Embed with Elliot: We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ RTCs

A lot of microcontroller projects out there need some sense of wall-clock time. Whether you’re making (yet another) crazy clock, logging data, or just counting down the time left for your tea to steep, having access to human time is key.

The simplest solution is to grab a real-time-clock (RTC) IC or module. And there’s good reason to do so, because keeping accurate time over long periods is very hard. One second per day is 1/86,400 or around eleven and a half parts per million (ppm), and it’s tricky to beat twenty ppm without serious engineering.

Chronodot uses a Maxim TXCO
Chronodot uses a Maxim TXCO

Good RTC ICs like Maxim’s DS3231, used in the Chronodot, can do that. They use temperature correction logic and a crystal oscillator to get as accurate as five parts per million, or under half a second per day. They even have internal calendar functions, taking care of leap years and the day of the week and so on. The downside is the cost: temperature-compensated RTCs cost around $10 in single quantity, which can break the budget for some simple hacks or installations where multiple modules are needed. But there is a very suitable alternative.

What we’re looking for is a middle way: a wall-time solution for a microcontroller project that won’t break the bank (free would be ideal) but that performs pretty well over long periods of time under mellow environmental conditions. The kind of thing you’d use for a clock in your office. We’ll first look at the “obvious” contender, a plain-crystal oscillator solution, and then move on to something experimental and touchy, but free and essentially perfectly accurate over the long term: using power-line frequency as a standard.

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Miniature Cannon Packs a Punch, Shows off Manual Machining Skills

CNC machine tools are getting ever more affordable for the amateur machinist, and they’re an enabling technology for many projects. But you’ve got to respect the old school approach to turning hunks of metal into finished parts with no computer control. [Ticktock34] shows off his skills on a WWII vintage manual lathe with a photo album of his .75 caliber miniature black powder cannon build. What starts as a 3″ diameter actuator from a front end loader ends up as a beautiful replica of a full-sized cannon, along with a half-filled barrel of nicely blued scrap metal. Particularly impressive is the nicely proportioned ball end, cut by hand with no more instrumentation than a set of calipers. [Ticktock34] also shares a few tips for getting the trunnions exactly squared and aligned.

Good looking, and functional – stay tuned after the break for a video with the impressive blast from a test firing – with only a quarter charge of powder, mind you.

Want something a little safer for the kiddies and less likely to result in a visit from the police? Perhaps this PVC pirate cannon is more your speed.

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Amazingly Detailed Robotics Ground Vehicle Guide

[Andrey Nechypurenko] has put together an excellent design guide describing the development of his a20 grou1nd vehicle and is open sourcing all the schematics and source code.

20150627_180534One of [Andrey]’s previous designs used a Pololu tracked chassis. But this time he designed everything from scratch. In his first post on the a20, [Andrey] describes the mechanical design of the vehicle. In particular focusing on trade-offs between different drive systems, motor types, and approaches to chassis construction. He also covers the challenges of using open source design tools (FreeCAD), and other practical challenges he faced. His thorough documentation makes an invaluable reference for future hackers.

[Andrey] was eager to take the system for a spin so he quickly hacked a motor controller and radio receiver onto the platform (checkout the video below). The a20s final brain will be a Raspberry Pi, and we look forward to more posts from [Andrey] on the software and electronic control system.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: Laptop Batteries For A Power Bank

USB power banks – huge batteries that will recharge your phone or tablet – are ubiquitous these days. You can buy them at a gas station or from your favorite online retailer in any capacity you would ever want. Most of these power banks have a tremendous shortcoming; they need to charge over USB. With a 10,000 mAh battery, that’s going to take a while.

We already have batteries with huge capacities, are able to charge quickly, and judging from a few eBay auctions, can be picked up for a song. [Kumar] is working on a device that leverages these batteries – and the electronics inside of them – to build a smarter power bank.

Right now, [Kumar] is working with Dell Latitude D5xx/D6xx replacement batteries that he can pick up easily. These batteries have an SMBus interface, and with a low power ARM microcontroller and a TI BQ24725a, he has everything he needs to efficiently and safely charge these batteries.

[Kumar] says he’s looking for some community suggestions and feature requests for his project. If you have any, be sure to drop them over on his project page.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Generate Graph Paper — Complete with Jolly Wrencher

There’s a lot of talk about CAD software these days, and don’t get us wrong, they’re an essential tool of the trade. But for roughing out an idea, nothing tops paper and a pencil. Even the back of a cocktail napkin will do.

If you’re like us, at some point you may have had an engineering teacher force you to sketch your ideas out on paper, rather than in software. Or maybe you went to a university that required engineering students take a drawing/drafting class, where the first few weeks, you’re only allowed to use paper and pencil.

It may seem silly that in today’s age that one would choose to sketch an idea out by hand, but one simple drawing can communicate an idea quickly and easily – and that’s key. After all, the biggest part of engineering is communication.

If you’re a bit older you may remember a staple in every engineering office was the green graph paper – some people called it an “Engineer’s Notepad.” It’s basically perfect for jotting down an idea. Thick lined graph paper on the back of each page that lets the lines be visible on the front, without being distracting. It’s becoming harder and harder to find at your local office supply place, but if you search for “Ampad Engineering Pad” you’ll still find it. (There is also a “National” brand that this writer prefers.)

If you’re in a pinch, or don’t want to pay for a full pad, we found a wonderful alternative. This online graph paper generator will allow you to make your own graph paper, and even customize it to suit your needs. With things like multi-weight lines, and polar graphs and much more. The result is a PDF file you can download and keep for the future. Or if you’re a bit crafty, you can add your own logo in an vector-type editing  program such as Inkscape for free.

Still need some pointers on how to using this for project planning? [Steve] sets the standard for graph-paper project planning.

Disassembled Mouse Keeps Track Of Gas Meter

After building devices that can read his home’s electricity usage, [Dave] set out to build something that could measure the other energy source to his house: his gas line. Rather than tapping into the line and measuring the gas directly, his (much safer) method was to simply monitor the gas meter itself.

The major hurdle that [Dave] had to jump was dealing with an ancient meter with absolutely no modern electronics like some other meters have that make this job a little easier. The meter has “1985” stamped on it which might be the manufacturing date, but for this meter even assuming that it’s that new might be too generous. In any event, the only option was to build something that could physically watch the spinning dial. To accomplish this, [Dave] used the sensor from an optical mouse.

The sensor is surrounded by LEDs which illuminate the dial. When the dial passes a certain point, the sensor alerts an Arduino that one revolution has occurred. Once the Arduino has this information, the rest is a piece of cake. [Dave] used KiCad to design the PCB and also had access to a laser cutter for the enclosure. It’s a great piece of modern technology that helps integrate old analog technology into the modern world. This wasn’t [Dave]’s first energy monitoring system either; be sure to check out his electricity meter that we featured a few years ago.

Retrotechtacular: Building Hammond Organ Tones

Here’s a short film made by the Hammond Organ Company with the intent to educate and persuade potential consumers. Right away we are assured that Hammond organs are the cream of the crop for two simple reasons: the tone generator that gives them that unique Hammond sound, and the great care taken at every step of their construction.

Hammond organs have ninety-one individual electromagnetic tone wheel assemblies. Each of these generate a specific frequency based on the waviness of a spinning disk’s edge and the speed at which it is rotated in front of an electromagnet. By using the drawbars to stack up harmonics, an organist can build lush walls of sound.

No cost is spared in Hammond’s tireless pursuit of excellence. All transformers are wound in-house and then sealed in wax to make them impervious to moisture. Each tone wheel is cut to exacting tolerances, cross-checked, and verified by an audio specialist. The assembly and fine tuning of the tone generators is so carefully performed that Hammond alleges they’ll never need tuning again.

This level of attention isn’t limited to the guts of the instrument. No, the cabinetry department is just as meticulous. Only the highest-quality lumber is carefully dried, cut, sanded, and lacquered by hand, then rubbed to a high shine. Before it leaves the shop, every Hammond organ is subject to rigorous inspection and a performance test in a soundproofed room.

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