Make Awesome, Win Smoothieboard

If you haven’t looked around the RepRap project in a while, you probably haven’t heard about the Smoothieboard. It’s an extremely unique electronics board for 3D printers, laser cutters, and CNC machines that is trying to get away from Atmel and AVR microcontrollers and towards more powerful ARM micros. On the Smoothieboard, you’ll find enough five motor drivers, six big ‘ol MOSFETs for hot ends, fans, and beds, enough thermistor inputs for just about anything, and an Ethernet jack, because all 3D printers should be able to run headless.

The team behind the Smoothieboard has decided there’s not enough awesome included in the Smoothieboard already. To fix this, they’re opening up a contest where coders, documentarians, graphic artists, and creatives of all types can contribute to the Smoothieboard project. What’s the prize? A Smoothieboard, duh.

The Smoothieboard team is looking for a few good coders, builders, or anyone else to contribute to the Smoothieboard project. If you have an idea that would work with the Smoothieboard – a web interface like Octoprint running on the Smoothieboard, better documentation, graphics, or just want to build a five-axis CNC mill, this is where you sign up. The prize is a Smoothieboard 5XC, the top of the line board with five motor drivers.

Of course you’re always welcome to not contribute to open source projects, and for those consummate consumers, we have the Smoothieboard 5XC available in the Hackaday Store.

You have until February 15th to come up with a great project idea for a Smoothieboard. The best 30 project ideas will be chosen, and those projects will get a Smoothieboard. Actually building a project in a month isn’t a condition of the contest; the best idea wins.

New Part Day: Three-dimensional USB Connectors

There’s an old joke that says USB cables do not exist in three-dimensional Euclidian space. Try to plug a USB cable in a socket, and the first try will always be wrong. Flip it, try to plug it in, and that will also be wrong. You will only succeed on the third try, and this is proof that USB connectors exist in higher planes of reality with arcane geometries. The joke is as old as the Pythagoreans, who venerated USB connectors as gods.

The waveform has collapsed, the gods profaned, and USB connectors that exist in only three dimensions have arrived. We’re talking, of course, about reversible USB Type A connector that will plug in the first time, every time. No need for electromancy or the “looking on the cable for the USB logo and plugging it in with that side up” method used by tech plebeians.

This discovery came after going through my daily roundup of crowdfunding press releases, eventually landing me on this idiotic project. It’s a USB charge cable that’s supposed to charge your phone twice as fast, despite the fact that charging speed is a function of current, and that’s determined by whatever you’re charging from, not the cable. Terrible idea, but they do have something interesting: a three-dimensional USB connector.

connUSBThe connector isn’t the brand new USB 3.1 Type C connector that will eventually find its way into phones, laptops, wearables of all types. This is your standard Type A USB plug you’ve known and loved for the past eighteen years. The difference here is that the chunky block of plastic that has made the common USB cable non-reversible for so many years is gone. In its place is a tiny strip of plastic that has contacts on both sides. Yes, it took nearly two decades for someone to figure out this would be a marketable idea.

While searching for a source for these three-dimensional USB connectors, the only source I could come up with was Wurth Elektronik, With Farnell/Element14 carrying a selection of connectors, a few available on Digikey, and some available on Mouser. There are even a few pre-made reversible cables available, with Tripp Lite leading the game right now.

For integrating one of these connectors into your build, there’s only one thing to watch out for: the pinout for these plugs is mirrored on each side of the thin strip of plastic going down the middle of the connector. This means your VCC and GND pins will be right next to each other, your D+ and D- signal pins right next to each other, and now you have to do your layout with eight pins instead of only four.

While it may not be groundbreaking and it makes for some confusing PCB layout work, but as told by a highly successful crowdfunding campaign, this can be a real feature for a product.

If you’ve recently come across a component, connector, or part that’s unique, interesting, or downright cool everyone should know about, send it on in and we’ll take a look at it.

Knitting In The Round

There have been a few posts on Hackaday over the years involving knitting, either by modifying an old Brother knitting machine to incorporate modern hardware, or by building a 3D printed knitting machine. All of these hacks are examples of flat knitting, and are incapable of making a seamless tube. Circular Knitic bucks that trend by using 3D printing and laser cutters to create an open source circular knitting machine.

Circular Knitic is an expansion on an earlier build that gave a new brain to old Brother knitting machines from the 70s. This build goes well beyond simple manipulation of electrons and presents an entire knitting machine specifically designed for circular knitting. It’s completely automated, so once the machine is set up, a giant tube of knit yarn is automagically created without any human intervention.

This isn’t the first completely open source knitting machine; OpenKnit can be made with aluminum extrusion, some electronics, and a few 3D printed parts. Circular Knitic is, however, the first circular knitting machine we’ve seen, and according to the Github is completely open source.

The creators of Circular Knitic, [Varvara] and [Mar] have been showing off their machine at an exhibition in Zaragoza, Spain called DOERS, where they’ll be knitting for the better part of six months. You can see some video of that below.

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PortableSDR Makes It To Kickstarter

Last year’s Hackaday Prize saw a lot of projects that were crying out to be Kickstarter Campaigns, but non has seen people throwing money at their screens quite like [Michael]’s PortableSDR. It’s a small, handheld, battery-powered shortwave software defined transceiver that can do just about everything with coverage up to 30MHz. It’s the ultimate apocalypse radio, a contender for to the throne now held by the ‘my first radio’ Baofeng, and now, finally, a campaign on Kickstarter.

The PortableSDR (now called the PSDR) started off as [Michael]’s ideal radio. It just so happened the Hackaday Prize gave him the impetus design, develop, and build the radio that would eventually land him third place in The Hackaday Prize.

The radio itself is completely self-contained and battery-powered, implementing a software defined radio on an STM32F4 processor. The design includes an LCD for the waterfall display, vector network analysis, and the ability to receive GPS.

In keeping with its ham heritage, [Michael] is offering the PSDR as a kit, with a PCB, enclosure, and all the parts you can’t get on Digikey available for a $250 pledge. Get those toaster reflow ovens warm, because there’s a lot of SMD parts in this build.

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BLDC Controller With The Teensy 3.1

[Will] is on the electric vehicle team at Duke, and this year they’re trying to finally beat a high school team. This year they’re going all out with a monocoque carbon fiber body, and since [Will] is on the electronics team, he’s trying his best by building a new brushless DC motor controller.

Last year, a rule change required the Duke team to build a custom controller, and this time around they’re refining their earlier controller by making it smaller and putting a more beginner-friendly microcontroller on board. Last years used an STM32, but this time around they’re using a Teensy 3.1. The driver itself is a TI DRV8301, a somewhat magical 3 phase 2A gate driver.

The most efficient strategy of driving a motor is to pulse the throttle a little bit and coast the rest of the time. It’s the strategy most of the other teams in the competition use, but this driver is over-engineered by a large margin. [Will] put up a video of the motor controller in action, you can check that out below.

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Arduino vs. Phidgets vs. Gadgeteer

A few days ago, we saw a dev time trial between the Arduino and Phidgets, a somewhat proprietary dev board that is many times more expensive than an Arduino. The time trial was a simple experiment to see which platform was faster to prototype simple circuits. As always in Hackaday comments, there was a ton of comments questioning the validity and bias of the test. Not wanting to let a good controversy go to waste, [Ian Lee] tossed his hat into the ring with the same dev trial with the Gadgeteer.

The Gadgeteer has the same design philosophy as Phidgets: modular components and a unique software system -the Gadgeteer is based on .NET Micro Framework – that allows you to get up and running quickly. Unlike Phidgets, the Gadgeteer is priced competitively with the Arduino, and the mainboard is priced within an order of magnitude of a single ATMega chip.

[Ian] pulled off three projects with the three development platforms: blinking a LED, moving a servo, and building a pedometer with an accelerometer. For each trial, the time taken and the price of all components were added up. Here’s the relevant graph:

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Hackaday Links: January 11, 2015

Listening tests reveal significant sound quality differences between various digital music storage technologies. Finally the audiophile press is tackling the important questions. This listening test looks at the difference between two four-bay NAS boxes, with one making the piano on Scherzo and Trio from Penguin Café Orchestra’s Union Cafe sound more Steinway-like, while another NAS makes it sound more like a Bosendörfer. Yes, your choice of digital storage medium can change the timbre of a piano. Another gem: “Additionally, the two units also had different processor architectures, which might also affect perceived audible differences.” There must be a corollary to Poe’s Law when it comes to audiophiles…

[10p6] has begun a project that can play every old Atari cartridge. Right now it’s just a few bits of plastic that fits every non-Jaguar Atari cartridge, but it’s a start.

The Android IMSI-Catcher Detector. You’ve heard about Stingrays, devices used by law enforcement that are basically fake cell towers. These Stingrays downgrade or disable the encryption present in all cellphones, allowing anyone, with or without a warrant, to listen in on any cell phone conversation. Now there’s an effort to detect these Stingrays. It’s open source, and they’re looking for volunteers.

[Rob] sent in something that’s the perfect application of projection mapping. It’s called Face Hacking, and it’s pretty much just a motion capture systems, a few projectors, a whole lot of CG work, and just a tiny bit of dubstep. It look cool, but we’re wondering what the applications would be. Theatre or some sort of performance art is the best I can come up with.

A while ago, [4ndreas] saw a 3D printed industrial robot arm. He contacted the guy for the files, but nothing came of that. [4ndreas] did what anyone should do – made his own 3D printable industrial robot arm. The main motors are NEMA 17, and printing this will take a long time. Still, it looks really, really cool.