Dirty Now Does Cables

PCB makers Dirty made a name for themselves in the prototype PCB biz, with a convenient web form and numerous options for PCB color, thickness, layers, silk screening, and so on. Now they’ve branched out into custom cabling with Dirty Cables.

You can design it yourself by dragging wires and connectors out of a sidebar and arranging them on a workspace, deciding which wire goes to what pin of the connector. Your choices for wires include various gauges and ribbon configurations. You choose a color (they have eleven) select connectors and drag those out too–choose from 17 cable-to-cable and cable-to-board connector families. We made a quick cable with four 32ga wires and two 16ga wires, with two different connectors on each side, with pricing updated realtime. If you want a sample pack of connectors, Dirty sells them for $10.

The downside to the service: there’s a minimum order of 100, though paying Shenzhen prices might make it worth your while. Just imagining crimping all of those connectors makes Hackaday’s hands hurt.

To get a sense of the diversity of connectors out there, read Elliot’s piece on the connector zoo that we published last year.

[thanks, Akiba]

Interfacing a Retro Controller using the USBASP

An ISP dongle is a very common piece of equipment on a maker’s bench. However, its potential as a hackable device is generally overlooked. The USBASP has an ATmeg8L at its heart and [Robson] decided that this humble USB device could be used as an interface between his PC and a SNES Joypad.

A SNES controller required three pins to communicate with a host: clock, data and latch. In his hack, [Robson]  connects the controller to the ISP interface using a small DIY adaptor and programs the AVR using the V-USB library. V-USB is a software USB library for small microcontrollers and comes in pretty handy in this instance.

[Robson] does a pretty good job of documenting the entire process of creating the interface which includes the USB HID code as well as the SNES joypad serial protocol. His hack works on both Windows and Linux alike and the code is available on GitHub for download.

Simple implementation like this project are a great starting point for anyone looking to dip their toes in the DIY USB device pool. Veterans may find a complete DIY joystick more up their alley and will be inspired by some plastic techniques as well.

The Silence of the Fans

The good thing about using a server-grade machine as your desktop is having raw computing power at your fingertips. The downside is living next to a machine that sounds like a fleet of quadcopters taking off. Luckily, loud server fans can be replaced with quieter units if you know what you’re doing.

Servers are a breed apart from desktop-grade machines, and are designed around the fact that they’ll be installed in some kind of controlled environment. [Juan] made his Dell PowerEdge T710 tower server a better neighbor by probing the PWM signals to and from the stock Dell fans; he found that the motherboard is happy to just receive a fixed PWM signal that indicates the fans are running at top speed. Knowing this, [Juan] was able to spoof the feedback signal with an ATtiny85 and a single line of code. The noisy fans could then be swapped for desktop-grade fans; even running full-tilt, the new fans are quieter by far and still keep things cool inside.

But what to do with all those extra fans? Why not team them up with some lasers for a musical light show?

Hackaday Prize Entry: 3D Printed Linear Actuator Does 2kg+

The rabbit hole of features and clever hacks in [chiprobot]’s NEMA17 3D Printed Linear Actuator is pretty deep. Not only can it lift 2kg+ of mass easily, it is mostly 3D printed, and uses commonplace hardware like a NEMA 17 stepper motor and a RAMPS board for motion control.

The main 3D printed leadscrew uses a plug-and-socket design so that the assembly can be extended easily to any length desired without needing to print the leadscrew as a single piece. The tip of the actuator even integrates a force sensor made from conductive foam, which changes resistance as it is compressed, allowing the actuator some degree of feedback. The force sensor is made from a 3M foam earplug which has been saturated with a conductive ink. [chiprobot] doesn’t go into many details about his specific method, but using conductive foam as a force sensor is a fairly well-known and effective hack. To top it all off, [chiprobot] added a web GUI served over WiFi with an ESP32. Watch the whole thing in action in the video embedded below.

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Intel Discontinues Joule, Galileo, And Edison Product Lines

Sometimes the end of a product’s production run is surrounded by publicity, a mix of a party atmosphere celebrating its impact either good or bad, and perhaps a tinge of regret at its passing. Think of the last rear-engined Volkswagens rolling off their South American production lines for an example.

Then again, there are the products that die with a whimper, their passing marked only by a barely visible press release in an obscure corner of the Internet. Such as this week’s discontinuances from Intel, in a series of PDFs lodged on a document management server announcing the end of their Galileo (PDF), Joule (PDF), and Edison (PDF) lines. The documents in turn set out a timetable for each of the boards, for now they are still available but the last will have shipped by the end of 2017.

It’s important to remember that this does not mark the end of the semiconductor giant’s forray into the world of IoT development boards, there is no announcement of the demise of their Curie chip, as found in the Arduino 101. But it does mark an ignominious end to their efforts over the past few years in bringing the full power of their x86 platforms to this particular market, the Curie is an extremely limited device in comparison to those being discontinued.

Will the departure of these products affect our community, other than those who have already invested in them? It’s true to say that they haven’t made the impression Intel might have hoped, over the years only a sprinkling of projects featuring them have come our way compared to the flood featuring an Arduino or a Raspberry Pi. They do seem to have found a niche though where there is a necessity for raw computing power rather than a simple microcontroller, so perhaps some of the legion of similarly powerful ARM boards will plug that gap.

So where did Intel get it wrong, how did what were on the face of it such promising products fizzle out in such a disappointing manner? Was the software support not up to scratch, were they too difficult to code for, or were they simply not competitively priced in a world of dirt-cheap boards from China? As always, the comments are open.

Header image: Mwilde2 [CC BY-SA 4.0].

Mixed Mode Bench PSU Delivers High Performance

If you have an electronics bench, it follows that you will need some form of bench power supply. While many make do with fixed-voltage supplies it’s safe to say that the most useful bench power supplies have variable voltage and a variable current limiter. These are available in a range of sizes and qualities, and can be had from the usual online suppliers starting with a surprisingly small outlay.

There is however a problem with inexpensive bench power supplies. They are invariably switch-mode designs, and their output will often be noisy. Expensive linear supplies provide a much more noise-free output, but do so at the expense of excessive heat loss when regulating a high voltage drop.

One solution is a mixed-mode design, in which a switch-mode supply does the hard work of reducing the voltage most of the way, and a linear regulator drops the last couple of volts to provide a noise-free output. [Andrei] shows us his design for just such a mixed-mode supply, and it’s one you can have a go at building yourself.

His primary supply is an off-the-shelf switcher that turns mains AC into 24 V DC. This then feeds an LTC1624 buck converter that brings the voltage down to about 1.2 V above the final output voltage, this is in turn fed to a parallel pair of LT3081 linear regulators that deliver the final noise-free output. There is an INA260 for voltage and current measurement, and an Arduino with LCD display as a user interface. His prototype has been nicely constructed using a four-layer PCB, though he suggests it could be made on stripboard with the appropriate SMD adaptors. The cardboard chassis he’s used looks slightly alarming though.

We’ve covered numerous bench power supplies here over the years here at Hackaday. If it is an author’s favourite you are seeking though, take a look at the 723.

Hacked Car Axle Yields Custom 90° Gearbox

Need a sturdy angle gearbox to handle power transmission for your next big project? Why not harvest a rear axle from a car and make one yourself?

When you think about it, the axle of a rear-wheel drive vehicle is really just a couple of 90° gearboxes linked together internally, and a pretty sturdy assembly that’s readily available for free or on the cheap. [Donn DIY]’s need for a gearbox to run a mower lead him to a boneyard for the raw material. The video below shows some truly impressive work with that indispensable tool of hardware hackers, the angle grinder. Not only does he amputate one of the half axles with it, he actually creates almost perfect splines on the remaining shortened shaft. Such work is usually done on a milling machine with a dividing head and an end mill, but [DonnDIY]’s junkyard approach worked great. Just goes to show how much you can accomplish with what you’ve got when you have no choice.

We’re surprised to not see any of [DonnDIY]’s projects featured here before, as he seems to have quite a body of hacks built up. We hope to feature some more of his stuff soon, but in the meantime, you can always check out some of the perils and pitfalls of automotive differentials.

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