DIY Coil Gun Redux: Life Really is Easier with Arduino

A common complaint in the comments of many a Hackaday project is: Why did they use a microcontroller? It’s easy to Monday morning quarterback someone else’s design, but it’s rare to see the OP come back and actually prove that a microcontroller was the best choice. So when [GreatScott] rebuilt his recent DIY coil gun with discrete logic, we just had to get the word out.

You’ll recall from the original build that [GreatScott] was not attempting to build a brick-wall blasting electromagnetic rifle. His build was more about exploring the concepts and working up a viable control mechanism for a small coil gun, and as such he chose an Arduino to rapidly prototype his control circuit. But when taken to task for that design choice, he rose to the challenge and designed a controller using discrete NAND and NOR gates, some RS latches, and a couple of comparators. The basic control circuit was simple, but too simple for safety — a projectile stuck in the barrel could leave a coil energized indefinitely, leading to damage. What took a line of code in the Arduino sketch to fix required an additional comparator stage and an RC network to build a timer to deenergize the coil automatically. In the end the breadboarded circuit did the job, but implementing it would have required twice the space of the Arduino while offering none of the flexibility.

Not every project deserves an Arduino, and sometimes it’s pretty clear the builder either took the easy way out or was using the only trick in his or her book. Hats off to [GreatScott] for not only having the guts to justify his design, but also proving that he has the discrete logic chops to pull it off.

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Hacked Furby Knows When You’re Near

One of the classics of circuit bending is to mess around with the clock chip that drives the CPU in simple noise-making toys. [Goran] took this a step further with his Furby hack. Skip down to the video embedded below if you just want to see the results.

After first experiments modifying the Furby’s clock with a string of resistors (YouTube), [Goran] decided to opt for more control, overriding the clock entirely with a square wave coming out of an Arduino. And then, the world became his oyster.

The Furby’s eyes were replaced with ultrasonic distance sensors, and what looks like a speaker was hot-glued into its mouth. Since this particular Furby only “talks” when you pull its tail, he naturally wired in tail-switch control to boot. As [Goran] suggests, a light show is the obvious next step.

If you haven’t pulled apart an electronic toy and played around with glitching it, you don’t know what you’re missing. We’ve got a classic intro to circuit bending, as well as projects that range from the simple to the ridiculously elaborate. It’s a fun introduction to electronics for the young ones as well. Grab a toy noisemaker and get hacking.

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Add Robotic Farming to Your Backyard with Farmbot Genesis

Growing your own food is a fun hobby and generally as rewarding as people say it is. However, it does have its quirks and it definitely equires quite the time input. That’s why it was so satisfying to watch Farmbot push a weed underground. Take that!

Farmbot is a project that has been going on for a few years now, it was a semifinalist in the Hackaday Prize 2014, and that development time shows in the project documented on their website. The robot can plant, water, analyze, and weed a garden filled with arbitrarily chosen plant life. It’s low power and low maintenance. On top of that, every single bit is documented on their website. It’s really well done and thorough. They are gearing up to sell kits, but if you want it now; just do it yourself.

The bot itself is exactly what you’d expect if you were to pick out the cheapest most accessible way to build a robot: aluminum extrusions, plate metal, and 3D printer parts make up the frame. The brain is a Raspberry Pi hooked to its regular companion, an Arduino. On top of all this is a fairly comprehensive software stack.

The user can lay out the garden graphically. They can get as macro or micro as they’d like about the routines the robot uses. The robot will happily come to life in intervals and manage a garden. They hope that by selling kits they’ll interest a whole slew of hackers who can contribute back to the problem of small scale robotic farming.

Arduino + Software Defined Radio = Millions of Vulnerable Volkswagens

As we’ve mentioned previously, the integrity of your vehicle in an era where even your car can have a data connection could be a dubious bet at best. Speaking to these concerns, a soon-to-be published paper (PDF) out of the University of Birmingham in the UK, states that virtually every Volkswagen sold since 1995 can be hacked and unlocked by cloning the vehicle’s keyfob via an Arduino and software defined radio (SDR).

The research team, led by [Flavio Garcia], have described two main vulnerabilities: the first requires combining a cyrptographic key from the vehicle with the signal from the owner’s fob to grant access, while the second takes advantage of the virtually ancient HiTag2 security system that was implemented in the 1990s. The former affects up to 100 million vehicles across the Volkswagen line, while the latter will work on models from Citroen, Peugeot, Opel, Nissan, Alfa Romero, Fiat, Mitsubishi and Ford.

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HardWino Takes The Effort Out of Happy Hour

A personal bartender is hard to come by these days. What has the world come to when a maker has to build their own? [Pierre Charlier] can lend you a helping hand vis-à-vis with HardWino, an open-source cocktail maker.

The auto-bar is housed on a six-slot, rotating beverage holder, controlled by an Arduino Mega and accepts drink orders via a TFT screen. Stepper motors and L298 driver boards are supported on 3D printed parts and powered by a standard 12V DC jack. Assembling HardWino is a little involved, so [Charlier]  has provided a thorough step-by-step process in the video after the break.

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Laser Sequencer uses Arduino to Enable Super-Microscope!

[Philip]’s Laser control Arduino shield.

[Philip Nicovich] has been building laser sequencers over at the University of New South Wales. His platform is used to sequence laser excitation on his fluorescence microscopy systems. In [Philip]’s case, these systems are used for super-resolution microscopy, that is breaking the diffraction limit allowing the imaging of structures of only a few nanometers (1 millionth of a millimeter) in size.

Using an Arduino shield he designed in Eagle, [Philip] was able to build the system for less than half the cost of a commercial platform.

The control system is build around the simple Arduino shield shown to the right, which uses simple 74 series logic to send TTL control signals to the laser diodes used in his rig. The Arduino runs code which allows laser firing sequences to be programmed and executed.

[Philip] also provides scripts which show how the Arduino can be interfaced with the open source micro manager control software.


As well as the schematics [Philip] has provided STEP files and drawings for the enclosure and mounts used in the system and a detailed BOM.

More useful than all this perhaps is the comprehensive write-up he provides. This describes the motivation for decisions such as the use of aluminum over steel due to its ability to transfer heat more effectively, and not to use thermal paste due to out-gassing.

While I can almost hear the cries of “not a hack”, the growing use of open source platforms and tool in academia fills us with joy. Thanks for the write-up [Philip] we look forward to hearing more about your laser systems in the future!

Alternator Becomes Motor for This Electric Go-kart

Growing up in the 70s and 80s, a go-kart was a quick ticket to coolness, second maybe to a mini-bike. In both cases, a welded steel tube frame and a cast-off lawnmower engine were all that stood between you and neighborhood glory. Looks like a couple of engineering students caught the retro juvenile delinquent bug and built this electric go-kart for their final project.

While the frame for [Adrian Georgescu] and [Masoud Johnson]’s build was a second-hand find, the powertrain is all custom. They targeted a power output of 3 kW but found no affordable motors in that range. So, in true hacker fashion, they rolled their own motor from a used Subaru alternator. The three-phase motor controller came from an electric scooter, three LiPo packs provide the juice, and a pair of Arduinos takes care of throttle control, speed sensing, and sending data to the virtual dashboard on an Android phone. Some lights and a snappy red and black paint job finished off the build. While the video below shows that the acceleration isn’t exactly neck-snapping in the Tesla style, the e-kart can build up to a good speed – 53 km/h. Not too shabby, and no deafening engine right behind your head.

If you’ve got the e-kart bug, best check out some of our previous posts, like this kart built from off-the-shelf components, or this four-wheel-drive mini-kart. Any way you build it, you’ll rule the cul-de-sac.

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