Hacking A Laser Tape Measure In 3 Easy Steps

uni-t-laser-distance

[Andrew] got a little help from his friends to hack a laser distance meter. Using laser distance meters as sensors is one of the great quests of hackers – with good reason. Accurate distance readings are invaluable for applications including robots, printers, and manufacturing. We’ve seen people try and fail to hack similar units before, while others built their own from scratch. [Andrew] started experimenting with the UNI-T 390B, a relatively cheap ($60 USD) device from China. He found the 390B has a serial port accessible through its battery compartment. Even better, the serial port is still enabled and outputs distance data. While data could be read, [Andrew] couldn’t command the 390B to start a measurement. The only option seemed to be using the Arduino to simulate button presses on the 390B’s front panel.

In an update to his original blog,  he described an Arduino sketch which would decode the distance measurements. That’s when [speleomaniac] jumped in with the discovery that the Uni-T would respond to commands in the form “*xxxxx#”. Armed with this information, [Andrew] posted a second update with a basic command breakdown. Command *00004# will take a single measurement and output the data via serial. Command *00002# will take 3 measurements, outputting them in a C style array format. There are several other commands which output debug information and what appear to be stored measurement dumps. Although he didn’t explore every nuance of the data output,  [Andrew] now has enough information to initiate a measurement and read the result. Nice work!

[Thanks James!]

Laser Cutter Becomes An Etch A Sketch

etch

The mirror in a laser cutter moves along an X Y axis. An Etch A Sketch moves its stylus along an X Y axis. Honestly, this laser cutter with Etch A Sketch controls is so obvious, we’re shocked we haven’t seen it before.

The Etch A Sketch interface is extremely simple – just two rotary encoders attached to laser cut knobs set inside a small, laser cut frame. The lines from the encoders are connected to an Arduino Pro Mini that interfaces with the controller unit on the laser cutter, moving the steppers and turning on the laser only when the head is moving. There’s an additional safety that only turns on the laser when the lid is closed and the water pump is running.

The circuit is extremely simple, and with just a few connections, it’s possible to retrofit the Etch A Sketch controller to the laser cutter in just a few minutes.  Just the thing for a weekend hackerspace project.

 

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Fail of the Week: Secret Agent-Style Book Hideaway

fotw-book-hideaway-with-laser-cutter

Ah, the movies are an inspiration for so many projects. How many times have you seen a spy movie where a cutout in the pages of a book are hiding something? This was the inspiration which led [Paul] and his crew to try using a laser cutter to remove a handgun-shaped cutout from the pages. The fail began before the project even got started. The sacrificial book they had chosen was too thick to cut directly so they tore it in thirds for the cutting process.

The hijinks are portrayed well in the clip after the break. The infectious giggling as this first trace of the laser cuts the outline makes the video worth watching. As they try to go deeper, the success falls off rapidly. This makes for a great Fail of the Week discussion: Why can’t you cut through multiple layers of a book with a laser cutter? Is this merely a focal length issue that would be solved with a higher-end cutter or is there something else at play here. Let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

 

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Mechanical Iris Will Make You Want a Laser Cutter Even More

iris

Mechanical irises are very intricately designed mechanisms that are mesmerizing to see in action — and if you have a laser cutter, you could make one in less than 10 minutes.

Our “Teacher of Science”, Instructables’ user [NTT] has revised a previous Instructables design on a mechanical iris to improve it. The original design used three layers of components and dowel pins for every joint. What [NTT] has done is reduced this to two layers, and eliminated half of the pins required by designing clever circular cutouts. The result is a very slick mechanical iris that is very easy and quick to build — provided you have the tools.

Stick around to see the original iris open and close — unfortunately there’s no video of the new design — but we think you can imagine the differences.

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Crafternoon: Forget Potatoes, We’re Making Stamps with Lasers

No, that’s not Heisenberg without his hat. It’s [Jens], and he laser-cut a stamp of his face out of EVA foam. He made the laser cutter himself, which we covered a couple of months ago.

Let’s take a brief interlude to discuss your beautiful eyeballs. Keep them safe, okay? If you’re going to play with lasers, be smart and protect yourself according to the wattage and wavelength. Alright, back to business.

[Jens] started by making a stencil from a photo using this tutorial. He added a frame and supports around his face to keep everything where it should be. [Jens] then turned to Inkscape to generate the g-code using the laser plugin and then proceeded to cut his countenance into EVA foam.

After gluing the foam to a wood backing, he cut off the supports. Now it’s ready to stamp. You could use a brayer if you have one or maybe your wife’s rolling pin to apply whatever ink or paint you want to use. [Jens] loaded up his stamp with a sponge.

Etching designs into denim with a laser cutter

JeansEtchLaser

Finding new uses for your tools and equipment can be very exciting. [Foamy] wrote in to tell us about a blog post by [qbotics] that demonstrates etching designs into denim with a laser cutter. What a cool unexpected use for a laser cutter!

According to the Epilog laser cutter’s website, “we have engraved everything from denim to acrylic with fantastic results”. This inspired the author of “Science with denim” to try engraving jeans. After some experimentation,  [qbotics] found that setting the 75W laser cutter to 15% power at 100% speed worked best. The results are quite impressive; the engraved pattern looks like naturally faded jeans. Amazing.

In the past, we have seen lasers engrave everything from calculators to wood. We would be curious to see if some of the DIY laser cutters could engrave denim as well. Give it a try and tell us about it!

A 3-Axis Paper Cutting Mini Laser

LaserCutter

Laser are awesome, and so are projects that use lasers. A recent Instructable by [kokpat] gives an overview of how to create a fully functional laser paper cutter using CDROM stepper motors and an Arduino.

What is special about this build, is that it showcases how easy it can be to build a 3-axis mechanical system used for laser cutters, CNC machines, and 3D printers. Using a stepper stage that consist of a motor screw with a nut slider based carriage, the mechanical system can be put together quite easily and cost effectively. Luckily, from an electronics and software perspective, everything is quite standardized with the proliferation of the RepRap and similar machines. Simply pick any three stepper drivers, find the most pertinent firmware, and voilà! You’re done! Well, almost. Don’t forget a 100mW violet laser!

We have seen a ton of really cool laser cutters before, but this has to be one of the cheapest. See the laser cutter in action after the break.

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