For beginners, diode types can sometimes be a bit of mental gymnastics. If all it does is act like a magic pixie check valve, why are there so many kinds? Schottky diodes are typically hard to mentally set apart from the standard when described by a data sheet. Zener diodes can be downright baffling for beginners, especially when mistakenly thrown in a circuit in place of a regular 1N4001. [Afrotechmods] put together a great video explaining their difference and use cases.
In both videos he does an excellent job of describing the pros and cons while setting up experiments to exhibit each. For the Schottky it’s the faster switching and lower voltage drop. For Zener it’s less about the cons and more about exploiting its strange configuration for voltage clamps, regulators, and making expensive guitars sound bad with audio distortion circuits.
He finishes both videos with good design tips for selecting and using the parts as a burgeoning circuit designer. Diode data sheets should be less of a mystery afterwards.
Filed under: misc hacks
Does it ever just kill you that someone in a factory somewhere got to have all the fun of assembling your bench tools? There are a lot of questionable circuit boards floating around the Internet, and they can replicate practically any section of a circuit. When it comes to putting a prototype these days you can pretty much just buy each block of your system’s overview flowchart and string them together. [GreattScott!] combines a few of these into a relatively useful variable power supply with current limiting.
Admittedly, this is more of academic exercise if your only metric for success is monetary savings. Comparable power supplies can be purchased for the same amount of local currency as the parts in this build. However, there is something to be said for making it yourself.
The core of this build is based around the LTC3780, a bit of silicon from LT that offers both buck and boost converting along with a current control mode. It’s useful for a lot of things. The here is rated for up to 130 watts of power, which makes is a decent amount of power for a bench supply.
With a few modifications, like replacing the world’s most untrustworthy potentiometers and adding a nice ABS box, the build is completed. Along the way, [GreatScott!] offers a few tricks for testing and some reminders of how not to make yourself dead when playing with electricity.
The end is a working lab bench supply project that can easily keep a hacker entertained on a lazy Sunday afternoon.
Filed under: tool hacks
Most hobbyists don’t have waterjets in their garage, but they would if they could! A Waterjet (or Water Jet Cutter) is a marvelous tool. Simply mount a high-pressure stream of grit and water on an x-y gantry, and the pressure generates enough erosion to cut through just about any thin material. Unfortunately, claiming your own waterjet will erode away a nice big hole in your pocketbook too. Machines up to this point start at about $75K, not to mention that they’d claim the better part of your workspace in a two-car garage.
Most of us everyday hackers that want to play with the benefits of this tool send their parts out to a professional shop. Consequently, we don’t often hear about everyday hackers using waterjets, or waterjet-cut parts all that often, with one exception. Back in 2014, a crew of students from UPENN built a functional waterjet with a parts-list that could make it affordable for about $5000. Now that same team is back. This time, they’ve spun together not just a one-off, but a fully-featured product called Wazer, which just launched its Kickstarter campaign minutes ago and has already nearly quadrupled the $100k goal. How could it do that? The full package starts at modest $3599-$4499. This is crowd-funding, after all, but a 20x undercutting of price is a powerful motivator.First Look; First Thoughts
This past week, I caught up with the crew at Wazer to get a live demo, so I thought I’d give a quick rundown of my thoughts. First, let’s get some of the up-front technical details:
- fully-enclosed cutting bed
- workarea: 12 in. x 18 in.
- precision of 0.003 in. Accuracy is material-specific.
- Cutting speeds vary, but typical values look like:
- 1/8 in. Aluminum: 1.8 inches per min
- 1/8 in. Stainless steel: 0.7 inches per min
- 1/8 in. Glass: 11.8 inches per minute
- Max material thicknesses varies. Here’s a quick breakdown:
- mild steel: 3/16 in.
- aluminum 1/4 in.
- glass 3/8 in.
Right off the bat, it’s worth mentioning that Wazer is limited in size, thickness, and cutting speed, when compared to a conventional waterjet. It’s not, however, limited in its broad spectrum of materials. That said, we’re not expecting that the folks looking to pick up one of these for their garages will see this tool as a drop-in replacement for the $100K model. Instead, it’s a new way to get in touch with cutting a variety of thin, flat materials with tolerances good enough to build functional prototypes that respect the machine limits.Minimum System Requirements
As we might expect, the Wazer won’t just start cutting parts out of the box before some mild setup. First, the Wazer requires one water main’s inlet source and one water outlet source. In case you were thinking about mounting this beast right next to the livingroom printer, well forget it, unless, of course, your house is plumbed accordingly. Apart from that, the waterjet is actually both small enough and sufficiently self-contained to be able to run indoors… that is: if you’re willing to brandish some sandy parts around your house before they get cleaned up. All-in-all, this tool is aimed for landing in either the garage or workshop, and both the water requirements and wet parts that it produces will probably keep it there.
Overall, the device is nicely self-contained. The abrasive garnet is an off-the-shelf commodity that gets loaded from the side drawer. The water stream and the abrasive garnet are both mixed at the nozzle, and the enclosure keeps the mess inside the machine. Finally, the high pressure system is provided by a small external box that tucks under the machine in their promotional video.
Besides your water bill, there are two other consumables that need to be kept in mind. The first is the garnet, which needs to be tossed after use; the second is the polyethylene bed that will eventually wear out from repeated cuts.Maintenance and Operation:
Going from design to cuts draws many parallels to a laser cutter interface. Simply import a vector graphic and position the cutting location over an x-y grid “laser-cutter style” to select the cut location. There’s an additional option to choose which side of the line (or dead-center) to trace along.
The garnet gets filtered out into discrete “catch containers” at the front (an effort to avoid clogged drains). Keeping the quantity of used garnet in check is just a matter of pulling out the containers, which drain their water when removed, and tossing the sand out. Wazer actually solves the maintenance problem quite nicely. Where one trained professional might be scooping out the sand from the machine for several minutes on a conventional Waterjet, this system lets the user make a couple quick trips to the trash with a few cartons of sand.
Fixturing the workpiece is also fairly straightforward. The Wazer crew has had some pretty solid success by simply screwing directly into the corrugated polyethylene for support. Forces on the part are (1) fairly mild compared to a milling machine and (2) mostly downwards, so the parts don’t need a fancy rigging system to hold them in place. A few screws like the one shown to the right are all that’s needed for keeping a plate from squirming around whilst cutting.A First Class Showcase
It’s easy to forget that most of the folks building tools for the after-hours engineer aren’t actually cold-hearted salespeople. They’re engineers too–and they’re no exception from the crew of folks who love a good side project. Over at the Hax Accelerator office, I got a preview of some of the side-projects they’ve built using the very tool they’re offering us now.
Compared to a laser cutter, the waterjet is far less limited in what materials it can accommodate. The knife stock above was cut from D2 tool steel and then finished by a professional knife maker. In the middle, the quadcopter frames are cut from FR4 and carbon fiber (Upcycled PCB-copter, we’re going to will you into existence right here!).
Given that the effective tool diameter is only about 1.5 mils (0.0015 inches), the level of detail achievable easily exceeds the finesse of any craftsperson working by hand. The other advantage is the consistent repeatability of parts produced with this tool. It’s not too difficult to imagine tiling an entire wall with the same pattern cut on the same machine.Getting a Grip on the New Possibilities
With the arrival of any new machine in the shop, it’s easy to start drooling over the possibilities. How could this new beast add to the vocabulary of techniques of cutting and squirting that we already know so well? First, off, it’s worth mentioning that there’s no free lunch here. Cutting parts on this machine is slow when compared to a professional machine that can cut far thicker materials. That said, if you’re buying one of these, odds are good that the cutting speed isn’t a limiting factor in being able to have parts on hand immediately. Taking a look at their accuracy, the Wazer also can’t do the same precision work of a respectable CNC mill. Nevertheless–in most cases, it doesn’t need to! For the everyday crafty folk who’s not worried about their press fits and slip fits, 0.003 mils is plenty.
For the serious machinist, 0.003 mils isn’t great, but that’s no dealbreaker. Folks in the machining and fabrication industry often cast the rough shape of some complex parts and then finish off the actual dimensions that matter on a milling machine. Likewise, for the parts that need tighter tolerances, the Wazer can become the “first pass” machine, taking rough cuts out of many thin materials–even some that would otherwise intimidate the everyday hobby machinist like FR4 or tool steel. For the dimensions that matter, folks can drop their parts onto another machine to finish off the important dimensions. Perhaps the hole dimensions need to get widened to their final size with the right reamer, or perhaps the surface finishes of some edges needs to get polished off with a finishing end mill. All-in-all, the Wazer should have no problem making the big cuts in otherwise hard-to-cut materials.
Typically, serious hobbyists who want to waterjet their parts will send their designs out to professional waterjet houses. Unfortunately, if time’s against us, both the shipping and the lineup of other folks’ projects can strike a delay. If there’s a mistake in that design, or if we find that Rev-1.0 has some design issues once we start assembling it at home, we’re delayed by the one avoidable issue: parts just take time to come back.
Wazer isn’t a tool for the impatient. It’s a new way to refine our understanding of how to work with waterjet parts. Post design, it’s a mere half hour or so before we’re back at the desk assembling parts. Sure, mistakes cost us materials, but no mechanism for learning quite surpasses the combined benefit of both speed-in-iteration and immediate feedback.
Moreover, a nearby waterjet can transform parts that were doomed to the trash to land back into your shelf of raw materials. If you’ve been building quadcopters with G10 or carbon fiber, why not take that scrappy motherboard out of the e-waste pile and cut your next frame out from there? Remember all those fiberglass sheets that you quickly realized you couldn’t machine without a respirator? Get them out of the trash immediately. Finally, take a look around you at the trash that gets tossed out or sold at the local thrift shop. That cookie sheet? Yup. Glass window panes? Absolutely. Ceramic plates? Why not? Welcome to a whole new world of upcycling.
From a crew that land on these pages with their proof-of-concept just a few years ago, we’re thrilled that a one-off has begun to mature into a Kickstarted commercial product that can enable thousands of eager students, homebrew machinists, and crafters alike. Keep in mind that no first rev of any Kickstarter machine is without its kinks, and a $4K waterjet will never be able to accomplish the same job as it’s $100K older sibling. Nevertheless, we’re excited for the community to get a taste of fabrication outside of the land of 3D printers, and we eagerly await their response.
Filed under: cnc hacks, news
As the red licorice wars rage on inextinguishably, it appears that Team Red Vines has a new advantage over Team Twizzlers—[TVMiller]’s voice activated, room-tracking, catapult-launching, magazine reloading Arduino licorice launcher.
Hacking and snacking often go hand in hand. They go together even better if you have a robot that can throw a tasty treat to you on command. That’s the dream behind this candy catapult. We’ve featured quite a few of [TVMiller]’s projects in the past, so we know he spends a lot of time hacking. So, how does this licorice launcher work to him keep going?
Like we said, it’s voice activated. The robot answers to ‘Jacob’ and acts upon hearing the words ‘red vine’. Jacob locks on to the direction of the voice and turns himself to face it. Then he launches the payload. Since Jacob is magazine-reloading, there’s always a Red Vine in the chamber for [TVMiller]’s snack attacks. After the launch, the licorice at the bottom of the stack drops into a slot in the receiving cradle. A twist of the cradle loads it into the trebuchet. Watch Jacob slay a craving after the break.
A candy dispenser that makes you answer trivia questions correctly before giving up the goods is about as far away from ‘Jacob, Red Vine’ as you can get, but at least you’ll feel more like you’ve earned it.
Filed under: Arduino Hacks
A while back, [heypete] needed to get a GPS timing receiver talking to a Raspberry Pi. The receiver only spoke RS-232, and the Pi is TTL level serial. [Pete] picked up a few RS-232 to TTL conversion boards from an online vendor in China. These boards were supposedly based on the Max3232, a wonderchip that converts the TTL serial to the positive and negative voltages of RS-232 serial. The converters worked fine for a few weeks, before failing, passing a bunch of current, and overheating.
On Mouser and Digikey, the Max3232 costs about $1.80 in quantity one, and shipping is extra. You can pick up a ‘Max3232 converter board’ from the usual online marketplaces for seventy five cents with free shipping. Of course the Chinese version is fake. [Pete] had some nitric acid, and decided to compare the die of the real and fake Max3232s.
After desoldering two fake chips from their respective converter boards, and acquiring a legitimate chip straight from Maxim, [Pete] took a look at the chips under the microscope. The laser markings on the fakes are inconsistent, but there was something interesting to be found in the date code markings. It took two to four weeks for the fake chips to be etched with a date code, assembled into a converter board, shipped across the planet, put into [Pete]’s project, run for a little bit, and fail spectacularly. That’s an astonishing display of manufacturing, logistics, and shipping times. Update: The date codes on the fakes had 2013 laser etched on the plastic package, and 2009 on the die. The real chips had a date code just a few weeks before [Pete] decapped them — a remarkably short life but they gave in to a good cause.
Following the Zeptobars and CCC (PDF) guides to dropping acid, [Pete] turned his problem into solution and took a look at the dies under a microscope. The legitimate die was significantly larger, and the fake dies were identical. The official die used gold bond wires, but the fake ones didn’t.
Unfortunately, [Pete] isn’t an expert in VLSI, chip design, failure analysis, or making semiconductors out of sand. Anything that should be obvious to the layman is not, and [Pete] has no idea why these chips would work for a week, then overheat and fail. If anyone has an idea, hit [Pete] up and drop a note in the comments.
Filed under: misc hacks
A lot of us make circuit boards at home. I find it a useful skill to have in my bag of tricks for intermediate steps along the way to a finished project, even if the finished version is going to be sent out to a PCB fab. When I need a breakout board that meshes with other development tools, for instance, there’s nothing like being able to whip something up that plugs right in. Doing it quickly, and getting on with the rest of the project instead of placing an order and waiting for delivery, helps keep me in the flow.
Toner transfer is by far the fastest way to make a circuit board at home — simply print the circuit out on a laser printer, iron it onto the copper, and etch. When it works, it’s awesome. When it doesn’t, it can be a hair-pulling exercise in figuring out which of myriad factors are misaligned.
For a long time now, I’ve been using a method that’s very reliable and repeatable. Recently, I’ve been tweaking a bit on the performance of the system, and I thought I’d share what I’ve got. At the moment, I’m able to very reliably produce boards with 6 mil (0.15 mm) traces and 8 mil (0.20 mm) spacing. With a little care in post-production, 4 mil / 6 mil is entirely plausible.
That’s good enough for most of my prototyping needs, covering TSSOP parts down to 0.65 mm pin pitch and allowing me to feed two traces through an 0805 surface-mount resistor or capacitor. It’s on par with the cheapest of professional manufacturing houses, but I can turn around a board in about fifteen minutes. Beats the heck out of ordering and waiting, in my book. When I need luxuries like silkscreen and through-hole plating there are workarounds, but mostly I’ll skimp on those until the final version is made.Scientific Apparatus: an updended clothes iron, a rolling pin, and a decent IR thermometer.
The secret? Science! Or at least taking what can be an overwhelming number of variables and secret techniques, reducing them to experiments that change one variable at a time, and then optimizing along that one dimension. There are a dizzying array of techniques out there, and a good number of them only work when you have exactly the right brand of toner, the right paper, or the right touch in wielding a hot clothes iron. In short, they’re not reproducible. When your setup doesn’t exactly match someone else’s, all bets are off. Here, I’ll lay out a reproducible method and show you how to calibrate it.Things That Don’t Matter
A lot of Internet toner-transfer guides focus on details that don’t really matter, like the type of paper used for the transfer medium or the method of cleaning the copper before ironing. That’s not to say that you don’t need to clean the copper first — you absolutely do — but just that it doesn’t matter really how you do it. I’ve used fine-grit sandpaper, green pot scrubbies, and these days I use some sponges that I got in the hardware store for shining up pipe joints before brazing. I follow with a wipe-down of acetone. The point is that you remove the oxidation and grease from the surface. I don’t care how.
Similarly, the choice of transfer paper is pretty open. I alternate between glossy magazine pages (the Economist is my favorite at the moment) and the plastic-coated backing papers that peel-off stickers come on. These two surfaces work entirely differently; the sticker backing paper peels off directly, while the magazine paper dissolves off in cold water when rubbed with a thumb. There is fancier stuff out there. The point of the transfer paper is that it’s glossy so that it doesn’t deform the image, and that releases easily leaving the toner on the copper. The rest is convenience.
Finally, the choice of etchant doesn’t matter. I use oxygen-refreshed copper chloride in acid because it’s essentially infinitely recyclable and I hate the hassle of disposing of toxic chemicals. People use ferric chloride or ammonium persulfate. Other folks use vinegar and salt, or dragon spit and accountants’ tears. Some people agitate liquids in a tank, others spray, and still others sponge. Whatever works.
These things are all absolutely vital to getting a good toner-transfer PCB made, of course, but none of them are uniquely irreplaceable.Physics
On the other hand, there are three fundamental factors that matter for the adhesion of the toner to copper, and it’s down to physics: time, temperature, and pressure. It’s a huge step towards reliability and repeatability to reduce these three down to one, and that’s our first step.Fixing Pressure and Time First
As far as pressure goes, more is almost always better. In fact, there are some laser copiers that work without heated rollers at all. They squish the plastic toner particles so hard that they adhere to the paper at room temperature or thereabouts. We’re not going to be able to apply that much pressure, but we’re going to fix the pressure variable at “as much as possible”.You can almost hear me grunting…
I put the PCB on my inverted iron and press down with all of my weight on a rolling pin. The resulting pressure is fairly high because the rolling pin has a small contact patch with the board, and it’s fairly constant because I only weigh so much.
I took my inspiration from this method which does essentially the same thing upside-down. My experience is that the board never rolls evenly across the dowel using this procedure, but I can understand if you don’t want the exposed electrical horror that is my setup in your house. Any strong hot surface should work, and an improved setup would have better temperature control. If you have a modified laminator that puts out enough pressure, that’s probably even better. I have a scrap clothes iron.
Unlike pressure where more is better, the effect of longer dwell times drops off rapidly. In laser printers, where the number of pages per minute is a critical selling point, they try to get this dwell time down to the minimum. If you roll too quickly over the board, adhesion can be uneven, so the solution is to simply go slowly and roll back and forth. You can remove time from the equation by simply rolling so slowly that any decrease in rolling speed doesn’t substantively change anything. A minute or two should do.
All of this is relative, of course. You don’t use the same toner as I do, weigh the same as I do, or even have the same idea of “slow” that I do. But as long as you keep your own practice consistent, these variables won’t affect the outcome very much, and we’re free to tackle the variable that will: temperature is the secret sauce. Here comes science!Temperature: Plastic, But Not Molten
When toner is heated up, it goes through a few distinct phases. At first it’s a hard plastic, then it gets sticky and slightly malleable as it passes through the glass transition, and then as the temperature increases even further it melts and becomes a liquid.
I have no idea how the Internet rumor that you should turn up your iron “as hot as possible” came about. But I do know what the result of doing so is — smeary transfers that are extremely sensitive to the amount of pressure applied. That’s the exact opposite of what we’re looking for here. Instead, the goal is to keep the toner in the glass transition, with the temperature as low as possible so that it will fuse with the copper at our roughly constant maximum pressure.
The first step of calibrating the procedure, then, is to run a series of transfers at increasing temperature. Your temperatures won’t be the same as mine, but that’s fine because you’re not using my toner or making PCBs over at my house. The trick is being consistent.
The four examples here were transferred at 98 °C, 125 °C, 142 °C, and 166 °C. The first clearly doesn’t adhere well at all, and in fact none of the traces except the 16 mil trace are actually continuous after etching. The highest temperature board has short-circuits all over, despite using 20 mil clearance on the ground pour. Surprisingly, the TSSOP footprint worked out basically OK, even though the two traces at 6 mil spacing are shorted.
The problem with the extreme temperatures are also obvious from looking at the transfer sheets. In the case of the low-temperature board, there is a lot of toner left on the paper. It simply hasn’t stuck well enough to the copper. The high temperature sheet ripped when pulling it off, probably because its plastic layer melted into the toner.
The two middle boards look pretty good, but looks can be deceiving so it’s probably worth etching them. There’s actually a minor defect in the 125 °C board — the 6 mil trace sample is broken just at the bottom where it connects to the pad. On the 142 °C board, the two close traces passing through the 0805 part are shorted although all of the other traces are continuous. A temperature somewhere between these two is probably going to be the sweet spot.
I re-did a run of this test board at 132 °C, printed onto magazine paper, and it came out perfectly. Except for the minor hassle of cutting out the magazine stock and taping it to a sheet of regular paper so that it can feed correctly through the printer, magazine paper is probably the ideal substrate. When it dissolves in water, there’s very little stress on the toner and a much lower risk of pulling up a spot here or there.
Not coincidentally, I’ve been using a temperature around 130 °C since I last did this calibration myself after buying my current laser printer. Getting a consistent procedure with a dialed-in temperature is much more than half the battle.The Printer and Its Software
At this point, with the toner transfer process itself pretty much dialed in, the limiting factor in how reliably and at what resolution you can print is going to be the printer itself and the software that drives it. I found surprisingly large differences between different printer drivers (PCL and Postscript) as well as between different file formats used to save the artwork, and the programs that read them.
In particular, both of the drivers on my system seem to be interpreting the Postscript and PDF output of KiCad as being color files, and applying dithering to the result. With the Postscript driver, this results in jagged edges, an effect that other people have noticed before. With the transfer working well, these jaggies end up in the PCB’s copper.
With the PCL driver that I had been using, it seems to be applying a much higher-resolution dithering algorithm, with the result that the lines appear thinner to the point that they have discontinuities. It turns out that the problems I was having with thin lines printing was caused by the driver.SVG file, postscript driver
Finally, when I save the file as an SVG graphic and print it out from within Inkscape, all of the color-dithering artifacts go away, but the result is nice smooth dark traces that are a tiny bit too thick once transferred. Perhaps with these improved traces I can lower the temperature a little bit? There’s also some dust in the transfer on the sticky-backed paper that doesn’t occur with magazine paper, so maybe paper type does matter a little bit after all.
It’s important to note that you can’t really diagnose fine details like these until you’ve gotten the main variables of temperature and pressure under control. But once you do, and the smallest glitches that arise from the software stage of the chain are visible and reproducible, you’ve got a new limiting factor, and it’s time to tune up the software.
Unfortunately, everyone has a different software and printer setup, and not all the tweaks that work for me will work for you. At this point, you’re on your own. Just know that the printer’s resolution, printer configuration options, and even the drivers and file types can matter. That’s a lot to experiment with, so take them one variable at a time.Rinse, Repeat, Refine
So everything interacts: temperature, pressure, paper type, and even the file format and printer drivers. I gave up experimenting for today because I’m content with reliable 6/8 traces, and when I need to push it even further for some project I’ll probably start by decreasing the temperature further to see if that solves the thickening lines. If I really need 6 mil clearances, I’ll either double-check those locations before etching and clean them up with a scalpel blade, or I’ll experiment with 4 mil trace widths. After all, with the SVG output and Inkscape doing the printing, I’ve not had a single discontinuous trace at 6 mil.
One thing I absolutely won’t change, however, is the basic technique. I first started applying a consistent maximum pressure through a roller and tweaking the temperature about ten years ago, and it’s been a very reliable method of making PCBs since. This recent quest for maximum resolution has been a fun diversion and I’m both happy to know that I can do small features when I need to, and saddened that the paths to further improvement seem to lead through tweaking software and drivers because there are just so many options.
At some point, it does become easier to let the pros do the work for you. But for me, toner transfer works for almost all of the initial stages of prototyping, and with turnaround times that absolutely can’t be beat.
Filed under: Hackaday Columns, how-to, Skills
The world’s most excellent conference on hardware creation, the Hackaday SuperConference, is back. Get your tickets now for two magical days in Pasadena this November.
This exclusive gathering of hackers, designers, and engineers is where brilliant people geek out with their peers. Talks tell the story of research, prototyping, product design, manufacturing, and getting that new hardware out into the world. Nowhere else can you get such a concentrated dose of Sistine-Chapel-like details about what is being built in businesses small and large, basements, University labs, and everywhere else.
Early tickets are $128, get your pass to the conference now! This ticket gets you in the door for talks, breakfast and lunch on both days, a conference badge, and the party on Saturday night. SuperCon also includes hands-on workshops — these have limited capacity and some have material costs, more about this next week.What You’ll Find at SuperCon
First and foremost, SuperCon is packed with amazing people. Who will be there? It’s easiest to mention some of the speakers — but the point is that everyone on hand is the type of person who wants to celebrate that circuit you designed, the enclosure you milled, the product you sprung into existence, and the unexplained behavior you’ve been hitting your head against with a prototype or research project.
- Alan Yates is an engineer of many disciplines. He got his start in software and telecommunications running his own ISP in the late 90s, then spent many years in web and enterprise application development, only to return to his electrical engineering roots with wireless networking hardware and most recently precision indoor positioning. Alan, originally from Sydney, currently resides in Seattle and works for Valve Corporation on virtual reality technology.
- Dr. Christal Gordon is an engineer and educator. She has designed bio-inspired and bio-interfacing systems, high-speed electronics, and models of complex systems. Applications of these systems include low-power consumer electronics and neural prosthesis. She’s passionate about bringing science to the general public..
- Ben Krasnow works at Google[x], creating advanced prototypes, and previously developed virtual reality hardware at Valve. He is well-known for interesting applications of science and technology on his YouTube channel: Applied Science.
- Luz Rivas is an engineer, educator and social entrepreneur passionate about getting kids to explore and innovate with technology. She is the founder of DIYgirls.
- Ken Shirriff writes a popular blog (righto.com) on reverse engineering everything from chargers to microprocessors. He created the IRremote library for Arduino. Ken was formerly a programmer at Google and has a PhD in computer science from UC Berkeley.
There’s still a spot for you on this stage. Submit your talk proposal now!Building a Hacker Village
What I’m most excited about this year is the concept of building a Hacker Village. Conferences are usually held in hotels — everything’s under one roof: drab ballrooms for the talks, mediocre restaurants, and unimpressive hallways where “lobby con” happens.
SuperCon is in Old Town Pasadena this year and this is where our Hacker Village takes shape. We have a workshop space that has never been equaled at any conference: the Supplyframe Design Lab. Right next door, the Los Angeles College of Music houses the SuperCon Talks. And all around these venues, excellent food, drink, and entertainment are no more than a few blocks walk. The Hacker Village concept weighs the best parts of the conference equally: your interactions with everyone attending are just as important as the organized events themselves.
Pasadena is a great area for technology, companies like SpaceX, iRobot, JPL, and institutions like the ArtCenter College of Design mean the area is packed with interesting people. It’s 15 minutes from Burbank airport, and LAX is an easy destination for international flights. We anticipate attendees and presenters from every part of the globe, and November spells great weather just when a lot of other areas are stepping into the cold and dreary.Looking Back on the 2015 Hackaday SuperConference
This year’s SuperCon will far surpass last year’s; the speakers, program, and venue already back up this claim. Check out all 23 talks from last year, then help us secure the final piece for this year’s event: we need you there.
Filed under: cons, Featured
Every technical person knows, unlike artists and politicians, that they can be provably wrong; at least to a degree. Math tells the truth. Coupled with this knowledge is an ego which is often entirely based on our output. If our mechanism works, we feel good because we are provably good.It didn’t stop Scott Adams from writing four books full of it and it won’t stop me.
from Dilbert: Advice
Unfortunately, unlike the robots we build or the simple minds we spin out of code, we are still human at the end of the day. When we feel the sting of being wrong we often respond poorly. Some of us slip into depression, claiming it all and dredging up a few other mistakes from our past along for the ride. Some of us explode into prideful rages, dropping our metaphorical shorts to show that this one fault is no fault at all compared to a history of personal majesty. Others become sullen and inward. Others ignore it all together. Others yet strike out at those around them leaving unpleasant barbs. The variations are endless, but I do think there is an ideal to be reached.
Despite the risk that the nature of the things I’ve learned will reveal exactly what kind of arrogant sod I am, I’ll give it a go anyway. I’ve made many mistakes, and I have many more to make, but these are some of the things I’ve learned. I’ve learned them all in technical fields, so I’m not sure how broadly the advice applies, but luckily this is Hackaday.Accept Responsibility Regardless
Hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes there simply was no way to avoid the mistake. Sometimes, even though the failure fell on your desk, it was actually the fault of a coworker’s negligence. However, if it was your responsibility to get it right, there is nothing helpful to anyone in dodging it. It wasn’t your parents fault. It wasn’t your coworker’s, your fender bender, new medicine, or the rain. Excuses are, ultimately, annoying. Redemption is found in everything but.
In a hypothetical. Yes, if you had known that your coworker’s part file had woefully incorrect dimensions you would have never done the calculations wrong. No there was no reason to suspect the coworker’s work. There was no reason to waste time checking. Everything was done correctly. None of it matters.There May Be a Punishment, Resign yourself to It
My experience has been, much to my surprise initially, that there is rarely any punishment at all for a properly and maturely dealt with mistake. This is important to note: Often there is no punishment.
However, if integrity is anything to be had at all, then there will occasionally come a day where a mistake has a punishment attached. Perhaps it’s a loss of trust. Perhaps it’s a loss of position. If we’re lucky we’ll never make one of the terrible mistakes. For most of us, it’s simply a loss of pride.
“The buck stops with me. That was my engineering seal on the plans… …Engineering societies need to talk about failures. That’s how we learn. This is a tragedy I think about 365 days a year. I think about it anytime I walk into a public building.”
Jack Gillum’s firm had a small engineering oversight in their balcony design that killed hundreds.
Regardless, there’s no way to avoid a punishment and also leave with dignity. In order to wrangle the emotions that come along with being incorrect, the punishment must be clearly defined and the fear of it must be made irrelevant. I might be wrong on the internet. My boss may not assign me the interesting projects for a while. I may have all my calculations looked over more thoroughly in the future. It can’t be avoided, but the problem is likely repairable regardless.Understanding Wrong the Asimov Way Even his beard was innovative for its time.
One of my favorite pieces of writing is, “The Relativity of Wrong,” by Isaac Asimov. The essay is not a long read, but extremely worthwhile.
The thesis, going somewhat opposite of mathematical training, states that it’s possible to be mostly right, and partly wrong. Or mostly wrong, and partly right. That it’s perfectly possible for someone’s stance to have components which are absolutely wrong while still ending up being right enough for all practical purposes.
Of course, when you get down to it, this isn’t so far off from the estimations and assumptions we use every day in our technical trades.
It is important to, in a very first principles way, understand what exactly was wrong about your assumptions and what was not. For the depressive types among us, as an example, the hard part will be pinpointing the sections of thought in which you were absolutely correct.
Being absolutely wrong is a rarer occurrence than people like to admit, and at the end of the day you want a solution. So when confronted with a fallacy, sit back and work it out. Keep in mind, this process is not about finding an escape for your pride, but learning from the mistake.Avoid Senseless Stubbornness.
There’s nothing more annoying than someone getting defensive. We know you have failed. We know you are wrong. We have forty hours a week trapped in an office that smells of fast food, oil, and slowly off gassing polymers. The weather outside is wonderful and we are here instead. We don’t care. Let’s lay it out on the table. Let’s work through it. The work must get done. Don’t make us fix your pride on top of the problem.
Most people in the technical field who have been at it for more than a few years are extensively experienced in failure. They have been on the other side of that meeting table. They know what it’s like, and they don’t care.
Don’t be stubborn. Don’t try to save your pride. We are technical folk. You’ve thought about which parts of the failure were right, which parts were wrong. You are ready to accept the punishment if there’s no excuse.Fix It Joyfully tl;dr: People are meat robots.
It’s good to be aware that people are self-programming automatons. If you let a mistake make you miserable you’ll only react worse the next time around. Mistakes can be fixed, especially in technical fields. The process of fixing a mistake, when you get right down to it, is exactly the same as doing the original work. The issue is that all the unnecessary thought associate with work being done twice adds a lot of weight.
If you’ve said something wrong. Simply thank the person for correcting you and move on.
If you’ve calculated wrong, redo the calculation.
Don’t make it hard.Lastly, Learn the Whole Lesson
Mistakes are the ultimate opportunity for learning. It’s a terrible cliché, but we all know it’s true. However, the learning should extend past pure technical competence. Every now and then you might run across a person in the technical field who feels like pure pedantic technical correctness is the highest redeeming feature a person can have. It just doesn’t work out that way.I’m pretty sure I get this definition as a comment at least once on every post I write.
People want to get work done. People want to have mistakes dealt with and solved. It is possible to make mistakes and have yourself, your coworkers, and your bosses all feel good about it.
Every mistake has a little sub lessons to teach us. Maybe it’s that the coworker down the hall reacts better to one kind of criticism than another. Maybe it’s that the head engineer has seen this all before and all the worrying was useless. Maybe it’s that, weirdly, wearing the red tie makes meetings go better for you. Make sure to not value the technical solution alone too highly.
Well, that’s all I have for now. I’m sure I still have more to learn about failure in the future. Maybe from this very post! We all work with others. We all make mistakes. What advice would you offer? I look forward to reading it in the comments.
Filed under: Featured, Interest, slider
While robots enter other industries in herds, the assembly of garments has long been a tedious, human privilege. Now, for the first time, a robot has sewn an entire, wearable piece of garment. Sewbo, an industrial robot programmed to tackle the tricky task, assembles clothes and makes it look easy.
Despite their precision, robots still lack the cognitive abilities and motoric skills to process soft fabrics reliably. Sewbo tackles this by impregnating the fabric with PVA, a non-toxic biodegradable polymer. The temporarily stiffened fabric then can be processed as if it were sheet metal. It can be welded, molded, and most importantly, grabbed and sewn by the robot in a repeatable manner. From the finished garment, the PVA is removed by simply rinsing it with warm water.
To sew two pieces of impregnated fabric together, they are first tacked together using an ultrasonic welder. Other than that, the process is surprisingly similar to manual sewing: Sewbo simply grabs the assembly and runs it through a standard sewing machine to put a permanent seam in place. Due to the fabric’s increased rigidity, this step is repeatable enough to let the robot work blindfolded, with no CV magic required.
Naturally, behind every smart robot, there’s a smart human. In case of Sewbo, it’s [Jonathan Zornow], who invented the new process. For his proof-of-concept, he rented a Universal Robot UR-5 for 30 days, equipped it with a vacuum cup end effector (kindly borrowed from Axis Automation in New Jersey), and bolted the whole thing to his Ikea dining room table. A consumer-grade, Brother CS6000i sewing machine was then hacked to be handled by the robot’s motion controller.
On the way to filling the automation gap in garment manufacturing, Sewbo marks an important milestone and we are curious to see this concept being taken further. Impregnating fabric with polymers may raise environmental concerns, but it’s already common practice in textile manufacturing to strengthen yarn with PVA for easier processing in weaving machines. It probably could be washed out a few steps later in the process chain.
Does anybody here have experience with kitting holes in dining room tables? Let us know in the comments! Enjoy the video below, where you can see how Sewbo assembles a T-shirt from start to finish.
Filed under: robots hacks
[Tim] needed very small, motorized joints for a robot. Unable to find anything to fit the bill, he designed his own tiny, robotic joints. Not only are these articulated and motorized, they are designed to be independent – each containing their own driver and microcontroller.
6mm geared motor next to LEGO [Source: Pololu]None of the photos or video really give a good sense of just how small [Tim]’s design is. The motor (purple in the 3D render above, and pictured to the left) is a sub-micro planetary geared motor with a D shaped shaft. It is 6mm in diameter and 19mm long. One of these motors is almost entirely encapsulated within the screw it drives (green), forming a type of worm gear. As the motor turns the screw, a threaded ring moves up or down – which in turn moves the articulated shaft attached to the joint. A video is embedded below that shows the joint in action.
[Tim] originally tried 3D printing the pieces on his Lulzbot but it wasn’t up to the task. He’s currently using a Form 2 with white resin, which is able to make the tiny pieces just the way he needs them.
[Tim]’s quiet about what the robot these joints is for will be like, but he did reveal that he foresees it using “lots” of these joints, so he’s been spending some time planning the wiring and communications as well as refining the design. We’re very curious about how it will all turn out.
People roll their own robotic joints and appendages when they have specific needs that can’t be met by current offerings, and the prevalence of 3D printing has made this process far more accessible than it has ever been before. For example, take a look at this unusual looking robotic appendage designed by [Kris] back in 2010; it’s worth a look just for how incredibly intricate it is.
Filed under: robots hacks
Microsoft Bob was revolutionary. Normally you’d hear a phrase like that coming from an idiot blogger, but in this case a good argument could be made. Bob threw away the ‘files’ and ‘folders’ paradigm for the very beginnings of virtual reality. The word processor was just sitting down at a desk and writing a letter. Your Rolodex was a Rolodex. All abstractions are removed, and you’re closer than ever to living in your computer. If Microsoft Bob was released today, with multiple users interacting with each other in a virtual environment, it would be too far ahead of it’s time. It would be William Gibson’s most visible heir, instead of Melinda Gates’ only failure. Imagine a cyberpunk world that isn’t a dystopia, and your mind will turn to Microsoft Bob.Metaverse Lab is aesthetic as hell.
Not everyone will laugh at the above paragraph. Indeed, some people are trying to make the idea of a gigantic, virtual, 3D space populated by real people a reality. For the last few years, [alusion] has been working on Metaverse Lab as an experiment in 3D scanning, virtual web browsers, and turning interconnected 3D spaces into habitats for technonauts. The name comes from Snow Crash, and over the past twenty years, a number of projects have popped up to replicate this convergence of the digital and physical. By integrating this idea with the latest VR headsets, Metaverse Lab is the the closest thing I’ve ever seen to the dream of awesome 80s sci-fi.
I’ve actually had the experience of using and interacting with Metaverse Lab on a few occasions. The only way to describe it is as what someone would expect the Internet would be if their only exposure to technology was viewing the 1992 film Lawnmower Man. It works, though, as a completely virtual environment where potential is apparent, and the human mind is not limited by its physical embodiment.The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:
Filed under: The Hackaday Prize
A tube is a tube is a tube. If one side emits electrons, another collects them, and a further terminal can block them, you just know that someone’s going to use it as an amplifier. And so when [Asa] had a bunch of odd Russian Numitron tubes on hand, an amplifier was pretty much a foregone conclusion.
A Numitron is a “low-voltage Nixie”, or more correctly a single-digit VFD in a Nixiesque form factor. So you could quibble that there’s nothing new here. But if you dig into the PDF writeup, you’ll find that the tubes have been very nicely characterised, situating this project halfway between dirty hack and quality lab work.
It’s been a while since we’ve run a VFD-based amplifier project, but it’s by no means the first time. Indeed, we seem to run one every couple years. For instance, here is a writeup from 2010, and the next in 2013. Extrapolating forward, you’re going to have to wait until 2019 before you see this topic again.
Filed under: digital audio hacks, misc hacks
You know about the Hackaday Superconference, right? It’s the greatest hardware con ever, and it’s happening on November 5+6. Details incoming shortly.
The Hackaday Retro Edition exists. It’s the Hackaday blog, HTML-1-izized for weird and old computers? Why did I do this? Because Google is the quickest page to load on a Powerbook 180. There’s a new Retro Success, this time coming from @LeSpocky and his Nokia 3109c phone from 2008.
This is your official notice. The Open Hardware Summit is less than a month away. It’s going down in Portland, OR. Why Portland? The Ｖａｐｏｒｗａｖｅscene, of course. Hackaday, Tindie, and the rest of the crew will be out in Portland next month getting the latest news on the state of Open Hardware. We won’t be sitting in church pews this year, but then again there is no lady made out of soap.
Speaking of OHS, [Dave] just solved all their problems. The ‘problem’ with Open Hardware, if you can call it that, is that people use it as a bullet point on a sales deck. That neat gear logo can be marketing wank, without any of the sources, schematics, or anything else that makes a project Open Hardware. Last year, OSHWA announced they would be creating a certification process, with a trademarked logo, so they can sue people who don’t post schematics and mechanical designs (slightly inaccurate, but that’s the jist of the program). [Dave] is suggesting keeping the cool gear logo, but adding letters the teeth of the gear to designate what makes something Open Hardware. Add an S for schematic, add a B for a BOM, sort of like the creative commons logo/license. Is it a good idea? If OSHWA keeps using the gear logo for the ‘official’ Open Hardware logo/designation, there’s no recourse for when people misuse it. I’m of several minds.
[Colin Furze] is famous for his zany builds. His latest Youtube is anything but. It’s a shed. Of course, it’s the entry for his underground bunker, but this is a quality shed with a concrete pad, a few bits to keep it off the ground, and insulation. The roof is slate (because why not?), but if your design decisions are based on the phrase, ‘you only live once,’ copper may be a better choice.
The ESP32 has been released. The ESP32 is the follow-on to the very popular ESP8266. The ’32 features WiFi and Bluetooth, dual core processors, and a few undisclosed things that will make it very interesting. You can buy ESP32 modules right now, but no one has them on their workbench quite yet. To get you started when they finally arrive, [Adam] created an ESP32 KiCad Library for the ESP32 chip, and the ESP32-WROOM and ESP3212 modules.
Filed under: Hackaday Columns, Hackaday links, news
Step one to most electric longboard builds is typically the acquisition of a foot operated longboard, with step two being the purchase of a ready-made motor bracket to electro-convert the strenuous vehicle. Not so [Matt Carl’s] scratch-built electric longboard, which starts out with four 1/8″sheets of baltic birch.
After copying his paper template to the wood, [Matt] applies wood glue to the sheets and squeezes them tightly together in a custom, concave press mould, where they are left to dry under heavy weight plates. After drying, the curved laminate is cut out with a jigsaw, sanded and painted.
For adequate propulsion, [Matt] designed a custom 3D printable mount to attach a beefy brushless motor to one of the trucks. His open source design also includes a pulley that attaches to one of the wheels, an enclosure for the electronics and a number of brackets to mount it all to the underside of the board. Besides wood and plastic, the bill of materials also includes a brushless motor, drive belt and motor pulley, two large LiPo packs, an ESC, RC transmitter and receiver, and an onboard charger.
The assembled result of [Matt’s] woodworking, CAD and 3D printing efforts is a slick and very capable electric longboard with a top speed of 20 mph and a range of 10 miles. Not bad for a mere $400 budget! Worried about the longevity of the 3D printed parts? Carbon-fiber-reinforced 3D printing filament has you covered. Check out the video below, where [Matt] walks you through the 3D-printed part of his build!
Filed under: transportation hacks
Weary of manually entering manufacturing parameters into PCBShopper’s web form, [Jeremy Ruhland] created an awesome shortcut: His ULP script lets you obtain quotes from 26 PCB manufacturers around the world directly from your EAGLE board layout.
The script extracts all relevant data from your layout, including board size, the layer count, minimum trace widths and hole diameters. It then let’s you specify a few more in a tidy dialogue before sending you to the PCB manufacturing price comparison site PCBShopper.com with a custom query for board quotes.
It works like a charm, and [Jeremy] also plans to add a shortcut button to the EAGLE layout editor’s toolbar. Since the script implements the entire PCBShopper API, for which [Jeremy] cooperates with PCBShopper.com owner [Bob Alexander], it’s also a great starting point for the development of scripts that work with other board layout tools.
Thanks to [Matthew Venn] for the title photo (via Flickr)!
Filed under: Software Development
If you haven’t jumped on the ESP8266 bandwagon yet, it might be a good time to get started. If you can program an Arduino you have pretty much all of the skills you’ll need to get an ESP8266 up and running. And, if you need a good idea for a project to build with one of these WiFi miracle chips, look no further than [Ben Buxton]’s dated, but awesome, NTP clock.
While the ESP8266 started out as an inexpensive, reliable way to get WiFi capability on essentially anything (and paving the way for a plethora of Internet of Things projects), it was quickly hacked to become a fully programmable development board that can stand on its own. To that end, [Ben] has recognized its capability to run a very minimalistic NTP clock. The standard C++/Arduino environment is available, so he didn’t have to learn any new skills. The parts list is stripped down as well: besides the ESP8266, there’s little more than the four-part seven-segment display. There’s even an Arudino library for these chips that [Ben] made great use of. From there, it’s just a matter of wiring it all up and syncing it with an NTP server.
While it’s not the most involved hack ever, it’s good to be reminded that these chips are cheap and readily available for literally anything that you could imagine. If you haven’t started yet, there’s no reason not to. You can use them to control something like an irrigation system, or if you’re even more adventurous, they can run a 3D printer, too.
Thanks [Itay] for the tip!
Filed under: clock hacks
If you have ever worked on a motorcycle on a regular basis with a limited workshop, you’ll know the challenge of taking off one or other of the wheels. You’ll probably have plenty of tales of bikes balanced precariously on blocks or suspended from the ceiling on a web of cargo straps, and if you are really unlucky you’ll have the Dented Tank Of Shame from the whole edifice tumbling down.
[Mick]’s bike lift, exploded view.[Mick] has created a simple and elegant solution to raising his bike, a rather tasty unfaired Fireblade, after being unimpressed with commercial stands whose only aim seemed to be to operator ease rather than wheel access. He’s made his own stand using a trailer jack. The jack was very reasonably priced at $25, and has a rating of 3500lb which should be plenty for the Honda. He’s mounted the jack on a three armed steel foot with plenty of bracing, and created a mounting plate to locate with his bike’s frame and hold it securely.
The result is a simple, safe, and practical bike lift for a lot less cash than the commercial alternatives. It lifts [Mick]’s bike up to a comfortable working position without risk of calamity and allows full access to the wheels.
We’ve covered a lot of motorcycle projects over the years on these pages, but surprisingly this seems to be the first workshop stand. However there are plenty more projects to entertain you, such as this contemporary build of a 1905-era bike, this crazy gas turbine monster, or this rather frightening home-made frame.
Filed under: transportation hacks
Clay is a shapeless raw material that’s waiting to be turned into awesomeness by your creativity. So is the Raspberry Pi. [Dorison Hugo] brought the two together in his artfully crafted SNES micro – a tiny retro gaming console sculpted from clay.
For his build, [Dorison] assembled two halves of a little case from sheet plastic, which both together have about the size of the components that will go inside the sculpture: a Raspberry Pi Zero and a USB hub. He then moulded clay on the outside of the two halves, using them as a scaffold for the actual case. After some more modeling, the lump started to take on the shape of a tiny SNES console, with the original proportions and tiny details carefully sculpted into the clay.
Once the clay had hardened, [Dorison] removed the plastic scaffold, sanded the model and carved out some more details using a rotary tool. A final paint job gives the little console its familiar look. With the hard part done, all that’s left to do is wiring the Raspberry Pi to the hub, epoxying everything in place, and firing up EmulationStation. Check out the video below, where [Dorison] walks you through his crafty build!
Filed under: nintendo hacks, Raspberry Pi
[Barry] has an expedition planned. He’s going to be exploring coastlines, inlets, and other shallow waters where even small ROVs are too big. [Barry] wants an autonomous vehicle on this expedition, though, and that means he must build his own. This led to The Julius Project, repurposed kayaks, and all the techniques that go into making proper maritime electronics.
The first question [Barry] gets is, ‘why kayaks?’ A quick cruise around Craigslist is enough to answer that – they’re cheap, and they’re available in almost infinite variety from big touring kayaks to small play boats, all built for different conditions and expeditions. With a few motors and modular parts to this build, [Barry] has an autonomous aquatic vessel built for every condition imaginable.
Right now, [Barry]’s focus is getting the propulsion working. This comes in the form of a few brushless motors bolted to the underside of the kayak. A tethered test was very successful, demonstrating this tiny boat can turn on a dime. Integration with an autopilot is coming, but until then [Barry] has a neat little boat puttering around a river. You can check out a video of that below.The HackadayPrize2016 is Sponsored by:
Filed under: The Hackaday Prize
Unless you are under age 20, there are probably things you know now that you wish you knew growing up. Even on hacker projects, it isn’t unusual to do better on your second whatchamacallit than on your first one. After all, you learn something each time and apply it to subsequent builds.
[James Lewis] (sometimes known as the [Bald Engineer]) has spent a couple of years with a 3D printer. He says that as of March this year, he had used the machine for about 75 hours. Since then his usage went up to 300 hours because he’s finally learned his lessons about how to get good prints.
If you are experienced, you might not be surprised at the first tip: level the bed. Don’t let that fool you, though. [James] has some good tips on advanced bed materials and print filament, too.
One of the most interesting tips is to use Simplify3D as a slicer. [James found the output quality from models sliced with this $150 product was far superior to that from the MakerBot software he’d been using. We wonder if Cura or Slic3r could produce similar results, but based on the pictures (see above), [James] is right about the default settings for the two slicers he tried. The two objects on the left were done with the stock slicer while the object on the right was with Simplify3D.
We had to wonder if the default speeds on the MakerBot slicer were fast or there was some other simple explanation for the quality difference. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the software “just working” with no tweaking even if it does cost $150.
If you are interested in learning more about Simplify3D, have a look at the video below (and you might find this forum post informative). We’ve talked about a lot of 3D printing tips before. One that [James] missed is to ensure your extrusion rate is correct. We’ve looked at exotic print materials, too.
Filed under: 3d Printer hacks