Chemical Formulas 101

It seems like every other day we hear about some hacker, tinkerer, maker, coder or one of the many other Do-It-Yourself engineer types getting their hands into a complex field once reserved to only a select few. Costs have come down, enabling common everyday folks to equip themselves with 3D printers, laser cutters, CNC mills and a host of other once very expensive pieces of equipment. Getting PCB boards made is literally dirt cheap, and there are more inexpensive Linux single board computers than we can keep track of these days. Combining the lowering hardware costs with the ever increasing wealth of knowledge available on the internet creates a perfect environment for DIYers to push into ever more specific scientific fields.

One of these fields is biomedical research. In labs across the world, you’ll find a host of different machines used to study and create biological and chemical compounds. These machines include DNA and protein synthesizers, mass spectrometers, UV spectrometers, lyophilizers, liquid chromatography machines, fraction collectors… I could go on and on.

These machines are prohibitively expensive to the DIYer. But they don’t have to be. We have the ability to make these machines in our garages if we wanted to. So why aren’t we? One of the reasons we see very few biomedical hacks is because the chemistry knowledge needed to make and operate these machines is generally not in the typical DIYers toolbox. This is something that we believe needs to change, and we start today.

In this article, we’re going to go over how to convert basic chemical formulas, such as C9H804 (aspirin), into its molecular structure, and visa versa. Such knowledge might be elementary, but it is a requirement for anyone who wishes to get started in biomedical hacking, and a great starting point for the curious among us.

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Raspberry Pi Adds A Digital Dash To Your Car

Looking for a way to make your older car more hi-tech? Why not add a fancy digital display? This hack from [Greg Matthews] does just that, using a Raspberry Pi, a OBD-II Consult reader and an LCD screen to create a digital dash that can run alongside (or in front of ) your old-school analog dials.

[Greg’s] hack uses a Raspberry Pi Foundation display, which includes a touch screen, so you don’t need a mouse or other controls. Node.js displays the speed, RPM, and engine temperature (check engine lights and other warnings are planned additions) through a webpage displayed using Chromium. The Node page is pulling info from another program on the Pi which monitors the CAN Consult bus. It would be interesting to adapt this to use with more futuristic displays, maybe something like a pico projector and a 1-way mirror for a heads-up display.

To power the system [Greg] is using a Mausberry power supply which draws power from your car battery, but which also cleanly shuts down the Pi when the ignition is turned off so it won’t drain your battery. When you throw in an eBay sourced OBD-II Consult reader and the Consult Dash software that [Greg] wrote to interpret and display the data from the OBD-II Consult bus, you get a decent digital dash display. Sure, it isn’t a Tesla touchscreen, but at $170, it’s a lot cheaper. Spend more and you can easily move that 60″ from your livingroom out to your hoopty and still use a Raspberry Pi.

What kind of extras would you build into this system? Gamification of your speed? Long-term fuel averaging? Let us know in the comments.

UPDATE – This post originally listed this hack as working from the OBD-II bus. However, this car does not have OBD-II, but instead uses Consult, an older data bus used by Nissan. Apologies for any confusion!

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Songbird, A Mostly 3D Printed Pistol That Appears To Actually Work

[Guy in a garage] has made a 3D printed gun that not only appears to fire in the direction pointed, it can also do it multiple times. Which, by the standard of 3D printed guns, is an astounding feat. He started with .22 rifle cartridges but has since upgraded and tested the gun with .357 rounds. The link above is a playlist which starts of with an in-depth explanation of the .22 version and moves through design iterations

This gun prints on a standard FDM printer. Other 3D printable guns such as the infamous Liberator or the 3D printed metal gun need more exotic or precise 3D printing to work effectively. The secret to this gun’s ability is the barrel, which can be printed in nylon for .22 cartridges, or in ABS plus a barrel liner for .22 and .357 caliber.

A barrel liner is one way to repair a gun that has aged and is no longer shooting properly. Simply put, it is a long hardened metal tube with rifling on the inside. Some guns come out of the factory with one, and a gunsmith simply has to remove the old one and replace it. Other guns need to be bored out before a liner can be installed.

The metal liner surrounded by plastic offers enough mechanical strength for repeat firings without anyone losing a hand or an eye; though we’re not sure if we recommend firing any 3D printed gun as it’s still risky business. It’s basically like old stories of wrapping a cracked cannon in twine. The metal tries to expand out under the force of firing, but the twine, which would seem like a terrible material for cannon making, is good in tension and when wrapped tightly offers more than enough strength to hold it all together.

This is also how he got the .357 version to work. The barrel slots into the gun frame and locates itself with a rounded end. However, with the higher energy from a .357 round, this rounded end would act as a wedge and split the 3D printed frame. The fix for this was simple. Glue it back together with ABS glue, and then wrap the end of the assembly with a cable tie.

This is the first 3D printed gun we’ve seen that doesn’t look like a fantastic way to instantly lose your hand. It’s a clever trick that took some knowledge of guns and gunsmithing to put together. Despite the inevitable ethical, moral, and political debate that will ensue as this sort of thing becomes more prevalent, it is a pretty solid hack and a sign that 3D printing is starting to work with more formidable engineering challenges.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Under Cabinet LED Lighting Controller

[Matt Meerian]’s workbench seems to be in perpetual shadow, so he has become adept at mounting LED strips under all his shelves and cabinets. These solve any problems involving finding things in the gloom, but present a new problem in that he risks a lot of LED strips being left on, and going round turning them all off is tedious.

His solution is to make a wireless controller for all his home LED strips, under the command of a web app from his Android tablet. An ESP8266 and a set of MOSFETs provide the inner workings, and the whole is presented on a very compact and well-designed purple OSH Park PCB reflow soldered on a $20 Wal-Mart hotplate and set in a plastic enclosure. The web interface is still in development, but has a fairly simple CSS front end for the ESP8266 code. All software, the schematic, and BoM can be downloaded from the page linked above.

This project isn’t going to end world hunger or stop wars, but it’s beautifully done and well documented, and it makes [Matt]’s life a lot easier. And that makes it a good entry for the Hackaday Prize.

A Real Turn Off

[Newbrain] had a small problem. He’d turn off the TV, but would leave the sound system turned on. Admittedly, not a big problem, but an annoyance, none the less. He realized the TV had a USB port that went off when it did, so he decided to build something that would sense when the USB port died and fake a button press into the amplifier.

He posted a few ideas online and, honestly, the discussion was at least as interesting as the final project. The common thread was to use an optoisolator to sense the 5 V from the USB port. After that, everyone considered a variety of ICs and discretes and even did some Spice modeling.

In the end, though, [Newbrain] took the easy way out. An ATtiny 84 is probably overkill, but it easy enough to press into service. With only three other components, he built the whole thing into a narrow 24-pin socket and taped it to the back of the audio unit’s wired remote control.

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Line Follower with No Arduino

There’s hardly a day that passes without an Arduino project that spurs the usual salvo of comments. Half the commenters will complain that the project didn’t need an Arduino. The other half will insist that the project would be better served with a much larger computer ranging from an ARM CPU to a Cray.

[Will Moore] has been interested in BEAM robotics — robots with analog hardware instead of microcontollers. His latest project is a sophisticated line follower. You’ve probably seen “bang-bang” line followers that just use a photocell to turn the robot one way or the other. [Will’s] uses a hardware PID (proportional integral derivative) controller. You can see a video of the result below.

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New Part Day: Wireless BeagleBones On A Chip

The BeagleBone is a very popular single board computer, best applied to real-time applications where you need to blink LEDs really, really fast. Over the years, the BeagleBone has been used for stand-alone CNC controllers, the brains behind very large LED installations, and on rare occasions has been used to drive CRTs. If you just want a small Linux board, get a Pi. If you want to do something interesting with hardware, get a BeagleBone.

The BeagleBone ecosystem has grown a lot in the last year, from the wireless and Grove connector equipped BeagleBone Green, the robotics-focused BeagleBone Blue, the Zoolander-inspired Blue Steel. Now there’s a new BeagleBone, built around a very interesting System on Module introduced earlier this year.

The new board is called the BeagleBone Black Wireless, and it brings to the table all you know and love about the BeagleBone. There’s a 1GHz ARM355x with two 32-bit 200MHz PRUs for the real-time pin toggling. RAM is set at 512MB, with 4GB of eMMC Flash and Debian pre-installed, and a microSD card for larger storage options. The new feature is wireless connectivity: a TI WiFi and Bluetooth module with provisions for 802.11s replaces the old Ethernet connector.

Taken at face value, the new BeagleBone Black Wireless deserves a mention — it’s a BeagleBone with wireless — but isn’t particularly noteworthy. But when you get to the gigantic brick of resin dropped squarely in the middle of the board does the latest device in the BeagleBone family become very, very interesting. The System on Module for this version of the BeagleBone is the BeagleBone On A Chip released a few months ago. The Octavo Systems OSD335x is, quite literally, a BeagleBone on a chip. It’s a BGA with big balls, making it solderable with hand-applied solder paste and a toaster oven reflow conversion. In fact, the BeagleBone Wireless was designed by [Jason Kridner] in Eagle as a 6-layer board. It’s still a bit beyond the standard capabilities of OSHPark, but the design can still be cut down, and shows how this BeagleBone on a Chip can be applied to other Open Hardware projects.