Sensing a Magnet with Local Sourcing

I had a small project going on–never mind exactly what–and I needed to detect a magnet. Normally, that wouldn’t be a big problem. I have a huge hoard of components and gear to the point that it is a running joke among my friends that we can be talking about building something and I will have all the parts we need. However, lately a lot of my stuff is in… let’s say storage (again, never mind exactly why) and I didn’t have anything handy that would do the job.


If I had time, there are plenty of options for detecting a magnet. Even if you ignore exotic things like SQUID (superconducting quantum interference device) there’s plenty of ways to detect a magnet. One of the oldest and the simplest is to use a reed switch. This is just a switch made with a thin piece of ferrous material. When a magnet is nearby, the thin piece of metal moves and makes or breaks the contact.

These used to be common in alarm systems to detect an open or closed door. However, a trip to Radio Shack revealed that they no longer carry things like that as–apparently–it cuts into floorspace for the cell phones.

I started to think about robbing a sensor from an old computer fan or some other consumer item with a magnetic sensor onboard. I also thought about making some graphene and rolling my own Hall effect sensor, but decided that was too much work.


I was about to give up on Radio Shack, but decided to skim through the two cabinets of parts they still carry just to get an idea of what I could and could not expect to find in the future. Then something caught my eye. They still carry a wide selection of relays. (Well, perhaps wide is too kind of a word, but they had a fair number.) It hit me that a relay is a magnetic device, it just generates its own electromagnetic field to open and close the contacts.

I picked up a small 5 V reed relay. They don’t show it online, but they do have several similar ones, so you can probably pick up something comparable at your local location. I didn’t want to get a very large relay because I figured it would take more external magnetic field to operate the contacts. You have to wonder why they have so many relays, unless they just bought a lot and are still selling out of some warehouse. Not that relays don’t have their use, but there’s plenty of better alternatives for almost any application you can think of.

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3D Carver Makes Magnetic Fields Visible

The history of science is full of examples when a 3D physical model led to a big discovery. But modelling something that’s actually invisible can be tough. Take magnetic fields – iron filings on a card will give you a 2D model, but a 3D visualization of the field would be much more revealing. For that job, this magnetic field following 3D carving machine is just the thing.

What started out as a rapid prototyping session with servos and hot glue ended up as quick and dirty 3D carving rig for [Frits Lyneborg]. The video shows his thought progression and details how he went from hot glue and sticks to LEGO Technics parts and eventually onto Makerbeam extrusions for the frame of his carver. A probe with a Hall effect sensor is coupled to a motor spinning a bit that cuts into a block of floral foam. A microcontroller keeps the Hall sensor a more or less fixed distance from a rare-earth magnet, resulting in a 3D model of the magnetic field in the foam, as well as a mess of foam nubbles. Despite a few artifacts due to in-flight adjustments of the rig, the field presents clearly in the block as two large lobes.

Carving foam isn’t the only way to visualize a magnetic field in three dimensions, of course. If you’d rather have a light show based on the local magnetic field, try this 3D compass build we covered a while back.

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Disk Hack Creates Persistence of Vision

[Adam Antok] was compelled to create this repurposed hard drive persistence of vision hack after seeing a toy of the same nature.

hdd-display-schematicHe used the frame, disk and motor from a drive and added LEDs under the spinning disk as the light source. The disk has 8 small holes drilled equidistant around the disk, and spiraling slightly toward the center. As the holes pass by the LEDS they are flashed by the ATtiny2313 processor to create images. To determine the position of the platters a Hall effect sensor is monitored by the 2313 to detect a magnet on the underside of the disk. There is room to display ten characters at one time. Each cursor position can scroll through the character set by rotating an encoder. For all the precision needed to coordinate the LEDs with the spinning holes the electronics and software code are amazingly simple. That’s a really nice job, [Adam]!

Persistence of vision hacks are to hackers like flames are to moths. One really nice thing about [Adam’s] project is that you can interact with it while it’s running. Check it out after the break.

For a novel take on POV, check out this slow swinging pendulum clock.

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Firing Blanks With Laser Tag

glockLast year, [Tony] was asked to develop a lasertag system with ultimate realism. This meant a system that used a blank firing replica gun, and a system to detect blank rounds being fired. Very cool, and the way he went about it includes some interesting electronics.

Because the system requires a blank to be fired before shooting a laser at a target, the entire system must be able to detect a blank being fired. [Tony]’s first attempt used a piezo sensor to detect the shock from being fired. This system had a lot of noise and was ditched for a much better solution: a magnet mounted to the slide, and a hall effect sensor mounted to a 3D printed frame that turns this replica into a carbine.

A little bit of tweaking in software was required to inhibit the laser when the operator cocks the gun, but it looks – and sounds – really good. It’s also very, very realistic: the only way to shoot an opponent is to physically reload. Video below.

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Levitating Wireless LED Ring

magnetic levitation

Here’s an impressive example of a completely home built magnetic levitation setup… with wireless power transmission to boot!

[Samer] built this from scratch and it features two main sub-systems, a electromagnet with feedback electronics and a wireless power transfer setup.

The ring of LEDs has a stack of neodymium magnets which are levitated in place by a varying magnetic field. This levitation is achieved by using a Hall effect sensor and a PID controller using a KA7500 SMPS controller.

The wireless power transmission uses a Class E DC/AC inverter that operates at 800KHz. Two coils of wire pass the current between the stand and the LEDs.

It’s very similar to a build we featured last year, but it’s a great hack, so we had to share it! Check out the video after the break.

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Hall effect limit switches for a 3D printer


We’re used to thinking of limit switches as a mechanical device that cuts the motor connection before physical damage can occur. [Anthony] decided to try a different route with this project. He built this set of no-contact limit switches using a hall effect sensor. The small black package sticking out past the end of the protoboard is the sensor. It is used to detect a magnetic field.

[Anthony] chose to use an Allegro A3144 sensor. Apparently it is no longer in production but was easy to find for a song and dance on eBay. When thinking about the design he decided to add two LED indicators, one lights when the switch is open and the other when it has been tripped. This would have been easy to do with just one LED, but he needed to add more parts to get both working. In the lower left corner of the protoboard you can see the configurable gate device (74LVC1G58) he added to monitor the hall effect sensor and switch the output and LEDs accordingly.

Theremin takes the touch out of multitouch

Multitouch builds are all the rage now, so it’s not surprising someone would come up with a multi-touchless interface sooner or later. [Hanspeter] did just that; his Multi-touchless ribbon controller, a.k.a. Polymagnetophonic Theremin is multi-touch without the touch.

[Hanspeter]’s touchless ribbon controller uses an array of 24 Hall effect sensors that activate whenever a magnet mounted on a thimble is placed near a build. These sensors go to an ARM-equipped Maple Mini to record multitouch events and send them out over Ethernet.

Even though [Hanspeter] is only using his “multi-touchless ribbon sensor” as a theremin, there’s no reason why it couldn’t be put to other uses. It’s entirely possible to place several of these magnetic sensors in an array and build a real Minority Report interface where the user interacts with a computer without touching anything.

After the break is a video demo showing off how much control [Hanspeter] can get with the thimble/magnet setup. There’s also a few demo songs made with SuperCollider showing off a trio of sitar/Moog/harpsichord synths.

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