Hackaday Prize Entry: Cheap Visible Light Communication

[Jovan] is very excited about the possibilities presented by Visible Light Communication, or VLC. It’s exciting and new. His opening paragraphs is filled with so many networking acronyms that VLC could be used for, our browser search history now looks like we’re trying to learn english without any vowels.

In lots of ways he has good reason to be excited. We all know that IR can communicate quite a bit, but when you’re clever about frequency and color and throw in some polarizers with a mix of clever algorithms for good measure you can get some very high bandwidth communication with anything in line of site. You can do it for low power, and best of all, there are no pesky regulations to stand in your way.

He wants to build a system that could be used for a PAN (Personal Area Network). To do this he’ll have to figure out a way to build the system inexpensively and using less than a watt of power. The project page is full of interesting experiments and quite a few thesis on the subject of LEDs.

For example, he’s done work on how LEDs respond to polarization. He’s tested how fast an LED can actually turn on and off while still being able to detect the change. He’s also done a lot of work characterizing the kind of light that an LED emits. We don’t know if he’ll succeed yet, but we like the interesting work he’s doing to get there.

Interesting Switch Autopsy

We put a lot of trust into some amazingly cheap components, sometimes that trust is very undeserved. Long gone are the days when every electronic component was a beautifully constructed precision lab instrument.  As [Rupert Hirst] shows, this can be a hard lesson to learn for even the biggest companies.

[Rupert]’s Nexus 5 was suffering from a well known reboot issue. He traced it to the phone’s power switch. It was always shorting to ground, even though it clicked like it was supposed to.

He desoldered the switch and pried the delicate sheet metal casing apart. Inside were four components. A soft membrane with a hard nub on the bottom, presumably engineered to give the switch that quality feeling. Next were two metal buckles that produced the click and made contact with the circuit board, which is the final component.

He noticed something odd and  busted out his USB microscope. The company had placed a blob of solder on the bottom buckle. We think this is because steel on copper contact would lead to premature failure of the substrate, especially with the high impact involved during each switching event.

The fault lay in the imprecise placement of the solder blob. If it had been perfectly in the middle, and likely many phones that never showed the issue had it there, the issue would have never shown up. Since it was off-center, the impact of each switching event slowly deposited thin layers of solder onto the copper and fiberglass. Finally it built up enough to completely short the switch.

Interestingly, this exact problem shows up across different phone manufacturers, somewhere there’s a switch company with a killer sales team out there.

Hackaday Prize Entry: BunnyBot Helps Out All On Its Own

[Jack Qiao] wanted an autonomous robot that could be handy around an ever-changing shop. He didn’t want a robot he’d have to baby sit. If he said, ‘bring me the 100 ohm resistors’, it would go find and bring them to him.

He iterated a bit, and ended up building quite a nice robot platform for under a thousand dollars. It’s got a realsense camera and a rangefinder from a Neato robotic vacuum. In addition to a mircrophone, it has a whole suite of additional sensors in its base, which is a stripped down robotic vacuum from a Korean manufacturer. A few more components come together to give it an arm and a gripper.

The thinking is done on a  Nvidia Jetson TK1 board. The cores on the integrated graphics card are used to perform faster computer vision calculations. The software is all ROS based.

As can be seen in the video after the break. The robot uses SLAM techniques to successfully navigate and complete tasks such as fetch resistors, get water, and more. [Jack Qiao] is happy with his robot, and we would be too.

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Books You Should Read: Engineer to Win By Carroll Smith

One problem with engineering education today is a lack of experimental teaching. Oh sure you may have a project or two, but it’s not the focus of the program because it’s hard to standardize a test around. Typically sections of the field are taught in a highly focused theoretical course by a professor or graduate student with a specialization in that section. Because classes treat individual subject areas, it’s entirely possible to get a really good understanding of two pieces of the same puzzle, but never realize that they fit together to make a picture. It’s only when a freshly minted engineer gets out into the real world that they start to make the connections between seemingly disparate fields of knowledge.

This is why Carroll Smith’s book “Engineer to Win” is so good. He spent a lifetime as a practicing engineer in a field where a small failure could mean the death of a friend. So when he set out to write a book, he wrote a book that related everything needed to properly conceptualize and solve the mechanical engineering problems in his field.

One warning though; the book is not for the faint of heart. If you want to learn something difficult well, then this is book for you. Carroll skips the comforting analogies and gives the information exactly. It can get a little dense, but he makes the assumption that the reader is there to learn and, most importantly, understand. This takes work.

2016-08-01_02h06_34For example, you can’t really understand why a rolled bolt is stronger than a bolt cut on a screw machine until you understand how metal works on a crystalline level. The same goes for metal fatigue, brittle fractures, ductile failures, and all the maladies that metal can suffer. The difference between an engineer and a technician is this deep understanding. Otherwise the equations learned are just parts in a toolbox and not paint on an artist’s palette.

This is why the first half of the book is dominated by all things metallurgical. The book starts with the simple abstractions of the crystalline structures of metal. Unlike my materials class in university, it maintains a practical bend to the presentation of the information throughout the whole process. For example, it moves on to what all this practically means for metals undergoing stresses and failures before it launches into a (short) digression on how metals are made and their history.

However, if racecar plumbing is your thing his treastise, "Carroll Smith's Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners and Plumbing Handbook" is also fantastic.
However, if racecar plumbing and fasteners are kinda your thing, “Carroll Smith’s Nuts, Bolts, Fasteners and Plumbing Handbook” is also a fantastic read.

This first half of the book touches on non-ferrous metals and their proper use as well. After that comes some of the best explanations of metal fatigue, fasteners, and metal bonding I’ve ever read. When the failure of a joint causes a mechanism to fail in a toaster that’s one thing, but when it fails in a racecar people get hurt. Carroll is very exacting in what constitutes a forgivable oversight in engineering, and what does not.

Once the book has finished conveying a working understanding of metals and fasteners it seems to fracture into a pot-luck of different racecar-related topics. During my first reading of the book I resisted this strange turn of events. For example, I didn’t really want to read about racecar plumbing in the eighties, or what kind of springs and aerofoils Carroll likes. However, when I reread those sections in a more focused manner, I realized that many of them were teaching the practical application of the knowledge learned in the previous chapters. How does the metal make a good spring? Why is one kind of plumbing better than another?

Importantly, the anecdotes at the end of the book impart an understanding of the importance of professionalism in engineering. What is the true responsibility of an engineer? He teaches not to take the trust others place in your skills for granted. He teaches to trust in the skills of others. The book teaches humility as an engineer. He shows the kind of person one can become after a lifetime of earnest study in their craft.

Thanks to reader, [Dielectric], for recommending the book to me. Also, from the bit of research I’ve done, the older motorworks edition is generally considered to have better quality reproductions of the diagrams than the newer printings of the book.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Magic Bit-Of-Wire Motion Detector Library For Arduino

We’re still not sure exactly how [connornishijima]’s motion detector works, though many readers offered plausible explanations in the comments the last time we covered it. It works well enough, though, and he’s gone and doubled down on the Arduino way and bundled it up nicely into a library.

In the previous article we covered [connor] demonstrating the motion detector. Something about the way the ADC circuit for the Arduino is wired up makes it work. The least likely theory so far involves life force, or more specifically, the Force… from Star Wars. The most likely theories are arguing between capacitance and electrostatic charge.

Either way, it was reliable enough a phenomenon that he put the promised time in and wrote a library. There’s even documentation on the GitHub. To initialize the library simply tell it which analog pin is hooked up, what the local AC frequency is (so its noise can be filtered out), and a final value that tells the Arduino how long to average values before reporting an event.

It seems to work well and might be fun to play with or wow the younger hackers in your life with your wizarding magics.

Likely Everything You Need To Know Before Adopting A Drill Press

Oh sure, the thought of owning a happy whirring drill press of your very own is exciting, but have you really thought about it? It’s a big responsibility to welcome any tool into the home, even seemingly simple ones like a drill press. Lubricants, spindle runout, chuck mounts, tramming, and more [Quinn Dunki], of no small fame, helps us understand what it needs for happy intergration into its new workshop.

[Quin] covers her own drill press adventure from the first moments it was borne into her garage from the back of a truck to its final installation. She chose one of the affordable models from Grizzly, a Washington based company that does minimal cursory quality control on import machinery before passing on the cost to the consumer.

The first step after inspection and unpacking was to remove all the mysterious lubricants and protectants from the mill and replace them with quality alternatives. After the press is set-up she covers some problems that may be experience and their workarounds. For example, the Morse taper on the chuck had a few rough spots resulting in an incomplete fit. The chuck would work itself loose during heavier drilling operations. She works through the discovery and repair of this defect.

Full of useful tips like tramming the drill press and recommended maintenance, this is one of the best guides on this workshop staple that we’ve read.

 

The Evolution of a DIY Circuit Board Plotter

In this three part video series we watch [Dirk Herrendoerfer] go from scraps to a nice 3D printed assembly as he iterates through the design of a pen plotter for making circuit boards.

[dana] mentioned [Dirk]’s work in the comments of this post which describes a different process. Many permanent markers stick to copper well enough to last through the chemical etching process. While hand drawing definitely produces some cool, organic-looking boards, for sharp lines and SMDs it gets a bit harder; to the point where it becomes advisable to just let a robot do it.

Of course, [Dirk] was aware of this fact of life. He just didn’t have a robot on hand. He did have some electronic detritus, fishing line, an Arduino, scrap wood, brass tubes, and determination.  The first version‘s frame consisted of wooden blocks set on their ends with holes drilled to accept brass rods. The carriage was protoboard and hot glue. Slightly larger brass tubing served as bushings and guide. As primitive as it was the plotter performed admirably, albeit slowly.

The second version was a mechanical improvement over the first, but largely the same. The software got a nice improvement. It worked better and had some speed to it.

The latest version has some fancy software upgrades; such as acceleration. The frame has gone from random bits of shop trash to a nicely refined 3D printed assembly. Even the steppers have been changed to the popular 28BYJ-48 series. All the files, software and hardware, are available on GitHub. The three videos are viewable after the break. It’s a great example of what a good hacker can put together for practically no money.

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