RFToy Makes Wireless Projects Easier

[Ray] has created RFToy, a simple gadget to aid in setting up wireless systems with a variety of common radio modules. RFToy is an open source microcontroller board running on an ATmega328. While RFToy is Arduino code compatible, [Ray] chose to ditch the familiar Arduino shield layout for one that makes it easier to install RF modules, and is more handheld friendly.

[RFToy] includes headers for the popular nRF24L01 2.4 GHz transceiver, as well as 433/315 transmitters and receivers found in many low-cost wireless electronic devices. The 128×64 pixel OLED screen and 3 button interface make it easy to set up simple user interfaces for testing new designs.

[Ray] hasn’t broken any new ground here. What he has done is create a simple tool for wireless projects. Anyone who’s worked on a wireless system can tell you that tools like this are invaluable for debugging why your circuit isn’t talking. Is it the transmitter? The receiver? Something else in the power supply circuit?

Check out [Ray's] demo video after the break. In it, he sniffs, records, and plays back signals from several remote-controlled outlets. [Ray] also has a great demo of sending temperature data back and forth using an nRF24L01.

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Light Up Component Bins and a Manual Pick and Place

[Mike] makes some very niche musical instruments, and the production volume he’s looking at means there isn’t a need to farm out his assembly. This means doing everything by hand, including the annoying task of picking resistors and other components out of bins. After searching for a way to speed up his assembly process, he came up with the Stuffomatic, a device that locates the correct component at the press of a button.

The normal way of grabbing a part when assembling is reading the reference on the board, cross referencing the value on the BOM, and digging the correct part out of the bin. To speed this up, [Mike] put LEDs in each of the part bins, connected to a Teensy 2.0 that has the BOM stored in memory. Clicking a foot switch looks up the next component and lights up the LED in the associated part bin.

[Mike] says this invention has speeded up his assembly time by about 30%, a significant amount if you’re looking at hours to assemble one unit.

If you’re wondering exactly what [Mike] is assembling, check this out. It’s heavily inspired by the Ondes Martenot, an electronic musical instrument that’s about as old as the theremin, but a million times cooler. Video sample below.

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Piezo Vacuum Pump for Lightweight Pick and Place

If you’re building a pick and place machine, or even just a vacuum pen, you’ll need some way to pick up tiny part. This means something that sucks, aquarium tubing, and everything that goes with that. A few months ago, [Wayne] found an interesting device called a Micro Blower that will blow small amounts of air from a small, lightweight device. A few modifications later, and he had a piezoelectric vacuum pump for picking up tiny parts.

The Micro Blower [Wayne] found is available on Mouser for about $45, but this device blows. To turn it into something that sucks, he would need to find a way to block up the input side of the pump so it could draw a vacuum. Eventually settling on mounting the blower inside a stack of foam board, [Wanye] glued on a 20 gauge needle and was able to suck up 0603 SMD parts.

The new piezoelectric sucker is extremely light, and the power draw is very reasonable: 18V and 20mA. This would be a great device to mount to a certain pick and place machine without having to run vacuum lines through the mechanics of a motion platform. Video below.

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Self Replicating Skateboard…. What?!?!?

[Bart] and company over at Pumping Station One make a lot of skateboard decks. They wanted to build a CNC Router that was not only portable but had a size that was optimized for cutting skateboard decks. The project got a little out of hand and the CNC Router ended up also being a skateboard! As crazy as that sounds, the craziest part may be that they built it in just one night.

CNC Router SkateboardThe project started off with some stock Shapeoko 2 parts. Achieving the deck-cutting size required shortening the X Axis and tripling the length of the Y Axis resulting in a 250 x 1200mm work envelope. The DC spindle used accepts ER16 collets and has a fully variable speed control. The stand alone selectable 24/48 volt power supply has a neat DIY handle to ease transportation. Even though the router itself has skateboard trucks, it also has a handle at the front so it’s easy to grab and drag behind you.

The guys that built this admit that, as a skateboard, it is kind of crappy. They do go on to mention that a 230lb dude was able to ride it without incident. As a project, however, they hit their goals on the head, ending up with an easily-transportable dedicated skateboard-deck-making CNC Router.

Mobile Soldering Workstation Sets Up Quickly, Lets You Get To Work

Who here hasn’t put off soldering up a project because pulling out and setting up all your soldering gear is a pain? A lot of hobbyists don’t have a dedicated workbench for such activities and their gear may even be packed away somewhere inconvenient. [laxap] has come up with a solution using a plastic toolbox as a base for his Mobile Soldering Workstation.

[laxap] started with a regular off the shelf toolbox that has a lid and three drawers on the bottom. Although the Weller soldering iron base fit nicely in the bottom drawer, it did necessitate ditching the middle drawer for clearance. The compartmentalized top drawer is unmodified and holds parts and supplies in an orderly fashion.

Lifting up the lid of the box reveals a removable tray, which as intended, is a great spot to store tools such as a multimeter and wire strippers. The area under the removable tray is reserved for a power strip and power cord storage. A hole drilled in the side of the toolbox allows quick access to the power strip’s plug, a quick pull out and plug in is all that is necessary to get this workstation powered up.

That front flip up panel was made specifically for this project. Not only does it help keep the drawers from sliding open during transport, it also holds a lamp to aid in seeing what you’re doing! A bent aluminum strip acts as a latch to keep the panel in position.

It’s a pretty simple idea but it certainly gets the job done and makes soldering a whole bunch more convenient. If you like mobile workbenches, you may want to check out this all-wooden shelf style or one that features integrated solderless breadboards.

How To Reverse Engineer, Featuring the Rigol DS1054Z

For a few years now, the Rigol DS1052E has been the unofficial My First Oscilloscope™. It’s cheap, it’s good enough for most projects, and there have been a number hacks and mods for this very popular scope to give it twice as much bandwidth and other interesting tools. The 1052E is a bit long in the tooth and Rigol has just released the long-awaited update, the DS1054Z. It’s a four-channel scope, has a bigger screen, more bells and whistles, and only costs $50 more than the six-year-old 1052E. Basically, if you’re in the market for a cheap, usable oscilloscope, scratch the ~52E off your list and replace it with the ~54Z.

With four channels of input, [Dave Jones] was wondering how the engineers at Rigol managed to stuff two additional front ends into the scope while still meeting the magic price point of $400. This means it’s time for [Dave] to reverse engineer the 1054Z, and give everyone on the Internet a glimpse at how a real engineer tears apart the worth of other engineers.

The first thing [Dave] does once the board is out of the enclosure is taking a nice, clear, and in-focus picture of both sides of the board. These pictures are edited, turned into a line drawing, and printed out on a transparency sheet. This way, both sides of the board can be viewed at once, allowing for a few dry erase marker to highlight the traces and signals.

Unless your voyage on the sea of reverse engineering takes you to the island of despair and desoldering individual components, you’ll be measuring the values of individual components in circuit. For this, you’ll want a low-voltage ohms function on your meter; if you’re putting too much voltage through a component, you’ll probably turn on some silicon in the circuit, and your measurements will be crap. Luckily, [Dave] shows a way to test if your meter will work for this kind of work; you’ll need another meter.

From there, it’s basically looking at datasheets and drawing a schematic of the circuit; inputs go at the left, outputs at the right, ground is at the bottom, and positive rails are at the top. It’s harder than it sounds – most of [Dave]‘s expertise in this area is just pattern recognition. It’s one thing to reverse engineer a circuit through brute force, but knowing the why and how of how the circuit works makes things much easier.

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Function Generator with Zero CPU Cycles

No one is sitting around their workbench trying to come up with the next great oscilloscope or multimeter, but function generators still remain one of the pieces of test equipment anyone – even someone with an Arduino starter pack – can build at home. Most of these function generators aren’t very good; you’re lucky if you can get a sine wave above the audio spectrum. [Bruce Land] had the idea to play around with DMA channels on a PIC32 and ended up with a function generator that uses zero CPU cycles. It’s perfect for a homebrew function generator build, or even a very cool audio synthesizer.

The main obstacles to generating a good sine wave at high frequencies are a high sample rate and an accurate DAC. For homebrew function generators, it’s usually the sample rate that’s terrible; it’s hard pushing bits out a port that fast. By using the DMA channel on a PIC32, [Bruce] can shove arbitrary waveforms out of the chip without using any CPU cycles. By writing a sine wave, or any other wave for that matter, to memory, the PIC32 will just spit them out and leave the CPU to do more important work.

[Bruce] was able to generate a great-looking sine wave up to 200 kHz, and the highest amplitude of the harmonics was about 40db below the fundamental up to 100 kHz. That’s a spectacular sine wave, and the perfect basis for a DIY function generator build.