This PCB Business Card is Logically Different

Having seen a number of PCB business cards [Will] decided to go against the more popular choice of a micro-controller based design and show some character with a logic based finite state machine. [Will] uses a single 7-segment display to scroll through the letters of his name with a state machine that outputs the desired combination of 1’s and 0’s to the LED display each time the tactile button is pushed.

[Will] uses a 4-bit counter made up of D Flip-Flops for the clock signal as a conditional input to 6 of the 4-input AND gates. He doesn’t go into the painful details of displaying each character through the process (thankfully) but he does mention that he uses the Quine-McCluskey technique for reduction instead of Boolean algebra. Since his name is 11 characters long and the 4-bit binary counter goes from 0000 to 1111 leaving 5 more pushes of the button before rolling the count back to 0000, during which time the display is left blank. [Will] kindly includes the eagle and Gerber files for your downloading pleasure over at his blog if you’re interested in getting a little deeper into the design.

Continue reading “This PCB Business Card is Logically Different”

World Maker Faire 2015: Prometheus and The New Air Quality Egg

There were plenty of projects and products to be seen at the 2015 World Maker Faire. In the maker pavilion, we found [Rocco Tuccio] showing off Prometheus, his PCB CNC router. Machines like this make prototyping circuits easy. Just place a blank piece of copper clad in the machine, load up your design, and a few minutes later you’ll have a board ready to stuff. Prometheus spspindleorts some impressive specs: 7 mil (0.18 mm) trace and space, and a Total Indicated Runout (TIR) of .0001 inches (2.5 micron). Not bad for a spindle turning 40,000 RPM. [Rocco] has spent the last two years designing this machine, and has sourced most of the parts from local US vendors. The unique part of Prometheus is the spindle design. Like many other small PCB routers, Prometheus uses a brushless quadcopter motor for power. Rather than go with a belt system, [Rocco] simplified things to a simple friction drive. The only precision parts he has to worry about are the bearings which hold the cutting bits in place. Prometheus isn’t for sale yet. [Rocco] plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign in the coming months.

 

egg1A few minutes later we ran into [Victor Aprea] from Wicked Device, showing off the Air Quality Egg V2. [Victor] and his partner [Dirk] ran the design and manufacturing side of the Air Quality Egg, which had a successful Kickstarter campaign back in 2012. The eggs from that campaign can be found online at the project’s website. [Victor and Dirk] have greatly improved on the Egg since then. The biggest update are the sensors. Sensors for ozone, nitrogen dioxide, and sulfur dioxide are now much more sensitive units from SpecSensors. These sensors don’t come cheap though. To keep costs down, [Victor and Dirk] have released three separate versions of the product with different sensor suites. On the connectivity side, the egg is now based upon Wicked Device’s Wildfire, allowing it to connect to WiFi networks. These Eggs mean business too – [Victor  and Dirk] obtained permission to co-locate a trio of eggs alongside an official New York State/EPA air quality sensing unit. The Eggs all read within 2 parts per million for carbon monoxide, and 10 parts per billion for sulfur dioxide. As with the original Egg, these devices are open source hardware. Source code is available on Wicked Device’s Github.

3D Popup Cards from 3D Photos

The world of 3D printing is growing rapidly. Some might say it’s growing layer by layer. But there was one aspect that [Ken] wanted to improve upon, and that was in the area of 3D photos. Specifically, printing a 3D pop-up-style photograph that collapses to save space so you can easily carry it around.

It’s been possible to take 3D scans of objects and render a 3D print for a while now, but [Ken] wanted something a little more portable. His 3D pop-up photographs are similar to pop-up books for children, in that when the page is unfolded a three-dimensional shape distances itself from the background.

The process works by taking a normal 3D photo. With the help of some software, sets of points that are equidistant from the camera are grouped into layers. From there, they can be printed in the old 2-dimensional fashion and then connected to achieve the 3D effect. Using a Kinect or similar device would allow for any number of layers and ways of using this method. So we’re throwing down the gauntlet — we want to see an arms-race of pop-up photographs. Who will be the one to have the most layers, and who will find a photograph subject that makes the most sense in this medium? Remember how cool those vector-cut topographical maps were? There must be a similarly impressive application for this!

[Ken] isn’t a stranger around these parts. He was previously featured for his unique weather display and his semi-real-life Mario Kart, so be sure to check those out as well.

Robot Dances on the Icy Ceiling

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is working on a robot for the exploration of Europa’s oceans. A big problem is the oceans are under a permanent ice ceiling. JPL is making that ceiling a feature with a robot that dances, okay wheels, on the ceiling.

The Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE) is, as the name says, buoyant so it floats against the ice ceiling. Two large paddle wheels allow it to drive along the ceiling.

Andy Klesh from JPL with BRUIE
Andy Klesh from JPL with BRUIE

In 2012 they took an earlier version to Barrow, Alaska for testing under the ice. While the temperatures encountered there may not match those of Europa’s frozen methane [Europa is water, also – Rud] it’s still a challenging environment for man and robot. One of the challenges for the arctic exploration team was the need to test when the ice was thin enough to make a hole. They had to proceed judiciously to avoid falling in.

Recently they tested a newer version rover the California Science Center aquarium, giving new meaning to the phrase “swimming with the fishes.” Andy Klesh, principal investigator for the rover at JPL and volunteer diver at the science center accompanied BRUIE during the testing. Sometime in the future they hope to turn BRUIE loose in a lake where it can explore autonomously.

Fortunately the arctic team didn’t encounter any polar bears, another possible risk. When the rover makes it to Europa it’s unlikely to encounter an extra-terrestrial equivalent.

Video coverage after the break.

Continue reading “Robot Dances on the Icy Ceiling”

New Part Day: Tiny, Tiny Bluetooth Chips

The future of tiny electronics is wearables, it seems, with companies coming out with tiny devices that are able to check your pulse, blood pressure, and temperature while relaying this data back to your phone over a Bluetooth connection. Intel has the Curie module, a small System on Chip (SoC) meant for wearables, and the STM32 inside the Fitbit is one of the smallest ARM microcontrollers you’ll ever find. Now there’s a new part available that’s smaller than anything else and has an integrated Bluetooth radio; just what you need when you need an Internet of Motes of Dust.

The Atmel BTLC1000 is a tiny SoC designed for wearables. The internals aren’t exceptional in and of themselves – it’s an ARM Cortex M0 running at 26 MHz. There’s a Bluetooth 4.1 radio inside this chip, and enough I/O, RAM, and ROM to connect to a few sensors and do a few interesting things. What makes this chip so exceptional is its size – a mere 2.262mm by 2.142mm. It’s a chip that can fit along the thickness of some PCBs.

To provide some perspective: the smallest ATtiny, the ‘tiny4/5/9/10 in an SOT23-6 package, is 2.90mm long. The smallest PICs are similarly sized, and both have a tiny amount of RAM and Flash space. The BTLC1000 is surprisingly capable, with 128kB each of RAM and ROM.

The future of wearable devices is smaller, faster and more capable devices, and with a tiny chip that can fit on the head of a pin, this is certainly an interesting chip for applications where performance can be traded for package size. If you’re ready to dive in with this chip the preliminary datasheets are now available.

Can You Hear Me Now?

It’s great to build projects just to do something neat, to learn; to impress friends and other hackers. It’s even better to address a real need.

I’ve worn hearing aids for 40 some years. My response to the question “Can you hear me now?” is still all too often, “No.” Because of this I heartily applaud the Aegis Acoustics Headset currently active on Kickstarter. I’m happy to see it’s blown through its goal with over a month left.

The Aegis is targeted at prevent hearing loss, primarily in teens since they use headsets so often. It’s equally applicable to adults and pre-teens. The Aegis works by limiting the sound level emitted to 85db, which is a safe level. Above that the risk of damage to the tiny hairs in the cochlea – the inner ear – increases dramatically with a 3db increase cutting the safety time in half.

Future’s So Bright I’ve Got to Wear ‘Aids

My personal experience explains why this is important. At my first professional level job as a software developer I noticed that people at the other end of the table often mumbled during meetings. Not really, because everyone else understood them fine. I needed hearing aids.

My first hearing aids were analog devices. There were three frequency bands across the audio spectrum whose volumes could be custom set for my ears — resulting in crude and limited improvements in what I could hear. My current hearing aids are technological marvels of digital signal processing with a multitude of algorithms the audiologist can use to help me hear better. They even coordinate their actions by communicating between themselves.

I still need to ask people to repeat what they say at times. But who doesn’t? I had a successful career despite my loss. But it is still a royal pain-in-the-butt to miss out on one-third of the dialog in a movie, to not go to a local coffee house because I won’t understand the lyrics or comments by the musicians, and miss out on all the other small parts of life along these lines.

Hacking for Hearing

There are a range of areas where hackers could contribute and not just in assisting individuals, like myself, who personally gain from technological assistance.

Consider how the cell phone improved communications in developing countries. Using radio communications the countries avoided the need to string thousands of miles of wires. That saved the expense and the decades of construction time. It’s easier to get cell phone service than water in some locations. It’s important to notice that it didn’t come about because of a big plan. It came about as an unseen consequence of a technical development.

“We can rebuild him…we have the technology” is from the opening of an old TV series and movies, “The 6 Million Dollar Man” and has found it’s place in the pop-culture vocabulary. But it rings true. We have the technology. We have the tools. We have the expertise. We’re hackers and builders. We and the technology are all over the place. We’re a solution looking for a problem.

Devices that Extend the Body

All signs point to a coming revolution of devices that protect our bodies and make them work better. The 2015 Hackaday Prize theme is Build Something That Matters and that sentiment is obviously taking hold throughout the hardware hacker movement. The Aegis headphones I mentioned above are one example of preventive devices, but look around and there are many more like the UV-Badge which gives you feedback on safe levels of sunlight for your skin.

Surely we’re going to see further augmentation for the devices that help restore function. Wearables are all the rage, how long will it be before your smartwatch notification functions make it into my hearing aids? Imagine the improvements we will see in custom hearing profiles born of that smartphone-hearing aid connection. The foundations of this are user-controlled profile switching which is already in place for apps like Belltone’s HearPlus. If the advanced electronics in the smartphone can build a better noise profile and transfer it to the hearing aid my visits to the coffee shop just might get a lot better. And this doesn’t mean the devices need to look the same either. I love the Design Affairs Studio hearing aid concept that is shown at the top of this article. Hardware can be a status symbol after all.

This type of forward thinking easily extends to all assistive technologies such as wheelchair improvements and navigation systems for the blind.

As you look toward your next big hack, roll these concepts around in your mind. The tools, software, and talent have never been easier to connect for our group of citizen scientists who are hacking in basements and garages. It’s exciting to think about the change we can affect using the skills honed over the past decades of this hardware enlightenment we’re all living.

Novation Launchpad MIDI Controller Moves Toward Open Source

The Novation Launchpad is a MIDI controller, most commonly used with the Ableton Live digital audio workstation. It’s an eight by eight grid of buttons with RGB LED backlights that sends MIDI commands to your PC over USB. It’s often used to trigger clips, which is demonstrated by the artist Madeon in this video.

The Launchpad is useful as a MIDI input device, but that’s about all it used to do. But now, Novation has released an open source API for the Novation Pro. This makes it possible to write your own code to run on the controller, which can be flashed using a USB bootloader. An API gives you access to the hardware, and example code is provided.

[Jason Hotchkiss], who gave us the tip on this, has been hacking around with the API. The Launchpad Pro has a good old 5 pin MIDI output, which can be connected directly to a synth. [Jason]’s custom firmware uses the Launchpad Pro as a standalone MIDI sequencer. You can check out a video of this after the break.

Unfortunately, Novation didn’t open source the factory firmware. However, this open API is a welcome change to the usual closed-source nature of audio devices.

Continue reading “Novation Launchpad MIDI Controller Moves Toward Open Source”