, sometimes there’s no reason not to leverage more mature industrial processes for lower cost large gains in accuracy and strength. Though, it’s pretty clear that one of the design goals of this project was to see how much one can get away with just a 3D printer, and we certainly can’t deny the appealing aesthetic of this CNC.

Video of it in action after the break.


Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, cnc hacks

Making Parametric Models in Fusion 360

พุธ, 02/03/2016 - 01:01

We all know and love OpenSCAD for its sweet sweet parametrical goodness. However, it’s possible to get some of that same goodness out of Fusion 360. To do this we will be making a mathematical model of our object and then we’ll change variables to get different geometry. It’s simpler than it sounds.

Even if you don’t use Fusion 360 it’s good to have an idea of how different design tools work. This is web-based 3D Modeling software produced by Autodesk. One of the nice features is that it lets me share my models with others. I’ll do that in just a minute as I walk you through modeling a simple object. Another way to describe what we’re going to learn is: How to think when modeling in Fusion 360.

Meet the parameters box. The parameters box contains every single dimension (variable) defined inside the model. You can also add your own. This is what we’ll be doing to make the parametric model.

Meet the parameters box. The parameters box is under modify in the modeling environment.

For this tutorial we will be making a box to store small tools in. I recommend following along with the steps in the Fusion360 model. There’s a time line with playback controls at the bottom of the Fusion360 window. You can move the slider back and forth to see different stages. You can also right click on any of the steps and select, “Edit Sketch,” or, “Edit Feature,” to see particular things.

Before I even began making the box, I sat and thought about how I would put together the model. Since it’s parametric I knew I wanted as few variables as possible. I’d rather have the computer do the work for me. So I came up with five things that would define my box.

  1. Length – The length of the inside of the box. Since my box is for holding things I don’t care how big the outside is. I’d rather have the software calculate that.
  2. Width – The width of the inside of the box.
  3. Height – The height of the inside of the box.

    Your best friend. Secretly math.

  4. Thickness – How thick the walls and the lid are. I also derive the thickness of the ribs on top from this number.
  5. Fit – This is the fit/clearance between the lid and box. 0.25mm is pretty easy to hit for a well tuned printer.

Next came the sketch. When using any modern CAD software it’s important to keep in mind that what you are doing isn’t really drawing as much as it’s building a mathematical model of your object. I tend to think of the process as graphical programming. One mistake I see a lot of newbies make is to completely ignore the dimension tool (shortcut: D) and the constraints panel. The constraints tell the software that, mathematically, Line A is always parallel to Line B, or Circle A is always tangent to Line B. Grasping this lets you create models that will expand and adjust with changed dimensions and design considerations. It also dramatically speeds up your drafting time.

A few tips on the sketch:

  • Fusion has some great hotkeys. Some of the ones I use are Q – Cut/Extrude (push/pull) the sketch, D – dimension, C – circle, L – line, and P – Project.
  • Double check your constraints. Fusion is conservative about which constraints it places for you. Make sure the obvious ones are there.
  • The parameters are case-sensitive. “Thickness,” is not the same as, “thickness.”
  • I could sketch the box, and then using relations to the box, sketch the lid. However, if the shapes in the sketch aren’t touching they will be extruded as separate bodies.
A close up of the sketch used to generate this part. Note the fx: these are numbers taken from our parameters.

Once the profile of the part was finished I selected the lid profile and the box profile and extruded the box. Again, since I want a parametric part at the end, rather than entering numbers during this step I enter in the variables I had set previously.

Right now the box is a lid and an extrusion without ends. I need to cap the ends of the box. To do this, I will use a plane and the mirror operation to copy the ends to both sides. If that sentence is off, another way to think of this is pseudo code.

plane_of_symmetry=createMidPlaneBetween(boxEnd1, boxEnd2);
box_end=capBox(end1);
symmetricalCopy(box_end, plane_of_symmetry);

Once it starts to click that you are not drawing the shape or modeling it in a traditional sense, Fusion starts to make a lot more sense. You are programming in a visual way. A side note, the mirror and pattern commands in Fusion are really cool, but complicated. I’d recommend watching a YouTube video if this function is giving you quirky results (Such as filling in all the empty space in your box).

Next I added some decorative features to the lid. This was similar to the previous steps: make a sketch that is dimensioned with the variables, then extrude or cut using the sketch. I used the slot tool to add ridges to the top for grip. After I added the ridges I drew a rectangle that cuts away some of the ridges so I can have an area to write what’s in the box.

Now it’s time to test the file. We’ll go back and open the parameters window and change one of the dimensions. Oh no! An error. Like any code, it didn’t compile the first time. In this case, when I drew the initial slot I didn’t have the midpoint of the slot constrained to the middle of the lid. I drew a line from one end of the box to the other, making sure to constrain each of its ends to the middle of the lid, and then used the coincident constraint to attach the middle of the slot to that line. Creating a mathematical relationship.

Oh no! An error in our code!

After fixing the sketch, I tried again. It works! When I change any of the values I get a new model of the box. As you can see in the opening image of this post! I used the make command to generate STLs for my printer. Then, admittedly, went a little overboard on the tiny boxes.

Only a little overboard!
Filed under: 3d Printer hacks, Hackaday Columns

Super Thin ICs are Coming

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 23:31

An ordinary integrated circuit is made of layers of material. Typically a layer is made from some material (like silicon dioxide, polysilicon, copper, or aluminum). Sometimes a process will modify parts of a layer (for example, using ion implantation to dope regions of silicon). Other times, some part of the layer will be cut away using a photolithography process.

Researchers at MIT have a new technique that allows super thin layers (1-3 atoms thick) and–even more importantly–enables you to use two materials in the same layer. They report that they have built all the basic components required to create a computer using the technique.

The prototype chips use two materials: molybdenum disulfide and graphene. The method apparently works with materials that combine elements from group six of the periodic table, such as chromium, molybdenum, and tungsten, and elements from group 16, such as sulfur, selenium, and tellurium.

To assemble their integrated circuits, the researchers first place a layer of graphene on silicon. Then they etch the regions where they wish to deposit the molybdenum disulfide. Next, at one end of the substrate, they place a solid bar of a material known as PTAS. They heat the PTAS and flow a gas across it. The gas carries PTAS molecules with it, and the molecules stick to the exposed silicon but not to the graphene. Wherever the PTAS molecules stick, they catalyze a reaction with another gas that causes a layer of molybdenum disulfide to form.

We’ve seen a lot of interesting work on graphene for semiconductors and even things like capacitors. You have to wonder what graphene-based components we’ll be building with in the next decade.


Filed under: news

Experimental Gases, Danger, and The Rock-afire Explosion

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 22:01

On the morning of September 26th, 2013 the city of Orlando was rocked by an explosion. Buildings shook, windows rattled, and Amtrak service on a nearby track was halted. TV stations broke in with special reports. The dispatched helicopters didn’t find fire and brimstone, but they did find a building with one wall blown out. The building was located at 47 West Jefferson Street. For most this was just another news day, but a few die-hard fans recognized the building as Creative Engineering, home to a different kind of explosion: The Rock-afire Explosion.

The Inventor and His Band of Robots

Many of us have heard of the Rock-afire Explosion, the animatronic band which graced the stage of ShowBiz pizza from 1980 through 1990. For those not in the know, the band was created by the inventor of Whac-A-Mole, [Aaron Fechter], engineer, entrepreneur and owner of Creative Engineering. When ShowBiz pizza sold to Chuck E. Cheese, the Rock-afire Explosion characters were replaced with Chuck E. and friends. Creative Engineering lost its biggest customer. Once over 300 employees, the company was again reduced to just [Aaron]. He owned the building which housed the company, a 38,000 square foot shop and warehouse. Rather than sell the shop and remaining hardware, [Aaron] kept working there alone. Most of the building remained as it had in the 1980’s. Tools placed down by artisans on their last day of work remained, slowly gathering dust.

Creative Engineering’s 1980’s Logo

[Aaron] kept on inventing, and had a few almost-hits, such as the Antigravity Freedom Machine (AGFM). The AGFM was a 6502-based dedicated email client that was supplanted by the World Wide Web in the mid 1990’s. Around 2004 or so, Generation X’s nostalgia for the Rock-afire Explosion kicked in. YouTube videos of rescued robots operating in basements, sheds, and one-off restaurants popped up. Fan clubs organized on the internet. All of this culminated in a 2008 documentary about the band.

In some ways, it almost seems like The Rock-afire Explosion is cursed. Just about everyone featured in the movie has endured some sort of disaster. [Chris Thrash’s] Rock-afire themed arcade went belly up. [Snap’s] Blast to the Past Museum and his Rock-Afire show were destroyed by fire in 2010. For [Aaron], disaster came in the form of a new invention: Hydrillium.

An Experimental Fuel

[Aaron] first learned of a new hydrogen-based fuel from [William Richardson], who had failed to market the gas himself. [Aaron] took [Richardson] on as a paid mentor and began to develop a way to produce the gas in enough volume to run tests.

[Aaron] handled the marketing as well. He dubbed the fuel “Carbo-Hydrillium”, later shortened to “Hydrillum”, calling it the “fuel of the future”. Hydrillium could do everything from cutting steel to cooking the perfect juicy steak. People were interested in the fuel, and a few restaurants agreed to test it out. [Aaron] now had to produce enough fuel to transport and deliver to the restaurants for daily operations.

The problem is that hydrogen has a low energy density by volume. How does one get around that? Increase the pressure. Aaron used a scuba tank compressor to accomplish this. Scuba tanks have working pressures in the thousands of PSI. 3000 and 4500 PSI are typical scuba tank pressures.

Hydrillium is similar to water gas, which is a synthesis gas produced by passing steam over hot coals. Rather than load up the coal stove, [Aaron] broke out his welder and performed electrolysis of water. When experimental fuels and water are mentioned, people usually think of Brown’s gas, or HHO. This was something different. To create Hydrillium, an electric arc is struck underwater across a pair of carbon electrodes. The electricity breaks the water down into hydrogen and oxygen. The electrodes are consumed by the arc, putting carbon molecules into the mixture. The oxygen molecules bond with the carbon, forming carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. The resulting gas mixture contains 60-70 % hydrogen gas, 25-30 % carbon monoxide, and 1-2% carbon dioxide. Small amounts of other gasses such as methane, nitrogen, and oxygen would also be present. Not all the water would be consumed by the reaction. Some vapor would be caught and collected.

[Fechter] collected the gas with an expansion bladder – similar to capturing Brown’s gas with a plastic bag above the electrodes. When full, the bladder was pumped down into a low pressure tank. The low pressure tank was then fed through a scuba compressor into a high pressure steel tank. These “K Type” tanks are the familiar 56″ tall tanks often used for welding gases, oxygen, or anything else that needs to be stored and transported compressed.

So we’ve got hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and a few other gasses. Beyond the explosion hazard, it sounds innocuous enough. Unfortunately that was far from the truth. Hydrillium stored in a steel cylinder was a ticking time bomb waiting to go off.

Stress Corrosion Cracking

The problem was a one-two punch of chemical attacks: carbon monoxide Stress Corrosion Cracking (SCC) and hydrogen embrittlement. The prime attack in this case was SCC.
SCC in storage cylinders first became an issue in the 1950’s when storage and transportation tank pressures were increased from 1000 psig to 2000 psig. Tanks began bursting, leading to several investigations. The ensuing research showed that four specific elements needed to be present for SCC to occur.

  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Carbon Steel
  • Water

Just as with normal rust, water reacts with carbon dioxide to form carbonic acid, which dissolves iron. In this case though, widespread rust is inhibited by the carbon monoxide. The acid attacks local areas, leading to cracks through the metal crystals. Called transgranular cracks, these continue to grow until the steel fails.

Hydrogen Embrittlement

Hydrogen and steel are also a bad combination. Hydrogen is a slippery little atom. Individual hydrogen atoms can diffuse into the granular structure of steel. The hydrogen atoms then recombine into hydrogen molecules. This increases pressure from within the steel itself. This trapped hydrogen causes huge stresses, eventually cracking the metal from the inside out. The higher the pressure and temperature, the faster the process of cracking.

Tank Failure

On September 26th, 2013, the steel of one of Aaron’s tanks finally failed. The crack in it grew, unzipping and opening two flaps in the tank, much like a flasher opening a trench coat. The 200 cubic feet of Hydrillium in the tank spread throughout the room creating a pressure wave of over 2 PSI against the exterior wall. This was enough to blow the brick wall out into the adjacent parking lot. The roof in the blast area was lifted from its supports. The floor was pushed a full foot below its original position. The newly created hole was also a saving grace. The released hydrogen quick dispersed up into the atmosphere, avoiding a secondary explosion and fire. The fire crew still had their hands full though, as there were 10 more cylinders of Hydrillium in the building. Eventually it was decided to vent each one to the atmosphere. The process took about seven hours.

In the wake of the explosion, [Aaron] repaired the building, and kept on hacking. The inventor has returned to his arcade roots. He recently unveiled a new game called Bashy Bug. The Rock-afire Explosion is still working as well. They were last seen reporting on a train wreck in Orlando.

What lessons can we learn from all of this? We all enjoy our projects, but know when you’re venturing into a dangerous zone – things like large batteries, compressed gas, high voltage, and chemical reactions just to name a few. When you head in that direction, learn all you can about how to work safely. Don’t be afraid to ask an expert. It might save your workshop – or your life.


Filed under: Hackaday Columns, slider

Building One Thing In China

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 19:01

Conventional wisdom dictates that if you need to make a million of something, you go to China. China is all about manufacturing, and there aren’t many other places on the planet that have the industry and government-subsidized shipping that will bring your product from China to people around the world. Building a million things in China is one thing, but what about building one thing? How do you create a working prototype of your latest product, and how do you make that prototype look like something that isn’t held together with zip ties and hot glue? The folks at Hatch Manufacturing have a guide for doing just that, and lucky for us, it’s a process that’s easy to replicate in any well-equipped shop.

In this tutorial/case study/PR blitz, Hatch Manufacturing takes on constructing a one-off smartphone. The Huaqiangbei markets in Shenzhen are filled with vendors selling smartphones of all shapes and sizes. If you want a miniature iPhone running Android, that’s no problem. If you want a phone that looks like a 1969 Dodge Charger with the Stars and Bars on top, you can find it in China. But how are all these phones made, and how do you show off a prototype to factories begging for business?

The answer, as is always the case, comes from one-off manufacturing. Building, assembling and reworking PCBs is a well-trodden path whose process could fill several volumes, but for this post, Hatch Manufacturing decided to focus on the plastics that go into a smartphone or tablet.

Once the case or enclosure is designed with a few CAD tools, a block of plastic is run through a mill. After that, it’s a matter of painting and finishing the latest smartphone that will show up in the Chinese market. Putting a professional finish on a block of plastic is something that will look familiar to anyone who has ever assembled a miniature plastic model. There’s priming, airbrushing, sanding, more painting, sanding, wet sanding, and still more sanding. After that comes polishing the plastic part to a fine finish. It is extraordinarily labor intensive work even for a skilled hand with the right equipment.

Once the plastics are done, the PCB, display, battery, and everything else comes together in a completely custom one-off prototype. It’s very similar to how this would be done in any small shop with a benchtop mill and a dozen grades of wet/dry sandpaper. It’s also something anyone can do, provided they have enough practice and patience.


Filed under: Cellphone Hacks, classic hacks

Snooping on SIM Cards

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 16:01

[Nils Pipenbrinck] has been working on a very interesting problem. The SIM card in your cellphone talks to the contactless near-field communication (NFC) chip through a cool protocol that we’d never hear of until reading his blog: single wire protocol (SWP).

The SIM card in your cellphone has only a limited number of physical connections — and by the time NFC technology came on the scene all but one of them was in use. But the NFC controller and the SIM need full-duplex communications. So the SWP works bi-directionally on just one wire; one device modulates the voltage on the line, while the other modulates the current, essentially by switching a load in and out.

This signalling protocol makes snooping on this data line tricky. So to start off his explorations with SWP, [Nils] built his own transceiver. That lead [Nils] to some very sensitive analog sniffer circuit design that he’s just come up with.

If you get interested in SWP, you’ll find the slides from this fantastic presentation (PDF) helpful, and they propose a solution very similar to the one that [Nils] ended up implementing. That’s not taking anything away from [Nils]’s amazing work: with tricky high-speed analog circuitry like this, the implementation can be more than half of the battle! And we’ll surely be following [Nils]’s blog to see where he takes this.

Banner image: An old version and a new version of the transceiver prototype.

Thanks to [Tim Riemann] for the tip!


Filed under: Cellphone Hacks

Cramming a Pi Zero into a USB Hub

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 13:00

We kinda feel bad posting all these awesome hacks you can do with a Raspberry Pi Zero when we know most of our audience here probably doesn’t have one due to the backlog of orders… but regardless — here’s another one you can try — if you have one anyway. A Raspberry Pi USB Hub!

In case you didn’t know, Amazon has a series of electronics accessories called Amazon Basics — and they’re actually pretty good quality accessories. One of them is a 7-port, 4A USB hub. Looking at this [gittenlucky] figured he might just have enough room to fit a Pi Zero inside… and as it turns out. He did.

It’ll require a little finesse with either a hot knife or a mini hacksaw, but it’s possible to modify the casing of the USB hub to make room for the Pi inside. He’s removed the USB Type-B connector, and wired it directly to the Pi, giving the Pi an extra 7 USB ports to work with. In its place, he added an HDMI adapter to stick out from the newly created hole.

As you go through the pictures, it looks like quite the hack job, but as he finally buttons it all up with the final pieces of casing, it actually looks pretty damn good — and inconspicuous to boot!

We’ve shared tons of Pi Zero USB hubs (since it is kind of lacking on the USB front), but we have to admit, this one really turns it into a pretty functional little PC.

[Thanks Max! via r/Raspberry_Pi]


Filed under: Raspberry Pi

Build Your Swarm: Control Cockroaches for Under $30!

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 10:00

Have you ever wanted to control an army of cockroaches? We’ve all seen remote control cockroaches before — and they really are quite a fascinating specimen to work with — but did you know you can control one for about $30 worth of components, with a Arduino Micro?

It’s actually pretty simple. By stimulating a cockroaches antenna with variable frequencies (to mimic neural signals) you can convince the cockroach that they’ve hit a wall and should turn the other way. What results is a remote-controlled roach. How cool is that!

The setup consists of a mini backpack that contains an Arduino Micro wired into the cockroach. There is some minor surgery required, but it’s nothing that an anesthetic ice bath and some deft fingers cannot accomplish easily. And don’t worry — the cockroach can regrow his limbs and antennae. Besides, it’s for science!

While the experiment may seem a bit silly, it’s actually an excellent way to teach about neuroscience. The actual experiment is very similar to a cochlear implant, which allows a deaf person to hear sound again.

Of course, mind controlling cockroaches is nothing new, but it’s always fun to see it pop up again.


Filed under: Arduino Hacks

Vacuum? No, Tonight We Go To War Against the Dust Mite

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 07:00

For those of us lucky enough to own a Roomba, it makes taking care of dust in your house a breeze — but it could be better. Which is why [Marcel] spent his weekend upgrading his Roomba — or should we say, Doomba.

He started out with modest intentions. What’s stopping his Roomba from going a bit faster? He was pretty sure he could crank up the output a little bit. Donning his white lab coat and safety glasses, he set out do upgrade this little bot into something much more formidable.

12 hours later he slipped back into a conscious reality. Not only had he upgraded his Roomba, he had turned it into a mini war machine — the Doomba.

The upgraded bot features a UE BoomBox allowing him to play Flight of the Valkeries as he descends on his helpless dust-mite prey. Remote control features are now accessible using a Playstation 2 wireless dongle and Arduino. A Raspberry Pi allows for webcam recording and WiFi capabilities — specifically for the remote triggering of tasks. He even threw on a bank of capacitors in a hacky fix to prevent brownouts from the SPI port.

As long as Roombas have been around, people have been modifying them to suit other purposes — heck, even the company Roomba itself released a hackable version!


Filed under: robots hacks

Flip Your Desktop Over to Boot Linux

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 04:00

[Andy France] built his computer into a Windows XP box. (Yes, this is from the past.) He needed to run windows most of the time, but it was nice to boot into Linux every now and then. That’s where the problem lay. If he was running Linux on his Windows XP case mod, he’d get made fun of. The only solution was to make a Linux sleeve for his computer. He would slide the sleeve over the case whenever he ran Linux, and hide his shame from wandering eyes. Once his plan was fully formed, he went an extra step and modified the computer so that if the sleeve was on, it would automatically boot Linux, and if it was off it would boot Windows.

The Linux sleeve could only slide on if the computer was flipped upside down. So he needed to detect when it was in this state. To do this he wired a switch into one of the com ports of his computer, and attached it to the top of the case mod. He modified the assembly code in the MBR to read the state of the switch. When the Linux sleeve is on (and therefore the computer is flipped over) it boots Linux. When the sleeve is off, Windows. Neat. It would be cool to put a small computer in a cube and have it boot different operating systems with this trick. Or maybe a computer that boots into guest mode in one orientation, and the full system in another.

[via HackerNews]


Filed under: computer hacks

FTDI Drivers Break Fake Chips, Again

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 02:31

Just over a year ago, FTDI, manufacturers of the most popular USB to serial conversion chip on the market, released an update to their drivers that bricked FTDI clones. Copies of FTDI chips abound in the world of cheap consumer electronics, and if you’ve bought an Arduino for $3 from a random online seller from China, you probably have one of these fake chips somewhere in your personal stash of electronics.

After a year, we have the latest update to FTDI gate. Instead of bricking fake chips, the latest FTDI drivers will inject garbage data into a circuit. Connecting a fake FTDI serial chip to a computer running the latest Windows driver will output “NON GENUINE DEVICE FOUND!”, an undocumented functionality that may break some products.

FTDI gate mk. 1 merely bricked fake and clone chips, rendering them inoperable. Because fakes and clones of these chips are extremely common in the supply chain, and because it’s very difficult to both tell them apart and ensure you’re getting genuine chips, this driver update had the possibility to break any device using one of these chips. Cooler heads eventually prevailed, FTDI backed down from their ‘intentional bricking’ stance, and Microsoft removed the driver responsible with a Windows update. Still, the potential for medical and industrial devices to fail because of a random driver update was very real.

The newest functionality to the FTDI driver released through a Windows update merely injects unwanted but predictable data into the serial stream. Having a device spit out “NON GENUINE DEVICE FOUND!” won’t necessarily break a device, but it is an undocumented feature that could cause some devices to behave oddly. Because no one really knows if they have genuine FTDI chips or not – this undocumented feature could cause problems in everything from industrial equipment to medical devices, and of course in Arduinos whose only purpose is to blink a LED.

Right now, the only option to avoid this undocumented feature is to either use Linux or turn off Windows Update. Since the latter isn’t really a great idea, be prepared constantly roll back the FTDI driver to a known good version.


Filed under: news, slider

One Hoss Shay and Our Society of Obsolescence

อังคาร, 02/02/2016 - 01:01

Legend has it that Henry Ford would send engineers out to junkyards all over the US looking for Fords. They were supposed to study each one they found and make note of any parts that had not failed. But it wasn’t so that he could start making all of those parts stronger. Instead, Ford allegedly used this data to determine where he could cut corners in future production runs so as not to waste money by making any part last longer than any other part.

Most things tend to break down rather than completely giving out. Usually it’s only one or two components that stop working and the rest of it is still serviceable. And this is a good thing. It’s what lets us repair PCBs or scavenge parts off them, drive our cars longer, and help save each other’s lives through organ donor programs. Can you imagine how different life would be if each part of every thing failed at the same time?

Where cars go to rest in pieces. Image via Sometimes Interesting. Planned Obsolescence

The clothes and shoes we wear, houses we live in, and the tools and objects we reach for every day are simply not built to last. Some people will tell you that nothing is made like it used to be. Whether that’s true or not, the things of yesteryear still broke down eventually.

Building things to last isn’t really an effective business model anyway. For instance, auto makers have to make their cars safe and reliable, but they also need to keep customers coming back. So year after year, they introduce new models that are sleeker, safer, and have cooler features.

Most any thing that humans can make is only as strong as its weakest point. This is especially true for those things that move, like cars. Before cars, it was horse-driven carriages of all sizes and stripes, including small ones driven by a single horse. A ride in one of these was unsettlingly bumpy by default.

A Carriage Built for Two

In the fields of statistics and economics, there is something called a model of depreciation. One of these, called the light bulb model, refers to a good that gives the same level of service throughout its lifespan. In other words, a thing that actually does wear out rather than break down. We buy light bulbs expecting them to illuminate at the flick of a switch. One day they just give up the ghost. There’s really no fixing a light bulb, and they have no scrap value.

Ye olde one hoss shay. Image via Wikipedia

This example of sudden and total depreciation is also known as the One Hoss Shay model. The name comes from informal American speech for ‘one-horse chaise’, a carriage driven by a single horse that is large enough for two people. The one hoss shay was immortalized by Oliver Wendell Holmes in his poem “The Deacon’s Masterpiece, or The Wonderful One Hoss Shay: A Logical Story”.

In the poem, a deacon laments the fact that carriages break down due to weakness at one place or another. Forget assembly lines and cutthroat business practices–these were usually built locally by enterprising villagers. The deacon deduces that if he were to build a one hoss shay using the finest materials from

The lifespan of the one hoss shay. Image via Sketchplanations

top to bottom, it would have no weaknesses and would therefore endure forever. So the deacon decides to build the most reliable one hoss shay there ever could logically be, in accordance with the Puritan principles that critics of the era believed Oliver Wendell Holmes to be satirizing.

And build it he does. Every part of it is equally as strong as every other part. This marvel of logical construction lasts and lasts through a parade of decades and deacons, providing perfect service all the while. But as Holmes says, logic is logic, and eventually it catches up to the shay. Exactly one hundred years to the day that the deacon finished it, the whole thing collapses in a heap of particulates, causing the current deacon embarrassment and a sore behind.

The Future of Modular Design

For today’s chariots, the end of this depreciation model would mean a lot more than just dusty pants and injured pride.  Whether something breaks down or completely wears out, it’s usually inconvenient for the user. This is especially true with something like smart phones. When they break down, they usually have to be replaced entirely. A couple of companies like Fairphone and Google are working to create architectures for modular phones. With this kind of interchangeability, you could easily replace, say, the camera module in your phone whether it broke or you just plain wanted a better one.

Google’s modular phone, known as Project Ara. Image via Wikipedia

The advantages of modular smart phones go far beyond swapping camera modules and maxing out memory. The biggest issue with wide adoption of this kind of paradigm shift is getting people interested in the first place. Offering special features that no other phone has is a pretty good start.

Modular systems with recyclable parts may be the best that we can do in the future to keep down waste as well as prices. What would you do to ease the pains of planned obsolescence?


Filed under: Featured

Need a Nano-Ammeter? You Already Have One!

จันทร์, 02/01/2016 - 23:30

[Dannyelectronics] sometimes needs to measure tiny currents. Really tiny, like leakage currents through a capacitor. He’s built a few setups to make the measurements, but he also knew he’d sometimes want to take readings when he didn’t have his custom gear available. So he decided to see what he could do with an ordinary digital meter.

As you might expect, a common digital meter’s current scales aren’t usually up to measuring nano- or pico-amps. [Danny’s] approach was not to use the ammeter scale. Instead, he measures the voltage developed across the input impedance of the meter (which is usually very high, like one megaohm). If you know the input characteristics of the meter (or can calibrate against a known source), you can convert the voltage to a current.

For example, on a Fluke 115 meter, [Danny] found that he could read up to 60nA with a resolution of 0.01nA. A Viktor 81D could resolve down to 2.5pA–a minuscule current indeed.

We’ve looked at the difficulties involved in reading small currents before. If tiny currents aren’t your thing, maybe you’d like to try charging an iPhone with 3 KA, instead.


Filed under: tool hacks