Sciencing DVD-RW Laser Diodes

If you’ve played around with laser diodes that you’ve scavenged from old equipment, you know that it can be a hit-or-miss proposition. (And if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?) Besides the real risk of killing the diode on extraction by either overheating it or zapping it with static electricity, there’s always the question of how much current to put into the thing.

[DeepSOIC] decided to answer the latter question — with science! — for a DVD-burner laser that he’s got. His apparatus is both low-tech and absolutely brilliant, and it looks like he’s getting good data. So let’s have a peek.

Laser Detector on 3D Printer Scrap
Laser Detector on 3D Printer Scrap

First up is the detector, which is nothing more than a photodiode, 100k ohm load resistor, and a big capacitor for a power supply. We’d use a coin-cell battery, but given how low the discharge currents are, the cap makes a great rechargeable alternative. The output of the photo diode goes straight into the scope probe.

He then points the photodiode at the laser spot (on a keyboard?) and pulses the laser by charging up a capacitor and discharging it through the laser and a resistor to limit total current. The instantaneous current through the laser diode is also measured on the scope. Plotting both the current drawn and the measured brightness from the photodiode gives him an L/I curve — “lumens” versus current.

laser_curve

Look on the curve for where it stops being a straight line, slightly before the wiggles set in. That’s about the maximum continuous operating current. It’s good practice to de-rate that to 90% just to be on the safe side. Here it looks like the maximum current is 280 mA, so you probably shouldn’t run above 250 mA for a long time. If the diode’s body gets hot, heatsink it.

If you want to know everything about lasers in general, and diode lasers in particular, you can’t beat Sam’s Laser FAQ. We love [DeepSOIC]’s testing rig, though, and would love to see the schematic of his test driver. We’ve used “Sam’s Laser Diode Test Supply 1” for years, and we love it, but a pulsed laser tester would be a cool addition to the lab.

What to do with your junk DVD-ROM laser? Use the other leftover parts to make a CNC engraver? But we don’t need to tell you what to do with lasers. Just don’t look into the beam with your remaining good eye!

Fail of the Week: Inaugural Edition

We’re sure you’ve all been waiting on the edge of your seats to see whose project makes it as the first Hackaday Fail of the Week. Wait no longer, it’s [Mobile Will] with his woeful tale about monitoring AC current usage.

He had been working on a microcontroller actuated mains outlet project and wanted an accurate way to measure the AC current being used by the device connected to it. The ADE7753 energy metering IC was perfect for this so he designed the board above and ordered it up from OSH Park. After populating the components he hooked it up to his Arduino for a test run, and poof! Magic blue smoke arose from the board. As you’ve probably guessed — this also fried the Arduino, actually melting the plastic housing of the jumper wire that carried the rampant current. Thanks to the designers of the USB portion of his motherboard he didn’t lose the computer to as the current protection kicked in, requiring a reboot to reset it.

We can’t wait to hear the conversation in the comments. But as this is our first FotW post we’d like to remind you: [Mobile Will] already knows he screwed up, so no ripping on his skills or other non-productive dibble. Let’s keep this conversation productive, like what caused this? He still isn’t completely sure and that would be useful information for designing future iterations. Update: here’s the schematic and board artwork.

We’ve got a bit more to share in this post so keep reading after the break.

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Measuring tiny current with high resolution

measuring-microamps-at-3MHz

[Paul] knew that he could get an oscilloscope that would measure the microamp signals with the kind of resolution he was after, but it would cost him a bundle. But he has some idea of how that high-end equipment does things, and so he just built this circuit to feed precision data to his own bench equipment.

He’s trying to visualize what’s going on with the current draw of a microcontroller at various points in its operation. He figures 5 mA at 2.5 mV is in the ballpark of what he’s probing. Measurements this small have problems with noise. The solution is the chip on the green breakout board. It’s not exactly priced to move, costing about $20 in single quantity. But when paired with a quality power supply it gets the job done. The AD8428 is an ultra-low-noise amplifier which has way more than the accuracy he needs and outputs a bandwidth of 3.5 MHz. Now the cost seems worth it.

The oscilloscope screenshot in [Paul’s] post is really impressive. Using two 1 Ohm resistors in parallel on the microcontroller’s power line he’s able to monitor the chip in slow startup mode. It begins at 120 microamps and the graph captures the point at which the oscillator starts running and when the system clock is connected to it.

Current limiter for a MOT welder

current-limiter-for-MOT-welder

[Mike Worth] wanted the option to run his Microwave Oven Transformer welding rig at less that full power. After being inspired by some of the other MOT hacks we’ve featured he figured there must be a lot of ways to do this. But his searches on the topic didn’t turn up anything. So he just designed and built his own adjustable current limiter for the welder.

At the beginning of his write-up he details what we would call a bootstrap procedure for the welder. Go back and check out his original build post to see that he had been holding the framework for the cores together using clamps. To make the setup more robust he needed to weld them, but this is the only welder he has access to. So he taped some wood shielding over the coils and fired it up.

The current limiter itself is built from a third MOT. Adjustment is made to the cores by changing out the E and I shaped pieces. This allows for current limiting without altering the windings. [Mike] holds it all in place with a couple of bicycle wheel quick connect skewers.

It just goes to show that you should never get rid of a microwave without pulling the transformer. Even if you don’t need a welder wouldn’t you love a high-voltage bug zapper?

Rattle generator is a new type of dynamo for a bicycle

rattle-generator-bicycle-spokes

This project is in one of our favorite categories; the kind where asking “why?” is the wrong question. [Berto A.] built the device after observing some power generation by placing a large magnet next to a mechanical relay coil and quickly clicking the relay’s lever. From this humble beginning he built up the RattleGen, a bicycle spoke driven generator.

To get the most power possible he searched around for a massive relay and found one which was originally meant for telephone exchanges. He cut the case open and strapped a big bar magnet to the side of the coil. Next he fabricated an arm which will press against the relay’s lever. To that he added a small wheel which is pressed each time a spoke from the bicycle passes by it. This repeated clicking of the relay lever generates a current (and a rattling sound) that is harvested by the joule thief circuit built on some protoboard. An LED is illuminated, with excess current stored in the capacitor bank. Don’t miss the build and demonstration video after the break.

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Whole house current monitoring

[Debraj Deb] put together a current monitoring device that interfaces with the circuit box at his house. The system is controlled by a PIC 18F4520 and uses an LM358 Op-Amp to rectify the AC signal, as well as an MCP6S21 for range adjustments for detecting both high or low current loads. The data displayed on a character LCD includes average, RMS, and peak current. For now the data is saved to an EEPROM and can be dumped using a serial connection but [Debraj] plans to add a GSM modem so he can send energy use data to his cell phone.

[Thanks Ganesh]

Robot waits for no man when recharging

Yikes, that power connector certainly wasn’t designed by Apple. Ugly as it may be, it’s the charging cable for a robot and acts as a sensor that allows the robot to properly align and plug into a power receptacle.

We’re going to go off on a tangent for just a second. We often think of the Rat Things from Snowcrash when considering robot power. They were nuclear powered (or something) and instead of recharging required constant cooling. Those day’s aren’t exactly around the corner but we think they’ve been realized in the lawn mowing robots that have a little nests to recharge in. Base stations work but they require the machine to return to the same place, or to have multiple charging stations.

The point is, this specialized cable makes base stations for robots obsolete. Now a robot can plug into any outlet it can get near, a great thing for robots roving large facilities. After the break you can see a video of this process. The robot arm zeros in by scanning horizontally and vertically and measuring the magnetic field put out by the AC in the wires of the outlet. Take a look, it’s a pretty neat piece of engineering.

Continue reading “Robot waits for no man when recharging”