A Deadbugged GPS/GLONASS/Geiger Counter

So you think you’re pretty good at soldering really tiny parts onto a PCB? You’re probably not as good as [Shibata] who made a GPS/GLONASS and Geiger counter mashup deadbug-style with tiny 0402-sized parts.

The device uses an extremely small GPS/GLONASS receiver, an AVR ATxmega128D3 microcontroller, a standard Nokia phone display and an interesting Geiger tube with a mica window to track its location and the current level of radiation. The idea behind this project isn’t really that remarkable; the astonishing thing is the way this project is put together. It’s held together with either skill or prayer, with tiny bits of magnet wire replacing what would normally be PCB traces, and individual components making up the entire circuit.

While there isn’t much detail on what’s actually going on in this mess of solder, hot glue, and wire, the circuit is certainly interesting. Somehow, [Shibata] is generating the high voltage for the Geiger tube and has come up with a really great way of displaying all the relevant information on the display. It’s a great project that approaches masterpiece territory with some crazy soldering skills.

Thanks [Danny] for sending this one in.

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A DIY Fourier Transform Spectrometer

Typical spectrometers use prisms or diffraction gratings to spread light over a viewing window or digital sensor as a function of frequency. While both prisms and gratings work very well, there are a couple of downsides to each. Diffraction gratings produce good results for a wide range of wavelengths, but a very small diffraction grating is needed to get high-resolution data. Smaller gratings let much less light through, which limits the size of the grating. Prisms have their own set of issues, such as a limited wavelength range. To get around these issues, [iliasam] built a Fourier transform spectrometer (translated), which operates on the principle of interference to capture high-resolution spectral data.

[iliasam]’s design is built with an assortment of parts including a camera lens, several mirrors, a micrometer, laser diode, and a bunch of mechanical odds and ends. The core of the design is a Michelson interferometer which splits and recombines the beam, forming an interference pattern. One mirror of the interferometer is movable, while the other is fixed. [iliasam]’s design uses a reference laser and photodiode as a baseline for his measurement, which also allows him to measure the position of the moving mirror. He has a second photodiode which measures the interference pattern of the actual sample that’s being tested.

Despite its name, the Fourier transform spectrometer doesn’t directly put out a FFT. Instead, the signal from both the reference and measurement photodiodes is passed into the sound card of a computer. [iliasam] wrote some software that processes the sampled data and, after quite a bit of math, spits out the spectrum. The software isn’t as simple as you might think – it has to measure the reference signal and calculate the velocity of the mirror’s oscillations, count the number of oscillations, frequency-correct the signal, and much more. After doing all this, his software calculates an interferogram, performs an inverse Fourier transform, and the spectrum is finally revealed. Check out [iliasam]’s writeup for all the theory and details behind his design.

Old Fluorescent Fixtures Turned Into Fill Lights

The Tymkrs are hard at work setting up their home studio, and since they’ll be shooting a few videos, they need some lights. The lights themselves aren’t very special; for YouTube videos, anything bright enough will work. The real challenge is making a mount and putting them in the right place, With a shop full of tools, making some video lights isn’t that hard and easily translates into a neat video project.

The lights began their lives as large fluorescent fixtures, the kind that would normally house long fluorescent tubes. The Tymkrs cut the metal reflector of this fixture in half, capped the ends with wood, and installed normal incandescent sockets in one end.

The inside of this reflector was coated with a reflective material, and a beautiful rice paper diffuser was glued on. The Tymkrs attached a metal bracket to these lights and screwed the bracket to the ceiling. There’s enough friction to keep the lights in one spot, but there’s also enough play in the joints to position them at just the right angle.

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Modded Microwave Sets Its Own Clock

Of all the appliances in your house, perhaps the most annoying is a microwave with a flashing unset clock. Even though a lot of devices auto-set their time these days, most appliances need to have their time set after being unplugged or after a power outage. [Tiago] switches off power to some of his appliances while he’s at work to save a bit of power, and every time he plugs his microwave back in he has to manually reset the clock.

Thankfully [Tiago] wrote in with his solution to this problem: an add-on to his microwave that automatically sets the time over the network. [Tiago]’s project uses an ESP8266 running the Lua-based firmware we’ve featured before. The ESP module connects to [Tiago]’s WiFi network and pulls the current time off of his Linux server.

Next, [Tiago] ripped apart his microwave and tacked some wires on the “set time” button and on the two output pins of the microwave’s rotary encoder. He ran all three signals through optoisolators for safety, and then routed them to a few GPIO pins on his ESP module. When the microwave and the ESP module are powered up, [Tiago]’s Lua script pulls the time from his server, simulates a press of the “set time” button, and simulates the rotary encoder output to set the microwave’s time.

While [Tiago] didn’t post any detailed information on his build, it looks like a great idea that could easily be improved on (like adding NTP support). Check out the video after the break to see the setup in action.

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CastAR Teardown

A little more than a year ago, castAR, the augmented reality glasses with projectors and retro-reflective surfaces made it to Kickstarter. Since then we’ve seen it at Maker Faire, seen it used for visualizing 3D prints, and sat down with the latest version of the hardware. Now, one of the two people we trust to do a proper teardown finally got his developer version of the castAR.

Before [Mike] digs into the hardware, a quick refresher of how the castAR works: inside the glasses are two 720p projectors that shine an image on a piece of retroreflective fabric. This image reflects directly back to the glasses, where a pair of polarized glasses (like the kind you’ll find from a 3D TV), separate the image into left and right for each eye. Add some head tracking capabilities to the glasses, and you have a castAR.

The glasses come with a small bodypack that powers the glasses, adds two jacks for the accessory sockets, and switches the HDMI signal coming from the computer. The glasses are where the real fun starts with two cameras, two projectors, and a few very big chips. The projector itself is a huge innovation; [Jeri] is on record as saying the lens manufacturers told her the optical setup shouldn’t work.

As far as chips go, there’s an HDMI receiver and an Altera Cyclone FPGA. There’s also a neat little graphic from Asteroids on the board. Video below.

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Tube Map Radio and Denki Puzzles

Sometimes, awesomeness passes us by and we don’t notice it until a while later. This is from 2012, but it’s so friggin’ insane we just have to cover it even if it’s late. Yuri Suzuki is an installation artist who designed the Tube Map Radio and Denki Puzzles.

The Tube Map Radio is inspired by a diagram created by the original designer of the London Tube map, Harry Beck, which shows the lines and stations of the London Underground rail network as an annotated electrical circuit. Iconic landmarks on this map are represented by components relating to their functions, including a speaker where Speaker’s Corner sits, battery representing Battersea Power Station and Piccadilly Circus marked as Piccadilly Circuit. The work was commissioned by the Design Museum London, and the PCB layout was done by Masahiko Shindo (Shindo Denki Sekkei). The idea was to bring the electronics out of the “black box” and not just display it, but to have it laid out in a fashion that people could try to understand how it really works.

The other project called Denki Puzzles is equally remarkable. It’s a kit meant to teach electronics, using a set of snap-fit components. But instead of having all “bricks” or units of the same shape, the Denki Puzzles are a collection of printed circuit board pieces whose form indicate a particular function. Fit the pieces together as a sort of physical circuit diagram and you’ll be able to build working electronics. For example, the LED unit looks like a 8 pointed star, and the resistance unit looks like a resistance symbol. Check out some pictures and a video after the break

Photo’s Credit : Hitomi Kai Yoda.

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Meet The Machines That Build Complex PCBs

You can etch a simple PCB at home with a few chemicals and some patience. However, once you get to multilayer boards, you’re going to want to pay someone to do the dirty work.

The folks behind the USB Armory project visited the factories that build their 6 layer PCB and assemble their final product. Then they posted a full walkthrough of the machines used in the manufacturing process.

The boards start out as layers of copper laminates. Each one is etched by applying a film, using a laser to print the design from a Gerber file, and etching away the unwanted copper in a solution. Then the copper and fibreglass prepreg sandwich is bonded together with epoxy and a big press.

Bonded boards then get drilled for vias, run through plating and solder mask processes and finally plated using an Electroless Nickel Immersion Gold (ENIG) process to give them that shiny gold finish. These completed boards are shipped off to another company, where a pick and place followed by reflow soldering mounts all the components to the board. An X-Ray is used to verify that the BGA parts are soldered correctly.

The walkthrough gives a detailed explanation of the process. It shows us the machines that create products we rely on daily, but never get to see.