A simpler sous-vide hack

Here are the contronl modules for a sous-vide project over at Nerdkits. [Humberto] and crew continue doing a great job of focusing a project on one goal, then explaining the steps needed to get there. In this case they wanted to build their own sous-vide appliance that was cheap, and didn’t really require the user to deal with mains voltage. We like it because most of the parts can be found at a hardware store and big box store.

He started with a slow cooker, which is pretty standard. Next he needed a way to switch power to the device. Instead of using a solid state relay, he went for a standard dimmer switch. It’s build into a double gang electrical box, and controls an outlet which is occupying the second position in that box. Now current to the slow cooker is limited by the position of the dimmer. The next task was to add a cardboard frame which marries a servo motor to the dimmer’s knob.

With the control scheme in place [Humberto] needed a feedback sensor. He built his own water proof temperature probe by covering an LM34 temperature sensor with shrink tube and sealing the ends. Just one probe in the cooking water isn’t very reliable so he added a second between the slow cooker’s base and ceramic vessel to improve the performace of the PID algorithm. He goes into detail about that in the video after the break.

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Browser-based circuit simulator boasts a mountain of features

CircuitLab is an electronics simulator which you can run in a browser. Above you can see one of the example circuits provided to help show the power of the application. You can build your schematic (perhaps you want to try [Jeri's] psu shut-off timer?) in the editor mode, then switch over to the simulator to get data back from the components. In that mode, your cursor becomes a probe, and clicking on different parts of the circuit will return the calculated input and output voltages for that component. But wait, there’s more. It’s got time and frequency simulation in addition to the voltage simulator. This lets you look at waveforms fed through analog filters, or timing data like in the 555 timer circuit above.

Where does this fantastic tool come from? [Humberto Evans] and [Mike Robbins], the guys behind NerdKits developed this site. We’ve seen a lot of their hacks around here, like milling solenoids and making them play a xylophone. Check out the CircuitLab quick start video they put together after the break. [Read more...]

Talking digital calipers make engineering more accessible

talking-digital-calipers

The team over at NerdKits recently put together a device aimed to help make the process of measuring things more accessible to those with disabilities. [Terry Garrett] is a Mechanical Engineering student, and as anyone who is in the field knows, it’s a discipline which requires taking tons of measurements. Since [Terry] cannot see he was often asking classmates to assist in measuring items during labs, but when he got a job at a nearby design studio, he knew he would have to find a way to take those measurements on his own.

Enter NerdKits.

[Humberto] wrote in to share how he and his team built a set of talking digital calipers to assist [Terry] in his daily tasks. They based the design off a previous project they worked on, getting digital readout data from a set of calipers. The DRO information is fed into an ATmega382p, which pieces together pre-recorded sound bites to announce the size of the object being measured.

As you can see in the video below, the system looks to work very well, and [Terry] is quite pleased with his new talking tool. We love seeing these sorts of hacks, because they truly make a difference in people’s lives – excellent job!

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Halloween Hacks: Scaring small children with Huffman coding

The team over at NerdKits decided they needed to do something for Halloween. Only on Halloween is scaring small children is an admirable goal, so they demoed a way to play creepy sounds after a door has been opened.

To trigger the sound, a magnetic reed switch from an alarm system is attached to a front door. This triggers the microcontroller and with a bit of delay, some creepy audio can be played on a pair of speakers. The team decided to store all the audio data on the flash memory of their ATmega328p, but that wouldn’t allow for a very long scream. To extend the length of the wails of the damned, the NerdKits team decided to use Huffman coded audio.

Because Huffman coding relies on the most common value being assigned the shortest code, the team used a bit of Python and C magic to figure out the optimal encoding for their audio file. After the evil laugh was sufficiently compressed, the microcontroller was programmed to decode the audio and send it to a pair of speakers. The team made all the software for their project available here for your perusal.

Although this project could be thrown together in an hour with an Arduino and an MP3 shield, the NerdKits team wants to get kids to learn how things work, also an admirable goal. [Humberto] from NerdKits put a video up explaining the theory of the project. Check it out after the break.

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Make your own solenoids, then play the xylophone

Learn to manufacture your own solenoids and then use them to play the xylophone by watching the tutorial video after the break. [Humberto Evans] and the team at Nerd Kits do a great job of not only manufacturing the coils, but the xylophone itself. The bars are machined from some aluminum stock and they take you down the rabbit hole with they why’s and how’s of engineering the keys.

We’re unlikely to replicate this machining process but the solenoids are another story all together. Starting at about 3:30 you can learn about designing, building, and using these little marvels. They’re basically an electromagnetic cuff with a metal slug in the middle. The solenoid seen above uses a body milled from HDPE and wrapped with magnet wire. The slug in the center is steel, with a few rare-earth magnets at the top. When you run current through the coil it repulses the magnets on the slug, witch then strikes the xylophone key. Using a MOSFET and a protection diode, actuating them is as simple as sending a digital high from your microcontroller of choice.

We’ve seen solenoids used to play a vibrophone before, but those were commercial units. Making your own hardware is far more hardcore.

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AVR controlled RGB LED matrix plays Tetris

[Stan] built this LED matrix using a 16×16 grid of RGB LEDs. He built the hardware and wrote some subroutines to randomize the colors. He’s not using PWM because frame buffering is not feasible for the 1k SRAM limit of the ATmega168 he used. Instead, shift registers drive the lights which can be mixed to achieve eight different colors (including off for black) reducing the framebuffer size to just 96 bytes. After he got done with the build he realized this is sized well for a game of Tetris. We’ve seen AVR tetris, PIC Tetris, and Tetris using composite video but it’s always a pleasure to see a new display build.

After the break we’ve embedded [Stan's] demo video, several pictures, and a schematic. He’s using many of the same principles outlined in our How to Design an LED matrix tutorial.

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Human Theremin, one step closer to cyborgs (not really)

Oh [Humberto], what will you think up next? A human Theremin you say, and it’s for Halloween? Certanly this will blow last years creepy capacitance sensing jack-o-lantern out of the water right? Eh, not really, but still cool none-the-less. By using pairs of IR LEDs and IR photo-transistors, [Humberto] makes a simplistic distance sensor. Then its just a matter of converting that light value into sound, which is accomplished by using some very clever PWM square wave hacking to make a triangle wave. Also, [Humberto] goes over the process of using fast integers to represent slow floating point numbers. While none of the project is really a new concept, it certainly is put into an easy perspective so anyone can try their hand at it. All well worth the read, or you can catch a video after the jump.

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