The pi pad

In the world of electronics we have impedance; the combination of all forces which oppose the flow of electric current. Often times we have circuits with different impedances, 50 ohms for RF, or 75 for cable TV. It’s pretty important to use the right coax in these circuits, else you’ll be wondering why your RG-58 antenna feed line doesn’t give you anything good to watch.

It’s pretty important to match impedances when connecting different circuits. Apart from the obvious flaws such as a 50 ohm load blowing up a 300 ohm amplifier, there are subtler things such as signal reflection and destructive interference which might just be enough to break whatever it is your playing with. RF mosfets are not cheap! But how could we match impedances? Well we could always use a transformer, but those are rather expensive and bulky. What if we only have a box of resistors to play with? [Read more...]

iPhone charger teardown shows astounding miniaturization.

There’s no question that Apple has their industrial design down pat; comparing a cell phone charger made by Blackberry or Motorola to the tiny 1-inch-cube Apple charger just underscores this fact. [Ken Shirriff] posted a great teardown of the Apple iPhone charger that goes through the hardware that makes this charger so impressive.

Like most cell phone chargers and power supplies these days, Apple’s charger is a switching power supply giving it a much better efficiency than a simple ‘transformer, rectifier, regulator’ linear power supply. Inside the charger, mains power is converted to DC, chopped up by a control IC, fed into a flyback transformer and converted into AC, and finally changed back into DC, and finally filtered and sent out through a USB port.

The quality of the charger is apparent; there’s really no way this small 1-inch cube could be made any smaller. In fact, if it weren’t for the microscopic 0402 SMD components, it’s doubtful this charger could be made at all.

Comparing the $30 iPhone charger of a cheap (and fake) iPhone charger, the budget charger still uses a flyback transformer but there are serious compromises of the safety and quality. The fake charger doesn’t use a power supply controller IC and replaces the four bridge diodes for a single diode to rectify the AC; a very efficient cost-cutting measure, but it does lead to a noisier power supply.

There’s also the issue of safety; on the Apple charger, there is a (relatively) huge physical separation of  ~340 VDC and your phone. With the off-brand charger, these circuits are separated by less than a millimeter – not very safe, and certainly wouldn’t be UL approved.

It’s worth pointing out that [Ken] compares a similar $7 Samsung charger favorably to the $30 Apple charger. Both are functionally identical, but Apple also has their  marketing down pat, to say the least.

Tip ‘o the hat to [George] for sending this in.

EDIT: In case a 1-inch cube wasn’t impressive enough, check out the euro version of the iPhone/iPad charger. It supplies 1A @ 5V, and isn’t much thicker than the USB port itself. Thanks [Andreas] for bringing this to our attention. If anyone wants to do a teardown of the euro version, send it in on the tip line.

Building a 6502 in Minecraft

We’ll admit that we haven’t been following Minecraft like we used to; its been a while since we’ve seen something amazing in Minecraft, but [eloraam]‘s 6502 emulator (part of her RedPower Minecraft mod) takes the cake.

The RedPower mod adds a lot of industrial technology to Minecraft. Pumps, solar panels, and pneumatic tubes to move blocks around are the staple of this mod, but with the addition of a fully emulated 6502 computer, Minecraft moves from an anachronistic medieval-themed steampunk aesthetic to a full-on machine age, mainframes everywhere style.

The heart of the 6502 portion of the RedPower mod are three craftable blocks; a CPU, a monitor, and a disk drive. All these blocks are connected together with ribbon cables and can interact with other blocks in the Minecraft universe. The CPU is an emulated 6502, with a few instructions borrowed from the 65816 and the addition of MUL and DIV. It’s possible to program this computer in assembly, but [eloraam] a Forth interpreter with the OS to make programming a little easier.

It’s been almost two years since we first saw the beginnings of a CPU made in Minecraft, but this mod takes everything to the next level. In actuality, this isn’t very different from the game [notch] is currently working on; both feature an emulated 80′s era computer that can do all your in-game bidding. We can’t imagine anything better to get us hooked on Minecraft again, and we’ve got to commend [eloraam] for some seriously awesome work.

After the break is a 23-minute tutorial on the functions of the RedPower CPU, as demonstrated by Minecraft aficionado [direwolf20].

[Read more...]

Rain activated light show in an umbrella

In a decision we completely agree with, these industrious young women decided that playing in the rain would only be more fun if it included an interactive light show. They wanted the rain itself to cause LEDs in their umbrella to light up. To achieve this, they put piezo sensors on each of the 8 panels of the umbrella. When that panel gets hit, its LEDs light up. You can see in the video after the break that it was quite effective.

Their next step should be to somehow increase the resolution to be similar to this one, while maintaining interactivity with the rain. How would you sense rain drops with more definition though?

[via Adafruit]

DeLorean hovercraft

[Matthew Riese] got frustrated waiting for the future to arrive so he could have his flying car. He decided to take things into his own hands and construct the closest thing he could. This turned out to be a hovercraft. Not only that, but he thought that the most fitting shape for this thing would be a DeLorean.  We can’t say that we disagree with him. Unfortunately, there isn’t a whole lot of information on his build. There is this cool video on his kickstarter page (don’t worry, he got funded back in 2010). To make up for the fact that the build information is sparse, we’ve found you some plans to make your own hovercraft. Just add whatever shape body you want, though we have some suggestions.

[via Makezine]