Shape-Shifting Composite That You Can Make At Home

In material science, thermal expansion is a very well understood concept. However, in most cases it’s regarded as somewhat of a nuisance. It’s the kind of thing that gives engineers headaches, and entire subsystems of machines are often designed specifically to combat it. But a group of students at MIT have come up with an ingeniously simple way of taking advantage of thermal expansion to create shape-changing composites.

Their project is a method of creating shape-shifting composites, called uniMorph. It works by using resistive heating (or simply ambient temperature) to change the temperature of a sandwich composite. The composite is made of two different materials, and the copper traces to heat them. The two materials themselves aren’t particularly important, what’s important is that they have vastly different thermal expansion rates.

When the composite is heated, one material will expand more or less than the other material. Depending on the relative shapes of the two materials, this causes the composite to bend or twist in predetermined ways. How much it bends, for example, is just a matter of how the layers are cut, and how much they’re heated.

The concept itself isn’t exactly new – bimetallic composites have existed for ages. We even covered a similar idea that works based on moisture content. But, the methods used for uniMorph are very well thought out. It’s very inexpensive to produce, and the students seem to have devised reliable techniques for designing the layers in order to produce a desired shape change.

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Upgrading the Battery In a Wrist PDA

No, your eyes do not deceive you. That’s a wrist-mounted PDA. Specifically, a Fossil Wrist PDA, also known as an Abacus, that was sold from 2003 to about 2005. Yep, it’s running PalmOS. [mclien] has had this watch/PDA for a while now, and found the original 180mAh battery wasn’t cutting it anymore. He made a little modification to the watch to get a 650mAh battery in this PDA by molding a new back for it.

The original PDA used a round Lithium cell, but being ten years old, the battery technology in this smart watch is showing its years. [mclien] found two batteries (380mAh and 270mAh) that fit almost perfectly inside the battery.

The new batteries were about 3mm too thick for the existing case back, so [mclien] began by taking the old case, adding a few bits of aluminum and resin, and making a positive for a mold. Two or three layers of glass twill cloth were used to form the mold, resined up, and vacuum bagged.

After many, many attempts, [mclien] just about has the case back for this old smartwatch complete. The project build logs are actually a great read, showing exactly what doesn’t work, and are a great example of using as a build log, instead of just project presentation.

Turning A Tiny CRT Into A Monitor


[GK] picked up a few tiny 2″ CRTs a while back and for the longest time they’ve been sitting in a box somewhere in the lab. The itch to build something with these old tubes has finally been scratched, with a beautiful circuit with Manhattan style construction.

[GK] has a bit of a fetish for old oscilloscopes, and since he’s using an old ‘scope tube, the design was rather simple for him; there aren’t any schematics here, just what he could put together off the top of his head.

Still, some of [GK]’s earlier projects helped him along the way in turning this CRT into a monitor. The high voltage came from a variable output PSU he had originally designed for photomultiplier tubes. Since this is a monochrome display, the chrominance was discarded with an old Sony Y/C module found in a part drawer.

It’s a great piece of work that, in the words of someone we highly respect is, “worth more than a gazillion lame Hackaday posts where someone connected an Arduino to something, or left a breadboard in a supposedly “finished” project.” Love ya, [Mike].


Watch a shop tour through the screen of an oscilloscope

[Alan] posted a video tour of his electronics shop, but you’ll be viewing it through the green screen of an oscilloscope. The image above is a video camera filming a scope screen which displays the image of…. an oscilloscope (insert your own Yo Dawg meme here). But first he shares the technique he uses to display composite video on an oscilloscope screen.

The first three minutes of the video after the break are devoted to the video display hack. He starts with a glimpse of the breadboard circuit which takes the composite video signal and provides the necessary X, Y, and Z input signals to the scope to perform like this. He then walks through each portion of the schematic, which is based on an LM1881 video sync separator chip. The horizontal and vertical sync signals are separated by this chip, then filtered to produce ramp voltages for each to drive X and Y. The Z-axis is fed through a simple inverter circuit; Bob’s your uncle and your oscilloscope is now a TV monitor.

Of course this is not the first time this has been done. But we loved [Alan’s] presentation, and thought the shop tour was a fun way to finish off the video.

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Composite video with MSP430 chip

[NatureTM] used part of the Thanksgiving holiday to get composite video output working with an MSP430 microcontroller. He’s using one of the chips that came with the TI Launchpad, which is a big hardware limitation because of the relatively small code memory and RAM. The chip displays one still image at a resolution of 192×40 pixels. Still, this is a great way to learn about composite video signals, as a lot of other projects use a TVout library to save you the headaches. All you’ll need is a TI Launchpad, a 16 MHz crystal oscillator, two resistors, and an RCA jack. Dig through the code and see what a great job [NatureTM] did of offloading as much work onto the chip’s peripherals as possible.

Microscope camera adapter

[Ben Krasnow] is capturing some great snapshots using a microscope adapter and some tricks. The camera attachment is just a lens adapter ring with a tube added. Unlike other microscope imaging hacks we’ve seen he used a real microscope but found that the pictures had a bit of light distortion to them. The camera sensor was picking up a glare reflected on the inside of the black tube. By adding a washer and repositioning the apparatus he got over that hurdle. The final part of the puzzle is image processing. By taking several pictures at different focal lengths and compositing them he gets killer photos like the compound eyes of that house fly seen above.

DIDJ composite video out

[Nirvous] managed to get composite video out working on the DIDJ. He knew that the CPU had the ability to generate the signal, and that similar devices already had this capability. After studying some DIDJ teardowns he figured out which connection on the processor should provide the appropriate signal. Next was the firmware side of things and after sifting through a lot of code he was pleased to find a flag that looked like it would enable video out. Some cross-compiling, soldering, and a low-pass filter got it to work.

If you’ve been hacking around on the device you might try this. The CPU uses a ball grid array so soldering is a bit difficult. We covered a BGA soldering trick that might be just the thing so check it out before you retreat into your soldering-fortress of solitude.