Cracking open an ancient avionics gyroscope

This artificial horizon might as well have come from an alien ship. [Mike] somehow manages to get his hands on most interesting equipment, this time its a very old piece of avionics equipment. The mechanical gyroscope functioned as the artificial horizon, and he’s going to take us inside for a look. He doesn’t spend quite as much time on it as he did that thermal imaging camera, but this electro-mechanical odyssey is just as interesting.

To get the accuracy needed to help keep a plane in the air (well to keep the pilot well-informed anyway) the device needed to be very well manufactured. [Mike] comments several times along the way on how the different rotating parts are so well-balanced and machined that they seem nearly frictionless. It appears that a lot of the positional feedback depends on wirewound resistor rings which connect to a rotating piece via a series of very fine spring wires. As the parts rotate the resistance changes and that’s what gives the feedback. There are also mercury switches to help along the way.

He does his best to explain, but to us the inner workings are still a big mystery. See if you can get a clearer picture from the video after the break.

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Scratch-built railroad crossing signal

At first glance you would think this is the real thing, but [Kevin] built this railroad crossing signal from parts you can find at the home store. We keep seeing traffic lights used as web-connected signaling devices. This would be right at home for that type of setup, but [Kevin] built it with railroad enthusiasts in mind.

He used Google SketchUp to design the frame for the signal, then purchased all of the PVC parts to match those specifications. Some grey spray paint goes a long way to making it look like steel tubing. But this is much easier to work with and he should have no trouble internalizing the wiring later on. The lights themselves are tail lights for a trailer with a decorative trim piece added. He designed his own driver board to switch the lights and ring the doorbell which give the signal some sound. His first version used a 555 timer, this one upgrades to microcontroller. We like what he’s doing in the video after the break, but think the bell speed needs to be doubled for it to mimick the real thing just about perfectly.

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Re-engineering some FM transmitter firmware

[Furrteck] had a little adventure with this FM transmitter he picked up on eBay. It worked alright, but he wanted to be able to scan through the frequencies, and to have the device return to the same settings after power cycling. He cracked it open and got to work to achieve all of his goals.

The device is driven by an ATmega48, and there’s a 6-pin ISP header on the board. An initial read of the chip wouldn’t work, and he soon discovered the unstable power supply was to blame. After connecting his own regulated source he could read the chip id without a hitch, but the code is locked so no dumping was possible. Fortunately he managed to trace out the board, and includes a full schematic in his write up. With this in hand he erased the chip and started programming his own firmware from the ground up.

The video after the break shows off the completed project. He can now scan through frequencies with audio feedback to let he know when he’s found a station to hijack. The new code will also write a tuned station to EEPROM for use the next time the rig is powered up.

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Summer travel is a breeze with this scooter trunk

Travel backpacks are so passé. All the cool kids, like [Niklas Roy] are using scooter trunks for easy travel. Think of it, not only does it remove the need to carry your heavy baggage, but you get to coast along for the ride as well. We wonder what the officials at air, train, and bus travel hubs are going to think?

The idea came from seeing a similar build with a flight case (plywood box with metal edges and hardware). In that project the flight case folded out to be something of an impromptu street kiosk. But [Niklas] knew the aluminum camera trunk he uses for travel was going to work great in the project. He designed a bracket to replace the steering column on his kick scooter. It holds the case securely in place, but still allows the scooter to fold down to be stowed in the train overhead bin.

At first we thought this would have been better if integrated into the trunk itself. Keeping the two parts separate means you can leave the case wherever you’re staying and take just the scooter for day trips.

Automatic Daylight Saving Time compensation for your clock projects

Pretty early in development of my Ping Pong Clock I came up with the idea of automatic Daylight Saving Time compensation. It’s an interesting feature, but it’s a luxury and so I figured I could add it as a future improvement. Now’s the time and I’m reporting back on what I’ve learned and how you can add this to your own projects.

There’s two things to think about before adding this feature. Is it worth the effort and does it make the clock more confusing rather than easier to use?

As to the latter, if you are responsible for setting the time initially but you are not responsible for resetting the clock when we fall back or spring forward will it cause confusion? Perhaps initially, but the battery-backed RTC that I used in my project should mean that you set it once and never have to reset it again. The one exception is DST and that’s what I’m compensating for.

Whether it is worth it or not is difficult to answer until after the fact. You should take into consideration that the DST rules are not set in stone, they change from time to time. Add to that the fact that not all parts of the world observe the practice. This means that not only do you need to implement the compensation, but you should add a method of switching it on and off as well as changing the rules for when it is observed.

Join me after the break to learn the method and code I use to make time adjustments automatically twice a year.

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Glass PCB LED clock

This clock looks fantastic because of the glass PCB used for the build. This banner image allows you to see all the traces and components, but when it is lifted off of the desk surface the LEDs which make up the 7-segment digits appear to be floating.

The concept isn’t new, but it’s a much larger format than we’ve seen before. When we first looked at [CNLohr's] glass PCB fabrication he was using microscope slides. This uses a much larger pane of glass but it seems the fabrication still uses copper foil glued to the glass, then toner transfer etched like normal.

Here he’s testing out some 74LV164 chips as constant current drivers. One of the commenters on the Reddit thread is skeptical about using the chip in this way and so are we. But as the video after the break shows, it seems to work (at least for now). [CNLohr] also mentions that the AVR soldered on the display is burnt out which doesn’t help his case. Still, we love the look and can’t wait to see where he goes from here!

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Firing rocket engines in the wrong direction — this is only a test

LVL1 has a new rocketeering group. This rocket engine testing platform is the first project to come out of the fledgling club. The purpose of the tool is to gather empirical data from model rocket engines. Having reliable numbers on thrust over time will allow the team to get their designs right before the physical build even starts.

The rig uses a pine base, with a PVC frame, threaded bolts, and a PVC cuff for mounting the engine in place. It is set to fire up in the air, directing the thrust down onto a scale. The flex sensor in the scale is monitored by an Arduino, and should be able to hold up to the 5000 pounds grams of thrust max which this type of engines can put out. The data is pushed via USB to a laptop computer where it is stored in a spreadsheet.

Calibration would be an issue here. But as long as they’re always using the same strain sensor the numbers will be accurate enough relative to each other.