CPLD-Based Synchronization of Multiple Software Defined Radios

Forgive the click bait headline, but the latest work from [Marco Bartolucci] and [José A. del Peral-Rosado] is really great. They’re using multiple HackRFs, synchronized together, with hybrid positioning algorithms to derive more precise localization accuracy. (PDF)

Like all SDRs, the HackRF can be used to solve positioning problems using WIFi, Bluetooth, 3G, 4G, and GNSS. Multiple receivers can also be used, but this requires synchronization for time-based or frequency-based ranging. [Bartolucci] and [Peral-Rosado] present a novel solution for synchronizing these HackRFs using a few convenient ports available on the board, a bit of CPLD hacking, and a GNSS receiver with a 1 pps output.

This is technically two hacks in one, the first being a sort of master and slave setup between two HackRFs. Using the Xilinx XC2C64A CPLD on board the HackRF, [Bartolucci] and [Peral-Rosado] effectively chain two devices together. The synchronization error is below one sampling period, and more than two HackRFs can be chained together with the SYNC_IN port of each connected together in parallel. Read more about it in their pull request to the HackRF codebase.

This simplest technique will not work if the HackRF receivers must be separated, which brings us to the second hack. [Bartolucci] and [Peral-Rosado] present another option in that case: using the 1 pps output of a GNNS receiver for the synchronization pulse. As long as both HackRFs can see the sky, they can act as one. Very cool!

Laser PCBs with LDGraphy

There are many, many ways to get a PCB design onto a board for etching. Even with practice however, the quality of the result varies with the process and equipment used. With QFN parts becoming the norm, the days of etch-resist transfers and a permanent marker are all but gone. Luckily, new and improved methods of Gerber transfer have be devised in recent years thanks to hackers across the world.

One such hacker, [Henner] is working on a project called LDGraphy in an attempt to bring high-resolution etching to the masses. LDGraphy is a laser lithography device that makes use of a laser and a Beaglebone green to etch the layout onto the board. The best part is that the entire BOM is claimed to cost under a $100 which makes it affordable to people on a budget.

The system is designed around a 500 mW laser and a polygon mirror scanner meant for a laser printer. The board with photoresist is linearly actuated in the X-axis using a stepper motor and the laser beam which is bounced off the rotating hexagonal mirror is responsible for the Y-axis. The time critical code for the Programmable Realtime Unit (PRU) of the AM335X processor is written in assembly for the fast laser switching. The enclosure is, naturally, a laser cut acrylic case and is made at [Henner]’s local hackerspace.

[Henner] has been hard at work calibrating his design and compensating for the inaccuracies of the components used. In the demo video below he presents a working version with a resolution of 6 mils which is wonderful considering the cost of the machine. He also shares his code on GitHub if you want to help out and you can track his updates on Google+. Continue reading “Laser PCBs with LDGraphy”

A Mechanical Laser Show with 3D-Printed Cams and Gears

Everyone knows how to make a POV laser display — low-mass, first-surface mirrors for the X- and Y-axes mounted on galvanometers driven rapidly to trace out the pattern. [Evan Stanford] found a simpler way, though: a completely mechanical laser show from 3D-printed parts.

The first 10 seconds of the video below completely explains how [Evan] accomplished this build. A pair of custom cams wiggles the laser pointer through the correct sequences of coordinates to trace the desired pattern out when cranked by hand through a 1:5 ratio gear train. But what’s simple in concept is a bit more complicated to reduce to practice, as [Evan] amply demonstrates by walking us through the math he used to transfer display shapes to cam profiles. If you can’t follow the math, no worries — [Evan] has included all the profiles in his Thingiverse collection, and being a hand model software guy by nature, he’s thoughtfully developed a program to automate the creation of cam profiles for new shapes. It’s all pretty slick.

Looking for more laser POV goodness? Perhaps a nice game of laser Asteroids would suit you.

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Internet of Hungry Hungry Things

The Hippopotamus is the most dangerous large animal in Africa. The Internet of Things will kill us all. What do you get when you combine the two? Hungry hungry. [Mike] took the classic game Hungry Hungry Hippos and turned it into an amazing and amusing Internet of Things device with voice recognition and machine vision.

Hungry Hungry Hippos is a child’s (board?) game designed to teach children the virtue of gluttony. The board is surrounded by four lever-actuated plastic hippopotami, and the object of the game is to mash a lever and collect marbles in the mouths of these piggish pachyderms. [Mike] automated this game with four servos connected to these levers, with each servo controlled by a W65C265SXB single board computer. Yes, this project has code written in 6502 assembly.

Taking this a step further, [Mike] is using a Playstation 3 camera connected to a netbook for image processing. When the camera detects a marble in front of a particular hippo, that hippo becomes hungry hungry. Autoplaying Hungry Hungry Hippos. What a fantastic time to be alive.

The Internet of things connectivity? [Mike] also made these hippos controllable via Amazon’s Alexa with the help of an Electric Imp. To activate the blue hippo, all [Mike] needs to say is, “Alexa, tell game that blue hippo needs to eat.” It’s an Internet of Things computer vision AI hippopotamus. We all knew technology was eating us alive, but we never thought technology was hungry hungry.

You can check out [Mike]’s demo videos below.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Oscilloscope for the Masses

If you head down to your local electronics supply shop (the Internet), you can pick up a quality true-RMS multimeter for about $100 that will do almost everything you will ever need. It won’t be able to view waveforms, though; this is the realm of the oscilloscope. Unlike the multimeter’s realistic price point, however, a decent oscilloscope is easily many hundreds, and often thousands, of dollars. While this is prohibitively expensive for most, the next entry into the Hackaday Prize seeks to bring an inexpensive oscilloscope to the masses.

The multiScope is built by [Vítor] and is based on the STM32-O-Scope which is built around a STM32F103C8T6 microcontroller. This particular chip was chosen because of its high clock speed and impressive analog-to-digital resolution, which are two critical specifications for any oscilloscope. This particular scope has an inductance meter built-in as well, which is another feature which your otherwise-capable multimeter probably doesn’t have.

New features continue to get added to this scope by [Vítor]. Most recently he’s added features which support negative voltages and offsets. His particular scope is built inside of a model car, too, but we believe this to be an optional feature.

Imaginary AC Circuits Aren’t Really Complex

If you have ever read advanced textbooks or papers about electronics, you may have been surprised to see the use of complex numbers used in the analysis of AC circuits. A complex number has two parts: a real part and an imaginary part. I’ve often thought that a lot of books and classes just kind of gloss over what this really means. What part of electricity is imaginary? Why do we do this?

The short answer is phase angle: the time delay between a voltage and a current in a circuit. How can an angle be a time? That’s part of what I’ll need to explain.

First, consider a resistor. If you apply a voltage to it, a certain current will flow that you can determine by Ohm’s law. If you know the instantaneous voltage across the resistor, you can derive the current and you can find the power–how much work that electricity will do. That’s fine for DC current through resistors. But components like capacitors and inductors with an AC current don’t obey Ohm’s law. Take a capacitor. Current only flows when  the capacitor is charging or discharging, so the current through it relates to the rate of change of the voltage, not the instantaneous voltage level.

That means that if you plot the sine wave voltage against the current, the peak of the voltage will be where the current is minimal, and the peak current will be where the voltage is at zero. You can see that in this image, where the yellow wave is voltage (V) and the green wave is current (I). See how the green peak is where the yellow curve crosses zero? And the yellow peak is where the green curve crosses zero?

These linked sine and cosine waves might remind you of something — the X and Y coordinates of a point being swept around a circle at a constant rate, and that’s our connection to complex numbers. By the end of the post, you’ll see it isn’t all that complicated and the “imaginary” quantity isn’t imaginary at all.

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Hacked Car Axle Yields Custom 90° Gearbox

Need a sturdy angle gearbox to handle power transmission for your next big project? Why not harvest a rear axle from a car and make one yourself?

When you think about it, the axle of a rear-wheel drive vehicle is really just a couple of 90° gearboxes linked together internally, and a pretty sturdy assembly that’s readily available for free or on the cheap. [Donn DIY]’s need for a gearbox to run a mower lead him to a boneyard for the raw material. The video below shows some truly impressive work with that indispensable tool of hardware hackers, the angle grinder. Not only does he amputate one of the half axles with it, he actually creates almost perfect splines on the remaining shortened shaft. Such work is usually done on a milling machine with a dividing head and an end mill, but [DonnDIY]’s junkyard approach worked great. Just goes to show how much you can accomplish with what you’ve got when you have no choice.

We’re surprised to not see any of [DonnDIY]’s projects featured here before, as he seems to have quite a body of hacks built up. We hope to feature some more of his stuff soon, but in the meantime, you can always check out some of the perils and pitfalls of automotive differentials.

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