Paper Topo Models with Vector Cutter

If there’s a science fair coming up, this trumps just about any 2D poster. It’s a 3D topographical map of an inactive Slovakian volcano, Poľana. [Peter Vojtek] came up an easy way to generate SVG topo patterns using Ruby.

Topographical data is available through the MapQuest API. You should be able to model just about any part of the world, but areas with the greatest elevation difference are going to yield the most interesting results. The work starts by defining a rectangular area using map coordinates and deciding the number of steps (sheets of paper representing this rectangle). The data are then chopped up into tables for each slice, converted to SVG points, and a file is spit out for the blade cutting machine. Of course you could up the game and laser cut these from more substantial stock. If you have tips for laser-cutting paper without singing the edges let us know. We’ve mostly seen failure when trying that.

The red model explained in [Peter’s] writeup uses small cross-pieces to hold the slices. We like the look of the Blue model which incorporates those crosses in the elevation representation. He doesn’t explain that specifically but it should be easy to figure out — rotate the rectangle and perform the slicing a second time, right?

If you’re looking for more fun with topography we’ve always been fond of [Caroline’s] bathymetric book.

Energia Multitasking uses RTOS on MSP432

We keep wondering where the Arduino world is headed with the hardware getting more and more powerful. If the IDE doesn’t keep up what’s the point? Now we have at least one answer to that problem. Energia is the Arduino-like-framework for Texas Instruments based boards. They just came out with a multitasking system built into Energia targeted at the ARM Cortex-M4F based MSP432 Launchpad which we covered a few weeks back.

The announcement post gives a couple of examples of uses for multitasking. The simplest is blinking LEDs at different rates. If you wanted to do this closer to the metal you’re talking about multiple timers, or multiple compares on a single timer, perhaps a interrupt-driven-system-tick that has a high enough resolution for a wide range of your blinking needs. But these are not always easy to set up unless you are intimately comfortable with this particular architecture. The Energia multitasking will handle this for you. It’s upon the TI Real Time Operating System (TI-RTOS) but wraped in the familiar IDE.

The UI divorces you from thinking about the hardware at all. You simply launch a new tab and start coding as if you’re using a completely separate piece of hardware. The announcement post linked above mentions that these Sketches are running “in parallel”. Well… we know it’s not a multi-core system like the Propeller but we’ll let it slide. It is certainly easier than building your own scheduler for this type of hardware.

[Thanks MycoWx]

“Easy Bake” Vacuformer

One of our favorite things about Hackerspaces is people tend to spend a lot of time building tools, or repairing/upgrading older ones. This is a case of the former. The vacuum former.

[Adam] wrote in to tell us about this vacuum forming machine which he and few other members built for FizzPOP, a hackerspace in Birmingham, England. The device is used to suck hot sagging plastic around a mold. This is accomplished in two parts, the vacuum table and the heating mechanism to put the sheet of plastic into that sagging state.

vacuum-forming-signThe vacuum part of these tools has been easy to DIY for a long time. Pegboard makes for a very good table surface, with some type of vacuum motor (usually a shopvac or two) in an enclosure below the surface. This design adheres to that common formula.

On the other hand, the heating mechanism is more difficult to solve. The plastic is unwieldy and fragile when hot so a frame is very common. Following the example of commercially available models, the FizzPOP crew built a frame that slides along four vertical rails (envision table legs) extending above the vacuum surface. These legs also hold up the heating element. Often this is a nichrome wire array, but not this time. They went with an array of 70 halogen bulbs in a 10×7 orientation. A PCB was milled for each, with a system of bus-bars connecting them all. The trial run showed that the intensity of the bulbs made hotspots directly below each. But a bit more testing helped them solve the issue by keeping the frame further from the array in the heating phase.

The team’s 13-seconds of fame are found after the break. A black sheet of High-Impact Polystyrene (HIPS) is formed around a compilation of tools spelling out the name of the hackerspace.

Continue reading ““Easy Bake” Vacuformer”

You Betta’ Recognize the Aluminum Beverage Can

He’s back, [Bill Hammack] aka The Engineer Guy. He has a habit of revealing how the ordinary is extraordinary with a meticulous unveiling of all the engineering that goes into a thing. This time around it’s the aluminum beverage can. You might know it as a soda can, a beer can, or a salt-free air can. But we challenge you find someone who isn’t intimately familiar with these containers.

We know what you’re thinking: you already saw how these come into being on an episode of How It’s Made. You’re wrong. We saw that episode too. But just give [Bill] a few minutes of your time and he’ll suck you in for the rest of the episode. Now the die-forming of the base and side-wall, we’ll give it to you that you know what that’s all about. But then [Bill] busts into the history of these containers, citing the aluminum savings through reducing the top diameter of the can. He rounds it out with a celebration of the ingenuity of the modern “stay-on” tab which should make your glasses fall off with excitement.

If this is your first time hearing of The Engineer Guy you have a delightful weekend ahead of you. Binge watch his entire back cataolog! Our favorites include an analysis of a mechanical Fourier computer and the concepts involved in color anodization. We even read his book.

Continue reading “You Betta’ Recognize the Aluminum Beverage Can”

1768 LEDs, Because 96 Just Wasn’t Enough

Some people would look at a massive 6’x4′ LED matrix hanging on the wall playing animations and be happy with the outcome. But [Ben] just isn’t one of those people. The original FLED (Fantastic LED thingy) was eight rows of twelve addressable LEDs for a total of 96 pixels. This spring he upped his game and retrofitted the display with 1768 LEDs.

It wasn’t simply an issue of restlessness, the original build suffered from LEDs dying. We actually featured it for that reason as a Fail of the Week.  This is not strictly a hobby project, it’s hanging on the wall in the Supplyframe offices, so pulling it down frequently to fix broken parts is not ideal.

fled-reborn-LED-layoutTo make FLED more reliable [Ben] sourced strips of the new APA102 LEDs which we looked at back in December. They use an SPI bus instead of the bizarre timing scheme of the WS2812. At first glance you’d think this would mean easier assembly compared to soldering both sides of each of the original 96-pixels. These do come in strips, but laying out 52×34 still means soldering to the ends of each row.

A lot of love went into making sure those rows were laid out perfectly. A sheet of white foamed PVC serves as the substrate. There is grounding braid on either end of the rows, one is the voltage bus, the other is ground. It fits the original enclosure which is acrylic and does a great job of diffusing the light. I’ve seen it in person and it looks pretty much perfect!

It’s not just the physical layout of this many pixels that is a challenge. Pushing the data to all of them is much harder than it was with 96. [Ben] transitioned away from RaspberryPi. He considered using a Teensy 3.1 and ESP8266 but the WiFi of these cheap modules is far too slow to push frame information from a remote box. In the end it’s a BeagleBone Black that drives the reborn display. This is a great choice since there’s plenty of power under the hood and a traditional (and much faster) WiFi dongle can be used.

Don’t miss the animation demos found after the break.

Continue reading “1768 LEDs, Because 96 Just Wasn’t Enough”

Moore’s Law of Raspberry Pi Clusters

[James J. Guthrie] just published a rather formal announcement that his 4-node Raspberry Pi cluster greatly outperforms a 64-node version. Of course the differentiating factor is the version of the hardware. [James] is using the Raspberry Pi 2 while the larger version used the Model B.

We covered that original build almost three years ago. It’s a cluster called the Iridris Pi supercomputer. The difference is a 700 MHz single core versus the 900 Mhz quad-core with double-the ram. This let [James] benchmark his four-node-wonder at 3.048 gigaflops. You’re a bit fuzzy about what a gigaflops is exactly? So were we… it’s a billion floating point operations per second… which doesn’t matter to your human brain. It’s a ruler with which you can take one type of measurement. This is triple the performance at 1/16th the number of nodes. The cost difference is staggering with the Iridris ringing in at around £2500 and the light-weight 4-node built at just £120. That’s more than an order of magnitude.

Look, there’s nothing fancy to see in [James’] project announcement. Yet. But it seems somewhat monumental to stand back and think that a $35 computer aimed at education is being used to build clusters for crunching Ph.D. level research projects.

RadioShack Demise Could Signal the Rise of Mom-and-Pop

No matter how you feel about RadioShack, for many hackers it was the one place that components could be sourced locally. Upon hearing that the stores are being shuttered (at least for those seeking non-cellphone items) we wondered if someone would rise to meet the maker market. The answer may actually be mom-and-pops — independent stores owned by people passionate about hacking and making.

tinker-and-twist-boothAt SXSW Create in March the Hackaday booth was right next door one such establishment. [Martin Bogomolni] is hard at work launching his brick and mortar store called Tinker & Twist. In the video below he speaks briefly about the concept of the store, which focuses on curating the best products and tools available and stocking them locally.

The store will be located in a shopping mall in Austin, Texas. But it takes about 100 days launch a storefront considering the permits and build-out. [Martin] decided to take the store to the hackers by exhibiting (and selling products) at SXSW Create. How else would you do this than by building a store-front as your booth? The store’s sign was CNC routed from rigid foam, and combined with a set of columns and storefront window. We stopped by late on the last day of the event and they had been having a great weekend. What started as a very well stocked set of shelves looked nearly bare.

Tinker & Twist is just the most recent in a growing trend of standalone stores focusing on hackers and makers. Our friends at Deezmaker in Pasadena, CA gave us tour last year. They’ve married the concepts of hackerspace, small-run manufacturer (in the form of their 3D printers), and retail store all-in-one. These types of examples make us quite happy — it’s been years since RadioShack was tightly focused on those actually building things. We hope to see more stores like Tinker & Twist up and running to support and enhance hacker communities everywhere.