Testing Distance Sensors

I’m working on a project involving the need to precisely move a tool based on the measured distance to an object. Okay, yeah, it’s a CNC mill. Anyway, I’d heard of time of fight sensors and decided to get one to test out, but also to be thorough I wanted to include other distance sensors as well: a Sharp digital distance sensor as well as a more sophisticated proximity/light sensor. I plugged them all into a breadboard and ran them through their paces, using a frame built from aluminum beams as a way of holding the target materials at a specific height.

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One Person’s Experience Of Having PCB Assembly Done In China

Those of us who have our PCBs manufactured by Chinese PCB fab houses will be used to seeing tempting offers to also assemble our completed boards. Send the Gerbers as normal, but also send a BoM, and for an extra slice of cash you can receive fully assembled PCBs instead of just bare boards. It sounds alluring, but leaves a few questions for those without the experience. How much will it cost, what will the quality be like, and will my boards work? [Alexander Lang] had a limited run of ten small pressure sensor boards to make, and since his board house had started an assembly service,  decided to take the plunge and opt for full assembly.

His first step was to assemble his BoM and send it with the Gerbers. He is at pains to stress that the BoM is key to the whole project, and getting it right with the correct packages and more than one source for each component is critical. The board house first charged him £32.05 ($41.76) to make his PCBs and stencil, and assess his BoM for a build quote. A few days passed, and then he had a quote for assembly, £61.41 ($80). He placed the order, the board house processed it and made the boards, and in due course his working PCB modules arrived.

This might sound at this point like an unexciting saga, but its very smoothness is the key to what makes it interesting. Those of us who have wondered about the risks involved in taking up such a service need to hear stories like this one as surely as we do stories of failure, because without them we’re flying blind. Whether £93.46 ($121.76) for ten small boards represents good enough value is another matter, but if surface-mount soldering is not your thing you might be interested to follow [Alexander]’s example. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that getting a cheap PCB made in China was a similar leap of faith.

Make Your Own Reed Switches

[Lucid Science] shows us how to make some simple reed switches. Reed switches are simple components that detect a magnetic field and can close or open a circuit once detected. While not really a thing of beauty, these DIY reed switches should help you out if you just can’t wait to order some or you fancied trying your hands at making some components from scratch.

Reed switches normally come in very small form factors so if you need something small then this may not be for you however the video does show you on a macro scale the fundamental workings of a reed switch. To make your own reed switch you need only a few parts: some copper, enamelled wire and magnets. They really are simple devices however sometimes it’s easy to overlook how simple some things are when they are so small that you can’t really see how they work.

Making your own components from scratch is probably the best way to understand the inner workings of said component. In the past we have seen some pretty awesome self built components from these beautiful DIY Nixie tubes to even making your own LEDs

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Design a Coil for a Specific Inductance

YouTuber [RimstarOrg], AKA Hackaday’s own [Steven Dufresne], shows how to make a DIY inductor for a specific inductance. This is obviously a great skill to learn as sometimes your design may call for a very accurate inductance that may be otherwise hard to find.

Making your own inductor may seem daunting. You will have to answer a few questions such as: “what type of core will I use?”, “how many turns does my coil need?”, or “how do I calculate these parameters to create the specific inductance I desire?”. [RimstarOrg] goes through all of this, and even has a handy inductance calculator on his website to make it easier for you. He also provides all the formulae needed to calculate the inductance in the video below.

Using a DIY AM Radio receiver, he demonstrates in a visual way how to tune an AM Radio with a wiper on his home-built coil. Changing the inductance with a wiper changes the frequency of the radio: this is a variable inductor,

This video is great for understanding the foundations of inductors. While you may just go to a supplier and buy yours, it’s always great to know how to build your own when you can’t find a supplier, or just can’t wait.

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The Art Of The Silicon Chip

If you have followed the group of reverse engineers whose work on classic pieces of silicon we feature regularly here at Hackaday, you may well be familiar with the appearance of the various components that make up their gates and other functions. What you may not be familiar with, however, are the features that can occasionally be found which have no function other than the private amusement of the chip designers themselves. Alongside the transistors, resistors, and interconnects, there are sometimes little pieces of artwork inserted into unused spaces on the die, visible only to those fortunate enough to own a powerful microscope.

Fortunately those of us without such an instrument can also take a look at these works, thanks to the Smithsonian Institution, who have brought together a gallery of them on the web as part of their chip collection. In it we find cartoon characters such as Dilbert, favourites from children’s books such as Waldo, and the Japanese monster Godzilla. There are animals, cows, a leopard, a camel, and a porpoise, and of course company logos aplenty.

In a sense, these minuscule artworks are what our more strident commenters might describe as Not A Hack, but to dismiss them in such a manner would be to miss their point. Even in an age of huge teams of integrated circuit designers working with computerized tools rather than the lone geniuses of old with their hand drafting, we can still see little flashes of individuality with no practical or commercial purpose and with no audience except a very few. And we like that.

Also take a look at the work of [Ken Shirriff] for a masterclass in IC reverse engineering.

A Few of Our Favorite Chips: 4051 Analog Mux

Raindrops on roses, and whiskers on kittens? They’re alright, I suppose. But when it comes down to it, I’d probably rather have a bunch of 4051, 4052, and 4053 analog multiplexers on the component shelf. Why? Because the ability to switch analog signals around, routing them at will, under control of a microcontroller is tremendously powerful.

Whether you want to read a capacitive-sensing keyboard or just switch among audio signals, nothing beats a mux! Read on and see if you agree.

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Reusing A Wire Bonded Chip

We will all at some point have opened up a device to investigate its internal workings, and encountered a blob of resin on the PCB concealing an integrated circuit. It’s usually a cost thing, the manufacturer has sourced the chip as bare silicon rather than in encapsulated form, and it has been bonded to the board with its connections made directly using fine wires. The whole fragile component is then hidden by a protective layer of resin.

Normally these chips are off-limits to we experimenters because they can not be removed from the board without damage, and we have no information such as a part number about their function. Today though we have a rare example of a wire bonded chip being reused courtesy of Reddit user [BarockObongle], who has incorporated the controller from a multi-game joystick into his handheld NES project by cutting a square of PCB containing the chip, and soldering lengths of wire to the PCB tracks.

Of course, he’s in the rare position of knowing the function of the chip in question, and having a ready application for it. But it’s probable that few of us have considered the possibility of taking a resin blob from its original board and using it in a different way, so even though this is quite a straightforward piece of work it is sufficiently unusual to be worth a look. Sadly we don’t have the rest of the build to see it in context, it would be nice to think we’ll be able to feature it when it is completed.

If you are interested in what goes on underneath the blob, have a look at SparkFun’s explanation. Or charge your laser.