New Part Day: Smoothie For RAMPS

When it comes to 3D printer controllers, there are two main schools of thought. The first group is RAMPS or RAMBo which are respectively a 3D printer controller ‘shield’ for the Arduino Mega and a stand-alone controller board. These boards have been the standard for DIY 3D printers for a very long time, and are the brains for quite a few printers from the biggest manufacturers. The other school of thought trundles down the path of ARM, with the most popular boards running the Smoothie firmware. There are advantages to running a printer with an ARM microcontroller, and the SmoothieBoard is fantastic.

Re-ARM for RAMPS — a Kickstarter that went live this week — is the middle ground between these two schools of thought. It’s a motherboard for RAMPS, but brings the power of a 32-bit LPC1768 ARM processor for all that smooth acceleration, fine control, and expansion abilities the SmoothieBoard brings.

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Maker Faire NY: Chipsetter, The Pick And Place For Your Production

This weekend at Maker Faire, Chipsetter showed off their pick and place machine. It is, in my opinion, the first pick and place machine designed for hackerspaces, design labs, engineering departments, and prototypers in mind. It’s not designed to do everything, but it is designed to everything these places would need, and is much more affordable than the standard, low-end Chinese pick and place machine.

Inexpensive and DIY pick and place machines are familiar territory for us. A few years ago, we saw the Carbide Labs pick and place machine, a machine that allows you to put a board anywhere, pull chips out of tape, and place them on pasted pads. The Retro Populator is a pick and place machine that retrofits onto a 3d printer. The Firepick Delta, another Hackaday Prize project, takes a mini-factory to its logical conclusion and is capable of 3D printing, populating boards, dispensing paste, and creating its own circuit boards. All of these machines have one peculiarity: they are entirely unlike normal, standard, industrial pick and place machines.

The Chipmaker feeder. Production versions of this feeder will be injection-molded plastic. This one is SLA nylon.
The Chipmaker feeder. Production versions of this feeder will be injection-molded plastic. This one is SLA nylon.

The idea of any startup is to build a minimum product, and the idea behind Chipsetter is to build a minimally viable tool. For their market, that means being able to place 0402 components (although it can do 0201, the team says the reliability of very small packages isn’t up to their standards), it means being able to shoot 1250 components per hour, and it must have inexpensive feeders to accept standard tape.

This is a complete departure from the spec sheet of a machine from Manncorp. For the ‘professional’ machines, a single feeder can cost hundreds of dollars. According to Chipsetter founder Alan Sawula, the feeders for this machine will hopefully, eventually cost about $50. That’s almost cheap enough to keep your parts on the feeder. A pro machine can handle 01005 components, but 0402 is good enough for most projects and products.

This is the closest I’ve seen to a pick and place machine designed to bridge the gap between contract manufacturers and hackerspaces. Most of the audience of Hackaday – at least as far as we’re aware – doesn’t have the funds to outsource all their manufacturing to a contract manufacturer. Most of the audience of Hackaday, though, or any hackerspace, could conceivably buy a Chipsetter. The Chipsetter isn’t designed to be the best, but when it comes to placing parts on paste, the best is overkill by a large margin.

The Chipsetter has a Kickstarter going right now. They’re about halfway funded, with a little more than three weeks to go. Right now, if you’re looking at pick and place machines, I’d highly suggest checking out the Chipsetter. It works, and with forty feeders it’s cheaper and more capable than the lowest priced ‘pro’ machines.


Hackaday Prize Entry: A CNC Scribe For Making Circuit Boards

We’re interested in any device that can make a PCB out of a copper-clad board, and this entry for the Hackaday Prize might be the simplest machine for PCB fabrication yet. It’s called the Projecta, and it’s a simple way to turn Eagle and KiCad files into a real circuit board.

For the home PCB fabricator, there are two ways to go about the process of turning a copper clad board into a real circuit board. The first is a CNC machine. Drop a piece of FR4 under a cutter, and you’ll get a circuit board and a lot of fiberglass dust. The Othermill is great for this, but it is a bit pricey for all but the most ambitious weekend warrior.

The second method of home PCB fabrication chemically etches the copper away. The etch resist mask can be laid down with dry film resist, or with the ever-popular laser printer, magazine, and laminator trick. Either way, the result is an acid-proof covering over the copper you don’t want to get rid of.

While the Projecta looks and sounds like a miniature CNC machine, it doesn’t chew through copper and produce a ton of fiberglass dust. The Projecta scribes the pattern of a circuit board after the copper has been masked off with a sharpie, marker, or other ink-based resist. When the board comes out of the Projecta, there’s a perfect pattern of circuits on a board, ready for the etch tank.

This technique of putting a copper clad board into a CNC machine and etching it later is something we haven’t seen before. There’s a good reason for that – if you’re putting a board under a cutter already, you might as well just chew away the copper while you’re at it.

Just because we haven’t seen this technique before doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea. Because the Projecta is only scribing a bit of ink off a board, the CNC mechanism doesn’t need to be that complex. It doesn’t need to throw a spindle around, and the Projecta can be built down to a price rather easily.

The Projecta is on Kickstarter right now, with the Kickstarter non-early bird price of $600. You can check out the video demo of the Projecta in action below.

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Seeed Studio’s ReSpeaker Speaks All the Voice Recognition Languages

Seeed Studio recently launched its third Kickstarter campaign: ReSpeaker, an open hardware voice interface. After their previous Kickstarted IoT hardware, such as the RePhone, mostly focused on connectivity, the electronics manufacturer from Shenzhen now tackles another highly contested area of IoT: Voice recognition.

The ReSpeaker Core is a capable development board based on Mediatek’s MT7688 WiFi module and runs OpenWrt. Onboard is a WM8960 stereo audio codec with integrated 1W speaker/headphone driver, a microphone, an ATMega32U4 coprocessor, 12 addressable RGB LEDs and 8 touch sensors. There are also two expansion headers with GPIOs, I2S, I2C, analog audio and USB 2.0 and an onboard microSD card slot.

The latter is especially useful to feed the ReSpeaker’s integrated speech recognition engine PocketSphinx with a vocabulary and audio file library, enabling it to respond to keywords and commands even when it’s not hooked up to the internet. Once it’s online, ReSpeaker also supports most of the available cloud based cognitive speech recognition services, such as Microsoft Cognitive Service, Amazon Alexa Voice Service, Google Speech API, and Houndify. It also comes with an SDK and Python API, supports JavaScript, Lua and C/C++, and it looks like the coprocessor features an Arduino-compatible bootloader.

The expansion header accepts shield-like hardware add-ons. Some of them are also available through the campaign. The most important one is the circular, far-field microphone array. Based on 7 XVSM-2000 respeaker_meow2digital microphones, the extension board enhances the device’s hearing with sound localization, beam forming, reverb and noise suppression. A Grove extension board connects the ReSpeaker to the Seeed’s current lineup on ready-to-use sensors, actuators and other peripherals.

Seeed also cooperates with the Meow King Audio Electronic Company to develop a nice tower-shaped enclosure with built-in speaker, 5W amplifier and battery. As a portable speaker, the Meow King Drive Unit (shown on the right) certainly doesn’t knock your socks off, but it practically turns the ReSpeaker into an open source version of the Amazon Echo — including the ability to run offline instead of piping everything you say to Big Brother.

According to Seeed, the freshly baked hardware will ship to backers in November 2016, and they do have a track-record of on-schedule shipped Kickstarter rewards. At the time of writing, some of the Crazy Early Birds are still available for $39. Enjoy the campaign video below and let us know what you think of think hardware in the comments!

New 3D Printer M3D Pro Hits Kickstarter

M3D just launched their second 3D printer on Kickstarter. The M3D Pro offers more professional features than its predecessor, the M3D Micro, which is still one of cheapest 3D printers around. Despite the higher price of $499, the campaign reached its $100,000 funding goal within hours.

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Introducing The Teensy 3.5 And 3.6

Paul Stoffregen has built a new Teensy. The latest in the line of very powerful, USB-capable microcontrollers is the Teensy 3.5 and 3.6 development boards. It’s faster, more capable, and bigger putting even more pins on a solderless breadboard.

The first Teensy was one of the first Arduino compatible boards with native USB. The Teensy 2.0 was even better with support for USB keyboards, mice, and MIDI. Even today, the Teensy 2.0 is the de facto board to use if you want to build anything like a USB keyboard. The Teensy 2.0 was followed by the exceptionally powerful Teensy 3.0, the first 32-bit Arduino compatible board, and thanks to Paul’s contributions of a pile of Arduino libraries, doing cool stuff faster has never been easier. Since the launch of the Teensy 3.0, its successors, the 3.1 and 3.2 have launched. If you want the power of an ARM microcontroller with the deepest Arduino library support, there’s only one board you should consider.

Like the launch of the Teensy 3.0, Paul is Kickstarting the launch of the latest Teensys with a crowdfunding campaign. Let’s dig into everything these new boards have to offer.

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You May Have a Nixie Tube Clock, but Can Yours Levitate?

Nixie tubes, electromagnets, levitation, and microcontrollers — this project has “Hackaday” written all over it!

Time Flies: Levitating Nixie Clock comes from [Tony Adams], and uses a lot of technology we’ve seen before, but in a new and interesting way. A nixie tube clock is nothing new, but using electromagnets to levitate it above a base certainly paired with inductive coupling to transmit power using no wires make this floating nixie build a real treat.

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