Vintage Plotter Handles Chaos With Ease

No lab in almost any discipline was complete in the 70s and 80s without an X-Y plotter. The height of data acquisition chic, these simple devices were connected to almost anything that produced an analog output worth saving. Digital data acquisition pushed these devices to the curb, but they’re easily found, cheap, and it’s worth a look under the hood to see what made these things tick.

The HP-7044A that [Kerry Wong] scored off eBay is in remarkably good shape four decades after leaving the factory. While the accessory pack that came with it shows its age with dried up pens and disintegrating foam, the plotter betrays itself only by the yellowish cast to its original beige case. Inside, the plotter looks pristine. Completely analog with the only chips being some op-amps in TO-5 cans, everything is in great shape, even the high-voltage power supply used to electrostatically hold the paper to the plotter’s bed. Anyone hoping for at least a re-capping will be disappointed; H-P built things to last back in the day.

[Kerry] puts the plotter through its paces by programming an Arduino to generate a Lorenz attractor, a set of differential equations with chaotic solutions that’s perfect for an X-Y plotter. The video below shows the mesmerizing butterfly taking shape. Given the plotter’s similarity to an oscilloscope, we wonder if some SDR-based Lissajous patterns might be a fun test as well, or how it would handle musical mushrooms.

Continue reading “Vintage Plotter Handles Chaos With Ease”

Tiny Robot Clings To Leaves With Static Electricity

Flying is an energy-intensive activity. The birds and the bees don’t hover around incessantly like your little sister’s quadcopter. They flit to and fro, perching on branches and leaves while they plan their next move. Sure, a quadcopter can land on the ground, but then it has to spend more energy getting back to altitude. Researchers at Harvard decided to try to develop flying robots that can perch on various surfaces like insects can.

Perching on surfaces happens electrostatically. The team used an electrode patch with a foam mounting to the robot. This allows the patch to make contact with surfaces easily even if the approach is a few degrees off. This is particularly important for a tiny robot that is easily affected by even the slightest air draft. The robots were designed to be as light as possible — just 84mg — as the electrostatic force is not particularly strong.

It’s estimated that perching electrostatically for a robot of this size uses approximately 1000 times less power than during flight. This would be of great use for surveillance robots that could take up a vantage point at altitude without having to continually expend a great deal of energy to stay airborne. The abstract of the research paper notes that this method of perching was successful on wood, glass, and a leaf. It appears testing was done with tethers; it would be interesting to see if this technique would be powerful enough for a robot that carries its own power source. Makes us wonder if we ever ended up with tiny flyers that recharge from power lines?

We’re seeing more tiny flying robots every day now – the IMAV 2016 competition was a great example of the current state of the art.

Continue reading “Tiny Robot Clings To Leaves With Static Electricity”

JOLED – a 3D Flip Dot Display

Flip-Dot displays are so awesome that they’re making a comeback. But awesome is nothing when you can have an insane flip-dot display that is three-dimensional with the dots floating in mid-air. Researchers at the Universities of Sussex and Bristol have built what they call JOLED, an array of floating pixels that can be controlled via a combination of ultrasonic standing waves and an electrostatic field. These “voxels” can be individually moved in space via ultrasonics, and can also be individually flipped or rotated through any angle, via the electrostatic field.

The key to the whole thing is something they call Janus Objects – hence JOLED. Janus particles have different features or chemistry on two opposite sides. A portion of each voxel is speckled with a small amount of titanium dioxide nano powder. This gives it a bipolar charge that makes it respond to the variable electrostatic field and hence capable of axial rotation. Half of each white voxel can then be covered with a contrasting color – red, blue, black – to achieve the flip dot effect. Each voxel appears to be a couple of millimeters in diameter. The ultrasonic actuators appear to be regular piezo transmitters found in every hacker’s parts bin. Transparent glass plates on opposite sides apply the variable electrostatic field.

While this is still experimental and confined to the research lab, future applications would be interesting. It would be like breaking e-ink displays out of their flat glass confines and giving them a third dimension. The short, two-minute video after the break does a good job of explaining what’s going on, so check it out. Now, who want’s to be the first to build a JOLED clock?

Thanks to [Garrow] for tipping us off about this.

Continue reading “JOLED – a 3D Flip Dot Display”

What Does ESD Do To My Circuit and How Can I Protect Against It?

[Kevin Darrah] is risking the nerves on his index finger to learn about ESD protection. Armed with a white pair of socks, a microfiber couch, and a nylon carpet, like a wizard from a book he summons electricity from his very hands (after a shuffle around the house). His energy focused on a sacrificial 2N7000 small signal MOSFET.

So what happens to a circuit when you shock it? Does it instantly die in a dramatic movie fashion: smoke billowing towards the roof, sirens in the distance? [Kevin] set up a simple circuit to show the truth. It’s got a button, a MOSFET, an LED, and some vitamins. When you press the button the light turns off.

He shuffles a bit, and with a mini thunderclap, electrocutes the MOSFET. After the discharge the MOSFET doesn’t turn the light off all the way. A shocking development.

So how does one protect against these dark energies out to destroy a circuit. Energies that can seemingly be summoned by anyone with a Walmart gift card? How does someone clamp down on this evil?

[Kevin] shows us how two diodes and a resistor can be used to shunt the high voltage from the electrostatic discharge away from the sensitive components. He also experimentally verifies and elucidates on the purpose of each. The resistor does nothing by itself, it’s there to protect the diodes. The diodes are there to protect the MOSFET.

In the end he had a circuit that could withstand the most vigorous shuffling, cotton socks against nylon carpeting, across his floor. It could withstand the mighty electric charge that only a grown man jumping on his couch can summon. Powerful magics indeed. Video after the break.

Continue reading “What Does ESD Do To My Circuit and How Can I Protect Against It?”

An Easy Home Made Electroadhesive

There was a time when if you wanted to scale a wall you had to turn a camera on its side and call [Adam West] or [Lionel Ritchie]. Unless you were a gecko, that is. Their host of tiny bristles and intramolecular forces allow them to run up walls and across the ceiling with ease.

You may have seen synthetic gecko-like adhesive surfaces using the same effect. Some impressive wall-climbing robots have used these materials, though they’ve all shared the same problem. Gecko adhesion can’t be turned off. Happily, for the robot wall climber unwilling to expend the extra force to detach a foot there is an alternative approach. Electroadhesives use electrostatic force to attach a plate held at a high potential to a surface, and today’s featured video is [Carter Hurd]’s home-made electroadhesive panel (YouTube).

He cites this paper and this description of the technology as the influences on his design, two aluminium foil electrodes sandwiched between plastic sheet and sticky tape. He applies 6kV from an Emco DC to DC converter to his plates, and as if by magic it sticks to his drywall. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that, he tried several surfaces before finding the one it stuck to. Adhesion is fully under control, and such a simple device performs surprisingly well. The Emco converters are sadly not cheap, but they are an extremely efficient product for which he only needs a few AA cells on the low voltage side.

His full description is in the video below the break.

Continue reading “An Easy Home Made Electroadhesive”

Hackaday Prize Entry: Magic Bit-Of-Wire Motion Detector Library For Arduino

We’re still not sure exactly how [connornishijima]’s motion detector works, though many readers offered plausible explanations in the comments the last time we covered it. It works well enough, though, and he’s gone and doubled down on the Arduino way and bundled it up nicely into a library.

In the previous article we covered [connor] demonstrating the motion detector. Something about the way the ADC circuit for the Arduino is wired up makes it work. The least likely theory so far involves life force, or more specifically, the Force… from Star Wars. The most likely theories are arguing between capacitance and electrostatic charge.

Either way, it was reliable enough a phenomenon that he put the promised time in and wrote a library. There’s even documentation on the GitHub. To initialize the library simply tell it which analog pin is hooked up, what the local AC frequency is (so its noise can be filtered out), and a final value that tells the Arduino how long to average values before reporting an event.

It seems to work well and might be fun to play with or wow the younger hackers in your life with your wizarding magics.

The Conductive Paper That Sparked a Revolution

Legendary electrical engineer and linear IC trailblazer Bob Widlar was just like you. What I mean is that he would use everything available to him to mock up circuits, create prototypes, and make things work. One of the simplest and coolest tools he used was a conductive paper called Teledeltos. This wonderful stuff allowed him to define and test various configurations for the oddly-shaped ballast resistors he used in some of his high-performance circuit designs. But it wasn’t created for people like you and Bob. Teledeltos paper was created and trademarked by communications giant Western Union to drastically improve the convenience of telegrams.

Development of the electric telegraph ushered in the era of global communication. Suddenly, people could send messages to the other side of the world in a fraction of the time it took by post. The telegraph absolutely revolutionized human communication. It was the e-mail and the Twitter of its time. The telegraph’s efficiency made the Pony Express pretty much obsolete by the 1860s. And for a very long time it was much cheaper for people to send a telegram than make a long-distance phone call.

The Advantages of Facsimile

Translated from ancient Greek, ‘teledeltos’ basically means writing tablet at a distance. Western Union began developing Teledeltos paper in the 1930s for the purpose of transmitting telegrams by facsimile, a method that would greatly reduce the time it took to input messages into the system and get them out on the other side. As long as both the sender and the receiver had facsimile machines, a handwritten telegram could be transmitted without having to be typed by a clerk or translated into code. Teledeltos paper was also used in a variety of chart recorders, like seismographs and map plotters. The ability to feed a handwritten message, a photograph, or a map of enemy territory into a machine that transmitted an exact copy was a real game changer.

Because of its composition, Teledeltos paper could be easily marked without an electrolyte. It marked so well that photographs and other graphic information could be transmitted, and no processing was required on the receiving end. A dry recording paper is also much less sensitive to light and to temperature extremes. More importantly, properly stored dry paper is impervious to fungal growth. Teledeltos paper could sit around indefinitely without becoming useless. The only real disadvantage to this type of paper was the somewhat laborious process that went into achieving the desired resistance. Fax machines eventually moved on to digital transmission and thermal printing technology.

Image credit: MIT

Sparking a Revolution

Teledeltos paper has a light gray electro-sensitive coating on one side, and the other side is carbon black. When a current is applied with a stylus to the coated side of the paper, the coating is instantly burned away, revealing the carbon black. Teledeltos paper could be marked using either AC or DC. Polarity didn’t matter, either, but the boys in the lab at Western Union had better luck when they used a positive stylus with DC rather than a negative one.

Teledeltos paper was made in two types—“L” for low resistance and “H” for high. The resistivity of a roll of Teledeltos paper depended on the quality of the conductive fibers that went into it. The paper’s electrical characteristics were also influenced by the fiber beating process and the distribution of the conductive fibers by the supercalender, a system of hard rollers used in papermaking and other processes that press and smooth paper and other materials to increase the density.

Teledeltos to the Rescue

The Western Union Telecar printed telegrams on the go and delivered them to homes and businesses.
The Western Union Telecar printed telegrams on the go and delivered them to homes and businesses. Image credit: Modern Mechanix

Western Union was eager to extend its reach into private businesses and public places so that patrons who weren’t heavy telegram users didn’t have to visit a telegram office in order to share a bit of good news or to send their condolences. The company’s Telefax division came up with several types of machines to serve different business needs.

Some messages continued to be delivered by hand, but they weren’t printed at the central office. Western Union created a Telecar service to print telegrams transmitted to the car by the central office and deliver them to people’s homes. Messages were printed onto recording blanks that were cut automatically by a Telefax recorder situated in the car’s passenger area. The Telecar’s radio and amplification equipment was in the trunk.

The standard Telefax machine for office use was fairly large, like an early microwave oven. A smaller version called the DeskFax was only about the size of a breadbox, and these units occupied the desks of many businessmen and secretaries because of their convenience.

A Western Union DeskFax unit. Image from [B. Hilpert]
A Western Union DeskFax unit. Image from [B. Hilpert]
Both the Telefax and the DeskFax scanned and recorded telegrams using a rotary drum mechanism. A message could either be typed or handwritten onto a telegram blank. The sender then wrapped the telegram around a drum and set the machine to send. The machine would scan the message optically and then transmit it to the central office.

Before sending it on to the recipient, an attendant at the telegram office had to remove the incoming message and wrap it around the drum of a transmitting machine. Once connected to the receiving party’s line, the far end unit would buzz to arouse attention. The receiving patron would then load a blank on to their DeskFax’s roller and set their machine to receive.

Teledeltos for Hacking and Education

Measuring potential differences. Image from
Measuring potential differences.
Image from UCSD

Conductive paper like Teledeltos has many applications aside from fax machines and Fathometers. For starters, it’s great for making one-offs of both standard and variable resistors. Conductive paint can be used as connection points for wires. The paper is also well-suited for simulating current flow through circuits using a fraction of the current intended in production. Vacuum tube designers used Teledeltos for modeling potentials. Teledeltos can also be used to visualize electromagnetic potentials and perform field plotting.

We’re sure that at least a few of our readers out there used Teledeltos or something like it in school or on the job. Did you know you can still buy it? Teledeltos paper itself is still available from two companies in the UK, Better Equipped and Timstar. In the US, you can get it from Pasco in packs of 50 and 100 sheets, with and without a grid pattern.

[Teledeltos paper image is a product photo from Better Equipped]