Embedding PCBs In 3D Prints

The folks over at Lunchbox Electronics are working on a very cool prototype: embedding LEDs inside standard 1×1 Lego bricks. Being a prototype, they needed a cheap way to produce Lego bricks stuffed with electronics. It turns out a normal 3D printer has okay-enough resolution, but how to put the electronics in the bricks? Gcode wizardry, of course.

3d-printed-LEGO-w-pcb-thumbThe electronics being stuffed into the bricks isn’t much – just a small PCB with an LED. It does, however, need to get inside the brick. This requires stopping the 3D printer at the right layer, moving the print head out of the way, inserting the PCB, and moving the head back to where it stopped.

Gcode to the rescue. By inserting a few lines into the Gcode of the print, the print can be paused, the print head raised and returned, and the print continued.

If you want to check out what these light up Lego look like, There’s a Kickstarter happening now. It’s exactly what the 80s space sets needed, only thirty years late.

From Gates to FPGA’s – Part 1: Basic Logic

It’s time to do a series on logic including things such as programmable logic, state machines, and the lesser known demons such as switching hazards. It is best to start at the beginning — but even experts will enjoy this refresher and might even learn a trick or two. I’ll start with logic symbols, alternate symbols, small Boolean truth tables and some oddball things that we can do with basic logic. The narrative version is found in the video, with a full reference laid out in the rest of this post.


1The most simple piece of logic is inversion; making a high change to low or a low change to high. Shown are a couple of ways to write an inversion including the ubiquitous “bubble” that we can apply almost anywhere to imply an inversion or a “True Low”. If it was a one it is now a zero, where it was a low it is now a high, and where it was true it is now untrue.


2Moving on to the AND gate we see a simple truth table, also known as a Boolean Table, where it describes the function of “A AND B”. This is also our first opportunity to see the application of an alternate symbol. In this case a “low OR a low yields a low”


3Most if not all of the standard logic blocks come in an inverted form also such as the NAND gate shown here. The ability to invert logic functions is so useful in real life that I probably used at least three times the number of NAND gates as regular AND gates when doing medium or larger system design. The useful inversion can occur as spares or in line with the logic.

Continue reading “From Gates to FPGA’s – Part 1: Basic Logic”

Automated Plant Watering System Uses Car Parts

[Shane] recently built an automated plant watering system for his home. We’ve seen several similar projects before, but none of them worked quite like this one. Shane’s system is not hooked into the house plumbing and it doesn’t use any off-the-shelf electronic valves.

Instead, [Shane’s] build revolves around a device that looks like it was intended to spray weed killer. The unit works sort of like a Super Soaker. The user fills the jug with water and then pumps a handle multiple times to build up some pressure inside the jug. Then a button can be pressed and the air pressure forces water out of the nozzle. [Shane] came up with a way to automate all of these mechanical motions.

First [Shane] had to find a way to pump up the bottle. He purchased a car door electronic lock actuator from eBay. It’s a pretty simple device. It’s just a DC motor with a gear box that turns the rotational motion of the motor into linear motion. This is mounted to a wooden jig and attached to the pump. A dsPIC microcontroller rotates the motor back and forth, which in turn pumps up the bottle.

The dsPic is also hooked up to a small servo. The servo is mounted to the same wooden jig as the car door actuator. A small arm is mounted to the servo so that when it rotates, the arm presses the pressure release button. This sends the water out of the bottles nozzle. [Pat] hooked up a small length of hose to the nozzle so he can direct the water into his plants. The video below demonstrates how the unit works. Continue reading “Automated Plant Watering System Uses Car Parts”

Great Scott! A Flux Capacitor Notification Light

If you are into your social media, then you probably like to stay updated with your notifications. [Gamaral] feels this way but he wasn’t happy with the standard way of checking the website or waiting for his phone to alert him. He wanted something a little more flashy. Something like a flux capacitor notification light. This device won’t send his messages back in time, but it does look cool.

He started with an off-the-shelf flux capacitor USB charger. Normally this device just looks cool when charging your USB devices. [Gamaral] wanted to give himself more control of it. He started by opening up the case and replacing a single surface mount resistor. The replacement component is actually a 3.3V regulator that happens to be a similar form factor as the original resistor. This regulator can now provide steady power to the device itself, as well as a ESP8266 module.

The ESP8266 module has built-in WiFi capabilities for a low price. The board itself is also quite small, making it suitable for this project. [Gamaral] used just two GPIO pins. The first one toggles the flux circuit on and off, and the second keeps track of the current state of the circuit. To actually trigger the change, [gamaral] just connects to the module via TCP and issues a “TIME CIRCUIT ON/OFF” command. The simplicity makes the unit more versatile because an application running on a PC can actually track various social media and flash the unit accordingly.

Animated LED Valentine Heart

With only a week left until Valentine’s day, [Henry] needed to think on his feet. He wanted to build something for his girlfriend but with limited time, he needed to work with what he had available. After scrounging up some parts and a bit of CAD work, he ended up with a nice animated LED Valentine heart.

[Henry] had a bunch of WS2812 LEDs left over from an older project. These surface mount LED’s are very cool. They come in a small form factor and include red, green, and blue LEDs all in a single package. On top of that, they have a built-in control circuit which makes each LED individually addressable. It’s similar to the LED strips we’ve seen in the past, only now the control circuit is built right into the LED.

Starting with the LEDs, [Henry] decided to build a large animated heart. Being a stickler for details, he worked out the perfect LED placement by beginning his design with three concentric heart shapes. The hearts were plotted in Excel and were then scaled until he ended up with something he liked. This final design showed where to place each LED.

The next step was to design the PCB in Altium Designer. [Henry’s] design is two-sided with large copper planes on either side. He opted to make good use of the extra copper surface by etching a custom design into the back with his girlfriend’s name. He included a space for the ATMega48 chip which would be running the animations. Finally, he sent the design off to a fab house and managed to get it back 48 hours later.

After soldering all of the components in place, [Henry] programmed up a few animations for the LEDs. He also built a custom frame to house the PCB. The frame includes a white screen that diffuses and softens the light from the LEDs. The final product looks great and is sure to win any geek’s heart. Continue reading “Animated LED Valentine Heart”

Watt Meter build walks you through Power Measurement basics

You almost never hear of a DC Watt Meter – one just does some mental math with Volts and Amps at the back of one’s head. An AC Watt Meter, on the other hand, can by pretty useful on any workbench. This handy DIY Digital AC Watt Meter not only has an impressive 30A current range, but is designed in a hand-held form factor, making it easy to carry around.

The design from Electro-Labs provides build instructions for the hardware, as well as the software for the PIC micro-controller at its heart. A detailed description walks you through the schematic’s various blocks, and there’s also some basics of AC power measurement thrown in for good measure. The schematic and board layout are done using SolaPCB – a Windows only free EDA tool which we haven’t heard about until now. A full BoM and the PIC code round off the build. On the hardware side, the unit uses MCP3202 12 bit ADC converters with SPI interface, making it easy to hook them up to the micro-controller. A simple resistive divider for voltage and an ACS-712  Hall Effect-Based Linear Current Sensor IC are the main sense elements. Phase calculations are done by the micro-controller. The importance of isolation is not overlooked, using opto-isolators to keep the digital section away from the analog. The board outline looks like it has been designed to fit some off-the-shelf hand-held plastic enclosure (if you can’t find one, whip one up from a 3D printer).

Although the design is for 230V~250V range, it can easily be modified for 110V use by changing a few parts. Swap the transformer, change the Resistive voltage divider values, maybe some DC level shifting, and you’re good to go. The one feature that would be a nice upgrade to this meter would be Energy measurements, besides just Power. For an inside look at how traditional energy meters work, head over to this video where [Ben Krasnow] explains KiloWatt Hour Meters


Annoy Your Enemies with the Hassler Circuit

[Craig] recently built himself a version of the “hassler” circuit as a sort of homage to Bob Widlar. If you haven’t heard of Bob Widlar, he was a key person involved in making analog IC’s a reality. We’ve actually covered the topic in-depth in the past. The hassler circuit is a simple but ingenious office prank. The idea is that the circuit emits a very high frequency tone, but only when the noise level in the room reaches a certain threshold. If your coworkers become too noisy, they will suddenly notice a ringing in their ears. When they stop talking to identify the source, the noise goes away. The desired result is to get your coworkers to shut the hell up.

[Craig] couldn’t find any published schematics for the original circuit, but he managed to build his own version with discrete components and IC’s. Sound first enters the circuit via a small electret microphone. The signal is then amplified, half-wave rectified, and run through a low pass filter. The gain from the microphone is configurable via a trim pot. A capacitor converts the output into a flat DC voltage.

The signal then gets passed to a relaxation oscillator circuit. This circuit creates a signal whose output duty cycle is dependent on the input voltage. The higher the input voltage, the longer the duty cycle, and the lower the frequency. The resulting signal is sent to a small speaker for output. The speaker is also controlled by a Schmitt trigger. This prevents the speaker from being powered until the voltage reaches a certain threshold, thus saving energy. The whole circuit is soldered together dead bug style and mounted to a copper clad board.

When the room is quiet, the input voltage is low. The output frequency is high enough that it is out of the range of human hearing. As the room slowly gets louder, the voltage increases and the output frequency lowers. Eventually it reaches the outer limits of human hearing and people in the room take notice. The video below walks step by step through the circuit. Continue reading “Annoy Your Enemies with the Hassler Circuit”