Logic Noise: Sweet, Sweet Oscillator Sounds

Welcome to part one of a series taking you down the rabbit hole of DIY electronic synthesizers based on (largely) CMOS logic chips. Instead of synths being commodity gear made by large corporate enterprises, we’ll be building with the cheapest available parts, using and misusing digital logic. In short, don’t expect pre-packaged smooth tones, because we’ll be making creative noise machines.

If you’re the chiptunes type, you’ll probably find something you like here. If you’re the circuit bender or electro-noise-punk type, this is gonna be right up your alley. If you just like to see CMOS chips wriggle and squirm in unintended ways, feel free to look over my shoulder. If you’re the type who insists that a screwdriver can’t be used to pry open a paint can, then maybe you’d better move along. There’s a thin line between the glitch as bug and the glitch as interesting discovery, and we’ll be dancing all over it.

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Emergency Power Based on Cordless Drill Batteries

[Don Eduardo] took matters into his own hands after experiencing a days-long power outage at his house. And like most of us have done at least one, he managed to burn his fingers on a regulator in the process. That’s because he prototyped a way to use power tool batteries as an emergency source — basing his circuit on a 7812 linear regulator which got piping hot in no time flat.

His next autodidactic undertaking carried him into the realm of switch-mode buck converters (learn a bit about these if unfamiliar). The device steps down the ~18V output to 12V regulated for devices meant for automotive or marine. We really like see the different solutions he came up with for interfacing with the batteries which have a U-shaped prong with contacts on opposite sides.

The final iteration, which is pictured above, builds a house of cards on top of the buck converter. After regulating down to 12V he feeds the output into a “cigarette-lighter” style inverter to boost back to 110V AC. The hardware is housed inside of a scrapped charger for the batteries, with the appropriate 3-prong socket hanging out the back. We think it’s a nice touch to include LED feedback for the battery level.

We would like to hear your thoughts on this technique. Is there a better way that’s as easy and adaptive (you don’t have to alter the devices you’re powering) as this one?

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An Interview with Tesla Battery Hacker [wk057]

We covered [wk057] and his Tesla Model S battery teardown back in September. Since then we had some time to catch up with him, and ask a few questions.

You’ve mentioned that you have a (non hacked) Tesla Model S. What do you think of the car?

It’s the best car I’ve ever driven or owned, period. Not to get too into it, but, I love it. I’ve put almost 20,000 miles on it already in under a year and I have no real complaints. Software feature requests… but no complaints. After almost a year, multiple 1700-miles-in-a-weekend trips, and an overall great experience… I can never go back to a gas vehicle after this. It would be like going back to horses and buggies.

A salvage Tesla Lithium battery had to be expensive compared to a Lead Acid setup. What made you go with the Tesla?

Actually, if you consider that the Model S battery is already pre-setup as a high-capacity pack, contains the wiring to do so, and the modules are much more energy and power dense than any lead acid battery bank, it’s actually almost cheaper than a comparable lead acid bank and all the trimmings.

I haven’t officially weighed them, but the modules from the Model S battery are roughly 80 lbs. 80 lbs for a 5.3 kWh battery is around 15 lbs per kWh, which is impressive. For comparison, a decent lead acid battery will have a little over 1 kWh (of low-rate discharge capacity) and weigh almost the same.

Also, the Tesla pack is much more powerful than a lead acid bank of the same capacity.
Generally a lead acid battery bank would have a capacity that would only be realized with slow discharges, so, 1/20C. Much over that and you sacrifice capacity for power. 1/20C for an 85kWh pack is only 4.25kW, barely enough for a central air unit and some lights without losing capacity.

Now the Tesla pack can be discharged (based on how it does so in the vehicle) at up to 3.75C for short periods, and at 1/2C continuously without really affecting the overall capacity of the pack. That means I can run 10x more power than lead acid without a loss in overall charge capacity. Leads to a much more flexible battery solution since the loads will, in reality, always be so low that this will not even come into play with the Tesla pack, but would almost always be a factor with lead acid.

Charging is also somewhat better with the Tesla battery. Charge a lead acid battery at a 1/2C and it will boil. Charge the Tesla pack at 1/2C (42kW) and it might warm up a few degrees. Oh, and the charging losses at high rates are much less than lead acid also.
Overall, without continuing to yack about the technical aspects, it’s just a much better battery, takes up less space, weighs less, and has more power available.

There are likely decent arguments for other solutions, but the rest aside, this one won out because it was definitely more interesting.

Click past the break to read the rest of our interview with [wk057]!

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An Arduino power inverter


If you’ve got a few solar panels lying around, or even if you want some 120/230 V AC power from a few 12 Volt batteries, you’ll need a power inverter. Sure, you can drop on down to any big box store and pick one of these up, or you can be like [Michael] and build your own (Danish, translation).

[Michael] found himself in the possession of a few halogen light transformers and decided to make use of them by building a DC to AC power inverter. The inverter is fairly simple – just the transformer, a few MOSFETS, and an ATMega0168 for software control that includes a ‘soft start’ feature that prevents power surges on startup.

The circuit is simple enough to etch at home, although a soldermask and a nice insulated enclosure would probably be ideal for this application.

Laptop backlight converted from CCFL to LED


[Lee Davison] acquired an Acer laptop that didn’t have a display anymore. He had enough parts on hand to add in an LCD panel and give it a CCFL backlight. But when he started looking for an inverter to drive the backlight he couldn’t find one. What he did have on hand were some smashed screens that had LED backlights and so the CCFL to LED backlight conversion project was born.

He tore into the LED display and found the driver board. Unfortunately he didn’t locate the datasheet for the exact LED driver, but he found one that was similar and was able to trace out the support circuitry on the PCB. This let him cut away the unneeded parts of the board without damaging the driver. He didn’t want to pull out the CCFL tubes until he was sure the LED conversion would work so he tried it out on another smashed panel (where does he come up with all these parts) and it worked great. Once he got everything in place he was very happy with the results. The only drawback to the system is that he doesn’t have the ability to dim the backlight.

Headphone light show

Seriously, nothing says ‘Look at me!’ like these headphones. [Yardley Dobon] added a rainbow of colored electroluminescent wire to his headphones and made them pulse to the music. The video after the break shows the headphones bumping to the tunes. This is one of two versions of the project, the other runs the EL wire along the headphone wire itself. We’re a bit surprised that the high frequency from that parallel run doesn’t inject noise into the signal. We do enjoy seeing these in action, but in practice observers unfortunately won’t be able to hear the tunes to which the lights are pulsing.

It took us a little while to figure out that [Yardley] didn’t roll his own VU hardware. The inverter driving the EL wire is designed to bump to the music. But he did hack it to use an audio line rather than a microphone. He mentions that this has other uses, like allowing carefully crafted sound clips to precisely control the inverter.

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Driving your home appliances with hybrid power

This system of hybridizing your home’s electric appliances is an interesting take on solar energy. It focuses on seamlessly switching appliances from the grid to stored solar energy as frequently as possible. There’s a promo video after the break that explains the setup, but here’s the gist of it.

Follow along on the pictograph above. We start on the left with solar panel. This feeds to a charger that tops off a 12V battery. When that battery is full, the charger feeds to the inverter which converts the 12V DC to 110V AC power. This is fed to a pass-through which is in between the appliance (in this a case a lamp) and the wall outlet. The pass-through will switch between mains power coming from the outlet, and the 110 coming from the inverter. The homeowner won’t know, or care, which power source is being used. But sunny months should result in lower energy bills. The real question is how long it takes to cover the cost of the system in saved electricity.

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