Before There were Nixie Tubes, There Were Edge-Lit Displays?

We’ve seen a bunch of replacements for nixie tubes using LEDs and edge-lit acrylic for the numbers. But one of the earliest digital voltmeters used edge-lit Lucite plates for the numbers and a lot of incandescent lamps to light them up.

[stevenjohnson] has a Non-Linear Systems Model 481 digital voltmeter and he’s done a teardown of it so we can get a glimpse of the insides. Again, anyone who’s seen the modern versions of edge-lit numeric displays knows what they are: A series of clear plastic plates with numbers (or characters) etched into them, each with a light source beneath them. You turn one light on to light one plate, another to light another, and so on. The interesting bit here is the use of incandescent bulbs and the use of sequential relays to cycle through the lights. The relays make a lot of racket, especially with the case open.

[stevenjohnson] also notes that he might have made a mistake opening up the part of the machine where the plates are stored as it took him a bit to get the plates back in place and back in the unit. We’d imagine it was pretty loud if you were taking a lot of measurements with this machine, although it looks great inside and, obviously, the idea is a pretty good one. Check out this edge-lit nixie tube display or these edge-lit numeric modules.

[via boingboing]

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Making More Of Me Money

For the last few years, Hackaday has really been stepping up our game with marketing materials. Our t-shirts and swag are second to none, and last year we introduced the ‘Benchoff Buck’ (featured above), a bill replete with Jolly Wrencher EURions that is not yet legal currency. At least until we get a sweet compound in the desert, that is.

[Andrew Sowa] created the Benchoff Nickel. It’s a visage of yours truly emblazoned on a PCB, rendered in FR4, silkscreen, gold, and OSHPark’s royal purple. In doing so, [Andrew] has earned himself a field commission to the rank of lieutenant and can now reserve the dune buggy for a whole weekend.

The Benchoff Nickel was created in KiCad using the Bitmap2Component functionality. Planning this required a little bit of work; there are only five colors you can get on an OSH Park PCB, from white to gold to beige to purple (soldermask on top of copper) to black (soldermask with no copper). Luckily, the best picture we have of me renders very well in five colors.

The Bitmap2Component part of KiCad will only get you so far, though. It’s used mainly to put silkscreen logos on a board, and messing around with copper and mask layers is beyond its functionality. To import different layers of my face into different layers of a KiCad PCB, [Andrew] had to open up Notepad and make a few manual edits. It’s annoying, but yes, it can be done.

OSH Park’s fabs apparently use two different tones of FR4

The Benchoff Nickel can be found on Github and as a shared project on OSH Park ($22.55 for three copies). One little curiosity of the OSH Park fabrication process presented itself with [Andrew]’s second order of Benchoff Nickels. OSH Park uses at least two board houses to produce their PCBs, and one of them apparently uses a lighter shade of FR4. This resulted in a lighter skin tone for the second order of Benchoff Nickels.

This is truly tremendous work. I’ve never seen anything like this, and it’s one of the best ‘artistic’ PCBs I’ve ever held in my hands. It was a really great surprise when [Andrew] handed me one of these at the Hackaday Unconference in Chicago. I’ll be talking to [Andrew] again this week at the Midwest RepRap festival, and we’re going to try and figure out some way to do a small run of Benchoff Nickels.

Edit: OSH Park revealed why there are different tones of FR4. In short, there aren’t. The lighter shade of skintone is actually FR408, which is used on 4-layer boards.

Bomb Defusal Fun With Friends!

Being a member of the bomb squad would be pretty high up when it comes to ranking stressful occupations. It also makes for great fun with friends. Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a two-player video game where one player attempts to defuse a bomb based on instructions from someone on the other end of a phone. [hephaisto] found the game great fun, but thought it could really benefit from some actual hardware. They set about building a real-life bomb defusal game named BUMM.

The “bomb” itself consists of a Raspberry Pi brain that communicates with a series of modules over a serial bus. The modules consist of a timer, a serial number display, and two “riddle” boxes covered in switches and LEDs. It’s the job of the bomb defuser to describe what they see on the various modules to the remote operator, who reads a manual and relays instructions based on this data back to the defuser. For example, the defuser may report seeing a yellow and green LED lit on the riddle module – the operator will then look this up and instruct the defuser on which switches to set in order to defuse that part of the bomb. It’s the challenge of quickly and accurately communicating in the face of a ticking clock that makes the game fun.

[hephaisto] took this build to Make Rhein-Main 2017, where they were very accepting of a “bomb” being brought onto the premises. The game was setup in a booth with an old analog S-video camera feed and a field telephone for communication – we love the detail touches that really add atmosphere to the gameplay experience.

Overall, it’s a great project that could easily be recreated by any hackerspace looking for something fun to share on community nights. The build files are all available on the project GitHub so it’s easy to see the nuts and bolts of how it works.

We’ve seen builds that bring video games into the real world before – like this coilgun Scorched Earth build. Fantastic.

Endurance Test Machine Is Not Quite Useless

It seems [Pete Prodoehl] was working on a project that involved counting baseballs as they fell out of a chute, with the counting part being sensed by a long lever microswitch. Now we all know there are a number of different ways in which one can do this using all kinds of fancy sensors. But for [Pete], we guess the microswitch was what floated his boat — likely because it was cheap, easily available and replaceable, and reliable. Well, the reliable part he wasn’t very sure about, so he built a (not quite) Useless Machine that would conduct an endurance test on the specific switch brand and type he was using. But mostly, it seemed like an excuse to do some CAD design, 3D printing, wood work and other hacker stuff.

The switches he’s testing appear to be cheap knock-off’s of a well known brand. Running them through the torture test on his Useless Machine, he found that the lever got deformed after a while, and would stop missing the actuator arms of his endurance tester completely. In some other samples, he found that the switches would die, electrically, after just a few thousand operations. The test results appear to have justified building the Useless Machine. In any case, even when using original switches, quite often it does help to perform tests to verify their suitability to your specific application.

Ideally, these microswitches ought to have been compliant to the IEC 61058 series of standards. When switches encounter real world loads running off utility supply, their electrical endurance is de-rated depending on many factors. The standard defines many different kinds electro-mechanical test parameters such as the speed of actuation, the number of operations per minute and on-off timing. Actual operating conditions are simulated using various types of electrical loads such as purely resistive, filament lamp loads (non-linear resistance), capacitive loads or inductive loads. There’s also a test involving a locked rotor condition. Under some of the most severe kinds of electrical loads, a switch may be expected to last just a few hundred operations. But if the switch is used for low power applications (contact current below 20 mA), then it is expected to last up to its mechanical endurance limit. For most microswitches, this is usually in the range to 100,000 to 300,000 operations.

Coming back to his project, his first version was cobbled together as a quick hack. A 3D-printed lever was attached to a motor fixed on a 3D-printed mount. The switch was wired to an Arduino input, and a four-digit display showed the number of counts. On his next attempt, he replaced the single lever with a set of three, and in yet another version, he changed the lever design by adding small ball bearings at the end of the actuator arms so they rolled smoothly over the microswitch lever. The final version isn’t anywhere close to a machine that would be used to test these kind of switches in a Compliance Test Laboratory, but for his purpose, we guess it meets the bar.

For those interested, here is a great resource on everything you need to know about Switch Basics. And check out the Useless Machine in action in the video below.

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The BeagleBone Blue – Perfect For Robots

There’s a new BeagleBone on the block, and it’s Blue. The BeagleBone Blue is built for robots, and it’s available right now.

If a cerulean BeagleBone sounds familiar, you’re not wrong. About a year ago, the BeagleBone Blue was introduced in partnership with UCSD. This board was meant for robotics, and had the peripherals to match. Support for battery charging was included, as well as motor drivers, sensor inputs, and wireless. If you want to put Linux on a moving thingy, there are worse choices.

The newly introduced BeagleBone Blue is more or less the same. A 9-axis IMU, barometer, motor driver, quad encoder sensor, servo driver, and a balancing LiPo charger are all included. The difference in this revision is the processor. That big square of epoxy in the middle of the board is the Octavo Systems OSD3358, better known as a BeagleBone on a chip. This is the first actual product we’ve seen using this neat chip, but assuredly not the last – a few people are working on stuffing this chip onto a board that fits in mini Altoids tins.

Arduino into NAND Reader

[James Tate] is starting up a project to make a “Super Reverse-Engineering Tool”. First on his list? A simple NAND flash reader, for exactly the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks: because that’s where the binaries are.

As it stands, [James]’s first version of this tool is probably not what you want to use if you’re dumping a lot of NAND flash modules. His Arduino code reads the NAND using the notoriously slow digital_read() and digital_write() commands and then dumps it over the serial port at 115,200 baud. We’re not sure which is the binding constraint, but neither of these methods are built for speed.

Instead, the code is built for hackability. It’s pretty modular, and if you’ve got a NAND flash that needs other low-level bit twiddling to give up its data, you should be able to get something up and working quickly, start it running, and then go have a coffee for a few days. When you come back, the data will be dumped and you will have only invested a few minutes of human time in the project.

With TSOP breakout boards selling for cheap, all that prevents you from reading out the sweet memory contents of a random device is a few bucks and some patience. If you haven’t ever done so, pull something out of your junk bin and give it a shot! If you’re feeling DIY, or need to read a flash in place, check out this crazy solder-on hack. Or if you can spring for an FTDI FT2233H breakout board, you can read a NAND flash fast using essentially the same techniques as those presented here.

One Soldering Controller To Rule Them All

If your favourite programming language is solder, they you’ve surely worked your way through a bunch of irons and controllers over your hacker existence. It’s also likely you couldn’t pick one single favourite and ended up with a bunch of them crowding your desk. It would be handy to have one controller to rule them all. That’s just what [sparkybg] set out to do by building his Really Universal Soldering Controller. His intent was to design a controller capable of driving any kind of low voltage soldering iron which used either an in-line or separate temperature sensor (either thermocouple or resistive PTC).

This project has really caught on. [sparkybg] announced his build about two years back and since then many others have started posting details of their own Unisolder 5.2 builds. [zed65] built the version seen to the right and [SZ64] assembled the boards shown at the top of this article.

The controller has been proven to work successfully with Iron handles from Hakko, Pace, JBC, Weller, Ersa, as well as several Chinese makes. Getting the controller to identify one of the supported 625 types of iron profiles consists of connecting two close tolerance resistors across the relevant pins on the 9-pin shell connector. This is a brilliant solution to help identify a large variety of different types of irons with simple hardware. In the unlikely situation where you have a really vague, unsupported model, then creating your own custom profile is quite straightforward. The design is highly discrete with an all analog front end and a PIC32 doing all the digital heavy lifting.

To get an idea of the complexity of his task, here is what [sparkybg] needs to do:

“I have around 200 microseconds to stop the power, wait for the TC voltage to come to its real value, connect the amplifier to this voltage, wait for the amplifier to set its output to what I want to read, take the measurement from the ADC, disconnect the amplifier from the TC, run the PID, and eventually turn the power back on. The millivolts to temperature calculation is done using polynomial with 10 members. It does this calculation using 32bit mantissa floating point numbers and completes it in around 20 microseconds. The whole wave shaping, temperature calculation, PID and so on is completed in around 50-60 microseconds. RMS current, voltage and power calculations are done in around 100 microseconds. All this is done between the half periods of the mains voltage, where the voltage is less than around 3 volts.”

The forum is already over 800 posts deep, but you can start by grabbing the all important schematic PDF’s, Gerbers, BoM and firmware files conveniently linked in the first post to build your own Unisolder5.2 controller. This Universal Controller is a follow up to his earlier project for a Hakko T12/T15 specific controller which gave him a lot of insight in to designing the universal version.

[sparkybg] has posted several videos showing the UniSolder5.2 controlling several types of Irons. In the video after the break, he demonstrates it controlling a Weller WSP80.

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