How Many Hacks in an LED Display?

There are so many nice hacks in [Joekutz]’s retro LED display project that it’s hard to know where to start. There’s his DIY LED display controlled by an Arduino UNO. To have some text or picture for the display, he’s wired the output of a Bluetooth speaker directly to the Arduino, and sends it speaker tones that encode the text to draw. And as if that wasn’t enough, he’s hacked a quartz driver board from an analog clock to use the display as a clock as well.

Let’s start with the LED matrix display, perhaps the best excuse for trying your hand at shift registers. This display uses two such 8-bit shift registers daisy chained together feeding two 8-bit Darlington arrays. The display has ten rows of sixteen columns, and you guessed it, the columns are controlled by the sixteen shift registers. Two Arduino pins tell the shift registers which column to turn on. The rows are turned on and off using ten transistors controlled by ten more Arduino pins. Scanning at 80 frames per second he gets a nice, flickerless display.

To make both the LED matrix circuit board and the control board, [Joekutz] carved out isolation paths in copper clad boards using his homemade CNC mill. Be sure to check out the first video below to see his misadventures with it that ultimately led to his gorgeous boards.

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Arduino and Encoder form Precision Jig for Cutting and Drilling

“Measure twice, cut once” is great advice in every aspect of fabrication, but perhaps nowhere is it more important than when building a CNC machine. When precision is the name of the game, you need measuring tools that will give you repeatable results and preferably won’t cost a fortune. That’s the idea behind this Arduino-based measuring jig for fabricating parts for a CNC build.

When it comes to building on the cheap, nobody holds a candle to [HomoFaciens]. We’ve seen his garbage can CNC build and encoders from e-waste and tin cans, all of which gave surprisingly good results despite incorporating such compliant materials as particle board and scraps of plumber’s strapping. Looking to build a more robust machine, he finds himself in need of parts of consistent and accurate lengths, so he built this jig. A sled of particle board and a fence of angle aluminum position the square tube stock, and a roller with a paper encoder wheel bears on the tube under spring pressure. By counting pulses from the optical sensors, he’s able to precisely position the tube in the jig for cutting and drilling operations. See it in action in the video after the break.

If you’ve been following [HomoFaciens], you’ll no doubt see where he’s been going — build a low-end tool, use that to build a better one, and so on. We’re excited to see him moving into more robust materials, but we’ll miss the cardboard and paperclip builds.

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Building a Self-Balancing Robot Made Easy

Not only has [Joop Brokking] built an easy to make balancing robot but he’s produced an excellent set of plans and software for anyone else who wants to make one too. Self-balancers are a milestone in your robot building life. They stand on two-wheels, using a PID control loop to actuate the two motors using data from some type of Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU). It sounds simple, but when starting from scratch there’s a lot of choices to be made and a lot of traps to fall into. [Joop’s] video explains the basic principles and covers the reasons he’s done things the way he has — all the advice you’d be looking for when building one of your own.

He chose steppers over cheaper DC motors because this delivers precision and avoids issues when the battery voltage drops. His software includes a program for getting a calibration value for the IMU. He also shows how to set the drive current for the stepper controllers. And he does all this clearly, and at a pace that’s neither too fast, nor too slow. His video is definitely worth checking out below.

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Well Engineered Radio Clock Aces Form and Function

Clocks that read time via received radio signals have several advantages over their Internet-connected, NTP-synchronised brethren. The radio signal is ubiquitous and available over a fairly large footprint extending to thousands of kilometres from the transmitting antennae. This allows such clocks to work reliably in areas where there is no Internet service. And compared to GPS clocks, their front-end electronics and antenna requirements are much simpler. [Erik de Ruiter]’s DCF77 Analyzer/Clock is synchronised to the German DCF77 radio signal, which is derived from the atomic clocks at PTB headquarters. It features a ton of bells and whistles, while still being simple to build. It’s a slick piece of German hacker engineering that leaves us amazed.

Among the clock functions, it shows time, day of the week, date, CET/CEST modes, leap year indications and week numbers. The last is not part of the DCF77 protocol but is calculated via software. The DCF77 analyzer part has all of the useful information gleaned from the radio signals. There are displays for time period, pulse width, a bit counter, bit value indicator (0/1) and an error counter. There are two rings of 59 LEDs each that provide additional information about the DCF77 signal. A PIR sensor on the front panel helps put the clock in power save mode. Finally, there is a whole bunch of indicator LEDs and a bank of switches to control the various functions. On the rear panel, there are RJ45 sockets for the DCF77 receiver antenna board, temperature sensor and FTDI serial, a bunch of audio sound board controls, reset switches and a mode control switch.

His build starts with the design and layout of the enclosure. The front panel layout had to go through a couple of iterations before he was satisfied with the result. The final version was made from aluminium-coated sandwich-panel. He used an online service to photo-etch the markings, and then a milling machine to carve out the various windows and mounting holes. The rear panel is a tinted acrylic with laser engraving, which makes the neatly laid out innards visible for viewers to appreciate. The wooden frame is made from 40-year-old Mahogany, sourced from an old family heirloom desk. All of this hard work results in a really professional looking product.

The electronics are mostly off the shelf modules, except for the custom built LED driver boards. The heart of the device is an Arduino Mega because of the large number of outputs it provides. There are seven LED driver boards based around the Maxim 7221 (PDF) serial interface LED drivers – two to drive the inner and outer ring LEDs, and the others for the various seven-segment displays. The numerous annunciator LEDs are driven directly from the Arduino Mega. His build really comes together by incorporating a noise resilient DCF77 decoder library by [Udo Klein] which is running on a separate Arduino Uno. All of his design source files are posted on his GitHub repository and he hopes to publish an Instructable soon for those who would like to build one of their own.

In the first video below, he walks through the various functions of the clock, and in the second one, gives us a peek in to its inside. Watch, and be amazed.

Thanks for the tip, [Nick]

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How Good Is Your Aim First Thing In The Morning?

For the less than highly-driven individuals out there — and even some that are — sometimes, waking up is hard to do, and the temptation to smash the snooze button is difficult to resist. If you want to force your mind to immediately focus on waking up, this Nerf target alarm clock might get you up on time.

Not content to make a simple target, [Christopher Guichet] built an entire clock for the project. The crux of the sensor is a piezoelectric crystal which registers the dart impacts, and [Guichet]’s informative style explains how the sensor works with the help of an oscilloscope. A ring of 60 LEDs with the piezoelectric sensor form the clock face, all housed in a 3D printed enclosure. A rotary encoder is used to control the clock via an Arduino Uno, though a forthcoming video will delve into the code side of things; [Guichet] has hinted that he’ll share the files once the code has been tidied up a bit.

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Turning Television Into A Simple Tapestry

Teleknitting, the brainchild of Moscow artist [vtol], is an interesting project. On one hand, it doesn’t knit anything that is useful in a traditional sense, but on the other, it attempts the complex task of deconstructing broadcasted media into a simpler form of information transmission.

Teleknitting’s three main components are the processing and display block — made up of the antenna, Android tablet, and speaker — the dyeing machine with its ink, sponges, actuators, and Arduino Uno, and the rotating platform for the sacrificial object. A program running on the tablet analyzes the received signal and — as displayed on its screen — gradually halves the number of pixels in the image until there is only one left with a basic representation of the picture’s colour. From there, thread passes over five sponges which dye it the appropriate colour, with an armature that responds to the broadcast’s volume directing where the thread will bind the object.

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Alexa Robot Coffee Maker Brews Coffee, Speaks For Itself

To keep hackers fueled and hacking, why not hack a coffee maker into a coffee brewing robot? [Carter Hurd] and [David Frank] did just that at The Ohio State’s Hack OHI/O 24 hour Hackathon. They even won the “Best Hardware Hack”. The video below shows it in action but the guys sent us some extra details on how it’s made.

To give it a voice they put Alexa on a Raspberry Pi. Using an audio splitter they have the voice go both to a speaker and to an Arduino. The Arduino then uses the amplitude of the audio signal’s positive values to determine how much to open the “mouth”, the coffee maker’s hinged cover. As is usually the case, there’s some lag, but the result is still quite good.

The brewing is also controlled by the Arduino. They plan to add voice control so that they can simply ask, “Alexa, make me coffee”, but for now they added a switch on the side to start the brewing. That switch tells the Arduino to work one servo to open the cover, another to insert a coffee filter, and two more to scoop up some coffee from a container and dump it into the filter.

They replaced the coffee maker’s on/off switch with a relay so that after the Arduino closes the cover again, it uses the relay to start the brewing. The result is surprisingly human-like. We especially like the graceful movement achieved by the two servos for scooping up and dumping the coffee. Full disclosure: they did admit that it would often either not scoop enough coffee or scoop enough but spill a bunch on the group.

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