Going Digital: Upgrading A Boat’s Analog Gauge

The odds are that many of you do not own a boat that you get to tinker around with. [Mavromatic] recently acquired one that had — much to his consternation — analog gauges. So in order to get his ship ship-shape, he built himself a custom digital gauge to monitor his vessel’s data.

Restricted to the two-inch hole in his boat’s helm, trawling the web for displays turned up a 1.38-inch LCD display from 4D Systems. Given the confined space, a Teensy 3.2 proved to be trim enough to fit inside the confined space alongside a custom circuit board — the latter of which includes some backup circuits if [mavromatic] ever wanted to revert to an analog gauge.

Two days of acclimatization to the display’s IDE and he had enough code to produce a functional display right when the parts arrived.

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A Flexible Sensor That Moves With You

If you have a project in mind that requires some sort of gesture input or precise movements, it might become a nettlesome problem to tackle. Fear this obstacle no longer: a team from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard have designed a novel way to make wearable sensors that can stretch and contort with the body’s natural movements.

The way they work is ingenious. Layers of silicone are sandwiched between two lengths of silver-plated conductive fabric forming — by some approximation — a capacitance sensor. While the total surface area doesn’t change when the sensor is stretched — how capacitance sensors normally work — it does bring the two layers of fabric closer together, changing the capacitance of the band in a proportional and measurable way, with the silicone pulling the sensor back into its original shape as tension relaxes. Wires can be attached to each end of the band with adhesive and a square of thermal film, making an ideal sensor to detect the subtlest of muscle movements.

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Gyrators: The Fifth Element

A few years ago, there was a stir about a new fundamental component called a memristor. That wasn’t the first time a new component type was theorized though. In 1948 [Bernard Tellegen] postulated the gyrator. While you can’t buy one as a component, you can build one using other components. In fact, they are very necessary for some types of design. Put simply, a gyrator is a two-terminal device that inverts the current-voltage characteristic of an electrical component. Therefore, you can use a gyrator to convert a capacitor into an inductor or vice versa.

Keep in mind, the conversion is simply the electrical properties. Normally, current leads voltage in a capacitor and lags it in an inductor, and that’s what a gyrator changes. If you use a gyrator and a capacitor to make a virtual inductor, that inductor won’t magnetically couple to another inductor, real or simulated. There’s no magnetic field to do so. You also don’t get big voltage spikes caused by back EMF, which depending on your application could be a plus or a minus. But if you need an ungainly inductor in a circuit for its phase response, a gyrator may be just the ticket.

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Retrotechtacular: The Theremin Terpsitone

Léon Theremin built his eponymous instrument in 1920 under Soviet sponsorship to study proximity sensors. He later applied the idea of generating sounds using the human body’s capacitance to other physical forms like the theremin cello and the theremin keyboard. One of these was the terpsitone, which is kind of like a full-body theremin. It was built about twelve years after the theremin and named after Terpsichore, one of the nine muses of dance and chorus from Greek mythology.

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Measuring Capacitance Against Voltage

Ceramic capacitors are pretty much the pixie dust of the electronics world. If you sprinkle enough of them on a circuit, everything will work. These ceramic capacitors aren’t the newest and latest technology, though: you can find them in radios from the 1930s, and they have one annoying property: their capacitance changes in relation to voltage.

This is a problem if you’re relying on ceramic caps in an RC filter or a power supply. What you need is a device that will graph capacitance against voltage, and [limpkin] is here to show you how to do it.

Of course capacitance is usually measured by timing how long it takes to charge and discharge a cap through an RC oscillator. This requires at least one known value – in this case a 0.1% resistor – by measuring the time it takes for this circuit to oscillate, an unknown capacitance can be calculated.

That’s all well and good, but how do you measure capacitance against a bias voltage? EDN comes to save the day with a simple circuit built around an op-amp. This op-amp is just a comparator, with the rest of the circuit providing a voltage directly proportional to the percentage of charge in the capacitor.

This little project is something [limpkin] has turned into a Kickstarter, and it’s something we’ve seen before. That said, measuring capacitance against a voltage isn’t something any ‘ol meter can do, and we’re glad [limpkin] could put together an easy to use tool that measures this phenomenon.

The Beginnings of an LCR Meter

LCR Meter

The inductor is an often forgotten passive electrical elements used to design analog circuitry. [Charles’s] latest proof of concept demonstrates how to measure inductance with an oscilloscope, with the hopes of making a PIC based LCR meter.

It is not that often one needs to measure inductance, but inductors are used in switching regulators, motor circuits, wireless designs, analog audio circuitry, and many other types of projects. The principles of measuring inductance can be used to test inductors that you have made yourself, and you can even use this knowledge to measure capacitance.

[Charles] originally saw a great guide on how to measure impedance by [Alan], and decided to run with the idea. Why spend over $200 on an LCR meter when you can just build one? That’s the spirit! Be sure to watch [Alan’s] and [Charles’s] videos after the break. What kind of test equipment have you built in order to save money?

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Mobile chicken coop includes wireless sensors

mobile-chicken-coop-build

In and of itself this mobile chicken coop is a pretty nice build. There are some additional features lurking inside which you don’t find on most coops. [Neuromancer2701] built-in a set of sensors which can be accessed wirelessly. It makes it a snap to check up on the comfort of the hens without leaving the couch.

At the heart of the sensor system is an Arduino along with an Xbee module. The build isn’t quite finished yet, but so far three sensors have been implemented. A thermistor is used to read the temperature inside the coop. To make sure there’s enough water, two sheets of foil tape were applied to the water reservoir. The CapSense library measures the capacitance between these plates which correlates to the water lever (we’ve seen this type of water level sensor before). And finally, there’s a sensor that can tell if the door to the coop is open or shut.

He’s having trouble automating the door itself. This can be pretty tricky, especially if you go for a super complicated locking mechanism like this one.