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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Pan and Tilt with Dual Controllers

It wasn’t long ago that faced with a controller project, you might shop for something with just the right features and try to minimize the cost. These days, if you are just doing a one-off, it might be just as easy to throw commodity hardware at it. After all, a Raspberry Pi costs less than a nice meal and it is more powerful than a full PC would have been not long ago.

When [Joe Coburn] wanted to make a pan and tilt webcam he didn’t try to find a minimal configuration. He just threw a Raspberry Pi in for interfacing to the Internet and an Arduino in to control two RC servo motors. A zip tie holds the servos together and potentially the web cam, too.

You can see the result in the video below. It is a simple matter to set up the camera with the Pi, send some commands to the Arduino and hook up to the Internet.

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Arduino Versus Logic: The Coil Gun War Continues

Looks like another shot has been fired in the simmering Coil Gun Control War. This time, [Great Scott] is taken to the discrete woodshed with a simplified and improved control circuit using a single CMOS chip and a few transistors. Where will it end? Won’t somebody think of the children?

The latest salvo is in response to [GreatScott]’s attempt to control a DIY coil gun with discrete logic, which in turn was a response to comments that he took the easy way out and used an Arduino in the original build. [Great Scott]’s second build was intended to justify the original design choice, and seemed to do a good job of explaining how much easier and better the build was with a microcontroller. Case closed, right?

Nope. Embedded designer [fede.tft] wasn’t sure the design was even close to optimized, so he got to work — on his vacation, no less!’ He trimmed the component count down to a single CMOS chip (a quad Schmitt trigger NAND), a couple of switching transistors, the MOSFETs that drive the coils, and a few passives. The NANDs are set up as flip-flops that are triggered and reset by the projectile sensors, which are implemented as hardwired AND gates. The total component count is actually less than the support components on the original Arduino build, and [fede.tft] goes so far as to offer ideas for an alternative that does away with the switching transistors.

Even though [fede.tft] admits that [GreatScott] has him beat since he actually built both his circuits, hats off to him for showing us what can likely be accomplished with just a few components. We’d like to see someone implement this design, and see just how simple it can get.

Rainy Day Fun by Calculating Pi

If you need a truly random event generator, just wait till your next rainstorm. Whether any given spot on the ground is hit by a drop at a particular time is anyone’s guess, and such randomness is key to this simple rig that estimates the value of pi using raindrop sensors.

You may recall [AlphaPhoenix]’s recent electroshock Settlers of Catan expeditor. The idea with this less shocking build is to estimate the value of pi using the ratio of the area of a square sensor to a circular one. Simple piezo transducers serve as impact sensors that feed an Arduino and count the relative number of raindrops hitting the sensors. In the first video below, we see that as more data accumulates, the Arduino’s estimate of pi eventually converges on the well-known 3.14159 value. The second video has details of the math behind the method, plus a discussion of the real-world problems that cropped up during testing — turns out that waterproofing and grounding were both key to noise-free data from the sensor pads.

In the end, [AlphaPhoenix] isn’t proving anything new, but we like the method here and can see applications for it. What about using such sensors to detect individual popcorn kernels popping to demonstrate the Gaussian distribution? We also can’t help but think of other ways to measure raindrops; how about strain gauges that weigh the rainwater as it accumulates differentially in square and circular containers? Share your ideas in the comments below.

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VFD Clock Only Speaks Romanian

There’s no shortage of clock projects, but [niq_ro] has his own take using a vacuum fluorescent display (VFD), and Arduino, and a pair of MAX6921 ICs. Those chips are made to drive a VFD, and the use of two of the ICs required a bit of work. The Arduino is not a great time keeper, so the clock also uses a DS3231 clock module and a humidity and temperature sensor.

The clock is in Romanian, although there are some options for different text. You can find the code on GitHub and can see the result in the video below.

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DIY Coil Gun Redux: Life Really is Easier with Arduino

A common complaint in the comments of many a Hackaday project is: Why did they use a microcontroller? It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback someone else’s design, but it’s rare to see the OP come back and actually prove that a microcontroller was the best choice. So when [GreatScott] rebuilt his recent DIY coil gun with discrete logic, we just had to get the word out.

You’ll recall from the original build that [GreatScott] was not attempting to build a brick-wall blasting electromagnetic rifle. His build was more about exploring the concepts and working up a viable control mechanism for a small coil gun, and as such he chose an Arduino to rapidly prototype his control circuit. But when taken to task for that design choice, he rose to the challenge and designed a controller using discrete NAND and NOR gates, some RS latches, and a couple of comparators. The basic control circuit was simple, but too simple for safety — a projectile stuck in the barrel could leave a coil energized indefinitely, leading to damage. What took a line of code in the Arduino sketch to fix required an additional comparator stage and an RC network to build a timer to deenergize the coil automatically. In the end the breadboarded circuit did the job, but implementing it would have required twice the space of the Arduino while offering none of the flexibility.

Not every project deserves an Arduino, and sometimes it’s pretty clear the builder either took the easy way out or was using the only trick in his or her book. Hats off to [GreatScott] for not only having the guts to justify his design, but also proving that he has the discrete logic chops to pull it off.

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Hacked Furby Knows When You’re Near

One of the classics of circuit bending is to mess around with the clock chip that drives the CPU in simple noise-making toys. [Goran] took this a step further with his Furby hack. Skip down to the video embedded below if you just want to see the results.

After first experiments modifying the Furby’s clock with a string of resistors (YouTube), [Goran] decided to opt for more control, overriding the clock entirely with a square wave coming out of an Arduino. And then, the world became his oyster.

The Furby’s eyes were replaced with ultrasonic distance sensors, and what looks like a speaker was hot-glued into its mouth. Since this particular Furby only “talks” when you pull its tail, he naturally wired in tail-switch control to boot. As [Goran] suggests, a light show is the obvious next step.

If you haven’t pulled apart an electronic toy and played around with glitching it, you don’t know what you’re missing. We’ve got a classic intro to circuit bending, as well as projects that range from the simple to the ridiculously elaborate. It’s a fun introduction to electronics for the young ones as well. Grab a toy noisemaker and get hacking.

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