Fail of the Week – Steam Cleaner fix goes bad

[Sven337] was gifted a steam cleaner, and seemed pretty happy because it helped clean the floor better than a regular mop. Until it fell one day, and promptly stopped working. It would produce steam for a short while and then start spitting out cold water, flooding the floor.

Like any self-respecting hacker, he rolled up his sleeves and set about trying to fix it. The most-likely suspect looked like the thermostat — it would switch off and then wouldn’t switch on again until the water temperature fell way below the target, letting out liquid water instead of steam after the first switching cycle. A replacement thermostat was ordered out via eBay.

Meanwhile, he decided to try out his hypothesis by shorting out the thermostat contacts. That’s when things went south. The heater worked, and got over-heated due to the missing thermostat. The over-temperature fuse in the heater coil blew, so [Sven337] avoided burning down his house. But now, he had to replace the fuse as well as the thermostat.

[Sven337] bundled up all the parts and put them in cold storage. The thermostat arrived after almost 2 months. When it was time to put it all together, a piece of fibreglass tubing that slides over the heater coil was missing. Without the protective sleeve, the heater coil was shorting out with the grounded heater body, blowing out the fuses in his apartment.

That’s when [Sven337] called it a day and threw out the darn steam mop — a few dollars down the drain, a few hours lost, but at least he learnt a few things. Murphy’s Law being what it is, he found the missing insulation sleeve right after he’d thrown it away.

Motorcycle Headlight Modulator is a Bright Idea

Motorcyclists are paranoid about being hit by cars, and with reason. You’re a lot safer when you’re encased in a metal shell, with airbags and seatbelts. The mass difference between a car and a motorcycle doesn’t work out well for the biker, either. Unfortunately for bikers, motorcycles are also slimmer and generally less visible than cars.

A few decades ago, motorcycle manufacturers switched over to daytime running headlights to make bikes more visible. In the meantime, however, cars have done the same, leading many bikers to fear that their visibility advantage is losing it’s impact. The solution? Blink the headlights gently during the daytime, and run them normally at night.

[William Dudley] was unsatisfied with commercial versions, so he built a custom headlight modulator for his motorcycle.

head_mod_cds_7_schem And believe it or not, he did it with a 555 timer IC and a light-dependent resistor (plus some transistors and a whole slew of miscellaneous parts). But [William]’s design is a good one, and he walks you through all of the choices he made in building the light-sensing circuit that disables the 555.

Whether you need a motorcycle headlight modulator or are interested to learn how this problem would be solved in the pre-Arduino days, go check out [William]’s post. And while you’re on the nostalgic electronics trip, check out this nixie tube speedometer.

Demodulating BPSK31 With OpAmps and 555s

BPSK31 is an extremely popular mode for amateur radio operators; it’s efficient and has a narrow bandwidth and can be implemented with a computer sound card or an Arduino. Just like it says on the tin, it’s phase shift keying, and a proper implementation uses a phase detection circuit or something similar. [Craig] thought it would be fun to build an analog BPSK31 demodulator and hit upon the idea of doing this with amplitude demodulation. No, this isn’t the way you’re supposed to do it, but it works.

Data is transmitted via BPSK31 with a phase shift of 180 degrees being a binary 0, and no phase shift being a binary 1. [Craig]’s circuit uses an op-amp and a pair of diodes to do a full wave rectification of the signal, which basically makes a binary 1 logic high, and binary 0 logic low.

This rectified signal is then fed into a comparator, making the output go high when the signal is above 2V, and low when the signal is below 1V. That’s all you need to do to get bits out of the signal, all [Craig] had to do after that was figure out a way to sample it.

A 555 set up in astable mode running at 31.25 Hz provides the clock, synchronized with the signal by connecting the comparator’s output to the 555 trigger input. The timer clock ends up being slightly slower, but thanks to the varicode character set, the maximum number of binary ones the circuit will see is nine; every time the trigger sees a zero, the timer’s trigger is reset, re-synchronizing the receiver’s clock.

Yes, it’s a hack, and no, this isn’t how you’re supposed to receive PSK. It does, however, work, and you can thank [Craig] for that.


LEGO and Arduino meet Han Solo

lego blaster gif

This full-size replica blaster from Star Wars, most iconically used by Han Solo and Princess Leia, has everything. Flashing LEDs, blaster noises, LEGO, and yes, even an Arduino. Not bad for [Baron von Brunk]’s first project to use an Arduino!

The blaster was based on electronics and LEGO that were lying around and was intended for use for Star Wars Day 2014. (May the Fourth be with you.) “Lying around” in this sense might be a bit of an understatement for [Baron von Brunk], as the design of the blaster required the use of the LEGO Digital Designer and 400 blocks, some of which are quite rare.

The electronics for the project are tied to a moving trigger mechanism (also made from LEGO). The trigger mechanism hits a momentary pushbutton which tells the Arduino to activate the LEDs and a separate 555 timer and sound recording/playback device which handles the classic blaster sounds. The whole thing is powered by a 9V battery and housed in the front of the blaster, and all of the code (and the LEGO schematics) are available on the project’s site.

This is quite an impressive replica, and the craftsmanship that went into the build shows, especially in the LEGO parts. We think Han Solo would indeed be proud! If you’re ready to go even further with Star Wars and LEGO, you might want to check out this barrel organ that plays the Star Wars theme.

Dots and Dashes… on a Roll!

morse code device

Morse code was once a staple of the communications industry, but with advancing technology it has become relegated almost exclusively to movies and a niche group of ham radio operators. [Jan] has created a device which might not put a stop to this trend, but will at least educate children on the basics of how Morse code works by visually displaying Morse code as it’s generated.

The setup is fairly simple. An old momentary switch (which could easily be used in an actual Morse code setup) activates two pieces of circuitry. The first is a 555 timer circuit that creates an audible tone when the switch is pressed so the user can hear exactly what an operator would hear when decoding a real Morse code message.

The second piece of circuitry is where the real genius lies: a continuously spinning roll of glow-in-the-dark tape is placed in front of a white LED. When the switch is pressed, the LED turns on, which produces dots and dashes on the roll of tape as it passes by. This eliminates the need for rolls of paper or a more complicated moving pen/pencil setup to draw on the paper which might also be less child-proof.

While [Jan] built this as a toy, the children who used it thoroughly enjoyed it! They even decoded some Morse code messages and used the device to practice on it. After a while they’ll easily be able to master the Morse code trainer!

Hackaday Links: January 19, 2014


[Nick] wrote in to tell us about his first blog post. He’s showing off a PWM LED driver he build around a 555 timer. This project uses a lot of basics; some 555 experience, PCB etching, and surface mount soldering. We’d like to know more about the blue substrate on his circuit board!

After seeing the BOM spreadsheet with KiCAD integration a couple of weeks back, [Vassilis] sent in a link to his own Excel-based Bill of Materials helper. We’re wondering if anyone has a similar tool that will work with Open Office?

While we’re on the topic of downloadable documents, here’s a reference PDF for all types of DC measurements. The collection is a free offering from Keithley. [Thanks Buddy]

Since you’re brushing up on your knowledge you may also be interested in a free online microcontroller course offered by UT Austin. They’re targeting the Tiva C Launchpad as the dev board for the class.

This website seems to be a little creepy, but the teardrop shaped 3D printed music box which is being shown off is actually rather neat.

Hackaday Alum [Phil Burgess] threw together a point and shoot camera for Adafruit. It’s a Raspberry Pi, camera board, touchscreen display, and USB battery all rubber banded together. The processing power of the RPi is used to add image processing effects which are shown off in the demo video.

We don’t own a DeLorean. If we did, we’d probably follow the lead of Queen’s University Belfast and turn it into and electric vehicle. [Thanks Jake]

The 3D photocopiers are coming. Here’s a hacked together proof-of-concept from [Marcelo Ruiz]. After laser scanning the part is milled from floral foam.


Completely analog electronic music box

For the Ottawa Mini-Maker Faire this year, [Steven Dufresne] created an electronic take on the classic mechanical music box.

A typical music box uses a sequence of bumps on a rotating drum to pluck the tuned teeth (called lamellae) of a metal comb. Steven ditched the drum and comb and replaced them with a strip of paper and a single 555 timer.  The timer is configured as an astable oscillator with a fixed capacitor and charging resistor.  The discharge resistor is selected via a series of 13 shaped wires that drag along the strip of paper.  When a wire drags over a hole, it is connected to a copper pad below that is soldered to a specific resistor.  This completes the circuit and generates a tone specific to the resistor selected.

While the electrical aspects of the project are fairly simple (not even requiring a circuit board), the mechanical parts are much more sophisticated.  Steven had problems getting the dragging wires to make good contact and keeping the paper roll pulled tight.  He outlines all of these challenges and how he solved them in his very thorough video summary (embedded after the break).  With all of his incremental improvements to the design, the finished music box stood up to a whole 14 hours of abuse at the Faire.

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