Modern DIY FM radio

Back in the day, building a DIY radio was fun! We only had to get our hands at a germanium diode, make some coils, and with a resistor and long wire as an antenna maybe we could get some sound out of those old white earplugs. That was back then. Now we have things like the Si4703 FM tuner chip that can tune in FM radio in the 76–108 MHz range, comes with integrated AGC and AFC, controlled by I2C, as well as a bunch of other acronyms which seem to make the whole DIY radio-building process outdated. The challenges of the past resulted in the proven solutions of the present in which we build upon.

This little project by [Patrick Müller] is a modern radio DIY tutorial. With an Arduino Nano as the brains and controller for an Si4703 breakout board, he builds a completely functional and portable FM radio. A small OLED display lets the user see audio volume, frequency, selected station and still has space left to show the current available battery voltage. It has volume control, radio station seek, and four buttons that allows quick access to memorized stations. The source code shows how it is possible to control the Si4703 FM tuner chip to suit your needs.

As for ICs, not everything is new, [Patrick] still used the good old LM386 amp to drive the speaker, which is almost 35 years old by now. As we can listen in the demo video, it can still output some seriously loud music sounds!

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From Zero to Nano

Have you ever wanted to build your own Arduino from scratch? [Pratik Makwana] shares the entire process of designing, building and flashing an Arduino Nano clone. This is not an entry-level project and requires some knowledge of soldering to succeed with such small components, but it is highly rewarding to make. Although it’s a cheap build, it’s probably cheaper to just buy a Nano. That’s not the point.

The goal here and the interesting part of the project is that you can follow the entire process of making the board. You can use the knowledge to design your own board, your own variant or even a completely different project.

from-zero-to-nano-thumb[Pratik Makwana] starts by showing how to design the circuit schematic diagram in an EDA tool (Eagle) and the corresponding PCB layout design. He then uses the toner transfer method and a laminator to imprint the circuit into the copper board for later etching and drilling. The challenging soldering process is not detailed, if you need some help soldering SMD sized components we covered some different processes before, from a toaster oven to a drag soldering process with Kapton tape.

Last but not least, the bootloader firmware. This was done using an Arduino UNO working as master and the newly created the Arduino Nano clone as target. After that you’re set to go. To run an actual sketch, just use your standard USB to UART converter to burn it and proceed as usual.

Voilá, from zero to Nano:

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Huge Interactive Crossword

Give kids some responsible and challenging tasks, and you’d be surprised at the results. The “Anything Goes” exhibit at the National Museum in Warsaw was aimed as a museological and educational experiment. A group of 69 children aged 6–14 was divided into teams responsible for preparing the main temporary exhibition at the museum. Over six months, they worked on preparing the exhibition during weekly four-hour meetings. They prepared scripts, provided ideas for multimedia presentations, and curated almost 300 works for display. One of those was [Robert Mordzon]’s Giant Interactive Crossword.

The build is in two parts. The letter tiles, which have embedded RFID tags, obviously look like the easiest part of the build. The table, looking at the video (after the break), probably needed a lot more effort and labour. It is built in two halves to make construction easier. There are a 130 boxes that need to be filled in with the right letters to complete the crossword. Each box contains a bunch of electronics consisting of an Arduino Nano, a RFID Reader and a bunch of sixteen WS2812B LEDs, all assembled on a custom PCB. Do the math, and you’ll figure out that there’s 2080 LEDs, each capable of sipping 60 mA at full brightness. That’s a total current requirement of almost 125 amps at 5 V. Add in all the Arduino’s, and [Robert] needed a beefy 750 W of power, supplied via four switch mode power supplies.

Each Arduino Nano is a slave on the I²C bus. The I²C master is an Arduino Mega 2560, which in turn communicates with a computer over serial. When a box is empty, the LEDs are dim, when a wrong letter is placed, they turn Red, and when the right letter is placed, they turn Green. If a word gets completed, a special word animation is played. This information is also passed on to the computer, which then projects an animation related to the word on a giant wall screen. Upon the crossword getting completed, the table erupts in to a sound (via the computer) and light “disco” show and also reveals the main motto of this section of the exhibit – “Playing the Hero”.

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M&Ms and Skittles Sorting Machine is Both Entertainment and Utility

If you have OCD, then the worst thing someone could do is give you a bowl of multi-coloured M&M’s or Skittles — or Gems if you’re in the part of the world where this was written. The candies just won’t taste good until you’ve managed to sort them in to separate coloured heaps. And if you’re a hacker, you’ll obviously build a sorting machine to do the job for you.

Use our search box and you’ll find a long list of coverage describing all manner and kinds of sorting machines. And while all of them do their designated job, 19 year old [Willem Pennings]’s m&m and Skittle Sorting Machine is the bees knees. It’s one of the best builds we’ve seen to date, looking more like a Scandinavian Appliance than a DIY hack. He’s ratcheted up a 100k views on Youtube, 900k views on imgur and almost 2.5k comments on reddit, all within a day of posting the build details on his blog.

As quite often happens, his work is based on an earlier design, but he ends up adding lots of improvements to his version. It’s got a hopper at the top for loading either m&m’s or Skittles and six bowls at the bottom to receive the color sorted candies. The user interface is just two buttons — one to select between the two candy types and another to start the sorting. The hardware is all 3D printed and laser cut. But he’s put in extra effort to clean the laser cut pieces and paint them white to give it that neat, appliance look. The white, 3D printed parts add to the appeal.

Rotating the input funnel to prevent the candies from clogging the feed pipes is an ace idea. A WS2812 LED is placed above each bowl, lighting up the bowl where the next candy will be ejected and at the same time, a WS2812 strip around the periphery of the main body lights up with the color of the detected candy, making it a treat, literally, to watch this thing in action. His blog post has more details about the build, and the video after the break shows the awesome machine in action.

And if you’re interested in checking out how this sorter compares with some of the others, check out these builds — Skittles sorting machine sorts Skittles and keeps the band happy, Anti-Entropy Machine Satiates M&M OCD, Only Eat Red Skittles? We’ve Got You Covered, and Hate Blue M&M’s? Sort Them Using the Power of an iPhone!  As we mentioned earlier, candy sorting machines are top priority for hackers.

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More Blinky = More Better – The WS2812FX Library

The WS2812 is an amazing piece of technology. 30 years ago, high brightness LEDs didn’t even exist yet. Now, you can score RGB LEDs that even take all the hard work out of controlling and addressing them! But as ever, we can do better.

Riffing on the ever popular Adafruit NeoPixel library, [Harm] created the WS2812FX library. The library has a whole laundry list of effects to run on your blinkenlights – from the exciting Hyper Sparkle to the calming Breathe inspired by Apple devices. The fantastic thing about this library is that it can greatly shorten development time of your garden-variety blinkables – hook up your WS2812s, pick your effect, and you’re done.

[Harm]’s gone and done the hard yards, porting this to a bevy of platforms – testing it on the Arduino Nano, Uno, Micro and ESP8266. As a proof of concept, they’ve also put together a great demonstration of the software – building some cute and stylish Christmas decorations from wood, aluminium, and hacked up Christmas light housings. Combining it with an ESP8266 & an app, the effects can be controlled from a smartphone over WiFi. The assembly video on YouTube shows the build process, using screws and nails to create an attractive frame using aluminium sheet.

This project is a great example of how libraries and modern hardware allow us to stand on the shoulders of giants. It’s quicker than ever to build amazingly capable projects with more LEDs than ever. Over the years we’ve seen plenty great WS2812 projects, like this sunrise alarm clock or this portable rave staff.
As always, blink hard, or go home. Video after the break.

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7 Segment Display Using Neopixel Rings

There’s something about clocks — sooner or later, every hacker wants to build one. And we end up seeing all kinds of display techniques being used to show time. For the simplest of builds, 7-segment display modules usually get dug up from the parts bin. If you have a bunch of “smart” LED’s (WS2812’s, APA102’s), then building your own custom 7-segment modules isn’t too difficult either. [rhoalt] had neither, but he did have several 8 LED Neopixel rings lying around. So he thought of experimenting with those, and built a ‘Binoctular’ LED clock which uses the Neopixel rings as 7 segment displays.

figure-eight-segment-displaysEach digit is made using one pair of Neopixel rings, stacked to form a figure of eight. All the digits are composed of arcs, so readability isn’t the best but it’s not hard either. [rhoalt] does mention that the display is easier to read via blurred camera images rather than visually, which isn’t surprising. We’re long used to seeing numbers composed of straight line segments, so arc segmented digits do look weird. But we wouldn’t have known this if [rhoalt] hadn’t shown us, right ? Maybe a thicker diffuser with separator baffles may improve the readability.

The rest of the build is pretty plain vanilla — an Arduino Nano clone, a DS3231 RTC, a Lithium battery, and some buttons, all housed together in a laser cut enclosure which follows the figure of eight design brief. And as usual, once you’ve built one, it’s time to improve and make a better version.

Hi-Tech Tool For Measuring Your Kid’s Height

Sure we can have our kids back up against a wall, force them to stand up straight, and use a ruler on their head to mark their height on the wall, but what kind of hacker would we be? There isn’t a single microcontroller or any electronic component involved! The DIY-family that calls themselves [HomeMadeGarbage] stood tall and came up with a high-tech tool to measure their kid’s height.

In place of the ruler they got a small wooden box to place on the head. Under the box, at the rear end facing down, they mounted a VL53L0X laser ranging sensor. With a range of 2 meters it’s sure to work with any child. But the box has to be sat level on the child’s head, otherwise the laser will be pointing down at an angle. To handle that they put an MPU6050 6-axis motion sensor in the box along with an Arduino Nano to tie it all together. A LCD display, measurement push-button and LED are mounted outside the box on the rear facing side.

To use it, a parent sits the box on the child’s head, making sure the laser sensor isn’t blocked and can see the floor. The LCD shows the height, along with the acceleration in the x and y directions. The LED is red if the box isn’t level and green if it is. Holding the measurement button pressed puts the tool in measurement mode and when it’s level, the LED turns blue and the LCD display freezes so you can make a note of the height. You’re good for a while, depending on your child’s age. See it being used to measure a child after the break as well as an additional clip showing what the output looks like when waving a hand up and down below it.

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