A Real Hacker’s IDE

We don’t use a GUI IDE, but if we did, it would most certainly be something along the lines of [Martin]’s embedded-IDE project. We’ve always felt that most IDEs are just fancy wrappers around all the tools that we use anyway: Makefiles, diff, git, ctags, and an editor. [Martin]’s project makes them less fancy, more transparent, and more customizable, while retaining the functionality. That’s the hacker’s way — putting together proven standard tools that already work.

The code editor he uses is QScintilla, which uses clang for code completion. The “template” system for new projects? He uses diff and patch to import and export project templates. Because it uses standard tools all along the way, you can install the entire toolchain with sudo apt-get install clang diffutils patch ctags make on an Ubuntu-like system. Whatever compiler you want to use is supported, naturally.

We can’t see a debugger interface, so maybe that’s something for the future? Anyway, if you want a minimalistic IDE, or one that exposes the inner workings of what it’s doing rather than hiding them, then give [Martin]’s IDE a try. If you want more bells and whistles that you’re not going to use anyway, and don’t mind a little bloat and obscuration, many of our writers swear by Eclipse, both for Arduino and for ARM platforms. We’ll stick to our butterflies.

A Tool For KiCad Board Renderings

If you’re producing documentation for a PCB project, you might as well make the board renders look good. But then, that’s a lot of work and you’re not an artist. Enter [Jan]’s new tool that takes KiCad board files, replaces each footprint with (custom) graphics, and provides a nice SVG representation, ready for labelling. If you like the output of a Fritzing layout, but have higher expectations of the PCB tool, this is just the ticket.

We all love [pighixx]’s pinout diagrams. Here’s his take on the Arduino Uno, for instance. It turns out that he does these largely by hand. That’s art for ya.

Sparkfun has taken a stab at replicating the graphical style for the pin labels, but then they toss in a photo of the real item. [Jan]’s graphic PCB generator fills in the last step toward almost putting [pighixx] out of a job. Get the code for yourself on GitHub.

Desktop Factory Teaches PLC Programming

How to train young engineers in industrial automation is a thorny issue. Most factories have big things that can do a lot of damage and cost tons of money if the newbie causes a crash. Solution: shrink the factory down to desktop size and let them practice on that.

Luckily for [Vadim], there’s an off-the-shelf solution for miniaturizing factory automation: FischerTechnik industrial training models. The models have motors, conveyors, pneumatic cylinders, and sensors galore, but the controller is not exactly the industry standard programmable logic controller (PLC). [Vadim] set out to remedy this by building an interface between the FischerTechnik models and a Siemens PLC. He went through a couple of revisions of his board, including one using rivets from the sewing store to interface with the FischerTechnic connectors. Eventually, he settled on more robust connectors and came up with a board that lets students delve into PLC programming without killing anyone. The video below shows it going through its paces; we can only imagine where playing with these kits as a kid would have led us.

As great as [Vadim]’s system is for training engineers, we can also see it helpful in getting kids interested in a career in industrial automation. We recently covered a similar effort to show kids big science using LEGO Mindstorms. Both of these can help get STEM kids to see the wider world of technical careers and perhaps steer them into automation. After all, the people who make the robots are probably going to be the last ones obsoleted, right?

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Interactive Board Prompts Moves for Checkers and Chess

In terms of equipment, chess and checkers are simple games — just a handful of pieces and a checkered gameboard. The simplicity belies the underlying complexity of the games, though, and goes a long way toward explaining their popularity over the millennia.

Increasing the complexity with an interactive game board for chess and checkers might seem counterintuitive, then. But [Bogdan Berg]’s project aims to not only teach checkers and chess but to make games a little more exciting and engaging. Looking a little like a tabletop version of the interactive dance floors we’ve been seeing a lot of lately, the board is built from laser-cut acrylic with plywood dividers to isolate all 64 squares. Neopixels and Hall-effect sensors are mounted to custom PCBs that stretch the length of a row and are wired to an Arduino Mega with lots of IO. Game pieces are colorful fridge magnets. [Bogdan]’s current program supports checkers and keeps track of where the pieces have been moved relative to their starting position and prompts users with possible legal moves.

[Bogdan]’s board already looks like a lot of fun in the video below, and we like the quality of the build and the unobtrusive nature of the interactivity. When he gets around to implementing chess, though, he might want something fancier than fridge magnets for game pieces.

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An Interactive Oasis At Burning Man

An oasis in the desert is the quintessential image of salvation for the wearied wayfarer. At Burning Man 2016, Grove — ten biofeedback tree sculptures — provided a similar, interactive respite from the festival. Each tree has over two thousand LEDs, dozens of feet of steel tube, two Teensy boards used by the custom breath sensors to create festival magic.

Grove works like this: at your approach — detected by dual IR sensors — a mechanical flower blooms, meant to prompt investigation. As you lean close, the breath sensors in the daffodil-like flower detect whether you’re inhaling or exhaling, translating the input into a dazzling pulse of LED light that snakes its way down the tree’s trunk and up to the bright, 3W LEDs on the tips of the branches.

Debugging and last minute soldering in the desert fixed a few issues, before setup — no project is without its hiccups. The entire grove was powered by solar-charged, deep-cycle batteries meant to least from sunset to sunrise — or close enough if somebody forgot to hook the batteries up to charge.

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Measuring Tiny Masses Acoustically

How do you measure the mass of something really, really tiny? Like fish-embryo tiny. There aren’t many scales with the sensitivity and the resolution to make meaningful measurements in the nanogram range, so you’ve got to turn to other methods, like measuring changes in the resonant frequency of a glass tube. And that turns out to be cheap and easy for the home gamer to reproduce.

In a recent scholarly paper, [William Grover] et al from the University of California Riverside outline the surprisingly simple and clever method of weighing zebrafish embryos, an important model organism used in all sorts of developmental biology and environmental research. [Grover]’s method is a scaled-up version of a suspended microchannel resonator (SMR), a microelectromechanical device that can measure the mass of single cells or even weigh a virus particle. Rather than etch the resonator out of silicon, a U-shaped glass tube is vibrated by a piezoelectric speaker and kept at its resonant frequency by feedback from a cheap photointerrupter. When an embryo is pumped into the tube, the slight change in mass alters the resonant frequency of the system, which is easily detected by the photointerrupter. The technique can even be leveraged to measure volume and density of the embryos, and all for about $12 in parts.

In the lab, [Grover]’s team uses a data acquisition card and LabVIEW to run the resonant loop, but there’s no reason a DIY version of this couldn’t use an Arduino. In fact, tipster [Douglas Miller] expects someone out there will try this, and would appreciate hearing the details. You can ping him on his hackaday.io page.

Customize Your Ratios with a 3D-Printed Gearbox

Small DC motors are easy to find — you can harvest dozens from old printers and copiers. You might even get a few with decent gearboxes too. But will you get exactly the motor with exactly the gearing your project needs? Unlikely, but you can always just print a gearbox to get exactly what you need.

There’s nothing fancy about [fortzero]’s gearboxes. The motors are junk bin specials, and the gears are all simple spur gears 3D-printed from PLA. There are four gears in the train, each with a 2:1 reduction, giving a 16:1 overall ratio. The gears ride on brass shafts that are press-fit into the housing, and there’s not a bearing in sight — just a few washers to keep the gears spaced apart and plenty of grease. Despite the simplicity, the gearboxes turned out to be pretty capable, lifting a 3.5 kg load. The design files are available and should make it easy for you to get just the ratio you want for the motor you have.

Of course more complicated gearboxes are possible with a 3D printer, including a split-harmonic planetary gear, or a strain wave gear using a timing belt. No 3D printer? No problem! Just build a LEGO gearbox.

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