Rushing the Design and Construction of LED Centerpieces

‘Dragon Flame’ RGB LED table centerpieces, by [Alex Lao]
Sometimes the most important thing is getting something done.

[Alex Lao] was recently in such a situation. His sister was getting married and he designed, built, and delivered twenty RGB LED table centerpieces in a rush. There were no prototypes made, and when the parts arrived all twenty were built all at once over a single weekend. These table centerpieces are illuminated by RGB LEDs and battery-powered, but have an option to be powered by a wall adapter.

[Alex] helpfully shared some tips on reducing the production risks and helping ensure results in such a limited time frame. His advice boils down to this: reduce the unknowns. For Alex this meant re-using code and components from a previous project — even if they were not optimal — so that known-good schematic and footprint libraries could be used for the design.

From one perspective, the PIC32 microcontroller inside each lamp is overkill for an LED centerpiece. From another perspective, it was in fact the perfect part to use because it was the fastest way for [Alex] to get the devices working with no surprises.

For an added perspective on needing to get production right the first time on a much larger scale, be sure to check out getting an installation made up of 25,000 PCBs right the first time.

ColibriNANO USB SDR Receiver Reviewed

At first glance, the ColibriNANO SDR looks like another cheap SDR dongle. But after watching [Mile Kokotov’s] review (see video below), you can see that it was built specifically for software defined radio service. When [Mile] takes the case off, you notice the heavy metal body which you don’t see on the typical cheap dongle. Of course, a low-end RTL-SDR is around $20. The ColibriNANO costs about $300–so you’d hope you get what you pay for.

The frequency range is nominally 10 kHz to 55 MHz, although if you use external filters and preamps you can get to 500 MHz. In addition to a 14-bit 122.88 megasample per second A/D converter, the device sports an Altera MAX10 FPGA.

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A Hypnotizing Interactive Art Piece for Visualizing Color Theory

Digital color theory can be a tricky concept to wrap one’s mind around – particularly if you don’t have experience with digital art. The RGB color model is about as straightforward as digital color mixing gets: you simply set the intensity of red, green, and blue individually. The result is the mixing of the three colors, based on their individual intensity and the combined wavelength of all three. However, this still isn’t nearly as intuitive as mixing paint together like you did in elementary school.

To make RGB color theory more tangible, [Tore Knudsen and Justin Daneman] set out to build a system for mixing digital colors in a way that reflects physical paint mixing. Their creation uses three water-filled containers (one each for red, green, and blue) to adjust the color on the screen. The intensity of each color is increased by pouring more water into the corresponding container, and decreased by removing water with a syringe.

An Arduino is used to detect the water levels, and controls what the user sees on the screen. In one mode, the user can experiment with how the color levels affect the way a picture looks. The game mode is even more interesting, with the goal being to mix colors to match a randomly chosen color that is displayed on the screen.

The practical applications for this project may be somewhat limited, but as an interactive art piece it’s hypnotizing. And, it may just help you with understanding RGB colors for your next project.

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Push Button, Receive Beverage!

Here’s a rec-room ready hack: an automatic drink dispenser.

[truebassB]’s dispenser operates around a 555 timer, adjusted by a potentiometer. Push a button and a cup pours in a few seconds, or hold the other button to dispense as much as you want.

The dispenser is made from MDF and particle board glued together, with some LEDs and paper prints to spruce it up. Just don’t forget a small spill sink for any miscalculated pours. You needn’t fret over the internals either, as the parts are easily acquired: a pair of momentary switches, a 12V micro air pump, a brass nozzle, food-safe pvc tube,  a custom 555 timing circuit — otherwise readily available online — a toggle switch, a power supply plug plus adapter and a 12V battery.

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A Modular Open-Source AV Receiver

Hi-Fi hasn’t changed much in decades. OK, we’ll concede that’s something of a controversial statement to make in that of course your home hi-fi has changed immensely over the years. Where once you might have had a turntable and a cassette deck you probably now have a streaming media player, and a surround sound processor, for example.

But it’s still safe to say that hi-fi reproduction hasn’t changed much in decades. You can still hook up the latest audio source to an amplifier and speakers made decades ago, and you’ll still enjoy great sound.

Not so though, if instead of a traditional amplifier you bought an AV receiver with built-in amplifier and processing. This is a fast-moving corner of the consumer electronics world, and the lifetime of a device before its interfaces and functionality becomes obsolete can often be measured in only a few years.

To [Andrew Bolin], this makes little sense. His solution has some merit, he’s produced a modular open-source AV processor in which the emphasis is on upgradeability to keep up with future developments rather than on presenting a black box to the user which will one day be rendered useless by the passage of time.

His design revolves around a backplane which accepts daughter cards for individual functions, and a Raspberry Pi to do the computational heavy lifting. So far he has made a proof-of-concept which takes in HDMI audio and outputs S/PDIF audio to his DAC, but plans are in hand for further modules. We can see that this could become the hub of a very useful open-source home entertainment system.

If you make one, please remember to enhance it with our own sound-improving accessory.

A Full Stack GPS Receiver

The usual way of adding GPS capabilities to a project is grabbing an off-the-shelf GPS module, plugging it into a UART, and reading the stream of NMEA sentences coming out of a serial port. Depending on how much you spend on a GPS module, this is fine: the best modules out there start up quickly, and a lot of them recognize the logical AND in ITAR regulations.

For [Mike], grabbing an off-the-shelf module is out of the question. He’s building his own GPS receiver from the ground up using a bit of hardware and FPGA hacking. Already he’s getting good results, and he doesn’t have to futz around with those messy, ‘don’t build ballistic missiles’ laws.

The hardware for this build includes a Kiwi SDR ‘cape’ for the BeagleBone and a Digilent Nexus-2 FPGA board. The SDR board captures raw 1-bit samples taken at 16.268 MHz, and requires a full minute’s worth of data to be captured. That’s at least 120 Megabytes of data for the FPGA to sort through.

The software for this project first acquires the GPS signal by finding the approximate frequency and phase. The software then locks on to the carrier, figures out the phase, and receives the 50bps ‘NAV’ message that’s required to find a position solution for the antenna’s location. The first version of this software was exceptionally slow, taking over 6 hours to process 200 seconds of data. Now, [Mike] has improved the channel tracking code and made it 300 times faster. That’s real-time processing of GPS data, using commodity off-the-shelf hardware. All the software is available on the Gits, making this a project that can very easily be replicated by anyone. We would expect the US State Department or DOD to pay [Mike] a visit shortly.

Of course, this isn’t the first time someone has built a GPS receiver from scratch. A few years ago, less than 1-meter accuracy was possible with an FPGA and a homebrew RF board.

Two-Piece Boxes Thanks to Laser-Cut Flex Hinges

It sounds like a challenge from a [Martin Gardner] math puzzle from the Scientific American of days gone by: is it possible to build a three-dimensional wooden box with only two surfaces? It turns out it is, if you bend the rules and bend the wood to make living hinge boxes with a laser cutter.

[Martin Raynsford] clearly wasn’t setting out to probe the limits of topology with these boxes, but they’re a pretty neat trick nonetheless. The key to these boxes is the narrow to non-existent kerf left by a laser cutter that makes interference fits with wood a reality. [Martin]’s design leverages the slot and tab connection we’re used to seeing in laser-cut boxes, but adds a living flex-hinge to curve each piece of plywood into a U-shape. The two pieces are then nested together like those old aluminum hobby enclosures from Radio Shack. His GitHub has OpenSCAD scripts to parametrically create two different styles of two-piece boxes so you can scale it up or (somewhat) down according to your needs. There’s also a more traditional three-piece box, and any of them might be a great choice for a control panel or small Arduino enclosure. And as a bonus, the flex-hinge provides ventilation.

Need slots and tabs for boxes but you’re more familiar with FreeCAD? These parametric scripts will get you started, and we’ll bet you can port the flex-hinge bit easily, too.