Laser Cut Map Taken to the Next Level

For Christmas this year, [Scottshambaugh] decided to make his family a map of their hometown — Portland, ME. Using topographical map data, he made this jaw-dropping 3D map, and it looks amazing.

He started by exporting the elevation data of Portland using software called QGIS, a free opensource geographical information system — it’s extremely powerful software, but takes a bit to learn. Luckily, [Scott] made a tutorial for us. All you need to do is add the road data, put all the slices into an illustrator file, clean up some of the files, and you’re ready to start laser cutting.

He used 1/8th thick sheets of Baltic birch plywood, a staple material around laser cutters because it burns quickly and easily and is very flexible, which means that it’s harder to break. The map measures 12″ x 24″ — but once it’s laser cut, be ready for a multi-leveled jigsaw puzzle! The small pieces of elevation data can be very tricky!

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Seeing Around Corners with Frickin’ Lasers

Researchers at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University have created a sensor that can see around corners using lasers, high speed cameras, and some intense data processing. They can essentially turn a laser light source into a virtual mirror to look through.

Led by [Genevieve Gariepy], the team has been able to prove their research in a lab setting, and are now trying to refine it to work in the real world. While the animated image above makes the system seem rather simple, the tech behind it makes our heads hurt.

The timing measurement alone for the laser light to bounce off the hidden object and be reflected to where the camera can see it needs to be accurate down to the 500 billionth of a second (500 nanoseconds). Five hundred billionths.

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Raspberry Pi Communication Via LASER

[Nick Touran] wanted to make two Raspberry Pi’s communicate wirelessly. There are lots of options, but [Nick] used a LASER and a photoresistor, along with Morse code. If you don’t find Morse code fancy enough, you could always refer to it as OOK (on/off keying). The circuit uses a common LASER module and an ordinary photoresistor that varies in resistance based on light. A resistor forms a voltage divider with the photoresistor and an external A/D reads the resulting voltage.

The circuit works, but we couldn’t help but notice a few items. Not all photoresistors are as sensitive to the same light wavelengths, so for the maximum range you’d want to pick a particular photoresistor.  While the analog to digital converter is certainly workable, we couldn’t help but wonder if you couldn’t set up the divider to use the inherent threshold of the Raspberry Pi’s input pins for a simpler circuit. Of course, if you used the same technique with an Arduino, you could use the built-in A/D converter, and the A/D converter is probably easier to get working.

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Laser Cut-and-Weld Makes 3D Objects

Everybody likes 3D printing, right? But it’s slow compared to 2D laser cutting. If only there were a way to combine multiple 2D slices into a 3D model. OK, we know that you’re already doing it by hand with glue and/or joints. But where’s the fun in that?

LaserStacker automates the whole procedure for you. They’ve tweaked their laser cutter settings to allow not just cutting but also welding of acrylic. This lets them build up 3D objects out of acrylic slices with no human intervention by first making a cutting pass at one depth and then selectively re-welding together at another. And they’ve also built up some software, along with a library of functional elements, that makes designing these sort of parts easier.

There’s hardly any detail on their website about how it works, so you’ll have to watch the video below the break and make some educated guesses. It looks like they raise the cutter head upwards to make the welding passes, probably spreading the beam out a bit. Do they also run it at lower power, or slower? We demand details!

Anyway, check out the demo video at 3:30 where they run through the slice-to-depth and heal modes through their paces. It’s pretty impressive.

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Alvaro Prieto’s Laser-Shooting Robots

[Alvaro Prieto]’s talk at the Hackaday Supercon began with a slide that asks the rhetorical question “Why Laser-Shooting Robots?” Does a rhetorical question need an answer? [Alvaro] gives one anyway: “Because lasers are awesome.” We concur.

But it doesn’t hurt that DEFCON holds a laser robot contest to give you an excuse, either. You see, [Alvaro]’s laser-wielding robot was the First Place finisher in the 2014 DEFCONBOTS contest, and a much more ambitious design came in third in 2015. His Supercon talk is all about the lessons he’s learned along the way, because that’s really the point of these contests anyway, right?

“I have no idea what I’m doing.”

[Alvaro] started off with a disclaimer, but when [Alvaro] says he doesn’t know what he’s doing, what he means is that he hasn’t received formal training in building laser-wielding, autonomous turret robots. (How did we miss that class in school?)


He’s a true hacker, though; he didn’t know what he was doing when he started out but he started out anyway. [Alvaro]’s takes us from the first prototypes where he used servo motors with inadequate angular resolution mounted to balsa wood frames that he (obviously) cut with a knife by hand, through laser-cut frames with custom gearing and stepper motors, all the way to his DEFCONBOTS 2015 entry, based on OpenBeam aluminum extrusions and using professional laser-show galvos capable of swinging the beam around to thousands of points per second.

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UV Laser Projector Shines With Glow-in-the-Dark Vinyl

Mirror galvanometers were originally developed in the 17th century to precisely measure very small changes in current. Unlike other instruments of the day, a mirror galvanometer could clearly show minute current variations by translating tiny movements of the mirror into large movements of the light reflected off of the mirror. Before clean electrical amplification became possible, this was the best means of measuring tiny differences in current. True mirror galvanometers are very sensitive instruments, but hobby servos can be used as a low-fidelity alternative, like with this project on created by [robives].

Using a mirror galvanometer is by far the most common technique for laser projection shows – it’s really the only way to move the laser’s beam quickly enough to create the visual illusion of a solid line in real time. A mirror galvanometer works by using coils to attract magnets attached to the mirror, allowing the angle of the mirror to change when current is applied to the coils. This movement is extremely small, but is amplified by the distance to the projection surface, meaning the laser’s beam can move huge distances in an instance. If you’ve ever seen a laser show, it almost certainly used this technique. But driving galvos requires a beefy DAC, so we can’t blame [robives] for wanting to keep it digital.

[robives’s] project side-steps the need for galvanometers by using glow-in-the-dark vinyl and a UV laser. The result is a laser beam trail which lasts much longer, which means that solid lines are visible without the need for high-speed galvos. A build like this lets you experiment with laser projections without dealing with sensitive mirror galvos, and instead use components that you probably already have sitting on your workbench.

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Freezing Stuff With Fricken’ Lasers

For almost two decades there has been research that describes a method to freeze material with nothing but a laser. The techniques have only ever been able to work on single nano-crystals in a vacuum, making it less than functional — or practical. Until now, that is.

Researchers at the University of Washington have figured out how to cool a liquid indirectly using an infrared laser. It works by subjecting a special microscopic crystal to the laser. When the laser hits this crystal, the infrared light turns to the visible spectrum, becoming a reddish green light — which happens to be more energetic than infrared. This shift in energy levels is what causes a change in temperature. The energy (in the way of heat) is sucked from the fluid surrounding the crystal, and as such, causes a drop in the temperature of the liquid. Continue reading “Freezing Stuff With Fricken’ Lasers”